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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMalcolm - Chapter 43. The Wizard's Chamber
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Malcolm - Chapter 43. The Wizard's Chamber Post by :JTisch Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1552

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Malcolm - Chapter 43. The Wizard's Chamber


He woke in the dark, with that strange feeling of bewilderment which accompanies the consciousness of having been waked: is it that the brain wakes before the mind, and like a servant unexpectedly summoned, does not know what to do with its master from home? or is it that the master wakes first, and the servant is too sleepy to answer his call? Quickly coming to himself, however, he sought the cause of the perturbation now slowly ebbing. But the dark into which he stared could tell nothing; therefore he abandoned his eyes, took his station in his ears, and thence sent out his messengers. But neither, for some moments, could the scouts of hearing come upon any sign.

At length, something seemed doubtfully to touch the sense-the faintest suspicion of a noise in the next room--the wizard's chamber: it was enough to set Malcolm on the floor.

Forgetting his wounded foot and lighting upon it, the agony it caused him dropped him at once on his hands and knees, and in this posture he crept into the passage. As soon as his head was outside his own door, he saw a faint gleam of light coming from beneath that of the next room. Advancing noiselessly, and softly feeling for the latch, his hand encountered a bunch of keys depending from the lock, but happily did not set them jingling. As softly, he lifted the latch, when, almost of itself, the door opened a couple of inches, and, with bated breath, he saw the back of a figure he could not mistake--that of Mrs Catanach. She was stooping by the side of a tent bed much like his own, fumbling with the bottom hem of one of the check curtains, which she was holding towards the light of a lantern on a chair. Suddenly she turned her face to the door, as if apprehending a presence; as suddenly, he closed it, and turned the key in the lock. To do so he had to use considerable force, and concluded its grating sound had been what waked him.

Having thus secured the prowler, he crept back to his room, considering what he should do next. The speedy result of his cogitations was, that he indued his nether garments, though with difficulty from the size of his foot, thrust his head and arms through a jersey, and set out on hands and knees for an awkward crawl to Lord Lossie's bedroom.

It was a painful journey, especially down the two spiral stone stairs, which led to the first floor where he lay. As he went, Malcolm resolved, in order to avoid rousing needless observers, to enter the room, if possible, before waking the marquis.

The door opened noiselessly. A night light, afloat in a crystal cup, revealed the bed, and his master asleep, with one arm lying on the crimson quilt. He crept in, closed the door behind him, advanced halfway to the bed, and in a low voice called the marquis.

Lord Lossie started up on his elbow, and without a moment's consideration seized one of a brace of pistols which lay on a table by his side, and fired. The ball went with a sharp thud into the thick mahogany door.

"My lord! my lord!" cried Malcolm, "it's only me!"

"And who the devil are you?" returned the marquis, snatching up the second pistol.

"Malcolm, yer ain henchman, my lord."

"Damn you! what are you about then? Get up. What are you after there--crawling like a thief?"

As he spoke he leaped from the bed, and seized Malcolm by the back of the neck.

"It's a mercy I wasna mair like an honest man," said Malcolm, "or that bullet wad hae been throu' the hams o' me. Yer lordship's a wheen ower rash."

"Rash! you rascal!" cried Lord Lossie; "when a fellow comes into my room on his hands and knees in the middle of the night! Get up, and tell me what you are after, or, by Jove! I'll break every bone in your body."

A kick from his bare foot in Malcolm's ribs fitly closed the sentence.

"Ye are ower rash, my lord!" persisted Malcolm. "I canna get up. I hae a fit the size o' a sma' buoy!"

"Speak, then, you rascal!" said his lordship, loosening his hold, and retreating a few steps, with the pistol cocked in his hand.

"Dinna ye think it wad be better to lock the door, for fear the shot sud bring ony o' the fowk?" suggested Malcolm, as he rose to his knees and leaned his hands on a chair.

"You're bent on murdering me--are you then?" said the marquis, beginning to come to himself and see the ludicrousness of the situation.

"Gien I had been that, my lord, I wadna hae waukent ye up first."

"Well, what the devil is it all about?--You needn't think any of the men will come. They're a pack of the greatest cowards ever breathed."

"Weel, my lord, I hae gruppit her at last, an' I bude to come an tell ye.''

"Leave your beastly gibberish. You can speak what at least resembles English when you like."

"Weel, my lord, I hae her unner lock an' keye."

"Who, in the name of Satan?"

"Mistress Catanach, my lord!"

"Damn her eyes! What's she to me that I should be waked out of a good sleep for her?"

"That's what I wad fain yer lordship kent: I dinna."

"None of your riddles! Explain yourself;--and make haste; I want to go to bed again."

"'Deed, yer lordship maun jist pit on yer claes, an' come wi'."

"Where to?"

"To the warlock's chaumer, my lord--whaur that ill wuman remains 'in durance vile,' as Spenser wad say--but no sae vile's hersel', I doobt."

Thus arrived at length, with a clear road before him, at the opening of his case, Malcolm told in few words what had fallen out. As he went on, the marquis grew interested, and by the time he had finished, had got himself into dressing gown and slippers.

"Wadna ye tak yer pistol?" suggested Malcolm slyly.

"What! to meet a woman?" said his lordship.

"Ow na! but wha kens there michtna be anither murderer aboot? There micht be twa in ae nicht."

Impertinent as was Malcolm's humour, his master did not take it amiss: he lighted a candle, told him to lead the way, and took his revenge by making joke after joke upon him as he crawled along. With the upper regions of his house the marquis was as little acquainted, as with those of his nature, and required a guide.

Arrived at length at the wizard's chamber, they listened at the door for a moment, but heard nothing; neither was there any light visible at its lines of junction. Malcolm turned the key, and the marquis stood close behind, ready to enter. But the moment the door was unlocked, it was pulled open violently, and Mrs Catanach, looking too high to see Malcolm who was on his knees, aimed a good blow at the face she did see, in the hope, no doubt, of thus making her escape. But it fell short, being countered by Malcolm's head in the softest part of her person, with the result of a clear entrance. The marquis burst out laughing, and stepped into the room with a rough joke. Malcolm remained in the doorway.

"My lord," said Mrs Catanach, gathering herself together, and rising little the worse, save in temper, for the treatment he had commented upon, "I have a word for your lordship's own ear."

"Your right to be there does stand in need of explanation," said the marquis.

She walked up to him with confidence.

"You shall have an explanation, my lord," she said, "such as shall be my full quittance for intrusion even at this untimely hour of the night."

"Say on then," returned his lordship.

"Send that boy away then, my lord."

"I prefer having him stay," said the marquis.

"Not a word shall cross my lips till he's gone," persisted Mrs Catanach. "I know him too well! Awa' wi' ye, ye deil's buckie!" she continued, turning to Malcolm; "I ken mair aboot ye nor ye ken aboot yersel', an' deil hae't I ken o' guid to you or yours! But I s' gar ye lauch o' the wrang side o' your mou' yet, my man."

Malcolm, who had seated himself on the threshold, only laughed and looked reference to his master.

"Your lordship was never in the way of being frightened at a woman," said Mrs Catanach, with an ugly expression of insinuation.

The marquis shrugged his shoulders.

"That depends," he said. Then turning to Malcolm, "Go along," he added; "only keep within call. I may want you."

"Nane o' yer hearkenin' at the keye hole, though, or I s' lug mark ye, ye--!" said Mrs Catanach, finishing the sentence none the more mildly that she did it only in her heart.

"I wadna hae ye believe a' 'at she says, my lord," said Malcolm, with a significant smile, as he turned to creep away.

He closed the door behind him, and lest Mrs Catanach should repossess herself of the key, drew it from the lock, and, removing a few yards, sat down in the passage by his own door. A good many minutes passed, during which he heard not a sound.

At length the door opened, and his lordship came out. Malcolm looked up, and saw the light of the candle the marquis carried, reflected from a face like that of a corpse. Different as they were, Malcolm could not help thinking of the only dead face he had ever seen. It terrified him for the moment in which it passed without looking at him.

"My lord!" said Malcolm gently.

His master made no reply.

"My lord!" cried Malcolm, hurriedly pursuing him with his voice, "am I to lea' the keyes wi' yon hurdon, and lat her open what doors she likes?"

"Go to bed," said the marquis angrily, "and leave the woman alone;" with which words he turned into the adjoining passage, and disappeared.

Mrs Catanach had not come out of the wizard's chamber, and for a moment Malcolm felt strongly tempted to lock her in once more. But he reflected that he had no right to do so after what his lordship had said--else, he declared to himself, he would have given her at least as good a fright as she seemed to have given his master, to whom he had no doubt she had been telling some horrible lies. He withdrew, therefore, into his room--to lie pondering again for a wakeful while.

This horrible woman claimed then to know more concerning him than his so called grandfather, and, from her profession; it was likely enough; but information from her was hopeless--at least until her own evil time came; and then, how was any one to believe what she might choose to say? So long, however, as she did not claim him for her own, she could, he thought, do him no hurt he would be afraid to meet.

But what could she be about in that room still? She might have gone, though, without the fall of her soft fat foot once betraying her!

Again he got out of bed, and crept to the wizard's door, and listened. But all was still. He tried to open it, but could not: Mrs Catanach was doubtless spending the night there, and perhaps at that moment lay, evil conscience and all, fast asleep in the tent bed. He withdrew once more, wondering whether she was aware that he occupied the next room; and, having, for the first time, taken care to fasten his own door, got into bed, finally this time, and fell asleep.

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