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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMalcolm - Chapter 63. Miss Horn And Lord Lossie
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Malcolm - Chapter 63. Miss Horn And Lord Lossie Post by :ORACC Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1246

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Malcolm - Chapter 63. Miss Horn And Lord Lossie

CHAPTER LXIII. MISS HORN AND LORD LOSSIE

Notwithstanding the quarrel, Mrs Catanach did not return without having gained something; she had learned that Miss Horn had been foiled in what she had no doubt was an attempt to obtain proof that Malcolm was not the son of Mrs Stewart. The discovery was a grateful one; for who could have told but there might be something in existence to connect him with another origin than she and Mrs Stewart would assign him?

The next day the marquis returned. Almost his first word was the desire that Malcolm should be sent to him. But nobody knew more than that he was missing; whereupon he sent for Duncan. The old man explained his boy's absence, and as soon as he was dismissed, took his way to the town, and called upon Miss Horn. In half an hour, the good lady started on foot for Duff Harbour. It was already growing dark; but there was one feeling Miss Horn had certainly been created without, and that was fear.

As she approached her destination, tramping eagerly along, in a half cloudy, half starlit night, with a damp east wind blowing cold from the German Ocean, she was startled by the swift rush of something dark across the road before her. It came out of a small wood on the left towards the sea, and bolted through a hedge on the right.

"Is that you, laird?" she cried; but there came no answer.

She walked straight to the house of her lawyer friend, and, after an hour's rest, the same night set out again for Portlossie, which she reached in safety by her bedtime.

Lord Lossie was very accessible. Like Shakspere's Prince Hal, he was so much interested in the varieties of the outcome of human character, that he would not willingly lose a chance of seeing "more man." If the individual proved a bore, he would get rid of him without remorse; if amusing, he would contrive to prolong the interview. There was a great deal of undeveloped humanity somewhere in his lordship, one of whose indications was this spectacular interest in his kind. As to their bygone history, how they fared out of his sight, or what might become of them, he never gave a thought to anything of the kind--never felt the pull of one of the bonds of brotherhood, laughed at them the moment they were gone, or, if a woman's story had touched him, wiped his eyes with an oath, and thought himself too good a fellow for this world.

Since his retirement from the more indolent life of the metropolis to the quieter and more active pursuits of the country, his character had bettered a little--inasmuch as it was a shade more accessible to spiritual influences; the hard soil had in a few places cracked a hair's breadth, and lay thus far open to the search of those sun rays which, when they find the human germ, that is, the conscience, straightway begin to sting it into life. To this betterment the company of his daughter had chiefly contributed; for if she was little more developed in the right direction than himself she was far less developed in the wrong, and the play of affection between them was the divinest influence that could as yet be brought to bear upon either; but certain circumstances of late occurrence had had a share in it, occasioning a revival of old memories which had a considerably sobering effect upon him.

As he sat at breakfast, about eleven o'clock on the morning after his return, one of his English servants entered with the message that a person, calling herself Miss Horn, and refusing to explain her business desired to see his lordship for a few minutes "Who is she?" asked the marquis. The man did not know.

"What is she like?"

"An odd looking old lady, my lord, and very oddly dressed."

"Show her into the next room. I shall be with her directly."

Finishing his cup of coffee and peafowl's egg with deliberation, while he tried his best to recall in what connection he could have heard the name before, the marquis at length sauntered into the morning room in his dressing gown, with the Times of the day before yesterday, just arrived, in his hand. There stood his visitor waiting for him, such as my reader knows her, black and gaunt and grim, in a bay window, whose light almost surrounded her, so that there was scarcely a shadow about her, and yet to the eyes of the marquis she seemed wrapped in shadows. Mysterious as some sybil, whose being held secrets the first whisper of which had turned her old, but made her immortal, she towered before him, with her eyes fixed upon him, and neither spoke nor moved.

"To what am I indebted--?" began his lordship; but Miss Horn speedily interrupted his courtesy.

"Own to nae debt, my lord, till ye ken what it 's for," she said, without a tone or inflection to indicate a pleasantry.

"Good!" returned his lordship, and waited with a smile. She promised amusement, and he was ready for it--but it hardly came.

"Ken ye that han' o' wreet, my lord?" she inquired, sternly advancing a step, and holding out a scrap of paper at arm's length, as if presenting a pistol.

The marquis took it. In his countenance curiosity had mingled with the expectation. He glanced at it. A shadow swept over his face but vanished instantly: the mask of impervious non expression which a man of his breeding always knows how to assume, was already on his visage.

"Where did you get this?" he said quietly, with just the slightest catch in his voice.

"I got it, my lord, whaur there's mair like it."

"Show me them."

"I hae shawn ye plenty for a swatch (pattern), my lord."

"You refuse?" said the marquis; and the tone of the question was like the first cold puff that indicates a change of weather.

"I div, my lord," she answered imperturbably.

"If they are not my property, why do you bring me this?"

"Are they your property, my lord?"

"This is my handwriting."

"Ye alloo that?"

"Certainly, my good woman. You did not expect me to deny it?"

"God forbid, my lord! But will ye uphaud yersel' the lawfu' heir to the deceased? It lies 'atween yer lordship an' mysel'--i' the meantime."

He sat down, holding the scrap of paper between his finger and thumb.

"I will buy them of you," he said coolly, after a moment's thought, and as he spoke he looked keenly at her.

The form of reply which first arose in Miss Horn's indignant soul never reached her lips.

"It's no my trade," she answered, with the coldness of suppressed wrath. "I dinna deal in sic waurs."

"What do you deal in then?" asked the marquis.

"In trouth an' fair play, my lord," she answered, and was again silent.

So was the marquis for some moments, but was the first to resume.

"If you think the papers to which you refer of the least value, allow me to tell you it is an entire mistake."

"There was ane thoucht them o' vailue," replied Miss Horn--and her voice trembled a little, but she hemmed away her emotion-- "for a time at least, my lord; an' for her sake they're o' vailue to me, be they what they may to yer lordship. But wha can tell? Scots law may put life intill them yet, an' gie them a vailue to somebody forbye me."

"What I mean, my good woman, is, that if you think the possession of those papers gives you any hold over me which you can turn to your advantage, you are mistaken."

"Guid forgie ye, my lord! My advantage! I thoucht yer lordship had been mair o' a gentleman by this time, or I wad hae sent a lawyer till ye, in place o' comin' mysel'."

"What do you mean by that?"

"It's plain ye cudna hae been muckle o' a gentleman ance, my lord; an' it seems ye're no muckle mair o' ane yet, for a' ye maun hae come throu' i' the meantime."

"I trust you have discovered nothing in those letters to afford ground for such a harsh judgment," said the marquis seriously.

"Na, no a word i' them, but the mair oot o' them. Ye winna threep upo' me 'at a man wha lea's a wuman, lat alane his wife--or ane 'at he ca's his wife--to a' the pains o' a mither, an' a' the penalties o' an oonmerried ane, ohn ever speirt hoo she wan throu' them, preserves the richt he was born till o' bein' coontit a gentleman? Ony gait, a maiden, wuman like mysel' wha has nae feelin's will not alloo him the teetle--Guid forbid it!"

"You are plain spoken."

"I 'm plain made, my lord. I ken guid frae ill, an' little forbye, but aye fand that eneuch to sare my turn. Aither thae letters o' yer lordship's are ilk ane o' them a lee, or ye desertit yer wife an' bairn."

"Alas!" interrupted the marquis with some emotion--"she deserted me--and took the child with her!"

"Wha ever daurt sic a lee upo' my Grizel?" shouted Miss Horn, clenching and shaking her bony fist at the world in general. "It was but a fortnicht or three weeks, as near as I can judge, efter the birth o' your bairn, that Grizel Cam'ell--"

"Were you with her then?" again interrupted the marquis, in a tone of sorrowful interest.

"No, my lord, I was not. Gien I had been, I wadna be upo' sic an eeran' this day. For nigh twenty lang years 'at her 'an me keepit hoose thegither, till she dee'd i' my airms, never a day was she oot o' my sicht, or ance--"

The marquis leaped rather than started to his feet, exclaiming, "What in the name of God do you mean, woman?"

"I kenna what ye mean, my lord. I ken 'at I 'm but tellin' ye the trouth whan I tell ye 'at Grizel Cam'ell, up to that day, an' that 's little ower sax month sin' syne."

"Good God!" cried the marquis; "and here have I--Woman! are you speaking the truth? If--," he added threateningly, and paused.

"Leein' 's what I never cud bide, my lord, an' I 'm no likly to tak till 't at my age, wi' the lang to come afore me."

The marquis strode several times up and down the floor. "I 'll give you a thousand pounds for those letters," he said, suddenly stopping in front of Miss Horn.

"They 're o' nae sic worth, my lord--I hae yer ain word for 't. But I carena the leg o' a spin maggie (daddy longlegs)! Pairt wi' them I will not, 'cep' to him 'at pruves himsel' the richtfu' heir to them."

"A husband inherits from his wife."

"Or maybe her son micht claim first--I dinna ken. But there 's lawyers, my lord, to redd the doot."

"Her son! You don't mean--"

"I div mean Ma'colm MacPhail, my lord."

"God in heaven!"

"His name 's mair i' yer mou' nor i' yer hert, I 'm doobtin', my lord! Ye a' cry oot upo' him--the men o' ye--whan ye' 're in ony tribble, or want to gar women believe ye! But I 'm thinkin' he peys but little heed to sic prayers."

Thus Miss Horn; but Lord Lossie was striding up and down the room, heedless of her remarks, his eyes on the ground, his arms straight by his sides, and his hands clenched.

"Can you prove what you say?" he asked at length, half stopping, and casting an almost wild look at Miss Horn, then resuming his hurried walk. His voice sounded hollow, as if sent from the heart of a gulf of pain.

"No, my lord," answered Miss Horn.

"Then what the devil," roared the marquis, "do you mean by coming to me with such a cock and bull story."

"There 's naither cock craw nor bill rair intill 't my lord. I cum to you wi' 't i' the houp ye 'll help to redd (clear) it up, for I dinna weel ken what we can du wantin' ye. There 's but ane kens a' the truth o' 't, an' she 's the awfu'es leear oot o' purgatory --no 'at I believe in purgatory, but it 's the langer an' lichter word to mak' use o'."

"Who is she?"

"By name she's Bauby Cat'nach, an' by natur' she's what I tell ye --an' gien I had her 'atween my twa een, it 's what I wad say to the face o' her."

"It can't be MacPhail! Mrs Stewart says he is her son, and the woman Catanach is her chief witness in support of the claim."

"The deevil has a better to the twa o' them, my lord, as they 'll ken some day. His claim 'll want nae supportin'. Dinna ye believe a word Mistress Stewart or Bauby Catanach aither wad say to ye.-- Gien he be Mistress Stewart's, wha was his father?"

"You think he resembles my late brother: he has a look of him, I confess."

"He has, my lord. But onybody 'at kent the mither o' 'im, as you an' me did, my lord, wad see anither lik'ness as weel."

"I grant nothing."

"Ye grant Grizel Cam'ell yer wife, my lord, whan ye own to that wreet. Gien 't war naething but a written promise an' a bairn to follow, it wad be merriage eneuch i' this cuintry, though it mayna be in cuintries no sae ceevileest."

"But all that is nothing as to the child. Why do you fix on this young fellow? You say you can't prove it."

"But ye cud, my lord, gien ye war as set upo' justice as I am. Gien ye winna muv i' the maitter, we s' manage to hirple (go halting) throu' wantin ye, though, wi' the Lord's help."

The marquis, who had all this time continued his walk up and down the floor, stood still, raised his head as if about to speak, dropped it again on his chest, strode to the other window, turned, strode back, and said,

"This is a very serious matter."

"It's a' that, my lord," replied Miss Horn.

"You must give me a little time to turn it over," said the marquis.

"Isna twenty year time eneuch, my lord?" rejoined Miss Horn.

"I swear to you that till this moment I believed her twenty years in her grave. My brother sent me word that she died in childbed, and the child with her. I was then in Brussels with the Duke."

Miss Horn made three great strides, caught the marquis's hand in both hers, and said, "I praise God ye 're an honest man, my lord."

"I hope so," said the marquis, and seized the advantage "You'll hold your tongue about this ?" he added, half inquiring, half requesting.

"As lang as I see rizzon, my lord, nae langer," answered Miss Horn, dropping his hand. "Richt maun be dune."

"Yes--if you can tell what right is, and avoid wrong to others."

"Richt 's richt, my lord," persisted Miss Horn. "I 'll hae nae modifi-qualifications!"

His lordship once more began to walk up and down the room every now and then taking a stolen glance at Miss Horn, a glance of uneasy anxious questioning. She stood rigid--a very Lot's wife of immobility, her eyes on the ground, waiting what he would say next.

"I wish I knew whether I could trust her," he said at length, as if talking aloud to himself.

Miss Horn took no notice.

"Why don't you speak, woman?" cried the marquis with irritation. How he hated perplexity!

"Ye speired nae queston, my lord; an' gien ye had, my word has ower little weicht to answer wi'."

"Can I trust you, woman--I want to know," said his lordship angrily.

"No far'er, my lord, nor to du what I think 's richt."

"I want to be certain that you will do nothing with those letters until you hear from me?" said the marquis, heedless of her reply.

"I 'll du naething afore the morn. Far'er nor that I winna pledge mysel'," answered Miss Horn, and with the words moved towards the door.

"Hadn't you better take this with you?" said the marquis, offering the little note, which he had carried all the time between his finger and thumb.

"There 's nae occasion. I hae plenty wantin' that. Only dinna lea' 't lyin' aboot."

"There 's small danger of that," said the marquis, and rang the bell.

The moment she was out of the way, he went up to his own room, and, flinging the door to, sat down at the table, and laid his arms and head upon it. The acrid vapour of tears that should have been wept long since, rose to his eyes: he dashed his hand across them, as if ashamed that he was not even yet out of sight of the kingdom of heaven. His own handwriting, of a period when all former sins and defilements seemed about to be burned clean from his soul by the fire of an honest and virtuous love, had moved him; for genuine had been his affection for the girl who had risked and lost so much for him. It was with no evil intent, for her influence had rendered him for the time incapable of playing her false, but in part from reasons of prudence, as he persuaded himself, for both their sakes, and in part led astray by the zest which minds of a certain cast derive from the secrecy of pleasure, that he had persuaded her to the unequal yoking of honesty and secrecy. But, suddenly called away and sent by the Prince on a private mission, soon after their marriage, and before there was any special reason to apprehend consequences that must lead to discovery, he had, in the difficulties of the case and the hope of a speedy return, left her without any arrangement for correspondence and all he had ever heard of her more was from his brother, then the marquis--a cynical account of the discovery of her condition, followed almost immediately by a circumstantial one of her death and that of her infant. He was deeply stung and the thought of her sufferings in the false position where his selfishness had placed her, haunted him for a time beyond his endurance--for of all things he hated suffering, and of all sufferings remorse is the worst. Hence, where a wiser man might have repented, he rushed into dissipation, whose scorching wind swept away not only the healing dews of his sorrow, but the tender buds of new life that had begun to mottle the withering tree of his nature. The desire after better things which had, under his wife's genial influence, begun to pass into effort, not only vanished utterly in the shameless round of evil distraction, but its memory became a mockery to the cynical spirit that arose behind the vanishing angel of repentance; and he was soon in the condition of the man from whom the exorcised demon had gone but to find his seven worse companions.

Reduced at length to straits--almost to want, he had married the mother of Florimel, to whom for a time he endeavoured to conduct himself in some measure like a gentleman. For this he had been rewarded by a decrease in the rate of his spiritual submergence, but his bedraggled nature could no longer walk without treading on its own plumes; and the poor lady who had bartered herself for a lofty alliance, speedily found her mistake a sad one and her life uninteresting, took to repining and tears, alienated her husband utterly, and died of a sorrow almost too selfish to afford even a suggestion of purifying efficacy. But Florimel had not inherited immediately from her mother, so far as disposition was concerned; in these latter days she had grown very dear to him, and his love had once more turned his face a little towards the path of righteousness. Ah! when would he move one step to set his feet in it?

And now, after his whirlwind harvest of evil knowledge, bitter disappointment, and fading passion, in the gathering mists of gray hopelessness, and the far worse mephitic air of indifference, he had come all of a sudden upon the ghastly discovery that, while overwhelmed with remorse for the vanished past, the present and the future had been calling him, but had now also--that present and that future--glided from him, and folded their wings of gloom in the land of shadows. All the fierce time he might have been blessedly growing better, instead of heaping sin upon sin until the weight was too heavy for repentance; for, while he had been bemoaning a dead wife, that wife had been loving a renegade husband! And the blame of it all he did not fail to cast upon that Providence in which until now he had professed not to believe: such faith as he was yet capable of, awoke in the form of resentment! He judged himself hardly done by; and the few admonitory sermons he had happened to hear, especially that in the cave about the dogs going round the walls of the New Jerusalem, returned upon him, not as warnings, but as old threats now rapidly approaching fulfilment.

Lovely still peered the dim face of his girl wife upon him, through the dusty lattice of his memory; and a mighty corroboration of Malcolm's asserted birth lay in the look upon his face as he hurried aghast from the hermit's cell; for not on his first had the marquis seen that look and in those very circumstances! And the youth was one to be proud of--one among a million! But there were other and terrible considerations.

Incapable as he naturally was of doing justice to a woman of Miss Horn's inflexibility in right, he could yet more than surmise the absoluteness of that inflexibility--partly because it was hostile to himself, and he was in the mood to believe in opposition and harshness, and deny--not providence, but goodness. Convenient half measures would, he more than feared, find no favour with her. But she had declared her inability to prove Malcolm his son without the testimony of Mrs Catanach, and the latter was even now representing him as the son of Mrs Stewart! That Mrs Catanach at the same time could not be ignorant of what had become of the child born to him, he was all but certain; for, on that night when Malcolm and he found her in the wizard's chamber, had she not proved her strange story--of having been carried to that very room blindfolded, and, after sole attendance on the birth of a child, whose mother's features, even in her worst pains, she had not once seen, in like manner carried away again,--had she not proved the story true by handing him the ring she had drawn from the lady's finger, and sewn, for the sake of future identification, into the lower edge of one of the bed curtains--which ring was a diamond he had given his wife from his own finger when they parted? She probably believed the lady to have been Mrs Stewart, and the late marquis the father of the child. Should he see Mrs Catanach? And what then?

He found no difficulty in divining the reasons which must have induced his brother to provide for the secret accouchement of his wife in the wizard's chamber, and for the abduction of the child --if indeed his existence was not owing to Mrs Catanach's love of intrigue. The elder had judged the younger brother unlikely to live long, and had expected his own daughter to succeed himself. But now the younger might any day marry the governess, and legalize the child; and the elder had therefore secured the disappearance of the latter, and the belief of his brother in the death of both.

Lord Lossie was roused from his reverie by a tap at the door, which he knew for Malcolm's, and answered with admission.

When he entered, his master saw that a change had passed upon him, and for a moment believed Miss Horn had already broken faith with him and found communication with Malcolm. He was soon satisfied of the contrary, however, but would have found it hard indeed to understand, had it been represented to him, that the contentment, almost elation, of the youth's countenance had its source in the conviction that he was not the son of Mrs Stewart.

"So here you are at last!" said the marquis.

"Ay, my lord."

"Did you find Stewart?"

"Ay did we at last, my lord; but we made naething by 't, for he kent noucht aboot the lassie, an 'maist lost his wuts at the news."

"No great loss, that!" said the marquis. "Go and send Stoat here."

"Is there ony hurry aboot Sto't, my lord?" asked Malcolm, hesitating. "I had a word to say to yer lordship mysel'."

"Make haste then."

"I 'm some fain to gang back to the fishin', my lord," said Malcolm. "This is ower easy a life for me. The deil wins in for the liftin' o' the sneck. Forbye, my lord, a life wi'oot aither danger or wark 's some wersh-like (insipid); it wants saut, my lord. But a' that 's naither here nor there, I ken, sae lang's ye want me oot o' the hoose, my lord."

"Who told you I wanted you out of the house? By Jove! I should have made shorter work of it. What put that in your head? Why should I?"

"Gien yer lordship kens nane, sma' occasion hae I to baud a rizzon to yer han'. I thoucht--but the thoucht itsel's impidence."

"You young fool! You thought, because I came upon you as I did in the garret the other night--Bah!--You damned ape! As if I could not trust--! Pshaw!"

For the moment Malcolm forgot how angry his master had certainly been, although, for Florimel's sake doubtless, he had restrained himself; and fancied that, in the faint light of the one candle, he had seen little to annoy him, and had taken the storm and its results, which were indeed the sole reason, as a sufficient one for their being alone together. Everything seemed about to come right again. But his master remained silent.

"I houp my leddy's weel," ventured Malcolm at length.

"Quite well. She's with Lady Bellair, in Edinburgh."

Lady Bellair was the bold faced countess.

"I dinna like her," said Malcolm.

"Who the devil asked you to like her?" said the marquis. But he laughed as he said it.

"I beg yer lordship's pardon," returned Malcolm. "I said it 'or I kent. It was nane o' my business wha my leddy was wi'."

"Certainly not. But I don't mind confessing that Lady Bellair is not one I should choose to give authority over Lady Florimel. You have some regard for your young mistress, I know, Malcolm."

"I wad dee for her, my lord."

"That 's a common assertion," said the marquis.

"No wi' fisher fowk. I kenna hoo it may be wi' your fowk, my lord."

"Well, even with us it means something. It implies at least that he who uses it would risk his life for her whom he wishes to believe it. But perhaps it may mean more than that in the mouth of a fisherman? Do you fancy there is such a thing as devotion--real devotion, I mean--self sacrifice, you know?"

"I daurna doobt it, my lord."

"Without fee or hope of reward?"

"There maun be some cawpable o' 't, my lord, or what for sud the warl' be? What ither sud haud it ohn been destroyt as Sodom was for the want o' the ten richteous? There maun be saut whaur corruption hasna the thing a' its ain gait."

"You certainly have pretty high notions of things, MacPhail. For my part, I can easily enough imagine a man risking his life; but devoting it!--that 's another thing altogether."

"There maun be 'at wad du a' 't cud be dune, my lord."

"What, for instance, would you do for Lady Florimel, now? You say you would die for her: what does dying mean on a fisherman's tongue?"

"It means a' thing, my lord--short o' ill. I wad sterve for her, but I wadna steal. I wad fecht for her, but I wadna lee."

"Would ye be her servant all your days? Come, now."

"Mair nor willin'ly, my lord--gien she wad only hae me, an' keep me."

"But supposing you came to inherit the Kirkbyres property?"

"My lord," said Malcolm solemnly, "that 's a puir test to put me till. It gangs for naething. I wad raither clean my leddie's butes frae mornin' to nicht, nor be the son o' that wuman, gien she war a born duchess. Try me wi' something worth yer lordship's mou'."

But the marquis seemed to think he had gone far enough for the present. With gleaming eyes he rose, took his withered love letter from the table, put it in his waistcoat pocket, and saying "Well, find out for me what this is they're about with the schoolmaster," walked to the door.

"I ken a' aboot that, my lord," answered Malcolm, "ohn speirt at onybody."

Lord Lossie turned from the door, ordered him to bring his riding coat and boots, and, ringing the bell, sent a message to Stoat to saddle the bay mare.

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