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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMalcolm - Chapter 68. Hands Of Iron
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Malcolm - Chapter 68. Hands Of Iron Post by :ORACC Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1984

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Malcolm - Chapter 68. Hands Of Iron

CHAPTER LXVIII. HANDS OF IRON

The marquis was loved by his domestics; and his accident, with its consequences, although none more serious were anticipated, cast a gloom over Lossie House. Far apart as was his chamber from all the centres of domestic life, the pulses of his suffering beat as it were through the house, and the servants moved with hushed voice and gentle footfall.

Outside, the course of events waited upon his recovery, for Miss Horn was too generous not to delay proceedings while her adversary was ill. Besides, what she most of all desired was the marquis's free acknowledgment of his son; and after such a time of suffering and constrained reflection as he was now passing through, he could hardly fail, she thought, to be more inclined to what was just and fair.

Malcolm had of course hastened to the schoolmaster with the joy of his deliverance from Mrs Stewart; but Mr Graham had not acquainted him with the discovery Miss Horn had made, or her belief concerning his large interest therein, to which Malcolm's report of the wrath born declaration of Mrs Catanach had now supplied the only testimony wanting, for the right of disclosure was Miss Horn's. To her he had carried Malcolm's narrative of late events, tenfold strengthening her position; but she was anxious in her turn that the revelation concerning his birth should come to him from his father. Hence Malcolm continued in ignorance of the strange dawn that had begun to break on the darkness of his origin.

Miss Horn had told Mr Graham what the marquis had said about the tutorship; but the schoolmaster only shook his head with a smile, and went on with his preparations for departure.

The hours went by; the days lengthened into weeks, and the marquis's condition did not improve. He had never known sickness and pain before, and like most of the children of this world, counted them the greatest of evils; nor was there any sign of their having as yet begun to open his eyes to what those who have seen them call truths, those who have never even boded their presence count absurdities.

More and more, however, he desired the attendance of Malcolm, who was consequently a great deal about him, serving with a love to account for which those who knew his nature would not have found it necessary to fall back on the instinct of the relation between them. The marquis had soon satisfied himself that that relation was as yet unknown to him, and was all the better pleased with his devotion and tenderness.

The inflammation continued, increased, spread, and at length the doctors determined to amputate. But the marquis was absolutely horrified at the idea,--shrank from it with invincible repugnance. The moment the first dawn of comprehension vaguely illuminated their periphrastic approaches, he blazed out in a fury, cursed them frightfully, called them all the contemptuous names in his rather limited vocabulary, and swore he would see them--uncomfortable first.

"We fear mortification, my lord," said the physician calmly.

"So do I. Keep it off," returned the marquis.

"We fear we cannot, my lord."

It had, in fact, already commenced.

"Let it mortify, then, and be damned," said his lordship.

"I trust, my lord, you will reconsider it," said the surgeon. "We should not have dreamed of suggesting a measure of such severity had we not had reason to dread that the further prosecution of gentler means would but lessen your lordship's chance of recovery."

"You mean then that my life is in danger?"

"We fear," said the physician, "that the amputation proposed is the only thing that can save it."

"What a brace of blasted bunglers you are!" cried the marquis, and turning away his face, lay silent. The two men looked at each other, and said nothing.

Malcolm was by, and a keen pang shot to his heart at the verdict. The men retired to consult. Malcolm approached the bed.

"My lord!" he said gently.

No reply came.

"Dinna lea 's oor lanes, my lord--no yet," Malcolm persisted. "What 's to come o' my leddy?"

The marquis gave a gasp. Still he made no reply.

"She has naebody, ye ken, my lord, 'at ye wad like to lippen her wi'."

"You must take care of her when I am gone, Malcolm,' murmured the marquis; and his voice was now gentle with sadness and broken with misery.

"Me, my lord!" returned Malcolm. "Wha wad min' me? An' what cud I du wi' her? I cudna even haud her ohn wat her feet. Her leddy's maid cud du mair wi' her--though I wad lay doon my life for her, as I tauld ye, my lord--an' she kens 't weel eneuch."

Silence followed. Both men were thinking.

"Gie me a richt, my lord, an' I'll du my best," said Malcolm, at length breaking the silence.

"What do you mean?" growled the marquis, whose mood had altered.

"Gie me a legal richt, my lord, an' see gien I dinna."

"See what?"

"See gien I dinna luik weel efter my leddy."

"How am I to see? I shall be dead and damned."

"Please God, my lord, ye'll be alive an' weel--in a better place, if no here to luik efter my leddy yersel'."

"Oh, I dare say!" muttered the marquis.

"But ye'll hearken to the doctors, my lord," Malcolm went on, "an' no dee wantin' time to consider o' 't."

"Yes, yes; tomorrow I'll have another talk with them. We'll see about it. There's time enough yet. They're all cox combs--every one of them. They never give a patient the least credit for common sense."

"I dinna ken, my lord," said Malcolm doubtfully.

After a few minutes' silence, during which Malcolm thought he had fallen asleep, the marquis resumed abruptly.

"What do you mean by giving you a legal right?" he said.

"There's some w'y o' makin' ae body guairdian till anither, sae 'at the law 'ill uphaud him--isna there, my lord?"

"Yes, surely. Well!--Rather odd--wouldn't it be?--A young fisher lad guardian to a marchioness! Eh? They say there's nothing new under the sun; but that sounds rather like it, I think."

Malcolm was overjoyed to hear him speak with something like his old manner. He felt he could stand any amount of chaff from him now, and so the proposition he had made in seriousness, he went on to defend in the hope of giving amusement, yet with a secret wild delight in the dream of such full devotion to the service of Lady Florimel.

"It wad soon' queer eneuch, my lord, nae doobt; but fowk maunna min' the soon' o' a thing gien 't be a' straucht an' fair, an' strong eneuch to stan'. They cudna lauch me oot o' my richts, be they 'at they likit--Lady Bellair, or ony o' them--na, nor jaw me oot o' them aither!"

"They might do a good deal to render those rights of little use," said the marquis.

"That wad come till a trial o' brains, my lord," returned Malcolm; "an' ye dinna think I wadna hae the wit to speir advice--an' what's mair, to ken whan it was guid, an' tak it! There's lawyers, my lord."

"And their expenses?"

"Ye cud lea' sae muckle to be waured (spent) upo' the cairryin' oot o' yer lordship's wull."

"Who would see that you applied it properly?"

"My ain conscience, my lord--or Mr Graham, gien ye likit."

"And how would you live yourself?"

"Ow! lea' ye that to me, my lord. Only dinna imaigine I wad be behauden to yer lordship. I houp I hae mair pride nor that. Ilka poun' not', shillin', an' baubee sud be laid oot for her, an' what was left hainet (saved) for her."

"By Jove! it's a daring proposal!" said the marquis; and, which seemed strange to Malcolm, not a single thread of ridicule ran through the tone in which he made the remark.

The next day came, but brought neither strength of body nor of mind with it. Again his professional attendants besought him, and he heard them more quietly, but rejected their proposition as positively as before. In a day or two he ceased to oppose it, but would not hear of preparation. Hour glided into hour, and days had gathered to a week, when they assailed him with a solemn and last appeal.

"Nonsense!" answered the marquis. "My leg is getting better. I feel no pain--in fact nothing but a little faintness. Your damned medicines, I haven't a doubt."

"You are in the greatest danger, my lord. It is all but too late even now."

"Tomorrow, then--if it must be. Today I could not endure to have my hair cut--positively; and as to having my leg off,--pooh! the thing's preposterous!"

He turned white and shuddered, for all the nonchalance of his speech.

When tomorrow came, there was not a surgeon in the land who would have taken his leg off. He looked in their faces, and seemed for the first time convinced of the necessity of the measure.

"You may do as you please," he said. "I am ready."

"Not today, my lord," replied the doctor. "Your lordship is not equal to it today."

"I understand," said the marquis, paled frightfully, and turned his head aside.

When Mrs Courthope suggested that Lady Florimel should be sent for, he flew into a frightful rage, and spoke as it is to be hoped he had never spoken to a woman before. She took it with perfect gentleness, but could not repress a tear. The marquis saw it, and his heart was touched.

"You mustn't mind a dying man's temper," he said.

"It's not for myself, my lord," she answered.

"I know: you think I 'm not fit to die; and, damn it! you are right. Never one was less fit for heaven, or less willing to go to hell."

"Wouldn't you like to see a clergyman, my lord?" she suggested, sobbing.

He was on the point of breaking out in a still worse passion, but controlled himself.

"A clergyman!" he cried; "I would as soon see the undertaker. What could he do but tell me I was going to be damned--a fact I know better than he can? That is, if it 's not all an invention of the cloth, as, in my soul, I believe it is! I 've said so any time this forty years."

"Oh, my lord, my lord! do not fling away your last hope."

"You imagine me to have a chance then? Good soul! You don't know better!"

"The Lord is merciful."

The marquis laughed--that is, he tried, failed, and grinned.

"Mr Cairns is in the dining room, my lord."

"Bah! A low pettifogger, with the soul of a bullock! Don't let me hear the fellow's name. I 've been bad enough, God knows! but I haven't sunk to the level of his help yet. If he 's God Almighty's factor, and the saw holds--'Like master, like man!' well, I would rather have nothing to do with either."

"That is, if you had the choice, my lord," said Mrs Courthope, her temper yielding a little, though in truth his speech was not half so irreverent as it seemed to her.

"Tell him to go to hell. No, don't: set him down to a bottle of port and a great sponge cake and you needn't tell him to go to heaven, for he 'll be there already. Why, Mrs Courthope, the fellow isn't a gentleman! And yet all he cares for the cloth is, that he thinks it makes a gentleman of him--as if anything in heaven, earth, or hell could work that miracle!"

In the middle of the night, as Malcolm sat by his bed, thinking him asleep, the marquis spoke suddenly.

"You must go to Aberdeen tomorrow, Malcolm," he said.

"Verra weel, my lord."

"And bring Mr Glennie, the lawyer, back with you."

"Yes, my lord."

"Go to bed then."

"I wad raither bide, my lord. I cudna sleep a wink for wantin' to be back aside ye."

The marquis yielded, and Malcolm sat by him all the night through. He tossed about, would doze off and murmur strangely, then wake up and ask for brandy and water, yet be content with the lemonade Malcolm gave him.

Next day he quarrelled with every word Mrs Courthope uttered, kept forgetting he had sent Malcolm away, and was continually wanting him. His fits of pain were more severe, alternated with drowsiness, which deepened at times to stupor.

It was late before Malcolm returned. He went instantly to his bedside.

"Is Mr Glennie with you?" asked his master feebly.

"Yes, my lord."

"Tell him to come here at once."

When Malcolm returned with the lawyer, the marquis directed him to set a table and chair by the bedside, light four candles, get everything necessary for writing, and go to bed.

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