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   Chapter 6 No.6

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 6726

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


One lovely evening in October, when the shadows were falling from the western sun, and the light that made them was as yellow as a marigold, and a keen little wind was just getting ready to come out and blow the moment the sun would be out of sight, Annie, who was helping to fasten up the cows for the night, drawing iron chains round their soft necks, saw a long shadow coming in at the narrow entrance of the yard. It came in and in; and was so long in coming in, that she began to feel as if it was something not quite cannie, and to fancy herself frightened. But, at length, she found that the cause of the great shadow was only a little man; and that this little man was no other than her father's cousin, Robert Bruce. Alas! how little a man may cast a great shadow!

He came up to Annie, and addressed her in the smoothest voice he could find, fumbling at the same time in his coat-pocket.

"Hoo are ye the nicht dawtie? Are ye verra weel? An' hoo's yer auntie?"

He waited for no reply to any of these questions, but went on.

"See what I hae brocht ye frae the chop."

So saying, he put into her hand about half-a-dozen sweeties, screwed up in a bit of paper. With this gift he left her, and walked on to the open door of the house, which, as a cousin, he considered himself privileged to enter unannounced even by a knock. He found the mistress of it in the kitchen, superintending the cooking of the supper.

"Hoo are ye the nicht, Marget?" he said, still in a tone of conciliatory smoothness, through which, however, he could not prevent a certain hardness from cropping out plentifully. "Ye're busy as usual, I see. Weel, the hand o' the diligent maketh rich, ye ken."

"That portion o' the Word maun be o' leemited application, I doot," returned Marget, as, withdrawing her hand from her cousin's, she turned again to the pot hanging over the fire. "No man daurs to say that my han' has not been the han' o' the diligent; but Guid kens I'm nane the richer."

"We maunna repine, Marget. Richt or wrang, it's the Lord's will."

"It's easy to you, Robert Bruce, wi' yer siller i' the bank, to speik that gait til a puir lone body like me, that maun slave for my bread whan I'm no sae young as I micht be. No that I'm like to dee o' auld age either."

"I haena sae muckle i' the bank as some folk may think; though what there is is safe eneuch. But I hae a bonny business doun yonner, and it micht be better yet. It's jist the land o' Goshen, only it wants a wheen mair tap-dressin'."

"Tak it frae the bank, than, Robert."

"The bank! said ye, Marget? I canna do that."

"And what for no?"

"'Cause I'm jist like the hens, Marget. Gin they dinna see ae egg i' the nest, they hae no hert to lay anither. I daurna meddle wi' the bank."

"Weel, lat sit than; an' lay awa' at yer leisur'. Hoo's the mistress?"

"No that weel, and no that ill. The faimily's rather sair upo' her. But

I canna haud her oot o' the chop for a' that. She's like mysel'-she

wad aye be turnin' a bawbee. But what are ye gaein to do yersel',

Marget?"

"I'm gaein to my uncle and aunt-auld John Peterson and his wife.

They're gey and frail noo, and they want somebody to luik efter them."

"Than ye're weel provided for; Praise be thankit! Marget."

"Ow, ay; nae doot," replied Marget, with bitterness, of which Bruce took no notic

e.

"And what's to come o' the bairnie?" pursued he.

"I maun jist get some dacent auld body i' the toon to tak' her in, and lat her gang to the schuil. It's time. The auld fowk wadna pit up wi' her a week."

"And what'll that cost ye, Marget?"

"I dinna ken. But the lassie's able to pay for her ain upbringin'."

"It's no far 'at a hunner and fifty'll gang i' thae times, woman. An' it's a pity to tak frae the prencipal. She'll be merryin' some day."

"Ow, 'deed, maybe. Bairns will be fules."

"Weel, end na ye pit it oot at five per cent., and there wad aye be something comin' o' 't? That wad be seven pun' ten i' the year, an' the bairnie micht amaist-no freely but nigh-han'-be broucht up upo' that."

Margaret lifted her head and looked at him.

"An' wha wad gie five per cent. for her bit siller, whan he can get it frae the bank, on guid security, for four an' a half?"

"Jist mysel', Marget. The puir orphan has naebody but you and me to luik till; an' I wad willin'ly do that muckle for her. I'll tell ye what-I'll gie her five per cent. for her siller; and for the bit interest, I'll tak her in wi' my ain bairns, an' she s' hae bit and sup wi' them, an' gang to the school wi' them, and syne-efter a bit-we'll see what comes neist."

To Margaret this seemed a very fair offer. It was known to all that the Bruce children were well-enough dressed for their station, and looked well-fed; and although Robert had the character of being somewhat mean, she did not regard that as the worst possible fault, or one likely to operate for the injury of the child. So she told her cousin that she would think about it; which was quite as much as he could have expected. He took his leave all but satisfied that he had carried his point, and not a little uplifted with his prospects.

For was it not a point worth carrying-to get both the money and the owner of it into his own hands? Not that he meant conscious dishonesty to Annie. He only rejoiced to think that he would thus satisfy any expectations that the public might have formed of him, and would enjoy besides a splendid increase of capital for his business; while he hoped to keep the girl upon less than the interest would come to. And then, if anything should happen to her-seeing she was not over vigorous-the result was worth waiting for; whereas-if she throve-he had sons growing up, one of whom might take a fancy to the heiress, and would have facilities for marrying her, &c. &c.; for Grocer Robert was as deep in his foresight and scheming as King Robert, the crowning triumph of whose intellect, in the eyes of his descendant, was the strewing of the caltrops on the field of Bannockburn.

But James Dow was ill-pleased when he heard of the arrangement-which was completed in due time. "For," said he, "I canna bide that Bruce. He's a naisty mean cratur. He wadna fling a bane till a dog, afore he had ta'en a pyke at it himsel'." He agreed, however, with his mistress, that it would be better to keep Annie in ignorance of her destiny as long as possible; a consideration which sprung from the fact that her aunt, now that she was on the eve of parting with her, felt a little delicate growth of tenderness sprouting over the old stone wall of her affection for the child, owing its birth, in part, to the doubt whether she would be comfortable in her new home.

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