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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMalcolm - Chapter 38. The Two Dogs
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Malcolm - Chapter 38. The Two Dogs Post by :Captain_Kiwi Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1688

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Malcolm - Chapter 38. The Two Dogs

CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE TWO DOGS

Lady Florimel's fancy was so full of the expected pleasure, that she woke soon after dawn. She rose and anxiously drew aside a curtain of her window. The day was one of God's odes written for men. Would that the days of our human autumn were as calmly grand, as gorgeously hopeful as the days that lead the aging year down to the grave of winter! If our white hairs were sunlit from behind like those radiance bordered clouds; if our air were as pure as this when it must be as cold; if the falling at last of longest cherished hopes did but, like that of the forest leaves, let in more of the sky, more of the infinite possibilities of the region of truth which is the matrix of fact; we should go marching down the hill of life like a battered but still bannered army on its way home. But alas! how often we rot, instead of march, towards the grave! "If he be not rotten before he die," said Hamlet's absolute grave digger.--If the year was dying around Lady Florimel, as she looked, like a deathless sun from a window of the skies, it was dying at least with dignity.

The sun was still revelling in the gift of himself. A thin blue mist went up to greet him, like the first of the smoke from the altars of the morning. The fields lay yellow below; the rich colours of decay hung heavy on the woods, and seemed to clothe them as with the trappings of a majestic sorrow; but the spider webs sparkled with dew, and the gossamer films floated thick in the level sunbeams. It was a great time for the spiders, those visible Deaths of the insect race.

The sun, like a householder leaving his house for a time, was burning up a thousand outworn things before he went; hence the smoke of the dying hearth of summer was going up to the heavens; but there was a heart of hope left, for, when farthest away, the sun is never gone, and the snow is the earth's blanket against the frost. But, alas, it was not Lady Florimel who thought these things! Looking over her shoulder, and seeing both what she can and what she cannot see, I am having a think to myself.

"Which it is an offence to utter in the temple of Art!" cry the critics.

Not against Art, I think: but if it be an offence to the worshipper of Art, let him keep silence before his goddess; for me, I am a sweeper of the floors in the temple of Life, and his goddess is my mare, and shall go in the dust cart; if I find a jewel as I sweep, I will fasten it on the curtains of the doors, nor heed if it should break the fall of a fold of the drapery.

Below Lady Florimel's oriel window, under the tall bridge, the burn lay dark in a deep pool, with a slow revolving eddy, in which one leaf, attended by a streak of white froth, was performing solemn gyrations; away to the north the great sea was merry with waves and spotted with their broken crests; heaped against the horizon, it looked like a blue hill dotted all over with feeding sheep; but, today, she never thought why the waters were so busy--to what end they foamed and ran, flashing their laughter in the face of the sun: the mood of nature was in harmony with her own, and she felt no need to discover any higher import in its merriment. How could she, when she sought no higher import in her own--had not as yet once suspected that every human gladness--even to the most transient flicker of delight--is the reflex--from a potsherd it may be--but of an eternal sun of joy?--Stay, let me pick up the gem: every faintest glimmer, all that is not utter darkness, is from the shining face of the Father of Lights.--Not a breath stirred the ivy leaves about her window; but out there, on the wide blue, the breezes were frolicking; and in the harbour the new boat must be tugging to get free! She dressed in haste, called her staghound, and set out the nearest way, that is by the town gate, for the harbour. She must make acquaintance with her new plaything.

Mrs Catanach in her nightcap looked from her upper window as she passed, like a great spider from the heart of its web, and nodded significantly after her, with a look and a smile such as might mean, that for all her good looks she might have the heartache some day. But she was to have the first herself, for that moment her ugly dog, now and always with the look of being fresh from an ash pit, rushed from somewhere, and laid hold of Lady Florimel's dress, frightening her so, that she gave a cry. Instantly her own dog, which had been loitering behind, came tearing up, five lengths at a bound, and descended like an angel of vengeance upon the offensive animal, which would have fled, but found it too late. Opening his huge jaws, Demon took him across the flanks, much larger than his own, as if he had been a rabbit. His howls of agony brought Mrs Catanach out in her petticoats. She flew at the hound, which Lady Florimel was in vain attempting to drag from the cur, and seized him by the throat.

"Take care; he is dangerous!" cried the girl.

Finding she had no power upon him, Mrs Catanach forsook him, and, in despairing fury, rushed at his mistress. Demon saw it with one flaming eye, left the cur--which, howling hideously, dragged his hind quarters after him into the house--and sprang at the woman. Then indeed was Lady Florimel terrified, for she knew the savage nature of the animal when roused. Truly, with his eyes on fire as now, his long fangs bared, the bristles on his back erect, and his moustache sticking straight out, he might well be believed, much as civilization might have done for him, a wolf after all! His mistress threw herself between them, and flung her arms tight round his neck.

"Run, woman! Run for your life!" she shrieked. "I can't hold him long."

Mrs Catanach fled, cowed by terror. Her huge legs bore her huge body, a tragicomic spectacle, across the street to her open door. She had hardly vanished, flinging it to behind her, when Demon broke from his mistress, and going at the door as if launched from a catapult, burst it open and disappeared also.

Lady Florimel gave a shriek of horror, and darted after him.

The same moment the sound of Duncan's pipes as he issued from the town gate, at which he always commenced instead of ending his reveille now, reached her, and bethinking herself of her inability to control the hound, she darted again from the cottage, and flew to meet him, crying aloud,--"Mr MacPhail! Duncan! Duncan! stop your pipes and come here directly."

"And who may pe calling me?" asked Duncan, who had not thoroughly distinguished the voice through the near clamour of his instrument.

She laid her hand trembling with apprehension on his arm, and began pulling him along.

"It's me,--Lady Florimel," she said. "Come here directly. Demon has got into a house and is worrying a woman."

"Cod haf mercy!" cried Duncan. "Take her pipes, my laty, for fear anything paad should happen to tem."

She led him hurriedly to the door. But ere he had quite crossed the threshold he shivered and drew back.

"Tis is an efil house," he said. "She 'll not can co in." A great floundering racket was going on above, mingled with growls and shrieks, but there was no howling.

"Call the dog then. He will mind you, perhaps," she cried--knowing what a slow business an argument with Duncan was--and flew to the stair.

"Temon! Temon!" cried Duncan, with agitated voice. Whether the dog thought his friend was in trouble next, I cannot tell, but down he came that instant, with a single bound from the top of the stair, right over his mistress's head as she was running up, and leaping out to Duncan, laid a paw upon each of his shoulders, panting with out lolled tongue. But the piper staggered back, pushing the dog from him. "It is plood!" he cried; "ta efil woman's plood!"

"Keep him out, Duncan dear," said Lady Florimel. "I will go and see. There! he'll be up again if you don't mind!"

Very reluctant, yet obedient, the bard laid hold of the growling animal by the collar; and Lady Florimel was just turning to finish her ascent of the stair and see what dread thing had come to pass, when, to her great joy, she heard Malcolm's voice, calling from the farther end of the street--"Hey, daddy! What's happened 'at I dinna hear the pipes?"

She rushed out, the pipes dangling from her hand, so that the drone trailed on the ground behind her.

"Malcolm! Malcolm!" she cried; and he was by her side in scarcely more time than Demon would have taken.

Hurriedly and rather incoherently, she told him what had taken place. He sprang up the stair, and she followed.

In the front garret--with a dormer window looking down into the street--stood Mrs Catanach facing the door, with such a malignant rage in her countenance that it looked demoniacal. Her dog lay at her feet with his throat torn out.

As soon as she saw Malcolm, she broke into a fury of vulgar imprecation--most of it quite outside the pale of artistic record.

"Hoots! for shame, Mistress Catanach!" he cried, "Here's my leddy ahin' me, hearin' ilka word!"

"Deil stap her lugs wi' brunstane! What but a curse wad she hae frae me? I sweir by God i s' gar her pey for this, or my name's no --" She stopped suddenly.

"I thocht as muckle," said Malcolm with a keen look.

"Ye'll think twise, ye deil's buckie, or ye think richt! Wha are ye to think? What sud my name be but Bawby Catanach? Ye're unco upsettin' sin' ye turned my leddy's flunky! Sorrow taik ye baith! My dawtit Beauty!--worriet by that hell tyke o' hers!"

"Gien ye gang on like that, the markis 'll hae ye drummed oot o' the toon or twa days be ower," said Malcolm.

"Wull he than?" she returned with a confident sneer, showing all the teeth she had left. "Ye'll be far hen wi' the markis, nae doobt! An' yon donnert auld deevil ye ca' yer gran'father 'ill be fain eneuch to be drummer, I'll sweir. Care 's my case!"

"My leddy, she's ower ill tongued for you to hearken till," said Malcolm, turning to Florimel who stood in the door white and trembling. "Jist gang doon, an' tell my gran'father to sen' the dog up. There's surely some gait o' garrin' her haud her tongue!"

Mrs Catanach threw a terrified glance towards Lady Florimel.

"Indeed I shall do nothing of the kind!" replied Florimel. "For shame!"

"Hoots, my leddy!" returned Malcolm; "I only said it to try the effec' o' 't. It seems no that ill."

"Ye son o' a deevil's soo!" cried the woman; "I s' hae amen's o' ye for this, gien I sud ro'st my ain hert to get it."

"'Deed, but ye re duin that fine a'ready! That foul brute o' yours has gotten his arles (earnest) tu. I wonner what he thinks o sawmon troot noo!--Eh, mem?"

"Have done, Malcolm," said Florimel. "I am ashamed of you. If the woman is not hurt, we have no business in her house."

"Hear till her!" cried Mrs Catanach contemptuously. "The woman!"

But Lady Florimel took no heed. She had already turned and was going down the stair. Malcolm followed in silence; nor did another word from Mrs Catanach overtake them.

Arrived in the street, Florimel restored his pipes to Duncan --who, letting the dog go, at once proceeded to fill the bag-- and, instead of continuing her way to the harbour, turned back, accompanied by Malcolm, Demon, and Lady Stronach's Strathspey.

"What a horrible woman that is!" she said with a shudder.

"Ay is she; but I doobt she wad be waur gien she didna brak oot that gait whiles," rejoined Malcolm.

"How do you mean?"

"It frichts fowk at her, an' maybe sometimes pits 't oot o' her pooer to du waur. Gien ever she seek to mak it up wi' ye, my leddy, I wad hae little to say till her, gien I was you."

"What could I have to say to a low creature like that?"

"Ye wadna ken what she micht be up till, or hoo she micht set aboot it, my leddy. I wad hae ye mistrust her a'thegither. My daddy has a fine moral nose for vermin, an' he canna bide her, though he never had a glimp o' the fause face o' her, an' in trowth never spak till her."

"I will tell my father of her. A woman like that is not fit to live amongst civilized people."

"Ye're richt there, my leddy; but she wad only gang some ither gait amo' the same. Of coorse ye maun tell yer father, but she's no fit for him to tak ony notice o'."

As they sat at breakfast, Florimel did tell her father. His first emotion, however--at least the first he showed--was vexation with herself.

"You must not be going out alone--and at such ridiculous hours," he said. "I shall be compelled to get you a governess."

"Really, papa," she returned, "I don't see the good of having a marquis for a father, if I can't go about as safe as one of the fisher children. And I might just as well be at school, if I'm not to do as I like."

"What if the dog had turned on you!" he said.

"If he dared!" exclaimed the girl, and her eyes flashed.

Her father looked at her for a moment, said to himself--"There spoke a Colonsay!" and pursued the subject no further.

When they passed Mrs Catanach's cottage an hour after, on their way to the harbour, they saw the blinds drawn down, as if a dead man lay within: according to after report, she had the brute already laid out like a human being, and sat by the bedside awaiting a coffin which she had ordered of Watty Witherspail.

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