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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMalcolm - Chapter 70. End Or Beginning?
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Malcolm - Chapter 70. End Or Beginning? Post by :ORACC Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1738

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Malcolm - Chapter 70. End Or Beginning?

CHAPTER LXX. END OR BEGINNING?

When the fit was over, and he found Mr Graham was gone, he asked Malcolm, who had resumed his watch, how long it would take Lady Florimel to come from Edinburgh.

"Mr Crathie left wi' fower horses frae the Lossie Airms last nicht, my lord," said Malcolm; "but the ro'ds are ill, an' she winna be here afore sometime the morn."

The marquis stared aghast: they had sent for her without his orders.

"What shall I do?" he murmured. "If once I look in her eyes, I shall be damned. Malcolm!"

"Yes, my lord!"

"Is there a lawyer in Portlossie?"

"Yes, my lord; there 's auld Maister Carmichael."

"He won't do! He was my brother's rascal. Is there no one besides?"

"No in Portlossie, my lord. There can be nane nearer than Duff Harbour, I doobt."

"Take the chariot and bring him here directly. Tell them to put four horses to. Stokes can ride one."

"I'll ride the ither, my lord."

"You'll do nothing of the kind: you're not used to the pole."

"I can tak the leader, my lord."

"I tell you you're to do nothing of the kind!" cried the marquis angrily. "You're to ride inside, and bring Mr--what's his name? back with you."

"Soutar, my lord, gien ye please."

"Be off, then. Don't wait to feed. The brutes have been eating all day, and they can eat all night. You must have him here in an hour."

In an hour and a quarter, Miss Horn's friend stood by the marquis's bedside. Malcolm was dismissed, but was presently summoned again to receive more orders.

Fresh horses were put to the chariot, and he had to set out once more--this time to fetch a justice of the peace, a neighbour laird. The distance was greater than to Duff Harbour; the roads were worse; the north wind, rising as they went, blew against them as they returned, increasing to a violent gale; and it was late before they reached Lossie House.

When Malcolm entered, he found the marquis alone.

"Is Morrison here at last?" he cried in a feeble, irritated voice.

"Yes, my lord."

"What the devil kept you so long? The bay mare would have carried me there and back in an hour and a half."

"The roads war verra heavy, my lord. An' jist hear till the win'!"

The marquis listened a moment, and a frightened expression grew over his thin, pale, anxious face.

"You don't know what depends on it," he said, "or you would have driven better. Where is Mr Soutar?"

"I dinna ken, my lord. I'm only jist come, an' I've seen naebody."

"Go and tell Mrs Courthope I want Soutar. You'll find her crying somewhere--the old chicken! because I swore at her. What harm could that do the old goose?"

"It'll be mair for love o' yer lordship than fricht at the sweirin', my lord."

"You think so? Why should she care? Go and tell her I'm sorry. But really she ought to be used to me by this time! Tell her to send Soutar directly."

Mr Soutar was not to be found, the fact being that he had gone to see Miss Horn. The marquis flew into an awful rage, and began to curse and swear frightfully.

"My lord! my lord!" said Malcolm, "for God's sake, dinna gang on that gait. He canna like to hear that kin' o' speech--an' frae ane o' his ain tu!"

The marquis stopped, aghast at his presumption, and choking with rage; but Malcolm's eyes filled with tears, and instead of breaking out again, his master turned his head away and was silent.

Mr Soutar came.

"Fetch Morrison," said the marquis, "and go to bed."

The wind howled terribly as Malcolm ascended the stairs and half felt his way, for he had no candle, through the long passages leading to his room. As he entered the last, a huge vague form came down upon him, like a deeper darkness through the dark. Instinctively he stepped aside. It passed noiselessly, with a long stride, and not even a rustle of its garments--at least Malcolm heard nothing but the roar of the wind. He turned and followed it. On and on it went, down the stair through a corridor, down the great stone turnpike stair, and through passage after passage. When it came into the more frequented and half lighted thoroughfares of the house, it showed as a large figure in a long cloak, indistinct in outline.

It turned a corner close by the marquis's room. But when Malcolm, close at its heels, turned also, he saw nothing but a vacant lobby, the doors around which were all shut. One after another he quickly opened them, all except the marquis's, but nothing was to be seen. The conclusion was that it had entered the marquis's room. He must not disturb the conclave in the sick chamber with what might be but "a false creation, proceeding from the heat oppressed brain," and turned back to his own room, where he threw himself on his bed and fell asleep.

About twelve Mrs Courthope called him: his master was worse, and wanted to see him.

The midnight was still, for the dark and wind had ceased. But a hush and a cloud seemed gathering in the stillness and darkness, and with them came the sense of a solemn celebration, as if the gloom were canopy as well as pall--black, but bordered and hearted with purple and gold; and the stillness seemed to tremble as with the inaudible tones of a great organ, at the close or commencement of some mighty symphony.

With beating heart he walked softly towards the room where, as on an altar, lay the vanishing form of his master, like the fuel in whose dying flame was offered the late and ill nurtured sacrifice of his spirit.

As he went through the last corridor leading thither, Mrs Catanach, type and embodiment of the horrors that haunt the dignity of death, came walking towards him like one at home, her great round body lightly upborne on her soft foot. It was no time to challenge her presence, and yielding her the half of the narrow way, he passed without a greeting. She dropped him a courtesy with an uplook and again a vailing of her wicked eyes.

The marquis would not have the doctor come near him, and when Malcolm entered there was no one in the room but Mrs Courthope. The shadow had crept far along the dial. His face had grown ghastly, the skin had sunk to the bones, and his eyes stood out as if from much staring into the dark. They rested very mournfully on Malcolm for a few moments, and then closed softly.

"Is she come yet?" he murmured, opening them wide, with sudden stare.

"No, my lord." The lids fell again, softly, slowly. "Be good to her, Malcolm," he murmured.

"I wull, my lord," said Malcolm solemnly.

Then the eyes opened and looked at him; something grew in them-- a light as of love, and drew up after it a tear; but the lips said nothing. The eyelids fell again, and in a minute more, Malcolm knew by his breathing that he slept.

The slow night waned. He woke sometimes, but soon dozed off again. The two watched by him till the dawn. It brought a still grey morning, without a breath of wind, and warm for the season. The marquis appeared a little revived, but was hardly able to speak. Mostly by signs he made Malcolm understand that he wanted Mr Graham, but that some one else must go for him. Mrs Courthope went!

As soon as she was out of the room, he lifted his hand with effort, laid feeble hold on Malcolm's jacket, and drawing him down, kissed him on the forehead. Malcolm burst into tears, and sank weeping by the bedside.

Mr Graham entering a little after, and seeing Malcolm on his knees, knelt also, and broke into a prayer.

"O blessed Father!" he said, "who knowest this thing, so strange to us, which we call death, breathe more life into the heart of thy dying son, that in the power of life he may front death. O Lord Christ, who diedst thyself, and in thyself knowest it all, heal this man in his sore need--heal him with strength to die."

Came a faint Amen from the marquis.

"Thou didst send him into the world: help him out of it. O God, we belong to thee utterly. We dying men are thy children, O living Father! Thou art such a father, that thou takest our sins from us and throwest them behind thy back. Thou cleanest our souls, as thy Son did wash our feet. We hold our hearts up to thee: make them what they must be, O Love, O Life of men, O Heart of hearts! Give thy dying child courage, and hope, and peace--the peace of him who overcame all the terrors of humanity, even death itself, and liveth for evermore, sitting at thy right hand, our God brother, blessed to all ages--amen."

"Amen!" murmured the marquis, and slowly lifting his hand from the coverlid, he laid it on the head of Malcolm, who did not know it was the hand of his father, blessing him ere he died.

"Be good to her," said the marquis once more. But Malcolm could not answer for weeping, and the marquis was not satisfied. Gathering all his force he said again, "Be good to her."

"I wull, I wull," burst from Malcolm in sobs, and he wailed aloud.

The day wore on, and the afternoon came. Still Lady Florimel had not arrived, and still the marquis lingered.

As the gloom of the twilight was deepening into the early darkness of the winter night, he opened wide his eyes, and was evidently listening. Malcolm could hear nothing; but the light in his master's face grew, and the strain of his listening diminished. At length Malcolm became aware of the sound of wheels, which came rapidly nearer, till at last the carriage swung up to the hall door. A moment, and Lady Florimel was flitting across the room.

"Papa! papa!" she cried, and, throwing her arm over him, laid her cheek to his.

The marquis could not return her embrace; he could only receive her into the depths of his shining tearful eyes.

"Flory!" he murmured, "I'm going away. I'm going--I've got--to make an--apology. Malcolm, be good--"

The sentence remained unfinished. The light paled from his countenance --he had to carry it with him. He was dead.

Lady Florimel gave a loud cry. Mrs Courthope ran to her assistance.

"My lady's in a dead faint!" she whispered, and left the room to get help.

Malcolm lifted Lady Florimel in his great arms, and bore her tenderly to her own apartment. There he left her to the care of her women, and returned to the chamber of death.

Meantime Mr Graham and Mr Soutar had come. When Malcolm re-entered, the schoolmaster took him kindly by the arm and said:

"Malcolm, there can be neither place nor moment fitter for the solemn communication I am commissioned to make to you: I have, as in the presence of your dead father, to inform you that you are now Marquis of Lossie; and God forbid you should be less worthy as marquis than you have been as fisherman!"

Malcolm stood stupefied. For a while he seemed to himself to be turning over in his mind something he had heard read from a book, with a nebulous notion of being somehow concerned in it. The thought of his father cleared his brain. He ran to the dead body, kissed its lips, as he had once kissed the forehead of another, and falling on his knees, wept, he knew not for what. Presently, however, he recovered himself, rose, and, rejoining the two men, said "Gentlemen, hoo mony kens this turn o' things?"

"None but Mr Morrison, Mrs Catanach, and ourselves--so far as I know," answered Mr Soutar.

"And Miss Horn," added Mr Graham. "She first brought out the truth of it, and ought to be the first to know of your recognition by your father."

"I s' tell her mysel'," returned Malcolm. "But, gentlemen, I beg o' ye, till I ken what I 'm aboot an' gie ye leave, dinna open yer moo' to leevin' cratur' aboot this. There's time eneuch for the warl' to ken 't."

"Your lordship commands me," said Mr Soutar.

"Yes, Malcolm,--until you give me leave," said Mr Graham.

"Whaur 's Mr Morrison?" asked Malcolm.

"He is still in the house," said Mr Soutar.

"Gang till him, sir, an' gar him promise, on the word o' a gentleman, to haud his tongue. I canna bide to hae 't blaret a' gait an' a' at ance. For Mistress Catanach, I s' deal wi' her mysel'."

The door opened, and, in all the conscious dignity conferred by the immunities and prerogatives of her calling, Mrs Catanach walked into the room.

"A word wi' ye, Mistress Catanach," said Malcolm.

"Certainly, my lord," answered the howdy, with mingled presumption and respect, and followed him to the dining room.

"Weel, my lord," she began, before he had turned from shutting the door behind them, in the tone and with the air, or rather airs, of having conferred a great benefit, and expecting its recognition.

"Mistress Catanach," interrupted Malcolm, turning and facing her, "gien I be un'er ony obligation to you, it 's frae anither tongue I maun hear 't. But I hae an offer to mak ye: Sae lang as it disna come oot 'at I 'm onything better nor a fisherman born, ye s' hae yer twinty poun' i' the year, peyed ye quarterly. But the moment fowk says wha I am, ye touch na a poun' note mair, an' I coont mysel' free to pursue onything I can pruv agane ye."

Mrs Catanach attempted a laugh of scorn, but her face was grey as putty, and its muscles declined response.

"Ay or no," said Malcolm. "I winna gar ye sweir, for I wad lippen to yer aith no a hair."

"Ay, my lord," said the howdy, reassuming at least outward composure, and with it her natural brass, for as she spoke she held out her open palm.

"Na, na!" said Malcolm, "nae forehan payments! Three months o' tongue haudin', an' there 's yer five poun'; an' Maister Soutar o' Duff Harbour 'ill pay 't intill yer ain han'. But brak troth wi' me, an' ye s' hear o' 't; for gien ye war hangt, the warl' wad be but the cleaner. Noo quit the hoose, an' never lat me see ye aboot the place again. But afore ye gang, I gie ye fair warnin' 'at I mean to win at a' yer byganes."

The blood of red wrath was seething in Mrs Catanach's face; she drew herself up, and stood flaming before him, on the verge of explosion.

"Gang frae the hoose," said Malcolm, "or I'll set the muckle hun' to shaw ye the gait."

Her face turned the colour of ashes, and with hanging cheeks and scared but not the less wicked eyes, she turned from the room. Malcolm watched her out of the house, then following her into the town, brought Miss Horn back with him to aid in the last of earthly services, and hastened to Duncan's cottage.

But to his amazement and distress, it was forsaken, and the hearth cold. In his attendance on his father, he had not seen the piper --he could not remember for how many days; and on inquiry he found that, although he had not been missed, no one could recall having seen him later than three or four days agone. The last he could hear of him in the neighbourhood was, that, about a week before, a boy had spied him sitting on a rock in the Baillies' Barn, with his pipes in his lap. Searching the cottage, he found that his broadsword and dirk, with all his poor finery, were gone.

That same night Mrs Catanach also disappeared.

A week after, what was left of Lord Lossie was buried. Malcolm followed the hearse with the household. Miss Horn walked immediately behind him, on the arm of the schoolmaster. It was a great funeral, with a short road, for the body was laid in the church--close to the wall, just under the crusader with the Norman canopy.

Lady Florimel wept incessantly for three days; on the fourth she looked out on the sea and thought it very dreary; on the fifth she found a certain gratification in hearing herself called the marchioness; on the sixth she tried on her mourning, and was pleased; on the seventh she went with the funeral and wept again; on the eighth came Lady Bellair, who on the ninth carried her away.

To Malcolm she had not spoken once.

Mr Graham left Portlossie.

Miss Horn took to her bed for a week.

Mr Crathie removed his office to the House itself, took upon him the function of steward as well as factor, had the state rooms dismantled, and was master of the place.

Malcolm helped Stoat with the horses, and did odd jobs for Mr Crathie. From his likeness to the old marquis, as he was still called, the factor had a favour for him, firmly believing the said marquis to be his father, and Mrs Stewart his mother. Hence he allowed him a key to the library, of which Malcolm made good use.

The story of Malcolm's plans and what came of them, requires another book.


(THE END)
George MacDonald's Novel: Malcolm

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