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Malcolm - Chapter 42. Duncan's Disclosure Post by :JTisch Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :820

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Malcolm - Chapter 42. Duncan's Disclosure

Chapter XLII. Duncan's Disclosure

The night long Malcolm kept dreaming of his fall; and his dreams were worse than the reality, inasmuch as they invariably sent him sliding out of the breach, to receive the cut on the rocks below. Very oddly this catastrophe was always occasioned by the grasp of a hand on his ankle. Invariably also, just as he slipped, the face of the Prince appeared in the breach, but it was at the same time the face of Mrs Catanach.

The next morning, Mrs Courthope found him feverish, and insisted on his remaining in bed--no small trial to one who had never been an hour ill in his life; but he was suffering so much that he made little resistance.

In the enforced quiescence, and under the excitements of pain and fever, Malcolm first became aware how much the idea of Lady Florimel had at length possessed him. But even in his own thought he never once came upon the phrase, in love, as representing his condition in regard of her: he only knew that he worshipped her, and would be overjoyed to die for her. The youth had about as little vanity as could well consist with individual coherence; if he was vain at all, it was neither of his intellectual nor personal endowments, but of the few tunes he could play on his grandfather's pipes. He could run and swim, rare accomplishments amongst the fishermen, and was said to be the best dancer of them all; but he never thought of such comparison himself. The rescue of Lady Florimel made him very happy: he had been of service to her; but so far was he from cherishing a shadow of presumption, that as he lay there he felt it would be utter content to live serving her for ever, even when he was old and wrinkled and gray like his grandfather: he never dreamed of her growing old and wrinkled and gray.

A single sudden thought sufficed to scatter--not the devotion, but its peace. Of course she would marry some day, and what then? He looked the inevitable in the face; but as he looked, that face grew an ugly one. He broke into a laugh: his soul had settled like a brooding cloud over the gulf that lay between a fisher lad and the daughter of a peer! But although he was no coxcomb, neither had fed himself on romances, as Lady Florimel had been doing of late, and although the laugh was quite honestly laughed at himself, it was nevertheless a bitter one. For again came the question: Why should an absurdity be a possibility? It was absurd, and yet possible: there was the point. In mathematics it was not so: there, of two opposites to prove one an absurdity, was to prove the other a fact. Neither in metaphysics was it so: there also an impossibility and an absurdity were one and the same thing. But here, in a region of infinitely more import to the human life than an eternity of mathematical truth, there was at least one absurdity which was yet inevitable--an absurdity--yet with a villainous attendance of direst heat, marrow freezing cold, faintings, and ravings, and demoniacal laughter.

Had it been a purely logical question he was dealing with, he might not have been quite puzzled; but to apply logic here, as he was attempting to do, was like--not like attacking a fortification with a penknife, for a penknife might win its way through the granite ribs of Cronstadt--it was like attacking an eclipse with a broomstick: there was a solution to the difficulty; but as the difficulty itself was deeper than he knew, so the answer to it lay higher than he could reach--was in fact at once grander and finer than he was yet capable of understanding.

His disjointed meditations were interrupted quite by the entrance of the man to whom alone of all men he could at the time have given a hearty welcome. The schoolmaster seated himself by his bedside, and they had a long talk. I had set down this talk, but came to the conclusion I had better not print it: ranging both high and wide, and touching on points of vital importance, it was yet so odd, that it would have been to too many of my readers but a Chimera tumbling in a vacuum--as they will readily allow when I tell them that it started from the question--which had arisen in Malcolm's mind so long ago, but which he had not hitherto propounded to his friend --as to the consequences of a man's marrying a mermaid; and that Malcolm, reversing its relations, proposed next, the consequences of a man's being in love with a ghost or an angel.

"I'm dreidfu' tired o' lyin' here i' my bed," said Malcolm at length when, neither desiring to carry the conversation further, a pause had intervened. "I dinna ken what I want. Whiles I think its the sun, whiles the win', and whiles the watter. But I canna rist. Haena ye a bit ballant ye could say till me Mr Graham? There's naething wad quaiet me like a ballant."

The schoolmaster thought for a few minutes, and then said, "I'll give you one of my own, if you like, Malcolm. I made it some twenty or thirty years ago."

"That wad be a trate, sir," returned Malcolm; and the master, with perfect rhythm, and a modulation amounting almost to melody, repeated the following verses:

The water ran doon fine the heich hope heid, (head of the valley)
Wi' a Rin, burnie, rin;
It wimpled, an' waggled, an' sang a screed
O' nonsense, an' wadna blin, (cease)
Wi' its Rin, burnie, rin.

Frae the hert o' the warl', wi' a swirl an' a sway,
An' a Rin, burnie, rin,
That water lap clear frae the dark till the day,
An' singin' awa' did spin,
Wi' its Rin, burnie, rin.

Ae wee bit mile frae the heich hope held,
Wi' a Rin, burnie, rin,
'Mang her yows an' her lambs the herd lassie stude
An' she loot a tear fa' in,
Wi' a Rin, burnie, rin.

Frae the hert o' the maiden that tear drap rase,
Wi' a Rin, burnie rin;
Wearily clim'in' up narrow ways,
There was but a drap to fa' in,
Sae slow did that burnie rin.

Twa wee bit miles frae the heich hope heid,
Wi' a Rin, burnie, rin,
Doon creepit a cowerin' streakie o' reid,
An' meltit awa' within,
Wi' a Rin, burnie, rin.

Frae the hert o' a youth cam the tricklin' reid,
Wi' a Rin, burnie, rin;
It ran an' ran till it left him deid,
An' syne it dried up i' the win',
An' that burnie nae mair did rin.

Whan the wimplin' horn that frae three herts gaed
Wi' a Rin, burnie, rin,
Cam to the lip o' the sea sae braid,
It curled an' grued wi' pain o' sin--
But it took that burnie in.

"It's a bonny, bonny sang," said Malcolm; "but I canna say I a'thegither like it."

"Why not?" asked Mr Graham, with an inquiring smile.

"Because the ocean sudna mak a mou' at the puir earth burnie that cudna help what ran intill 't."

"It took it in though, and made it clean, for all the pain it couldn't help either."

"Weel, gien ye luik at it that gait!" said Malcolm.

In the evening his grandfather came to see him, and sat down by his bedside, full of a tender anxiety which he was soon able to alleviate.

"Wownded in ta hand and in ta foot!" said the seer: "what can it mean? It must mean something, Malcolm, my son."

"Weel, daddy, we maun jist bide till we see," said Malcolm cheerfully.

A little talk followed, in the course of which it came into Malcolm's head to tell his grandfather the dream he had had so much of the first night he had slept in that room--but more for the sake of something to talk about that would interest one who believed in all kinds of prefigurations, than for any other reason.

Duncan sat moodily silent for some time, and then, with a great heave of his broad chest, lifted up his head, like one who had formed a resolution, and said:

"The hour has come. She has long peen afrait to meet it, put it has come, and Allister will meet it.--She 'll not pe your cran'father, my son."

He spoke the words with perfect composure, but as soon as they were uttered, burst into a wail, and sobbed like a child.

"Ye'll be my ain father than?" said Malcolm.

"No, no, my son. She'll not pe anything that's your own at aal!"

And the tears flowed down his channelled cheeks.

For one moment Malcolm was silent, utterly bewildered. But he must comfort the old man first, and think about what he had said afterwards.

"Ye're my ain daddy, whatever ye are!" he said. "Tell me a' aboot it, daddy."

"She 'll tell you all she 'll pe knowing, my son, and she nefer told a lie efen to a Cawmill."

He began his story in haste, as if anxious to have it over, but had to pause often from fresh outbursts of grief. It contained nothing more of the essential than I have already recorded, and Malcolm was perplexed to think why what he had known all the time should affect him so much in the telling. But when he ended with the bitter cry--"And now you'll pe loving her no more, my poy: my chilt, my Malcolm!" he understood it.

"Daddy! daddy!" he cried, throwing his arms round his neck and kissing him, "I lo'e ye better nor ever. An' weel I may!"

"But how can you, when you 've cot none of ta plood in you, my son?" persisted Duncan.

"I hae as muckle as ever I had, daddy."

"Yes, put you 'll tidn't know."

"But ye did, daddy."

"Yes, and inteet she cannot tell why she 'll pe loving you so much herself aal ta time!"

"Weel, daddy, gien ye cud lo'e me sae weel, kennin' me nae bluid's bluid o' yer ain--I canna help it: I maun lo'e ye mair nor ever, noo' at I ken 't tu.--Daddy, daddy, I had nae claim upo' ye, an' ye hae been father an' gran'father an' a' to me!"

"What could she do, Malcolm, my poy? Ta chilt had no one, and she had no one, and so it wass. You must pe her own poy after all! And she 'll not pe wondering put.--It might pe.--Yes, inteed not!"

His voice sank to the murmurs of a half uttered soliloquy, and as he murmured he stroked Malcolm's cheek.

"What are ye efter noo daddy?" asked Malcolm.

The only sign that Duncan heard the question was the complete silence that followed. When Malcolm repeated it, he said something in Gaelic, but finished the sentence thus, apparently unaware of the change of language:

"--only how else should she pe lovin you so much, Malcolm, my son?"

"I ken what Maister Graham would say, daddy," rejoined Malcolm, at a half guess.

"What would he say, my son? He's a coot man, your Maister Graham. --It could not pe without ta sem fathers, and ta sem chief."

"He wad say it was 'cause we war a' o' ae bluid--'cause we had a' ae father."

"Oh yes, no toubt! We aal come from ta same first paarents; put tat will be a fery long way off, pefore ta clans cot tokether. It 'll not pe holding fery well now, my son. Tat waas pefore ta Cawmills."

"That's no what Maister Graham would mean, daddy," said Malcolm. "He would mean that God was the father o' 's a', and sae we cudna help lo'in' ane anither."

"No; tat cannot pe right, Malcolm; for then we should haf to love eferybody. Now she loves you, my son, and she hates Cawmill of Clenlyon. She loves Mistress Partan when she'll not pe too rude to her, and she hates tat Mistress Catanach. She's a paad woman, 'tat she'll pe certain sure, though she'll nefor saw her to speak to her. She'll haf claaws to her poosoms."

"Weel, daddy, there was naething ither to gar ye lo'e me. I was jist a helpless human bein', an' sae for that, an' nae ither rizzon, ye tuik a' that fash wi' me! An' for mysel', I'm deid sure I cudna lo'e ye better gien ye war twise my gran'father."

"He's her own poy!" cried the piper, much comforted; and his hand sought his head, and lighted gently upon it. "Put, maype," he went on, "she might not haf loved you so much if she hadn't peen tinking sometimes--"

He checked himself. Malcolm's questions brought no conclusion to the sentence, and a long silence followed.

"Supposin' I was to turn oot a Cawmill?" said Malcolm, at length.

The hand that was fondling his curls withdrew as if a serpent had bit it, and Duncan rose from his chair.

"Wass it her own son to pe speaking such an efil thing?" he said, in a tone of injured and sad expostulation.

"For onything ye ken, daddy--ye canna tell but it mith be."

"Ton't preathe it, my son!" cried Duncan in a voice of agony, as if he saw unfolding a fearful game the arch enemy had been playing for his soul. "Put it cannot pe," he resumed instantly, "for ten how should she pe loving you, my son?"

"'Cause ye was in for that afore ye kent wha the puir beastie was."

"Ta tarling chilt! she could not haf loved him if he had peen a Cawmill. Her soul would haf chumped pack from him as from ta snake in ta tree. Ta hate in her heart to ta plood of ta Cawmill, would have killed ta chilt of ta Cawmill plood. No, Malcolm! no, my son!"

"Ye wadna hae me believe, daddy, that gien ye had kent by mark o' hiv (hoof) an' horn, that the cratur they laid i' yer lap was a Cawmill--ye wad hae risen up, an' lootin it lie whaur it fell?"

"No, Malcolm; I would haf put my foot upon it, as I would on ta young fiper in ta heather."

"Gien I was to turn oot ane o' that ill race, ye wad hate me, than, daddy--efter a'! Ochone, daddy! Ye wad be weel pleased to think hoo ye stack yer durk throu' the ill han' o' me, an' wadna rist till ye had it throu' the waur hert.--I doobt I had better up an' awa', daddy, for wha' kens what ye mayna du to me?"

Malcolm made a movement to rise, and Duncan's quick ears understood it. He sat down again by his bedside and threw his arms over him.

"Lie town, lie town, my poy. If you ket up, tat will pe you are a Cawmill. No, no, my son! You are ferry cruel to your own old daddy. She would pe too much sorry for her poy to hate him. It will pe so treadful to pe a Cawmill! No, no, my poy! She would take you to her poosom, and tat would trive ta Cawmill out of you. Put ton't speak of it any more, my son, for it cannot pe.--She must co now, for her pipes will pe waiting for her."

Malcolm feared he had ventured too far, for never before had his grandfather left him except for work. But the possibility he had started might do something to soften the dire endurance of his hatred.

His thoughts turned to the new darkness let in upon his history and prospects. All at once the cry of the mad laird rang in his mind's ear: "I dinna ken whaur I cam frae!"

Duncan's revelation brought with it nothing to be done--hardly anything to be thought--merely room for most shadowy, most unfounded conjecture--nay, not conjecture--nothing but the vaguest of castle building! In merry mood, he would henceforth be the son of some mighty man, with a boundless future of sunshine opening before him; in sad mood, the son of some strolling gipsy or worse--his very origin better forgotten--a disgrace to the existence for his share in which he had hitherto been peacefully thankful.

Like a lurking phantom shroud, the sad mood leaped from the field of his speculation, and wrapped him in its folds: sure enough he was but a beggar's brat--How henceforth was he to look Lady Florimel in the face? Humble as he had believed his origin, he had hitherto been proud of it: with such a high minded sire as he deemed his own, how could he be other? But now! Nevermore could he look one of his old companions in the face! They were all honourable men; he a base born foundling!

He would tell Mr Graham of course; but what could Mr Graham say to it? The fact remained. He must leave Portlossie.

His mind went on brooding, speculating, devising. The evening sunk into the night, but he never knew he was in the dark until the housekeeper brought him a light. After a cup of tea, his thoughts found pleasanter paths. One thing was certain: he must lay himself out, as he had never done before, to make Duncan MacPhail happy. With this one thing clear to both heart and mind, he fell fast asleep.

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