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   Chapter 30 No.30

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 9760

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


And so the time went on, slow-paced, with its silent destinies Annie said her prayers, read her Bible, and tried not to forget God. Ah! could she only have known that God never forgot her, whether she forgot him or not, giving her sleep in her dreary garret, gladness even in Murdoch Malison's school-room, and the light of life everywhere! He was now leading on the blessed season of spring, when the earth would be almost heaven enough to those who had passed through the fierceness of the winter. Even now, the winter, old and weary, was halting away before the sweet approaches of the spring-a symbol of that eternal spring before whose slow footsteps Death itself, "the winter of our discontent," shall vanish. Death alone can die everlastingly.

I have been diffuse in my account of Annie's first winter at school, because what impressed her should impress those who read her history. It is her reflex of circumstance, in a great measure, which makes that history. In regard to this portion of her life, I have little more to say than that by degrees the school became less irksome to her; that she grew more interested in her work; that some of the reading-books contained extracts which she could enjoy; and that a taste for reading began to wake in her. If ever she came to school with her lesson unprepared, it was because some book of travel or history had had attractions too strong for her. And all that day she would go about like a guilty thing, oppressed by a sense of downfall and neglected duty.

With Alec it was very different. He would often find himself in a similar case; but the neglect would make no impression on his conscience; or if it did, he would struggle hard to keep down the sense of dissatisfaction which strove to rise within him, and enjoy himself in spite of it.

Annie, again, accepted such as her doom, and went about gently unhappy, till neglect was forgotten in performance. There is nothing that can wipe out wrong but right.

And still she haunted George Macwha's workshop, where the boat soon began to reveal the full grace of its lovely outlines. Of all the works of man's hands, except those that belong to Art, a boat is the loveliest, and, in the old sense of the word, the liveliest. Why is this? Is it that it is born between Wind and Water?-Wind the father, ever casting himself into multitudinous shapes of invisible tides, taking beauteous form in the sweep of a "lazy-paced cloud," or embodying a transient informing freak in the waterspout, which he draws into his life from the bosom of his mate;-Water, the mother, visible she, sweeping and swaying, ever making and ever unmade, the very essence of her being-beauty, yet having no form of her own, and yet again manifesting herself in the ceaseless generation of passing forms? If the boat be the daughter of these, the stable child of visible and invisible subtlety, made to live in both, and shape its steady course between their varying and conflicting forces-if her Ideal was modelled between the flap of airy pinions and the long ranging flow of the serpent water, how could the lines of her form fail of grace?

Nor in this case were the magic influences of verse wanting to mould and model a boat which from prow to stern should be lovely and fortunate. As Pandemonium

"Rose like an exhalation, with the sound

Of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet,"

so the little boat grew to the sound of Annie's voice uttering not Runic Rhymes, but old Scotch ballads, or such few sweet English poems, of the new revelation, as floated across her way, and folded their butterfly wings in her memory.

I have already said that reading became a great delight to her. Mr Cowie threw his library, with very little restriction, open to her; and books old and new were all new to her. She carried every fresh one home with a sense of riches and a feeling of upliftedness which I can ill describe. She gloated over the thought of it, as she held it tight in her hand, with feelings resembling, and yet how unlike, those of Johnny Bruce when he crept into his rabbits' barrel to devour the pennyworth of plunky (a preparation of treacle and flour) which his brother would else have compelled him to share. Now that the days were longer, she had plenty of time to read; for although her so-called guardians made cutting remarks upon her idleness, they had not yet compelled her to nursing or needlework. If she had shown the least inclination to either, her liberty would have been gone from that moment; but, with the fear of James Dow before their eyes, they let her alone. As to her doing anything in the shop, she was far too much of an alien to be allowed to minister in the lowliest office of that sacred temple of Mammon. So she read everything she could lay her hands upon; and as often as she found anything peculiarly interesting, she would take the book to

the boat, where the boys were always ready to listen to whatever she brought them. And this habit made her more dircerning [sic] and choice.

Before I leave the school, however, I must give one more scene out of its history.

One mid-day in spring, just as the last of a hail-shower was passing away, and a sickly sunbeam was struggling out, the schoolroom-door opened, and in came Andrew Truffey, with a smile on his worn face, which shone in touching harmony with the watery gleam of the sun between the two hail-storms-for another was close at hand. He swung himself in on the new pivot of his humanity, namely his crutch, which every one who saw him believed at once he was never more to go without, till he sank wearied on the road to the grave, and had to be carried the rest of the way. He looked very long and deathly, for he had grown much while lying in bed.

The master rose hurriedly from his desk, and advanced to meet him. A deep stillness fell upon the scholars. They dropped all their work, and gazed at the meeting. The master held out his hand. With awkwardness and difficulty Andrew presented the hand which had been holding the crutch; and, not yet thoroughly used to the management of it, staggered in consequence and would have fallen. But the master caught him in his arms and carried him to his old seat beside his brother.

"Thank ye, sir," said the boy with another gleamy smile, through which his thin features and pale, prominent eyes told yet more plainly of sad suffering-all the master's fault, as the master knew.

"Leuk at the dominie," said Curly to Alec. "He's greitin'."

For Mr Malison had returned to his seat and had laid his head down on the desk, evidently to hide his emotion.

"Haud yer tongue, Curly. Dinna leuk at him," returned Alec. "He's sorry for poor Truffey."

Every one behaved to the master that day with marked respect. And from that day forward Truffey was in universal favour.

Let me once more assert that Mr Malison was not a bad man. The misfortune was, that his notion of right fell in with his natural fierceness; and that, in aggravation of the too common feeling with which he had commenced his relations with his pupils, namely, that they were not only the natural enemies of the master, but therefore of all law, theology had come in and taught him that they were in their own nature bad-with a badness for which the only set-off he knew or could introduce was blows. Independently of any remedial quality that might be in them, these blows were an embodiment of justice; for "every sin," as the catechism teaches, "deserveth God's wrath and curse both in this life and that which is to come." The master therefore was only a co-worker with God in every pandy he inflicted on his pupils.

I do not mean that he reasoned thus, but that such-like were the principles he had to act upon. And I must add that, with all his brutality, he was never guilty of such cruelty as one reads of occasionally as perpetrated by English schoolmasters of the present day. Nor were the boys ever guilty of such cruelty to their fellows as is not only permitted but excused in the public schools of England. The taws, likewise, is a far less cruel instrument of torture than the cane, which was then unknown in that region.

And now the moderation which had at once followed upon the accident was confirmed. Punishment became less frequent still, and where it was yet inflicted for certain kinds and degrees of offence, its administration was considerably less severe than formerly; till at length the boys said that the master never put on black stockings now, except when he was "oot o' white anes." Nor did the discipline of the school suffer in consequence. If one wants to make a hard-mouthed horse more responsive to the rein, he must relax the pressure and friction of the bit, and make the horse feel that he has got to hold up his own head. If the rider supports himself by the reins, the horse will pull.

But the marvel was to see how Andrew Truffey haunted and dogged the master. He was as it were a conscious shadow to him. There was no hour of a holiday in which Truffey could not tell precisely where the master was. If one caught sight of Andrew, hirpling down a passage, or leaning against a corner, he might be sure the master would pass within a few minutes. And the haunting of little Truffey worked so on his conscience, that, if the better nature of him had not asserted itself in love to the child, he would have been compelled to leave the place. For think of having a visible sin of your own, in the shape of a lame-legged boy, peeping at you round every other corner!

But he did learn to love the boy; and therein appeared the divine vengeance-ah! how different from human vengeance!-that the outbreak of unrighteous wrath reacted on the wrong-doer in shame, repentance, and love.

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