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Meantime another conversation was going on in one of the gigs, as it bore two of the company from the place of tombs, which will serve a little for the purposes of this history. One of the twain was a cousin of the deceased, already incidentally mentioned as taking some direction in the matter of refreshment. His name was no less than Robert Bruce. The other was called Andrew Constable, and was a worthy elder of the kirk.
"Weel, Robert," began the latter, after they had jogged on in silence for half a mile or so, "what's to be done wi' little Annie Anderson and her Auntie Meg, noo that the douce man's gane hame, an' left them theroot, as't war?"
"They canna hae that muckle to the fore efter the doctor an' a' 's sattled for."
"It's no to be thought. It's lang sin' ever he wrought a day's darg (contracted from 'daywerk')."
"Jeames Dow luikit weel after the farmin', though."
"Nae doot. He's a guid servant that, to ony man he ca's master. But there canna be muckle siller to the fore."
A pause followed.
"What think ye noo, Andrew?" recommenced Bruce. "Ye're weel kent for an honest an' a langheided man. Do ye think that folk wad expec' onything o' me gin the warst cam to the warst?"
"Weel, Robert, I dinna think there's muckle guid in luikin' to what fowk micht or micht not expec' o' ye."
"That's jist what I was thinkin' mysel'; for, ye see, I hae a sma' family o' my ain to haud chowin' already."
"Nae doot--nae doot. But--"
"Ay, ay; I ken what ye wad say. I maunna a'thegither disregaird what fowk think, 'cause there's the chop (shop); an' gin I ance got--no to say an ill name, but jist the wind o' no being sae considerate as I micht hae been, there's no sayin' but twa or three micht gang by my door, and across to Jamie Mitchell's yonner."
"Do ye what's richt, Robert Bruce, and sae defy fowk and fairy."
"Na, na, that winna aye work. A body maun tak' care o' their ain, else wha's to do't?"
"Weel," rejoined Andrew with a smile, for he understood Bruce well enough, although he pretended to have mistaken his meaning--"weel, gin the bairnie falls to you, nae doot ye maun take chairge o' her."
"I dinna mean Jeames Anderson's bairns--I mean my ain bairns."
"Robert, whatever way ye decide, I houp it may be sic a deceesion as will admit o' yer castin' yer care upo' Him."
"I ken a' aboot that, Andrew. But my opeenion upo' that text is jist this--that ilka vessel has to haud the fill o' 't, and what rins ower may be committed to Him, for ye can haud it no langer. Them that winna tak tent (care) 'll tak scathe. It's a sweer (lazy) thochtless way to gang to the Almichty wi' ilka fash. Whan I'm driven to ane mair, that ane sall aye be Him. Ye min' the story about my namesake and the spidder?"
"Ay, weel eneuch," answered Andrew.
But he did not proceed to remark that he could see no connection between that story and the subject in hand, for Bruce's question did not take him by surprise, it being well understood that he was in the habit of making all possible and some impossible references to his great namesake. Indeed, he wished everybody to think, though he seldom ventured to assert it plainly, that he was lineally descended from the king. Nor did Andrew make further remark of any sort with regard to the fate of Annie or the duty of Bruce, for he saw that his companion wanted no advice--only some talk, and possibly some sympathy with his perplexity as to what the world might think of him. But with this perplexity Andrew could accord him very little sympathy indeed; for he could not take much interest in the buttressing of a reputation which he knew to be already quite undermined by widely-reported acts of petty meanness and selfishness. Nor was this fact much to be wondered at, if his principles were really those which he had so openly advocated. Indeed, Andrew knew well that it would be a bad day for poor Annie when she came under Bruce's roof, and therefore sincerely hoped that Auntie Meg might find some way of managing so as to avoid parting with the child; for he knew, too, that, though her aunt was fierce and hard, she had yet a warm spot somewhere about her heart.
Margaret Anderson had known perfectly well for some time that she and Annie must part before long. The lease of the farm would expire at the close of the autumn of next year; and as it had been rather a losing affair for some time, she had no inclination to request a renewal. When her brother's debts should be paid, there would not remain, even after the sale of the stock, more than a hundred and fifty pounds. For herself, she believed she must go into service--which would hurt her pride more than it would alter her position, for her hands had done far more of the necessary labour than those of the maid who assisted her. Indeed, in her proudest mood, she would have welcomed death rather than idleness. What was to become of Annie she did not yet see.
Meantime there remained for the child just a year more of the native farm, with all the varieties of life which had been so dear to her. Auntie Meg did not spare to put her in mind of the coming change; but it seemed to Annie so long in coming that it never would come. The impression was worn off by the daily attempt to deepen it, she gave herself up to the childish pleasures within her reach, without thinking of their approaching loss.
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