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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marquis Of Lossie - Chapter 63. Confession Of Sin
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The Marquis Of Lossie - Chapter 63. Confession Of Sin Post by :noel2005 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3328

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The Marquis Of Lossie - Chapter 63. Confession Of Sin

CHAPTER LXIII. CONFESSION OF SIN

Mr Crathie was slowly recovering, but still very weak. He did not, after having turned the corner, get well so fast as his medical minister judged he ought, and the reason was plain to Lizzy, dimly perceptible to his wife: he was ill at ease. A man may have more mind and more conscience, and more discomfort in both or either, than his neighbours give him credit for. They may be in the right about him up to a certain point in his history, but then a crisis, by them unperceived, perhaps to them inappreciable, arrived, after which the man to all eternity could never be the same as they had known him. Such a change must appear improbable, and save on the theory of a higher operative power, is improbable because impossible. But a man who has not created himself can never secure himself against the inroad of the glorious terror of that Goodness which was able to utter him into being, with all its possible wrongs and repentances. The fact that a man has never, up to any point yet, been aware of aught beyond himself, cannot shut him out who is beyond him, when at last he means to enter. Not even the soul benumbing visits of his clerical minister could repress the swell of the slow mounting dayspring in the soul of the hard, commonplace, business worshipping man, Hector Crathie.

The hireling would talk to him kindly enough--of his illness, or of events of the day, especially those of the town and neighbourhood, and encourage him with reiterated expression of the hope that ere many days they would enjoy a tumbler together as of old, but as to wrong done, apology to make, forgiveness to be sought, or consolation to be found, the dumb dog had not uttered a bark.

The sources of the factor's restless discomfort were now two; the first, that he had lifted his hand to women; the second, the old ground of his quarrel with Malcolm, brought up by Lizzy.

All his life, since ever he had had business, Mr Crathie had prided himself on his honesty, and was therefore in one of the most dangerous moral positions a man could occupy--ruinous even to the honesty itself. Asleep in the mud, he dreamed himself awake on a pedestal. At best such a man is but perched on a needle point when he thinketh he standeth. Of him who prided himself on his honour I should expect that one day, in the long run it might be, he would do some vile thing. Not, probably, within the small circle of illumination around his wretched rushlight, but in the great region beyond it, of what to him is a moral darkness, or twilight vague, he may be or may become capable of doing a deed that will stink in the nostrils of the universe--and in his own when he knows it as it is. The honesty in which a man can pride himself must be a small one, for more honesty will ever reveal more defect, while perfect honesty will never think of itself at all. The limited honesty of the factor clave to the interests of his employers, and let the rights he encountered take care of themselves. Those he dealt with were to him rather as enemies than friends, not enemies to be prayed for, but to be spoiled. Malcolm's doctrine of honesty in horse dealing was to him ludicrously new. His notion of honesty in that kind was to cheat the buyer for his master if he could, proud to write in his book a large sum against the name of the animal. He would have scorned in his very soul the idea of making a farthing by it himself through any business quirk whatever, but he would not have been the least ashamed if, having sold Kelpie, he had heard--let me say after a week of possession--that she had dashed out her purchaser's brains. He would have been a little shocked, a little sorry perhaps, but nowise ashamed. "By this time," he would have said, "the man ought to have been up to her, and either taken care of himself--or sold her again,"--to dash out another man's brains instead!

That the bastard Malcolm, or the ignorant and indeed fallen fisher girl Lizzy, should judge differently, nowise troubled him: what could they know about the rights and wrongs of business? The fact which Lizzy sought to bring to bear upon him, that our Lord would not have done such a thing, was to him no argument at all. He said to himself with the superior smile of arrogated common sense, that "no mere man since the fall" could be expected to do like him; that he was divine, and had not to fight for a living; that he set us an example that we might see what sinners we were; that religion was one thing, and a very proper thing, but business was another, and a very proper thing also--with customs and indeed laws of its own far more determinate, at least definite, than those of religion, and that to mingle the one with the other was not merely absurd--it was irreverent and wrong, and certainly never intended in the Bible, which must surely be common sense.

It was the Bible always with him,--never the will of Christ. But although he could dispose of the question thus satisfactorily, yet, as he lay ill, supine, without any distracting occupation, the thing haunted him.

Now in his father's cottage had lain, much dabbled in of the children, a certain boardless copy of the Pilgrim's Progress, round in the face and hollow in the back, in which, amongst other pictures was one of the Wicket Gate. This scripture of his childhood, given by inspiration of God, threw out, in one of his troubled and feverish nights, a dream bud in the brain of the man. He saw the face of Jesus looking on him over the top of the Wicket Gate, at which he had been for some time knocking in vain, while the cruel dog barked loud from the enemy's yard. But that face, when at last it came, was full of sorrowful displeasure. And in his heart he knew that it was because of a certain transaction in horse dealing, wherein he had hitherto lauded his own cunning--adroitness, he considered it--and success. One word only he heard from the lips of the Man --. "Worker of iniquity,"--and woke with a great start. From that moment truths began to be facts to him. The beginning of the change was indeed very small, but every beginning is small, and every beginning is a creation. Monad, molecule, protoplasm, whatever word may be attached to it when it becomes appreciable by men, being then, however many stages, I believe, upon its journey, beginning is an irrepressible fact; and however far from good or humble even after many days, the man here began to grow good and humble. His dull unimaginative nature, a perfect lumber room of the world and its rusting affairs, had received a gift in a dream--a truth from the lips of the Lord, remodelled in the brain and heart of the tinker of Elstow, and sent forth in his wondrous parable to be pictured and printed, and lie in old Hector Crathie's cottage, that it might enter and lie in young Hector Crathie's brain until he grew old and had done wrong enough to heed it, when it rose upon him in a dream, and had its way. Henceforth the claims of his neighbour began to reveal themselves, and his mind to breed conscientious doubts and scruples, with which, struggle as he might against it, a certain respect for Malcolm would keep coming and mingling--a feeling which grew with its returns, until, by slow changes, he began at length to regard him as the minister of God's vengeance--for his punishment,--and perhaps salvation-- who could tell?

Lizzy's nightly ministrations had not been resumed, but she often called, and was a good deal with him; for Mrs Crathie had learned to like the humble, helpful girl still better when she found she had taken no offence at being deprived of her post of honour by his bedside. One day, when Malcolm was seated, mending a net, among the thin grass and great red daisies of the links by the bank of the burn, where it crossed the sands from the Lossie grounds to the sea, Lizzy came up to him and said,

"The factor wad like to see ye, Ma'colm, as sune's ye can gang till 'im."

She waited no reply. Malcolm rose and went

At the factor's, the door was opened by Mrs Crathie herself, who, looking mysterious, led him to the dining room, where she plunged at once into business, doing her best to keep down all manifestation of the profound resentment she cherished against him. Her manner was confidential, almost coaxing.

"Ye see, Ma'colm," she said, as if pursuing instead of commencing a conversation, "he's some sore about the little fraicass between him 'an you. Jest make your apoalogies till 'im and tell 'im you had a drop too much, and your soary for misbehavin' yerself to wann sae much your shuperrior. Tell him that, Ma'colm, an' there's a half croon to ye."

She wished much to speak English, and I have tried to represent the thing she did speak, which was neither honest Scotch nor anything like English. Alas! the good, pithy, old Anglo Saxon dialect is fast perishing, and a jargon of corrupt English taking its place.

"But, mem," said Malcolm, taking no notice either of the coin or the words that accompanied the offer of it, "I canna lee. I wasna in drink, an' I'm no sorry."

"Hoot!" returned Mrs Crathie, blurting out her Scotch fast enough now, "I's warran' ye can lee well eneuch whan ye ha'e occasion. Tak' yer siller, an' du as I tell ye."

"Wad ye ha'e me damned, mem?"

Mrs Crathie gave a cry and held up her hands. She was too well accustomed to imprecations from the lips of her husband for any but an affected horror, but, regarding the honest word as a bad one, she assumed an air of injury.

"Wad ye daur to sweir afore a leddy," she exclaimed, shaking her uplifted hands in pretence of ghasted astonishment.

"If Mr Crathie wishes to see me, ma'am," rejoined Malcolm, taking up the shield of English, "I am ready. If not, please allow me to go."

The same moment the bell whose rope was at the head of the factor's bed, rang violently, and Mrs Crathie's importance collapsed.

"Come this w'y," she said, and turning led him up the stair to the room where her husband lay.

Entering, Malcolm stood astonished at the change he saw upon the strong man of rubicund countenance, and his heart filled with compassion. The factor was sitting up in bed, looking very white and worn and troubled. Even his nose had grown thin and white. He held out his hand to him, and said to his wife, "Tak the door to ye, Mistress Crathie," indicating which side he wished it closed from.

"Ye was some sair upo' me, Ma'colm," he went on, grasping the youth's hand.

"I doobt I was ower sair," said Malcolm, who could hardly speak for a lump in his throat.

"Weel, I deserved it. But eh, Ma'colm! I canna believe it was me: it bude to be the drink."

"It was the drink," rejoined Malcolm; "an' eh sir! afore ye rise frae that bed, sweir to the great God 'at ye'll never drink nae mair drams, nor onything 'ayont ae tum'ler at a sittin'."

"I sweir't; I sweir't, Ma'colm!" cried the factor.

"It's easy to sweir't noo, sir, but whan ye're up again it'll be hard to keep yer aith.--O Lord!" spoke the youth, breaking out into almost involuntary prayer, "help this man to haud troth wi' thee.--An' noo, Maister Crathie," he resumed, "I'm yer servan', ready to do onything I can. Forgi'e me, sir, for layin' on ower sair."

"I forgi'e ye wi' a' my hert," returned the factor, inly delighted to have something to forgive.

"I thank ye frae mine," answered Malcolm, and again they shook hands.

"But eh, Ma'colm, my man!" said the factor, "hoo will I ever shaw my face again?"

"Fine that!" returned Malcolm, eagerly. "Fowk's terrible guid natur'd whan ye alloo 'at ye're i' the wrang. I do believe 'at whan a man confesses till 's neebour, an' says he's sorry, he thinks mair o' 'im nor afore he did it. Ye see we a' ken we ha'e dune wrang, but we ha'ena a' confessed. An' it's a queer thing, but a man'll think it gran' o' 's neebour to confess, whan a' the time there's something he winna repent o' himsel' for fear o' the shame o' ha'ein' to confess 't. To me, the shame lies in no confessin' efter ye ken ye're wrang. Ye'll see, sir, the fisher fowk 'll min' what ye say to them a heap better noo."

"Div ye railly think it, Ma'colm?" sighed the factor with a flush.

"I div that, sir. Only whan ye grow better, gien ye'll alloo me to say't, sir, ye maunna lat Sawtan temp' ye to think 'at this same repentin' was but a wakeness o' the flesh, an' no an enlichtenment o' the speerit."

"I s' tie mysel' up till 't," cried the factor, eagerly. "Gang an' tell them i' my name, 'at I tak' back ilka scart o' a nottice I ever ga'e ane o' them to quit, only we maun ha'e nae mair stan'in' o' honest fowk 'at comes to bigg herbours till them.--Div ye think it wad be weel ta'en gien ye tuik a poun' nott the piece to the twa women?"

"I wadna du that, sir, gien I was you," answered Malcolm. "For yer ain sake, I wadna to Mistress Mair, for naething wad gar her tak' it--it wad only affront her; an' for Nancy Tacket's sake, I wadna to her, for as her name so's her natur': she wad not only tak it, but she wad lat ye play the same as aften 's ye likit for less siller. Ye'll ha'e mony a chance o' makin' 't up to them baith, ten times ower, afore you an' them pairt, sir."

"I maun lea' the cuintry, Ma'colm."

"'Deed, sir, ye'll du naething o' the kin'. The fishers themsel's wad rise, no to lat ye, as they did wi' Blew Peter! As sune's ye're able to be aboot again, ye'll see plain eneuch 'at there's no occasion for onything like that, sir. Portlossie wadna ken 'tsel' wantin' ye. Jist gie me a commission to say to the twa honest women 'at ye're sorry for what ye did, an' that's a' 'at need be said 'atween you an them, or their men aither."

The result showed that Malcolm was right; for, the very next day, instead of looking for gifts from him, the two injured women came to the factor's door, first Annie Mair, with the offering of a few fresh eggs, scarce at the season, and after her Nancy Tacket, with a great lobster.

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