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One night she heard a rustling amongst the bushes in the garden; and the next moment a subdued voice began to sing:
I waited for the Lord my God and patiently did bear; At length to me he did incline, my voice and cry to hear. He took me from a fearful pit, and from the miry clay, And on a rock he set my feet, establishing my way.
The tune was that wildest of trustful wailings--Martyrs'.
"I didna ken that ye cared aboot psalm-tunes, Mr Cupples," murmured Alec.
The singing went on and he grew restless.
It was an eerie thing to go out, but she must stop the singing. If it was Mr Cupples, she could have nothing to fear. Besides, a bad man would not sing that song.--As she opened the door, a soft spring wind blew upon her full of genial strength, as if it came straight from those dark blue clefts between the heavy clouds of the cast. Away in the clear west, the half-moon was going down in dreaming stillness. The dark figure of a little man stood leaning against the house, singing gently.
"Are you Mr Cupples?" she said.
The man started, and answered,
"Yes, my lass. And wha are ye?"
"I'm Annie Anderson. Alec's some disturbit wi' your singin'. Ye'll wauk him up, and he'll be a hantle the waur o' 't."
"I winna sing anither stave. It was lanesome stan'in' upo' the ootside here, as gin I war ane o' the foolish virgins."
"Eh! wadna that be dreidfu'?" responded Annie simply. Her words awoke an echo in Mr Cupples's conscience, but he returned no reply.
"Hoo's Alec?" he asked.
"Some better. He's growin' better, though it's langsome like."
"And do they lippen you to luik efter him, no?"
"Ay. What for no? His mither wad be worn to deith gin she sat up ilka nicht. He canna bide ouybody but her or me."
"Weel, ye're a young crater to hae sic a chairge.--I wrote to Mrs Forbes twa or three times, but I got but ae scrimpit answer. Sae as sune's I cud win awa', I cam' to speir efter him mysel'."
"Whan did ye come, Mr Cupples?"
"This nicht. Or I reckon it's last nicht noo. But or I wan ower this len'th, ye war a' i' yer beds, and I daurna disturb ye. Sae I sat doon in a summer-seat that I cam' upo', and smokit my pipe and luikit at the stars and the cluds. And I tried to sing a sang, but naething but psalms wad come, for the nicht's sae awfu' solemn, whan ye win richt intil the mids o' 't! It jist distresses me that there's naebody up to worship God a' nicht in sic a nicht's this."
"Nae doobt there's mony praisin' him that we canna see."
"Ow, ay; nae doobt. But aneath this lift, and breathin' the houpfu' air o' this divine darkness."
Annie did not quite understand him.
"I maun gang back to Alec," she said. "Ye'll come ower the morn, Mr Cupples, and hear a' aboot him?"
"I will do that, my bairn. Hoo do they ca' ye--for I forget names dreidfu'?"
"Ay, ay; Annie Anderson--I hae surely heard that name afore.--Weel, I winna forget you, whether I forget yer name or no."
"But hae ye a bed?" said the thoughtful girl, to whom the comfort of every one who came near her was an instinctive anxiety.
"Ow, ay. I hae a bed at the hoose o' a sma', jabberin', bitter-barkit crater they ca' King Robert the Bruce."
Annie knew that he must be occupying her room; and was on the point of expressing a hope that he "wadna be disturbit wi' the rottans," when she saw that it would lead to new explanations and delays.
"Good night, Mr Cupples," she said, holding out her hand.
Mr Cupples took it kindly, saying:
"Are ye a niece, or a gran'-dochter o' the hoose, or a hired servan', or what are ye?--for ye're a wice-spoken lass and a bonnie."
"I'm a servan' o' the hoose," said Annie. Then after a moment's hesitation, she added, "but no a hired ane."
"Ye're worth hirin' onyhoo, hinnie (honey); and they're weel aff that has ye i' the hoose in ony capawcity. An auld man like me may say that to yer face. Sae I'll awa' to my bed, and sing the lave o' my psalm as I gang."
Mr Cupples had a proclivity to garrets. He could not be comfortable if any person was over his head. He could breathe, he said, when he got next to the stars. For the rats he cared nothing, and slept as if the garret were a cellar in heaven.
It had been a sore trial of his manhood to keep his vow after he knew that Alec was safe in the haven of a sick-bed. He knew that for him, if he were once happy again, there was little danger of a relapse; for his physical nature had not been greatly corrupted: there had not been time for that. He would rise from his sickness newborn. Hence it was the harder for Mr Cupples, in his loneliness, to do battle with his deep-rooted desires. He would never drink as he had done, but might he not have just one tumbler?--That one tumbler he did not take. And--rich reward!--after two months the well of song within him began to gurgle and heave as if its waters would break forth once more in the desert; the roseate hue returned to the sunsets; and the spring came in with a very childhood of greenness.--The obfuscations of self-indulgence will soon vanish where they have not been sealed by crime and systematic selfishness.
Another though inferior reward was, that he had money in his pocket: with this money he would go and see Alec Forbes. The amount being small, however, he would save it by walking. Hence it came that he arrived late and weary. Entering the first shop he came to, he inquired after a cheap lodging. For he said to himself that the humblest inn was beyond his means; though probably his reason for avoiding such a shelter was the same as made him ask Alec to throw the bottle out of the garret. Robert Bruce heard his question, and, regarding him keenly from under his eyebrows, debated with himself whether the applicant was respectable--that is, whether he could pay, and would bring upon the house no discredit by the harbourage. The signs of such a man as Cupples were inscrutable to Bruce; therefore his answer hung fire.
"Are ye deif, man?" said Cupples; "or are ye feared to tyne a chance by giein' a fair answer to a fair queston?"
The arrow went too near the mark not to irritate Bruce.
"Gang yer wa's," said he. "We dinna want tramps i' this toon."
"Weel, I am a tramp, nae doobt," returned Cupples; "for I hae come ilka bit o' the road upo' my ain fit; but I hae read in history o' twa or three tramps that war respectable fowk for a' that. Ye winna gie onything i' this chop, I doobt--nae even information.--Will ye sell me an unce o' pigtail?"
"Ow, ay. I'll sell't gin ye'll buy't."
"There's the bawbees," said Cupples, laying the orthodox pence on the counter. "And noo will ye tell me whaur I can get a respectable, dacent place to lie doon in? I'll want it for a week, at ony rate."
Before he had finished the question, the door behind the counter had opened, and young Bruce had entered. Mr Cupples knew him well enough by sight as a last year's bejan.
"How are you?" he said. "I know you, though I don't know your name."
"My name's Robert Bruce, Mr Cupples."
"A fine name--Robert Bruce," he replied.
The youth turned to his father, and said--
"This gentleman is the librarian of our college, father."
Bruce took his hat off his head, and set it on the counter.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said. "I'm terrible short-sichtit in can'le-licht."
"I'm used to bein' mista'en'," answered Cupples simply, perceiving that he had got hold of a character. "Mak nae apologies, I beg ye, but answer my queston."
"Weel, sir, to tell the trowth, seein' ye're a gentleman, we hae a room oorsels. But it's a garret-room, and maybe--"
"Then I'll hae't, whatever it be, gin ye dinna want ower muckle for't."
"Weel, ye see, sir, your college is a great expense to heumble fowk like oorsels, and we hae to mak it up the best way that we can."
"Nae doot. Hoo muckle do ye want?"
"Wad ye think five shillins ower muckle?"
"'Deed wad I."
"Weel, we'll say three than--to you, sir."
"I winna gie ye mair nor half-a-croon."
"Hoot, sir! It's ower little."
"Well, I'll look further," said Mr Cupples, putting on English, and moving to the door.
"Na, sir; ye'll do nae sic thing. Do ye think I wad lat the leebrarian o' my son's college gang oot at my door this time o' nicht, to luik for a bed till himsel'? Ye s' jist hae't at yer ain price, and welcome. Ye'll hae yer tay and sugar and bitties o' cheese frae me, ye ken?"
"Of course--of course. And if you could get me some tea at once, I should be obliged to you."
"Mother," cried Bruce through the house-door, and held a momentary whispering with the partner of his throne.
"So your name's Bruce, is it?" resumed Cupples, as the other returned to the counter.
"Robert Bruce, sir, at your service."
"It's a gran' name," said Cupples with emphasis.
"'Deed is't, and I hae a richt to beir 't."
"Ye'll be a descendant, nae doot, o' the Yerl o' Carrick?" said Cupples, guessing at his weakness.
"O' the king, sir. Fowk may think little o' me; but I come o' him that freed Scotland. Gin it hadna been for Bannockburn, sir, whaur wad Scotland hae been the day?"
"Nearhan' civileezed unner the fine influences o' the English, wi' their cultivation and their mainners, and, aboon a', their gran' Edwards and Hairries."
"I dinna richtly unnerstan' ye, sir," said Bruce. "Ye hae heard hoo the king clave the skull o' Sir Henry dee Bohunn--haena ye, sir?"
"Ow, aye. But it was a pity it wasna the ither gait. Lat me see the way to my room, for I want to wash my han's and face. They're jist barkit wi' stour (dust)."
Bruce hesitated whether to show Mr Cupples out or in. His blue blood boiled at this insult to his great progenitor. But a half-crown would cover a greater wrong than that even, and he obeyed. Cupples followed him up-stairs, murmuring to himself:
"Shades o' Wallace and Bruce! forgie me. But to see sma' craters cock their noses and their tails as gin they had inherited the michty deeds as weel as the names o' their forbears, jist scunners me, and turns my blude into the gall o' bitterness--and that's scripter for't."
After further consultation, Mr and Mrs Bruce came to the conclusion that it might be politic, for Robert's sake, to treat the librarian with consideration. Consequently Mrs Bruce invited him to go down to his tea in the room. Descending before it was quite ready, he looked about him. The only thing that attracted his attention was a handsomely bound Bible. This he took up, thinking to get some amusement from the births of the illustrious Bruces; but the only inscription he could find, besides the name of John Cowie, was the following in pencil:
"Super Davidis Psalmum tertium vicesimum, syngrapham pecuniariam centum solidos valentem, quoe, me mortuo, a Annie Anderson, mihi dilecta, sit, posui."
Then came some figures, and then the date, with the initials J. C.
Hence it was that Mr Cupples thought he had heard the name of Annie Anderson before.
"It's a gran' Bible this, gudewife," he said as Mrs Bruce entered.
"Aye is't. It belanged to oor pairis-minister."
Nothing more passed, for Mr Cupples was hungry.
After a long sleep in the morning, he called upon Mrs Forbes, and was kindly received; but it was a great disappointment to him to find that he could not see Alec. As he was in the country, however, he resolved to make the best of it, and enjoy himself for a week. For his asserted dislike to the country, though genuine at the time, was anything but natural to him. So every day he climbed to the top of one or other of the hills which inclosed the valley, and was rewarded with fresh vigour and renewed joy. He had not learned to read Wordsworth; yet not a wind blew through a broom-bush, but it blew a joy from it into his heart. He too was a prodigal returned at least into the vestibule of his Father's house. And the Father sent the servants out there to minister to him; and Nature, the housekeeper, put the robe of health upon him, and gave him new shoes of strength, and a ring, though not the Father's white stone. The delights of those spring days were endless to him whose own nature was budding with new life. Familiar with all the cottage ways, he would drop into any hoosie he came near about his dinnertime, and asking for a piece (of oat-cake) and a coguie o' milk, would make his dinner off those content, and leave a trifle behind him in acknowledgment. But he would always contrive that as the gloamin began to fall, he should be near Howglen, that he might inquire after his friend. And Mrs Forbes began to understand him better.--Before the week was over, there was not a man or woman about Howglen whom he did not know even by name; for to his surprise, even his forgetfulness was fast vanishing in the menstruum of the earth-spirit, the world's breath blown over the corn. In particular he had made the acquaintance of James Dow, with whose knowing simplicity he was greatly taken.
On the last day but one of his intended stay, as he went to make his daily inquiry, he dropped in to see James Dow in the "harled hypocrite." James had come in from his work, and was sitting alone on a bench by the table, in a corner of the earth-floored kitchen. The great pot, lidless, and full of magnificent potatoes, was hanging above the fire, that its contents might be quite dry for supper. Through the little window, a foot and a half square, Cupples could see the remains of a hawthorn hedge, a hundred years old--a hedge no longer, but a row of knobby, gnarled trees, full of knees and elbows; and through the trees the remains of an orange-coloured sunset.--It was not a beautiful country, as I have said before; but the spring was beautiful, and the heavens were always beautiful; and, like the plainest woman's face, the country itself, in its best moods, had no end of beauty.
"Hoo are ye, Jeames Doo?"
"Fine, I thank ye, sir," said James rising.
"I wad raither sit doon mysel', nor gar you stan' up efter yer day's work, Jeames."
"Ow! I dinna warstle mysel' to the deith a'thegither."
But James, who was not a healthy man, was often in the wet field when another would have been in bed, and righteously in bed. He had a strong feeling of the worthlessness of man's life in comparison with the work he has to do, even if that work be only the spreading of a fother of dung. His mistress could not keep him from his work.
Mr Cupples sat down, and James resumed his seat.
"Ye're awfu' dubby (miry) aboot the feet, Mr Cupples. Jist gie me aff yer shune, and I'll gie them a scrape and a lick wi' the blackin'-brush," said James, again rising.
"Deil tak' me gin I do ony sic thing!" exclaimed Mr Cupples. "My shune'll do weel eneuch."
"Whaur got ye a' that dub, sir? The roads is middlin' the day."
"I dinna aye stick to the roads, Jeames. I wan intil a bog first, and syne intil some plooed lan' that was a' lumps o' clay shinin' green i' the sun. Sae it's nae wonner gin I be some clortit. Will ye gie me a pitawta, Jeames, in place o' the blackin'-brush?"
"Ay, twenty. But winna ye bide till Mysie comes in, and hae a drappy milk wi' them? They're fine pitawtas the year."
"Na, na, I haena time."
"Weel, jist dip into the pot, and help yersel', sir; and I'll luik for a grainy o' saut."
"Hoo's yer mistress, Jeames? A fine woman that!"
"Nae that ill, but some forfochten wi' norsin' Mr Alec. Eh! sir, that's a fine lad, gin he wad only haud steady."
"I'm thinkin' he winna gang far wrang again. He's gotten the arles (earnest) and he winna want the wages.--That's a fine lassie that's bidin' wi' them--Annie Anderson they ca' her."
"'Deed is she, sir. I kent her father afore her day, and I hae kent her sin ever she had a day. She's ane o' the finest bairns ever was seen."
"Is she ony relation to the mistress?"
"Ow, na. Nae mair relation nor 'at a' gude fowk's sib."
And Dow told Cupples the girl's story, including the arrangement made with Bruce in which he had had a principal part.
"Annie Anderson--I canna mak' oot whaur I hae heard her name afore."
"Ye're bidin' at Bruce's, arena ye, Mr Cupples?"
"Ay. That is, I'm sleepin' there, and payin' for't."
"Weel, I hae little doobt ye hae heard it there."
"I dinna think it. But maybe.--What kin' o' chiel' 's Bruce?"
"He's terrible greedy."
"A moudiwarp (mole) wi' ae ee wad see that afore he had winkit twice."
"'Deed micht he."
"Is he honest?"
"That's hard to answer. But I s' gar him be honest wi' regaird to her, gin I can."
"Wad he chait?"
"Ay. Na. He wadna chait muckle. I wadna turn my back till him, though, ohn keekit ower my shouther to haud him sicker. He wadna min' doin' ill that gude micht come."
"Ay, ay; I ken him.--And the ill wad be whatever hurtit anither man, and the gude whatever furthered himsel?" said Mr Cupples as he dipped the last morsel of his third potato in the salt which he held in the palm of his left hand.
"Ye hae said it, Mr Cupples."
And therewith, Mr Cupples bade James good-night, and went to the hoose.
There he heard the happy news that Alec insisted on seeing him. Against her will, Mrs Forbes had given in, as the better alternative to vexing him. The result of the interview was, that Cupples sat up with him that night, and Mrs Forbes and Annie both slept. In the morning he found a bed ready for him, to which he reluctantly betook himself and slept for a couple of hours. The end of it was, that he did not go back to Mr Bruce's except to pay his bill. Nor did he leave Howglen for many weeks.
At length, one lovely morning, when the green corn lay soaking in the yellow sunlight, and the sky rose above the earth deep and pure and tender like the thought of God about it, Alec became suddenly aware that life was good, and the world beautiful. He tried to raise himself, but failed. Cupples was by his side in a moment. Alec held out his hand with his old smile so long disused. Cupples propped him up with pillows, and opened the window that the warm waves of the air might break into the cave where he had lain so long deaf to its noises and insensible to its influences. The tide flowed into his chamber like Pactolus, all golden with sunbeams. He lay with his hands before him and his eyes closed, looking so happy that Cupples gazed with reverent delight, for he thought he was praying. But he was only blessed. So easily can God make a man happy! The past had dropped from him like a wild but weary and sordid dream. He was reborn, a new child, in a new bright world, with a glowing summer to revel in. One of God's lyric prophets, the larks, was within earshot, pouring down a vocal summer of jubilant melody. The lark thought nobody was listening but his wife; but God heard in heaven, and the young prodigal heard on the earth. He would be a good child henceforth, for one bunch of sunrays was enough to be happy upon. His mother entered. She saw the beauty upon her boy's worn countenance; she saw the noble watching love on that of his friend; her own filled with light, and she stood transfixed and silent. Annie entered, gazed for a moment, fled to her own room, and burst into adoring tears.--For she had seen the face of God, and that face was Love--love like the human, only deeper, deeper--tenderer, lovelier, stronger. She could not recall what she had seen, or how she had known it; but the conviction remained that she had seen his face, and that it was infinitely beautiful.
"He has been wi' me a' the time, my God! He gied me my father, and sent Broonie to tak' care o' me, and Dooie, and Thomas Crann, and Mrs Forbes, and Alec. And he sent the cat whan I gaed till him aboot the rottans. An' he's been wi' me I kenna hoo lang, and he's wi' me noo. And I hae seen his face, and I'll see his face again. And I'll try sair to be a gude bairn. Eh me! It's jist wonnerfu! And God's jist....naething but God himsel'."
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