guid to naebody whan there's a conjunc o' twa sic wanderin' stars
o' blackness as you twa."
"His ain mither!" exclaimed Malcolm, brooding in horror over the
The door opened, and the mad laird came in. His eyes were staring
wide, but their look and that of his troubled visage showed that
he was awake only in some frightful dream. "Father o' lichts!" he
murmured once and again, but making wild gestures, as if warding
off blows. Miss Horn took him gently by the hand. The moment he
felt her touch, his face grew calm, and he submitted at once to be
led back to bed.
"Ye may tak yer aith upo' 't, Ma'colm," she said when she returned,
"she means naething but ill by that puir cratur; but you and me -
we'll ding (defeat) her yet, gien't be his wull. She wants a grip
o' 'm for some ill rizzon or ither - to lock him up in a madhoose,
maybe, as the villains said, or 'deed, maybe, to mak awa' wi' him
"But what guid wad that du her?" said Malcolm.
"It's ill to say, but she wad hae him oot o' her sicht, ony gait."
"She can hae but little sicht o' him as 'tis," objected Malcolm.
"Ay! but she aye kens he's whaur she doesna ken, puttin' her to
shame, a' aboot the country, wi' that hump o' his. Oot o' fowk's
sicht wad be to her oot a' thegither."
A brief silence followed.
"Noo," said Malcolm, "we come to the question what the twa limmers
could want wi' that door."
"Dear kens! It bude to be something wrang - that's a' 'at mortal
can say; but ye may be sure o' that - I hae hard tell," she went
on reflectingly - "o' some room or ither i' the hoose 'at there's
a fearsome story aboot, an' 'at 's never opent on no accoont. I hae
hard a' aboot it, but I canna min' upo' 't noo, for I paid little
attention till 't at the time, an' it's mony a year sin' syne. But
it wad be some deevilich ploy o' their ain they wad be efter: it's
little the likes o' them wad heed sic auld warld tales."
"Wad ye hae me tell the markis?" asked Malcolm.
"Na, I wad no; an' yet ye maun du 't. Ye hae no business to ken o'
onything wrang in a body's hoose, an' no tell them - forbye 'at he
pat ye in chairge. But it 'll du naething for the laird; for what
cares the markis for onything or onybody but himsel'?"
"He cares for 's dauchter," said Malcolm.
"Ow ay! - as sic fowk ca' carin'. There's no a bla'guard i' the
haill queentry he wadna sell her till, sae be he was o' an auld
eneuch faimily, and had rowth o' siller. Haith! noo a days the
last 'ill come first, an' a fish cadger wi' siller 'ill be coontit
a better bargain nor a lord wantin 't: only he maun hae a heap o'
't, to cower the stink o' the fish."
"Dinna scorn the fish, mem," said Malcolm: "they're innocent craturs,
an' dinna smell waur nor they can help; an' that's mair nor ye can
say for ilka lord ye come athort."
"Ay, or cadger aither," rejoined Miss Horn. "They're aft eneuch
jist sic like, the main differ lyin' in what they're defiled wi';
an' 'deed whiles there's no differ there, or maist ony gait, maybe,
but i' the set o' the shoothers, an' the wag o' the tongue."
"An' what 'll we du wi' the laird?" said Malcolm.
"We maun first see what we can du wi' him. I wad try to keep him
mysel', that is, gien he wad bide - but there's that jaud Jean!
She's aye gabbin', an' claikin', an' cognostin' wi' the enemy,
an' I canna lippen till her. I think it wad be better ye sud tak
chairge o' 'm yersel', Malcolm. I wad willin'ly beir ony expense
- for ye wadna be able to luik efter him an' du sae weel at the
fishin', ye ken."
"Gien 't had been my ain line fishin', I could aye ha' taen him i'
the boat wi' me; but I dinna ken for the herrin'. Blue Peter wadna
objeck, but it's some much work, an' for a waikly body like the
laird to be oot a' nicht some nichts, sic weather as we hae to
encoonter whiles, micht be the deid o' 'm."
They came to no conclusion beyond this, that each would think it
over, and Malcolm would call in the morning. Ere then, however,
the laird had dismissed the question for them. When Miss Horn rose,
after an all but sleepless night, she found that he had taken the
affairs again into his own feeble hands, and vanished.
CHAPTER XXVI: NOT AT CHURCH
It being well known that Joseph Mair's cottage was one of the
laird's resorts, Malcolm, as soon as he learned his flight, set
out to inquire whether they knew anything of him there.
Scaurnose was perched almost on the point of the promontory, where
the land made its final slope, ending in a precipitous descent to
the shore. Beneath lay rocks of all sizes and of fantastic forms,
some fallen from the cape in tempests perhaps, some softly separated
from it by the slow action of the winds and waves of centuries. A
few of them formed, by their broken defence seawards, the unsafe
natural harbour which was all the place enjoyed.
If ever there was a place of one colour it was this village: everything
was brown; the grass near it was covered with brown nets; at the
doors were brown heaps of oak bark, which, after dyeing the nets,
was used for fuel; the cottages were roofed with old brown thatch;
and the one street and the many closes were dark brown with the
peaty earth which, well mixed with scattered bark, scantily covered
the surface of its huge foundation rock. There was no pavement, and
it was the less needed that the ways were rarely used by wheels of
any description. The village was but a roost, like the dwellings
of the sea birds which also haunted the rocks.
It was a gray morning with a gray sky and a gray sea; all was brown
and gray, peaceful and rather sad. Brown haired, gray eyed Phemy
Mair sat in the threshold, intently rubbing in her hands a small
object like a moonstone. That she should be doing so on a Sunday
would have shocked few in Scaurnose at that time, for the fisher
folk then made but small pretensions to religion; and for his part
Joseph Mair could not believe that the Almighty would be offended
"at seein' a bairn sittin' douce wi' her playocks, though the day
"Weel, Phemy, ye're busy!" said Malcolm.
"Ay," answered the child, without looking up. The manner was not
courteous, but her voice was gentle and sweet.
"What are ye doin' there?" he asked.
"Makin' a string o' beads, to weir at aunty's merriage."
"What are ye makin' them o'?" he went on.
"Are they a' haddicks'?"
"Na, there's some cods' amo' them; but they're maistly haddicks'.
I pikes them out afore they're sautit, an' biles them; an' syne I
polish them i' my han's till they're rale bonny."
"Can ye tell me onything about the mad laird, Phemy?" asked Malcolm,
in his anxiety too abruptly.
"Ye can gang an' speir at my father: he's oot aboot," she answered,
with a sort of marked coolness, which, added to the fact that
she had never looked him in the face, made him more than suspect
"Div ye ken onything aboot him?" he therefore insisted.
"Maybe I div, an' maybe I divna," answered the child, with an
expression of determined mystery.
"Ye'll tell me whaur ye think he is, Phemy?"
"Na, I winna."
"What for no?"
"Ow, jist for fear ye sud ken."
"But I'm a freen' till him."
"Ye may think ay, an' the laird may think no."
"Does he think you a freen', Phemy?" asked Malcolm, in the hope of
coming at something by widening the sweep of the conversation.
"Ay, he kens I'm a freen'," she replied.
"An' do ye aye ken whaur he is?"
"Na, no aye. He gangs here an' he gangs there - jist as he likes.
It's whan naebody kens whaur he is, that I ken, an' gang till him."
"Is he i' the hoose?"
"Na, he's no i' the hoose."
"Whaur is he than, Phemy?" said Malcolm coaxingly. "There's ill
fowk aboot 'at's efter deein' him an ill turn."
"The mair need no to tell!" retorted Phemy.
"But I want to tak care 'o 'im. Tell me whaur he is, like a guid
"I'm no sure. I may say I dinna ken."
"Ye say ye ken whan ither fowk disna: noo naebody kens."
"Hoo ken ye that?"
"'Cause he's run awa."
"Wha frae? His mither?"
"Na, na; frae Miss Horn."
"I ken naething aboot her; but gien naebody kens, I ken whaur he
is weel eneuch."
"Whaur than? Ye'll be duin' him a guid turn to tell me."
"Whaur I winna tell, an' whaur you nor nae ither body s' get him.
An' ye needna speir, for it wadna be richt to tell; an' gien ye
gang on speirin', you an' me winna be lang freen's."
As she spoke, the child looked straight up into his face with wide
opened blue eyes, as truthful as the heavens, and Malcolm dared
not press her, for it would have been to press her to do wrong.
"Ye wad tell yer father, wadna ye?" he said kindly.
"My father wadna speir. My father's a guid man."
"Weel, Phemy, though ye winna trust me - supposin' I was to trust
"Ye can du that gien ye like."
"An' ye winna tell?"
"I s' mak nae promises. It's no trustin', to gar me promise."
"Weel, I wull trust ye. - Tell the laird to haud weel oot o' sicht
for a while."
"He'll du that," said Phemy.
"An' tell him gien onything befa' him, to sen' to Miss Horn, for
Ma'colm MacPhail may be oot wi' the boats. - Ye winna forget that?"
"I'm no lickly to forget it," answered Phemy, apparently absorbed
in boring a hole in a haddock's eye with a pin so bent as to act
like a brace and bit.
"Ye'll no get yer string o' beads in time for the weddin', Phemy,"
remarked Malcolm, going on to talk from a desire to give the child
a feeling of his friendliness.
"Ay will I - fine that," she rejoined.
"Whan is 't to be?"
"Ow, neist Setterday. Ye'll be comin' ower?"
"I haena gotten a call."
"Ye 'll be gettin ane.
"Div ye think they'll gie me ane?"
"As sune 's onybody. - Maybe by that time I'll be able to gie ye
some news o' the laird."
"There's a guid lassie!"
"Na, na; I'm makin' nae promises," said Phemy.
Malcolm left her and went to find her father, who, although it
was Sunday, was already "oot aboot," as she had said. He found him
strolling in meditation along the cliffs. They had a little talk
together, but Joseph knew nothing of the laird.
Malcolm took Lossie House on his way back, for he had not yet seen
the marquis, to whom he must report his adventures of the night
before. The signs of past revelling were plentifully visible as he
approached the house. The marquis was not yet up, but Mrs Courthope
undertaking to send him word as soon as his lordship was to be
seen, he threw himself on the grass and waited - his mind occupied
with strange questions, started by the Sunday coming after such a
Saturday - among the rest, how God could permit a creature to be
born so distorted and helpless as the laird, and then permit him
to be so abused in consequence of his helplessness. The problems
of life were beginning to bite. Everywhere things appeared uneven.
He was not one to complain of mere external inequalities: if he was
inclined to envy Lord Meikleham, it was not because of his social
position: he was even now philosopher enough to know that the life
of a fisherman was preferable to that of such a marquis as Lord
Lossie - that the desirableness of a life is to be measured by
the amount of interest and not by the amount of ease in it, for the
more ease the more unrest; neither was he inclined to complain of
the gulf that yawned so wide between him and Lady Florimel; the
difficulty lay deeper: such a gulf existing, by a social law only
less inexorable than a natural one, why should he feel the rent
invading his individual being? in a word, though Malcolm put it in
no such definite shape: Why should a fisher lad find himself in
danger of falling in love with the daughter of a marquis? Why should
such a thing, seeing the very constitution of things rendered it
an absurdity, be yet a possibility?
The church bell began, rang on, and ceased. The sound of the psalms
came, softly mellowed, and sweetly harmonized, across the churchyard
through the gray Sabbath air, and he found himself, for the first
time, a stray sheep from the fold. The service must have been half
through before a lackey, to whom Mrs Courthope had committed the
matter when she went to church, brought him the message that the
marquis would see him.
"Well, MacPhail, what do you want with me?" said his lordship as
"It's my duty to acquaint yer lordship wi' certain proceedin's 'at
took place last night," answered Malcolm.
"Go on," said the marquis.
Thereupon Malcolm began at the beginning, and told of the men he
had watched, and how, in the fancy of following them, he had found
himself in the garret, and what he saw and did there.
"Did you recognize either of the women?" asked Lord Lossie.
"Ane o' them, my lord," answered Malcolm. "It was Mistress Catanach,
"What sort of a woman is she?"
"Some fowk canna bide her, my lord. I ken no ill to lay till her
chairge, but I winna lippen till her. My gran'father - an' he's
blin', ye ken - jist trimles whan she comes near him."
The marquis smiled.
"What do you suppose she was about?" he asked.
"I ken nae mair than the bonnet I flang in her face, my lord; but
it could hardly be guid she was efter. At ony rate, seein' yer
lordship pat me in a mainner in chairge, I bude to haud her oot
o' a closed room - an' her gaein' creepin' aboot yer lordship's
hoose like a worm."
"Quite right. Will you pull the bell there for me?"
He told the man to send Mrs Courthope; but he said she had not yet
come home from church.
"Could you take me to the room, MacPhail?" asked his lordship.
"I'll try, my lord," answered Malcolm. As far as the proper quarter
of the attics, he went straight as a pigeon; in that labyrinth he
had to retrace his steps once or twice, but at length he stopped,
and said confidently - "This is the door, my lord."
"Are you sure?"
"As sure's death, my lord."
The marquis tried the door and found it immovable. "You say she
had the key?"
"No, my lord: I said she had keys, but whether she had the key, I
doobt if she kent hersel'. It may ha' been ane o' the bundle yet
"You're a sharp fellow," said the marquis. "I wish I had such a
servant about me."
"I wad mak a some rouch ane, I doobt," returned Malcolm, laughing.
His lordship was of another mind, but pursued the subject no farther.
"I have a vague recollection," he said, "of some room in the house
having an old story or legend connected with it. I must find out.
I daresay Mrs Courthope knows. Meantime you hold your tongue. We
may get some amusement out of this."
"I wull, my lord, like a deid man an' beeryt."
"You can - can you?"
"I can, my lord."
"You're a rare one!" said the marquis.
Malcolm thought he was making game of him as heretofore, and held
"You can go home now," said his lordship. "I will see to this
"But jist be canny middlin' wi' Mistress Catanach, my lord: she's
"What! you're not afraid of an old woman?"
"Deil a bit, my lord! - that is, I'm no feart at a dogfish or a
rottan, but I wud tak tent an' grip them the richt gait, for they
hae teeth. Some fowk think Mistress Catanach has mair teeth nor
"Well, if she's too much for me, I'll send for you," said the
marquis good humouredly.
"Ye canna get me sae easy, my lord: we're efter the herrin' noo."
"Well, well, we'll see."
"But I wantit to tell ye anither thing my lord," said Malcolm, as
he followed the marquis down the stairs.
"What is that?"
"I cam upo' anither plot - a mair serious ane, bein' against a man
'at can ill haud aff o' himsel', an' cud waur bide onything than
yer lordship - the puir mad laird."
"Ilka body kens him, my lord! He's son to the leddy o' Kirkbyres."
"I remember her - an old flame of my brother's."
"I ken naething aboot that, my lord; but he's her son."
"What about him, then?"
They had now reached the hall, and, seeing the marquis impatient,
Malcolm confined himself to the principal facts.
"I don't think you had any business to interfere, MacPhail," said
his lordship, seriously. "His mother must know best."
"I'm no sae sure o' that, my lord! To say naething o' the ill
guideship, which micht hae 'garred a minister sweer, it wud be
a cruelty naething short o' deev'lich to lock up a puir hairmless
cratur like that, as innocent as he 's ill shapit."
"He's as God made him," said the marquis.
"He 's no as God wull mak him," returned Malcolm.
"What do you mean by that?" asked the marquis.
"It stan's to rizzon, my lord," answered Malcolm, "that what's ill
made maun be made ower again. There's a day comin' whan a' 'at's
wrang 'll be set richt, ye ken."
"And the crooked made straight," suggested the marquis laughing.
"Doobtless, my lord. He'll be strauchtit oot bonny that day," said
Malcolm with absolute seriousness.
"Bah! You don't think God cares about a misshapen lump of flesh
like that!" exclaimed his lordship with contempt.
"As muckle's aboot yersel', or my leddy," said Malcolm. "Gien he
didna, he wadna be nae God ava' (at all)."
The marquis laughed again: he heard the words with his ears,
but his heart was deaf to the thought they clothed; hence he took
Malcolm's earnestness for irreverence, and it amused him.
"You've not got to set things right, anyhow," he said. "You mind
your own business."
"I'll try, my lord: it's the business o' ilka man, whaur he can,
to lowse the weichty birns, an' lat the forfouchten gang free. Guid
day to ye, my lord."
So saying the young fisherman turned, and left the marquis laughing
in the hall.
CHAPTER XXVII: LORD GERNON
When his housekeeper returned from church, Lord Lossie sent for
"Sit down, Mrs Courthope," he said; "I want to ask you about a
story I have a vague recollection of hearing when I spent a summer
at this house some twenty years ago. It had to do with a room in
the house that was never opened."
"There is such a story, my lord," answered the housekeeper. "The
late marquis, I remember well, used to laugh at it, and threaten
now and then to dare the prophecy; but old Eppie persuaded him not
- or at least fancied she did."
"Who is old Eppie?"
"She's gone now, my lord. She was over a hundred then. She was born
and brought up in the house, lived all her days in it, and died in
it; so she knew more about the place than any one else."
"Is ever likely to know," said the marquis, superadding a close to
her sentence. "And why wouldn't she have the room opened?" he asked.
"Because of the ancient prophecy, my lord."
"I can't recall a single point of the story."
"I wish old Eppie were alive to tell it," said Mrs Courthope.
"Don't you know it then?"
"Yes, pretty well; but my English tongue can't tell it properly.
It doesn't sound right out of my mouth. I've heard it a good many
times too, for I had often to take a visitor to her room to hear
it, and the old woman liked nothing better than telling it. But
I couldn't help remarking that it had grown a good bit even in my
time. The story was like a tree: it got bigger every year."
"That's the way with a good many stories," said the marquis. "But
tell me the prophecy at least."
"That is the only part I can give just as she gave it. It's in
rhyme. I hardly understand it, but I'm sure of the words."
"Let us have them then, if you please."
Mrs Courthope reflected for a moment, and then repeated the following
"The lord quha wad sup on 3 thowmes o' cauld airn,
The ayr quha wad kythe a bastard and carena,
The mayd quha wad tyne her man and her bairn,
Lift the neck, and enter, and fearna."
"That's it, my lord," she said, in conclusion. "And there's one
thing to be observed," she added, " - that that door is the only
one in all the passage that has a sneck, as they call it."
"What is a sneck?" asked his lordship, who was not much of a scholar
in his country's tongue.
"What we call a latch in England, my lord. I took pains to learn
the Scotch correctly, and I've repeated it to your lordship, word
"I don't doubt it," returned Lord Lossie, "but for the sense, I can
make nothing of it. - And you think my brother believed the story?"
"He always laughed at it, my lord, but pretended at least to give
in to old Eppie's entreaties."
"You mean that he was more near believing it than he liked to
"That's not what I mean, my lord."
"Why do you say pretended then?"
"Because when the news of his death came, some people about the
place would have it that he must have opened the door some time or
"How did they make that out?"
"From the first line of the prophecy."
"Repeat it again."
"The lord quha wad sup on 3 thowmes o' cauld airn," said Mrs
Courthope with emphasis, adding, "The three she always said was a
"That implies it was written somewhere!"
"She said it was legible on the door in her day - as if burnt with
a red hot iron."
"And what does the line mean?"
"Eppie said it meant that the lord of the place who opened that
door, would die by a sword wound. Three inches of cold iron, it
means, my lord."
The marquis grew thoughtful; his brother had died in a sword duel.
For a few moments he was silent.
"Tell me the whole story," he said at length.
Mrs Courthope again reflected, and began. I will tell the story,
however, in my own words, reminding my reader that if he regards
it as an unwelcome interruption, he can easily enough avoid this
bend of the river of my narrative by taking a short cut across to
the next chapter.
In an ancient time there was a lord of Lossie who practised unholy
works. Although he had other estates, he lived almost entirely at
the House of Lossie - that is, after his return from the East,
where he had spent his youth and early manhood. But he paid no
attention to his affairs: a steward managed everything for him,
and Lord Gernon (for that was the outlandish name he brought from
England, where he was born while his father was prisoner to Edward
Longshanks) trusted him for a great while without making the least
inquiry into his accounts, apparently contented with receiving
money enough to carry on the various vile experiments which seemed
his sole pleasure in life. There was no doubt in the minds of the
people of the town - the old town that is, which was then much
larger, and clustered about the gates of the House - that he had
dealings with Satan, from whom he had gained authority over the
powers of nature; that he was able to rouse and lay the winds, to
bring down rain, to call forth the lightnings and set the thunders
roaring over town and sea; nay, that he could even draw vessels
ashore on the rocks, with the certainty that not one on board would
be left alive to betray the pillage of the wreck: this and many
other deeds of dire note were laid to his charge in secret. The
town cowered at the foot of the House in terror of what its lord
might bring down upon it - as a brood of chickens might cower if
they had been hatched by a kite, and saw, instead of the matronly
head and beak of the hen of their instinct, those of the bird of
prey projected over them. Scarce one of them dared even look from the
door when the thunder was rolling over their heads, the lightnings
flashing about the roofs and turrets of the House, the wind raving
in fits between as if it would rave its last, and the rain falling
in sheets - not so much from fear of the elements, as for horror
of the far more terrible things that might be spied careering in the
storm. And indeed Lord Gernon himself was avoided in like fashion,
although rarely had any one the evil chance of seeing him, so seldom
did he go out of doors. There was but one in the whole community
- and that was a young girl, the daughter of his steward - who
declared she had no fear of him: she went so far as to uphold that
Lord Gernon meant harm to nobody, and was in consequence regarded
by the neighbours as unrighteously bold.
He worked in a certain lofty apartment on the ground floor - with
cellars underneath, reserved, it was believed, for frightfullest
conjurations and interviews; where, although no one was permitted
to enter, they knew from the smoke that he had a furnace, and
from the evil smells which wandered out, that he dealt with things
altogether devilish in their natures and powers. They said he always
washed there - in water medicated with distilments to prolong life
and produce invulnerability; but of this they could of course know
nothing. Strange to say, however, he always slept in the garret,
as far removed from his laboratory as the limits of the house would
permit; whence people said he dared not sleep in the neighbourhood