"A man's face - the same we saw in the storm," she answered, and
Malcolm felt her shudder as she spoke.
"It 's naething but the mad laird," he said. "He 's better nor
hairmless. Dinna say a word to yer father my leddy. I dinna like
to say that, but I 'll tell ye a' what for efterhin'."
But Florimel, knowing that her father had a horror of lunatics,
was willing enough to be silent.
No sooner was her terror thus assuaged, than the oddities of the
singing laid hold upon her, stirring up a most tyrannous impulse
to laughter. The prayer that followed made it worse. In itself the
prayer was perfectly reverent, and yet, for dread of irreverence,
I must not attempt a representation of the forms of its embodiment,
or the manner of its utterance.
So uncontrollable did her inclination to merriment become, that she
found at last the only way to keep from bursting into loud laughter
was to slacken the curb, and go off at a canter - I mean, to laugh
freely but gently. This so infected her father, that he straightway
accompanied her, but with more noise. Malcolm sat in misery, from
the fear not so much of discovery, though that would be awkward
enough, as of the loss to the laird of his best refuge. But when
he reflected, he doubted much whether it was even now a safe one;
and, anyhow, knew it would be as vain to remonstrate as to try to
stop the noise of a brook by casting pebbles into it.
When it came to the sermon, however, things went better; for MacLeod
was the preacher, - an eloquent man after his kind, in virtue of
the genuine earnestness of which he was full. If his anxiety for
others appeared to be rather to save them from the consequences of
their sins, his main desire for himself certainly was to be delivered
from evil; the growth of his spiritual nature, while it rendered
him more and more dissatisfied with himself, had long left behind
all fear save of doing wrong. His sermon this evening was founded on
the text: "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit
of God." He spoke fervently and persuasively; nor, although his
tone and accent were odd, and his Celtic modes and phrases to those
Saxon ears outlandish, did these peculiarities in the least injure
the influence of the man. Even from Florimel was the demon of
laughter driven; and the marquis, although not a single notion of
what the man intended passed through the doors of his understanding,
sat quiet, and disapproved of nothing. Possibly, had he been alone
as he listened, he too, like one of old, might have heard, in the
dark cave, the still small voice of a presence urging him forth
to the light; but, as it was, the whole utterance passed without
a single word or phrase or sentence having roused a thought,
or suggested a doubt, or moved a question, or hinted an objection
or a need of explanation. That the people present should interest
themselves in such things, only set before him the folly of mankind.
The text and the preacher both kept telling him that such as he
could by no possibility have the slightest notion what such things
were; but not the less did he, as if he knew all about them, wonder
how the deluded fisher folk could sit and listen. The more tired
he grew, the more angry he got with the parson who had sent him
there with his foolery: and the more convinced that the men who
prayed and preached were as honest as they were silly; and that
the thing to die of itself had only to be let alone. He heard the
Amen of the benediction with a sigh of relief, and rose at once -
cautiously this time.
"Ye maunna gang yet, my lord," said Malcolm. "They maun be a' oot
"I don't care who sees me," protested the weary man.
"But yer lordship wadna like to be descriet scram'lin' doon efter
the back like the bear in Robinson Crusoe!"
The marquis grumbled, and yielded impatiently.
At length Malcolm, concluding from the silence that the meeting had
thoroughly skailed, peeped cautiously out to make sure. But after
a moment, he drew back, saying in a regretful whisper,
"I 'm sorry ye canna gang yet, my lord. There's some half a dizzen
o' ill luikin' chields, cairds (gipsies), I 'm thinkin', or maybe
waur, congregat doon there, an' it 's my opinion they're efter nae
guid, my lord."
"How do you know that?"
"Ony body wad ken that, 'at got a glimp o' them."
"Let me look."
"Na, my lord; ye dinna understan' the lie o' the stanes eneuch to
haud oot o' sicht."
"How long do you mean to keep us here?" asked the marquis impatiently.
"Till it's safe to gang, my lord. For onything I ken, they may be
efter comin' up here. They may be used to the place - though I
dinna think it."
"In that case we must go down at once. We must not let them find
"They wad tak 's ane by ane as we gaed doon, my lord, an' we wadna
hae a chance. Think o' my leddy there!"
Florimel heard all, but with the courage of her race.
"This is a fine position you have brought us into, MacPhail!" said
his master, now thoroughly uneasy for his daughter's sake.
"Nae waur nor I 'll tak ye oot o', gien ye lippen to me, my lord,
an' no speyk a word."
"If you tell them who papa is," said Florimel, "they won't do us
any harm, surely!"
"I 'm nane sae sure o' that. They micht want to ripe 's pooches
(search his pockets), an' my lord wad ill stan' that, I 'm thinkin'!
Na, na. Jist stan' ye back, my lord an' my leddy, an' dinna speyk
a word. I s' sattle them. They're sic villains, there nae terms to
be hauden wi' them."
His lordship was far from satisfied; but a light shining up into
the crevice at the moment, gave powerful support to Malcolm's
authority: he took Florimel's hand and drew her a little farther
from the mouth of the cave.
"Don't you wish we had Demon with us?" whispered the girl.
"I was thinking how I never went without a dagger in Venice," said
the marquis, "and never once had occasion to use it. Now I haven't
even a penknife about me! It looks very awkward."
"Please don't talk like that," said Florimel. "Can't you trust
"Oh, yes; perfectly!" he answered; but the tone was hardly up to
They could see the dim figure of Malcolm, outlined in fits of the
approaching light, all but filling the narrow entrance, as he bent
forward to listen. Presently he laid himself down, leaning on his
left elbow, with his right shoulder only a little above the level
of the passage. The light came nearer, and they heard the sound
of scrambling on the rock, but no voice; then for one moment the
light shone clear upon the roof of the cleft; the next, came the
sound of a dull blow, the light vanished, and the noise of a heavy
fall came from beneath.
"Ane o' them, my lord," said Malcolm, in a sharp whisper, over his
A confusion of voices arose.
"You booby!" said one. "You climb like a calf. I'll go next."
Evidently they thought he had slipped and fallen, and he was unable
to set them right. Malcolm heard them drag him out of the way.
The second ascended more rapidly, and met his fate the sooner.
As he delivered the blow, Malcolm recognized one of the laird's
assailants, and was now perfectly at his ease.
"Twa o' them, my lord," he said. "Gien we had ane mair doon, we
cud manage the lave."
The second, however, had not lost his speech, and amidst the
confused talk that followed, Malcolm heard the words: "Rin doon to
the coble for the gun," and, immediately after, the sound of feet
hurrying from the cave. He rose quietly, leaped into the midst of
them, came down upon one, and struck out right and left. Two ran,
and three lay where they were.
"Gien ane o' ye muv han' or fit, I'll brain him wi' 's ain stick,"
he cried, as he wrenched a cudgel from the grasp of one of them.
Then catching up a lantern, and hurrying behind the projecting rock
- "Haste ye, an' come," he shouted. "The w'y 's clear, but only
for a meenute."
Florimel appeared, and Malcolm got her down.
"Mind that fellow," cried the marquis from above.
Malcolm turned quickly, and saw the gleam of a knife in the grasp
of his old enemy, who had risen, and crept behind him to the recess.
He flung the lantern in his face, following it with a blow in which
were concentrated all the weight and energy of his frame. The man
went down again heavily, and Malcolm instantly trampled all their
lanterns to pieces.
"Noo," he said to himself, "they winna ken but it 's the laird an'
Phemy wi' me!"
Then turning, and taking Florimel by the arm, he hurried her out
of the cave, followed by the marquis.
They emerged in the liquid darkness of a starry night. Lady Florimel
clung to both her father and Malcolm. It was a rough way for some
little distance, but at length they reached the hard wet sand,
and the marquis would have stopped to take breath; but Malcolm was
uneasy, and hurried them on.
"What are you frightened at now?" asked his lordship.
"Naething," answered Malcolm, adding to himself however, "I 'm
fleyt at naethin' - I 'm fleyt for the laird."
As they approached the tunnel, he fell behind.
"Why don't you come on?" said his lordship.
"I 'm gaein' back noo 'at ye 're safe," said Malcolm.
"Going back! What for?" asked the marquis.
"I maun see what thae villains are up till," answered Malcolm.
"Not alone, surely!" exclaimed the marquis. "At least get some of
your people to go with you."
"There 's nae time, my lord. Dinna be fleyt for me: I s' tak care
He was already yards away, running at full speed. The marquis
shouted after him, but Malcolm would not hear.
When he reached the Baillies' Barn once more, all was still. He
groped his way in and found his own lantern where they had been
sitting, and having lighted it, descended and followed the windings
of the cavern a long way, but saw nothing of the laird or Phemy.
Coming at length to a spot where he heard the rushing of a stream,
he found he could go no farther: the roof of the cave had fallen,
and blocked up the way with huge masses of stone and earth. He had
come a good distance certainly, but by no means so far as Phemy's
imagination had represented the reach of the cavern. He might
however have missed a turn, he thought.
The sound he heard was that of the Lossie Burn, flowing along in
the starlight through the grounds of the House. Of this he satisfied
himself afterwards; and then it seemed to him not unlikely that
in ancient times the river had found its way to the sea along the
cave, for throughout its length the action of water was plainly
visible. But perhaps the sea itself had used to go roaring along the
great duct: Malcolm was no geologist, and could not tell.
CHAPTER XLVII: MRS STEWART'S CLAIM
The weather became unsettled with the approach of winter, and the
marquis had a boat house built at the west end of the Seaton: there
the little cutter was laid up, well wrapt in tarpaulins, like a
butterfly returned to the golden coffin of her internatal chrysalis.
A great part of his resulting leisure, Malcolm spent with Mr Graham,
to whom he had, as a matter of course, unfolded the trouble caused
him by Duncan's communication.
The more thoughtful a man is, and the more conscious of what is
going on within himself, the more interest will he take in what
he can know of his progenitors, to the remotest generations; and a
regard to ancestral honours, however contemptible the forms which
the appropriation of them often assumes, is a plant rooted in the
deepest soil of humanity. The high souled labourer will yield to
none in his respect for the dignity of his origin, and Malcolm had
been as proud of the humble descent he supposed his own, as Lord
Lossie was of his mighty ancestry. Malcolm had indeed a loftier
sense of resulting dignity than his master.
He reverenced Duncan both for his uprightness and for a certain
grandeur of spirit, which, however ridiculous to the common eye,
would have been glorious in the eyes of the chivalry of old; he
looked up to him with admiration because of his gifts in poetry
and music; and loved him endlessly for his unfailing goodness and
tenderness to himself. Even the hatred of the grand old man had
an element of unselfishness in its retroaction, of power in its
persistency, and of greatness in its absolute contempt of compromise.
At the same time he was the only human being to whom Malcolm's
heart had gone forth as to his own; and now, with the knowledge of
yet deeper cause for loving him, he had to part with the sense of
a filial relation to him! And this involved more; for so thoroughly
had the old man come to regard the boy as his offspring, that he
had nourished in him his own pride of family; and it added a sting
of mortification to Malcolm's sorrow, that the greatness of the
legendary descent in which he had believed, and the honourableness
of the mournful history with which his thoughts of himself had been
so closely associated, were swept from him utterly. Nor was this
all even yet: in losing these he had had, as it were, to let go his
hold, not of his clan merely, but of his race: every link of kin
that bound him to humanity had melted away from his grasp. Suddenly
he would become aware that his heart was sinking within him, and
questioning it why, would learn anew that he was alone in the world,
a being without parents, without sister or brother, with none to
whom he might look in the lovely confidence of a right bequeathed
by some common mother, near or afar. He had waked into being,
but all around him was dark, for there was no window, that is, no
kindred eye, by which the light of the world whence he had come,
entering might console him.
But a gulf of blackness was about to open at his feet, against
which the darkness he now lamented would show purple and gray.
One afternoon, as he passed through the Seaton from the harbour,
to have a look at the cutter, he heard the Partaness calling after
"Weel, ye're a sicht for sair een - noo 'at ye're like to turn
oot something worth luikin' at!" she cried, as he approached with
his usual friendly smile.
"What du ye mean by that, Mistress Findlay?" asked Malcolm, carelessly
adding: "Is yer man in?"
"Ay!" she went on, without heeding either question; "ye'll be gran'
set up noo! Ye'll no be hain' 'a fine day' to fling at yer auld
freen's, the puir fisher fowk, or lang! Weel! it's the w'y o' the
warl! Hech, sirs!"
"What on earth 's set ye aff like that Mrs Findlay?" said Malcolm.
"It's nae sic a feerious (furious) gran' thing to be my lord's
skipper - or henchman, as my daddy wad hae 't - surely! It's a
heap gran'er like to be a free fisherman, wi' a boat o' yer ain,
like the Partan."
"Hoots! Nane o' yer clavers! Ye ken weel eneuch what I mean - as
weel 's ilka ither creatit sowl o' Portlossie. An' gien ye dinna
chowse to lat on aboot it till an auld freen' cause she's naething
but a fisherwife, it's dune ye mair skaith a'ready nor I thocht it
wad to the lang last, Ma'colm - for it 's yer ain name I s' ca'
ye yet, gien ye war ten times a laird! - didna I gie ye the breist
whan ye cud du naething i' the wardle but sowk? - An' weel ye
sowkit, puir innocent 'at ye was!"
"As sure's we're baith alive," asseverated Malcolm, "I ken nae mair
nor a sawtit herrin' what ye're drivin' at."
"Tell me 'at ye dinna ken what a' the queentry kens - an' hit
aboot yer ain sel'!" screamed the Partaness.
"I tell ye I ken naething; an' gien ye dinna tell me what ye're
efter direckly, I s' haud awa' to Mistress Allison - she 'll tell
This was a threat sufficiently prevailing.
"It's no in natur'!" she cried. "Here's Mistress Stewart o' the
Gersefell been cawin' (driving) like mad aboot the place, in her
cairriage an' hoo mony horse I dinna ken, declarin', ay, sweirin',
they tell me, 'at ane cowmonly ca'd Ma'colm MacPhail is neither
mair nor less nor the son born o' her ain boady in honest wadlock!
- an' tell me ye ken naething aboot it! What are ye stan'in' like
that for - as gray mou'd 's a deein' skate?"
For the first time in his life, Malcolm, young and strong as he was,
felt sick. Sea and sky grew dim before him, and the earth seemed
to reel under him. "I dinna believe 't," he faltered - and turned
"Ye dinna believe what I tell ye!" screeched the wrathful Partaness.
"Ye daur to say the word!"
But Malcolm did not care to reply. He wandered away, half unconscious
of where he was, his head hanging, and his eyes creeping over the
ground. The words of the woman kept ringing in his ears; but ever
and anon, behind them as it were in the depth of his soul, he heard
the voice of the mad laird, with its one lamentation: "I dinna ken
whaur I cam' frae." Finding himself at length at Mr Graham's door,
he wondered how he had got there.
It was Saturday afternoon, and the master was in the churchyard.
Startled by Malcolm's look, he gazed at him in grave silent enquiry.
"Hae ye h'ard the ill news, sir?" said the youth.
"No; I'm sorry to hear there is any."
"They tell me Mistress Stewart's rinnin' aboot the toon claimin'
"Claiming you! - How do you mean?"
"For her ain!"
"Not for her son?"
"Ay, sir - that 's what they say. But ye haena h'ard o' 't?"
"Not a word."
"Then I believe it's a' havers!" cried Malcolm energetically. "It
was sair eneuch upo' me a'ready to ken less o' whaur I cam frae
than the puir laird himsel'; but to come frae whaur he cam frae,
was a thocht ower sair!"
"You don't surely despise the poor fellow so much as to scorn to
have the same parents with him!" said Mr Graham.
"The verra contrar', sir. But a wuman wha wad sae misguide the son
o' her ain body, an' for naething but that, as she had broucht him
furth, sic he was! - it 's no to be lichtly believed nor lichtly
endured. I s' awa' to Miss Horn an' see whether she 's h'ard ony
sic leeing clashes."
But as Malcolm uttered her name, his heart sank within him, for
their talk the night he had sought her hospitality for the laird,
came back to his memory, burning like an acrid poison.
"You can't do better," said Mr Graham. "The report itself may be
false - or true, and the lady mistaken."
"She'll hae to pruv 't weel afore I say haud," rejoined Malcolm.
"And suppose she does?"
"In that case," said Malcolm, with a composure almost ghastly, "a
man maun tak what mither it pleases God to gie him. But faith! she
winna du wi' me as wi' the puir laird. Gien she taks me up, she'll
repent 'at she didna lat me lie. She'll be as little pleased wi'
the tane o' her sons as the tither - I can tell her, ohn propheseed!"
"But think what you might do between mother and son," suggested
the master, willing to reconcile him to the possible worst.
"It's ower late for that," he answered. "The puir man's thairms
(fiddle-strings) are a' hingin' lowse, an' there's no grip eneuch
i' the pegs to set them up again. He wad but think I had gane ower
to the enemy, an' haud oot o' my gait as eident (diligently) as he
hauds oot o' hers. Na, it wad du naething for him. Gien 't warna
for what I see in him, I wad hae a gran' rebutter to her claim;
for hoo cud ony wuman's ain son hae sic a scunner at her as I hae
i' my hert an' brain an' verra stamach? Gien she war my ain mither,
there bude to be some nait'ral drawin's atween 's, a body wad think.
But it winna haud, for there's the laird! The verra name o' mither
gars him steik his lugs an' rin."
"Still, if she be your mother, it's for better for worse as much
as if she had been your own choice."
"I kenna weel hoo it cud be for waur," said Malcolm, who did not
yet, even from his recollection of the things Miss Horn had said,
comprehend what worst threatened him.
"It does seem strange," said the master thoughtfully, after a
pause, "that some women should be allowed to be mothers that through
them sons and daughters of God should come into the world - thief
babies, say! human parasites, with no choice but feed on the social
"I wonner what God thinks aboot it a'! It gars a body spier whether
he cares or no," said Malcolm gloomily.
"It does," responded Mr Graham solemnly.
"Div ye alloo that, sir?" returned Malcolm aghast. "That soon's as
gien a'thing war rushin' thegither back to the auld chaos."
"I should not be surprised," continued the master, apparently
heedless of Malcolm's consternation, "if the day should come when
well meaning men, excellent in the commonplace, but of dwarfed
imagination, refused to believe in a God on the ground of apparent
injustice in the very frame and constitution of things. Such would
argue, that there might be either an omnipotent being who did not
care, or a good being who could not help; but that there could not
be a being both all good and omnipotent, for such would never have
suffered things to be as they are."
"What wad the clergy say to hear ye, sir?" said Malcolm, himself
almost trembling at the words of his master.
"Nothing to the purpose, I fear. They would never face the
question. I know what they would do if they could, - burn me, as
their spiritual ancestor, Calvin, would have done - whose shoe
latchet they are yet not worthy to unloose. But mind, my boy, you've
not heard me speak my thought on the matter at all."
"But wadna 't be better to believe in twa Gods nor nane ava'?"
propounded Malcolm; "ane a' guid, duin' the best for 's he cud,
the ither a' ill, but as pooerfu' as the guid ane - an' forever
an' aye a fecht atween them, whiles ane gettin' the warst o' 't, an
whiles the ither? It wad quaiet yer hert ony gait, an' the battle
o' Armageddon wad gang on as gran' 's ever."
"Two Gods there could not be," said Mr Graham. "Of the two beings
supposed, the evil one must be called devil were he ten times the
"Wi' a' my hert!" responded Malcolm.
"But I agree with you," the master went on, that "Manicheism
is unspeakably better than atheism, and unthinkably better than
believing in an unjust God. But I am not driven to such a theory."
"Hae ye ane o' yer ain 'at 'll fit, sir?"
"If I knew of a theory in which was never an uncompleted arch
or turret, in whose circling wall was never a ragged breach, that
theory I should know but to avoid: such gaps are the eternal windows
through which the dawn shall look in. A complete theory is a vault
of stone around the theorist - whose very being yet depends on
room to grow."
"Weel, I wad like to hear what ye hae agane Manicheism!"
"The main objection of theologians would be, I presume, that it did
not present a God perfect in power as in goodness; but I think it
a far more objectionable point that it presents evil as possessing
power in itself. My chief objection, however, would be a far deeper
one - namely, that its good being cannot be absolutely good; for,
if he knew himself unable to insure the well being of his creatures,
if he could not avoid exposing them to such foreign attack, had
he a right to create them? Would he have chosen such a doubtful
existence for one whom he meant to love absolutely? - Either,
then, he did not love like a God, or he would not have created."
"He micht ken himsel' sure to win i' the lang rin."
"Grant the same to the God of the Bible, and we come back to where
we were before."
"Does that satisfee yersel', Maister Graham?" asked Malcolm, looking
deep into the eyes of his teacher.
"Not at all," answered the master.
"Yes: but I will not say more on the subject now. The time may
come when I shall have to speak that which I have learned, but it
is not yet. All I will say now is, that I am at peace concerning
the question. Indeed, so utterly do I feel myself the offspring of
the One, that it would be enough for my peace now - I don't say
it would have been always - to know my mind troubled on a matter:
what troubled me would trouble God: my trouble at the seeming wrong
must have its being in the right existent in him. In him, supposing
I could find none I should yet say there must lie a lucent, harmonious,
eternal, not merely consoling, but absolutely satisfying solution."
"Winna ye tell me a' 'at 's in yer hert aboot it, sir?"
"Not now, my boy. You have got one thing to mind now - before all
other things - namely, that you give this woman - whatever she
be - fair play: if she be your mother, as such you must take her,
that is, as such you must treat her."
"Ye 're richt, sir," returned Malcolm, and rose.
"Come back to me," said Mr Graham, "with whatever news you gather."
"I will, sir," answered Malcolm, and went to find Miss Horn. He was
shown into the little parlour, which, for all the grander things
he had been amongst of late, had lost nothing of its first charm.
There sat Miss Horn.