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Thomas Crann's conversation with Mr Cupples deepened both his annoyance and his grief at the membership of Robert Bruce. What was the use of a church if such men as he got into it, and, having got in, could not be got out? Had he been guilty of any open fault, such as getting drunk, for one solitary and accidental instance of which they had excluded one of their best and purest-minded men, they could have got rid of him with comparative ease; but who so free of fault as Bruce? True, he was guilty of the crime of over-reaching whenever he had a chance, and of cheating when there was no risk of being found out--at least so everybody believed--but he had no faults. The duty, therefore, that lay upon every member, next to the cleanness of his own garments--that of keeping the church pure and unspotted--was hard to fulfil, and no one was ready to undertake it but Thomas Crann. For what a spot was here! And Thomas knew his Lord's will.
Neither was the duty so unpleasant to Thomas's oppositive nature, as it would have been to a man of easier temperament.
"Jeames Johnstone," he said, "the kirk maks nae progress. It's no as i' the time o' the apostles whan the saved war added till't daily."
"Weel, ye see," returned James, "that wasna oor kirk exacly; and it wasna Mr Turnbull that was the heid o' 't."
"It's a' the same. The prenciple's the same. An' Mr Turnbull preaches the same gospel Peter and Paul praiched, and wi' unction too. And yet here's the congregation dwin'lin' awa', and the church itsel' like naething but bees efter the brunstane. I say there's an Ahchan i' the camp--a Jonah i' the vessel--a son o' Saul i' the kingdom o' Dawvid--a Judas amo' the twal'--a--"
"Hoots! Thomas Crann; ye're no pittin' a' thae gran' names upo' that puir feckless body, Rob Bruce, are ye?"
"He's nane feckless for the deevil's wark or for his ain, which is ae thing and the same. Oot he maun gang, gin we tak' him by the scruff o' the neck and the doup o' the breeks."
"Dinna jeist, Thomas, aboot sic a dangerous thing," said James, mildly glad of one solitary opportunity of rebuking the granite-minded mason.
"Jeist! I'm far eneuch frae jeistin'. Ye dinna ken fervour frae jokin', Jeames Johnstone."
"He micht tak' the law upo's for defamin' o' 's character; and that wad be an awfu' thing for puir fowk like us, Thamas."
"Aye the same thing ower again, Jeames! Shy at a stane, and fa' into the stank (ditch). That's the pairt o' a colt and no o' a Christian."
"But arena we tellt to be wise as serpents?"
"Ye wad tak' a heap o' tellin' upo' that heid, Jeames."
"Ow, 'deed ay! And I'm no my lane, Thamas. But we are tellt that."
"The serpent turned oot an ill cooncellor upon ae occasion ower well to be remembert by Adam's race."
"The words stan' as I say," persisted James.
"Ye're no to mak' the serpent yer cooncellor, man. But ance ye ken yer duty, ye may weel tak example by him hoo to carry 't oot. Did ye ever see an edder lyin' ower a stane as gin he was naething but a stick himsel', bidin' 's time? That's me, i' the Scriptur' sense. I'm only bidin' till I see hoo. A body maunna do ill that gude may come, though wow! it's a sair temptation whiles; neither maun a body neglec to do richt for fear that ill may follow."
"Ay, true that. But ye needna burn the hoose to rid the rottans. I doot ye'll get's a' into ower het water; and a body needna tak' the skin aff for the sake o' cleanliness. Jist tak ye tent (care, attention), Thamas, what ye're aboot."
Having thus persisted in opposing Thomas to a degree he had never dared before, James took his departure, pursued by the words:
"Tak ye care, Jeames, that in savin' the richt han' ye dinna send the haill body to hell. It was aye yer danger. I never got bauld coonsel frae ye yet."
"There's mair vertues i' the Bible nor courage, Thamas," retorted James, holding the outer door open to throw the sentence in, and shutting it instantly to escape with the last word.
Thomas, abandoned to his own resources, meditated long and painfully. But all he could arrive at was the resolution to have another talk with Mr Cupples. He might not be a Christian man, but he was an honest and trustworthy man, and might be able from his scholarship to give him some counsel. So he walked to Howglen the next day, and found him with Alec in the harvest-field. And Alec's reception of Thomas showed what a fine thing illness is for bringing people to their right minds.
Mr Cupples walked aside with Thomas, and they seated themselves on two golden sheaves at the foot of a stook.
"What ye said to me the ither day, sir," began Thomas, "has stucken fest i' my crap, ever sin' syne. We maun hae him oot."
"Na, na; ye better lat him sit. He'll haud doon yer pride. That man's a judgment on ye for wantin' to be better nor yer neebors. Dinna try to win free o' judgment. But I'll tell ye what I wad hae ye do: Mak muckle o' 'm. Gie him tether eneuch. He'll gang frae ill to waur, ye may depen'. He'll steal or a' be dune."
"To the best o' my belief, sir, that's no to come, He's stolen already, or I'm sair mista'en."
"Ay! Can ye pruv that? That's anither maitter," returned Cupples, beginning to be interested.
"I dinna ken whether I oucht to hae mentioned it to ane that wasna a member, though; but it jist cam oot o' 'tsel' like."
"Sae the fac' that a man's a member wha's warst crime may be that he is a member, maks him sic precious gear that he maunna be meddlet wi' i' the presence o' an honest man, wha, thank God, has neither pairt nor lot in ony sic maitter?"
"Dinna be angry, Mr Cupples. I'll tell ye a' aboot it," pleaded Thomas, than who no man could better recognize good sense.
But the Cosmo Cupples who thus attracted the confidence of Thomas Crann was a very different man from the Cosmo Cupples whom first Alec Forbes went to the garret to see at his landlady's suggestion. All the flabbiness had passed from his face, and his eyes shone clearer than ever from a clear complexion. His mouth still gave a first impression of unsteadiness; no longer, however, from the formlessness of the loose lips, but from the continual flickering of a nascent smile that rippled their outline with long wavy motions of evanescent humour. His dress was still careless, but no longer neglected, and his hand was as steady as a rifleman's.
Nor had he found it so hard to conquer his fearful habit as even he had expected; for with every week passed in bitter abstinence, some new well would break from the rich soil of his intellect, and irrigate with its sweet waters the parched border land between his physical and psychical being. And when he had once again betaken himself to the forsaken pen, there was little reason to fear a relapse or doubt a final victory. A playful humanity radiated from him, the result of that powerfullest of all restoratives--giving of what one has to him who has not. Indeed his reformation had begun with this. St Paul taught a thief to labour, that he might have to give: Love taught Mr Cupples to deny himself that he might rescue his friend; and presently he had found his feet touching the rock. If he had not yet learned to look "straight up to heaven," his eyes wandered not unfrequently towards that spiritual horizon upon which things earthly and things heavenly meet and embrace.
To such a Cosmo Cupples, then, Thomas told the story of Annie Anderson's five-pound note. As he spoke, Cupples was tormented as with the flitting phantom of a half-forgotten dream. All at once, light flashed upon him.
"And sae what am I to do?" asked Thomas as he finished his tale.--"I can pruv naething; but I'm certain i' my ain min', kennin' the man's nater, that it was that note he tuik oot o' the Bible."
"I'll put the proof o' that same into yer han's, or I'm sair mista'en," said Mr Cupples.
"You, Mr Cupples?"
"Ay, me, Mr Crann. But maybe ye wadna tak proof frae sic a sinner against sic a sanct. Sae ye may keep yer sanct i' yer holy boasom."
"Dinna gang on that gait, Mr Cupples. Gin ye can direc' me to the purification o' our wee bit temple, I'll hearken heumbly. I only wiss ye war ane o' us."
"I'll bide till ye hae gotten rid o' Bruce, ony gait.--I care naething for yer sma' separatist kirkies.--I wonner ye dinna pray for a clippin' o' an auld sun that ye micht do withoot the common daylicht. But I do think it's a great shame--that sic a sneak sud be i' the company o' honest fowk, as I tak the maist o' ye to be. Sae I'll do my best. Ye'll hear frae me in a day or twa."
Cupples had remembered the inscription on the fly-leaf of the big Bible, which, according to Thomas Crann, Mr Cowie had given to Annie. He now went to James Dow.
"Did Annie ever tell ye aboot a Bible that Mr Cowie ga'e her, Jeames?"
"Ay did she. I min' 't fine."
"Cud ye get a haud o' 't."
"Eh! I dinna ken. The crater has laid his ain cleuks upo' 't. It's a sod pity that Annie's oot o' the hoose, or she micht hae stown't (stolen it)."
"Truly, bein' her ain, she micht. But ye're a kin' o' a guairdian till her--arena ye?"
"Ow! ay. I hae made mysel' that in a way; but Bruce wad aye be luikit upon as the proper guairdian."
"Hae ye ony haud upo' the siller?"
"I gart him sign a lawyer's paper aboot it."
"Weel, ye jist gang and demand the Bible, alang wi' the lave o' Annie's property. Ye ken she's had trouble aboot her kist (chest), and canna get it frae the swallowin' cratur'. And gin he maks ony demur, jist drap a hint o' gaein to the lawyer aboot it. The like o' him's as fleyt at a lawyer as cats at cauld water. Get the Bible we maun. And ye maun fess't to me direckly."
Dow was a peaceable man, and did not much relish the commission. Cupples, thinking he too was a missionar, told him the story.
"Weel," said Dow, "lat him sit there. Maybe they'll haud him frae doin' mair mischeef. Whan ye jabble a stank, the stink rises."
"I thocht ye was ane o' them. Ye maunna lat it oot."
"Na, na. I a' haud my tongue."
"I care naething aboot it. But there's Thamas Crann jist eatin' his ain hert. It's a sin to lat sic a man live in sic distress."
"'Deed is't. He's a gude man that. And he's been verra kin' to oor Annie, Mr Cupples,--I'll do as ye say. Whan do ye want it?"
"This verra nicht."
So after his day's work, which was hard enough at this season of the year, was over, James Dow put on his blue Sunday coat, and set off to the town. He found Robert Bruce chaffering with a country girl over some butter, for which he wanted to give her less than the market-value. This roused his indignation, and put him in a much fitter mood for an altercation.
"I winna gie ye mair nor fivepence. Hoo are ye the day, Mr Doo? I tell ye it has a goo (Fren. gout) o' neeps or something waur."
"Hoo can that be, Mr Bruce, at this sizzon o' the year, whan there's plenty o' gerss for man an' beast an' a' cratur?" said the girl.
"It's no for me to say hoo it can be. That's no my business. Noo, Mr Doo?"
Bruce, whose very life lay in driving bargains, had a great dislike to any interruption of the process. Yet he forsook the girl as if he had said all he had to say, and turned to James Dow. For he wanted to get rid of him before concluding his bargain with the girl, whose butter he was determined to have even if he must pay her own price for it. Like the Reeve in the Canterbury Tales, who "ever rode the hinderest of the rout," being such a rogue and such a rogue-catcher that he could not bear anybody behind his back, Bruce, when about the business that his soul loved, eschewed the presence of any third person.
"Noo, Mr Doo?" he said.
"My business'll keep," replied Dow.
"But ye see we're busy the nicht, Mr Doo."
"Weel, I dinna want to hurry ye. But I wonner that ye wad buy ill butter, to please onybody, even a bonnie lass like that."
"Some fowk likes the taste o' neeps, though I dinna like it mysel'," answered Bruce. "But the fac' that neeps is no a favourite wi' the maist o' fowk, brings doon the price i' the market."
"Neeps is neither here nor there," said the girl; and taking up her basket, she was going to leave the shop.
"Bide a bit, my lass," cried Bruce. "The mistress wad like to see ye. Jist gang benn the hoose to her wi' yer basket, and see what she thinks o' the butter. I may be wrang, ye ken."
So saying he opened the inner door, and ushered the young woman into the kitchen.
"Noo, Mr Doo?" he said once more. "Is't tobawco, or sneeshin (snuff), or what is't?"
"It's Annie Anderson's kist and a' her gear."
"I'm surprised at ye, Jeames Doo. There's the lassie's room up the stair, fit for ony princess, whanever she likes to come back till't. But she was aye a royt (riotous) lassie, an' a reglar rintheroot."
"Ye lee, Rob Bruce," exclaimed Dow, surprised out of his proprieties. "Whaever ye say that till, dinna say't to me."
Bruce was anything but a quarrelsome man with other than his inferiors. He pocketed the lie very calmly.
"Dinna lowse yer temper, Mr Doo. It's a sair fau't that."
"Jist ye deliver up the bairn's effecks, or I'll gang to them that'll gar ye."
"Wha micht that be, Mr Doo?" asked Bruce, wishing first to find out how far Dow was prepared to go.
"Ye hae no richt whatever to keep that lassie's claes, as gin she aucht (owed) you onything for rent."
"Hae ye ony richt to tak them awa'? Hoo ken I what'll come o' them?"
"Weel, I s' awa' doon to Mr Gibb, and we'll see what can be dune there. It's weel kent ower a' Glamerton, Mr Bruce, in what mainner you and yer haill hoose hae borne yersels to that orphan lassie; and I'll gang into ilka chop, as I gang doon the street, that is, whaur I'm acquant, and I'll jist tell them whaur I'm gaun, and what for."
The thing which beyond all others Bruce dreaded was unremunerative notoriety.
"Hoots! Jeames Doo, ye dinna ken jokin' frae jeistin'. I never was the man to set mysel' i' the face o' onything rizzonable. But ye see it wad be cast up to the haill o' 's that we had driven the puir lassie oot o' the hoose, and syne flung her things efter her."
"The tane ye hae dune. The tither ye shanna do, for I'll tak them. And I'll tell ye what fowk'll say gin ye dinna gie up the things. They'll say that ye baith drave her awa' and keepit her bit duds. I'll see to that--and mair forbye."
Bruce understood that he referred to Annie's money. His object in refusing to give up her box had been to retain as long as possible a chance of persuading her to return to his house; for should she leave it finally, her friends might demand the interest in money, which at present he was bound to pay only in aliment and shelter, little of either of which she required at his hands. But here was a greater danger still.
"Mother," he cried, "pit up Miss Anderson's claes in her box to gang wi' the carrier the morn's mornin'."
"I'll tak them wi' me," said Dow resolutely.
"Ye canna. Ye haena a cairt."
"Ye get them pitten up, and I'll fess a barrow," said James, leaving the shop.
He borrowed a wheelbarrow from Thomas Crann, and found the box ready for him when he returned. The moment he lifted it, he was certain from the weight of the poor little property that the Bible was not there.
"Ye haena pitten in Mr Cooie's Bible."
"Mother! did ye pit in the Bible?" cried Bruce, for the house-door was open.
"'Deed no, father. It's better whaur't is," said Mrs Bruce from the kitchen, with shrill response.
"Ye see, Mr Doo, the Bible's lain sae lang there, that it's jist oor ain. And the lassie canna want it till she has a faimily to hae worship wi'. And syne she s' be welcome to tak' it."
"Ye gang up the stair for the buik, or I'll gang mysel'."
Bruce went and fetched it, with a bad grace enough, and handed over with it the last tattered remnants of his respectability into the hands of James Dow.
Mr Cupples, having made a translation of the inscription, took it to Thomas Crann.
"Do ye min' what Bruce read that nicht ye saw him tak' something oot o' the beuk?" he asked as he entered.
"Ay, weel that. He began wi' the twenty-third psalm, and gaed on to the neist."
"Weel, read that. I faun' 't on a blank leaf o' the buik."
Thomas read--'Over the twenty-third psalm of David I have laid a five-pound note for my dear Annie Anderson, after my death,'--and lifting his eyes, stared at Mr Cupples, his face slowly brightening with satisfaction. Then a cloud came over his brow--for was he not rejoicing in iniquity? At least he was rejoicing in coming shame.
"Hoo cud it hae been," he asked after a brief pause, "that Bruce didna fa' upo' this, as weel's you, Mr Cupples, or didna scart it oot?"
"'Cause 'twas written in Latin. The body hadna the wit to misdoobt the contents o' 't. It said naething till him, and he never thoucht it cud say onything aboot him."
"It's a fine thing to be a scholar, Mr Cupples."
"They say the Miss Cowies are great scholars."
"Verra likly.--But there's ae thing mair I wad put ye up till. Can ye tell the day o' the month that ye gaed hame wi' yer prayin' frien'?"
"It was the nicht o' a special prayer-meetin' for the state o' Glamerton. I can fin' oot the date frae the kirk-buiks. What am I to do wi' 't whan I hae't, sir?"
"Gang to the bank the body deals wi', and spier whether a note beirin' the nummer o' thae figures was paid intil 't upo' the Monday followin' that Sunday, and wha paid it. They'll tell ye that at ance."
But for various reasons, which it is needless to give in this history, Thomas was compelled to postpone the execution of his project. And Robert went on buying and selling and getting gain, all unaware of the pit he had digged for himself.
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