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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWarlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 15. That Night
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Warlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 15. That Night Post by :AdrianMansilla Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2290

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Warlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 15. That Night

CHAPTER XV. THAT NIGHT

Cosmo's temporary quarters were in one of two or three chambers above his own, formerly occupied by domestics, when there were many more of them about the place. He went to bed, but, after about three hours, woke very cold--so cold that he could not go to sleep again. He got up, heaped on his bed everything protective he could find, and tried again. But it was of no avail. Cosmo could keep himself warm enough in the open air, or if he could not, he did not mind; but to be cold in bed was more than he would willingly endure. He got up again--with an idea. Why should he not amuse himself, rather than lie shivering on couch inhospitable? When anything disturbed him of a summer night, as a matter of course he got up and went out; and although naturally he was less inclined on such a night as this, when the rooks would be tumbling dead from the boughs of the fir-trees, he yet would, rather than lie sleepless with cold.

On the opposite side of the court, in a gap between the stable and the byre, the men had heaped up the snow from the rest of the yard, and in the heap Cosmo had been excavating. For snow-balling he had little inclination, but the snow as a plastic substance, a thing that could be compelled into shapes, was an endless delight to him, and in connection with this mound he had conceived a new fancy, which, this very night, but for the interruption of their visitors, he would already have put to the test.

Into the middle of the mound he had bored a tunnel, and then hollowed out what I may call a negative human shape--the mould, as it were, of a man, of life-size, with his arms thrown out, and his feet stretched straight, like one that had fallen, and lay in weariness. His object was to illuminate it, in the hope of "a man all light, a seraph man," shining through the snow. That very night he had intended, on his return from Muir of Warlock, to light him up; and now that he was driven out by the cold, he would brave, in his own den, in the heart of the snow, the enemy that had roused him, and make his experiment.

He dressed himself, crept softly out, and, for a preparation, would have a good run. He trotted down the hill, beating his feet hard, until he reached the more level road, where he set out at full speed, and soon was warm as any boy need care to be.

About three o'clock in the morning, the laird woke suddenly, without knowing why. But he was not long without knowing why he should not go to sleep again. From a distance, as it seemed, through the stillness of the night, in rapid succession, came three distinct shrieks, one close on the other, as from the throat of a human being in mortal terror. Never had such shrieks invaded his ears. Whether or not they came from some part of his own house, he could not tell. He sprung upon the floor, thinking first of his boy, and next of the old man whom he had left drunk in his bed, and dressed as fast as he could, expecting every moment a fresh assault of horrible sound. But all he heard was the hasty running of far off feet. He hurried down, passing carefully his mother's door, but listening as he passed, in the hope of finding she had not been disturbed. He heard nothing, and went on. But in truth the old lady lay trembling, too terrified to move or utter a sound. In the next room he heard Grizzie moving, as if, like himself, getting up with all speed. Down to the kitchen he ran, in haste to get out and reach the great door. But when he opened the kitchen door, a strange sight met his eyes, and for a moment arrested him.

The night was dark as pitch, for, though the snow had ceased to fall, great clouds of it yet filled the vault of the sky, and behind them was no moon from which any smallest glimmer might come soaking through. But, on the opposite side of the court, the heap of snow familiar to his eyes was shining with an unknown, a faint, phosphorescent radiance. The whole heap was illuminated, and was plainly visible: but the strangest thing was, that the core of the light had a vague SHADOWY resemblance--if one may use the word of a shape of LIGHT--to the form of a man. There were the body and out-stretched limbs of one who had cast himself supine in sorest weariness, ready for the grave which had found him. The vision flickered, and faded and revived, and faded again, while, in his wonder forgetting for one brief moment the cries that had roused him, the laird stood and gazed. It was the strangest, ghostliest thing he had ever seen! Surely he was on the point of discovering some phenomenon hitherto unknown! What Grizzie would have taken it for, unhappily we do not know, for, just as the laird heard her footsteps on the stair, and he was himself starting to cross the frozen space between, the light, which had been gradually paling, suddenly went out. With its disappearance he bethought himself, and hurried towards the great door, with Grizzie now at his heels.

He opened it. All was still. Feeling his way in the thick darkness, he went softly up the stair.

Cosmo had but just left the last remnants of his candle-ends burning, and climbed glowing to his room, delighted with the success of his experiment, when those quick-following, hideous sounds rent the night, like flashes from some cloud of hellish torture. His heart seemed to stand still. Without knowing why, involuntarily he associated them with what he had been last about, and for a moment felt like a murderer. The next he caught up his light, and rushed from the room, to seek, like his father, that of their guest.

As he reached the bottom of the first stair, the door of his own room opened, and out came Lady Joan, with a cloak thrown over her night-gown, and looking like marble, with wide eyes. But Cosmo felt it was not she who had shrieked, and passing her without a second look, led the way down, and she followed.

When the laird opened the door of the guest--chamber, there was his boy in his clothes, with a candle in his hand, and the lady in her night-gown, standing in the middle of the floor, and looking down with dismayed countenances. There lay Lord Mergwain!--or was it but a thing of nought--the deserted house, of a living soul? The face was drawn a little to one side, and had a mingled expression, of horror--which came from within, and of ludicrousness, which had an outside formal cause. Upon closer investigation, the laird almost concluded he was dead; but on the merest chance something must be done. Cosmo seemed dazed, and Lady Joan stood staring with lost look, more of fright than of sorrow, but there was Grizzle, peeping through between them, with bright searching eyes! On her countenance was neither dismay, anxiety, nor distraction. She nodded her head now and then as she gazed, looking as if she had expected it all, and here it was.

"Rin an' fess het watter as fest's ye can, Grizzie," said the laird. "My dear Lady Joan, go and dress, or you will be frozen to death. We will do all we can. Cosmo, get the fire up as quickly as possible--it is not quite out. But first you and I must get him into bed, and cover him up warm, and I will rub his hands and feet till the hot water comes."

As the laird said, everyone did. A pail of hot water was soon brought, the fire was soon lighted, and the lady soon returned more warmly clad. He made Grizzie put the pail on a chair by the bed-side, and they got his feet in without raising him, or taking him out of the blankets. Before long he gave a deep sigh, and presently showed other signs of revival. When at length he opened his eyes, he stared around him wildly, and for a moment it seemed to all of them he had lost his reason. But the laird said he might not yet have got over the drink he had taken, and if he could be got to sleep, he would probably wake better. They therefore removed some more of his clothes, laid him down again, and made him as comfortable as they could, with hot bottles about him. The laird said he would sit with him, and call Lady Joan if needful. To judge by her behaviour, he conjectured such a catastrophe was not altogether strange to her. She went away readily, more like one relieved than anxious.

But there had arisen in the mind of the laird a fear: might not Cosmo unwittingly have had some share in the frightful event? When first he entered the room, there was Cosmo, dressed, and with a light in his hand: the seeming phosphorescence in the snow must have been one of his PLOYS, and might not that have been the source of the shock to the dazed brain of the drinker?

His lordship was breathing more softly and regularly, though every now and then half waking with a cry--a dreadful thing to hear from a sleeping OLD MAN. They drew their chairs close to the fire and to each other, and Cosmo, as was usual with him, laid his hand on his father's knee.

"Did you observe that peculiar appearance in the snow-heap, on the other side of the court, Cosmo?" asked the laird.

"Yes, papa," replied the boy: "I made it myself." And therewith he told him all about it. "You're not vexed with me, are you, papa?" he added, seeing the laird look grave.

"No, my son," answered his father; "I am only uneasy lest that should have had anything to do with this sad affair."

"How could that be, papa?" asked Cosmo. "He may have looked out of the window and seen it, and, in the half-foolish state he was in, taken it for something supernatural."

"But why should that have done him any harm?"

"It may have terrified him."

"Why should it terrify him?" said Cosmo.

"There may be things we know nothing of," replied his father, "to answer that question. I cannot help feeling rather uneasy about it."

"Did YOU see anything frightful about my man of light, papa?" inquired Cosmo.

"No," answered his father, thoughtfully; "but the thing, you see, was in the shape of a man--a man lying at full length as if he were dead, and indeed in his grave: he might take it for his wraith--an omen of his coming end."

"But he is an Englishman, papa, and the English don't believe in the second sight."

"That does make it less likely.--Few lowlanders do."

"Do you believe in it, papa?"

"Well, you see," returned the laird, with a small smile, "I, like yourself, am neither pure highlander nor pure lowlander, and the natural consequence is, I am not very sure whether I believe in it or not. I have heard stories difficult to explain."

"Still," said Cosmo, "my lord would be more to blame than me, for no man with a good conscience would have been so frightened as that, even if it had been his wraith."

"That may be true;--still, a man cannot help being especially sorry anything should happen to a stranger in his house. You and I, Cosmo, would have our house a place of refuge.--But you had better go to bed now. There is no reason in tiring two people, when one is enough."

"But, papa, I got up because I was so cold I could not sleep. If you will let me, I would much rather sit with you. I shall be much more comfortable here."

That his son should have been cold in the night distressed the laird. He felt as if, for the sake of strangers, he had neglected his own--the specially sent. He would have persuaded Cosmo to go to his father's bed, which was in a warmer room, but the boy begged so to be allowed to remain that he yielded.

They had talked in a low voice for fear of disturbing the sleeper, and now were silent. Cosmo rolled himself in his plaid, lay down at his father's feet, and was soon fast asleep: with his father there, the chamber had lost all its terrors, and was just like any other home-feeling room of the house. Many a time in after years did that night, that room, that fire, and the feeling of his father over his head, while the bad lord lay snoring within the dark curtains, rise before him; and from the memory he would try to teach himself, that, if he were towards his great Father in his house as he was then towards his earthly father in his, he would never fear anything.

To know one's-self as safe amid storm and darkness, amid fire and water, amid disease and pain, even during the felt approach of death, is to be a Christian, for that is how the Master felt in the hour of darkness, because he knew it a fact.

All night long, at intervals, the old man moaned, and every now and then would mutter sentences unintelligible to the laird, but sown with ugly, sometimes fearful words. In the gray of the morning he woke.

"Bring me brandy," he cried in a voice of discontent.

The laird rose and went to him. When he saw the face above him, a horror came upon his--a look like that they found frozen on it.

"Who are you?" he gasped. "Where am I?"

"You came here in the storm last night, my lord," said the laird.

"Cursed place! I never had such horrible dreams in my life. Where am I--do you hear? Why don't you answer me?"

"You are at Castle Warlock, my lord," replied the laird.

At this he shrieked, and, throwing off the clothes, sprung from the bed.

"I entreat you, my lord, to lie down again. You were very ill in the night," expostulated the laird.

"I don't stop another hour in the blasted hole!" roared his guest, in a fierce quaver. Out of my way you fool! Where's Joan? Tell her to get up and come directly. I'm off, tell her. I'd as soon go to bed in the drifts as stop another hour in this abominable old lime-kiln.

The laird let him rave on: it was useless to oppose him. He flew at his clothes to dress himself, but his poor old hands trembled with rage, fear, drink, and eagerness. The laird did his best to help him, but he seemed nowise recognizant.

"I will get you some hot water, my lord," he said at length, and was moving towards the door.

"No,--you!--everybody!" shrieked the old man. "If you go out of that door, I will throw myself out of this window."

The laird turned at once, and in silence waited on him like a servant. "He must be in a fit of delirium tremens!" he said to himself. He poured him out some cold water, but he would not use it. He would neither eat nor drink nor wash till he was out of the horrible dungeon, he said. The next moment he cried for water, drank three mouthfuls eagerly, threw the tumbler from him, and broke it on the hearth.

The instant he was dressed, he dropped into the great chair and closed his eyes.

"Your lordship must allow me to fetch some fuel," said the laird; "the room is growing cold."

"No, I tell you!" cried Lord Mergwain, opening his eyes and sitting up. "When I'm cold I'll go to If you attempt to leave the room, I'll send a bullet after you.--God have mercy! what's that at my feet?"

"It is only my son," replied the laird gently. "We have been with you all night--since you were taken ill, that is."

"When was that? What do you mean by that?" he said, looking up sharply, with a face of more intelligence than he had yet shown.

"Your lordship had some sort of fit in the night, and if you do not compose yourself, I dread a return of it."

"You well may, if I stop here," he returned--then, after a pause, "Did I talk?" he asked.

"Yes, my lord--a good deal."

"What did I say?"

"Nothing I could understand, my lord."

"And you did your best, I don't doubt!" rejoined his lordship with a sneer. "But you know nothing is to be made of what a man says in a fit."

"I have told your lordship I heard nothing."

"No matter; I don't sleep another night under your roof."

"That will be as it may, my lord."

"What do you mean?"

"Look at the weather, my lord.--Cosmo!"

The boy was still asleep, but at the sound of his name from his father's lips, he started at once to his feet.

"Go and wake Grizzie," said the laird, "and tell her to get breakfast ready as fast as she can. Then bring some peat for the fire, and some hot water for his lordship."

Cosmo ran to obey. Grizzie had been up for more than an hour, and was going about with the look of one absorbed in a tale of magic and devilry. Her mouth was pursed up close, as if worlds should not make her speak, but her eyes were wide and flashing, and now and then she would nod her head, as for the Q. E. D. to some unheard argument. Whatever Cosmo required, she attended to at once, but not one solitary word did she utter.

He went back with the fuel, and they made up the fire. Lord Mergwain was again lying back exhausted in his chair, with his eyes closed.

"Why don't you give me my brandy--do you hear?" all at once he cried. "--Oh, I thought it was my own rascal! Get me some brandy, will you?"

"There is none in the house, my lord," said his host.

"What a miserable sort of public to keep! No brandy!"

"My lord, you are at Castle Warlock--not so good a place for your lordship's needs."

"Oh, that's it, yes! I remember! I knew your father, or your grandfather, or your grandson, or somebody--the more's my curse! Out of this I must be gone, and that at once! Tell them to put the horses to. Little I thought when I left Cairntod where I was going to find myself! I would rather be in--and have done with it! Lord! Lord! to think of a trifle like that not being forgotten yet! Are there no doors out? Give me brandy, I say. There's some in my pocket somewhere. Look you! I don't know what coat I had on yesterday! or where it is!"

He threw himself back in his chair. The laird set about looking if he had brought the brandy of which he spoke; it might be well to let him have some. Not finding it, he would have gone to search the outer garments his lordship had put off in the kitchen; but he burst out afresh:

"I tell you--and confound you, I say that you have to be told twice--I will not be left alone with that child! He's as good as nobody! What could HE do if--" Here he left the sentence unfinished.

"Very well, my lord," responded the laird, "I will not leave you. Cosmo shall go and look for the brandy-flask in your lordship's greatcoat."

"Yes, yes, good boy! you go and look for it. You're all Cosmos, are you? Will the line never come to an end! A cursed line for me--if it shouldn't be a rope-line! But I had the best of the game after all!--though I did lose my two rings. Confounded old cheating son of a porpus! It was doing the world a good turn, and Glenwarlock a better to--Look you! what are you listening there for!--Ha! ha! ha! I say, now--would you hang a man, laird--I mean, when you could get no good out of it--not a ha'p'orth for yourself or your family?"

"I've never had occasion to consider the question," answered the laird.

"Ho! ho! haven't you? Let me tell you it's quite time you considered it. It's no joke when a man has to decide without time to think. He's pretty sure to decide wrong."

"That depends, I should think, my lord, on the way in which he has been in the habit of deciding."

"Come now! none of your Scotch sermons to me! You Scotch always were a set a down-brown hypocrites! Confound the whole nation!"

"To judge by your last speech, my lord,--"

"Oh, by my last speech, eh? By my dying declaration? Then I tell you 'tis fairer to judge a man by anything sooner than his speech. That only serves to hide what he's thinking. I wish I might be judged by mine, though, and not by my deeds. I've done a good many things in my time I would rather forget, now age has clawed me in his clutch. So have you; so has everybody. I don't see why I should fare worse than the rest."

Here Cosmo returned with the brandy-flask, which he had found in his greatcoat. His lordship stretched out both hands to it, more eagerly even than when he welcomed the cob-webbed magnum of claret--hands trembling with feebleness and hunger for strength. Heedless of his host's offer of water and a glass, he put it to his mouth, and swallowed three great gulps hurriedly. Then he breathed a deep breath, seemed to say with Macbeth, "Ourselves again!" drew himself up in a chair, and glanced around him with a look of gathering arrogance. A kind of truculent question was in his eyes--as much as to say, "Now then, what do you make of it all? What's your candid notion about me and my extraordinary behaviour?" After a moment's silence,--

"What puzzles me is this," he said, "how the deuce I came, of all places, to come just here! I don't believe, in all my wicked life, I ever made such a fool of myself before--and I've made many a fool of myself too!"

Receiving no answer, he took another pull at his flask. The laird stood a little behind and watched him, harking back upon old stories, putting this and that together, and resolving to have a talk with old Grannie.

A minute or two more, and his lordship got up, and proceeded to wash his face and hands, ordering Cosmo about after the things he wanted, as if he had been his valet.

"Richard's himself again!" he said in a would-be jaunty voice, the moment he had finished his toilet, and looked in a crow-cocky kind of a way at the laird. But the latter thought he saw trouble still underneath the look.

"Now, then, Mr. Warlock, where's this breakfast of yours?" he said.

"For that, my lord," replied the laird, "I must beg you to come to the kitchen. The dining-room in this weather would freeze the very marrow of your bones."

"And look you! it don't want freezing," said his lordship, with a shudder. "The kitchen to be sure!--I don't desire a better place. I'll be hanged if I enter this room again!" he muttered to himself--not too low to be heard. "My tastes are quite as simple as yours, Mr. Warlock, though I have not had the same opportunity of indulging them."

He seemed rapidly returning to the semblance of what he would have called a gentleman.

He rose, and the laird led the way. Lord Mergwain followed; and Cosmo, coming immediately behind, heard him muttering to himself all down the stairs: "Mere confounded nonsense! Nothing whatever but the drink!--I must say I prefer the day--light after all.--Yes! that's the drawing-room.--What's done's done--and more than done, for it can't be done again!"

It was a nipping and an eager air into which they stepped from the great door. The storm had ceased, but the snow lay much deeper, and all the world seemed folded in a lucent death, of which the white mounds were the graves. All the morning it had been snowing busily, for no footsteps were between the two doors but those of Cosmo.

When they reached the kitchen, there was a grand fire on the hearth, and a great pot on the fire, in which the porridge Grizzie had just made was swelling in huge bubbles that burst in sighs. Old Grizzie was bright as the new day, bustling and deedy. Her sense of the awful was nowise to be measured by the degree of her dread: she believed and did not fear--much. She had an instinctive consciousness that a woman ought to be, and might be, and was a match for the devil.

"I am sorry we have no coffee for your lordship," said the laird, "To tell the truth, we seldom take anything more than our country's porridge. I hope you can take tea? Our Grizzie's scons are good, with plenty of butter."

His lordship had in the meantime taken another pull at the brandy-flask, and was growing more and more polite.

"The man would be hard to please," he said, "who would not be enticed to eat by such a display of good victuals. Tea for me, before everything!--How am I to pretend to swallow the stuff?" he murmured, rather than muttered, to himself.--"But," he went on aloud, "didn't that cheating rascal leave you--"

He stopped abruptly, and the laird saw his eyes fixed upon something on the table, and following their look, saw it was a certain pepper-pot, of odd device--a piece of old china, in the shape of a clumsily made horse, with holes between the ears for the issue of the pepper.

"I see, my lord," he said, "you are amused with the pepper-pot. It is a curious utensil, is it not? It has been in the house a long time--longer than anybody knows. Which of my great-grandmothers let it take her fancy, it is impossible to say; but I suppose the reason for its purchase, if not its manufacture, was, that a horse passant has been the crest of our family from time immemorial."

"Curse the crest, and the horse too!" said his lordship.

The laird started. His guest had for the last few minutes been behaving so much like a civilized being, that he was not prepared for such a sudden relapse into barbarity. But the entrance of Lady Joan, looking radiant, diverted the current of things.

The fact was, that, like not a few old people, Lord Mergwain had fallen into such a habit of speaking in his worse moods without the least restraint, that in his better moods, which were indeed only good by comparison, he spoke in the same way, without being aware of it, and of himself seldom discovering that he had spoken.

The rest of the breakfast passed in peace. The visitors had tea, oatcake, and scons, with fresh butter and jam; and Lady Joan, for all the frost and snow, had yet a new-laid egg--the only one; while the laird and Cosmo ate their porridge and milk--the latter very scanty at this season of the year, and tasting not a little of turnip--and Grizzie, seated on a stool at some distance from the table, took her porridge with treacle. Mrs. Warlock had not yet left her room.

When the meal was over, Lord Mergwain turned to his host, and said,

"Will you oblige me, Mr. Warlock, by sending orders to my coachman to have the horses put to as quickly as possible: we must not trespass more on your hospitality.--Confound me if I stop an hour longer in this hole of a place, though it be daylight!"

"Papa!" cried Lady Joan.

His lordship understood, looked a little confused, and with much readiness sought to put the best face on his blunder.

"Pardon me, Mr. Warlock," he said; "I have always had a bad habit of speech, and now that I am an old man, I don't improve on it."

"Don't mention it, my lord," returned the laird. "I will go and see about the carriage; but I am more than doubtful."

He left the kitchen, and Cosmo followed him. Lord Mergwain turned to his daughter and said,

"What does the man mean? I tell you, Joan, I am going at once. So don't you side with him if he wants us to stop. He may have his reasons. I knew this confounded place before you were born, and I hate it."

"Very good, papa!" replied Lady Joan, with a slight curl of her lip. "I don't see why you should fancy I should like to stop."

They had spoken aloud, regardless of the presence of Grizzie.

"May it be lang afore ye're in a waun an' a warmer place, my lord an' my lady," said the old woman, with the greatest politeness of manner she knew how to assume. When people were rude, she thought she had a right to be rude in return. But they took no more notice than if they had not heard.

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