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   Chapter 21 No.21

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 19458

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Every afternoon, now, the moment dinner was over, Alec set off for the workshop, and did not return till eight o'clock, or sometimes later. Mrs Forbes did not at all relish this change in his habits; but she had the good sense not to interfere.

One day he persuaded her to go with him, and see how the boat was getting on. This enticed her into some sympathy with his new pursuit. For there was the boat-a skeleton it is true, and not nearly ready yet for the clothing of its planks, or its final skin of paint-yet an undeniable boat to the motherly eye of hope. And there were Alec and Willie working away before her eyes, doing their best to fulfil the promise of its looks. A little quiet chat she had with George Macwha, in which he poured forth the praises of her boy, did not a little, as well, to reconcile her to his desertion of her.

"Deed, mem," said George, whose acquaintance with Scripture was neither extensive nor precise, "to my mind he's jist a fulfilment o' the prophecee, 'An auld heid upo' young shouthers;' though I canna richtly min' whilk o' the lesser prophets it is that conteens 't."

But Mrs Forbes never saw a little figure, lying in a corner, half-buried in wood-shavings, and utterly unconscious of her presence, being fast asleep.

This was, of course, Annie Anderson, who having heard of the new occupation of her hero, had, one afternoon, three weeks before Mrs Forbes's visit, found herself at George's shop door, she hardly knew how. It seemed to her that she had followed her feet, and they had taken her there before she knew where they were going. Peeping in, she watched Alec and Willie for some time at their work, without venturing to show herself. But George, who came up behind her as she stood, and perceived her interest in the operations of the boys, took her by the hand, and led her in, saying kindly:

"Here's a new apprentice, Alec. She wants to learn boat-biggin."

"Ou! Annie, is that you, lassie? Come awa'," said Alec. "There's a fine heap o' spales ye can sit upo', and see what we're aboot."

And so saying he seated her on the shavings, and half-buried her with an armful more to keep her warm.

"Put to the door, Willie," he added. "She'll be cauld. She's no workin', ye see."

Whereupon Willie shut the door, and Annie found herself very comfortable indeed. There she sat, in perfect contentment, watching the progress of the boat-a progress not very perceptible to her inexperienced eyes, for the building of a boat is like the building of a city or the making of a book: it turns out a boat at last. But after she had sat for a good while in silence, she looked up at Alec, and said:

"Is there naething I can do to help ye, Alec?"

"Naething, Annie. Lassies canna saw or plane, ye ken. Ye wad tak' aff yer ain lugs in a jiffey."

Again she was silent for a long time; and then, with a sigh, she looked up and said:

"Alec, I'm so cauld!"

"I'll bring my plaid to row ye in the morn's nicht."

Annie's heart bounded for joy; for here was what amounted to an express invitation for to-morrow.

"But," Alec went on, "come wi' me, and we'll sune get ye warm again.

Gie's yer han'."

Annie gave Alec her hand; and he lifted her out of her heap of spales, and led her away. She never thought of asking where he was leading her. They had not gone far down the close, when a roaring sound fell upon her ear, growing louder and louder as they went on; till, turning a sharp corner, there they saw the smithy fire. The door of the smithy was open, and they could see the smith at work some distance off. The fire glowed with gathered rage at the impudence of the bellows blowing in its face. The huge smith, with one arm flung affectionately over the shoulder of the insulting party, urged it to the contest; while he stirred up the other to increased ferocity, by poking a piece of iron into the very middle of it. How the angry glare started out of it and stared all the murky smiddy in the face, showing such gloomy holes and corners in it, and such a lot of horse-shoes hung up close to the roof, ready to be fitted for unbelievable horse-wear; and making the smith's face and bare arms glow with a dusky red, like hot metal, as if he were the gnome-king of molten iron. Then he stooped, and took up some coal dust in a little shovel, and patted it down over the fire, and blew stronger than ever, and the sparks flew out with the rage of the fire. Annie was delighted to look at it; but there was a certain fierceness about the whole affair that made her shrink from going nearer; and she could not help feeling a little afraid of the giant smith in particular, with his brawny arms that twisted and tortured iron bars all day long,-and his black angry-looking face, that seemed for ever fighting with fire and stiff-necked metal His very look into the forge-fire ought to have been enough to put it out of countenance. Perhaps that was why it was so necessary to keep blowing and poking at it. Again he stooped, caught up a great iron spoon, dipped it into a tub of water, and poured the spoonful on the fire-a fresh insult, at which it hissed and sputtered, like one of the fiery flying serpents of which she had read in her Bible-gigantic, dragon-like creatures to her imagination-in a perfect insanity of fury. But not the slightest motion of her hand lying in Alec's, indicated reluctance, as he led her into the shop, and right up to the wrathful man, saying:

"Peter Whaup, here's a lassie 'at's 'maist frozen to deid wi' cauld. Will ye tak' her in and lat her stan' by your ingle-neuk, and warm hersel'?"

"I'll do that, Alec. Come in by, my bairn. What ca' they ye?"

"Annie Anderson."

"Ow, ay! I ken a' aboot ye weel eneuch. Ye can lea' her wi' me, Alec;

I'll luik efter her."

"I maun gang back to my boat, Annie," said Alec, then, apologetically, "but I'll come in for ye again."

So Annie was left with the smith, of whom she was not the least afraid, now that she had heard him speak. With his leathern apron, caught up in both hands, he swept a space on the front of the elevated hearth of the forge, clear of cinders and dust, and then, having wiped his hands on the same apron, lifted the girl as tenderly as if she had been a baby, and set her down on this spot, about a yard from the fire, on a level with it; and there she sat, in front of the smith, looking at the fire and the smith and the work he was about, in turns. He asked her a great many questions about herself and the Bruces, and her former life at home; and every question he asked he put in a yet kindlier voice. Sometimes he would stop in the middle of blowing, and lean forward with his arm on the handle of the bellows, and look full in the child's face till she had done answering him, with eyes that shone in the firelight as if the tears would have gathered, but could not for the heat.

"Ay! ay!" he would say, when she had answered him, and resume his blowing, slowly and dreamily. For this terrible smith's heart was just like his fire. He was a dreadful fellow for fighting and quarrelling when he got a drop too much, which was rather too often, if the truth must be told; but to this little woman-child his ways were as soft and tender as a woman's: he could burn or warm.

"An' sae ye likit bein' at the ferm best?" he said.

"Ay. But ye see my father deid-"

"I ken that, my bairn. The Lord haud a grip o' ye!"

It was not often that Peter Whaup indulged in a pious ejaculation. But this was a genuine one, and may be worth recording for the sake of Annie's answer:

"I'm thinkin' he hauds a grip o' us a', Mr Whaup."

And then she told him the story about the rats and the cat; for hardly a day passed just at this time without her not merely recalling it, but reflecting upon it. And the smith drew the back of his hand across both his eyes when she had done, and then pressed them both hard with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, as if they ached, while his other arm went blowing away as if nothing was the matter but plenty of wind for the forge-fire. Then he pulled out the red-hot gad, or iron bar, which he seemed to have forgotten ever since Annie came in, and, standing with his back to her to protect her from the sparks, put it on his anvil, and began to lay on it, as if in a fury; while the sparks flew from his blows as if in mortal terror of the angry man that was pelting at the luminous glory laid thus submissive before him. In fact, Peter was attempting to hammer out more things than one, upon that study of his; for in Scotland they call a smith's anvil a study, so that he ranks with other artists in that respect. Then, as if anxious to hear the child speak yet again, he said, putting the iron once more in the fire, and proceeding to rouse the wrath of the coals:

"Ye kent Jeames Dow, than?"

"Ay; weel that. I kent Dooie as weel as Broonie."

"Wha was Broonie?"

"Ow! naebody but my ain coo."

"An' Jeames was kin' to ye?"

To this question no reply followed; but Peter, who stood looking at her, saw her lips and the muscles of her face quivering an answer, which if uttered at all, could come only in sobs and tears.

But the sound of approaching steps and voices restored her equanimity, and a listening look gradually displaced the emotion on her countenance. Over the half-door of the shop appeared two men, each bearing on his shoulder the socks (shares) of two ploughs, to be sharpened, or set. The instant she saw them she tumbled off her perch, and before they had got the door opened was half way to it, crying, "Dooie! Dooie!" Another instant and she was lifted high in Dowie's arms.

"My little mistress!" exclaimed he, kissing her. "Hoo c

am ye here?"

"I'm safe eneuch here, Dooie; dinna be fleyt. I'll tell ye a' aboot it.

Alec's in George Macwha's shop yonner."

"And wha's Alec?" asked Dowie.

Leaving them now to their private communications, I will relate, for the sake of its result, what passed between James Dow's companion and the smith.

"The last time," said the youth, "that ye set my sock, Peter Whaup, ye turned it oot jist as saft's potty, and it wore oot raither suner."

"Hoot! man, ye mistak. It wasna the sock. It was the heid that cam' ahin' 't, and kentna hoo to haud it aff o' the stanes."

"Ha! ha! ha! My heid's nae sae saft's yer ain. It's no rosten a' day like yours, till it's birstled (scorched) and sung (singed) like a sheep's. Jist gie me a haud o' the taings, an' I s' set my sock to my ain min'."

Peter gave up the tongs at once, and the young fellow proceeded to put the share in the fire, and to work the bellows.

"Ye'll never mak ony thing o' 't that gait," said Peter, as he took the tongs from his hand, and altered the position of the share for him. "Ye wad hae 'it black upo' ae side and white upo' the ither. Noo ca (drive) steady, an' dinna blaw the fire aff o' the forge."

But when it came to the anvil part of the work, Peter found so many faults with the handling and the execution generally, that at length the lad threw down the tongs with a laugh and an oath intermingled, saying:

"Ye can mak' potty o' 't yersel, than, Peter.-Ye jist min' me o' the

Waesome Carl."

"What's that o' 't, Rory, man?"

"Ow! naething but a bit sang that I cam' upo' the ither day i' the neuk o' an auld newspaper."

"Lat's hear't," said Peter. "Sing't, Rory. Ye're better kent for a guid sang than for settin' socks."

"I canna sing 't, for I dinna ken the tune o' 't. I only got a glimp' o' 't, as I tell ye, in an auld news."

"Weel, say't, than. Ye're as weel kent for a guid memory, as a guid sang."

Without more preamble, Rory repeated, with appropriate gesture,

THE WAESOME CARL.

There cam a man to oor toon-en',

An' a waesome carl was he;

Wi' a snubbert nose, an' a crookit mou',

An' a cock in his left ee.

And muckle he spied, and muckle he spak';

But the burden o' his sang

Was aye the same, and ower again:

There's nane o' ye a' but's wrang.

Ye're a' wrang, and a' wrang,

And a'thegither a' wrang;

There's no a man aboot the town,

But's a'thegither a' wrang.

That's no the gait to bake the breid,

Nor yet to brew the yill;

That's no the gait to haud the pleuch,

Nor yet to ca the mill.

That's no the gait to milk the coo,

Nor yet to spean the calf;

Nor yet to fill the girnel-kist-

Ye kenna yer wark by half.

Ye're a' wrang, &c.

The minister was na fit to pray,

And lat alane to preach;

He nowther had the gift o' grace,

Nor yet the gift o' speech.

He mind 't him o' Balaam's ass,

Wi' a differ ye may ken:

The Lord he open'd the ass's mou'

The minister open'd 's ain.

He's a' wrang, &c.

The puir precentor cudna sing,

He gruntit like a swine;

The verra elders cudna pass

The ladles till his min'.

And for the rulin' elder's grace,

It wasna worth a horn;

He didna half uncurse the meat,

Nor pray for mair the morn.

He's a' wrang, &c.

And aye he gied his nose a thraw,

And aye he crookit his mou';

And aye he cockit up his ee,

And said, "Tak' tent the noo."

We leuch ahint oor loof (palm), man,

And never said him nay:

And aye he spak'-jist lat him speik!

And aye he said his say:

Ye're a' wrang, &c.

Quo' oor guidman: "The crater's daft;

But wow! he has the claik;

Lat's see gin he can turn a han'

Or only luik and craik.

It's true we maunna lippen till him-

He's fairly crack wi' pride;

But he maun live, we canna kill him-

Gin he can work, he s' bide."

He was a' wrang, &c.

"It's true it's but a laddie's turn,

But we'll begin wi' a sma' thing;

There's a' thae weyds to gather an' burn-

An' he's the man for a' thing."

We gaed oor wa's, and loot him be,

To do jist as he micht;

We think to hear nae mair o' him,

Till we come hame at nicht;

But we're a' wrang, &c.

For, losh! or it was denner-time,

The lift (firmament) was in a low;

The reek rase up, as it had been

Frae Sodom-flames, I vow.

We ran like mad; but corn and byre

War blazin'-wae's the fell!?-

As gin the deil had broucht the fire,

To mak' anither hell.

'Twas a' wrang, &c.

And by the blaze the carl stud,

Wi's han's aneath his tails;

And aye he said-"I tauld ye sae,

An' ye're to blame yersels.

It's a' your wite (blame), for ye're a' wrang-

Ye'll maybe own't at last:

What gart ye burn thae deevilich weyds,

Whan the win' blew frae the wast?

Ye're a' wrang, and a' wrang,

And a'thegither a' wrang;

There's no a man in a' the warl'

But's a'thegither a' wrang."

Before the recitation was over, which was performed with considerable spirit and truth, Annie and Dowie were listening attentively, along with Alec, who had returned to take Annie back, and who now joined loudly in the applause which followed the conclusion of the verses.

"Faith, that was a chield to haud oot ower frae," said Alec to Rory.

"And ye said the sang weel. Ye sud learn to sing't though."

"Maybe I may, some day; gin I cud only get a grainie saut to pit upo' the tail o' the bird that kens the tune o' 't. What ca' they you, noo?"

"Alec Forbes," answered the owner of the name.

"Ay," interposed Annie, addressing herself to Dowie, who still held her in his arms; "this is Alec, that I tell't ye aboot. He's richt guid to me. Alec, here's Dooie, 'at I like better nor onybody i' the warl'."

And she turned and kissed the bronzed face, which was a clean face, notwithstanding the contrary appearance given to it by a beard of three days' growth, which Annie's kiss was too full of love to mind.

Annie would have been yet more ready to tell Dowie and Alec each who the other was, had she not been occupied in her own mind with a discovery she had made. For had not those verses given evident delight to the company-Alec among the rest? Had he not applauded loudest of all?-Was there not here something she could do, and so contribute to the delight of the workmen, Alec and Willie, and thus have her part in the boat growing beneath their hands? She would then be no longer a tolerated beholder, indebted to their charity for permission to enjoy their society, but a contributing member of the working community-if not working herself, yet upholding those that wrought. The germ of all this found itself in her mind that moment, and she resolved before next night to be able to emulate Rory.

Dowie carried her home in his arms, and on the way she told him all about the kindness of Alec and his mother. He asked her many questions about the Bruces; but her patient nature, and the instinctive feeling that it would make Dowie unhappy, withheld her from representing the discomforts of her position in strong colours. Dowie, however, had his own thoughts on the matter.

"Hoo are ye the nicht, Mr Dow?" said Robert, who treated him with oily respect, because he was not only acquainted with all Annie's affairs, but was a kind of natural, if not legal, guardian of her and her property. "And whaur did ye fa' in wi' this stray lammie o' oors?"

"She's been wi' me this lang time," answered Dow, declining, with Scotch instinct, to give an answer, before he understood all the drift of the question. A Scotchman would always like the last question first.

"She's some ill for rinnin' oot," said Bruce, with soft words addressed to Dow, and a cutting look flung at Annie, "withoot speirin' leave, and we dinna ken whaur she gangs; and that's no richt for lass-bairns."

"Never ye min' her, Mr Bruce," replied Dow. "I ken her better nor you, no meanin' ony offence, seein' she was i' my airms afore she was a week auld. Lat her gang whaur she likes, and gin she does what she sudna do, I'll tak a' the wyte o' 't."

Now there was no great anxiety about Annie's welfare in the mind of Mr or Mrs Bruce. The shop and their own children, chiefly the former occupied their thoughts, and the less trouble they had from the presence of Annie, the better pleased they were-always provided they could escape the censure of neglect. Hence it came that Annie's absences were but little inquired into. All the attention they did show her, seemed to them to be of free grace and to the credit of their charity.

But Bruce did not like the influence that James Dow had with her; and before they retired for the night, he had another lecture ready for Annie.

"Annie," he said, "it's no becomin' for ane i' your station to be sae familiar. Ye'll be a young leddy some day, and it's no richt to tak up wi' servan's. There's Jeames Doo, jist a labourin' man, and aneath your station a'thegether, and he taks ye up in's airms, as gin ye war a bairn o' 's ain. It's no proaper."

"I like Jamie Doo better nor onybody i' the haill warl," said Annie, "excep'-"

Here she stopped short. She would not expose her heart to the gaze of that man.

"Excep' wha?" urged Bruce.

"I'm no gaein to say," returned Annie firmly.

"Ye're a camstairie (perverse) lassie," said Bruce, pushing her away with a forceful acidity in the combination of tone and push.

She walked off to bed, caring nothing for his rebuke. For since Alec's kindness had opened to her a well of the water of life, she had almost ceased to suffer from the ungeniality of her guardians. She forgot them as soon as she was out of their sight. And certainly they were nicer to forget than to remember.

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