be mounted on a table for Duncan; and the young hinds and fishermen
were soon dancing zealously with the girls of their company to his
strathspeys and reels. The other divisions of the marquis's guests
made merry to the sound of a small brass band, a harp, and two
When the rest forsook the toddy for the reel, the objects of
Malcolm's suspicion remained at the table, not to drink, but to
draw nearer to each other and confer. At length, when the dancers
began to return in quest of liquor, they rose and went away
loiteringly through the trees. As the twilight was now deepening,
Malcolm found it difficult to keep them in sight, but for the same
reason he was able the more quickly to glide after them from tree
to tree. It was almost moonrise, he said to himself, and if they
meditated mischief, now was their best time.
Presently he heard the sound of running feet, and in a moment more
spied the unmistakeable form of the mad laird, darting through the
thickening dusk of the trees, with gestures of wild horror. As he
passed the spot where Malcolm stood, he cried out in a voice like
a suppressed shriek, - "It's my mither! It's my mither! I dinna
ken whaur I come frae."
His sudden appearance and outcry so startled Malcolm that for a
moment he forgot his watch, and when he looked again the men had
vanished. Not having any clue to their intent, and knowing only
that on such a night the house was nearly defenceless, he turned at
once and made for it. As he approached the front, coming over the
bridge, he fancied he saw a figure disappear through the entrance,
and quickened his pace. Just as he reached it, he heard a door
bang, and supposing it to be that which shut off the second hall,
whence rose the principal staircase, he followed this vaguest
of hints, and bounded to the top of the stair. Entering the first
passage he came to, he found it almost dark, with a half open door
at the end, through which shone a gleam from some window beyond:
this light was plainly shut off for a moment, as if by some one
passing the window. He hurried after noiselessly, for the floor was
thickly carpeted - and came to the foot of a winding stone stair.
Afraid beyond all things of doing nothing, and driven by the
formless conviction that if he stopped to deliberate he certainly
should do nothing, he shot up the dark screw like an ascending
bubble, passed the landing of the second floor without observing
it, and arrived in the attic regions of the ancient pile, under
low, irregular ceilings, here ascending in cones, there coming down
in abrupt triangles, or sloping away to a hidden meeting with the
floor in distant corners. His only light was the cold blue glimmer
from here and there a storm window or a skylight. As the conviction
of failure grew on him, the ghostly feeling of the place began
to invade him. All was vague, forsaken, and hopeless, as a dreary
dream, with the superadded miserable sense of lonely sleepwalking.
I suspect that the feeling we call ghostly is but the sense of
abandonment in the lack of companion life; but be this as it may,
Malcolm was glad enough to catch sight of a gleam as from a candle,
at the end of a long, low passage on which he had come after mazy
wandering. Another similar passage crossed its end, somewhere in
which must be the source of the light: he crept towards it, and
laying himself flat on the floor, peeped round the corner. His
very heart stopped to listen: seven or eight yards from him, with
a small lantern in her hand, stood a short female figure, which,
the light falling for a moment on her soft evil countenance, he
recognised as Mrs Catanach. Beside her stood a tall graceful figure,
draped in black from head to foot. Mrs Catanach was speaking in
a low tone, and what Malcolm was able to catch was evidently the
close of a conversation.
"I'll do my best, ye may be sure, my leddy," she said. "There's
something no canny aboot the cratur, an' doobtless ye was an ill
used wuman, an' ye're i' the richt. But it's a some fearsome ventur,
an' may be luikit intill, ye ken. There I s' be yer scoug. Lippen
to me, an' ye s' no repent it."
As she ended speaking, she turned to the door, and drew from it a
key, evidently after a foiled attempt to unlock it therewith; for
from a bunch she carried she now made choice of another, and was
already fumbling with it in the keyhole, when Malcolm bethought
himself that, whatever her further intent, he ought not to allow
her to succeed in opening the door. He therefore rose slowly to
his feet, and stepping softly out into the passage, sent his round
blue bonnet spinning with such a certain aim, that it flew right
against her head. She gave a cry of terror, smothered by the sense
of evil secrecy, and dropped her lantern. It went out. Malcolm
pattered with his hands on the floor, and began to howl frightfully.
Her companion had already fled, and Mrs Catanach picked up her
lantern and followed. But her flight was soft footed, and gave sign
only in the sound of her garments, and a clank or two of her keys.
Gifted with a good sense of relative position, Malcolm was able to
find his way back to the hall without much difficulty, and met no
one on the way. When he stepped into the open air a round moon was
visible through the trees, and their shadows were lying across the
sward. The merriment had grown louder; for a good deal of whisky
having been drunk by men of all classes, hilarity had ousted
restraint, and the separation of classes having broken a little,
there were many stragglers from the higher to the lower divisions,
whence the area of the more boisterous fun had considerably widened.
Most of the ladies and gentlemen were dancing in the chequer of
the trees and moonlight, but, a little removed from the rest, Lady
Florimel was seated under a tree, with Lord Meikleham by her side,
probably her partner in the last dance. She was looking at the
moon, which shone upon her from between two low branches, and there
was a sparkle in her eyes and a luminousness upon her cheek which
to Malcolm did not seem to come from the moon only. He passed on,
with the first pang of jealousy in his heart, feeling now for the
first time that the space between Lady Florimel and himself was
indeed a gulf. But he cast the whole thing from him for the time
with an inward scorn of his foolishness, and hurried on from group
to group, to find the marquis.
Meeting with no trace of him, and thinking he might be in the flower
garden, which a few rays of the moon now reached, he descended
thither. But he searched it through with no better success, and at
the farthest end was on the point of turning to leave it and look
elsewhere, when he heard a moan of stifled agony on the other
side of a high wall which here bounded the garden. Climbing up an
espalier, he soon reached the top, and looking down on the other
side, to his horror and rage espied the mad laird on the ground,
and the very men of whom he had been in pursuit, standing over him
and brutally tormenting him, apparently in order to make him get
up and go along with them. One was kicking him, another pulling
his head this way and that by the hair, and the third punching and
poking his hump, which last cruelty had probably drawn from him
the cry Malcolm had heard.
Three might be too many for him: he descended swiftly, found some
stones, and a stake from a bed of sweet peas, then climbing up
again, took such effectual aim at one of the villains that he fell
without uttering a sound. Dropping at once from the wall, he rushed
at the two with stick upheaved.
"Dinna be in sic a rage, man," cried the first, avoiding his blow;
"we're aboot naething ayont the lawfu'. It's only the mad laird.
We're takin' 'im to the asylum at Ebberdeen. By the order o' 's
At the word a choking scream came from the prostrate victim. Malcolm
uttered a huge imprecation, and struck at the fellow again, who
now met him in a way that showed it was noise more than wounds he
had dreaded. Instantly the other came up, and also fell upon him
with vigour. But his stick was too much for them, and at length
one of them, crying out - "It's the blin' piper's bastard - I'll
mark him yet!" took to his heels, and was followed by his companion.
More eager after rescue than punishment, Malcolm turned to the help
of the laird, whom he found in utmost need of his ministrations -
gagged, and with his hands tied mercilessly tight behind his back.
His knife quickly released him, but the poor fellow was scarcely
less helpless than before. He clung to Malcolm, and moaned piteously,
every moment glancing over his shoulder in terror of pursuit. His
mouth hung open as if the gag were still tormenting him; now and
then he would begin his usual lament and manage to say "I dinna
ken;" but when he attempted the whaur, his jaw fell and hung as
before. Malcolm sought to lead him away, but he held back, moaning
dreadfully; then Malcolm would have him sit down where they were,
but he caught his hand and pulled him away, stopping instantly,
however, as if not knowing whither to turn from the fears on every
side. At length the prostrate enemy began to move, when the laird,
who had been unaware of his presence, gave a shriek, and took to his
heels. Anxious not to lose sight of him, Malcolm left the wounded
man to take care of himself; and followed him up the steep side of
the little valley.
They had not gone many steps from the top of the ascent, however,
before the fugitive threw himself on the ground exhausted, and it
was all Malcolm could do to get him to the town, where, unable to
go a pace further, he sank down on Mrs Catanach's doorstep. A light
was burning in the cottage, but Malcolm would seek shelter for him
anywhere rather than with her, and, in terror of her quick ears,
caught him up in his arms like a child, and hurried away with him
to Miss Horn s.
"Eh sirs!" exclaimed Miss Horn, when she opened the door - for
Jean was among the merrymakers - "wha 's this 'at 's killt noo?"
"It's the laird - Mr Stewart," returned Malcolm. "He's no freely
killt, but nigh han'."
"Na! weel I wat! Come in an' set him doon till we see," said Miss
Horn, turning and leading the way up to her little parlour.
There Malcolm laid his burden on the sofa, and gave a brief account
of the rescue.
"Lord preserve 's, Ma'colm!" cried Miss Horn, as soon as he had
ended his tale, to which she had listened in silence, with fierce
eyes and threatening nose; "isna 't a mercy I wasna made like some
fowk, or I couldna ha' bidden to see the puir fallow misguidet that
gait! It's a special mercy, Ma'colm MacPhail, to be made wantin'
ony sic thing as feelin's."
She was leaving the room as she spoke - to return instantly with
brandy. The laird swallowed some with an effort, and began to
"Eh, sirs!" exclaimed Miss Horn, regarding him now more narrowly
- "but he's in an awfu' state o' dirt! I maun wash his face an'
han's, an' pit him till 's bed. Could ye help aff wi' 's claes,
Ma'colm? Though I haena ony feelin's, I 'm jist some eerie-like at
the puir body's back."
The last words were uttered in what she judged a safe aside.
As if she had been his mother, she washed his face and hands, and
dried them tenderly, the laird submitting like a child. He spoke
but one word - when she took him by the hand to lead him to the
room where her cousin used to sleep: "Father o' lichts!" he said,
and no more. Malcolm put him to bed, where he lay perfectly still,
whether awake or asleep they could not tell.
He then set out to go back to Lossie House, promising to return
after he had taken his grandfather home, and seen him also safe in
CHAPTER XXV: THE NIGHT WATCH
When Malcolm returned, Jean had retired for the night, and again
it was Miss Horn who admitted him, and led him to her parlour. It
was a low ceiled room, with lean spider legged furniture and dingy
curtains. Everything in it was suggestive of a comfort slowly
vanishing. An odour of withered rose leaves pervaded the air. A
Japanese cabinet stood in one corner, and on the mantelpiece a pair
of Chinese fans with painted figures whose faces were embossed in
silk, between which ticked an old French clock, whose supporters
were a shepherd and shepherdess in prettily painted china. Long faded
as was everything in it, the room was yet very rich in the eyes of
Malcolm, whose home was bare even in comparison with that of the
poorest of the fisher women, they had a passion for ornamenting
their chimneypieces with china ornaments, and their dressers with
the most gorgeous crockery that their money could buy - a certain
metallic orange being the prevailing hue; while in Duncan's
cottage, where woman had never initiated the taste, there was not
even a china poodle to represent the finished development of luxury
in the combination of the ugly and the useless.
Miss Horn had made a little fire in the old fashioned grate, whose
bars bellied out like a sail almost beyond the narrow chimney
shelf, and a tea kettle was singing on the hob, while a decanter,
a sugar basin, a nutmeg grater, and other needful things on a tray,
suggested negus, beyond which Miss Horn never went in the matter
of stimulants, asserting that, as she had no feelings, she never
required anything stronger. She made Malcolm sit down at the opposite
side of the fire, and mixing him a tumbler of her favourite drink,
began to question him about the day, and how things had gone.
Miss Horn had the just repute of discretion, for, gladly hearing all
the news, she had the rare virtue of not repeating things to the
prejudice of others without some good reason for so doing; Malcolm
therefore, seated thus alone with her in the dead of the night, and
bound to her by the bond of a common well doing, had no hesitation
in unfolding to her all his adventures of the evening. She sat with
her big hands in her lap, making no remark, not even an exclamation,
while he went on with the tale of the garret; but her listening
eyes grew - not larger - darker and fiercer as he spoke; the
space between her nostrils and mouth widened visibly; the muscles
knotted on the sides of her neck; and her nose curved more and more
to the shape of a beak.
"There's some deevilry there!" she said at length after he had
finished, breaking a silence of some moments, during which she had
been staring into the fire. "Whaur twa ill women come thegither,
there maun be the auld man himsel' atween them."
"I dinna doobt it," returned Malcolm. "An' ane o' them 's an ill
wuman, sure eneuch; but I ken naething aboot the tither - only
'at she maun be a leddy, by the w'y the howdy wife spak till her."
"The waur token, when a leddy collogues wi' a wuman aneth her ain
station, an' ane 'at has keppit (caught in passing) mony a secret
in her day, an' by her callin' has had mair opportunity - no to say
farther - than ither fowk o' duin' ill things! An' gien ye dinna
ken her, that's no rizzon 'at I sudna hae a groff guiss at her by
the marks ye read aff o' her. I'll jist hae to tell ye a story sic
as an auld wife like me seldom tells till a young man like yersel'."
"Yer ain bridle sail rule my tongue, mem," said Malcolm.
"I s' lippen to yer discretion," said Miss Horn, and straightway
began. - "Some years ago - an' I s' warran' it's weel ower twinty
- that same wuman, Bawby Cat'nach, - wha was nae hame born wuman,
nor had been lang aboot the toon - comin' as she did frae naebody
kent whaur, 'cep maybe it was the markis 'at than was, preshumed to
mak up to me i' the w'y o' frien'ly acquantance - sic as a maiden
leddy micht hae wi' a howdy - an' no 'at she forgot her proaper
behaviour to ane like mysel'. But I cudna hae bidden (endured)
the jaud, 'cep 'at I had rizzons for lattin' her jaw wag. She was
cunnin', the auld vratch, - no that auld - maybe aboot forty, -
but I was ower mony for her. She had the design to win at something
she thoucht I kent, an' sae, to enteece me to open my pock, she
opent hers, an' tellt me story efter story about this neebour an'
that - a' o' them things 'at ouchtna to ha' been true, an 'at she
ouchtna to ha' loot pass her lips gien they war true, seein' she
cam by the knowledge o' them so as she said she did. But she gat
naething o' me - the fat braint cat! - an' she hates me like the
Miss Horn paused and took a sip of her negus.
"Ae day, I cam upon her sittin' by the ingleneuk i' my ain kitchen,
haudin' a close an' a laich confab wi' Jean. I had Jean than, an'
hoo I hae keepit the hizzy, I hardly ken. I think it maun be that,
haein' nae feelin's o' my ain, I hae ower muckle regaird to ither
fowk's, an' sae I never likit to pit her awa' wi'oot doonricht
provocation. But dinna ye lippen to Jean, Malcolm - na, na! At
that time, my cousin, Miss Grizel Cammell - my third cousin, she
was - had come to bide wi' me - a bonny yoong thing as ye wad
see, but in sair ill health; an' maybe she had het freits (whims),
an' maybe no, but she cudna bide to see the wuman Cat'nach aboot
the place. An' in verra trowth, she was to mysel' like ane o' thae
ill faured birds, I dinna min' upo' the name them, 'at hings ower
an airmy; for wharever there was onybody nae weel, or onybody
deid, there was Bawby Cat'nach. I hae hard o' creepin' things 'at
veesits fowk 'at 's no weel - an' Bawby was, an' is, ane sic like!
Sae I was angert at seein' her colloguin' wi' Jean, an' I cried
Jean to me to the door o' the kitchie. But wi' that up jumps Bawby,
an' comin' efter her, says to me - says she, 'Eh, Miss Horn!
there's terrible news: Leddy Lossie's deid; - she 's been three
ooks deid!' - 'Weel,' says I, 'what's sae terrible aboot that?'
For ye ken I never had ony feelin's, an' I cud see naething sae
awfu' aboot a body deem' i' the ord'nar' w'y o natur like. 'We'll
no miss her muckle doon here,' says I, 'for I never hard o' her
bein' at the Hoose sin' ever I can.' 'But that's no a',' says she;
'only I wad be laith to speyk aboot it i' the transe (passage).
Lat me up the stair wi' ye, an' I'll tell ye mair.' Weel, pairtly
'at I was ta'en by surprise like, an' pairtly 'at I wasna sae auld
as I am noo, an' pairtly that I was keerious to hear - ill 'at
I likit her - what neist the wuman wad say, I did as I ouchtna,
an' turned an' gaed up the stair, an' loot her follow me. Whan she
cam' in, she pat tu the door ahint her, an' turnt to me, an' said
- says she: 'An wha 's deid forbye, think ye?' - 'I hae hard o'
naebody,' I answered. 'Wha but the laird o' Gersefell!' says she.
'I'm sorry to hear that, honest ma!' says I; for a'body likit Mr
Stewart. 'An' what think ye o' 't?' says she, wi' a runklin o' her
broos, an' a shak o' her heid, an' a settin o' her roon' nieves upo'
the fat hips o' her. 'Think o' 't?' says I ; 'what sud I think o'
't, but that it's the wull o' Providence?' Wi' that she leuch till
she wabblet a' ower like cauld skink, an' says she - 'Weel, that's
jist what it is no, an' that lat me tell ye, Miss Horn!' I glowert
at her, maist frichtit into believin' she was the witch fowk ca'd
her. 'Wha's son 's the hump backit cratur',' says she, ''at comes
in i' the gig whiles wi' the groom lad, think ye?' - 'Wha's but
the puir man's 'at 's deid?' says I. 'Deil a bit o' 't!' says she,
'an' I beg yer pardon for mentionin' o' him,' says she. An' syne
she screwt up her mou', an' cam closs up till me - for I wadna sit
doon mysel', an' less wad I bid her, an' was sorry eneuch by this
time 'at I had broucht her up the stair - an' says she, layin' her
han' upo' my airm wi' a clap, as gien her an' me was to be freen's
upo' sic a gran' foondation o' dirt as that! - says she, makin' a
laich toot moot o' 't, - 'He's Lord Lossie's!' says she, an' maks
a face 'at micht hae turnt a cat sick - only by guid luck I had
nae feelin's. 'An' nae suner's my leddy deid nor her man follows
her!' says she. 'An' what do ye mak o' that?' says she. 'Ay, what
do ye mak o' that?' says I till her again. 'Ow! what ken I?' says
she, wi' anither ill leuk; an' wi' that she leuch an' turned awa,
but turned back again or she wan to the door, an' says she - 'Maybe
ye didna ken 'at she was broucht to bed hersel' aboot a sax ooks
ago?' - 'Puir leddy!' said I, thinkin' mair o' her evil report
nor o' the pains o' childbirth. 'Ay,' says she, wi' a deevilich
kin' o' a lauch, like in spite o' hersel', 'for the bairn's deid,
they tell me - as bonny a ladbairn as ye wad see, jist ooncoamon!
An' whaur div ye think she had her doon lying? Jist at Lossie Hoose!'
Wi' that she was oot at the door wi' a swag o' her tail, an' doon
the stair to Jean again. I was jist at ane mair wi' anger at mysel'
an' scunner at her, an' in twa min' s to gang efter her an' turn
her oot o' the hoose, her an' Jean thegither. I could hear her
snicherin' till hersel' as she gaed doon the stair. My verra stamack
turned at the poozhonous ted.
"I canna say what was true or what was fause i' the scandal o' her
tale, nor what for she tuik the trouble to cairry 't to me, but
it sune cam to be said 'at the yoong laird was but half wittet as
weel's humpit, an' 'at his mither cudna bide him. An' certain it
was 'at the puir wee chap cud as little bide his mither. Gien she
cam near him ohn luikit for, they said, he wad gie a great skriech,
and rin as fast as his wee weyver (spider) legs cud wag aneth the
wecht o' 's humpie - an' whiles her after him wi' onything she cud
lay her han' upo', they said - but I kenna. Ony gait, the widow
hersel' grew waur and waur i' the temper, an' I misdoobt me sair
was gey hard upo' the puir wee objeck - fell cruel til 'm, they
said - till at len'th, as a' body kens, he forhooit (forsook) the
hoose a'thegither. An' puttin' this an' that thegither, for I hear
a hantle said 'at I say na ower again, it seems to me 'at her first
scunner at her puir misformt bairn, wha they say was humpit whan
he was born an' maist cost her her life to get lowst o' him -
her scunner at 'im 's been growin' an' growin' till it's grown to
"It's an awfu' thing 'at ye say, mem, an' I doobt it's ower true.
But hoo can a mither hate her ain bairn?" said Malcolm.
"'Deed it's nae wonner ye sud speir, laddie! for it's weel kent 'at
maist mithers, gien there be a shargar or a nat'ral or a crookit ane
amo' their bairns, mak mair o' that ane nor o' a' the lave putten
thegither - as gien they wad mak it up till 'im, for the fair
play o' the warl. But ye see in this case, he's aiblins (perhaps)
the child o' sin - for a leear may tell an ill trowth - an' beirs
the marks o' 't, ye see; sae to her he's jist her sin rinnin' aboot
the warl incarnat; an' that canna be pleesant to luik upo'."
"But excep' she war ashamed o' 't, she wadna tak it sae muckle to
hert to be remin't o' 't."
"Mony ane's ashamed o' the consequences 'at's no ashamed o' the
deed. Mony ane cud du the sin ower again, 'at canna bide the sicht
or even the word o' 't. I hae seen a body 't wad steal a thing as
sune's luik at it gang daft wi' rage at bein' ca'd a thief. An'
maybe she wadna care gien 't warna for the oogliness o' 'im. Sae
be he was a bonny sin, I'm thinkin' she wad hide him weel eneuch.
But seein' he 's naither i' the image o' her 'at bore 'im nor him
'at got 'im, but beirs on 's back, for ever in her sicht, the sin
'at was the gettin' o' 'in, he's a' hump to her, an' her hert's
aye howkin a grave for 'im to lay 'im oot o' sicht intill she bore
'im, an' she wad beery 'im. An' I'm thinkin' she beirs the markis
- gien sae it be sae - deid an' gane as he is - a grutch yet,
for passin' sic an offspring upo' her, an' syne no merryin' her
efter an' a', an' the ro'd clear o' baith 'at stude atween them.
It was said 'at the man 'at killt 'im in a twasum fecht (duel),
sae mony a year efter, was a freen' o' hers."
"But wad fowk du sic awfu' ill things, mem - her a merried woman,
an' him a merried man?"
"There's nae sayin', laddie, what a hantle o' men and some women
wad du. I hae muckle to be thankfu' for 'at I was sic as no man
ever luikit twice at. I wasna weel faured eneuch; though I had
bonny hair, an' my mither aye said 'at her Maggy hed guid sense;
whatever else she micht or micht not hae. But gien I cud hae gotten
a guid man, siclike's is scarce, I cud hae lo'ed him weel eneuch.
But that's naither here nor there, an' has naething to du wi'
onybody ava. The pint I had to come till was this: the wuman ye saw
haudin' a toot moot (tout muet?) wi' that Cat'nach wife, was nane
ither, I do believe, than Mistress Stewart, the puir laird's mither.
An' I hae as little doobt that whan ye tuik 's pairt, ye broucht
to noucht a plot o' the twasum (two together) against him. It bodes