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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMalcolm - Chapter 47. Mrs Stewart's Claim
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Malcolm - Chapter 47. Mrs Stewart's Claim Post by :moneymancn Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1737

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Malcolm - Chapter 47. Mrs Stewart's Claim


The weather became unsettled with the approach of winter, and the marquis had a boat house built at the west end of the Seaton: there the little cutter was laid up, well wrapt in tarpaulins, like a butterfly returned to the golden coffin of her internatal chrysalis. A great part of his resulting leisure, Malcolm spent with Mr Graham, to whom he had, as a matter of course, unfolded the trouble caused him by Duncan's communication.

The more thoughtful a man is, and the more conscious of what is going on within himself, the more interest will he take in what he can know of his progenitors, to the remotest generations; and a regard to ancestral honours, however contemptible the forms which the appropriation of them often assumes, is a plant rooted in the deepest soil of humanity. The high souled labourer will yield to none in his respect for the dignity of his origin, and Malcolm had been as proud of the humble descent he supposed his own, as Lord Lossie was of his mighty ancestry. Malcolm had indeed a loftier sense of resulting dignity than his master.

He reverenced Duncan both for his uprightness and for a certain grandeur of spirit, which, however ridiculous to the common eye, would have been glorious in the eyes of the chivalry of old; he looked up to him with admiration because of his gifts in poetry and music; and loved him endlessly for his unfailing goodness and tenderness to himself. Even the hatred of the grand old man had an element of unselfishness in its retroaction, of power in its persistency, and of greatness in its absolute contempt of compromise. At the same time he was the only human being to whom Malcolm's heart had gone forth as to his own; and now, with the knowledge of yet deeper cause for loving him, he had to part with the sense of a filial relation to him! And this involved more; for so thoroughly had the old man come to regard the boy as his offspring, that he had nourished in him his own pride of family; and it added a sting of mortification to Malcolm's sorrow, that the greatness of the legendary descent in which he had believed, and the honourableness of the mournful history with which his thoughts of himself had been so closely associated, were swept from him utterly. Nor was this all even yet: in losing these he had had, as it were, to let go his hold, not of his clan merely, but of his race: every link of kin that bound him to humanity had melted away from his grasp. Suddenly he would become aware that his heart was sinking within him, and questioning it why, would learn anew that he was alone in the world, a being without parents, without sister or brother, with none to whom he might look in the lovely confidence of a right bequeathed by some common mother, near or afar. He had waked into being, but all around him was dark, for there was no window, that is, no kindred eye, by which the light of the world whence he had come, entering might console him.

But a gulf of blackness was about to open at his feet, against which the darkness he now lamented would show purple and gray.

One afternoon, as he passed through the Seaton from the harbour, to have a look at the cutter, he heard the Partaness calling after him.

"Weel, ye're a sicht for sair een--noo 'at ye're like to turn oot something worth luikin' at!" she cried, as he approached with his usual friendly smile.

"What du ye mean by that, Mistress Findlay?" asked Malcolm, carelessly adding: "Is yer man in?"

"Ay!" she went on, without heeding either question; "ye'll be gran' set up noo! Ye'll no be hain' 'a fine day' to fling at yer auld freen's, the puir fisher fowk, or lang! Weel! it's the w'y o' the warl! Hech, sirs!"

"What on earth 's set ye aff like that Mrs Findlay?" said Malcolm. "It's nae sic a feerious (furious) gran' thing to be my lord's skipper--or henchman, as my daddy wad hae 't--surely! It's a heap gran'er like to be a free fisherman, wi' a boat o' yer ain, like the Partan."

"Hoots! Nane o' yer clavers! Ye ken weel eneuch what I mean--as weel 's ilka ither creatit sowl o' Portlossie. An' gien ye dinna chowse to lat on aboot it till an auld freen' cause she's naething but a fisherwife, it's dune ye mair skaith a'ready nor I thocht it wad to the lang last, Ma'colm--for it 's yer ain name I s' ca' ye yet, gien ye war ten times a laird!--didna I gie ye the breist whan ye cud du naething i' the wardle but sowk?--An' weel ye sowkit, puir innocent 'at ye was!"

"As sure's we're baith alive," asseverated Malcolm, "I ken nae mair nor a sawtit herrin' what ye're drivin' at."

"Tell me 'at ye dinna ken what a' the queentry kens--an' hit aboot yer ain sel'!" screamed the Partaness.

"I tell ye I ken naething; an' gien ye dinna tell me what ye're efter direckly, I s' haud awa' to Mistress Allison--she 'll tell me."

This was a threat sufficiently prevailing.

"It's no in natur'!" she cried. "Here's Mistress Stewart o' the Gersefell been cawin' (driving) like mad aboot the place, in her cairriage an' hoo mony horse I dinna ken, declarin', ay, sweirin', they tell me, 'at ane cowmonly ca'd Ma'colm MacPhail is neither mair nor less nor the son born o' her ain boady in honest wadlock! --an' tell me ye ken naething aboot it! What are ye stan'in' like that for--as gray mou'd 's a deein' skate?"

For the first time in his life, Malcolm, young and strong as he was, felt sick. Sea and sky grew dim before him, and the earth seemed to reel under him. "I dinna believe 't," he faltered--and turned away.

"Ye dinna believe what I tell ye!" screeched the wrathful Partaness. "Ye daur to say the word!"

But Malcolm did not care to reply. He wandered away, half unconscious of where he was, his head hanging, and his eyes creeping over the ground. The words of the woman kept ringing in his ears; but ever and anon, behind them as it were in the depth of his soul, he heard the voice of the mad laird, with its one lamentation: "I dinna ken whaur I cam' frae." Finding himself at length at Mr Graham's door, he wondered how he had got there.

It was Saturday afternoon, and the master was in the churchyard. Startled by Malcolm's look, he gazed at him in grave silent enquiry.

"Hae ye h'ard the ill news, sir?" said the youth.

"No; I'm sorry to hear there is any."

"They tell me Mistress Stewart's rinnin' aboot the toon claimin' me!"

"Claiming you!--How do you mean?"

"For her ain!"

"Not for her son?"

"Ay, sir--that 's what they say. But ye haena h'ard o' 't?"

"Not a word."

"Then I believe it's a' havers!" cried Malcolm energetically. "It was sair eneuch upo' me a'ready to ken less o' whaur I cam frae than the puir laird himsel'; but to come frae whaur he cam frae, was a thocht ower sair!"

"You don't surely despise the poor fellow so much as to scorn to have the same parents with him!" said Mr Graham.

"The verra contrar', sir. But a wuman wha wad sae misguide the son o' her ain body, an' for naething but that, as she had broucht him furth, sic he was!--it 's no to be lichtly believed nor lichtly endured. I s' awa' to Miss Horn an' see whether she 's h'ard ony sic leeing clashes."

But as Malcolm uttered her name, his heart sank within him, for their talk the night he had sought her hospitality for the laird, came back to his memory, burning like an acrid poison.

"You can't do better," said Mr Graham. "The report itself may be false--or true, and the lady mistaken."

"She'll hae to pruv 't weel afore I say haud," rejoined Malcolm.

"And suppose she does?"

"In that case," said Malcolm, with a composure almost ghastly, "a man maun tak what mither it pleases God to gie him. But faith! she winna du wi' me as wi' the puir laird. Gien she taks me up, she'll repent 'at she didna lat me lie. She'll be as little pleased wi' the tane o' her sons as the tither--I can tell her, ohn propheseed!"

"But think what you might do between mother and son," suggested the master, willing to reconcile him to the possible worst.

"It's ower late for that," he answered. "The puir man's thairms (fiddle-strings) are a' hingin' lowse, an' there's no grip eneuch i' the pegs to set them up again. He wad but think I had gane ower to the enemy, an' haud oot o' my gait as eident (diligently) as he hauds oot o' hers. Na, it wad du naething for him. Gien 't warna for what I see in him, I wad hae a gran' rebutter to her claim; for hoo cud ony wuman's ain son hae sic a scunner at her as I hae i' my hert an' brain an' verra stamach? Gien she war my ain mither, there bude to be some nait'ral drawin's atween 's, a body wad think. But it winna haud, for there's the laird! The verra name o' mither gars him steik his lugs an' rin."

"Still, if she be your mother, it's for better for worse as much as if she had been your own choice."

"I kenna weel hoo it cud be for waur," said Malcolm, who did not yet, even from his recollection of the things Miss Horn had said, comprehend what worst threatened him.

"It does seem strange," said the master thoughtfully, after a pause, "that some women should be allowed to be mothers that through them sons and daughters of God should come into the world--thief babies, say! human parasites, with no choice but feed on the social body!"

"I wonner what God thinks aboot it a'! It gars a body spier whether he cares or no," said Malcolm gloomily.

"It does," responded Mr Graham solemnly.

"Div ye alloo that, sir?" returned Malcolm aghast. "That soon's as gien a'thing war rushin' thegither back to the auld chaos."

"I should not be surprised," continued the master, apparently heedless of Malcolm's consternation, "if the day should come when well meaning men, excellent in the commonplace, but of dwarfed imagination, refused to believe in a God on the ground of apparent injustice in the very frame and constitution of things. Such would argue, that there might be either an omnipotent being who did not care, or a good being who could not help; but that there could not be a being both all good and omnipotent, for such would never have suffered things to be as they are."

"What wad the clergy say to hear ye, sir?" said Malcolm, himself almost trembling at the words of his master.

"Nothing to the purpose, I fear. They would never face the question. I know what they would do if they could,--burn me, as their spiritual ancestor, Calvin, would have done--whose shoe latchet they are yet not worthy to unloose. But mind, my boy, you've not heard me speak my thought on the matter at all."

"But wadna 't be better to believe in twa Gods nor nane ava'?" propounded Malcolm; "ane a' guid, duin' the best for 's he cud, the ither a' ill, but as pooerfu' as the guid ane--an' forever an' aye a fecht atween them, whiles ane gettin' the warst o' 't, an whiles the ither? It wad quaiet yer hert ony gait, an' the battle o' Armageddon wad gang on as gran' 's ever."

"Two Gods there could not be," said Mr Graham. "Of the two beings supposed, the evil one must be called devil were he ten times the more powerful."

"Wi' a' my hert!" responded Malcolm.

"But I agree with you," the master went on, that "Manicheism is unspeakably better than atheism, and unthinkably better than believing in an unjust God. But I am not driven to such a theory."

"Hae ye ane o' yer ain 'at 'll fit, sir?"

"If I knew of a theory in which was never an uncompleted arch or turret, in whose circling wall was never a ragged breach, that theory I should know but to avoid: such gaps are the eternal windows through which the dawn shall look in. A complete theory is a vault of stone around the theorist--whose very being yet depends on room to grow."

"Weel, I wad like to hear what ye hae agane Manicheism!"

"The main objection of theologians would be, I presume, that it did not present a God perfect in power as in goodness; but I think it a far more objectionable point that it presents evil as possessing power in itself. My chief objection, however, would be a far deeper one--namely, that its good being cannot be absolutely good; for, if he knew himself unable to insure the well being of his creatures, if he could not avoid exposing them to such foreign attack, had he a right to create them? Would he have chosen such a doubtful existence for one whom he meant to love absolutely?--Either, then, he did not love like a God, or he would not have created."

"He micht ken himsel' sure to win i' the lang rin."

"Grant the same to the God of the Bible, and we come back to where we were before."

"Does that satisfee yersel', Maister Graham?" asked Malcolm, looking deep into the eyes of his teacher.

"Not at all," answered the master.

"Does onything?"

"Yes: but I will not say more on the subject now. The time may come when I shall have to speak that which I have learned, but it is not yet. All I will say now is, that I am at peace concerning the question. Indeed, so utterly do I feel myself the offspring of the One, that it would be enough for my peace now--I don't say it would have been always--to know my mind troubled on a matter: what troubled me would trouble God: my trouble at the seeming wrong must have its being in the right existent in him. In him, supposing I could find none I should yet say there must lie a lucent, harmonious, eternal, not merely consoling, but absolutely satisfying solution."

"Winna ye tell me a' 'at 's in yer hert aboot it, sir?"

"Not now, my boy. You have got one thing to mind now--before all other things--namely, that you give this woman--whatever she be--fair play: if she be your mother, as such you must take her, that is, as such you must treat her."

"Ye 're richt, sir," returned Malcolm, and rose.

"Come back to me," said Mr Graham, "with whatever news you gather."

"I will, sir," answered Malcolm, and went to find Miss Horn. He was shown into the little parlour, which, for all the grander things he had been amongst of late, had lost nothing of its first charm. There sat Miss Horn.

"Sit doon, Ma'colm," she said gruffly.

"Hae ye h'ard onything, mem?" asked Malcolm, standing.

"Ower muckle," answered Miss Horn, with all but a scowl. "Ye been ower to Gersefell, I reckon."

"Forbid it!" answered Malcolm. "Never till this hoor--or at maist it's nae twa sin' I h'ard the first cheep o' 't, an' that was frae Meg Partan. To nae human sowl hae I made mention o' 't yet 'cep' Maister Graham: to him I gaed direck."

"Ye cudna hae dune better," said the grim woman, with relaxing visage.

"An' here I am the noo, straucht frae him, to beg o' you, Miss Horn, to tell me the trowth o' the maitter."

"What ken I aboot it?" she returned angrily. "What sud I ken?"

"Ye micht ken whether the wuman's been sayin' 't or no."

"Wha has ony doobt aboot that?"

"Mistress Stewart has been sayin' she's my mither, than?"

"Ay--what for no?" returned Miss Horn, with a piercing glower at the youth.

"Guid forfen'!" exclaimed Malcolm.

"Say ye that, laddie?" cried Miss Horn, and, starting up, she grasped his arm and stood gazing in his face.

"What ither sud I say?" rejoined Malcolm, surprised.

"God be laudit!" exclaimed Miss Horn. "The limmer may say 'at she likes noo."

"Ye dinna believe 't than, mem?" cried Malcolm. "Tell me ye dinna, an' haud me ohn curst like a cadger."

"I dinna believe ae word o' 't, laddie," answered Miss Horn eagerly. "Wha cud believe sic a fine laad come o' sic a fause mither?"

"She micht be ony body's mither, an' fause tu," said Malcolm gloomily.

"That's true laddie; and the mair mither the fauser! There's a warl' o' witness i' your face 'at gien she be yer mither, the markis, an no puir honest hen peckit John Stewart, was the father o' ye.-- The Lord forgie' me! what am I sayin'!" adjected Miss Horn, with a cry of self accusation, when she saw the pallor that overspread the countenance of the youth, and his head drop upon his bosom: the last arrow had sunk to the feather. "It's a' havers, ony gait," she quickly resumed. "I div not believe ye hae ae drap o' her bluid i' the body o' ye, man. But," she hurried on, as if eager to obliterate the scoring impression of her late words--"that she's been sayin' 't, there can be no mainner o' doot. I saw her mysel' rinnin' aboot the toon, frae ane till anither, wi' her lang hair doon the lang back o' her, an' fleein' i' the win', like a body dementit. The only question is, whether or no she believes 't hersel'."

"What cud gar her say 't gien she didna believe 't?"

"Fowk says she expecs that w'y to get a grip o' things oot o' the han's o' the puir laird's trustees: ye wad be a son o' her ain, cawpable o' mainagin' them. But ye dinna tell me she's never been at yersel' aboot it?"

"Never a blink o' the ee has passed atween's sin' that day I gaed till Gersefell, as I tellt ye, wi' a letter frae the markis. I thoucht I was ower mony for her than: I wonner she daur be at me again."

"She 's daurt her God er' noo, an' may weel daur you.--But what says yer gran'father till 't, no?"

"He hasna hard a chuckie's cheep o' 't."

"What are we haverin' at than! Canna he sattle the maitter aff han'?"

Miss Horn eyed him keenly as she spoke.

"He kens nae mair aboot whaur I come frae, mem, nor your Jean, wha 's hearkenin' at the keyhole this verra meenute."

The quick ear of Malcolm had caught a slight sound of the handle, whose proximity to the keyhole was no doubt often troublesome to Jean.

Miss Horn seemed to reach the door with one spring. Jean was ascending the last step of the stair with a message on her lips concerning butter and eggs. Miss Horn received it, and went back to Malcolm.

"Na; Jean wadna du that," she said quietly.

But she was wrong, for, hearing Malcolm's words, Jean had retreated one step down the stair, and turned.

"But what's this ye tell me aboot yer gran'father, honest man." Miss Horn continued.

"Duncan MacPhail's nae bluid o' mine--the mair's the pity!" said Malcolm sadly--and told her all he knew.

Miss Horn's visage went through wonderful changes as he spoke.

"Weel, it is a mercy I hae nae feelin's!" she said when he had done.

"Ony wuman can lay a claim till me 'at likes, ye see," said Malcolm.

"She may lay 'at she likes, but it's no ilka egg laid has a chuckie intill 't," answered Miss Horn sententiously. "Jist ye gang hame to auld Duncan, an' tell him to turn the thing ower in 's min' till he's able to sweir to the verra nicht he fan' the bairn in 's lap. But no ae word maun he say to leevin' sowl aboot it afore it's requiret o' 'im."

"I wad be the son o' the puirest fisher wife i' the Seaton raither nor hers," said Malcolm gloomily.

"An' it shaws ye better bred," said Miss Horn. "But she'll be at ye or lang--an' tak ye tent what ye say. Dinna flee in her face; lat her jaw awa', an' mark her words. She may lat a streak o' licht oot o' her dirk lantren oonawaurs."

Malcolm returned to Mr Graham. They agreed there was nothing for it but to wait. He went next to his grandfather and gave him Miss Horn's message. The old man fell a thinking, but could not be certain even of the year in which he had left his home. The clouds hung very black around Malcolm's horizon.

Since the adventure in the Baillies' Barn, Lady Florimel had been on a visit in Morayshire: she heard nothing of the report until she returned.

"So you're a gentleman after all, Malcolm!" she said, the next time she saw him.

The expression in her eyes appeared to him different from any he had encountered there before. The blood rushed to his face; he dropped his head, and saying merely, "It maun be a' as it maun," pursued the occupation of the moment.

But her words sent a new wind blowing into the fog. A gentleman she had said! Gentlemen married ladies! Could it be that a glory it was madness to dream of, was yet a possibility? One moment, and his honest heart recoiled from the thought: not even for Lady Florimel could he consent to be the son of that woman! Yet the thought, especially in Lady Florimel's presence, would return, would linger, would whisper, would tempt.

In Florimel's mind also, a small demon of romance was at work. Uncorrupted as yet by social influences, it would not have seemed to her absurd that an heiress of rank should marry a poor country gentleman; but the thought of marriage never entered her head: she only felt that the discovery justified a nearer approach from both sides. She had nothing, not even a flirtation in view. Flirt she might, likely enough, but she did not foremean it.

Had Malcolm been a schemer, he would have tried to make something of his position. But even the growth of his love for his young mistress was held in check by the fear of what that love tempted him to desire.

Lady Florimel had by this time got so used to his tone and dialect, hearing it on all sides of her, that its quaintness had ceased to affect her, and its coarseness had begun to influence her repulsively. There were still to be found in Scotland old fashioned gentlefolk speaking the language of the country with purity and refinement; but Florimel had never met any of them, or she might possibly have been a little less repelled by Malcolm's speech.

Within a day or two of her return, Mrs Stewart called at Lossie House, and had a long talk with her, in the course of which she found no difficulty in gaining her to promise her influence with Malcolm. From his behaviour on the occasion of their sole interview, she stood in a vague awe of him, and indeed could not recall it without a feeling of rebuke--a feeling which must either turn her aside from her purpose or render her the more anxious to secure his favour. Hence it came that she had not yet sought him: she would have the certainty first that he was kindly disposed towards her claim--a thing she would never have doubted but for the glimpse she had had of him.

One Saturday afternoon, about this time, Mr Stewart put his head in at the door of the schoolroom, as he had done so often already, and seeing the master seated alone at his desk, walked in, saying once more, with a polite bow, "I dinna ken whaur I cam frae: I want to come to the school."

Mr Graham assured him of welcome as cordially as if it had been the first time he came with the request, and yet again offered him a chair; but the laird as usual declined it, and walked down the room to find a seat with his companion scholars. He stopped midway, however, and returned to the desk, where, standing on tiptoe, he whispered in the master's ear: "I canna come upo' the door." Then turning away again, he crept dejectedly to a seat where some of the girls had made room for him. There he took a slate, and began drawing what might seem an attempt at a door; but ever as he drew he blotted out, and nothing that could be called a door was the result. Meantime, Mr Graham was pondering at intervals what he had said.

School being over, the laird was modestly leaving with the rest, when the master gently called him, and requested the favour of a moment more of his company. As soon as they were alone, he took a Bible from his desk, and read the words:

"I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."

Without comment, he closed the book, and put it away. Mr Stewart stood staring up at him for a moment, then turned, and gently murmuring, "I canna win at the door," walked from the schoolhouse.

It was refuge the poor fellow sought--whether from temporal or spiritual foes will matter little to him who believes that the only shelter from the one is the only shelter from the other also.

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