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   Chapter 45 No.45

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 13906

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

This had been a sore winter for Thomas, and he had had plenty of leisure for prayer. For, having gone up on a scaffold one day to see that the wall he was building was properly protected from the rain, he slipped his foot on a wet pole, and fell to the ground, whence, being a heavy man, he was lifted terribly shaken, besides having one of his legs broken. Not a moan escaped him-a murmur was out of the question. They carried him home, and the surgeon did his best for him. Nor, although few people liked him much, was he left unvisited in his sickness. The members of his own religious community recognized their obligation to minister to him; and they would have done more, had they guessed how poor he was. Nobody knew how much he gave away in other directions; but they judged of his means by the amount he was in the habit of putting into the plate at the chapel-door every Sunday. There was never much of the silvery shine to be seen in the heap of copper, but one of the gleaming sixpences was almost sure to have dropped from the hand of Thomas Crann. Not that this generosity sprung altogether from disinterested motives; for the fact was, that he had a morbid fear of avarice; a fear I believe not altogether groundless; for he was independent in his feelings almost to fierceness-certainly to ungraciousness; and this strengthened a natural tendency to saving and hoarding. The consciousness of this tendency drove him to the other extreme. Jean, having overheard him once cry out in an agony, "Lord, hae mercy upo' me, and deliver me frae this love o' money, which is the root of all evil," watched him in the lobby of the chapel the next Sunday-"and as sure's deith," said Jean-an expression which it was weel for her that Thomas did not hear-"he pat a siller shillin' into the plate that day, mornin' an' nicht."

"Tak' care hoo ye affront him, whan ye tak' it," said Andrew Constable to his wife, who was setting out to carry him some dish of her own cooking-for Andrew's wife belonged to the missionars-"for weel ye ken Thamas likes to be unner obligation to nane but the Lord himsel'."

"Lea' ye that to me, Anerew, my man. You 'at's rouch men disna ken hoo to do a thing o' that sort. I s' manage Thamas weel eneuch. I ken the nater o' him."

And sure enough he ate it up at once, that she might take the dish back with her.

Annie went every day to ask after him, and every day had a kind reception from Jean, who bore her no grudge for the ignominious treatment of Thomas on that evening memorable to Annie. At length, one day, after many weeks, Jean asked her if she would not like to see him.

"Ay wad I; richt weel," answered she.

Jean led her at once into Thomas's room, where he lay in a bed in the wall. He held out his hand. Annie could hardly be said to take it, but she put hers into it, saying timidly,

"Is yer leg verra sair, Thamas?"

"Ow na, dawtie; nae noo. The Lord's been verra mercifu'-jist like himsel'." It was ill to bide for a while whan I cudna sleep. But I jist sleep noo like ane o' the beloved."

"I was richt sorry for ye, Thamas."

"Ay, Ye've a kin' hert, lassie. And I canna help thinkin'-they may say what they like-but I canna help thinkin' that the Lord was sorry for me himsel'. It cam' into my heid as I lay here ae nicht, an' cudna sleep a wink, and cudna rist, and yet daurna muv for my broken hough. And as sune's that cam' into my heid I was sae upliftit, 'at I forgot a' aboot my leg, and begud, or ever I kent, to sing the hunner and saivent psalm. And syne whan the pain cam' back wi' a terrible stoon, I jist amaist leuch; an I thoucht that gin he wad brack me a' to bits, I wad never cry haud, nor turn my finger to gar him stent. Noo, ye're ane o' the Lord's bairns-"

"Eh! I dinna ken," cried Annie, half-terrified at such an assurance from Thomas, and the responsibility devolved on her thereby, and yet delighted beyond expression.

"Ay are ye," continued Thomas confidently; "and I want to ken what ye think aboot it. Do ye think it was a wrang thocht to come into my heid?"

"Hoo could that be, Thomas, whan it set ye a singin'-and sic a psalm-'O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness?'"

"The Lord be praised ance mair!" exclaimed Thomas. "'Oot o' the mooth o' babes and sucklin's!'-no that ye're jist that, Annie, but ye're no muckle mair. Sit ye doon aside me, and rax ower to the Bible, and jist read that hunner and saivent psalm. Eh, lassie! but the Lord is guid. Oh! that men wad praise him! An' to care for the praises o' sic worms as me! What richt hae I to praise him?"

"Ye hae the best richt, Thomas, for hasna he been good to ye?["]

"Ye're richt, lassie, ye're richt. It's wonnerfu' the common sense o' bairns. Gin ye wad jist lat the Lord instruck them! I doobt we mak ower little o' them. Nae doobt they're born in sin, and brocht farth in iniquity; but gin they repent ear', they win far aheid o' the auld fowk."

Thomas's sufferings had made him more gentle-and more sure of Annie's election. He was one on whom affliction was not thrown away.-Annie saw him often after this, and he never let her go without reading a chapter to him, his remarks upon which were always of some use to her, notwithstanding the limited capacity and formal shape of the doctrinal moulds in which they were cast; for wherever there is genuine religious feeling and experience, it will now and then crack the prisoning pitcher, and let some brilliant ray of the indwelling glory out, to discomfit the beleaguering hosts of troublous thoughts.

Although the framework of Thomas was roughly hewn, he had always been subject to such fluctuations of feeling as are more commonly found amongst religious women. Sometimes, notwithstanding the visions of the face of God "vouchsafed to him from the mercy-seat," as he would say, he would fall into fits of doubting whether he was indeed one of the elect; for how then could he be so hard-hearted, and so barren of good thoughts and feelings as he found himself? At such times he was subject to an irritation of temper, alternately the cause and effect of his misery, upon which, with all his efforts, he was only capable yet of putting a very partial check. Woe to the person who should then dare to interrupt his devotions! If Jean, who had no foresight or anticipation of consequences, should, urged by some supposed necessity of the case, call to him through the door bolted against Time and its concerns, the saint who had been kneeling before God in utter abasement, self-contempt, and wretchedness, would suddenly wrench it open, a wrathful, indignant man, boiling brimful of angry words and unkind objurgations, through all which would be manifest, notwithstanding, a certain unhappy restraint. Having driven the enemy away in confusion, he would bolt his door again, and return to his prayers in two-fold misery, conscious of guilt increased by unrighteous anger, and so of yet another wa

ll of separation raised between him and his God.

Now this weakness all but disappeared during the worst of his illness, to return for a season with increased force when his recovery had advanced so far as to admit of his getting out of bed. Children are almost always cross when recovering from an illness, however patient they may have been during its severest moments; and the phenomenon is not by any means confined to children.

A deacon of the church, a worthy little weaver, had been half-officially appointed to visit Thomas, and find out, which was not an easy task, if he was in want of anything. When he arrived, Jean was out. He lifted the latch, entered, and tapped gently at Thomas's door-too gently, for he received no answer. With hasty yet hesitating imprudence, he opened the door and peeped in. Thomas was upon his knees by the fire-side, with his plaid over his head. Startled by the weaver's entrance, he raised his head, and his rugged leonine face, red with wrath, glared out of the thicket of his plaid upon the intruder. He did not rise, for that would have been a task requiring time and caution. But he cried aloud in a hoarse voice, with his two hands leaning on the chair, like the paws of some fierce rampant animal:

"Jeames, ye're takin' the pairt o' Sawton upo' ye, drivin' a man frae his prayers!"

"Hoot, Thamas! I beg yer pardon," answered the weaver, rather flurried;

"I thoucht ye micht hae been asleep."

"Ye had no business to think for yersel' in sic a maitter. What do ye want?"

"I jist cam' to see whether ye war in want o' onything, Thamas."

"I'm in want o' naething. Gude nicht to ye."

"But, railly, Thamas," expostulated the weaver, emboldened by his own kindness-"ye'll excuse me, but ye hae nae business to gang doon on yer knees wi' yer leg in sic a weyk condeetion."

"I winna excuse ye, Jeames. What ken ye aboot my leg? And what's the use o' knees, but to gang doon upo'? Gang hame, and gang doon upo' yer ain, Jeames; and dinna disturb ither fowk that ken what theirs was made for."

Thus admonished, the weaver dared not linger. As he turned to shut the door, he wished the mason good night, but received no answer. Thomas had sunk forward upon the chair, and had already drawn his plaid over his head.

But the secret place of the Most High will not be entered after this fashion; and Thomas felt that he was shut out. It is not by driving away our brother that we can be alone with God. Thomas's plaid could not isolate him with his Maker, for communion with God is never isolation. In such a mood, the chamber with the shut door shuts out God too, and one is left alone with himself, which is the outer darkness. The love of the brethren opens the door into God's chamber, which is within ours. So Thomas-who was far enough from hating his brother, who would have struggled to his feet and limped to do him a service, though he would not have held out his hand to receive one, for he was only good, not gracious-Thomas, I say, felt worse than ever, and more as if God had forgotten him, than he had felt for many a day. He knelt still and sighed sore.

At length another knock came, which although very gentle, he heard and knew well enough.

"Who's there?" he asked, notwithstanding, with a fresh access of indignant feeling.

"Annie Anderson," was the answer through the door, in a tone which at once soothed the ruffled waters of Thomas's spirit.

"Come in," he said.

She entered, quiet as a ghost.

"Come awa', Annie. I'm glaid to see ye. Jist come and kneel doon aside me, and we'll pray thegither, for I'm sair troubled wi' an ill-temper."

Without a word of reply, Annie kneeled by the side of his chair. Thomas drew the plaid over her head, took her hand, which was swallowed up in his, and after a solemn pause, spoke thus:

"O Lord, wha dwellest in the licht inaccessible, whom mortal eye hath not seen nor can see, but who dwellest with him that is humble and contrite of heart, and liftest the licht o' thy coontenance upo' them that seek it, O Lord,"-here the solemnity of the appeal gave way before the out-bursting agony of Thomas's heart-"O Lord, dinna lat's cry in vain, this thy lammie, and me, thine auld sinner, but, for the sake o' him wha did no sin, forgive my sins and my vile temper, and help me to love my neighbour as mysel'. Lat Christ dwell in me and syne I shall be meek and lowly of heart like him. Put thy speerit in me, and syne I shall do richt-no frae mysel', for I hae no good thing in me, but frae thy speerit that dwelleth in us."

After this prayer, Thomas felt refreshed and hopeful. With slow labour he rose from his knees at last, and sinking into his chair, drew Annie towards him, and kissed her. Then he said,

"Will ye gang a bit eeran' for me, Annie?"

"That I will, Thomas. I wad rin mysel' aff o' my legs for ye."

"Na, na. I dinna want sae muckle rinnin' the nicht. But I wad be sair obleeged to ye gin ye wad jist rin doon to Jeames Johnstone, the weyver, and tell him, wi' my coampliments, ye ken, that I'm verra sorry I spak' till him as I did the nicht; and I wad tak it richt kin' o' him gin he wad come and tak a cup o' tay wi' me the morn's nicht, and we cud hae a crack thegither, and syne we cud hae worship thegither. And tell him he maunna think nae mair o' the way I spak' till him, for I was troubled i' my min', and I'm an ill-nater'd man."

"I'll tell him a' that ye say," answered Annie, "as weel's I can min' 't; and I s' warran' I s' no forget muckle o' 't. Wad ye like me to come back the nicht and tell ye what he says?"

"Na, na, lassie. It'll be nearhan' time for ye to gang to yer bed. And it's a cauld nicht. I ken that by my leg. And ye see Jeames Johnstone's no an ill-nater'd man like me. He's a douce man, and he's sure to be weel-pleased and come till's tay. Na, na; ye needna come back. Guid nicht to ye, my dawtie. The Lord bless ye for comin' to pray wi' an ill-nater'd man."

Annie sped upon her mission of love through the murky streets and lanes of Glamerton, as certainly a divine messenger as any seraph crossing the blue empyrean upon level wing. And if any one should take exception to this, on the ground that she sought her own service and neglected home duties, I would, although my object has not been to set her forth as an exemplar, take the opportunity of asking whether to sleep in a certain house and be at liberty to take one's meals there, be sufficient to make it home, and the source of home-obligations-to indicate the will of God as to the region of one's labour, other regions lying open at the same time. Ought Annie to have given her aid as a child where there was no parental recognition of the relationship-an aid whose value in the eyes of the Bruces would have consisted in the leisure it gave to Mrs Bruce for ministering more devotedly in the temple of Mammon? I put the question, not quite sure what the answer ought to be.

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