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This carefully crafted ebook: "Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood (Adventure Classic) - Illustrated" is formatted for your eReader with a functional and detailed table of contents. Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood is a realistic, largely autobiographical, novel by George MacDonald. It is a story of a young motherless boy growing up with his brothers in a Scottish manse. Throughout the twists and turns of his escapades and adventures, Ranald learns from his father the important lessons of courage and integrity. He meets plenty of colorful characters such as the wicked sneaking, housekeeper, Mrs. Mitchel, Kirsty, an enchanting Highland storyteller, Turkey, the intrepid cowherd, the strange Wandering Willie, the evil Kelpie, the sweet horse Missie, and the lovely Elsie Duff. George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister. He was a pioneering figure in the field of fantasy literature and the mentor of fellow writer Lewis Carroll. His writings have been cited as a major literary influence by many notable authors including W. H. Auden, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Walter de la Mare, E. Nesbit and Madeleine L'Engle. G. K. Chesterton cited The Princess and the Goblin as a book that had "made a difference to my whole existence".
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I do not intend to carry my story one month beyond the hour when I saw that my boyhood was gone and my youth arrived; a period determined to some by the first tail-coat, to me by a different sign. My reason for wishing to tell this first portion of my history is, that when I look back upon it, it seems to me not only so pleasant, but so full of meaning, that, if I can only tell it right, it must prove rather pleasant and not quite unmeaning to those who will read it. It will prove a very poor story to such as care only for stirring adventures, and like them all the better for a pretty strong infusion of the impossible; but those to whom their own history is interesting—to whom, young as they may be, it is a pleasant thing to be in the world—will not, I think, find the experience of a boy born in a very different position from that of most of them, yet as much a boy as any of them, wearisome because ordinary.
If I did not mention that I, Ranald Bannerman, am a Scotchman, I should be found out before long by the kind of thing I have to tell; for although England and Scotland are in all essentials one, there are such differences between them that one could tell at once, on opening his eyes, if he had been carried out of the one into the other during the night. I do not mean he might not be puzzled, but except there was an intention to puzzle him by a skilful selection of place, the very air, the very colours would tell him; or if he kept his eyes shut, his ears would tell him without his eyes. But I will not offend fastidious ears with any syllable of my rougher tongue. I will tell my story in English, and neither part of the country will like it the worse for that.
I will clear the way for it by mentioning that my father was the clergyman of a country parish in the north of Scotland—a humble position, involving plain living and plain ways altogether. There was a glebe or church-farm attached to the manse or clergyman's house, and my father rented a small farm besides, for he needed all he could make by farming to supplement the smallness of the living. My mother was an invalid as far back as I can remember. We were four boys, and had no sister. But I must begin at the beginning, that is, as far back as it is possible for me to begin.
I cannot tell any better than most of my readers how and when I began to come awake, or what it was that wakened me. I mean, I cannot remember when I began to remember, or what first got set down in my memory as worth remembering. Sometimes I fancy it must have been a tremendous flood that first made me wonder, and so made me begin to remember. At all events, I do remember one flood that seems about as far off as anything—the rain pouring so thick that I put out my hand in front of me to try whether I could see it through the veil of the falling water. The river, which in general was to be seen only in glimpses from the house—for it ran at the bottom of a hollow—was outspread like a sea in front, and stretched away far on either hand. It was a little stream, but it fills so much of my memory with its regular recurrence of autumnal floods, that I can have no confidence that one of these is in reality the oldest thing I remember. Indeed, I have a suspicion that my oldest memories are of dreams,—where or when dreamed, the good One who made me only knows. They are very vague to me now, but were almost all made up of bright things. One only I can recall, and it I will relate, or more properly describe, for there was hardly anything done in it. I dreamed it often. It was of the room I slept in, only it was narrower in the dream, and loftier, and the window was gone. But the ceiling was a ceiling indeed; for the sun, moon, and stars lived there. The sun was not a scientific sun at all, but one such as you see in penny picture-books—a round, jolly, jocund man's face, with flashes of yellow frilling it all about, just what a grand sunflower would look if you set a countenance where the black seeds are. And the moon was just such a one as you may see the cow jumping over in the pictured nursery rhyme. She was a crescent, of course, that she might have a face drawn in the hollow, and turned towards the sun, who seemed to be her husband. He looked merrily at her, and she looked trustfully at him, and I knew that they got on very well together. The stars were their children, of course, and they seemed to run about the ceiling just as they pleased; but the sun and the moon had regular motions—rose and set at the proper times, for they were steady old folks. I do not, however, remember ever seeing them rise or set; they were always up and near the centre before the dream dawned on me. It would always come in one way: I thought I awoke in the middle of the night, and lo! there was the room with the sun and the moon and the stars at their pranks and revels in the ceiling—Mr. Sun nodding and smiling across the intervening space to Mrs. Moon, and she nodding back to him with a knowing look, and the corners of her mouth drawn down.
I have vague memories of having heard them talk. At times I feel as if I could yet recall something of what they said, but it vanishes the moment I try to catch it. It was very queer talk, indeed—about me, I fancied—but a thread of strong sense ran through it all. When the dream had been very vivid, I would sometimes think of it in the middle of the next day, and look up to the sun, saying to myself: He's up there now, busy enough. I wonder what he is seeing to talk to his wife about when he comes down at night? I think it sometimes made me a little more careful of my conduct. When the sun set, I thought he was going in the back way; and when the moon rose, I thought she was going out for a little stroll until I should go to sleep, when they might come and talk about me again. It was odd that, although I never fancied it of the sun, I thought I could make the moon follow me as I pleased. I remember once my eldest brother giving me great offence by bursting into laughter, when I offered, in all seriousness, to bring her to the other side of the house where they wanted light to go on with something they were about. But I must return to my dream; for the most remarkable thing in it I have not yet told you. In one corner of the ceiling there was a hole, and through that hole came down a ladder of sun-rays—very bright and lovely. Where it came from I never thought, but of course it could not come from the sun, because there he was, with his bright coat off, playing the father of his family in the most homely Old-English-gentleman fashion possible. That it was a ladder of rays there could, however, be no doubt: if only I could climb upon it! I often tried, but fast as I lifted my feet to climb, down they came again upon the boards of the floor. At length I did succeed, but this time the dream had a setting.
I have said that we were four boys; but at this time we were five—there was a little baby. He was very ill, however, and I knew he was not expected to live. I remember looking out of my bed one night and seeing my mother bending over him in her lap;—it is one of the few things in which I do remember my mother. I fell asleep, but by and by woke and looked out again. No one was there. Not only were mother and baby gone, but the cradle was gone too. I knew that my little brother was dead. I did not cry: I was too young and ignorant to cry about it. I went to sleep again, and seemed to wake once more; but it was into my dream this time. There were the sun and the moon and the stars. But the sun and the moon had got close together and were talking very earnestly, and all the stars had gathered round them. I could not hear a word they said, but I concluded that they were talking about my little brother. "I suppose I ought to be sorry," I said to myself; and I tried hard, but I could not feel sorry. Meantime I observed a curious motion in the heavenly host. They kept looking at me, and then at the corner where the ladder stood, and talking on, for I saw their lips moving very fast; and I thought by the motion of them that they were saying something about the ladder. I got out of bed and went to it. If I could only get up it! I would try once more. To my delight I found it would bear me. I climbed and climbed, and the sun and the moon and the stars looked more and more pleased as I got up nearer to them, till at last the sun's face was in a broad smile. But they did not move from their places, and my head rose above them, and got out at the hole where the ladder came in. What I saw there, I cannot tell. I only know that a wind such as had never blown upon me in my waking hours, blew upon me now. I did not care much for kisses then, for I had not learned how good they are; but somehow I fancied afterwards that the wind was made of my baby brother's kisses, and I began to love the little man who had lived only long enough to be our brother and get up above the sun and the moon and the stars by the ladder of sun-rays. But this, I say, I thought afterwards. Now all that I can remember of my dream is that I began to weep for very delight of something I have forgotten, and that I fell down the ladder into the room again and awoke, as one always does with a fall in a dream. Sun, moon, and stars were gone; the ladder of light had vanished; and I lay sobbing on my pillow.
I have taken up a great deal of room with this story of a dream, but it clung to me, and would often return. And then the time of life to which this chapter refers is all so like one, that a dream comes in well enough in it. There is a twilight of the mind, when all things are strange, and when the memory is only beginning to know that it has got a notebook, and must put things down in it.
It was not long after this before my mother died, and I was sorrier for my father than for myself—he looked so sad. I have said that as far back as I can remember, she was an invalid. Hence she was unable to be much with us. She is very beautiful in my memory, but during the last months of her life we seldom saw her, and the desire to keep the house quiet for her sake must have been the beginning of that freedom which we enjoyed during the whole of our boyhood. So we were out every day and all day long, finding our meals when we pleased, and that, as I shall explain, without going home for them. I remember her death clearly, but I will not dwell upon that. It is too sad to write much about, though she was happy, and the least troubled of us all. Her sole concern was at leaving her husband and children. But the will of God was a better thing to her than to live with them. My sorrow at least was soon over, for God makes children so that grief cannot cleave to them. They must not begin life with a burden of loss. He knows it is only for a time. When I see my mother again, she will not reproach me that my tears were so soon dried. "Little one," I think I hear her saying, "how could you go on crying for your poor mother when God was mothering you all the time, and breathing life into you, and making the world a blessed place for you? You will tell me all about it some day." Yes, and we shall tell our mothers—shall we not?—how sorry we are that we ever gave them any trouble. Sometimes we were very naughty, and sometimes we did not know better. My mother was very good, but I cannot remember a single one of the many kisses she must have given me. I remember her holding my head to her bosom when she was dying—that is all.
My father was a tall, staid, solemn man, who walked slowly with long strides. He spoke very little, and generally looked as if he were pondering next Sunday's sermon. His head was grey, and a little bent, as if he were gathering truth from the ground. Once I came upon him in the garden, standing with his face up to heaven, and I thought he was seeing something in the clouds; but when I came nearer, I saw that his eyes were closed, and it made me feel very solemn. I crept away as if I had been peeping where I ought not. He did not talk much to us. What he said was very gentle, and it seemed to me it was his solemnity that made him gentle. I have seen him look very angry. He used to walk much about his fields, especially of a summer morning before the sun was up. This was after my mother's death. I presume he felt nearer to her in the fields than in the house. There was a kind of grandeur about him, I am sure; for I never saw one of his parishioners salute him in the road, without a look of my father himself passing like a solemn cloud over the face of the man or woman. For us, we feared and loved him both at once. I do not remember ever being punished by him, but Kirsty (of whom I shall have to speak by and by) has told me that he did punish us when we were very small children. Neither did he teach us much himself, except on the occasions I am about to mention; and I cannot say that I learned much from his sermons. These gave entire satisfaction to those of his parishioners whom I happened to hear speak of them; but, although I loved the sound of his voice, and liked to look at his face as he stood up there in the ancient pulpit clad in his gown and bands, I never cared much about what he said. Of course it was all right, and a better sermon than any other clergyman whatever could have preached, but what it was all about was of no consequence to me. I may as well confess at once that I never had the least doubt that my father was the best man in the world. Nay, to this very hour I am of the same opinion, notwithstanding that the son of the village tailor once gave me a tremendous thrashing for saying so, on the ground that I was altogether wrong, seeing his father was the best man in the world—at least I have learned to modify the assertion only to this extent—that my father was the best man I have ever known.
The church was a very old one—had seen candles burning, heard the little bell ringing, and smelt the incense of the old Catholic service. It was so old, that it seemed settling down again into the earth, especially on one side, where great buttresses had been built to keep it up. It leaned against them like a weary old thing that wanted to go to sleep. It had a short square tower, like so many of the churches in England; and although there was but one old cracked bell in it, although there was no organ to give out its glorious sounds, although there was neither chanting nor responses, I assure my English readers that the awe and reverence which fell upon me as I crossed its worn threshold were nowise inferior, as far as I can judge, to the awe and respect they feel when they enter the more beautiful churches of their country. There was a hush in it which demanded a refraining of the foot, a treading softly as upon holy ground; and the church was inseparably associated with my father.
The pew we sat in was a square one, with a table in the middle of it for our books. My brother David generally used it for laying his head upon, that he might go to sleep comfortably. My brother Tom put his feet on the cross-bar of it, leaned back in his corner—for you see we had a corner apiece—put his hands in his trousers pockets, and stared hard at my father—for Tom's corner was well in front of the pulpit. My brother Allister, whose back was to the pulpit, used to learn the paraphrases all the time of the sermon. I, happiest of all in my position, could look up at my father, if I pleased, a little sideways; or, if I preferred, which I confess I often did, study—a rare sight in Scotch churches—the figure of an armed knight, carved in stone, which lay on the top of the tomb of Sir Worm Wymble—at least that is the nearest I can come to the spelling of the name they gave him. The tomb was close by the side of the pew, with only a flagged passage between. It stood in a hollow in the wall, and the knight lay under the arch of the recess, so silent, so patient, with folded palms, as if praying for some help which he could not name. From the presence of this labour of the sculptor came a certain element into the feeling of the place, which it could not otherwise have possessed: organ and chant were not altogether needful while that carved knight lay there with face upturned, as if looking to heaven.
But from gazing at the knight I began to regard the wall about him, and the arch over him; and from the arch my eye would seek the roof, and descending, rest on the pillars, or wander about the windows, searching the building of the place, discovering the points of its strength, and how it was upheld. So that while my father was talking of the church as a company of believers, and describing how it was held together by faith, I was trying to understand how the stone and lime of the old place was kept from falling asunder, and thus beginning to follow what has become my profession since; for I am an architect.
But the church has led me away from my father. He always spoke in rather a low voice, but so earnestly that every eye, as it seemed to me, but mine and those of two of my brothers, was fixed upon him. I think, however, that it was in part the fault of certain teaching of his own, better fitted for our understanding, that we paid so little heed. Even Tom, with all his staring, knew as little about the sermon as any of us. But my father did not question us much concerning it; he did what was far better. On Sunday afternoons, in the warm, peaceful sunlight of summer, with the honeysuckle filling the air of the little arbour in which we sat, and his one glass of wine set on the table in the middle, he would sit for an hour talking away to us in his gentle, slow, deep voice, telling us story after story out of the New Testament, and explaining them in a way I have seldom heard equalled. Or, in the cold winter nights, he would come into the room where I and my two younger brothers slept—the nursery it was—and, sitting down with Tom by his side before the fire that burned bright in the frosty air, would open the great family Bible on the table, turn his face towards the two beds where we three lay wide awake, and tell us story after story out of the Old Testament, sometimes reading a few verses, sometimes turning the bare facts into an expanded and illustrated narrative of his own, which, in Shakspere fashion, he presented after the modes and ways of our own country and time. I shall never forget Joseph in Egypt hearing the pattering of the asses' hoofs in the street, and throwing up the window, and looking out, and seeing all his own brothers coming riding towards him; or the grand rush of the sea waves over the bewildered hosts of the Egyptians. We lay and listened with all the more enjoyment, that while the fire was burning so brightly, and the presence of my father filling the room with safety and peace, the wind was howling outside, and the snow drifting up against the window. Sometimes I passed into the land of sleep with his voice in my ears and his love in my heart; perhaps into the land of visions—once certainly into a dream of the sun and moon and stars making obeisance to the too-favoured son of Jacob.
My father had a housekeeper, a trusty woman, he considered her. We thought her very old. I suppose she was about forty. She was not pleasant, for she was grim-faced and censorious, with a very straight back, and a very long upper lip. Indeed the distance from her nose to her mouth was greater than the length of her nose. When I think of her first, it is always as making some complaint to my father against us. Perhaps she meant to speak the truth, or rather, perhaps took it for granted that she always did speak the truth; but certainly she would exaggerate things, and give them quite another look. The bones of her story might be true, but she would put a skin over it after her own fashion, which was not one of mildness and charity. The consequence was that the older we grew, the more our minds were alienated from her, and the more we came to regard her as our enemy. If she really meant to be our friend after the best fashion she knew, it was at least an uncomely kind of friendship, that showed itself in constant opposition, fault-finding, and complaint. The real mistake was that we were boys. There was something in her altogether antagonistic to the boy-nature. You would have thought that to be a boy was in her eyes to be something wrong to begin with; that boys ought never to have been made; that they must always, by their very nature, be about something amiss. I have occasionally wondered how she would have behaved to a girl. On reflection, I think a little better; but the girl would have been worse off, because she could not have escaped from her as we did. My father would hear her complaints to the end without putting in a word, except it were to ask her a question, and when she had finished, would turn again to his book or his sermon, saying—
"Very well, Mrs. Mitchell; I will speak to them about it."
My impression is that he did not believe the half she told him. At all events, when he had sent for us, he would ask our version of the affair, and listen to that as he had listened to hers. Then he would set forth to us where we had been wrong, if we were wrong, and send us away with an injunction not to provoke Mrs. Mitchell, who couldn't help being short in her temper, poor thing! Somehow or other we got it into our heads that the shortness of her temper was mysteriously associated with the shortness of her nose.
She was saving even to stinginess. She would do her best to provide what my father liked, but for us she thought almost anything good enough. She would, for instance, give us the thinnest of milk—we said she skimmed it three times before she thought it blue enough for us. My two younger brothers did not mind it so much as I did, for I was always rather delicate, and if I took a dislike to anything, would rather go without than eat or drink of it. But I have told you enough about her to make it plain that she could be no favourite with us; and enough likewise to serve as a background to my description of Kirsty.
Kirsty was a Highland woman who had the charge of the house in which the farm servants lived. She was a cheerful, gracious, kind woman—a woman of God's making, one would say, were it not that, however mysterious it may look, we cannot deny that he made Mrs. Mitchell too. It is very puzzling, I confess. I remember once that my youngest brother Davie, a very little fellow then, for he could not speak plainly, came running in great distress to Kirsty, crying, "Fee, fee!" by which he meant to indicate that a flea was rendering his life miserable. Kirsty at once undressed him and entered on the pursuit. After a successful search, while she was putting on his garments again, little Davie, who had been looking very solemn and thoughtful for some time, said, not in a questioning, but in a concluding tone—
"God didn't make the fees, Kirsty!"
"Oh yes, Davie! God made everything. God did make the fleas," said Kirsty.
Davie was silent for a while. Then he opened his mouth and spake like a discontented prophet of old:
"Why doesn't he give them something else to eat, then?"
"You must ask himself that," said Kirsty, with a wisdom I have since learned to comprehend, though I remember it shocked me a little at the time.
All this set me thinking. Before the dressing of little Davie was over, I had my question to put to Kirsty. It was, in fact, the same question, only with a more important object in the eye of it.
"Then I suppose God made Mrs. Mitchell, as well as you and the rest of us, Kirsty?" I said.
"Certainly, Ranald," returned Kirsty.
"Well, I wish he hadn't," was my remark, in which I only imitated my baby brother, who was always much cleverer than I.
"Oh! she's not a bad sort," said Kirsty; "though I must say, if I was her, I would try to be a little more agreeable."
To return to Kirsty: she was our constant resort. The farmhouse was a furlong or so from the manse, but with the blood pouring from a cut finger, the feet would of themselves devour that furlong rather than apply to Mrs. Mitchell. Oh! she was dear, and good, and kind, our Kirsty!
In person she was short and slender, with keen blue eyes and dark hair; an uncommonly small foot, which she claimed for all Highland folk; a light step, a sweet voice, and a most bounteous hand—but there I come into the moral nature of her, for it is the mind that makes the hand bountiful. For her face, I think that was rather queer, but in truth I can hardly tell, so entirely was it the sign of good to me and my brothers; in short, I loved her so much that I do not know now, even as I did not care then, whether she was nice-looking or not. She was quite as old as Mrs. Mitchell, but we never thought of her being old. She was our refuge in all time of trouble and necessity. It was she who gave us something to eat as often and as much as we wanted. She used to say it was no cheating of the minister to feed the minister's boys.
And then her stories! There was nothing like them in all that countryside. It was rather a dreary country in outward aspect, having many bleak moorland hills, that lay about like slow-stiffened waves, of no great height but of much desolation; and as far as the imagination was concerned, it would seem that the minds of former generations had been as bleak as the country, they had left such small store of legends of any sort. But Kirsty had come from a region where the hills were hills indeed—hills with mighty skeletons of stone inside them; hills that looked as if they had been heaped over huge monsters which were ever trying to get up—a country where every cliff, and rock, and well had its story—and Kirsty's head was full of such. It was delight indeed to sit by her fire and listen to them. That would be after the men had had their supper, early of a winter night, and had gone, two of them to the village, and the other to attend to the horses. Then we and the herd, as we called the boy who attended to the cattle, whose work was over for the night, would sit by the fire, and Kirsty would tell us stories, and we were in our heaven.
I began life, and that after no pleasant fashion, as near as I can guess, about the age of six years. One glorious morning in early summer I found myself led by the ungentle hand of Mrs. Mitchell towards a little school on the outside of the village, kept by an old woman called Mrs. Shand. In an English village I think she would have been called Dame Shand: we called her Luckie Shand. Half dragged along the road by Mrs. Mitchell, from whose rough grasp I attempted in vain to extricate my hand, I looked around at the shining fields and up at the blue sky, where a lark was singing as if he had just found out that he could sing, with something like the despair of a man going to the gallows and bidding farewell to the world. We had to cross a little stream, and when we reached the middle of the foot-bridge, I tugged yet again at my imprisoned hand, with a half-formed intention of throwing myself into the brook. But my efforts were still unavailing. Over a half-mile or so, rendered weary by unwillingness, I was led to the cottage door—no such cottage as some of my readers will picture, with roses and honeysuckle hiding its walls, but a dreary little house with nothing green to cover the brown stones of which it was built, and having an open ditch in front of it with a stone slab over it for a bridge. Did I say there was nothing on the walls? This morning there was the loveliest sunshine, and that I was going to leave behind. It was very bitter, especially as I had expected to go with my elder brother to spend the day at a neighbouring farm.
Mrs. Mitchell opened the door, and led me in. It was an awful experience. Dame Shand stood at her table ironing. She was as tall as Mrs. Mitchell, and that was enough to prejudice me against her at once. She wore a close-fitting widow's cap, with a black ribbon round it. Her hair was grey, and her face was as grey as her hair, and her skin was gathered in wrinkles about her mouth, where they twitched and twitched, as if she were constantly meditating something unpleasant. She looked up inquiringly.
"I've brought you a new scholar," said Mrs. Mitchell.
"Well. Very well," said the dame, in a dubious tone. "I hope he's a good boy, for he must be good if he comes here."
"Well, he's just middling. His father spares the rod, Mrs. Shand, and we know what comes of that."
They went on with their talk, which, as far as I can recall it, was complimentary to none but the two women themselves. Meantime I was making what observations my terror would allow. About a dozen children were seated on forms along the walls, looking over the tops of their spelling-books at the newcomer. In the farther corner two were kicking at each other as opportunity offered, looking very angry, but not daring to cry. My next discovery was terribly disconcerting. Some movement drew my eyes to the floor; there I saw a boy of my own age on all-fours, fastened by a string to a leg of the table at which the dame was ironing, while—horrible to relate!—a dog, not very big but very ugly, and big enough to be frightened at, lay under the table watching him. I gazed in utter dismay.
"Ah, you may look!" said the dame. "If you're not a good boy, that is how you shall be served. The dog shall have you to look after."
I trembled, and was speechless. After some further confabulation, Mrs. Mitchell took her leave, saying—
"I'll come back for him at one o'clock, and if I don't come, just keep him till I do come."
The dame accompanied her to the door, and then I discovered that she was lame, and hobbled very much. A resolution arose full-formed in my brain.
I sat down on the form near the door, and kept very quiet. Had it not been for the intention I cherished, I am sure I should have cried. When the dame returned, she resumed her box-iron, in which the heater went rattling about, as, standing on one leg—the other was so much shorter—she moved it to and fro over the garment on the table. Then she called me to her by name in a would-be pompous manner. I obeyed, trembling.
"Can you say your letters?" she asked.
Now, although I could not read, I could repeat the alphabet; how I had learned it I do not know. I did repeat it.
"How many questions of your catechism can you say?" she asked next.
Not knowing with certainty what she meant, I was silent.
"No sulking!" said the dame; and opening a drawer in the table, she took out a catechism. Turning back the cover she put it in my hand, and told me to learn the first question. She had not even inquired whether I could read. I took the catechism, and stood as before.
"Go to your seat," she said.
I obeyed, and with the book before me pondered my plan.
Everything depended on whether I could open the door before she could reach me. Once out of the house, I was sure of running faster than she could follow. And soon I had my first experience of how those are helped who will help themselves.
The ironing of course required a fire to make the irons hot, and as the morning went on, the sunshine on the walls, conspiring with the fire on the hearth, made the place too hot for the comfort of the old dame. She went and set the door wide open. I was instantly on the alert, watching for an opportunity. One soon occurred.
A class of some five or six was reading, if reading it could be called, out of the Bible. At length it came to the turn of one who blundered dreadfully. It was the same boy who had been tied under the table, but he had been released for his lesson. The dame hobbled to him, and found he had his book upside down; whereupon she turned in wrath to the table, and took from the drawer a long leather strap, with which she proceeded to chastise him. As his first cry reached my ears I was halfway to the door. On the threshold I stumbled and fell.
"The new boy's running away!" shrieked some little sycophant inside.
I heard with horror, but I was up and off in a moment. I had not, however, got many yards from the cottage before I heard the voice of the dame screaming after me to return. I took no heed—only sped the faster. But what was my horror to find her command enforced by the pursuing bark of her prime minister. This paralysed me. I turned, and there was the fiendish-looking dog close on my heels. I could run no longer. For one moment I felt as if I should sink to the earth for sheer terror. The next moment a wholesome rage sent the blood to my brain. From abject cowardice to wild attack—I cannot call it courage—was the change of an instant. I rushed towards the little wretch. I did not know how to fight him, but in desperation I threw myself upon him, and dug my nails into him. They had fortunately found their way to his eyes. He was the veriest coward of his species. He yelped and howled, and struggling from my grasp ran with his tail merged in his person back to his mistress, who was hobbling after me. But with the renewed strength of triumph I turned again for home, and ran as I had never run before. When or where the dame gave in, I do not know; I never turned my head until I laid it on Kirsty's bosom, and there I burst out sobbing and crying. It was all the utterance I had left.
As soon as Kirsty had succeeded in calming me, I told her the whole story. She said very little, but I could see she was very angry. No doubt she was pondering what could be done. She got me some milk—half cream I do believe, it was so nice—and some oatcake, and went on with her work.
While I ate I reflected that any moment Mrs. Mitchell might appear to drag me back in disgrace to that horrible den. I knew that Kirsty's authority was not equal to hers, and that she would be compelled to give me up. So I watched an opportunity to escape once more and hide myself, so that Kirsty might be able to say she did not know where I was.
When I had finished, and Kirsty had left the kitchen for a moment, I sped noiselessly to the door, and looked out into the farmyard. There was no one to be seen. Dark and brown and cool the door of the barn stood open, as if inviting me to shelter and safety; for I knew that in the darkest end of it lay a great heap of oat-straw. I sped across the intervening sunshine into the darkness, and began burrowing in the straw like a wild animal, drawing out handfuls and laying them carefully aside, so that no disorder should betray my retreat. When I had made a hole large enough to hold me, I got in, but kept drawing out the straw behind me, and filling the hole in front. This I continued until I had not only stopped up the entrance, but placed a good thickness of straw between me and the outside. By the time I had burrowed as far as I thought necessary, I was tired, and lay down at full length in my hole, delighting in such a sense of safety as I had never before experienced. I was soon fast asleep.
I woke, and creeping out of my lair, and peeping from the door of the barn, which looked into the cornyard, found that the sun was going down. I had already discovered that I was getting hungry. I went out at the other door into the close or farmyard, and ran across to the house. No one was there. Something moved me to climb on the form and look out of a little window, from which I could see the manse and the road from it. To my dismay, there was Mrs. Mitchell coming towards the farm. I possessed my wits sufficiently to run first to Kirsty's press and secure a good supply of oatcake, with which I then sped like a hunted hare to her form. I had soon drawn the stopper of straw into the mouth of the hole, where, hearing no one approach, I began to eat my oatcake, and fell asleep again before I had finished.
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