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   Chapter 18 No.18

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 10332

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Alec was once more condemned to the sofa, and Annie had to miss him, and wonder what had become of him. She always felt safe when Alec was there, and when he was not she grew timid; although whole days would sometimes pass without either speaking to the other. But before the morning was over she learned the reason of his absence.

For about noon, when all was tolerably harmonious in the school, the door opened, and the face of Robert Bruce appeared, with gleaming eyes of wrath.

"Guid preserve's!" said Scrumpie to his next neighbour. "Sic a hidin' as we s' a' get! Here's Rob Bruce! Wha's gane and tell't him?"

But some of the gang of conspirators, standing in a class near the door, stared in horror. Amongst them was Curly. His companions declared afterwards that had it not been for the strength of the curl, his hair would have stood upright. For, following Bruce, led in fact by a string, came an awful apparition-Juno herself, a pitiable mass of caninity-looking like the resuscitated corpse of a dog that had been nine days buried, crowded with lumps, and speckled with cuts, going on three legs, and having her head and throat swollen to a size past recognition.

"She's no deid efter a'! Deil tak' her! for he's in her," said Doddles.

"We haena killed her eneuch," said Curly.

"I tell't ye, Curly! Ye had little ado to lowse the tow. She wad ha' been as deid afore the mornin' as Lucky Gordon's cat that ye cuttit the heid aff o'," said Linkum.

"Eh! but she luiks bonnie!" said Curly, trying to shake off his dismay.

"Man, we'll hae't a' to do ower again. Sic fun!"

But he could not help looking a little rueful when Linkum expressed a wish that they were themselves well through with their share of the killing.

And now the storm began to break. The master had gone to the door and shaken hands with his visitor, glancing a puzzled interrogation at the miserable animal in the string, which had just shape enough left to show that it was a dog.

"I'm verra sorry, Maister Malison, to come to you wi' my complaints," said Bruce; "but jist luik at the puir dumb animal! She cudna come hersel', an' sae I bude to bring her. Stan' still, ye brute!"

For Juno having caught sight of some boy-legs, through a corner of one eye not quite bunged up, began to tug at the string with feeble earnestness-?no longer, however, regarding the said legs as made for dogs to bite, but as fearful instruments of vengeance, in league with stones and cords. So the straining and pulling was all homewards. But her master had brought her as chief witness against the boys, and she must remain where she was.

"Eh, lass!" he said, hauling her back by the string; "gin ye had but the tongue o' the prophet's ass, ye wad sune pint out the rascals that misguided and misgrugled ye that gait. But here's the just judge that'll gie ye yer richts, and that wi'oot fee or reward.-Mr Malison, she was ane o' the bonniest bicks ye cud set yer ee upo'-"

A smothered laugh gurgled through the room.

-?"till some o' your loons-nae offence, sir-I ken weel eneuch they're no yours, nor a bit like ye-some o' your peowpils, sir, hae jist ca'd (driven) the sowl oot o' her wi' stanes."

"Whaur does the sowl o' a bitch bide?" asked Goat, in a whisper, of his neighbour.

"De'il kens," answered Gapey; "gin it binna i' the boddom o' Rob

Bruce's wame."

The master's wrath, ready enough to rise against boys and all their works, now showed itself in the growing redness of his face. This was not one of his worst passions-in them, he grew white-for the injury had not been done to himself.

"Can you tell me which of them did it?"

"No, sir. There maun hae been mair nor twa or three at it, or she wad hae worried them. The best-natered beast i' the toon!"

"William Macwha," cried Malison.

"Here, sir."

"Come up."

Willie ascended to the august presence. He had made up his mind that, seeing so many had known all about it, and some of them had turned cowards, it would be of no service to deny the deed.

"Do you know anything about this cruelty to the poor dog, William?" said the master.

Willie gave a Scotchman's answer, which, while evasive, was yet answer and more.

"She bet me, sir."

"When? While you were stoning her?"

"No, sir. A month ago."

"Ye're a leein' vratch, Willie Macwha, as ye weel ken i' yer ain conscience!" cried Bruce. "She's the quaietest, kin'list beast 'at ever was wholpit. See, sir; jist luik ye here. She'll lat me pit my han' in her mou', an' tak' no more notice nor gin it was her ain tongue."

Now whether it was that the said tongue was still swollen and painful, or that Juno, conscious of her own ill deserts, disapproved of the whole proceeding, I cannot tell; but the result of this proof of her temper was that she made her teeth meet through Bruce's hand.

"Damn the bitch!" he roared, snatching it away with the blood beginning to flow.

A laugh, not smothered this time, billowed and broke through the whole school; for the fact that Bruce should be caught swearing, added to the yet more delightful fact that Juno had bitten her master, was altogether too much.

"Eh! isna't weel we didna kill her efter a'?" said Curly.

"Guid doggie!" said another, patting his own knee, as if to entice her to come and be caressed.

"At him again, Juno!" said a third.

"I'll gie her a piece the neist time I see her," said Curly.

Bruce, writhing with pain, and mortified at the result of his ocular proof of Juno's incapability of biting, still more mortified at having so far forgotten himself as to utter an oath, and altogether discomfited by the laughter, turned away in confusion.

"It's a' their wyte, the baad boys! She never did the like afore. They hae ruined her temper," he said, as he left the school, following Juno, which was tugging away at the string as if she had been a blind man's dog.

"Well, what have you to say for yourself, William?" said Malison.

"She began 't, sir."

This best of excuses would not, however, satisfy the master. The punishing mania had possibly taken fresh hold upon him. But he would put more questions first.

"Who besides you tortured the poor animal?"

Curly was silent. He had neither a very high sense of honour, nor any principles to come and go upon; but he had a considerable amount of devotion to his party, which is the highest form of conscience to be found in many.

"Tell me their names, sir?"

Curly was still silent.

But a white-headed urchin, whom innumerable whippings, not bribes, had corrupted, cried out in a wavering voice:

"Sanny Forbes was ane o' them; an' he's no here, 'cause Juno worried him."

The poor creature gained little by his treachery; for the smallest of the conspirators fell on him when school was over, and gave him a thrashing, which he deserved more than ever one of Malison's.

But the effect of Alec's name on the master was talismanic. He changed his manner at once, sent Curly to his seat, and nothing more was heard of Juno or her master.

The opposite neighbours stared across, the next morning, in bewildered astonishment, at the place where the shop of Robert Bruce had been wont to invite the public to enter and buy. Had it been possible for an avalanche to fall like a thunderbolt from the heavens, they would have supposed that one had fallen in the night, and overwhelmed the house. Door and windows were invisible, buried with the rude pavement in front beneath a mass of snow. Spades and shovels in boys' hands had been busy for hours during the night, throwing it up against the house, the door having first been blocked up with a huge ball, which they had rolled in silence the whole length of the long street.

Bruce and his wife slept in a little room immediately behind the shop, that they might watch over their treasures; and Bruce's first movement in the morning was always into the shop to unbolt the door and take down the shutters. His astonishment when he looked upon a blank wall of snow may be imagined. He did not question that the whole town was similarly overwhelmed. Such a snow-storm had never been heard of before, and he thought with uneasy recollection of the oath he had uttered in the school-room; imagining for a moment that the whole of Glamerton lay overwhelmed by the divine wrath, because he had, under the agony of a bite from his own dog, consigned her to a quarter where dogs and children are not admitted. In his bewilderment, he called aloud:

"Nancy! Robbie! Johnnie! We're a' beeriet alive!"

"Preserve's a', Robert! what's happent?" cried his wife, rushing from the kitchen.

"I'm no beeriet, that I ken o'," cried Robert the younger, entering from the yard.

His father rushed to the back-door, and, to his astonishment and relief, saw the whole world about him. It was a private judgment, then, upon him and his shop. And so it was-a very private judgment. Probably it was the result of his meditations upon it, that he never after carried complaints to Murdoch Malison.

Alec Forbes had nothing to do with this revenge. But Bruce always thought he was at the bottom of it, and hated him the more. He disliked all loons but his own; for was not the spirit of loons the very antipodes to that of money-making? But Alec Forbes he hated, for he was the very antipode to Robert Bruce himself. Mrs Bruce always followed her husband's lead, being capable only of two devotions-the one to her husband and children, the other to the shop.-Of Annie they highly and righteously disapproved, partly because they had to feed her, and partly because she was friendly with Alec. This disapproval rose into dislike after their sons had told them that it was because Juno had bitten her that the boys of the school, with Alec for a leader, had served her as they had. But it was productive of no disadvantage to her; for it could not take any active form because of the money-bond between them, while its negative operation gave rise chiefly to neglect, and so left her more at liberty, to enjoy herself as she could after her own fashion.

For the rest of Juno's existence, the moment she caught sight of a boy she fled as fast as her four bow-legs would carry her, not daring even to let her tail stick out behind her, lest it should afford a handle against her.

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