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   Chapter 15 No.15

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 6176

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Although Alec Forbes was not a boy of quick receptivity as far as books were concerned, and therefore was no favourite with Mr Malison, he was not by any means a common or a stupid boy. His own eyes could teach him more than books could, for he had a very quick observation of things about him, both in what is commonly called nature and in humanity. He knew all the birds, all their habits, and all their eggs. Not a boy in Glamerton could find a nest quicker than he, or when found treated it with such respect. For he never took young birds, and seldom more than half of the eggs. Indeed he was rather an uncommon boy, having, along with more than the usual amount of activity even for a boy, a tenderness of heart altogether rare in boys. He was as familiar with the domestic animals and their ways of feeling and acting as Annie herself. Anything like cruelty he detested; and yet, as occasion will show, he could execute stern justice. With the world of men around him, he was equally conversant. He knew the characters of the simple people wonderfully well; and took to Thomas Crann more than to any one else, notwithstanding that Thomas would read him a long lecture sometimes. To these lectures Alec would listen seriously enough, believing Thomas to be right; though he could never make up his mind to give any after attention to what he required of him.

The first time Alec met Thomas after the affair with the dominie, was on the day before he was to go back to school; for his mother had yielded at last to his entreaties. Thomas was building an addition to a water-mill on the banks of the Glamour not far from where Alec lived, and Alec had strolled along thither to see how the structure was going on. He expected a sharp rebuke for his behaviour to Mr Malison, but somehow he was not afraid of Thomas, and was resolved to face it out. The first words Thomas uttered, however, were:

"Weel, Alec, can ye tell me what was the name o' King Dawvid's mither?"

"I can_not_, Thomas," answered Alec. "What was it?"

"Fin' ye that oot. Turn ower yer Bible. Hae ye been back to the school yet?"

"No. I'm gaein the morn."

"Ye're no gaein to strive wi' the maister afore nicht, are ye?"

"I dinna ken," answered Alec. "Maybe he'll strive wi' me.-But ye ken, Thomas," he continued, defending himself from what he supposed Thomas was thinking, "King Dawvid himsel' killed the giant."

"Ow! ay; a' richt. I'm no referrin' to that. Maybe ye did verra richt. But tak care, Alec-" here Thomas paused from his work, and turning towards the boy with a trowelful of mortar in his hand, spoke very slowly and solemnly-"tak ye care that ye beir no malice against the maister. Justice itsel," dune for the sake o' a private grudge, will bunce back upo' the doer. I hae little doobt the maister'll be the better for't; but gin ye be the waur, it'll be an ill job, Alec, my man."

"I hae no ill-will at him, Thomas."

"Weel, jist watch yer ain hert, and bewaur ye o' that. I wad coonsel ye to try and please him a grainie mair nor ordinar'. It's no that easy to the carnal

man, but ye ken we ought to crucify the auld man, wi' his affections and lusts."

"Weel, I'll try," said Alec, to whom it was not nearly so difficult as

Thomas imagined. His man apparently was not very old yet.

And he did try; and the master seemed to appreciate his endeavours, and to accept them as a peace-offering, thus showing that he really was the better for the punishment he had received.

It would be great injustice to Mr Malison to judge him by the feeling of the present day. It was the custom of the time and of the country to use the tawse unsparingly; for law having been, and still, in a great measure, being, the highest idea generated of the divine by the ordinary Scotch mind, it must be supported, at all risks even, by means of the leather strap. In the hands of a wise and even-tempered man, no harm could result from the use of this instrument of justice; but in the hands of a fierce-tempered and therefore changeable man, of small moral stature, and liable to prejudices and offence, it became the means of unspeakable injury to those under his care; not the least of which was the production, in delicate natures, of doubt and hesitancy, sometimes deepening into cowardice and lying.

Mr Malison had nothing of the childlike in himself, and consequently never saw the mind of the child whose person he was assailing with a battery of excruciating blows. A man ought to be able to endure grief suffering wrongfully, and be none the worse; but who dares demand that of a child? Well it is for such masters that even they are judged by the heart of a father, and not by the law of a king, that worst of all the fictions of an ignorant and low theology. And if they must receive punishment, at least it will not be the heartless punishment which they inflicted on the boys and girls under their law.

Annie began to be regarded as a protegee of Alec Forbes, and as Alec was a favourite with most of his schoolfellows, and was feared where he was not loved, even her cousins began to look upon her with something like respect, and mitigate their persecutions. But she did not therefore become much more reconciled to her position; for the habits and customs of her home were distasteful to her, and its whole atmosphere uncongenial. Nor could it have been otherwise in any house where the entire anxiety was, first, to make money, and next, not to spend it. The heads did not in the least know that they were unkind to her. On the contrary, Bruce thought himself a pattern of generosity if he gave her a scrap of string; and Mrs Bruce, when she said to inquiring gossips "The bairn's like ither bairns-she's weel eneuch," thought herself a pattern of justice or even of forbearance. But both were jealous of her, in relation to their own children; and when Mrs Forbes sent for her one Saturday, soon after her first visit, they hardly concealed their annoyance at the preference shown her by one who was under such great obligation to the parents of other children every way superior to her whose very presence somehow or other made them uncomfortable.

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