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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMalcolm - Chapter 58. Malcolm And Mrs Stewart
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Malcolm - Chapter 58. Malcolm And Mrs Stewart Post by :ORACC Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1426

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Malcolm - Chapter 58. Malcolm And Mrs Stewart


When her parents discovered that Phemy was not in her garret, it occasioned them no anxiety. When they had also discovered that neither was the laird in his loft, and were naturally seized with the dread that some evil had befallen him, his hitherto invariable habit having been to house himself with the first gleam of returning day, they supposed that Phemy, finding he had not returned, had set out to look for him. As the day wore on, however, without her appearing, they began to be a little uneasy about her as well. Still the two might be together, and the explanation of their absence a very simple and satisfactory one; for a time therefore they refused to admit importunate disquiet. But before night, anxiety, like the slow but persistent waters of a flood, had insinuated itself through their whole being--nor theirs alone, but had so mastered and possessed the whole village that at length all employment was deserted, and every person capable joined in a search along the coast, fearing to find their bodies at the foot of some cliff. The report spread to the neighbouring villages. In Portlossie Duncan went round with his pipes, arousing attention by a brief blast, and then crying the loss at every corner. As soon as Malcolm heard of it, he hurried to find Joseph, but the only explanation of their absence he was prepared to suggest was one that had already occurred to almost everybody--that the laird, namely, had been captured by the emissaries of his mother, and that, to provide against a rescue, they had carried off his companion with him--on which supposition, there was every probability that, within a few days at farthest, Phemy would be restored unhurt.

"There can be little doobt they hae gotten a grip o' 'm at last, puir fallow!" said Joseph. "But whatever 's come till him, we canna sit doon an' ait oor mait ohn kent hoo Phemy 's farin, puir wee lamb! Ye maun jist haud awa' ower to Kirkbyres, Ma'colm, an' get word o' yer mither, an' see gien onything can be made oot o' her."

The proposal fell on Malcolm like a great billow.

"Blue Peter," he said, looking him in the face, "I took it as a mark o' yer freen'ship 'at ye never spak the word to me. What richt has ony man to ca' that wuman my mither? I hae never allooed it!"

"I 'm thinkin'," returned Joseph, the more easily nettled that his horizon also was full of trouble, "your word upo' the maitter winna gang sae far 's John o' Groat's. Ye 'll no be suppeent for your witness upo' the pint."

"I wad as sune gang a mile intill the mou' o' hell, as gang to Kirkbyres!" said Malcolm.

"I hae my answer," said Peter, and turned away.

"But I s' gang," Malcolm went on. "The thing 'at maun be can be. --Only I tell ye this, Peter," he added, "gien ever ye say sic a word 's yon i' my hearin' again, that is, afore the wuman has priven hersel' what she says, I s' gang by ye ever efter ohn spoken, for I'll ken ''at ye want nae mair o' me."

Joseph, who had been standing with his back to his friend, turned and held out his hand. Malcolm took it.

"Ae question afore I gang, Peter," he said. "What for didna ye tell me what fowk was sayin' aboot me--anent Lizzy Findlay?"

"'Cause I didna believe a word o' 't, an' I wasna gaein' to add to yer troubles."

"Lizzy never mootit sic a thing?"


"I was sure o' that!--Noo I 'll awa' to Kirkbyres--God help me! I wad raither face Sawtan an' his muckle tyke.--But dinna ye expec' ony news. Gien yon ane kens, she's a' the surer no to tell. Only ye sanna say I didna du my best for ye."

It was the hardest trial of the will Malcolm had yet had to encounter. Trials of submission he had had, and tolerably severe ones: but to go and do what the whole feeling recoils from is to be weighed only against abstinence from what the whole feeling urges towards. He walked determinedly home. Stoat saddled a horse for him while he changed his dress, and once more he set out for Kirkbyres.

Had Malcolm been at the time capable of attempting an analysis of his feeling towards Mrs Stewart, he would have found it very difficult to effect. Satisfied as he was of the untruthful--even cruel nature of the woman who claimed him, and conscious of a strong repugnance to any nearer approach between them, he was yet aware of a certain indescribable fascination in her. This, however, only caused him to recoil from her the more--partly from dread lest it might spring from the relation asserted, and partly that, whatever might be its root, it wrought upon him in a manner he scarcely disliked the less that it certainly had nothing to do with the filial. But his feelings were too many and too active to admit of the analysis of any one of them, and ere he reached the house his mood had grown fierce.

He was shown into a room where the fire had not been many minutes lighted. It had long narrow windows, over which the ivy had grown so thick, that he was in it some moments ere he saw through the dusk that it was a library--not half the size of that at Lossie House, but far more ancient, and, although evidently neglected, more study-like.

A few minutes passed, then the door softly opened, and Mrs Stewart glided swiftly across the floor with outstretched arms.

"At last!" she said, and would have clasped him to her bosom.

But Malcolm stepped back.

"Na, na, mem!" he said; "it taks twa to that!"

"Malcolm!" she exclaimed, her voice trembling with emotion--of some kind.

"Ye may ca' me your son, mem, but I ken nae gr'un' yet for ca'in' you my--"

He could not say the word.

"That is very true, Malcolm," she returned gently; "but this interview is not of my seeking. I wish to precipitate nothing. So long as there is a single link, or half a link even, missing from the chain of which one end hangs at my heart--"

She paused, with her hand on her bosom, apparently to suppress rising emotion. Had she had the sentence ready for use?

"I will not subject myself," she went on, "to such treatment as it seems I must look for from you. It is hard to lose a son but it is harder yet to find him again after he has utterly ceased to be one."

Here she put her handkerchief to her eyes.

"Till the matter is settled, however," she resumed, "let us be friends--or at least not enemies.--What did you come for now? Not to insult me surely. Is there anything I can do for you?"

Malcolm felt the dignity of her behaviour, but not the less, after his own straightforward manner, answered her question to the point.

"I cam aboot naething concernin' mysel', mem, I cam to see whether ye kent onything aboot Phemy Mair."

"Is it a wo?--I don't even know who she is.--You don't mean the young woman that--?--Why do you come to me about her? Who is she?"

Malcolm hesitated a moment: if she really did not know what he meant, was there any risk in telling her? But he saw none.

"Wha is she, mem!" he returned. "I whiles think she maun be the laird's guid angel, though in shape she's but a wee bit lassie. She maks up for a heap to the laird.--Him an' her, mem, they 've disappeart thegither, naebody kens whaur."

Mrs Stewart laughed a low unpleasant laugh, but made no other reply. Malcolm went on.

"An' it's no to be wonnert at gien fowk wull hae 't 'at ye maun ken something aboot it, mem."

"I know nothing whatever," she returned emphatically. "Believe me or not, as you please," she added, with heightened colour. "If I did know anything," she went on, with apparent truthfulness, "I don't know that I should feel bound to tell it. As it is, however, I can only say I know nothing of either of them. That I do say most solemnly."

Malcolm turned,--satisfied at least that he could learn no more.

"You are not going to leave me so!" the lady said, and her face grew "sad as sad could be."

"There's naething mair atween 's, mem," answered Malcolm, without turning even his face.

"You will be sorry for treating me so some day."

"Weel than, mem, I will be; but that day's no the day (today)."

"Think what you could do for your poor witless brother, if--"

"Mem," interrupted Malcolm, turning right round and drawing himself up in anger, "priv' 'at I 'm your son, an' that meenute I speir at you wha was my father."

Mrs Stewart changed colour--neither with the blush of innocence nor with the pallor of guilt, but with the gray of mingled rage and hatred. She took a step forward with the quick movement of a snake about to strike, but stopped midway, and stood looking at him with glittering eyes, teeth clenched, and lips half open.

Malcolm returned her gaze for a moment or two.

"Ye never was the mither, whaever was the father o' me!" he said, and walked out of the room.

He had scarcely reached the door, when he heard a heavy fall, and looking round saw the lady lying motionless on the floor. Thoroughly on his guard, however, and fearful both of her hatred and her blandishments, he only made the more haste down stairs, where he found a maid, and sent her to attend to her mistress. In a minute he was mounted and trotting fast home, considerably happier than before, inasmuch as he was now almost beyond doubt convinced that Mrs Stewart was not his mother.

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