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   Chapter 13 No.13

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 8971

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The Sunday following was anything but a day of repose for Annie-she looked with such frightful anticipation to the coming Monday. Nor was the assurance with which Alec Forbes had sent her away, and which she was far from forgetting, by any means productive of unmingled consolation; for, in a conflict with such a power of darkness as Mr Malison, how could Alec, even if sure to be victorious as any knight of old story, come off without injury terrible and not to be contemplated! Yet, strange to tell-or was it really strange?-as she listened to the evening sermon, a sermon quietly and gently enforcing the fate of the ungodly, it was not with exultation at the tardy justice that would overtake such men as Murdock Malison or Robert Bruce, nor yet with pity for their fate, that she listened; but with anxious heart-aching fear for her friend, the noble, the generous Alec Forbes, who withstood authority, and was therefore in danger of hell-fire. About her own doom, speculation was uninteresting.

The awful morning dawned. When she woke, and the thought of what she had to meet came back on her, though it could hardly be said to have been a moment absent all night long, she turned, not metaphorically, but physically sick. Yet breakfast time would come, and worship did not fail to follow, and then to school she must go. There all went on as usual for some time. The Bible-class was called up, heard, and dismissed; and Annie was beginning to hope that the whole affair was somehow or other wrapt up and laid by. She had heard nothing of Alec's fate after she had left him imprisoned, and except a certain stoniness in his look, which a single glance discovered, his face gave no sign. She dared not lift her eyes from the spelling-book before her, to look in the direction of the master. No murderer could have felt more keenly as if all the universe were one eye, and that eye fixed on him, than Annie.

Suddenly the awful voice resounded through the school, and the words it uttered-though even after she heard them it seemed too terrible to be true-were,

"Ann Anderson, come up."

For a moment she lost consciousness-or at least memory. When she recovered herself, she found herself standing before the master. His voice seemed to have left two or three unanswered questions somewhere in her head. What they were she had no idea. But presently he spoke again, and, from the tone, what he said was evidently the repetition of a question-probably put more than once before.

"Did you, or did you not, go out at the window on Saturday?"

She did not see that Alec Forbes had left his seat, and was slowly lessening the distance between them and him.

"Yes," she answered, trembling from head to foot.

"Did you, or did you not, bring a loaf of bread to those who were kept in?"

"Yes, sir."

"Where did you get it?"

"I bought it, sir."

"Where did you get the money?"

Of course every eye in the school was fixed upon her, those of her cousins sparkling with delight.

"I got it oot o' my ain kist, sir."

"Hold up your hand."

Annie obeyed, with a most pathetic dumb terror pleading in her face.

"Don't touch her," said Alec Forbes, stepping between the executioner and his victim. "You know well enough it was all my fault. I told you so on Saturday."

Murder Malison, as the boys called him, turned with the tawse over his shoulder, whence it had been on the point of swooping upon Annie, and answered him with a hissing blow over his down-bent head, followed by a succession of furious blows upon every part of his person, as it twisted and writhed and doubled; till, making no attempt at resistance, he was knocked down by the storm, and lay prostrate under the fierce lashes, the master holding him down with one foot, and laying on with the whole force of the opposite arm. At length Malison stopped, exhausted, and turning, white with rage, towards Annie, who was almost in a fit with agony, repeated the order:

"Hold up your hand."

But as he turned Alec bounded to his feet, his face glowing, and his eyes flashing, and getting round in front, sprang at the master's throat, just as the tawse was descending. Malison threw him off, and lifting his weapon once more, swept it with a stinging lash round his head and face. Alec, feeling that this was no occasion on which to regard the rules of fair fight, stooped his head, and rushed, like a ram, or a negro, full tilt against the pit of Malison's stomach, and doubling h

im up, sent him with a crash into the peat fire which was glowing on the hearth. In the attempt to save himself, he thrust his hand right into it, and Alec and Annie were avenged.

Alec rushed to drag him off the fire; but he was up before he reached him.

"Go home!" he bawled to the scholars generally, and sat down at his desk to hide his suffering.

For one brief moment there was silence. Then a tumult arose, a shouting, and holloing, and screeching, and the whole school rushed to the door, as if the devil had been after them to catch the hindmost. Strange uproar invaded the ears of Glamerton-strange, that is, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon of Monday-the uproar of jubilant freedom.

But the culprits, Annie and Alec, stood and stared at the master, whose face was covered with one hand, while the other hung helpless at his side. Annie stopped partly out of pity for the despot, and partly because Alec stopped. Alec stopped because he was the author of the situation-at least he never could give any better reason.

At length Mr Malison lifted his head, and made a movement towards his hat. He started when he saw the two standing there. But the moment he looked at them their courage failed them.

"Rin, Annie!" said Alec.

Away she bolted, and he after her, as well as he could, which was not with his usual fleetness by any means. When Annie had rounded a corner, not in the master's way home, she stopped, and looked back for Alec. He was a good many paces behind her; and then first she discovered the condition of her champion. For now that the excitement was over, he could scarcely walk, and evidence in kind was not wanting that from head to foot he must be one mass of wales and bruises. He put his hand on her shoulder to help him along, and made no opposition to her accompanying him as far as the gate of his mother's garden, which was nearly a mile from the town, on the further bank of one of the rivers watering the valley-plain in which Glamerton had stood for hundreds of years. Then she went slowly home, bearing with her the memory of the smile which, in spite of pain, had illuminated his tawse-waled cheeks, as she took her leave.

"Good-bye, dear Alec!" she had said.

"Good-bye, Annie dear," he had answered, with the smile; and she had watched him crawl into the house before she turned away.

When she got home, she saw at once, from the black looks of the Bruce, that the story, whether in its trite shape or not, had arrived before her.

Nothing was said, however, till after worship; when Bruce gave her a long lecture, as impressive as the creature was capable of making it, on the wickedness and certain punishment of "takin' up wi' ill loons like Sandy Forbes, wha was brakin' his mither's hert wi' his baad behaviour." But he came to the conclusion, as he confided to his wife that night, that the lassie "was growin' hardent already;" probably from her being in a state of too great excitement from the events of the day to waste a tear upon his lecture; for, as she said in the hearing of the rottans, when she went up to bed, she "didna care a flee for't." But the moment she lay down she fell to weeping bitterly over the sufferings of Alec. She was asleep in a moment after, however. If it had not been for the power of sleeping that there was in the child, she must long before now have given way to the hostile influences around her, and died.

There was considerable excitement about the hearths of Glamerton, generally, in consequence of the news of the master's defeat carried home by the children. For, although it was amazing how little of the doings at school the children were in the habit of reporting-so little, indeed, that this account involved revelations of the character and proceedings of Mr Malison which appeared to many of the parents quite incredible-the present occurrence so far surpassed the ordinary, and had excited the beholders so much, that they could not be quiet about it. Various were the judgments elicited by the story. The religious portion of the community seemed to their children to side with the master; the worldly-namely, those who did not profess to be particularly religious-all sided with Alec Forbes; with the exception of a fish-cadger, who had one son, the plague of his life.

Amongst the religious, there was, at least, one exception, too; but he had no children of his own, and had a fancy for Alec Forbes. That exception was Thomas Crann, the stone-mason.

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