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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Elect Lady - Chapter 18. Dawtie And The Laird
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The Elect Lady - Chapter 18. Dawtie And The Laird Post by :Mr._Jeff Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1744

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The Elect Lady - Chapter 18. Dawtie And The Laird

CHAPTER XVIII. DAWTIE AND THE LAIRD

As soon as Dawtie heard her mistress's door close, she followed her master to the study, and arrived just as the door of the hidden room was shut behind him. There was not a moment to be lost! She went straight to it, and knocked rather loud. No answer came. She knocked again. Still there was no answer. She knocked a third time, and after a little fumbling with the lock, the door opened a chink, and a ghastly face, bedewed with drops of terror, peeped through. She was standing a little back, and the eyes did not at once find the object they sought; then suddenly they lighted on her, and the laird shook from head to foot.

"What is it, Dawtie?" he faltered out in a broken voice.

"Please, sir," answered Dawtie, "I have something to confess: would ye hearken to me?"

"No, no, Dawtie! I am sure you have nothing to confess!" returned the old man, eager to send her away, and to prevent her from seeing the importance of the room whose entrance she had discovered. "Or," he went on, finding she did not move, "if you have done anything, Dawtie, that you ought not to have done, confess it to God. It is to Him you must confess, not to a poor mortal like me! For my part, if it lies to me, I forgive you, and there is an end! Go to your bed, Dawtie."

"Please, sir, I canna. Gien ye winna hear til me, I'll sit doon at the door o' this room, and sit till--"

"What room, Dawtie? Call you this a room? It's a wee bit closet where I say my prayers before I go to bed."

But as he spoke his blood ran cold within him, for he had uttered a deliberate lie--two lies in one breath: the bit closet was the largest room in the house, and he had never prayed a prayer in it since first he entered it! He was unspeakably distressed at what he had done, for he had always cherished the idea that he was one who would not lie to save his life. And now in his old age he had lied who when a boy had honor enough to keep him from lying! Worst of all, now that he had lied, he must hold to the lie! He _dared not confess it! He stood sick and trembling.

"I'll wait, sir," said Dawtie, distressed at his suffering, and more distressed that he could lie who never forgot his prayers! Alas, he was further down the wrong road than she had supposed!

Ashamed for his sake, and also for her own, to look him in the face--for did he not imagine she believed him, while she knew that he lied?--she turned her back on him. He caught at his advantage, glided out, and closed the door behind him. When Dawtie again turned, she saw him in her power.

Her trial was come; she had to speak for life or death! But she remembered that the Lord told His disciples to take no care how they should speak; for when the time came it would be given them to speak. So she began by simply laying down the thing that was in her hand.

"Sir," she said, "I am very sorry, but this morning I made a dirty mark in one of your books!"

Her words alarmed him a little, and made him forget for the instant his more important fears. But he took care to be gentle with her; it would not do to offend her! for was she not aware that where they stood was a door by which he went in and out?

"You make me uneasy, Dawtie!" he said. "What book was it? Let me see it."

"I will, sir."

She turned to take it down, but the laird followed her, saying:

"Point it out to me, Dawtie. I will get it."

She did so. It opened at the plate.

"There is the mark!" she said. "I am right sorry."

"So am I!" returned the laird. "But," he added, willing she should feel his clemency, and knowing the book was not a rare one, "it is a book still, and you will be more careful another time! For you must remember, Dawtie, that you don't come into this room to read the books, but to dust them. You can go to bed now with an easy mind, I hope!"

Dawtie was so touched by the kindness and forbearance of her master that the tears rose in her eyes, and she felt strengthened for her task. What would she not have encountered for his deliverance!

"Please, sir," she said, "let me show you a thing you never perhaps happened to read!" And taking the book from his hand--he was too much astonished to retain it--she turned over the engraving, and showed him the passage which stated that the cup had disappeared from the possession of its owner, and had certainly been stolen.

Finding he said not a word, she ventured to lift her eyes to his, and saw again the corpse-like face that had looked through the chink of the door.

"What do you mean?" he stammered. "I do not understand!"

His lips trembled: was it possible he had had to do with the stealing of it?

The truth was this: he had learned the existence of the cup from this very book; and had never rested until, after a search of more than ten years, he at length found it in the hands of a poor man who dared not offer it for sale. Once in his possession, the thought of giving it up, or of letting the owner redeem it, had never even occurred to him. Yet the treasure made him rejoice with a trembling which all his casuistry would have found it hard to explain; for he would not confess to himself its real cause--namely, that his God-born essence was uneasy with a vague knowledge that it lay in the bosom of a thief. "Don't you think, sir," said Dawtie, "that whoever has that cup ought to send it back to the place it was stolen from?"

Had the old man been a developed hypocrite, he would have replied at once: "He certainly ought." But by word of mouth to condemn himself would have been to acknowledge to himself that he ought to send the cup home, and this he dared not do. Men who will not do as they know, make strange confusion in themselves. The worst rancor in the vessel of peace is the consciousness of wrong in a not all-unrighteous soul. The laird was false to his own self, but to confess himself false would be to initiate a change which would render life worthless to him! What would all his fine things be without their heart of preciousness, the one jewel that now was nowhere in the world but in his house, in the secret chamber of his treasures, which would be a rifled case without it! As is natural to one who will not do right, he began to argue the moral question, treating it as a point of casuistry that troubled the mind of the girl.

"I don't know that, Dawtie!" he said. "It is not likely that the person that has the cup, whoever he may be--that is, if the cup be still in existence--is the same who stole it; and it would hardly be justice to punish the innocent for the guilty?--as would be the case, if, supposing I had bought the cup, I had to lose the money I paid for it. Should the man who had not taken care of his cup have his fault condoned at my expense? Did he not deserve, the many might say, to be so punished, placing huge temptation in the path of the needy, to the loss of their precious souls, and letting a priceless thing go loose in the world, to work ruin to whoever might innocently buy it?"

His logic did not serve to show him the falsehood of his reasoning, for his heart was in the lie. "Ought I or he," he went on, "to be punished because he kept the thing ill? And how far would the quixotic obligation descend? A score of righteous men may by this time have bought and sold the cup!--is it some demon-talisman, that the last must meet the penalty, when the original owner, or some descendant of the man who lost it, chooses to claim it? For anything we know, he may himself have pocketed the price of the rumored theft! Can you not see it would be a flagrant injustice?--fit indeed to put an end to all buying and selling! It would annihilate transfer of property! Possession would mean only strength to keep, and the world would fall into confusion."

"It would be hard, I grant," confessed Dawtie; "but the man who has it ought at least to give the head of the family in which it had been the chance of buying it back at the price it cost him. If he could not buy it back--then the thing would have to be thought over."

"I confess I don't see the thing," returned the laird. "But the question needs not keep you out of bed, Dawtie! It is not often a girl in your position takes an interest in the abstract! Besides," he resumed, another argument occurring to him, "a thing of such historical value and interest ought to be where it was cared for, not where it was in danger every moment."

"There might be something in that," allowed Dawtie, "if it were where everybody could see it. But where is the good if it be but for the eyes of one man?"

The eyes she meant fixed themselves upon her till their gaze grew to a stony stare. She _must know that he had it! Or did she only suspect? He must not commit himself! He must set a watch on the door of his lips! What an uncomfortable girl to have in the house! Oh, those self-righteous Ingrams! What mischief they did! His impulse was to dart into his treasure-cave, lock himself in, and hug the radiant chalice. He dared not. He must endure instead the fastidious conscience and probing tongue of an intrusive maid-servant!

"But," he rejoined, with an attempt at a smile, "if the pleasure the one man took in it should, as is easy to imagine, exceed immeasurably the aggergate pleasure of the thousands that would look upon it and pass it by--what then?"

"The man would enjoy it the more that many saw it--except he loved it for greed, when he would be rejoicing in iniquity, for the cup would not be his. And anyhow, he could not take it with him when he died!"

The face of the miser grew grayer; his lip trembled; but he said nothing. He was beginning to hate Dawtie. She was an enemy! She sought his discomfiture, his misery! He had read strange things in certain old books, and half believed some of them: what if Dawtie was one of those evil powers that haunt a man in pleasant shape, learn the secrets of his heart, and gain influence over him that they may tempt him to yield his soul to the enemy! She was set on ruining him! Certainly she knew that cup was in his possession! He must temporize! He must _seem to listen! But as soon as fit reason could be found, such as would neither compromise him nor offend her, she must be sent away! And of all things, she must not gain the means of proving what she now perhaps only suspected, and was seeking assurance of! He stood thinking. It was but for a moment; for the very next words from the lips of the girl that was to him little more than a house-broom, set him face to face with reality--the one terror of the unreal.

"Eh, maister, sir," said Dawtie, with the tears in her eyes, and now at last breaking down in her English, "dinna ye _ken 'at ye _hae to gie the man 'at aucht that gowden bicker, the chance o' buyin' 't back?"

The laird shivered. He dared not say: "How do you know?" for he dared not hear the thing proved to him. If she did know, he would not front her proof! He would not have her even suppose it an acknowledged fact!

"If I had the cup," he began--but she interrupted him: it was time they should have done with lying!

"Ye ken ye hae the cup, sir!" she said. "And I ken tu, for I saw 't i' yer han's!"

"You shameless, prying hussy!" he began, in a rage at last--but the eager, tearful earnestness of her face made him bethink himself: it would not do to make an enemy of her! "Tell me, Dawtie," he said, with sudden change of tone, "how it was you came to see it."

She told him all--how and when; and he knew that he had seen her see him.

He managed to give a poor little laugh.

"All is not gold that glitters, Dawtie!" he said. "The cup you saw was not the one in the book, but an imitation of it--mere gilded tin and colored glass--copied from the picture, as near as they could make it--just to see better what it must have been like. Why, my good girl, that cup would be worth thousands of pounds! So go to bed, and don't trouble yourself about gold cups. It is not likely any of them will come our way!"

Simple as Dawtie was, she did not believe him. But she saw no good to be done by disputing what he ought to know.

"It wasna aboot the gold cup I was troublin' mysel'!" she said, hesitatingly.

"You are right there!" he replied, with another deathly laugh, "it was not! But you have been troubling me about nothing half the night, and I am shivering with cold! We really must, both of us, go to bed! What would your mistress say!"

"No," persisted Dawtie, "it wasna aboot the cup, gowd or no gowd; it was and is aboot my maister I'm troubled! I'm terrible feart for ye, sir! Ye're a worshiper o' Mammon, sir!"

The laird laughed, for the danger was over!--to Dawtie's deep dismay he laughed!

"My poor girl," he said, "you take an innocent love of curious things for the worship of Mammon! Don't imagine me jesting. How could you believe an old man like me, an elder of the kirk, a dispenser of her sacred things, guilty of the awful crime of Mammon worship?"

He imagined her ignorantly associating the idea of some idolatrous ritual with what to him was but a phrase--the worship of Mammon. "Do you not remember," he continued, "the words of Christ, that a man _can not serve God and Mammon? If I be a Christian, as you will hardly doubt, it follows that I am not a worshiper of Mammon, for the two can not go together."

"But that's just the question, sir! A man who worships God, worships Him with his whole heart and soul and strength and mind. If he wakes at night, it is to worship God; if he is glad in his heart, it is because God is, and one day he shall behold His face in brightness. If a man worships God, he loves Him so that no love can come between him and God; if the earth were removed, and the mountains cast into the midst of the sea, it would be all one to him, for God would be all the same. Is it not so, sir?"

"You are a good girl, Dawtie, and I approve of every word you say. It would more than savor of presumption to profess that I loved God up to the point you speak of; but I deserve to love Him. Doubtless a man ought to love God so, and we are all sinners just because we do not love God so. But we have the atonement!"

"But, sir," answered Dawtie, the silent tears running down her face, "I love God that way! I don't care a dust for anything without Him! When I go to bed, I don't care if I never wake again in this world; I shall be where He would have me!"

"You presume, Dawtie! I fear me much you presume! What if that should be in hell?"

"If it be, it will be the best. It will be to set me right. Oh, sir, He is so good! Tell me one thing, sir: when you die--"

"Tut, tut, lass! we're not come to that yet! There's no occasion to think about that yet awhile! We're in the hands of a reconciled God."

"What I want to know," pursued Dawtie, "is how you will feel, how you will get on when you haven't got anything!"

"Not got anything, girl! Are you losing your senses? Of course we shall want nothing then! I shall have to talk to the doctor about you! We shall have you killing us in our beds to know how we like it!"

He laughed; but it was a rather scared laugh.

"What I mean," she persisted, "is--when you have no body, and no hands to take hold of your cap, what will you do without it?"

"What if I leave it to you, Dawtie!" returned the laird, with a stupid mixture of joke and avarice in his cold eye.

"Please, sir, I didn't say what you would do with it, but what would you do without it when it will neither come out of your heart nor into your hands! It must be misery to a miser to _have nothing!"

"A miser, hussy!"

"A lover of things, more than a lover of God!"

"Well, perhaps you have the better of me!" he said, after a cowed pause; for he perceived there was no compromise possible with Dawtie: she knew perfectly what she meant; and he could neither escape her logic, nor change her determination, whatever that might be. "I dare say you are right! I will think what ought to be done about that cup!"

He stopped, self amazed: he had committed himself!--as much as confessed the cup genuine! But Dawtie had not been deceived, and had not been thinking about the cup. Only it was plain that, if he would consent to part with it for its money-worth, that would be a grand beginning toward the renouncing of dead _things altogether, toward the turning to the living One the love that now gathered, clinging and haunting, about gold cups and graved armor, and suchlike vapors and vanishings, that pass with the sunsets and the snows. She fell on her knees, and, in the spirit of a child and of the apostle of the Gentiles, cried, laying her little red hands together and uplifting them to her master in purest entreaty.

"Oh, laird, laird, ye've been gude and kin' to me, and I lo'e ye, the Lord kens! I pray ye for Christ's sake be reconciled to God, for ye hae been servin' Mammon and no Him, and ye hae jist said we canna serve the twa, and what 'ill come o' 't God only can tell, but it _maun be misery!"

Words failed her. She rose, and left the room, with her apron to her eyes.

The laird stood a moment or two like one lost, then went hurriedly into his "closet," and shut the door. Whether he went on his knees to God as did Dawtie to Him, or began again to gloat over his Cellini goblet, I do not know.

Dawtie cried herself to sleep, and came down in the morning very pale. Her duty had left her exhausted, and with a kind of nausea toward all the ornaments and books in the house. A cock crew loud under the window of the kitchen. She dropped on her knees, said "Father of lights!" not a word beside, rose and began to rouse the fire.

When breakfast-time came, and the laird appeared, he looked much as usual, only a little weary, which his daughter set down to his journey the day before. He revived, however, as soon as he had succeeded in satisfying himself that Alexa knew nothing of what had passed. How staid, discreet, and compact of common sense Alexa seemed to him beside Dawtie, whose want of education left her mind a waste swamp for the vagaries of whatever will-o'-the-wisp an overstrained religious fantasy might generate! But however much the laird might look the same as before, he could never, knowing that Dawtie knew what she knew, be again as he had been.

"You'll do a few of the books to-day, won't you, Dawtie," he said, "when you have time? I never thought I should trust any one! I would sooner have old Meg shave me than let her dust an Elzevir! Ha! ha! ha!"

Dawtie was glad that at least he left the door open between them. She said she would do a little dusting in the afternoon, and would be very careful. Then the laird rose and went out, and Dawtie perceived, with a shoot of compassion mingled with mild remorse, that he had left his breakfast almost untasted.

But after that, so far from ever beginning any sort of conversation with her, he seemed uncomfortable the moment they happened to be alone together. If he caught her eye, he would say--hurriedly, and as if acknowledging a secret between them, "By and by, Dawtie;" or, "I'm thinking about the business, Dawtie;" or, "I'm making up my mind, Dawtie!" and so leave her. On one occasion he said, "Perhaps you will be surprised some day, Dawtie!"

On her part Dawtie never felt that she had anything more to say to him. She feared at times that she had done him evil rather than good by pressing upon him a duty she had not persuaded him to perform. She spoke of this fear to Andrew, but he answered decisively:

"If you believed you ought to speak to him, and have discovered in yourself no wrong motive, you must not trouble yourself about the result. That may be a thousand years off yet. You may have sent him into a hotter purgatory, and at the same time made it shorter for him. We know nothing but that God is righteous."

Dawtie was comforted, and things went on as before. Where people know their work and do it, life has few blank spaces for ennui, and they are seldom to be pitied. Where people have not yet found their work, they may be more to be pitied than those that beg their bread. When a man knows his work and will not do it, pity him more than one who is to be hanged to-morrow.

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