"Really I have no opinion to give about it," answered the marquis.
"I 'm no theologian. I see no harm in the prayer."
"Hairm in 't, my lord! It's perfetly gran'! It 's sic a prayer as
cudna weel be aiqualt. It vexes me to the verra hert o' my sowl that
a michty man like Milton - ane whase bein' was a crood o' hermonies
- sud ca' that the prayer o' a haithen wuman till a haithen God.
'O all seein' Licht, an' eternal Life o' a' things!' - Ca's he
that a haithen God? - or her 'at prayed sic a prayer a haithen
"Well, well," said the marquis, "I do n't want it all over again.
I see nothing to find fault with, myself, but I do n't take much
interest in that sort of thing."
"There's a wee bitty o' Laitin, here i' the note, 'at I canna freely
mak oot," said Malcolm, approaching Lord Lossie with his finger on
the passage, never doubting that the owner of such a library must
be able to read Latin perfectly: Mr Graham would have put him right
at once, and his books would have been lost in one of the window
corners of this huge place. But his lordship waved him back.
"I can't be your tutor," he said, not unkindly. "My Latin is far
too rusty for use."
The fact was that his lordship had never got beyond Maturin Cordier's
"Besides," he went on, "I want you to do something for me."
Malcolm instantly replaced the book on its shelf, and approached
his master, saying -
"Wull yer lordship lat me read whiles, i' this gran' place? I mean
whan I'm no wantit ither gaits, an' there 's naebody here."
"To be sure," answered the marquis; " - only the scholar must n't
come with the skipper's hands."
"I s' tak guid care o' that, my lord. I wad as sune think o' han'lin'
a book wi' wark-like han's as I wad o' branderin' a mackeral ohn
cleaned it oot."
"And when we have visitors, you 'll be careful not to get in their
"I wull that, my lord."
"And now," said his lordship rising, "I want you to take a letter
to Mrs Stewart of Kirkbyres. - Can you ride?"
"I can ride the bare back weel eneuch for a fisher loon," said
Malcolm; "but I never was upon a saiddle i' my life."
"The sooner you get used to one the better. Go and tell Stoat to
saddle the bay mare. Wait in the yard: I will bring the letter out
to you myself."
"Verra weel, my lord!" said Malcolm. He knew, from sundry remarks
he had heard about the stables, that the mare in question was a
ticklish one to ride, but would rather have his neck broken than
Hardly was she ready, when the marquis appeared, accompanied by Lady
Florimel - both expecting to enjoy a laugh at Malcolm's expense.
But when the mare was brought out, and he was going to mount her
where she stood, something seemed to wake in the marquis's heart,
or conscience, or wherever the pigmy Duty slept that occupied the
all but sinecure of his moral economy: he looked at Malcolm for a
moment, then at the ears of the mare hugging her neck, and last at
the stones of the paved yard.
"Lead her on to the turf, Stoat," he said.
The groom obeyed, all followed, and Malcolm mounted. The same
instant he lay on his back on the grass, amidst a general laugh,
loud on the part of marquis and lady, and subdued on that of the
servants. But the next he was on his feet, and, the groom still
holding the mare, in the saddle again: a little anger is a fine
spur for the side of even an honest intent. This time he sat for
half a minute, and then found himself once more on the grass. It
was but once more: his mother earth had claimed him again only to
complete his strength. A third time he mounted - and sat. As soon
as she perceived it would be hard work to unseat him, the mare was
"Bravo!" cried the marquis, giving him the letter.
"Will there be an answer, my lord?"
"Wait and see."
"I s' gar you pey for't, gien we come upon a broon rig atween this
an' Kirkbyres," said Malcolm, addressing the mare, and rode away.
Both the marquis and Lady Florimel, whose laughter had altogether
ceased in the interest of watching the struggle, stood looking
after him with a pleased expression, which, as he vanished up the
glen, changed to a mutual glance and smile.
"He's got good blood in him, however he came by it," said the
marquis. "The country is more indebted to its nobility than is
Otherwise indebted at least than Lady Florimel could gather from
her father's remark!
CHAPTER XXXV: KIRKBYRES
Malcolm felt considerably refreshed after his tussle with the mare
and his victory over her, and much enjoyed his ride of ten miles.
It was a cool autumn afternoon. A few of the fields were being
reaped, one or two were crowded with stooks, while many crops of
oats yet waved and rustled in various stages of vanishing green.
On all sides kine were lowing; overhead rooks were cawing; the sun
was nearing the west, and in the hollows a thin mist came steaming
up. Malcolm had never in his life been so far from the coast before:
his road led southwards into the heart of the country.
The father of the late proprietor of Kirkbyres had married the
heiress of Gersefell, an estate which marched with his own, and
was double its size, whence the lairdship was sometimes spoken of
by the one name, sometimes by the other. The combined properties
thus inherited by the late Mr Stewart were of sufficient extent to
justify him, although a plain man, in becoming a suitor for the hand
of the beautiful daughter of a needy baronet in the neighbourhood
- with the already somewhat tarnished condition of whose reputation,
having come into little contact with the world in which she moved,
he was unacquainted. Quite unexpectedly she also, some years after
their marriage, brought him a property of considerable extent, a
fact which doubtless had its share in the birth and nourishment of
her consuming desire to get the estates into her own management.
Towards the end of his journey, Malcolm came upon a bare moorland
waste, on the long ascent of a low hill, - very desolate, with not
a tree or house within sight for two miles. A ditch, half full of
dark water, bordered each side of the road, which went straight as
a rod through a black peat moss lying cheerless and dreary on all
sides - hardly less so where the sun gleamed from the surface of
some stagnant pool filling a hole whence peats had been dug, or
where a patch of cotton grass waved white and lonely in the midst
of the waste expanse. At length, when he reached the top of the
ridge, he saw the house of Kirkbyres below him; and, with a small
modern lodge near by, a wooden gate showed the entrance to its
grounds. Between the gate and the house he passed through a young
plantation of larches and other firs for a quarter of a mile, and
so came to an old wall with an iron gate in the middle of it, within
which the old house, a gaunt meagre building - a bare house in
fact, relieved only by four small turrets or bartizans, one at each
corner - lifted its grey walls, pointed gables, and steep roof
high into the pale blue air. He rode round the outer wall, seeking
a back entrance, and arrived at a farm yard, where a boy took
his horse. Finding the kitchen door open, he entered, and having
delivered his letter to a servant girl, sat down to wait the possible
In a few minutes she returned and requested him to follow her.
This was more than he had calculated upon, but he obeyed at once.
The girl led him along a dark passage, and up a winding stone
stair, much worn, to a room richly furnished, and older fashioned,
he thought, than any room he had yet seen in Lossie House.
On a settee, with her back to a window, sat Mrs Stewart, a lady
tall and slender, with well poised, easy carriage, and a motion
that might have suggested the lithe grace of a leopard. She greeted
him with a bend of the head and a smile, which, even in the twilight
and her own shadow, showed a gleam of ivory, and spoke to him in
a hard sweet voice, wherein an ear more experienced than Malcolm's
might have detected an accustomed intent to please. Although he knew
nothing of the so called world, and hence could recognize neither
the Parisian air of her dress nor the indications of familiarity
with fashionable life prominent enough in her bearing, he yet could
not fail to be at least aware of the contrast between her appearance
and her surroundings. Yet less could the far stronger contrast
escape him, between the picture in his own mind of the mother of
the mad laird, and the woman before him; he could not by any effort
cause the two to coalesce.
"You have had a long ride, Mr MacPhail," she said; "you must be
"What wad tire me, mem?" returned Malcolm. "It's a fine caller
evenin', an' I hed ane o' the marquis's best mears to carry me."
"You'll take a glass of wine, anyhow," said Mrs Stewart. "Will you
oblige me by ringing the bell?"
"No, I thank ye, mem. The mear wad be better o' a mou'fu' o' meal
an' watter, but I want naething mysel'."
A shadow passed over the lady's face. She rose and rang the bell,
then sat in silence until it was answered.
"Bring the wine and cake," she said, then turned to Malcolm. "Your
master speaks very kindly of you. He seems to trust you thoroughly."
"I'm verra glaid to hear 't, mem; but he has never had muckle cause
to trust or distrust me yet."
"He seems even to think that I might place equal confidence in
"I dinna ken. I wadna hae ye lippen to me owre muckle," said Malcolm.
"You do not mean to contradict the good character your master gives
you?" said the lady, with a smile and a look right into his eyes.
"I wadna hae ye lippen till me afore ye had my word," said Malcolm.
"I may use my own judgment about that," she replied, with another
winning smile. "But oblige me by taking a glass of wine."
She rose and approached the decanters.
"'Deed no, mem I'm no used till 't, an' it micht jummle my
jeedgement," said Malcolm, who had placed himself on the defensive
from the first, jealous of his own conduct as being the friend of
At his second refusal the cloud again crossed the lady's brow, but
her smile did not vanish. Pressing her hospitality no more, she
resumed her seat.
"My lord tells me," she said, folding a pair of lovely hands on
her lap, "that you see my poor unhappy boy sometimes."
"No sae dooms (absolutely) unhappy, mem!" said Malcolm; but she
went on without heeding the remark.
"And that you rescued him not long ago from the hands of ruffians."
Malcolm made no reply.
"Everybody knows," she continued, after a slight pause, "what an
unhappy mother I am. It is many years since I lost the loveliest
infant ever seen, while my poor Stephen was left to be the mockery
of every urchin in the street!"
She sighed deeply, and one of the fair hands took a hand kerchief
from a work table near.
"No in Portlossie, mem," said Malcolm. "There's verra feow o' them
so hard hertit or so ill mainnert. They're used to seein' him at the
schuil, whaur he shaws himsel' whiles; an' he 's a great favourite
wi' them, for he's ane o' the best craturs livin'."
"A poor, witless, unmanageable being! He's a dreadful grief to me,"
said the widowed mother, with a deep sigh.
"A bairn could manage him," said Malcolm in strong contradiction.
"Oh, if I could but convince him of my love! but he won't give me
a chance. He has an unaccountable dread of me, which makes him as
well as me wretched. It is a delusion which no argument can overcome,
and seems indeed an essential part of his sad affliction. The more
care and kindness he needs, the less will he accept at my hands. I
long to devote my life to him, and he will not allow me. I should
be but too happy to nurse him day and night. Ah, Mr MacPhail, you
little know a mother's heart! Even if my beautiful boy had not been
taken from me, Stephen would still have been my idol, idiot as he
is - and will be as long as he lives. And - "
"He 's nae idiot, mem," interposed Malcolm.
"And just imagine," she went on, "what a misery it must be to a
widowed mother, poor companion as he would be at the best, to think
of her boy roaming the country like a beggar! sleeping she doesn't
know where! eating wretched food! and - "
"Guid parritch an' milk, an' brose an' butter," said Malcolm
parenthetically; " - whiles herrin' an' yallow haddies."
"It's enough to break a mother's heart! If I could but persuade him
to come home for a week so as to have a chance with him! But it's
no use trying: ill disposed people have made mischief between
us, telling wicked lies, and terrifying the poor fellow almost to
death. It is quite impossible except I get some one to help me -
and there are so few who have any influence with him!"
Malcolm thought she must surely have had chances enough before he
ran away from her; but he could not help feeling softened towards
"Supposin' I was to get ye speech o' 'im, mem?" he said.
"That would not be of the slightest use. He is so prejudiced against
me, he would only shriek, and go into one of those horrible fits."
"I dinna see what's to be dune than," said Malcolm.
"I must have him brought here - there is no other way."
"An' whaur wad be the guid o' that, mem? By yer ain shawin', he
wad rin oot o' 's verra body to win awa' frae ye."
"I did not mean by force," returned Mrs Stewart. "Some one he
has confidence in must come with him. Nothing else will give me a
chance. He would trust you now; your presence would keep him from
being terrified - at his own mother, alas! through you he would
learn to trust me; and if a course of absolute indulgence did not
bring him to live like other people - that of course is impossible
- it might at least induce him to live at home, and cease to be
a byword to the neighbourhood."
Her tone was so refined, and her voice so pleading; her sorrow was
so gentle; and she looked, in the dimness, to Malcolm's imagination
at least, so young and handsome, that the strong castle of his
prejudices was swaying as if built on reeds; and had it not been
that he was already the partizan of her son, and therefore in honour
bound to give him the benefit of every doubt, he would certainly
have been gained over to work her will. He knew absolutely nothing
against her - not even that she was the person he had seen in Mrs
Catanach's company in the garret of Lossie House. But he steeled
himself to distrust her, and held his peace.
"It is clear," she resumed after a pause, "that the intervention of
some friend of both is the only thing that can be of the smallest
use. I know you are a friend of his - a true one, and I do not
see why you should not be a friend of mine as well - Will you be
my friend too?"
She rose as she said the words, and approaching him, bent on him
out of the shadow the full strength of eyes whose light had not yet
begun to pale before the dawn we call death, and held out a white
hand glimmering in the dusk: she knew only too well the power of
a still fine woman of any age over a youth of twenty.
Malcolm, knowing nothing about it, yet felt hers, and was on his
guard. He rose also, but did not take her hand.
"I have had only too much reason," she added, "to distrust some
who, unlike you, professed themselves eager to serve me; but I know
neither Lord Lossie nor you will play me false."
She took his great rough hand between her two soft palms, and for
one moment Malcolm was tempted - not to betray his friend, but
to simulate a yielding sympathy, in order to come at the heart of
her intent, and should it prove false, to foil it the more easily.
But the honest nature of him shrunk from deception, even where the
object of it was good: he was not at liberty to use falsehood for
the discomfiture of the false even; a pretended friendship was of
the vilest of despicable things, and the more holy the end, the
less fit to be used for the compassing of it - least of all in
the cause of a true friendship.
"I canna help ye, mem," he said; "I daurna. I hae sic a regaird
for yer son 'at afore I wad du onything to hairm him, I wad hae my
twa han's chappit frae the shackle bane."
"Surely, my dear Mr MacPhail," returned the lady in her most
persuasive tones, and with her sweetest smile, "you cannot call it
harming a poor idiot to restore him to the care of his own mother!"
"That's as it turnt oot," rejoined Malcolm. "But I'm sure o' ae
thing, mem, an' that is, 'at he's no sae muckle o' an eediot as
some fowk wad hae him."
Mrs Stewart's face fell, she turned from him, and going back to
her seat hid her face in her handkerchief.
"I'm afraid," she said sadly, after a moment, "I must give up my
last hope: you are not disposed to be friendly to me, Mr MacPhail;
you too have been believing hard things of me."
"That's true; but no frae hearsay alane," returned Malcolm. "The
luik o' the puir fallow whan he but hears the chance word mither,
's a sicht no to be forgotten. He grips his lugs atween 's twa
han's, an' rins like a colley wi' a pan at 's tail. That couldna
come o' naething."
Mrs Stewart hid her face on the cushioned arm of the settee, and
sobbed. A moment after she sat erect again, but languid and red
eyed, saying, as if with sudden resolve:
"I will tell you all I know about it, and then you can judge for
yourself. When he was a very small child, I took him for advice
to the best physicians in London and Paris: all advised a certain
operation which had to be performed for consecutive months, at
intervals of a few days. Though painful it was simple, yet of such
a nature that no one was so fit to attend to it as his mother. Alas!
instead of doing him any good, it has done me the worst injury in
the world: my child hates me!"
Again she hid her face on the settee.
The explanation was plausible enough, and the grief of the mother
surely apparent! Malcolm could not but be touched.
"It's no 'at I'm no willin' to be your freen', mem; but I'm yer
son's freen' a'ready, an' gien he war to hear onything 'at gart
him mislippen till me, it wad gang to my hert."
"Then you can judge what I feel!" said the lady.
"Gien it wad hale your hert to hurt mine, I wad think aboot it,
mem; but gien it hurtit a' three o' 's, and did guid to nane, it
wad be a misfit a'thegither. I'll du naething till I'm doonricht
sure it's the pairt o' a freen'."
"That's just what makes you the only fit person to help me that I
know. If I were to employ people in the affair, they might be rough
with the poor fellow."
"Like eneuch, mem," assented Malcolm, while the words put him afresh
on his guard.
"But I might be driven to it," she added.
Malcolm responded with an unuttered vow.
"It might become necessary to use force - whereas you could lead
him with a word."
"Na; I'm naither sic witch nor sic traitor."
"Where would be the treachery when you knew it would be for his
"That's jist what I dinna ken, mem," retorted Malcolm. "Luik ye
here, mem," he continued, rousing himself to venture an appeal to
the mother's heart; " - here's a man it has pleased God to mak no
freely like ither fowk. His min' though cawpable a hantle mair nor
a body wad think 'at didna ken him sae weel as I du, is certainly
weyk - though maybe the weykness lies mair i' the tongue than
i' the brain o' 'im efter a' - an' he's been sair frichtit wi'
some guideship or ither; the upshot o 't a' bein', 'at he's unco
timoursome, and ready to bursten himsel' rinnin' whan there's nane
pursuin'. But he's the gentlest o' craturs - a doonricht gentleman,
mem, gien ever there was ane - an' that kin'ly wi' a' cratur, baith
man an' beast! A verra bairn cud guide him - ony gait but ane."
"Anywhere but to his mother!" exclaimed Mrs Stewart, pressing her
handkerchief to her eyes, and sobbed as she spoke. "There is a
child he is very fond of, I am told," she added, recovering herself.
"He likes a' bairns," returned Malcolm, "an' they 're maistly
a' freen'ly wi' him. But there's but jist ae thing 'at maks life
endurable till 'im. He suffers a hantle (a great deal) wi' that
puir back o' his, an' wi' his breath tu whan he's frichtit, for
his hert gangs loupin like a sawmon in a bag net. An' he suffers
a hantle, forbye, in his puir feeble min tryin' to unnerstan' the
guid things 'at fowk tells him, an' jaloosin' it's his ain wyte 'at
he disna unnerstan' them better an' whiles he thinks himsel' the
child o' sin and wrath, an' that Sawtan has some special propriety
in him, as the carritchis says - "
"But," interrupted the lady hurriedly, "you were going to tell me
the one comfort he has."
"It's his leeberty, mem - jist his leeberty; to gang whaur he lists
like the win'; to turn his face whaur he wull i' the mornin', an'
back again at nicht gien he likes; to wan'er - "
"Back where?" interrupted the mother, a little too eagerly.
"Whaur he likes, mem - I cudna say whaur wi' ony certainty. But
aih! he likes to hear the sea moanin', an' watch the stars sheenin'!
- There's a sicht o' oondevelopit releegion in him, as Maister
Graham says; an' I du not believe 'at the Lord 'll see him wranged
mair nor 's for 's guid. But it's my belief, gien ye took the
leeberty frae the puir cratur, ye wad kill him."
"Then you won't help me!" she cried despairingly. "They tell me
you are an orphan yourself - and yet you will not take pity on a
childless mother! - worse than childless, for I had the loveliest
boy once - he would be about your age now, and I have never had
any comfort in life since I lost him. Give me my son, and I will
bless you - love you."
As she spoke she rose, and approaching him gently, laid a hand on
his shoulder. Malcolm trembled, but stood his mental ground.
"'Deed, mem, I can an' wull promise ye naething!" he said. "Are ye
to play a man fause 'cause he's less able to tak care o' himsel'
than ither fowk? Gien I war sure 'at ye cud mak it up, an' 'at
he would be happy wi' ye efterhin, it micht be anither thing; but
excep' ye garred him, ye cudna get him to bide lang eneuch for ye
to try - an' syne (even then) he wad dee afore ye hed convenced
him. I doobt, mem, ye hae lost yer chance wi' him and maun du yer
best to be content withoot him - I'll promise ye this muckle, gien
ye like - I s' tell him what ye hae said upo' the subjec'."
"Much good that will be!" replied the lady, with ill concealed
"Ye think he wadna unnerstan' 't; but he unnerstan's wonnerfu'."
"And you would come again, and tell me what he said?' she murmured,
with the eager persuasiveness of reviving hope.
"Maybe ay, maybe no - I winna promise. - Hae ye ony answer to
sen' back to my lord's letter, mem?"
"No; I cannot write; I cannot even think. You have made me so
"Go, go;" said the lady dejectedly. "Tell your master I am not
well. I will write tomorrow. If you hear anything of my poor boy,
do take pity upon me and come and tell me."
The stiffer partizan Malcolm appeared, the more desirable did it
seem in Mrs Stewart's eyes to gain him over to her side. Leaving
his probable active hostility out of the question, she saw plainly
enough that, if he were called on to give testimony as to the laird's
capacity, his witness would pull strongly against her plans; while,
if the interests of such a youth were wrapped up in them, that fact
in itself would prejudice most people in favour of them.
CHAPTER XXXVI: THE BLOW
"Well, Malcolm," said his lordship, when the youth reported himself,
"how's Mrs Stewart?"
"No ower weel pleased, my lord," answered Malcolm.
"What! - you have n't been refusing to - ?"
"Deed hev I, my lord!"
"Tut! tut! - Have you brought me any message from her?"
He spoke rather angrily.
"Nane but that she wasna weel, an' wad write the morn."
The marquis thought for a few moments.
"If I make a personal matter of it, MacPhail - I mean - you won't
refuse me if I ask a personal favour of you?"
"I maun ken what it is afore I say onything, my lord."
"You may trust me not to require anything you could n't undertake."
"There micht be twa opinions, my lord."
"You young boor! What is the world coming to? By Jove!"
"As far 's I can gang wi' a clean conscience, I'll gang, - no ae
step ayont," said Malcolm.
"You mean to say your judgment is a safer guide than mine?"
"No, my lord; I micht weel follow yer lordship's jeedgment, but
gien there be a conscience i' the affair, it's my ain conscience
I'm bun' to follow, an' no yer lordship's, or ony ither man's.
Suppose the thing 'at seemed richt to yer lordship, seemed wrang
to me, what wad ye hae me du than?"
"Do as I told you, and lay the blame on me."
"Na, my lord, that winna haud: I bude to du what I thoucht richt,