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Two days after Alec's departure, Mr Bruce called at Howglen to see Annie.
"Hoo are ye, Mistress Forbes? Hoo are ye, Miss Anderson? I was jist comin' ower the watter for a walk, and I thocht I micht as weel fess the bit siller wi' me that I'm awin ye."
Annie stared. She did not know what he meant. He explained.
"It's weel on till a towmon (twelvemonth) that ye hae had neither bite nor sup aneath my heumble riggin-tree (rooftree), and as that was the upmak for the interest, I maun pay ye the tane seein' ye winna accep' o' the tither. I hae jist brocht ye ten poun' to pit i' yer ain pooch i' the meantime."
Annie could hardly believe her ears. Could she be the rightful owner of such untold wealth? Without giving her time to say anything, however, Bruce went on, still holding in his hand the dirty bunch of one-pound notes.
"But I'm thinkin' the best way o' disposin' o' 't wad be to lat me put it to the lave o' the prencipal. Sae I'll jist tak it to the bank as I gang back. I canna gie ye onything for 't, 'cause that wad be brakin' the law against compoon interest, but I can mak' it up some ither gait, ye ken."
But Annie had been too much pleased at the prospect of possession to let the money go so easily.
"I hae plenty o' ways o' spen'in' 't," she said, "withoot wastry. Sae I'll jist tak' it mysel', and thank ye, Mr Bruce."
She rose and took the notes from Bruce's unwilling hand. He was on the point of replacing them in his trowsers-pocket and refusing to give them up, when her promptitude rescued them. Discomfiture was manifest in his reluctant eyes, and the little tug of retraction with which he loosed his hold upon the notes. He went home mortified, and poverty-stricken, but yet having gained a step towards a further end.
Annie begged Mrs Forbes to take the money.
"I have no use for it, ma'am. An old gown of yours makes as good a frock for me as I can ever want to have."
But Mrs Forbes would not even take charge of the money--partly from the pride of beneficence, partly from the fear of involving it in her own straits. So that Annie, having provided herself with a few necessaries, felt free to spend the rest as she would. How she longed for Tibbie Dyster! But not having her, she went to Thomas Crann, and offered the money to him.
"'Deed no, lassie! I winna lay a finger upo' 't. Lay't by till ye want it yersel'."
"Dinna ye ken somebody that wants't mair nor me, Thomas?"
Now Thomas had just been reading a few words spoken, according to Matthew, the tax-gatherer, by the King of Men, declaring the perfection of God to consist in his giving good things to all alike, whether they love him or not. And when Annie asked the question, he remembered the passage and Peter Peterson together. But he could not trust her to follow her own instincts, and therefore went with her to see the poor fellow, who was in a consumption, and would never drink any more. When he saw his worn face, and the bones with hands at the ends of them, his heart smote him that he had ever been harsh to him; and although he had gone with the intention of rousing him to a sense of his danger beyond the grave, he found that for very pity he could not open the prophetic mouth. From self-accusation he took shelter behind Annie, saying to himself: "Babes can best declare what's best revealed to them;" and left Peter to her ministrations.
A little money went far to make his last days comfortable; and ere she had been visiting him for more than a month, he loved her so that he was able to believe that God might love him, though he knew perfectly (wherein perhaps his drunkenness had taught him more than the prayers of many a pharisee) that he could not deserve it.
This was the beginning of a new relation between Annie and the poor of Glamerton. And the soul of the maiden grew and blossomed into divine tenderness, for it was still more blessed to give than to receive. But she was only allowed to taste of this blessedness, for she had soon to learn that even giving itself must be given away cheerfully.
After three months Bruce called again with the quarter's interest. Before the next period arrived he had an interview with James Dow, to whom he represented that, as he was now paying the interest down in cash, he ought not to be exposed to the inconvenience of being called upon at any moment to restore the principal, but should have the money secured to him for ten years. After consultation, James Dow consented to a three years' loan, beyond which he would not yield. Papers to this effect were signed, and one quarter's interest more was placed in Annie's willing hand.
In the middle of summer Mr Cupples made his appearance, and was warmly welcomed. He had at length completed the catalogue of the library, had got the books arranged to his mind, and was brimful of enjoyment. He ran about the fields like a child; gathered bunches of white clover; made a great kite, and bought an unmeasureable length of string, with which he flew it the first day the wind was worthy of the honour; got out Alec's boat, and upset himself in the Glamour; was run away with by one of the plough-horses in the attempt to ride him to the water; was laughed at and loved by everybody about Howglen. At length, that is, in about ten days, he began to settle down into sobriety of demeanour. The first thing that sobered him was a hint of yellow upon a field of oats. He began at once to go and see the people of Glamerton, and called upon Thomas Crann first.
He found him in one of his gloomy moods, which however were much less frequent than they had been.
"Hoo are ye, auld frien'?" said Cupples.
"Auld as ye say, sir, and nae muckle farrer on nor whan I begud. I whiles think I hae profited less than onybody I ken. But eh, sir, I wad be sorry, gin I was you, to dee afore I had gotten a glimp o' the face o' God."
"Hoo ken ye that I haena gotten a glimp o' that same?"
"Ye wad luik mair solemn like," answered Thomas.
"Maybe I wad," responded Cupples, seriously.
"Man, strive to get it. Gie Him no rist, day nor nicht, till ye get it. Knock, knock, knock, till it be opened till ye."
"Weel, Thomas, ye dinna seem sae happy yersel', efter a'. Dinna ye think ye may be like ane that's tryin' to see the face o' whilk ye speyk throu a crack i' the door, in place o' haein patience till it's opened?"
But the suggestion was quite lost upon Thomas, who, after a gloomy pause, went on.
"Sin's sic an awfu' thing," he began; when the door opened, and in walked James Dow.
His entrance did not interrupt Thomas, however.
"Sin's sic an awfu' thing! And I hae sinned sae aften and sae lang, that maybe He'll be forced efter a' to sen' me to the bottomless pit."
"Hoot, hoot, Thamas! dinna speyk sic awfu' things," said Dow. "They're dreadfu' to hearken till. I s' warran' He's as kin'-hertit as yersel."
James had no reputation for piety, though much for truthfulness and honesty. Nor had he any idea how much lay in the words he had hastily uttered. A light-gleam grew and faded on Thomas's face.
"I said, he micht be forced to sen' me efter a'."
"What, Thomas!" cried Cupples. "He cudna save ye! Wi' the Son and the Speerit to help him? And a willin' hert in you forbye? Fegs! ye hae a greater opinion o' Sawtan nor I gied ye the discredit o'."
"Na, na; it's nae Sawtan. It's mysel'. I wadna lay mair wyte (blame) upo' Sawtan's shouthers nor's his ain. He has eneuch already, puir fallow!"
"Ye'll be o' auld Robbie Burns's opinion, that he 'aiblins micht still hae a stake.'"
"Na, na; he has nane. Burns was nae prophet."
"But jist suppose, Thomas--gin the de'il war to repent."
"Man!" exclaimed the stonemason, rising to his full height with slow labour after the day's toil, "it wad be cruel to gar him repent. It wad be ower sair upon him. Better kill him. The bitterness o' sic repentance wad be ower terrible. It wad be mair nor he cud bide. It wad brak his hert a'thegither.--Na, na, he has nae chance."
The last sentence was spoken quickly and with attempted carelessness as he resumed his seat.
"Hoo ken ye that?" asked Cupples.
"There's no sic word i' the Scriptur'."
"Do ye think He maun tell us a' thing?"
"We hae nae richt to think onything that He doesna tell's."
"I'm nae sae sure o' that, Thomas. Maybe, whiles, he doesna tell's a thing jist to gar's think aboot it, and be ready for the time whan he will tell's."
Thomas was silent for a few moments. Then with a smile--rather a grim one--he said,
"Here's a curious thing, no.--There's neyther o' you convertit, and yet yer words strenthen my hert as gin they cam frae the airt (region) aboon."
But his countenance changed, and he added hastily,
"It's a mark o' indwellin' sin. To the law and to the testimony--Gang awa' and lat me to my prayers."
They obeyed; for either they felt that nothing but his prayers would do, or they were awed, and dared not remain.
Mr Cupples could wait. Thomas could not.
The Forlorn Hope of men must storm the walls of Heaven.
Amongst those who sit down at the gate till one shall come and open it, are to be found both the wise and the careless children.
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