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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWarlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 13. The Storm-Guest
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Warlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 13. The Storm-Guest Post by :AdrianMansilla Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2329

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Warlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 13. The Storm-Guest

CHAPTER XIII. THE STORM-GUEST

Again a deep silence descended on the room. The twilight had long fallen, and settled down into the dark. The only thing that acknowledged and answered the clock was the red glow of the peats on the hearth. To Cosmo, as he sat sunk in thought, the clock and the fire seemed to be holding a silent talk. Presently came a great and sudden blast of wind, which roused Cosmo, and made him bethink himself that it was time to be going home. And for this there was another reason besides the threatening storm: he had the night before begun to read aloud one of Sir Walter's novels to the assembled family, and Grizzie would be getting anxious for another portion of it before she went to bed.

"I'm glaid to see ye sae muckle better, Grannie," he said. "I'll say gude nicht noo, an' luik in again the morn."

"Weel, I'm obleeged to ye," replied the old woman. "There's been but feow o' yer kin, be their fau'ts what they micht, wad forget ony 'at luikit for a kin' word or a kin' deed!--Aggie, lass, ye'll convoy him a bittock, willna ye?"

All the few in whom yet lingered any shadow of retainership towards the fast-fading chieftainship of Glenwarlock, seemed to cherish the notion that the heir of the house had to be tended and cared for like a child--that was what they were in the world for. Doubtless a pitying sense of the misfortunes of the family had much to do with the feeling.

"There's nae occasion," and "I'll du that," said the two young people in a breath.

Cosmo rose, and began to put on his plaid, crossing it over back and chest to leave his arms free: that way the wind would get least hold on him. Agnes went to the closet for her plaid also--of the same tartan, and drawing it over her head and pinning it under her chin, was presently ready for the stormy way. Then she turned to Cosmo, and was pinning his plaid together at the throat, when the wind came with a sudden howl, rushed down the chimney, and drove the level smoke into the middle of the room. It could not shake the cottage--it was too lowly: neither could it rattle its windows--they were not made to open; but it bellowed over it like a wave over a rock, and as in contempt blew its smoke back into its throat.

"It'll be a wull nicht, I'm doobtin', Cosmo," said Agnes; "an' I wuss ye safe i' the ingle-neak wi' yer fowk."

Cosmo laughed. "The win' kens me," he said.

"Guid farbid!" cried the old woman from the bed.

(Illustration: THE CLOCK AND THE PIPE SEEMED TO BE HOLDING A SILENT TALK.)

"Kenna ye wha's the prence o' 't, laddie? Makna a jeist o' the pooers 'at be."

"Gien they binna ordeent o' God, what are they but a jeist?" returned Cosmo. "Eh, but ye wad mak a bonny munsie o' me, Grannie, to hae me feart at the deil an' a'! I canna a' thegither help it wi' the ghaists, an' I'm ashamed o' mysel' for that; but I AM NOT gaein to heed the deil. I defy him an' a' his works. He's but a cooerd, ye ken, Grannie, for whan ye resist him, he rins."

She made no answer. Cosmo shook hands with her, and went, followed by Agnes, who locked the door behind her, and put the key in her pocket.

It was indeed a wild night. The wind was rushing from the north, full of sharp stinging pellicles, something between snow-flakes and hail-stones. Down the wide village street it came right in their faces. Through it, as through a thin shifting sheet, they saw on both sides the flickering lights of the many homes, but before them lay darkness, and the moor, a chaos, a carnival of wind and snow. Worst of all the snow on the road was not BINDING, and their feet felt as if walking on sand. As long as the footing is good, one can get on even in the face of a northerly storm; but to heave with a shifting fulcrum is hard. Nevertheless Cosmo, beholding with his mind's eye the wide waste around him, rejoiced; invisible through the snow, it was not the less a presence, and his young heart rushed to the contest. There was no fear of ghosts in such a storm! The ghosts might be there, but there was no time to heed them, and that was as good as their absence--perhaps better, if we knew all.

"Bide a wee, Cosmo," cried Agnes, and leaving him in the middle of the street where they were walking, she ran across to one of the houses, and entered--lifting the latch without ceremony. No neighbour troubled another to come and open the door; if there was no one at home, the key in the lock outside showed it.

Cosmo turned his back to the wind, and stood waiting. From the door which Aggie opened, came through the wind and snow the sound of the shoemaker's hammer on his lapstone.

"Cud ye spare the mistress for an hoor, or maybe twa an' a half, to haud Grannie company, John Nauchty?" said Agnes.

"Weel that," answered the SUTOR, hammering away. He intended no reflection on the bond that bound the mistress and himself.

"I dinna see her," said Aggie.

"She'll be in in a minute. She's run ower the ro'd to get a doup o' a can'le," returned the man.

"Gien she dinna the speedier, she'll hae to licht it to fin' her ain door," said Agnes merrily, to whom the approaching fight with the elements was as welcome as to Cosmo. She had made up her mind to go with him all the way, let him protest as he might.

"Ow na! she'll hearken, an' hear the hemmer," replied the shoemaker.

"Weel, tak the key, an' ye winna forget, John?" said Aggie, laying the key amongst his tools. "Grannie's lyin' there her lee-lane, an' gien the hoose was to tak fire, what wad come o' her?"

"Guid forbid onybody sud forget Grannie!" rejoined the man heartily; "but fire wad hae a sma' chance the nicht."

Agnes thanked and left him. All the time he had not missed a single stroke of his hammer on the benleather between it and his lapstone.

When she rejoined Cosmo, where he stood leaning his back against the wind in the middle of the road,

"Come nae farther, Aggie," he said. "It's an ill nicht, an' grows waur. There's nae guid in't naither, for we winna hear ane anither speyk ohn stoppit, an' turnt oor backs til't. Gang to yer Grannie; she'll be feart aboot ye."

"Nae a bit. I maun see ye oot o' the toon."

They fought their way along the street, and out on the open moor, the greater part of which was still heather and swamp. Peat-bog and ploughed land was all one waste of snow. Creation seemed but the snow that had fallen, the snow that was falling, and the snow that had yet to fall; or, to put it otherwise, a fall of snow between two outspread worlds of snow.

"Gang back, noo, Aggie," said Cosmo again. "What's the guid o' twa whaur ane only need be, an' baith hae to fecht for themsel's?"

"I'm no gaein' back yet," persisted Aggie. "Twa's better at onything nor ane himblane. The sutor's wife's gaein' in to see Grannie, an' Grannie 'll like her cracks a heap better nor mine. She thinks I hae nae mair brains nor a hen,'cause I canna min' upo' things at war nearhan' forgotten or I was born."

Cosmo desisted from useless persuasion, and they struggled on together, through the snow above and the snow beneath. At this Aggie was more than a match for Cosmo. Lighter and smaller, and perhaps with larger lungs in proportion, she bored her way through the blast better than he, and the moment he began to expostulate, would increase the distance between them, and go on in front where he knew she could not hear a word he said.

At last, being then a little ahead, she turned her back to the wind, and waited for him to come up.

"Noo, ye've had eneuch o' 't!" he said. "An' I maun turn an' gang back wi' you, or ye'll never win hame."

Aggie broke into a loud laugh that rang like music through the storm.

"A likly thing!" she cried; "an' me wi' my back a' the ro'd to the win'! Gang back yersel', Cosmo, an' sit by Grannie's fire, an' I'll gang on to the castle, an' lat them ken whaur ye are. Gien ye dinna that, I tell ye ance for a', I'm no gaein' to lea' ye till I see ye safe inside yer ain wa's."

"But Aggie," reasoned Cosmo, with yet greater earnestness, "what'll ye gar fowk think o' me,'at wad hae a lassie to gang hame wi' me, for fear the win' micht blaw me intil the sea? Ye'll bring me to shame, Aggie."

"A lassie! say ye?" cried Aggie,--"I think I hear ye!--an' me auld eneuch to be yer mither! Is' tak guid care there s' be nae affront intil 't. Haud yer hert quaiet, Cosmo; ye'll hae need o' a' yer breath afore ye win to yer ain fireside."

As she spoke, the wind pounced upon them with a fiercer gust than any that had preceded. Instinctively they grasped each other, as if from the wish, if they should be blown away, to be blown away together.

"Eh, that's a rouch ane!" said Cosmo, and again Aggie laughed merrily.

While they stood thus, with their backs to the wind, the moon rose. Far indeed from being visible, she yet shed a little glimmer of light over the plain, revealing a world as wild as ever the frozen north outspread--as wild as ever poet's despairing vision of desolation. I see it! I see it! but how shall I make my reader see it with me? It was ghastly. The only similitude of life was the perplexed and multitudinous motion of the drifting, falling flakes. No shape was to be seen, no sound but that of the wind to be heard. It was like the dream of a delirious child after reading the ancient theory of the existence of the world by the rushing together of fortuitous atoms. Wan and thick, tumultuous, innumerable to millions of angels, an interminable tempest of intermingling and indistinguishable vortices, it stretched on and on, a boundless hell of cold and shapelessness--white thinned with gray, and fading into gray blackness, into tangible darkness.

The moment the fury of the blast abated, Agnes turned, and without a word, began again her boring march, forcing her way through the palpable obstructions of wind and snow. Unable to prevent her, Cosmo followed. But he comforted himself with the thought, that, if the storm continued he would get his father to use his authority against her attempting a return before the morning. The sutor's wife was one of Grannie's best cronies, and there was no fear of her being deserted through the night.

Aggie kept the lead she had taken, till there could be no more question of going on, and they were now drawing near the road that struck off to the left, along the bank of the Warlock river, leading up among the vallies and low hills, most of which had once been the property of the house of Warlock, when she stopped suddenly, this time without turning her back to the wind, and Cosmo was immediately beside her.

"What's yon, Cosmo?" she said--and Cosmo fancied consternation in the tone. He looked sharply forward, and saw what seemed a glimmer, but might be only something whiter in the whiteness. No! it was certainly a light--but whether on the road he could not tell. There was no house in that direction! It moved!--yet not as if carried in human hand! Now it was gone! There it was again! There were two of them--two huge pale eyes, rolling from side to side. Grannie's warning about the Prince of the power of the air, darted into Cosmo's mind. It was awful! But anyhow the devil was not to be run from! That was the easiest measure, no doubt, yet not the less the one impossible to take. And now it was plain that the something was not away on the moor, but on the road in front of them, and coming towards them. It came nearer and nearer, and grew vaguely visible--a huge blundering mass--animal or what, they could not tell, but on the wind came sounds that might be human--or animal human--the sounds of encouragement and incitation to horses. And now it approached no more. With common impulse they hastened towards it.

It was a travelling carriage--a rare sight in those parts at any time, and rarer still in winter. Both of them had certainly seen one before, but as certainly, never a pair of lighted carriage-lamps, with reflectors to make of them fiendish eyes. It had but two horses, and, do what the driver could, which was not much, they persisted in standing stock-still, refusing to take a single step farther. Indeed they could not. They had tried and tried, and done their best, but finding themselves unable to move the carriage an inch, preferred standing still to spending themselves in vain struggles, for all their eight legs went slipping about under them.

Cosmo looked up to the box. The driver was little more than a boy, and nearly dead with cold. Already Aggie had a forefoot of the near horse in her hand. Cosmo ran to the other.

"Their feet's fu' o' snaw," said Aggie.

"Ay; it's ba'd hard," said Cosmo. "They maun hae come ower a saft place: it wadna ba' the nicht upo' the muir."

"Hae ye yer knife, Cosmo?" asked Aggie.

Here a head was put out of the carriage-window. It was that of a lady in a swansdown travelling-hood. She had heard an unintelligible conversation--and one intelligible word. They must be robbers! How else should they want a knife in a snowstorm? Why else should they have stopped the carriage? She gave a little cry of alarm. Aggie dropped the hoof she held, and went to the window.

"What's yer wull, mem?" she asked.

"What's the matter?" the lady returned in a trembling voice, but not a little reassured at the sight, as she crossed the range of one of the lamps, of the face of a young girl. "Why doesn't the coachman go on?"

"He canna, mem. The horse canna win throu the snaw. They hae ba's o' 't i' their feet, an' they canna get a grip wi' them, nae mair nor ye cud yersel', mem, gien the soles o' yer shune war roon' an' made o'ice. But we'll sune set that richt.--Hoo far hae ye come, mem, gien I may speir? Aigh, mem, its an unco nicht!"

The lady did not understand much of what Aggie said, for she was English, returning from her first visit to Scotland, but, half guessing at her question, replied, that they had come from Cairntod, and were going on to Howglen. She told her also, now entirely reassured by Aggie's voice, that they had been much longeron the way than they had expected, and were now getting anxious.

"I doobt sair gien ye'll win to Howglen the nicht," said Aggie.-- "But ye're not yer lone? "she added, trying to summon her English, of which she had plenty of a sort, though not always at hand.

"My father is with me," said the lady, looking back into the dark carriage, "but I think he is asleep, and I don't want to wake him while we are standing still."

Peeping in, Aggie caught sight of somebody muffled, leaning back in the other corner of the carriage, and breathing heavily.

To Aggie's not altogether unaccustomed eye, it seemed he might have had more than was good for him in the way of refreshment.

Cosmo was busy clearing the snow from the horses' hoofs. The driver, stupid or dazed, sat on the box, helpless as a parrot on a swinging perch.

"You'll never win to Howglen to-night, mem," said Aggie.

"We must put up where we can, then," answered the lady.

"I dinna know of a place nearer, fit for gentlefowk, mem." "What are we to do then?" asked the lady, with subdued, but evident anxiety.

"What's the guid o' haein' a father like that--sleepin' and snorin' whan maist ye're in want o' 'im!" thought Aggie to herself; but what she replied was, "Bide, mem, till we hear what Cosmo has to say til't."

"That is a peculiar name!" remarked the lady, brightening at the sound of it, for it could, she thought, hardly belong to a peasant.

"It's the name the lairds o' Glenwarlock hae borne for generations," answered Aggie; "though doobtless it's no a name, as the maister wad say, indigenous to the country. Ane o' them broucht it frae Italy, the place whaur the Pop' o' Rom' bides."

"And who is this Cosmo whose advice you would have me ask?"

"He's the yoong laird himsel', mem:--eh! but ye maun be a stranger no to ken the name o' Warlock."

"Indeed I am a stranger--and I can't help wishing, if there is much more of this weather between us and England, that I had been more of a stranger still."

"'Deed, mem, we hae a heap o' weather up here as like this as ae snow-flake is til anither. But we tak what's sent, an' makna mony remarks. Though to be sure the thing's different whan it's o' a body's ain seekin'."

This speech--my reader may naturally think it not over-polite--was happily not over-intelligible to the lady. Aggie, a little wounded by the reflection on the weather of her country, had in her emotion aggravated her Scottish tone.

"And where is this Cosmo? How are we to find him?"

"He'll come onsoucht, mem. It's only 'at he's busy cleanin' oot yer puir horse' hivs 'at hedisna p'y his respec's to ye. But he'll be blythe eneuch!"

"I thought you said he was a lord!" remarked the lady.

"Na, I saidna that, mem. He's nae lord. But he's a laird, an' some lairds is better nor 'maist ony lords--an' HE'S Warlock o' Glenwarlock--at least he wull be--an' may it be lang or come the day."

Hard as the snow was packed in them, all the eight hoofs were now cleared out with Cosmo's busy knife, which he had had to use carefully lest he should hurt the frog. The next moment his head appeared, a little behind that of Aggie, and in the light of the lamp the lady saw the handsome face of a lad seemingly about sixteen.

"Here he is, mem! This is the yoong laird. Ye speir at HIM what ye're to du, and du jist as he tells ye," said Aggie, and drew back, that Cosmo might take her place.

"Is that girl your sister?" asked the lady, with not a little abruptness, for the _best bred are not always the most polite.

"No, my lady," answered Cosmo, who had learned from the lad on the box her name and rank; "she is the daughter of one of my father's tenants."

Lady Joan Scudamore thought it very odd that the youth should be on such familiar terms with the daughter of one of his father's tenants--out alone with her in the heart of a hideous storm! No doubt the girl looked up to him, but apparently from the same level, as one sharing in the pride of the family! Should she take her advice, and seek his? or should she press on for Howglen? There was, alas! no counsel to be had from her father just at present: if she woke him, he would but mutter something not so much unlike an oath as it ought to be, and go to sleep again!

"We want very much to reach Howglen--I think that is what you call the place," she said.

"You can't get there tonight, I'm afraid," returned Cosmo. "The road is, as you see, no road at all. The horses would do better if you took their shoes off, I think--only then, if they came on a bit of frozen dub, it might knock their hoofs to pieces in, such a frost."

The lady glanced round at her sleeping companion with a look expressive of no small perplexity.

"My father will make you welcome, my lady," continued Cosmo, "if you will come with us. We can give you only what English people must think poor fare, for we're not--"

She interrupted him.

"I should be glad to sit anywhere all night, where there was a fire. I am nearly frozen."

"We can do a little better for you than that, though not so well as we should like. Perhaps, as we can't make any show, we are the more likely to do our best for your comfort."

Their pinched circumstances had at one time and another given rise to conversation in which the laird and his son sought together to sound the abysses of hospitality: the old-fashioned sententiousness of the boy had in it nothing of the prig.

"You are very kind. I will promise to be comfortable," said the lady.

She began to be a trifle interested in this odd specimen of the Scotch calf.

"Welcome then to Glenwarlock!" said Cosmo. "Come, Aggie; tak ane o' them by the heid: they're gaein' wi' 's.--We must turn the horses' heads, my lady. I fear they won't like to face the wind they've only had their backs to yet. I can't make out whether your driver is half dead or half drunk or more than half frozen; but Aggie and I will take care of them, and if he tumble off, nobody will be the worse."

"What a terrible country!" said the lady to herself. "The coachmen get drunk! the boys are prigs! there is no distinction between the owners of the soil and the tenants who farm it! and it snows from morning to night, and from one week's end to another!"

Aggie had taken the head of the near horse, and Cosmo took that of the off one. Their driver said nothing, letting them do as they pleased. With some difficulty, for they had to be more than ordinarily cautious, the road being indistinguishable from the ditches they knew here bounded it on both sides, they got the carriage round. But when the weary animals received the tempest in their faces, instead of pulling they backed, would have turned again, and for some time were not to be induced to front it. Agnes and Cosmo had to employ all their powers of persuasion, first to get them to stand still, and then to advance a little. Gradually, by leading, and patting, and continuous encouraging in language they understood, they were coaxed as far as the parish road, and there turning their sides to the wind, and no longer their eyes and noses, they began to move with a little will of their own; for horses have so much hope, that the mere fact of having made a turn is enough to revive them with the expectation of cover and food and repose. They reached presently a more sheltered part of the road, and if now and then they had to drag the carriage through deeper snow, they were no longer buffeted by the cruel wind or stung by its frost-arrows.

All this time the gentleman inside slept--nor was it surprising; for, lunching at the last town, and not finding the wine fit to drink, he had fallen back upon an accomplishment of his youth, and betaken himself to toddy. That he had found that at least fit to drink was proved by the state in which he was now carried along.

They reached at last the steep ascent from the parish road to Castle Warlock. The two conductors, though they had no leisure to confer on the subject, were equally anxious as to whether the horses would face it; but the moment their heads came round, whether only that it was another turn with its fresh hope, or that the wind brought some stray odour of hay or oats to their wide nostrils, I cannot tell, but finding the ground tolerably clear, they took to it with a will, and tore up with the last efforts of all but exhausted strength, Cosmo and Aggie running along beside them, and talking to them all the way. The only difficulty was to get the lad on the box to give them their heads.

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