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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMalcolm - Chapter 69. The Marquis And The Schoolmaster
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Malcolm - Chapter 69. The Marquis And The Schoolmaster Post by :ORACC Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2186

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Malcolm - Chapter 69. The Marquis And The Schoolmaster

CHAPTER LXIX. THE MARQUIS AND THE SCHOOLMASTER

Before Malcolm was awake, his lordship had sent for him. When he re-entered the sick chamber, Mr Glennie had vanished, the table had been removed, and instead of the radiance of the wax lights, the cold gleam of a vapour dimmed sun, with its sickly blue white reflex from the wide spread snow, filled the room. The marquis looked ghastly, but was sipping chocolate with a spoon.

"What w'y are ye the day, my lord?" asked Malcolm.

"Nearly well," he answered; "but those cursed carrion crows are set upon killing me--damn their souls!"

"We'll hae Leddy Florimel sweirin' awfu', gien ye gang on that gait, my lord," said Malcolm.

The marquis laughed feebly.

"An' what 's mair," Malcolm continued, "I doobt they 're some partic'lar aboot the turn o' their phrases up yonner, my lord."

The marquis looked at him keenly.

"You don't anticipate that inconvenience for me?" he said. "I 'm pretty sure to have my billet where they 're not so precise."

"Dinna brak my hert, my lord!" cried Malcolm, the tears rushing to his eyes.

"I should be sorry to hurt you, Malcolm," rejoined the marquis gently, almost tenderly. "I won't go there if I can help it. I should n't like to break any more hearts. But how the devil am I to keep out of it? Besides, there are people up there I don't want to meet; I have no fancy for being made ashamed of myself. The fact is I 'm not fit for such company, and I don't believe there is any such place. But if there be, I trust in God there isn't any other, or it will go badly with your poor master, Malcolm. It doesn't look like true--now does it? Only such a multitude of things I thought I had done with for ever, keep coming up and grinning at me! It nearly drives me mad, Malcolm--and I would fain die like a gentleman, with a cool bow and a sharp face about."

"Wadna ye hae a word wi' somebody 'at kens, my lord?" said Malcolm, scarcely able to reply.

"No," answered the marquis fiercely. "That Cairns is a fool."

"He's a' that an' mair, my lord. I didna mean him."

"They 're all fools together.'

"Ow, na, my lord! There 's a heap o' them no muckle better, it may be; but there 's guid men an' true amang them, or the kirk wad hae been wi' Sodom and Gomorrha by this time. But it 's no a minister I wad hae yer lordship confar wi'."

"Who then? Mrs Courthope? Eh?"

"Ow na, my lord--no Mistress Coorthoup! She 's a guid body, but she wadna believe her ain een gien onybody ca'd a minister said contrar' to them."

"Who the devil do you mean then?"

"Nae deevil, but an honest man 'at 's been his warst enemy sae lang 's I hae kent him: Maister Graham, the schuilmaister."

"Pooh!" said the marquis with a puff. "I'm too old to go to school."

"I dinna ken the man 'at isna a bairn till him, my lord."

"In Greek and Latin?"

"I' richteousness an' trouth, my lord; in what's been an' what is to be."

"What! has he the second sicht, like the piper?"

"He has the second sicht, my lord--but ane 'at gangs a sicht farther than my auld daddy's."

"He could tell me then what's going to become of me?'

"As weel 's ony man, my lord."

"That 's not saying much, I fear."

"Maybe mair nor ye think, my lord."

"Well, take him my compliments, and tell him I should like to see him," said the marquis, after a pause.

"He 'll come direckly, my lord."

"Of course he will!" said the marquis.

"Jist as readily, my lord, as he wad gang to ony tramp 'at sent for 'im at sic a time," returned Malcolm, who did not relish either the remark or its tone.

"What do you mean by that? You don't think it such a serious affair --do you?"

"My lord, ye haena a chance."

The marquis was dumb. He had actually begun once more to buoy himself up with earthly hopes.

Dreading a recall of his commission, Malcolm slipped from the room, sent Mrs Courthope to take his place, and sped to the schoolmaster. The moment Mr Graham heard the marquis's message, he rose without a word, and led the way from the cottage. Hardly a sentence passed between them as they went, for they were on a solemn errand.

"Mr Graham 's here, my lord," said Malcolm.

"Where? Not in the room?" returned the marquis.

"Waitin' at the door, my lord."

"Bah! You needn't have been so ready. Have you told the sexton to get a new spade? But you may let him in. And leave him alone with me."

Mr Graham walked gently up to the bedside.

"Sit down, sir," said the marquis courteously--pleased with the calm, self possessed, unobtrusive bearing of the man. "They tell me I 'm dying, Mr Graham."

"I 'm sorry it seems to trouble you, my lord."

"What! wouldn't it trouble you then?"

"I don't think so, my lord."

"Ah! you're one of the elect, no doubt?"

"That's a thing I never did think about, my lord."

"What do you think about then?"

"About God."

"And when you die you 'll go straight to heaven of course--"

"I don't know, my lord. That 's another thing I never trouble my head about."

"Ah! you 're like me then! I don't care much about going to heaven! What do you care about?"

"The will of God. I hope your lordship will say the same."

"No I won't. I want my own will."

"Well, that is to be had, my lord."

"How?"

"By taking his for yours, as the better of the two, which it must be every way."

"That's all moonshine."

"It is light, my lord."

"Well, I don't mind confessing, if I am to die, I should prefer heaven to the other place; but I trust I have no chance of either. Do you now honestly believe there are two such places?"

"I don't know, my lord."

"You don't know! And you come here to comfort a dying man!"

"Your lordship must first tell me what you mean by 'two such places.' And as to comfort, going by my notions, I cannot tell which you would be more or less comfortable in; and that, I presume, would be the main point with your lordship."

"And what, pray, sir, would be the main point with you?"

"To get nearer to God."

"Well--I can't say I want to get nearer to God. It 's little he 's ever done for me."

"It's a good deal he has tried to do for you, my lord."

"Well, who interfered? Who stood in his way, then?"

"Yourself, my lord."

"I wasn't aware of it. When did he ever try to do anything for me, and I stood in his way?"

"When he gave you one of the loveliest of women, my lord," said Mr Graham, with solemn, faltering voice, "and you left her to die in neglect, and the child to be brought up by strangers."

The marquis gave a cry. The unexpected answer had roused the slowly gnawing death, and made it bite deeper.

"What have you to do," he almost screamed, "with my affairs? It was for me to introduce what I chose of them. You presume."

"Pardon me, my lord: you led me to what I was bound to say. Shall I leave you, my lord?"

The marquis made no answer.

"God knows I loved her," he said after a while, with a sigh.

"You loved her, my lord!"

"I did, by God!"

"Love a woman like that, and come to this?"

"Come to this! We must all come to this, I fancy, sooner or later. Come to what, in the name of Beelzebub?"

"That, having loved a woman like her, you are content to lose her. In the name of God, have you no desire to see her again?"

"It would be an awkward meeting," said the marquis. His was an old love, alas! He had not been capable of the sort that defies change. It had faded from him until it seemed one of the things that are not! Although his being had once glowed in its light, he could now speak of a meeting as awkward!

"Because you wronged her?" suggested the schoolmaster.

"Because they lied to me, by God!"

"Which they dared not have done, had you not lied to them first."

"Sir!" shouted the marquis, with all the voice he had left. "O God, have mercy! I cannot punish the scoundrel."

"The scoundrel is the man who lies, my lord."

"Were I anywhere else--"

"There would be no good in telling you the truth, my lord. You showed her to the world as a woman over whom you had prevailed, and not as the honest wife she was. What kind of a lie was that, my lord? Not a white one, surely?"

"You are a damned coward to speak so to a man who cannot even turn on his side to curse you for a base hound. You would not dare it but that you know I cannot defend myself."

"You are right, my lord; your conduct is indefensible."

"By heaven! if I could but get this cursed leg under me, I would throw you out of the window."

"I shall go by the door, my lord. While you hold by your sins, your sins will hold by you. If you should want me again, I shall be at your lordship's command."

He rose and left the room, but had not reached his cottage before Malcolm overtook him, with a second message from his master. He turned at once, saying only, "I expected it."

"Mr Graham," said the marquis, looking ghastly, "you must have patience with a dying man. I was very rude to you, but I was in horrible pain."

"Don't mention it, my lord. It would be a poor friendship that gave way for a rough word."

"How can you call yourself my friend?"

"I should be your friend, my lord, if it were only for your wife's sake. She died loving you. I want to send you to her, my lord. You will allow that, as a gentleman, you at least owe her an apology."

"By Jove, you are right, sir! Then you really and positively believe in the place they call heaven?"

"My lord, I believe that those who open their hearts to the truth, shall see the light on their friends' faces again, and be able to set right what was wrong between them."

"It's a week too late to talk of setting right!"

"Go and tell her you are sorry, my lord,--that will be enough to her."

"Ah! but there's more than her concerned."

"You are right, my lord. There is another--one who cannot be satisfied that the fairest works of his hands, or rather the loveliest children of his heart, should be treated as you have treated women."

"But the Deity you talk of--"

"I beg your pardon, my lord: I talked of no deity; I talked of a living Love that gave us birth and calls us his children. Your deity I know nothing of."

"Call him what you please: he won't be put off so easily!"

"He won't be put off one jot or one tittle. He will forgive anything, but he will pass nothing. Will your wife forgive you?"

"She will--when I explain."

"Then why should you think the forgiveness of God, which created her forgiveness, should be less?"

Whether the marquis could grasp the reasoning, may be doubtful.

"Do you really suppose God cares whether a man comes to good or ill?"

"If he did not, he could not be good himself."

"Then you don't think a good God would care to punish poor wretches like us?"

"Your lordship has not been in the habit of regarding himself as a poor wretch. And, remember, you can't call a child a poor wretch without insulting the father of it."

"That's quite another thing."

"But on the wrong side for your argument--seeing the relation between God and the poorest creature is infinitely closer than that between any father and his child."

"Then he can't be so hard on him as the parsons say."

"He will give him absolute justice, which is the only good thing. He will spare nothing to bring his children back to himself-- their sole well being. What would you do, my lord, if you saw your son strike a woman?"

"Knock him down and horsewhip him."

It was Mr Graham who broke the silence that followed.

"Are you satisfied with yourself, my lord?"

"No, by God!"

"You would like to be better?"

"I would."

"Then you are of the same mind with God."

"Yes but I'm not a fool! It won't do to say I should like to be: I must be it, and that's not so easy. It's damned hard to be good. I would have a fight for it, but there's no time. How is a poor devil to get out of such an infernal scrape?"

"Keep the commandments."

"That's it, of course; but there's no time, I tell you--at least so those cursed doctors will keep telling me."

"If there were but time to draw another breath, there would be time to begin."

"How am I to begin? Which am I to begin with?"

"There is one commandment which includes all the rest."

"Which is that?"

"To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."

"That's cant."

"After thirty years' trial of it, it is to me the essence of wisdom. It has given me a peace which makes life or death all but indifferent to me, though I would choose the latter."

"What am I to believe about him then?"

"You are to believe in him, not about him."

"I don't understand."

"He is our Lord and Master, Elder Brother, King, Saviour, the divine Man, the human God: to believe in him is to give ourselves up to him in obedience, to search out his will and do it."

"But there's no time, I tell you again," the marquis almost shrieked.

"And I tell you, there is all eternity to do it in. Take him for your master, and he will demand nothing of you which you are not able to perform. This is the open door to bliss. With your last breath you can cry to him, and he will hear you, as he heard the thief on the cross who cried to him dying beside him. 'Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.' 'Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.' It makes my heart swell to think of it, my lord! No cross questioning of the poor fellow! No preaching to him! He just took him with him where he was going, to make a man of him."

"Well, you know something of my history: what would you have me do now? At once, I mean. What would the person you speak of have me do?"

"That is not for me to say, my lord."

"You could give me a hint."

"No. God is telling you himself. For me to presume to tell you, would be to interfere with him. What he would have a man do, he lets him know in his mind."

"But what if I had not made up my mind before the last came?"

"Then I fear he would say to you--'Depart from me, thou worker of iniquity.'"

"That would be hard when another minute might have done it."

"If another minute would have done it, you would have had it."

A paroxysm of pain followed, during which Mr Graham silently left him.

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