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   Chapter 22 [sic, should be XXII.]

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 8749

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

As soon as she was alone in her room she drew from her pocket a parcel containing something which Dowie had bought for her on their way home. When undone it revealed two or three tallow candles, a precious present in view of her hopes. But how should she get a light-for this was long before lucifer matches had risen even upon the horizon of Glamerton? There was but one way.

She waited, sitting on the edge of her bed, in the cold and darkness, until every sound in the house had ceased. Then she stepped cautiously down the old stair, which would crack now and then, use what care and gentleness she might.

It was the custom in all the houses of Glamerton to rest the fire; that is, to keep it gently alive all night by the help of a truff, or sod cut from the top of a peat-moss-a coarse peat in fact, more loose and porous than the peat proper-which they laid close down upon the fire, destroying almost all remaining draught by means of coal-dust. To this sealed fountain of light the little maiden was creeping through the dark house, with one of her dips in her hand-the pitcher with which she was about to draw from the fountain.

And a pretty study she would have made for any child-loving artist, when, with her face close to the grate, her mouth puckered up to do duty as the nozzle of a pair of bellows, one hand holding a twisted piece of paper between the bars, and the other buttressing the whole position from the floor, she blew at the live but reluctant fire, a glow spreading at each breath over her face, and then fading as the breath ceased, till at last the paper caught, and lighting it up from without with flame, and from within with the shine of success, made the lovely child-countenance like the face of one that has found the truth after the search of weary days.

Thus she lighted her candle, and again with careful steps she made her way to her own room. Setting the candle in a hole in the floor, left by the departure of a resinous knot, she opened her box, in which lay the few books her aunt had thrown into it when she left her old home. She had not yet learned to care much about books; but one of these had now become precious in her eyes, because she knew it contained poems that her father had been fond of reading. She soon found it-a volume by some Scotch poet of little fame, whose inward commotions had generated their own alleviation in the harmonies of ordered words in which they embodied themselves. In it Annie searched for something to learn before the following night, and found a ballad the look of which she liked, and which she very soon remembered as one she had heard her father read. It was very cold work to learn it at midnight, in winter, and in a garret too; but so intent was she, that before she went to bed, she had learned four or five verses so thoroughly that she could repeat them without thinking of what came next, and these she kept saying over and over again even in her dreams.

As soon as she woke in the dark morning she put her hand under her pillow to feel the precious volume, which she hoped would be the bond to bind her yet more closely to the boat and its builders. She took it to school in her pocket, learning the whole way as she went, and taking a roundabout road that her cousins might not interrupt her. She kept repeating and peeping every possible moment during school hours, and then all the way home again. So that by the time she had had her dinner, and the gauzy twilight had thickened to the "blanket of the dark," she felt quite ready to carry her offering of "the song that lightens toil," to George Macwha's workshop.

How clever they must be, she thought, as she went along, to make such a beautiful thing as the boat was now growing to! And she felt in her heart a kind of love for the look of living grace that the little craft already wore. Indeed before it was finished she had learned to regard it with a feeling of mingled awe, affection, and admiration, and the little boat had made for itself a place in her brain.

When she entered, she found the two boys already in busy talk; and without interrupting them by a word, she took her place on the heap of shavings which had remained undisturbed since last night. After the immediate consultation was over, and the young carpenters had settled to their work-not knowing what introduction to give to her

offering, she produced it without any at all. The boys did not know what to make of it at first, hearing something come all at once from Annie's lips which was neither question nor remark, and broke upon the silence like an alien sound. But they said nothing-only gave a glance at each other and at her, and settled down to listen and to work. Nor did they speak one word until she had finished the ballad.


said Annie, all at once, and went on:

"O lat me in, my bonny lass!

It's a lang road ower the hill;

And the flauchterin' snaw began to fa',

As I cam by the mill."

"This is nae change-hoose, John Munro,

And ye needna come nae mair:

Ye crookit yer mou', and lichtlied me,

Last Wednesday, at the fair."

"I lichtlied ye!" "Aboon the glass."

"Foul-fa' the ill-faured mouth

That made the leein' word to pass,

By rowin' 't (wrapping) in the truth.

The fac' was this: I dochtna bide

To hear yer bonnie name,

Whaur muckle mous war opened wide

Wi' lawless mirth and shame.

And a' I said was: 'Hoot! lat sit;

She's but a bairn, the lass.'

It turned the spait (flood) o' words a bit,

And loot yer fair name pass."

"Thank ye for naething, John Munro!

My name can gang or bide;

It's no a sough o' drucken words

Wad turn my heid aside."

"O Elsie, lassie o' my ain!

The drift is cauld and strang;

O tak me in ae hour, and syne

I'll gather me and gang."

"Ye're guid at fleechin' (wheedling), Jock Munro.

For ye heedna fause and true:

Gang in to Katie at the Mill,

She lo'es sic like as you."

He turned his fit; he spak nae mair.

The lift was like to fa';

And Elsie's heart grew grit and sair (big and sore),

At sicht o' the drivin' snaw.

She laid her doun, but no to sleep,

For her verra heart was cauld;

And the sheets war like a frozen heap

O' snaw aboot her faul'd.

She rase fu' ear'. And a' theroot

Was ae braid windin' sheet;

At the door-sill, or winnock-lug (window-corner),

Was never a mark o' feet.

She crap a' day aboot the hoose,

Slow-fittit and hert-sair,

Aye keekin' oot like a frichtit moose,-

But Johnnie cam nae mair!

When saft the thow begud to melt

Awa' the ghaistly snaw,

Her hert was safter nor the thow,

Her pride had ta'en a fa.'

And she oot ower the hill wad gang,

Whaur the sun was blinkin' bonnie,

To see his auld minnie (mother) in her cot,

And speir aboot her Johnnie.

But as alang the hill she gaed,

Through snaw und slush and weet,

She stoppit wi' a chokin' cry-

'Twas Johnnie at her feet.

His heid was smoored aneath the snaw,

But his breist was maistly bare;

And 'twixt his breist and his richt han',

He claisp't a lock o' hair.

'Twas gowden hair: she kent it weel.

Alack, the sobs and sighs!

The warm win' blew, the laverock flew,

But Johnnie wadna rise.

The spring cam ower the wastlin (westward) hill,

And the frost it fled awa';

And the green grass luikit smilin' up,

Nane the waur for a' the snaw.

And saft it grew on Johnnie's grave,

Whaur deep the sunshine lay;

But, lang or that, on Elsie's heid

The gowden hair was gray.

George Macwha, who was at work in the other end of the shop when she began, had drawn near, chisel in hand, and joined the listeners.

"Weel dune, Annie!" exclaimed he, as soon as she had finished?-feeling very shy and awkward, now that her experiment had been made. But she had not long to wait for the result.

"Say't ower again, Annie," said Alec, after a moment's pause.

Could she have wished for more?

She did say it over again.

"Eh, Annie! that's rale bonnie. Whaur did ye get it?" he asked.

"In an auld buikie o' my father's," answered she.

"Is there ony mair in't like it?"

"Ay, lots."

"Jist learn anither, will ye, afore the morn's nicht?"

"I'll do that, Alec."

"Dinna ye like it, Curly?" asked Alec, for Curly had said nothing.

"Ay, fegs! (faith)" was Curly's emphatic and uncritical reply.

Annie therefore learned and repeated a few more, which, if not received with equal satisfaction, yet gave sufficient pleasure to the listeners. They often, however, returned to the first, demanding it over and over again, till at length they knew it as well as she.

Hut a check was given for a while to these forenight meetings.

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