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   Chapter 27 No.27

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 8172

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Little as Murdoch Malison knew of the worlds of thought and feeling-Annie's among the rest-which lay within those young faces and forms assembled the next day as usual, he knew almost as little of the mysteries that lay within himself.

Annie was haunted all day with the thought of the wrath of God. When she forgot it for a moment, it would return again with a sting of actual physical pain, which seemed to pierce her heart. Before school was over she had made up her mind what to do.

And before school was over Malison's own deed had opened his own eyes, had broken through the crust that lay between him and the vision of his own character.

There is not to be found a more thorough impersonation of his own theology than a Scotch schoolmaster of the rough old-fashioned type. His pleasure was law, irrespective of right or wrong, and the reward of submission to law was immunity from punishment. He had his favourites in various degrees, whom he chose according to inexplicable directions of feeling ratified by "the freedom of his own will." These found it easy to please him, while those with whom he was not primarily pleased, found it impossible to please him.

Now there had come to the school, about a fortnight before, two unhappy-looking little twin orphans, with white thin faces, and bones in their clothes instead of legs and arms, committed to the mercies of Mr Malison by their grandfather. Bent into all the angles of a grasshopper, and lean with ancient poverty, the old man tottered away with his stick in one hand, stretched far out to support his stooping frame, and carried in the other the caps of the two forsaken urchins, saying, as he went, in a quavering, croaking voice,

"I'll jist tak them wi' me, or they'll no be fit for the Sawbath aboon a fortnicht. They're terrible laddies to blaud (spoil) their claes!"

Turning with difficulty when he had reached the door, he added:

"Noo ye jist gie them their whups weel, Master Mailison, for ye ken that he that spareth the rod blaudeth the bairn."

Thus authorized, Malison certainly did "gie them their whups weel." Before the day was over they had both lain shrieking on the floor under the torture of the lash. And such poor half-clothed, half-fed creatures they were, and looked so pitiful and cowed, that one cannot help thinking it must have been for his own glory rather than their good that he treated them thus.

But, in justice to Malison, another fact must be mentioned, which, although inconsistent with the one just recorded, was in perfect consistency with the theological subsoil whence both sprang. After about a week, during which they had been whipt almost every day, the orphans came to school with a cold and a terrible cough. Then his observant pupils saw the man who was both cruel judge and cruel executioner, feeding his victims with liquorice till their faces were stained with its exuberance.

The old habits of severity, which had been in some measure intermitted, had returned upon him with gathered strength, and this day Anne was to be one of the victims. For although he would not dare to whip her, he was about to incur the shame of making this day, pervaded as it was, through all its spaces of time and light, with the fumes of the sermon she had heard the night before, the most wretched day that Anne's sad life had yet seen. Indeed, although she afterwards passed many more sorrowful days, she never had to pass one so utterly miserable. The spirits of the pit seemed to have broken loose and filled Murdoch Malison's school-room with the stench of their fire and brimstone.

As she sat longing for school to be over, that she might follow a plan which had a glimmer of hope in it, stupified with her labouring thoughts, and overcome with wretchedness, she fell fast asleep. She was roused by a smart blow from the taws, flung with unerring aim at the back of her bare bended neck. She sprang up with a cry, and, tottering between sleep and terror, proceeded at once to take the leather snake back to the master. But she would have fallen in getti

ng over the form had not Alec caught her in his arms. He re-seated her, and taking the taws from her trembling hand, carried it himself to the tyrant. Upon him Malison's fury, breaking loose, expended itself in a dozen blows on the right hand, which Alec held up without flinching. As he walked to his seat, burning with pain, the voice of the master sounded behind him; but with the decree it uttered, Alec did not feel himself at liberty to interfere.

"Ann Anderson," he bawled, "stand up on the seat."

With trembling limbs, Annie obeyed. She could scarcely stand at first, and the form shook beneath her. For some time her colour kept alternating between crimson and white, but at last settled into a deadly pallor. Indeed, it was to her a terrible punishment to be exposed to the looks of all the boys and girls in the school. The elder Bruce tried hard to make her see one of his vile grimaces, but, feeling as if every nerve in her body were being stung with eyes, she never dared to look away from the book which she held upside down before her own sightless eyes.-This pillory was the punishment due to falling asleep, as hell was the punishment for forgetting God; and there she had to stand for a whole hour.

"What a shame! Damn that Malison!" and various other subdued exclamations were murmured about the room; for Annie was a favourite with most of the boys, and yet more because she was the General's sweetheart, as they said; but these ebullitions of popular feeling were too faint to reach her ears and comfort her isolation and exposure. Worst of all, she had soon to behold, with every advantage of position, an outbreak of the master's temper, far more painful than she had yet seen, both from its cruelty and its consequences.

A small class of mere children, amongst whom were the orphan Truffeys, had been committed to the care of one of the bigger boys, while the master was engaged with another class. Every boy in the latter had already had his share of pandies, when a noise in the children's class attracting the master's attention, he saw one of the Truffeys hit another boy in the face. He strode upon him at once, and putting no question as to provocation, took him by the neck, fixed it between his knees, and began to lash him with hissing blows. In his agony, the little fellow contrived to twist his head about and get a mouthful of the master's leg, inserting his teeth in a most canine and praiseworthy manner. The master caught him up, and dashed him on the floor. There the child lay motionless. Alarmed, and consequently cooled, Malison proceeded to lift him. He was apparently lifeless; but he had only fainted with pain. When he came to himself a little, it was found that his leg was hurt. It appeared afterwards that the knee-cap was greatly injured. Moaning with pain, he was sent home on the back of a big parish scholar.

At all this Anne stared from her pillory with horror. The feeling that God was angry with her grew upon her; and Murdoch Malison became for a time inseparably associated with her idea of God, frightfully bewildering all her aspirations.

The master still looked uneasy, threw the tag into his desk, and beat no one more that day. Indeed, only half an hour of school-time was left. As soon as that was over, he set off at a swinging pace for the old grandfather's cottage.

What passed there was never known. The other Truffey came to school the next day as usual, and told the boys that his brother was in bed. In that bed he lay for many weeks, and many were the visits the master paid him. This did much with the townsfolk to wipe away his reproach. They spoke of the affair as an unfortunate accident, and pitied the schoolmaster even more than the sufferer.

When at length the poor boy was able to leave his bed, it became apparent that, either through unskilful treatment, or as the unavoidable result of the injury, he would be a cripple for life.

The master's general behaviour was certainly modified by this consequence of his fury; but it was some time before the full reaction arrived.

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