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On the Monday morning after his terrible failure Mr Malison felt almost too ill to go to the school. But he knew that if he gave in he must leave the place. And he had a good deal of that courage which enables a man to front the inevitable, and reap, against his liking, the benefits that spring from every fate steadfastly encountered. So he went, keeping a calm exterior over the shame and mortification that burned and writhed within him. He prayed the morning prayer, falteringly but fluently; called up the Bible-class; corrected their blunders with an effort over himself which imparted its sternness to the tone of the correction and made him seem oblivious of his own, though in truth the hardest task he had ever had was to find fault that Monday; in short, did everything as usual, except bring out the tag. How could he punish failure who had himself so shamefully failed in the sight of them all? And, to the praise of Glamerton be it recorded, never had there been a quieter day, one of less defiance of law, than that day of the master's humiliation. In the afternoon Andrew Truffey laid a splendid bunch of cottage-flowers on his desk, and the next morning it was so crowded with offerings of the same sort that he had quite a screen behind which to conceal his emotion.
Wonderful, let me say once more, is the divine revenge! The children would wipe away the humiliation of their tyrant. His desk, the symbol of merciless law, the ark containing no pot of manna, only the rod that never budded, became an altar heaped with offerings, behind which the shamed divinity bowed his head and acknowledged a power greater than that of stripes--overcome by his boys, who hated spelling and figures, hated yet more the Shorter Catechism, could hardly be brought to read the book of Leviticus with decency, and hated to make bricks without straw; and yet, forgetting it all, loved the man beneath whose lashes they had writhed in torture. In his heart the master vowed, with a new love which loosed the millstone of many offences against the little ones, that had for years been hanging about his neck--vowed that, be the shame what it might, he would never leave them, but spend his days in making up for the hardness of his heart and hand; vowed that he would himself be good, and so make them good; that he would henceforth be their friend, and let them know it. Blessed failure ending in such a victory! Blessed purgatorial pulpit! into which he entered full of self and self-ends; and from which he came down disgusted with that paltry self as well as its deserved defeat. The gates of its evil fortress were now undefended, for Pride had left them open in scorn; and Love, in the form of flower-bearing children, rushed into the citadel. The heart of the master was forced to yield, and the last state of that man was better than the first.
"Swift Summer into the Autumn flowed," and yet there was no sign of the coming vengeance of heaven. The green corn turned pale at last before the gaze of the sun. The life within had done its best and now shrunk back to the earth, leaving the isolated life of its children to the ripening of the heavens. Anxious farmers watched their fields, and joyfully noted every shade of progress. All day the sun shone strong; and all night the moon leaned down from heaven to see how things were going on, and keep the work gently moving, till the sun should return to take it up again. Before he came, a shadowy frost would just breathe on the earth, which, although there was only death in its chill, yet furthered the goings on of life in repelling the now useless sap, and so helping the sun to dry the ripening ears. At length the new revelation of ancient life was complete, and the corn stood in living gold, and men began to put in the sickle, because the time of the harvest was come.
And with it came the hairst-play, the event of school-life both to master and scholars. But the feelings with which the master watched and longed for it were sadly different from those of the boys. It was delight itself to the latter to think of having nothing to do on those glorious hot days but gather blaeberries, or lie on the grass, or bathe in the Glamour and dry themselves in the sun ten times a day. For the master, he only hoped to get away from the six thousand eyes of Glamerton. Not one allusion had been made in his hearing to his dismal degradation, but he knew that that was only because it was too dreadful to be alluded to. Every time he passed a woman with a baby in her arms at a cottage door, the blind eyes in the back of his head saw her cuddling her child, and the ears that are always hearing what never was said, heard her hope that he would never bring such disgrace upon himself and upon her. The tone of additional kindness and consideraton with which many addressed him, only made him think of what lay behind, and refuse every invitation given him. But if he were once "in secret shadow far from all men's sight," his oppressed heart would begin to revive, and he might gather strength enough to face with calmness what he would continue to face somehow, in the performance of his arrears of duty to the boys and girls of Glamerton.
Can one ever bring up arrears of duty? Can one ever make up for wrong done? Will not heaven be an endless repentance?
It would need a book to answer the first two of these questions. To the last of them I answer, "Yes--but a glad repentance."
At length the slow hour arrived. Longing thoughts had almost obliterated the figures upon Time's dial, and made it look a hopeless undivided circle of eternity. But at length twelve o'clock on Saturday came; and the delight would have been almost unendurable to some, had it not been calmed by the dreary proximity of the Sabbath lying between them and freedom. To add to their joy, there was no catechism that day. The prayer, although a little longer than usual, was yet over within a minute after the hour. And almost as soon as the Amen was out of the master's mouth, the first boys were shouting jubilantly in the open air. Truffey, who was always the last, was crutching it out after the rest, when he heard the master's voice calling him back. He obeyed it with misgiving--so much had fear become a habit.
"Ask your grandfather, Andrew, if he will allow you to go down to the seaside with me for a fortnight or three weeks," said the master.
"Yes, sir," Truffey meant to say, but the attempt produced in reality an unearthly screech of delight, with which he went off on a series of bounds worthy of a kangaroo, lasting all the way to his grandfather's, and taking him there in half the usual time.
And the master and Truffey did go down to the sea together. The master borrowed a gig and hired a horse and driver; and they sat all three in the space meant for two, and their boxes went by the carrier. To happy Truffey a lame leg or two was not to be compared with the exultant glory of that day. Was he not the master's friend henceforth? And was he not riding in a gig--bliss supreme? And was not the harvest around them, the blue tent of the sun over their heads, and the sea somewhere before them? Truffey was prouder than Mr Malison could have been if, instead of the result of that disastrous Sunday, he had been judged to surpass Mr Turnbull in pulpit gifts, as he did in scholastic acquirements. And if there be as much joy in the universe, what matter how it be divided!--whether the master be raised from the desk to the pulpit, or Truffey have a ride in a gig!
About this time Tibbie, sitting too late one evening upon the grass, caught a bad cold and cough, and was for a fortnight confined to bed. Within two days Annie became her constant companion--that is, from the moment the play commenced.
"I tell't ye I wad hae the licht afore lang," she said the first time Annie came to her.
"Hoots, Tibbie! It's only an ill caud an' a host," said Annie, who from being so much with her and Thomas had caught the modes of an elderly woman. "Ye maunna be doonhertit."
"Doonhertit! The lassie's haverin'! Wha daured to say that I was doonhertit within sicht o' the New Jerusalem? Order yer words better, lassie, or else haud yer tongue."
"I beg yer pardon, Tibbie. It was ill-considered. But ye see hooever willin' ye may be to gang, we're nane sae willin' to lat gang the grip o' ye."
"Ye'll be a hantle better withoot me, lass. Oh, my heid! And the host's jist like to rive me in bits, as the prophets rave their claes whan the fowk contred them ower sair to bide. Aweel! This body's nothing but a wheen claes to my sowl; and no verra weel made either, for the holes for my een war forgotten i' the makin'.--I'm bit jokin', lassie; for it was the Lord's han' that made and mismade my claes; and I'm weel willin' to wear them as lang's he likes. Jist mak a drappy o' stoorum to me. Maybe it'll ile my thrapple a bit. I winna be lang ahin Eppie Shawn."
That was the woman who had occupied the other end of the cottage and had died in the spring.
So Annie waited on Tibbie day and night. And that year, for the first time since she came to Glamerton, the harvest began without her. But when Tibbie got a little better, she used to run out now and then to see what progress the reapers were making.
One bright forenoon Tibbie, feeling better, said to her,
"Noo, bairn, I'm a hantle better the day, and ye maun jist rin oot and play yersel'. Ye're but a bairn, though ye hae the wit o' a wumman. Ye'll be laid up yersel' gin ye dinna get a stammachfu' o' the caller air noo and than. Sae jist rin awa', an' dinna lat me see ye afore denner-time."
At Howglen, there happened, this year, to be a field of oats not far from the house, the reaping of which was to begin that day. It was very warm, and glorious with sunshine. So, after a few stooks had been set up, Alec crawled out with the help of his mother and Kate, and lay down on some sheaves, sheltered from the sun by a stook, and watched. The men and women and corn leaned all one way. The oats hung their curved heads of little pendulous bells, and gave out a low murmuring sibilation--its only lament that its day was over, and sun and wind no more for it. Through the high stalks gleamed now and then the lowly corn flower, and he watched for the next blue star that would shine out as they cut the golden cloud away. But the sun rose till the stook could shelter him no more. First came a flickering of the shadows of the longest heads athwart his face, and then the sun shone full upon him. His mother and Kate had left him for a while, and, too weak or too lazy to move, he lay with closed eyes, wishing that some one would come to his help. Nor had he to wait long. A sudden shadow came over him. When he looked up to find the source of the grateful relief, he could see nothing but an apron held up in two little hands behind the stook--hiding both the sun and the face of the helper.
"Who's there?" he asked.
"It's me--Annie Anderson," came from behind the un-moving apron.
Now why would not Alec accept this attention from Annie?
"Dinna stan' there, Annie," he said. "I dinna want it. My mother will be here in a minute. I see her comin'."
Annie dropped her arms, and turned away in silence. If Alec could have seen her face, he would have been sorry that he had refused her service. She vanished in a moment, so that Mrs Forbes and Kate never saw her. They sat down beside him so as to shelter him, and he fell fast asleep. When he woke, he found his head in Kate's lap, and her parasol casting a cool green shadow over him. His mother had gone again. Having made these discoveries, he closed his eyes, and pretending to be still asleep, lay in a waking dream. But dreams themselves must come to an end. Kate soon saw that his face was awake, although his eyes were closed.
"I think it is time we went into the house, Alec," she said. "You have been asleep nearly an hour."
"Happy so long, and not know it?" returned he, looking up at her from where he lay.
Kate blushed a little. I think she began to feel that he was not quite a boy. But he obeyed her like a child, and they went in together.
When Annie vanished among the stooks after the rejection of her offered shadow, a throbbing pain at her heart kept her from returning to the reapers. She wandered away up the field towards a little old cottage, in which some of the farm servants resided. She knew that Thomas Crann was at work there, and found him busy rough-casting the outside of it.
"Ye're busy harlin', Thomas," said Annie, for the sake of saying something.
"Ay, jist helpin' to mak' a heepocreet," answered Thomas, with a nod and a grim smile, as he threw a trowelful of mortar mixed with small pebbles against the wall.
"What mean ye by that?" rejoined Annie.
"Gin ye kent this auld bothie as weel as I do, ye wadna need to spier that question. It sud hae been pu'ed doon fra the riggin to the fundation a century afore noo. And here we're pittin a clean face upo' 't, garrin' 't luik as gin it micht stan' anither century, and nobody had a richt to luik asclent at it."
"It luiks weel eneuch."
"I tell't ye that I was makin' a heepocreet. There's no a sowl wants this hoose to stan' but the mistress doon there, that doesna want to waur the siller, and the rottans inside the wa's o' 't, that doesna want to fa' into the cluiks o' Bawdrins and Colley--wha lie in wait for sic like jist as the deevil does for the sowl o' the heepocreet.--Come oot o' the sun, lassie. This auld hoose is no a'thegither a heepocreet: it can haud the sun aff o' ye yet."
Thomas had seen Annie holding her hand to her head, an action occasioned partly by the heat and partly by the rebuff Alec had given her. She stepped into the shadow beside him.
"Isna the warl' fu' o' bonnie things cheap?" Thomas went on. "The sun's fine and het the day. And syne whan he's mair nor we can bide, there's lots o' shaidows lyin' aboot upo' the face o' the warl'; though they say there's some countries whaur they're scarce, and the shaidow o' a great rock's thought something o' in a weary lan'? But we sudna think less o' a thing 'cause there's plenty o' 't. We hae a heap o' the gospel, but we dinna think the less o' 't for that. Because ye see it's no whether shaidows be dear or no that we think muckle or little o' them, but whether we be richt het and tired whan we win till ane o' them. It's that 'at maks the differ."
Sorrow herself will reveal one day that she was only the beneficent shadow of Joy.
Will Evil ever show herself the beneficent shadow of Good?
"Whaur got Robert Bruce that gran' Bible, Annie, do ye ken?" resumed Thomas, after whitening his hypocrite in silence for a few moments.
"That's my Bible, Thomas. Auld Mr Cowie gae't to me whan he was lyin' near-han' deith."
"Hm! hm! ay! ay! And hoo cam' 't that ye didna tak' it and pit it i' yer ain kist?"
"Maister Bruce tuik it and laid it i' the room as sune's I brocht it hame."
"Did Maister Cowie say onything to ye aboot onything that was in't, no?"
"Ay, did he. He spak' o' a five-poun' note that he had pitten in't. But whan I luikit for't, I cudna fin' 't."
"Ay! ay! Whan did ye luik for't?"
"I forgot it for twa or three days--maybe a week."
"Do ye min' that Sunday nicht that twa or three o' 's cam hame wi' Bruce, and had worship wi' him an' you?"
"Ay, weel eneuch. It was the first time he read oot o' my Bible."
"Was't afore or efter that 'at ye luikit for the nott?"
"It was the neist day; for the sicht o' the Bible pat it i' my min'. I oughtna to hae thocht aboot it o' the Sawbath; but it cam' o' 'tsel'; and I didna luik till the Mononday mornin', afore they war up. I reckon Mr Cowie forgot to pit it in efter a'."
"Hm! hm! Ay! ay!--Weel, ye see, riches taks to themsels wings and flees awa'; and sae we maunna set oor herts upo' them, for it's no manner o' use. We get nothing by 't. The warst bank that a man can lay up his siller in is his ain hert. And I'll tell ye hoo that is. Ye ken whan meal's laid up ower lang it breeds worms, and they eat the meal. But they do little hairm forbye, for they're saft craters, and their teeth canna do muckle ill to the girnell. But there's a kin' o' roost that gathers and a kin' o' moth that breeds i' the gowd and siller whan they're laid up i' the hert; and the roost's an awfu' thing for eatin' awa', and the moth-craters hae teeth as hard's the siller that breeds them; and instead o' eatin' the siller, like the meal-worms, they fa' upo' the girnel itsel'--that's the heart; and afore lang the hert itsel's roostit awa' wi' the roost, and riddlet through and through wi' the moths, till it's a naisty fushionless thing, o' no use to God or man, not even to mak' muck o'. Sic a crater's hardly worth damnin'."
And Thomas threw trowelful after trowelful of rough-cast upon the wall, making his hypocrite in all the composure of holy thoughts. And Annie forgot her trouble in his presence. For Thomas was one of those whom the prophet foresaw when he said: "And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as a shadow of a great rock in a weary land." I do not mean that Thomas was felt to be such by all whom he encountered; for his ambition was to rouse men from the sleep of sin; to set them face to face with the terrors of Mount Sinai; to "shak' them ower the mou' o' the pit," till they were all but choked with the fumes of the brimstone. But he was a shelter to Annie--and to Tibbie also, although she and he were too much of a sort to appear to the best advantage in their intercourse.
"Hoo's Tibbie the day?" said Thomas.
"She's a wee bit better the day," answered Annie.
"It's a great preevileege, lassie, and ane that ye'll hae to answer for, to be sae muckle wi' ane o' the Lord's elec' as ye are wi' Tibbie Dyster. She's some thrawn (twisted) whiles, but she's a good honest woman, wha has the glory o' God sair at her hert. And she's tellt me my duty and my sins in a mainner worthy o' Debohrah the prophetess; and I aye set mysel' to owercome them as gin they had been the airmy o' Sisera, wham Jael, the wife o' Heber, the Kenite, killed efter a weel-deserved but some cooardly faushion."
Annie did not return to the harvest-field that day. She did not want to go near Alec again. So, after lingering a while with Thomas, she wandered slowly across some fields of barley-stubble through which the fresh young clover was already spreading its soft green. She then went over the Glamour by the bridge with the three arches, down the path at the other end, over the single great stone that crossed the dyer's dam, and so into Tibbie's cottage.
Had Annie been Robert Bruce's own, she would have had to mind the baby, to do part of the house work, and, being a wise child, to attend in the shop during meals, and so expedite the feeding-process which followed the grace. But Robert Bruce was ignorant of how little Annie knew about the investment of her property. He took her freedom of action for the result of the knowledge that she paid her way, whereas Annie followed her own impulse, and never thought about the matter. Indeed, with the reticence of Scotch people, none of her friends had given her any information about her little fortune. Had Bruce known this, there would have been no work too constant for her, and no liberty too small.
Thomas did not doubt that Robert Bruce had stolen the note. But he did not see yet what he ought to do about it. The thing would be hard to prove, and the man who would steal would lie. But he bitterly regretted that such a man should have found his way into their communion.
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