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When Annie descended from her hateful eminence, just before the final prayer, it was with a deeper sense of degradation than any violence of the tawse on her poor little hands could have produced. Nor could the attentions of Alec, anxiously offered as soon as they were out of school, reach half so far to console her as they might once have reached; for such was her sense of condemnation, that she dared not take pleasure in anything. Nothing else was worth minding till something was done about that. The thought of having God against her took the heart out of everything.--As soon as Alec left her, she walked with hanging head, pale face, and mournful eyes, straight to Mr Cowie's door.
She was admitted at once, and shown into the library, where the clergyman sat in the red dusky glow of the firelight, sipping a glass of wine, and looking very much like an ox-animal chewing the cud; for the meditation in which the good man indulged over his wine was seldom worthy of being characterized otherwise than as mental rumination.
"Well, Annie, my dear, come away," said he, "I am glad to see you. How does the boat get on?"
Deeply touched by a kindness which fell like dew upon the parching misery of the day, Annie burst into tears. Mr Cowie was greatly distressed. He drew her between his knees, laid his cheek against hers, as was his way with children, and said with soothing tenderness:
"Walawa! what's the matter with my dawtie?"
After some vain attempts at speech, Annie succeeded in giving the following account of the matter, much interrupted with sobs and fresh outbursts of weeping.
"Ye see, sir, I gaed last nicht to the missionar kirk to hear Mr Broon. And he preached a gran' sermon, sir. But I haena been able to bide mysel' sin' syne. For I doobt I'm ane o' the wicked 'at God hates, and I'll never win' to haven at a', for I canna help forgettin' him whiles. An' the wicked'll be turned into hell, and a' the nations that forget God. That was his text, sir. And I canna bide it."
In the bosom of the good man rose a gentle indignation against the schismatics who had thus terrified and bewildered that sacred being, a maid-child. But what could he say? He thought for a moment, and betook himself, in his perplexity, to his common sense.
"You haven't forgotten your father, have you, Annie?" said he.
"I think aboot him maist ilka day," answered Annie.
"But there comes a day now and then when you don't think much about him, does there not?"
"Do you think he would be angry with his child because she was so much taken up with her books or her play---"
"I never play at onything, sir."
"Well--with learning songs to say to Alec Forbes and Willie Macwha--do you think he would be angry that you didn't think about him that day, especially when you can't see him?"
"'Deed no, sir. He wadna be sae sair upo' me as that."
"What would he say, do you think?"
"Gin Mr Bruce war to cast it up till me, he wad say: 'Lat alane the lassie. She'll think aboot me the morn--time eneuch.'"
"Well, don't you think your Father in heaven would say the same?"
"Maybe he micht, sir. But ye see my father was my ain father, and wad mak' the best o' me."
"And is not God kinder than your father?"
"He canna weel be that, sir. And there's the Scripter!"
"But he sent his only Son to die for us."
"Ay--for the eleck, sir," returned the little theologian.
Now this was more than Mr Cowie was well prepared to meet, for certainly this terrible doctrine was perfectly developed in the creed of the Scotch Church; the assembly of divines having sat upon the Scripture egg till they had hatched it in their own likeness. Poor Mr Cowie! There were the girl-eyes, blue, and hazy with tearful questions, looking up at him hungrily.--O starving little brothers and sisters! God does love you, and all shall be, and therefore is, well.--But the minister could not say this, gladly as he would have said it if he could; and the only result of his efforts to find a suitable reply was that he lost his temper--not with Annie, but with the doctrine of election.
"Gang ye hame, Annie, my bairn," said he, talking Scotch now, "and dinna trouble yer heid about election, and a' that. It's no' a canny doctrine. No mortal man could ever win at the boddom o' 't. I'm thinkin' we haena muckle to do w' 't. Gang hame, dawtie, and say yer prayers to be preserved frae the wiles o' Sawtan. There 's a sixpence to ye."
His kind heart was sorely grieved that all it could give was money. She had asked for bread, and he had but a stone, as he thought, to give her. So he gave it her with shame. He might however have reversed the words of St Peter, saying, "Spiritual aid I have none, but such as I have give I thee;" and so offered her the sixpence. But, for my part, I think the sixpence had more of bread in it than any theology he might have been expected to have at hand; for, so given, it was the symbol and the sign of love, which is the heart of the divine theology.
Annie, however, had a certain Scotchness in her which made her draw back from the offer.
"Na, thank ye, sir," she said; "I dinna want it."
"Will ye no tak' it to please an auld man, bairn?"
"Deed will I, sir, I wad do a hantle mair nor that to please you."
And again the tears filled her blue eyes as she held out her hand--receiving in it a shilling which Mr Cowie, for more relief to his own burdened heart, had substituted for the sixpence.
"It's a shillin', sir!" she said, looking up at him with the coin lying on her open palm.
"Weel, what for no? Is a shillin' no a saxpence?"
"Ay, sir. It's twa."
"Weel, Annie," said the old man, suddenly elevated into prophecy for the child's need--for he had premeditated nothing of the sort--"maybe whan God offers us a saxpence, it may turn oot to be twa. Good nicht, my bairn."
But Mr Cowie was sorely dissatisfied with himself. For not only did he perceive that the heart of the child could not be thus satisfied, but he began to feel something new stirring in his own bosom. The fact was that Annie was further on than Mr Cowie. She was a child looking about to find the face of her Father in heaven: he was but one of God's babies, who had been lying on his knees, receiving contentedly and happily the good things he gave him, but never looking up to find the eyes of him from whom the good gifts came. And now the heart of the old man, touched by the motion of the child's heart--yearning after her Father in heaven, and yet scarcely believing that he could be so good as her father on earth--began to stir uneasily within him. And he went down on his knees and hid his face in his hands.
But Annie, though not satisfied, went away comforted. After such a day of agony and humiliation, Mr Cowie's kiss came gracious with restoration and blessing. It had something in it which was not in Mr Brown's sermon. And yet if she had gone to Mr Brown, she would have found him kind too--very kind; but solemnly kind--severely kind; his long saintly face beaming with religious tenderness--not human cordiality; and his heart full of interest in her spiritual condition, not sympathy with the unhappiness which his own teaching had produced; nay, rather inclined to gloat over this unhappiness as the sign of grace bestowed and an awakening conscience.
But notwithstanding the comfort Mr Cowie had given her--the best he had, poor man!--Annie's distress soon awoke again. To know that she could not be near God in peace and love without fulfilling certain mental conditions--that he would not have her just as she was now, filled her with an undefined but terribly real misery, only the more distressing that it was vague with the vagueness of the dismal negation from which it sprung.
It was not however the strength of her love to God that made her unhappy in being thus barred out from him. It was rather the check thus given to the whole upward tendency of her being, with its multitude of undefined hopes and longings now drawing nigh to the birth. It was in her ideal self rather than her conscious self that her misery arose. And now, dearly as she loved Mr Cowie, she began to doubt whether he knew much about the matter. He had put her off without answering her questions, either because he thought she had no business with such things, or because he had no answer to give. This latter possibly added not a little to her unhappiness, for it gave birth to a fearful doubt as to the final safety of kind Mr Cowie himself.
But there was one man who knew more about such secret things, she fully believed, than any man alive; and that man was Thomas Crann. Thomas was a rather dreadful man, with his cold eyes, high shoulders, and wheezing breath; and Annie was afraid of him. But she would have encountered the terrors of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, as surely as the Pilgrim, to get rid of the demon nightmare that lay upon her bosom, crushing the life out of her heart. So she plucked up courage, like Christian of old, and resolved to set out for the house of the Interpreter. Judging, however, that he could not yet be home from his work, she thought it better to go home herself first.
After eating a bit of oat cake, with a mug of blue milk for kitchie (Latin "obsonium"), she retired to her garret and waited drearily, but did not try to pray.
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