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   Chapter 25 No.25

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 8355

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was upon a Friday night that the frost finally broke up. A day of wintry rain followed, dreary and depressing. But the two boys, Alec Forbes and Willie Macwha, had a refuge from the ennui commonly attendant on such weather, in the prosecution of their boat-building. Hence it came to pass that in the early evening of the following Saturday, they found themselves in close consultation in George Macwha's shop, upon a doubtful point involved in the resumption of their labour. But they could not settle the matter without reference to the master of the mystery, George himself, and were, in the mean time, busy getting their tools in order-when he entered, in conversation with Thomas Crann the mason, who, his bodily labours being quite interrupted by the rain, had the more leisure apparently to bring his mental powers to bear upon the condition of his neighbours.

"It's a sod pity, George," he was saying as he entered, "that a man like you wadna, ance for a', tak thoucht a bit, and consider the en' o' a' thing that the sun shines upo'."

"Hoo do ye ken, Thamas, that I dinna tak thoucht?"

"Will ye say 'at ye div tak thoucht, George?"

"I'm a bit o' a Protestant, though I'm nae missionar; an' I'm no inclined to confess, Thamas-meanin' no ill-will to you for a' that, ye ken," added George, in a conciliatory tone.

"Weel, weel. I can only say that I hae seen no signs o' a savin' seriousness aboot ye, George. Ye're sair ta'en up wi' the warl'."

"Hoo mak' ye that oot? Ye big hooses, an' I mak' doors to them. And they'll baith stan' efter you an' me's laid i' the mouls.-It's weel kent forbye that ye hae a bit siller i' the bank, and I hae none."

"Not a bawbee hae I, George. I can pray for my daily breid wi' an honest hert; for gin the Lord dinna sen' 't, I hae nae bank to fa' back upo'."

"I'm sorry to hear 't, Thamas," said George.-"But Guid guide 's!" he exclaimed, "there's the twa laddies, hearkenin' to ilka word 'at we say!"

He hoped thus, but hoped in vain, to turn the current of the conversation.

"A' the better for that!" persisted Thomas. "They need to be remin't as well as you and me, that the fashion o' this warld passeth away. Alec, man, Willie, my lad, can ye big a boat to tak' ye ower the river o' Deith?-Na, ye'll no can do that. Ye maun gae through that watshod, I doobt! But there's an ark o' the Covenant that'll carry ye safe ower that and a waur flood to boot-and that's the flood o' God's wrath against evil-doers.-'Upon the wicked he shall rain fire and brimstone-a furious tempest.'-We had a gran' sermon upo' the ark o' the Covenant frae young Mr Mirky last Sabbath nicht. What for will na ye come and hear the Gospel for ance and awa' at least, George Macwha? Ye can sit i' my seat."

"I'm obleeged to ye," answered George; "but the muckle kirk does weel eneuch for me. And ye ken I'm precentor, noo, forbye."

"The muckle kirk!" repeated Thomas, in a tone of contempt. "What get ye there but the dry banes o' morality, upo' which the win' o' the word has never blawn to pit life into the puir disjaskit skeleton. Come ye to oor kirk, an' ye'll get a rousin', I can tell ye, man. Eh! man, gin ye war ance convertit, ye wad ken hoo to sing. It's no great singin' 'at ye guide."

Before the conversation had reached this point another listener had arrived: the blue eyes of Annie Anderson were fixed upon the speaker from over the half-door of the workshop. The drip from the thatch-eaves was dropping upon her shabby little shawl as she stood, but she was utterly heedless of it in the absorption of hearkening to Thomas Crann, who talked with authority, and a kind of hard eloquence of persuasion.

I ought to explain here that the muckle kirk meant the parish church; and that the religious community to which Thomas Crann belonged was one of the first results of the propagation of English Independency in Scotland. These Independents went commonly by the name of Missionars in all that district; a name arising apparently from the fact that they were the first in the neighbourhood to advocate the sending of missionaries to the heathen. The epithet was, however, always used with a considera

ble admixture of contempt.

"Are ye no gaein to get a minister o' yer ain, Thamas?" resumed George, after a pause, still wishing to turn the cart-wheels of the conversation out of the deep ruts in which the stiff-necked Thomas seemed determined to keep them moving.

"Na; we'll bide a bit, and try the speerits. We're no like you-forced to lat ower (swallow) ony jabble o' lukewarm water that's been stan'in' i' the sun frae year's en' to year's en', jist because the p?tron pleases to stick a pump intil 't an' ca' 't a well o' salvation. We'll ken whaur the water comes frae. We'll taste them a', and cheese accordin'."

"Weel, I wadna like the trouble nor yet the responsibility."

"I daursay not."

"Na. Nor yet the shame o' pretennin' to jeedge my betters," added

George, now a little nettled, as was generally the result at last of

Thomas's sarcastic tone.

"George," said Thomas solemnly, "nane but them that has the speerit can ken the speerit."

With these words, he turned and strode slowly and gloomily out of the shop-no doubt from dissatisfaction with the result of his attempt.

Who does not see that Thomas had a hold of something to which George was altogether a stranger? Surely it is something more to stand with Moses upon Mount Sinai, and see the back of God through ever so many folds of cloudy darkness, than be sitting down to eat and drink, or rising up to play about the golden calf, at the foot of the mountain. And that Thomas was possessed of some divine secret, the heart of child Annie was perfectly convinced; the tone of his utterance having a greater share in producing this conviction than anything he had said. As he passed out, she looked up reverently at him, as one to whom deep things lay open, Thomas had a kind of gruff gentleness towards children which they found very attractive; and this meek maiden he could not threaten with the vials of wrath. He laid his hard heavy hand kindly on her head, saying:

"Ye'll be ane o' the Lord's lambs, will ye no? Ye'll gang into the fold efter him, will ye no?"

"Ay will I," answered Annie, "gin He'll lat in Alec and Curly too."

"Ye maun mak nae bargains wi' him; but gin they'll gang in, he'll no haud them oot."

And away, somewhat comforted, the honest stonemason strode, through the darkness and the rain, to his own rather cheerless home, where he had neither wife nor child to welcome him. An elderly woman took care of his house, whose habitual attitude towards him was one half of awe and half of resistance. The moment he entered, she left the room where she had been sitting, without a word of welcome, and betook herself to the kitchen, where she prepared his plate of porridge or bowl of brose. With this in one hand, and a jug of milk in the other, she soon returned, placing them like a peace-offering on the table before him. Having completed the arrangement by the addition of a horn spoon from a cupboard in the wall, she again retired in silence. The moment she vanished Thomas's blue bonnet was thrown into a corner, and with folded hands and bent head he prayed a silent prayer over his homely meal.

By this time Alec and Curly, having received sufficient instruction from George Macwha, were in full swing with their boat-building. But the moment Thomas went, Alec, had taken Annie to the forge to get her well-dried, before he would allow her to occupy her old place in the heap of spales.

"Wha's preachin' at the missionar-kirk the morn, Willie?" asked the boy's father, For Willie knew everything that took place in Glamerton.

"Mr Broon," answered Curly.

"He's a guid man that, ony gait," returned his father. "There's nae mony like him. I think I'll turn missionar mysel', for ance and awa', and gang and hear him the morn's nicht."

At the same instant Annie entered the shop, her face glowing with the heat of the forge and the pleasure of rejoining her friends. Her appearance turned the current, and no more was said about the missionar-kirk.-Many minutes did not pass before she had begun to repeat to the eager listeners one of the two new poems which she had got ready for them from the book Miss Cowie had lent her.

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