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   Chapter 44 No.44

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 17452

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


In the course of her study of Milton, Annie had come upon Samson's lamentation over his blindness; and had found, soon after, the passage in which Milton, in his own person, bewails the loss of light. The thought that she would read them to Tibbie Dyster was a natural one. She borrowed the volumes from Mrs Forbes; and, the next evening, made her way to Tibbie's cottage, where she was welcomed as usual by her gruff voice of gratefulness.

"Ye're a gude bairn to come a' this gait through the snaw to see an auld blin' body like me. It's dingin' on (snowing or raining)-is na 't, bairn?"

"Ay is't. Hoo do ye ken, Tibbie?"

"I dinna ken hoo I ken. I was na sure. The snaw maks unco little din, ye see. It comes doon like the speerit himsel' upo' quaiet herts."

"Did ye ever see, Tibbie?" asked Annie, after a pause.

"Na; nae that I min' upo'. I was but twa year auld, my mither used to tell fowk, whan I had the pock, an' it jist closed up my een for ever-i' this warl, ye ken. I s' see some day as weel's ony o' ye, lass."

"Do ye ken what licht is, Tibbie?" said Annie, whom Milton had set meditating on Tibbie's physical in relation to her mental condition.

"Ay, weel eneuch," answered Tibbie, with a touch of indignation at the imputed ignorance. "What for no? What gars ye spier?"

"Ow! I jist wanted to ken."

"Hoo could I no ken? Disna the Saviour say: 'I am the licht o' the warl?'-He that walketh in Him maun ken what licht is, lassie. Syne ye hae the licht in yersel-in yer ain hert; an' ye maun ken what it is. Ye canna mistak' it."

Annie was neither able nor willing to enter into an argument on the matter, although she was not satisfied. She would rather think than dispute about it. So she changed the subject in a measure.

"Did ye ever hear o' John Milton, Tibbie?" she asked.

"Ow! ay. He was blin' like mysel,' wasna he?"

"Ay, was he. I hae been readin' a heap o' his poetry."

"Eh! I wad richt weel like to hear a bittie o' 't."

"Weel, here's a bit 'at he made as gin Samson was sayin' o' 't, till himsel' like, efter they had pitten oot's een-the Phillisteens, ye ken."

"Ay, I ken weel eneuch. Read it."

Annie read the well-known passage. Tibbie listened to the end, without word of remark or question, her face turned towards the reader, and her sightless balls rolling under their closed lids. When Annie's voice ceased, she said, after a little reflection:

"Ay! ay! It's bonnie, an' verra true. And, puir man! it was waur for him nor for me and Milton; for it was a' his ain wyte; and it was no to be expecket he cud be sae quaiet as anither. But he had no richt to queston the ways o' the Maker. But it's bonnie, rael bonnie."

"Noo, I'll jist read to ye what Milton says aboot his ain blin'ness.

But it's some ill to unnerstan'."

"Maybe I'll unnerstan' 't better nor you, bairn. Read awa'."

So admonished, Annie read. Tibbie fidgeted about on her seat. It was impossible either should understand it. And the proper names were a great puzzle to them.

"Tammy Riss!" said Tibbie; "I ken naething aboot him."

"Na, neither do I," said Annie; and beginning the line again, she blundered over "blind Maeonides."

"Ye're readin' 't wrang, bairn. It sud be 'nae ony days,' for there's nae days or nichts either to the blin'. They dinna ken the differ, ye see."

"I'm readin' 't as I hae't," answered Annie. "It's a muckle M."

"I ken naething aboot yer muckle or yer little Ms," retorted Tibbie, with indignation. "Gin that binna what it means, it's ayont me. Read awa'. Maybe we'll come to something better."

"Ay will we?" said Annie, and resumed.

With the words, "Thus with the year seasons return," Tibbie's attention grew fixed; and when the reader came to the passage,

"So much the rather thou, Celestial Light,

Shine inward,"

her attention rose into rapture.

"Ay, ay, lassie! That man kent a' aboot it! He wad never hae speired gin a blin' crater like me kent what the licht was. He kent what it was weel. Ay did he!"

"But, ye see, he was a gey auld man afore he tint his eesicht," Annie ventured to interpose.

"Sae muckle the better! He kent baith kinds. And he kent that the sicht without the een is better nor the sicht o' the een. Fowk nae doobt has baith; but I think whiles 'at the Lord gies a grainy mair o' the inside licht to mak' up for the loss o' the ootside; and weel I wat it doesna want muckle to do that."

"But ye dinna ken what it is," objected Annie, with unnecessary persistency in the truth.

"Do ye tell me that again?" returned Tibbie, harshly. "Ye'll anger me, bairn. Gin ye kent hoo I lie awauk at nicht, no able to sleep for thinkin' 'at the day will come whan I'll see-wi' my ain open een-the verra face o' him that bore oor griefs an' carried oor sorrows, till I jist lie and greit, for verra wissin', ye wadna say 'at I dinna ken what the sicht o' a body's een is. Sae nae mair o' that! I beg o' ye, or I'll jist need to gang to my prayers to haud me ohn been angry wi' ane o' the Lord's bairns; for that ye are, I do believe, Annie Anderson. Ye canna ken what blin'ness is; but I doobt ye ken what the licht is, lassie; and, for the lave (rest), jist ye lippen (trust) to John Milton and me."

Annie dared not say another word. She sat silent-perhaps rebuked. But

Tibbie resumed:

"Ye maunna think, hooever, 'cause sic longin' thouchts come ower me, that I gang aboot the hoose girnin' and compleenin' that I canna open the door and win oot. Na, na. I could jist despise the licht, whiles, that ye mak' sic a wark aboot, and sing and shout, as the Psalmist says; for I'm jist that glaid, that I dinna ken hoo to haud it in. For the Lord's my frien'. I can jist tell him a' that comes into my puir blin' heid. Ye see there's ither ways for things to come intil a body's heid. There's mair doors nor the een. There's back doors, whiles, that lat ye oot to the bonnie gairden, and that's better nor the road-side. And the smell o' the braw flooers comes in at the back winnocks, ye ken.-Whilk o' the bonnie flooers do ye think likest Him, Annie Anderson?"

"Eh! I dinna ken, Tibbie. I'm thinkin' they maun be a' like him."

"Ay, ay, nae doobt. But some o' them may be liker him nor ithers."

"Weel, whilk do ye think likest him, Tibbie?"

"I think it maun be the minnonette-sae clean and sae fine and sae weel content."

"Ay, ye're speiken by the smell, Tibbie. But gin ye saw the rose-"

"Hoots! I hae seen the rose mony a time. Nae doobt it's bonnier to luik at-" and here her fingers went moving about as if they were feeling the full-blown sphere of a rose-"but I think, for my pairt, that the minnonette's likest Him."

"May be," was all Annie's reply, and Tibbie went on.

"There maun be faces liker him nor ithers. Come here, Annie, and lat me fin (feel) whether ye be like him or no."

"Hoo can ye ken that?-ye never saw him."

"Never saw him! I hae seen him ower and ower again. I see him whan I like. Come here, I say."

Annie went and knelt down beside her, and the blind woman passed her questioning fingers in solemn silence over and over the features of the child. At length, with her hands still resting upon Annie's head, she uttered her judgment.

"Ay. Some like him, nae doot. But she'll be a heap liker him whan she sees him as he is."

When a Christian proceeds to determine the rightness of his neighbour by his approximation to his fluctuating ideal, it were well if the judgment were tempered by such love as guided the hands of blind Tibbie over the face of Annie in their attempt to discover whether or not she was like the Christ of her visions.

"Do ye think ye're like him, Tibbie?" said Annie with a smile, which

Tibbie at once detected in the tone.

"Hoots, bairn! I had the pock dreidfu', ye ken."

"Weel, maybe we a' hae had something or ither that hauds us ohn been sae bonny as we micht hae been. For ae thing, there's the guilt o' Adam's first sin, ye ken."

"Verra richt, bairn. Nae doot that's blaudit mony a face-'the want o' original richteousness, and the corruption o' our whole natur'.' The wonner is that we're like him at a'. But we maun be like him, for he was a man born o' a wumman.' Think o' that, lass!"

At this moment the latch of the door was lifted, and in walked Robert Bruce. He gave a stare when he saw Annie, for he had thought her out of the way at Howglen, and said in a tone of asperity,

"Ye're a' gait at ance, Annie Anderson. A doonricht rintheroot!"

"Lat the bairn be, Maister Bruce," said Tibbie. "She's doin' the Lord's will, whether ye may think it or no. She's visitin' them 'at's i' the prison-hoose o' the dark. She's ministerin' to them 'at hae mony preevi

ledges nae doot, but hae room for mair."

"I'm no saying naething," said Bruce.

"Ye are sayin'. Ye're offendin' ane o' his little anes. Tak ye tent o' the millstane."

"Hoot toot! Tibbie. I was only wissin 'at she wad keep a sma' part o' her ministrations for her ain hame and her ain fowk 'at has the ministerin' to her. There's the mistress and me jist mairtyrs to that chop! And there's the bit infant in want o' some ministration noo and than, gin that be what ye ca' 't."

A grim compression of the mouth was all Tibbie's reply. She did not choose to tell Robert Bruce that although she was blind-and probably because she was blind-she heard rather more gossip than anybody else in Glamerton, and that consequently his appeal to her sympathy had no effect upon her. Finding she made no other answer, Bruce turned to Annie.

"Noo, Annie," said he, "ye're nae wantit here ony langer. I hae a word or twa to say to Tibbie. Gang hame and learn yer lessons for the morn."

"It's Setterday nicht," answered Annie.

"But ye hae yer lessons to learn for the Mononday."

"Ow ay! But I hae a buik or twa to tak' hame to Mistress Forbes. And I daursay I'll bide, and come to the kirk wi' her i' the mornin'."

Now, although all that Bruce wanted was to get rid of her, he went on to oppose her; for common-minded people always feel that they give the enemy an advantage if they show themselves content.

"It's no safe to rin aboot i' the mirk (dark). It's dingin' on forbye. Ye'll be a' wat, and maybe fa' into the dam. Ye couldna see yer han' afore yer face-ance oot o' the toon."

"I ken the road to Mistress Forbes's as weel's the road up your garret-stairs, Mr Bruce."

"Ow nae doobt!" he answered, with a sneering acerbity peculiar to him, in which his voice seemed sharpened and concentrated to a point by the contraction of his lips. "And there's tykes aboot," he added, remembering Annie's fear of dogs.

But by this time Annie, gentle as she was, had got a little angry.

"The Lord'll tak care o' me frae the dark and the tykes, and the lave o' ye, Mr Bruce," she said.

And bidding Tibbie good-night, she took up her books, and departed, to wade through the dark and the snow, trembling lest some unseen tyke should lay hold of her as she went.

As soon as she was gone, Bruce proceeded to make himself agreeable to Tibbie by retailing all the bits of gossip he could think of. While thus engaged, he kept peering earnestly about the room from door to chimney, turning his head on every side, and surveying as he turned it. Even Tibbie perceived, from the changes in the sound of his voice, that he was thus occupied.

"Sae your auld landlord's deid, Tibbie!" he said at last.

"Ay, honest man! He had aye a kin' word for a poor body."

"Ay, ay, nae doobt. But what wad ye say gin I tell't ye that I had boucht the bit hoosie, and was yer new landlord, Tibbie?"

"I wad say that the door-sill wants men'in', to haud the snaw oot; an' the bit hoosie's sair in want o' new thack. The verra cupples'll be rottit awa' or lang."

"Weel that's verra rizzonable, nae doobt, gin a' be as ye say."

"Be as I say, Robert Bruce?"

"Ay, ay; ye see ye're nae a'thegither like ither fowk. I dinna mean ony offence, ye ken, Tibbie; but ye haena the sicht o' yer een."

"Maybe I haena the feelin' o' my auld banes, aither, Maister Bruce! Maybe I'm ower blin' to hae the rheumatize; or to smell the auld weet thack whan there's been a scatterin' o' snaw or a drappy o' rain o' the riggin'!"

"I didna want to anger ye, Tibbie. A' that ye say deserves attention.

It would be a shame to lat an auld body like you-"

"No that auld, Maister Bruce, gin ye kent the trowth!"

"Weel, ye're no ower young to need to be ta'en guid care o'-are ye,

Tibbie?"

Tibbie grunted.

"Weel, to come to the pint. There's nae doobt the hoose wants a hantle o' doctorin'."

"'Deed does't," interposed Tibbie. "It'll want a new door. For forbye 'at the door's maist as wide as twa ordinar doors, it was ance in twa halves like a chop-door. And they're ill jined thegither, and the win' comes throu like a knife, and maist cuts a body in twa. Ye see the bit hoosie was ance the dyer's dryin' hoose, afore he gaed further doon the watter."

"Nae doobt ye're richt, Tibbie. But seein' that I maun lay oot sae muckle, I'll be compelled to pit anither thrippence on to the rent."

"Ither thrippence, Robert Bruce! That's three thrippences i' the ook in place o' twa. That's an unco rise! Ye canna mean what ye say! It's a' that I'm able to do to pay my saxpence. An auld blin' body like me disna fa' in wi' saxpences whan she gangs luikin aboot wi' her lang fingers for a pirn or a prin that she's looten fa'."

"But ye do a heap o' spinnin', Tibbie, wi' thae lang fingers. There's naebody in Glamerton spins like ye."

"Maybe ay and maybe no. It's no muckle that that comes till. I wadna spin sae weel gin it warna that the Almichty pat some sicht into the pints o' my fingers, 'cause there was nane left i' my een. An' gin ye mak ither thrippence a week oot o' that, ye'll be turnin' the wather that He sent to ca my mill into your dam; an' I doot it'll play ill water wi' your wheels."

"Hoot, hoot! Tibbie, woman! It gangs sair against me to appear to be hard-hertit."

"I hae nae doobt. Ye dinna want to appear sae. But do ye ken that I mak sae little by the spinnin' ye mak sae muckle o', that the kirk alloos me a shillin' i' the week to mak up wi'? And gin it warna for kin' frien's, it's ill livin' I wad hae in dour weather like this. Dinna ye imaigine, Mr Bruce, that I hae a pose o' my ain. I hae naething ava, excep' sevenpence in a stockin'-fit. And it wad hae to come aff o' my tay or something ither 'at I wad ill miss."

"Weel, that may be a' verra true," rejoined Bruce; "but a body maun hae their ain for a' that. Wadna the kirk gie ye the ither thrippence?"

"Do ye think I wad tak frae the kirk to pit into your till?"

"Weel, say saivenpence, than, and we'll be quits."

"I tell ye what, Robert Bruce: raither nor pay ye one bawbee more nor the saxpence, I'll turn oot i' the snaw, and lat the Lord luik efter me."

Robert Bruce went away, and did not purchase the cottage, which was in the market at a low price, He had intended Tibbie to believe, as she did, that he had already bought it; and if she had agreed to pay even the sevenpence, he would have gone from her to secure it.

On her way to Howglen, Annie pondered on the delight of Tibbie-Tibbie Dyster who had never seen the "human face divine"-when she should see the face of Jesus Christ, most likely the first face she would see. Then she turned to what Tibbie had said about knowing light from knowing the Saviour. There must be some connection between what Tibbie said and what Thomas had said about the face of God. There was a text that said "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." So she was sure that the light that was in a Christian, whatever it meant, must come from the face of God. And so what Thomas said and what Tibbie said might be only different ways of saying the same thing.

Thus she was in a measure saved from the perplexity which comes of any one definition of the holy secret, compelling a man to walk in a way between walls, instead of in a path across open fields.

There was no day yet in which Annie did not think of her old champion with the same feeling of devotion which his championship had first aroused, although all her necessities, hopes, and fears were now beyond any assistance he could render. She was far on in a new path: he was loitering behind, out of hearing, He would not have dared to call her solicitude nonsense; but he would have set down all such matters as belonging to women, rather than youths beginning the world. The lessons of Thomas Crann were not despised, for he never thought about them. He began to look down upon all his past, and, in it, upon his old companions. Since knowing Kate, who had more delicate habits and ways than he had ever seen, he had begun to refine his own modes concerning outside things; and in his anxiety to be like her, while he became more polished, he became less genial and wide-hearted.

But none of his old friends forgot him. I believe not a day passed in which Thomas did not pray for him in secret, naming him by his name, and lingering over it mournfully-"Alexander Forbes-the young man that I thocht wad hae been pluckit frae the burnin' afore noo. But thy time's the best, O Lord. It's a' thy wark; an' there's no good thing in us. And thou canst turn the hert o' man as the rivers o' water. And maybe thou hast gi'en him grace to repent already, though I ken naething aboot it."

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