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   Chapter 11 No.11

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 12127

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


For some time neither of the Bruces ventured even to make a wry face at her in school; but their behaviour to her at home was only so much the worse.

Two days after the events recorded, as Annie was leaving the kitchen, after worship, to go up to bed, Mr Bruce called her.

"Annie Anderson," he said, "I want to speak to ye."

Annie turned, trembling.

"I see ye ken what it's aboot," he went on, staring her full in the pale face, which grew paler as he stared. "Ye canna luik me i' the face. Whaur's the candy-sugar an' the prunes? I ken weel eneuch whaur they are, and sae do ye."

"I ken naething aboot them," answered Annie, with a sudden revival of energy.

"Dinna lee, Annie. It's ill eneuch to steal, without leein'."

"I'm no leein'," answered she, bursting into tears of indignation. "Wha said 'at I took them?"

"That's naething to the pint. Ye wadna greit that gait gin ye war innocent. I never missed onything afore. And ye ken weel eneuch there's an ee that sees a' thing, and ye canna hide frae hit."

Bruce could hardly have intended that it was by inspiration from on high that he had discovered the thief of his sweets. But he thought it better to avoid mentioning that the informer was his own son Johnnie. Johnnie, on his part, had thought it better not to mention that he had been incited to the act by his brother Robert. And Robert had thought it better not to mention that he did so partly to shield himself, and partly out of revenge for the box on the ear which Alec Forbes had given him. The information had been yielded to the inquisition of the parent, who said with truth that he had never missed anything before; although I suspect that a course of petty and cautious pilfering had at length passed the narrow bounds within which it could be concealed from the lynx eyes inherited from the kingly general. Possibly a bilious attack, which confined the elder boy to the house for two or three days, may have had something to do with the theft; but if Bruce had any suspicions of the sort, he never gave utterance to them.

"I dinna want to hide frae 't," cried Annie. "Guid kens," she went on in desperation, "that I wadna touch a grain o' saut wantin' leave."

"It's a pity, Annie, that some fowk dinna get their ain share o' Mr Malison's tards." (Tards was considered a more dignified word than tag.) "I dinna like to lick ye mysel', 'cause ye're ither fowk's bairn; but I can hardly haud my han's aff o' ye."

It must not be supposed from this speech that Robert Bruce ever ventured to lay his hands on his own children. He was too much afraid of their mother, who, perfectly submissive and sympathetic in ordinary, would have flown into the rage of a hen with chickens if even her own husband had dared to chastise one of her children. The shop might be more Robert's than hers, but the children were more hers than Robert's.

Overcome with shame and righteous anger, Annie burst out in the midst of fresh tears:

"I wish Auntie, wad come an tak me awa'! It's an ill hoose to be in."

These words had a visible effect upon Bruce. He expected a visit from Marget Anderson within a day or two; and he did not know what the effect of the representations of Annie might be. The use of her money had not been secured to him for any lengthened period-Dowie, anxious to take all precautions for his little mistress, having consulted a friendly lawyer on the subject, lest she should be left defenceless in the hands of a man of whose moral qualities Dowie had no exalted opinion. The sale having turned out better than had been expected, the sum committed to Bruce was two hundred pounds, to lose which now would be hardly less than ruin. He thought it better, therefore, not doubting Annie to be the guilty person, to count the few lumps of sugar he might lose, as an additional trifle of interest, and not quarrel with his creditor for extorting it. So with the weak cunning of his kind, he went to the shop, and bringing back a bit of sugar-candy, about the size of a pigeon's egg, said to the still weeping child:

"Dinna greit, Annie. I canna bide to see ye greitin'. Gin ye want a bittie o' sugar ony time, jist tell me, an' dinna gang helpin' yoursel'. That's a'. Hae."

He thrust the lump into Annie's hand; but she dropped it on the floor with disgust, and rushed up-stairs to her bed as fast as the darkness would let her: where, notwithstanding her indignation, she was soon fast asleep.

Bruce searched for the sugar-candy which she had rejected, until he found it. He then restored it to the drawer whence he had taken it-which he could find in the dark with perfect ease-resolving as he did so, to be more careful in future of offending little Annie Anderson.

When the day arrived upon which he expected Marget's visit, that being a Saturday, Bruce was on the watch the whole afternoon. From his shop-door he could see all along the street, and a good way beyond it; and being very quick-sighted, he recognized Marget at a great distance by her shawl, as she sat in a slow-nearing cart.

"Annie!" he called, opening the inner door, as he returned behind the counter.

Annie, who was up-stairs in her own room, immediately appeared.

"Annie," he said, "rin oot at the back door, and through the yard, and ower to Laurie Lumley's, and tell him to come ower to me direckly. Dinna come back withoot him. There's a guid bairn!"

He sent her upon this message, knowing well enough that the man had gone into the country that day, and that there was no one at his house who would be likely to know where he had gone. He hoped, therefore, that she would go and look for him in the town, and so be absent during her aunt's visit.

"Weel, Marget," he said, with his customary greeting, in which the foreign oil sought to overcome the home-bred vinegar, "hoo are ye the day?"

"Ow! nae that ill," answered Marget with a sigh.

"And hoo's Mr and Mistress Peterson?"

"Brawly. Hoo's Annie comin' on?"

"Nae that ill. She's some royt (riotous) jist."

He thought to please her

by the remark, because she had been in the habit of saying so herself. But distance had made Annie dearer; and her aunt's nose took fire with indignation, as she replied:

"The lassie's weel eneuch. I saw naething o' the sort aboot her. Gin ye canna guide her, that's your wyte."

Bruce was abashed, but not confounded. He was ready in a moment.

"I never kent ony guid come o' bein' ower sair upo' bairns," said he. "She's as easy guidit as a coo gaein' hame at nicht, only ye maun jist lat her ken that ye're there, ye ken."

"Ow! ay," said Marget, a little nonplussed in her turn.

"Wad ye like to see her?"

"What ither did I come for?"

"Weel, I s' gang and luik for her."

He went to the back door, and called aloud: "Annie, yer auntie's here and wants to see ye."

"She'll be here in a minute," he said to Marget, as he re-entered the shop.

After a little more desultory conversation, he pretended to be surprised that she she did not make her appearance, and going once more to the door, called her name several times. He then pretended to search for her in the garden and all over the house, and returned with the news that she was nowhere to be seen.

"She's feared that ye're come to tak her wi' ye, and she's run awa oot aboot some gait. I'll sen' the laddies to luik for her."

"Na, na, never min'. Gin she disna want to see me, I'm sure I needna want to see her. I'll awa doon the toon," said Margaret, her face growing very red as she spoke.

She bustled out of the shop, too angry with Annie to say farewell to Bruce. She had not gone far, however, before Annie came running out of a narrow close, almost into her aunt's arms. But there was no refuge for her there.

"Ye little limmer!" cried Margaret, seizing her by the shoulder, "what gart ye rin awa'? I dinna want ye, ye brat!"

"I didna rin awa', Auntie."

"Robert Bruce cried on ye to come in, himsel'."

"It wis himsel' that sent me to Laurie Lumley's to tell him to come till him direckly."

Margaret could not make "head or tail" of it. But as Annie had never told her a lie, she could not doubt her. So taking time to think about it, she gave her some rough advice and a smooth penny, and went away on her errands. She was not long in coming to the conclusion that Bruce wanted to sunder her and the child; and this offended her so much, that she did not go near the shop for a long time. Thus Annie was forsaken, and Bruce had what he wanted.

He needed not have been so full of scheming, though. Annie never said a word to her aunt about their treatment of her. It is one of the marvels in the constitution of children, how much they will bear without complaining. Parents and guardians have no right to suppose that all is well in the nursery or school-room, merely from the fact that the children do not complain. Servants and tutors may be cruel, and children will be silent-partly, I presume, because they forget so soon.

But vengeance of a sort soon overtook Robert Bruce the younger; for the evil spirit in him, derived from no such remote ancestor as the king, would not allow him a long respite from evil-doing, even in school. He knew Annie better than his father, that she was not likely to complain of anything, and that the only danger lay in the chance of being discovered in the deed. One day when the master had left the room to confer with some visitor at the door, he spied Annie in the act of tying her shoe. Perceiving, as he believed, at a glance, that Alec Forbes was totally unobservant, he gave her an ignominious push from behind, which threw her out on her face in the middle of the floor. But Alec did catch sight of him in the very deed, was down upon him in a moment, and, having already proved that a box on the ear was of no lasting effect, gave him a downright good thrashing. He howled vigorously, partly from pain, partly in the hope that the same consequences as before would overtake Forbes; and therefore was still howling when Mr Malison re-entered.

"Robert Bruce, come up," bawled he, the moment he opened the door.

And Robert Bruce went up, and notwithstanding his protestations, received a second, and far more painful punishment from the master, who, perhaps, had been put out of temper by his visitor. But there is no good in speculating on that or any other possibility in the matter; for, as far at least as the boys could see, the master had no fixed principle as to the party on whom the punishment should fall. Punishment, in his eyes, was perhaps enough in itself. If he was capable of seeing that punishment, as he called it, falling on the wrong person, was not punishment, but only suffering, certainly he had not seen the value of the distinction.

If Bruce howled before, he howled tenfold now, and went home howling. Annie was sorry for him, and tried to say a word of comfort to him; but he repelled her advances with hatred and blows. As soon as he reached the shop he told his father that Forbes had beaten him without his having even spoken to him, which was as correct as it was untrue, and that the master had taken Forbes's part, and licked him over again, of which latter assertion there was proof enough on his person. Robert the elder was instantly filled with smouldering wrath, and from that moment hated Alec Forbes. For, like many others of low nature, he had yet some animal affection for his children, combined with an endless amount of partisanship on their behalf, which latter gave him a full right to the national motto of Scotland. Indeed, for nothing in the world but money, would he have sacrificed what seemed to him their interests.

A man must learn to love his children, not because they are his, but because they are children, else his love will be scarcely a better thing at last than the party-spirit of the faithful politician. I doubt if it will prove even so good a thing.

From this hatred to Alec Forbes came some small consequences at length. But for the present it found no outlet save in sneers and prophetic hints of an "ill hinner en'."

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