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Alec, looking down the river on his way to the cottage, had not seen the wooden bridge floating after him. As he turned to row into the cottage, it went past him.
The stone bridge was full of spectators, eagerly watching the boat, for Truffey had spread the rumour of the attempt; while the report of the situation of Tibbie and Annie having reached even the Wan Water, those who had been watching it were now hurrying across to the bridge of the Glamour.
The moment Alec disappeared in the cottage, some of the spectators caught sight of the wooden bridge coming down full tilt upon them. Already fears for the safety of the stone bridge had been openly expressed, for the weight of water rushing against it was tremendous; and now that they saw this ram coming down the stream, a panic, with cries and shouts of terror, arose, and a general rush left the bridge empty just at the moment when the floating mass struck one of the principal piers. Had the spectators remained upon it, the bridge might have stood.
But one of the crowd was too much absorbed in watching the cottage to heed the sudden commotion around him. This was Truffey, who, leaning wearily on the parapet with his broken crutch looking over it also at his side, sent his soul through his eyes to the cottage window. Even when the bridge struck the pier, and he must have felt the mass on which he stood tremble, he still kept staring at the cottage. Not till he felt the bridge begin to sway, I presume, had he a notion of his danger. Then he sprang up, and made for the street. The half of the bridge crumbled away behind him, and vanished in the seething yellow abyss.
At this moment, the first of the crowd from the Wan Water reached the bridge-foot. Amongst them came the schoolmaster. Truffey was making desperate efforts to reach the bank. His mended crutch had given way, and he was hopping wildly along. Murdoch Malison saw him, and rushed upon the falling bridge. He reached the cripple, caught him up in his strong arms, turned and was half way to the street, when with a swing and a sweep and a great plash, the remaining half of the bridge reeled into the current and vanished. Murdoch Malison and Andrew Truffey left the world each in the other's arms.
Their bodies were never found.
A moment after the fall of the bridge, Robert Bruce, gazing with the rest at the triumphant torrent, saw the Bonnie Annie go darting past. Alec was in his shirt-sleeves, facing down the river, with his oars level and ready to dip. But Bruce did not see Annie in the bottom of the boat.
"I wonner hoo auld Marget is," he said to his wife the moment he reached home.
But his wife could not tell him. Then he turned to his two younger children.
"Bairns," he said, "Annie Anderson's droont. Ay, she's droont," he continued, as they stared at him with frightened faces. "The Almichty's taen vengeance upon her for her disobedience, and for brackin' the Sawbath. See what ye'll come to, bairns, gin ye tak up wi' ill loons, and dinna min' what's said to ye. She's come to an ill hinner-en'?"
Mrs Bruce cried a little. Robert would have set out at once to see Margaret Anderson, but there was no possibility of crossing the Wan Water.
Fortunately for Thomas Crann, James Johnstone, who had reached the bridge just before the alarm arose, sped to the nearest side, which was that away from Glamerton. So, having seen the boat go past, with Alec still safe in it, he was able to set off with the good news for Thomas. After searching for him at the miller's and at Howglen, he found him where he had left him, still on his knees, with his hands in the grass.
"Alec's a' safe, man," he cried.
Thomas fell on his face, and he thought he was dead. But he was only giving lowlier thanks.
James took hold of him after a moment's pause. Thomas rose from the earth, put his great horny hand, as a child might, into that of the little weaver, and allowed him to lead him whither he would. He was utterly exhausted, and it was hours before he spoke.
There was no getting to Glamerton. So James took him to the miller's for shelter and help, but said nothing about how he had found him. The miller made Thomas drink a glass of whisky and get into his bed.
"I saw ye, Thamas, upo' yer knees," said he; "but I dauredna come near ye. Put in a word for me, neist time, man."
Thomas made him no reply.
Down the Glamour and down the Wan-Water, for the united streams went by the latter name, the terrible current bore them. Nowhere could Alec find a fit place to land, till they came to a village, fortunately on the same side as Howglen, into the street of which the water flowed. He bent to his oars, got out of the current, and rowed up to the door of a public-house, whose fat kind-hearted landlady had certainly expected no guests that day. In a few minutes Annie was in a hot bath, and before an hour had passed, was asleep, breathing tranquilly. Alec got his boat into the coach-house, and hiring a horse from the landlord, rode home to his mother. She had heard only a confused story, and was getting terribly anxious about him, when he made his appearance. As soon as she learned that he had rescued Annie, and where he had left her, she had Dobbin put to the gig, and drove off to see after her neglected favourite.
From the moment the bridge fell, the flood began to subside. Tibbie's cottage did not fall, and those who entered, the next day, found her body lying in the wet bed, its face still shining with the reflex of the light which broke upon her spirit as the windows were opened for it to pass.
"See sees noo," said Thomas Crann to James Johnstone, as they walked together at her funeral. "The Lord sent that spate to wash the scales frae her een."
Mrs Forbes brought Annie home to Howglen as soon as she was fit to be moved.
Alec went to town again, starting a week before the commencement of the session.
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