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   Chapter 17 No.17

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 8899

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"What can that be, mem, awa ower the toon there?" said Mary to her mistress, as in passing she peeped out of the window, the blind of which Alec had drawn up behind the curtain.

"What is it, Mary?"

"That's jist what I dinna ken, mem. It canna be the rory-bories, as Alec ca's them. It's ower blue.-It's oot.-It's in agin.-It's no canny.-And, preserves a'! it's crackin' as weel," cried Mary, as the subdued sound of a far-off explosion reached her.

This was of course no other than the roar of Curly's gun in the act of bursting and vanishing; for neither stock, lock, nor barrel was ever seen again. It left the world like a Norse king on his fire-ship. But, at the moment, Alec was too busy in the depths of his snow-vault to hear or see the signals.

By-and-by a knock came to the kitchen door, Mary went and opened it.

"Alec's at hame, I ken," said a rosy boy, almost breathless with past speed and present excitement.

"Hoo ken ye that, my man?" asked Mary.

"'Cause the flag's fleein'. Whaur is he?"

"Gin ye ken sae muckle aboot him already, ye can jist fin' him to yersel'!"

"The bick's oot!" panted Linkum.

But Mary shut the door.

"Here's a job!" said Linkum to himself. "I canna gang throu a steekit door. And there's Juno wi' the rin o' the haill toun. Deil tak her!"

But at the moment he heard Alec whistling a favourite tune, as he shovelled away at the snow.

"General!" cried Linkum, in ecstasy.

"Here!" answered Alec, flinging his spade twenty feet from him, and bolting in the direction of the call. "Is't you, Linkum?"

"She's oot, General."

"Deil hae her, gin ever she wins in again, the curst worryin' brute!

Did ye gang to Curly?"

"Ay did I. He fired the gun, and brunt three blue lichts, and waited seven minutes and a half; and syne he sent me for ye, General."

"_Con_foon' 't," cried Alec, and tore through shrubbery and hedge, the nearest way to the road, followed by Linkum, who even at full speed was not a match for Alec. Away they flew like the wind, along the well-beaten path to the town, over the footbridge that crossed the Glamour, and full speed up the hill to Willie Macwha, who, with a dozen or fifteen more, was anxiously waiting for the commander. They all had their book-bags, pockets, and arms filled with stones lately broken for mending the turnpike road, mostly granite, but partly whinstone and flint. One bag was ready filled for Alec.

"Noo," said the General, in the tone of Gideon of old, "gin ony o' ye be fleyt at the brute, jist gang hame."

"Ay! ay! General."

But nobody stirred, for those who were afraid had slunk away the moment they saw Alec coming up the hill, like the avenger of blood.

"Wha's watchin' her?"

"Doddles, Gapy, and Goat."

"Whaur was she last seen?"

"Takin' up wi' anither tyke on the squaure."

"Doddles 'll be at the pump, to tell whaur's the ither twa and the tyke."

"Come along, then. This is hoo ye're to gang. We maunna a' gang thegither. Some o' ye-you three-doon the Back Wynd; you sax, up Lucky Hunter's Close; and the lave by Gowan Street; an' first at the pump bides for the lave."

"Hoo are we to mak the attack, General?"

"I'll gie my orders as the case may demand," said Alec.

And away they shot.

The muffled sounds of the feet of the various companies as they thundered past upon the snow, roused the old wives dozing over their knitting by their fires of spent oak-bark; and according to her temper would be the remark with which each startled dame turned again to her former busy quiescence:-"Some mischeef o' the loons!" "Some ploy o' the laddies!" "Some deevilry o' thae rascals frae Malison's school!"

They reached the square almost together, and found Doddles at the pump; who reported that Juno had gone down the inn-yard, and Gapey and Goat were watching her. Now she must come out to get home again, for there was no back-way; so by Alec's orders they dispersed a little to avoid observation, and drew gradually between the entrance of the inn-yard, and the way Juno would take to go home.

The town was ordinarily lighted at night with oil lamps, but moonlight and snow had rendered them for some time unnecessary.

"Here she is! Here she is!" cried several at once in a hissing whisper of excitement. "Lat at her!"

"Haud still!" cried Alec. "Bide till I tell ye. Dinna ye see there's Lang Tam's dog wi' her, an' he's done naething. Ye maunna punish the inn

ocent wi' the guilty."

A moment after the dogs took their leave of each other, and Juno went, at a slow slouching trot, in the direction of her own street.

"Close in!" cried Alec.

Juno found her way barred in a threatening manner, and sought to pass meekly by.

"Lat at her, boys!" cried the General.

A storm of stones was their answer to the order; and a howl of rage and pain burst from the animal. She turned; but found that she was the centre of a circle of enemies.

"Lat at her! Haud at her!" bawled Alec.

And thick as hail the well-aimed stones flew from practised hands; though of course in the frantic rushes of the dog to escape, not half of them took effect. She darted first at one and then at another, snapping wildly, and meeting with many a kick and blow in return.

The neighbours began to look out at their shop-doors and their windows; for the boys, rapt in the excitement of the sport, no longer laid any restraint upon their cries. Andrew Constable, the clothier, from his shop-door; Rob Guddle, the barber, from his window, with his face shadowed by Annie's curls; Redford, the bookseller, from the top of the stairs that led to his shop; in short, the whole of the shopkeepers on the square of Glamerton were regarding this battle of odds. The half-frozen place looked half-alive. But none of the good folks cared much to interfere, for flying stones are not pleasant to encounter. And indeed they could not clearly make out what was the matter.-In a minute more, a sudden lull came over the hubbub. They saw all the group gather together in a murmuring knot.

The fact was this. Although cowardly enough now, the brute, infuriated with pain, had made a determined rush at one of her antagonists, and a short hand-to-teeth struggle was now taking place, during which the stoning ceased.

"She has a grip o' my leg," said Alec quietly; "and I hae a grip o' her throat. Curly, pit yer han' i' my jacket-pooch, an' tak' oot a bit towie ye'll fin' there."

Curly did as he was desired, and drew out a yard and a half of garden-line.

"Jist pit it wi' ae single k-not roon' her neck, an' twa three o' ye tak' a haud at ilka en', and pu' for the life o' ye!"

They hauled with hearty vigour, Juno's teeth relaxed their hold of Alec's calf; in another minute her tongue was hanging out her mouth, and when they ceased the strain she lay limp on the snow. With a shout of triumph, they started off at full speed, dragging the brute by the neck through the street. Alec essayed to follow them; but found his leg too painful; and was forced to go limping home.

When the victors had run till they were out of breath, they stopped to confer; and the result of their conference was that in solemn silence they drew her home to the back gate, and finding all still in the yard, deputed two of their company to lay the dead body in its kennel.

Curly and Linkum drew her into the yard, tumbled her into her barrel, which they set up on end, undid the string, and left Juno lying neck and tail together in ignominious peace.

"Before Alec reached home his leg had swollen very much, and was so painful that he could hardly limp along; for Juno had taken no passing snap, but a great strong mouthful. He concealed his condition from his mother for that night; but next morning his leg was so bad, that there was no longer a possibility of hiding the fact. To tell a lie would have been so hard for Alec, that he had scarcely any merit in not telling one. So there was nothing for it but confession. His mother scolded him to a degree considerably beyond her own sense of the wrong, telling him he would get her into disgrace in the town as the mother of a lawless son, who meddled with other people's property in a way little better than stealing.

"I fancy, mamma, a loun's legs are aboot as muckle his ain property as the tyke was Rob Bruce's. It's no the first time she's bitten half a dizzen legs that were neither her ain nor her maister's."

Mrs Forbes could not well answer this argument; so she took advantage of the fact that Alec had, in the excitement of self-defence, lapsed into Scotch.

"Don't talk so vulgarly to me, Alec," she said; "keep that for your ill-behaved companions in the town."

"They are no worse than I am, mamma. I was at the bottom of it."

"I never said they were," she answered.

But in her heart she thought if they were not, there was little amiss with them.

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