greatly; there were no more public house orgies, no fighting in the
streets, very little of what they called breaking of the Sabbath,
and altogether there was a marked improvement in the look of things
along a good many miles of that northern shore.
Strange as it may seem, however, morality in the deeper sense,
remained very much at the same low ebb as before. It is much easier
to persuade men that God cares for certain observances, than that
he cares for simple honesty and truth and gentleness and loving
kindness. The man who would shudder at the idea of a rough word
of the description commonly called swearing, will not even have a
twinge of conscience after a whole morning of ill tempered sullenness,
capricious scolding, villainously unfair animadversion, or surly
cross grained treatment generally of wife and children! Such a man
will omit neither family worship nor a sneer at his neighbour. He
will neither milk his cow on the first day of the week without a
Sabbath mask on his face, nor remove it while he waters the milk
for his customers. Yet he may not be an absolute hypocrite. What
can be done for him, however, hell itself may have to determine.
Notwithstanding their spiritual experiences, it was, for instance,
no easier to get them to pay their debts than heretofore. Of course
there were, and had always been, thoroughly honest men and women
amongst them; but there were others who took prominent part in
their observances, who seemed to have no remotest suspicion that
religion had anything to do with money or money's worth - not to
know that God cared whether a child of his met his obligations or
not. Such fulfilled the injunction to owe nothing by acknowledging
nothing. One man, when pressed, gave as a reason for his refusal,
that Christ had paid all his debts. Possibly this contemptible
state of feeling had been fostered by an old superstition that it
was unlucky to pay up everything, whence they had always been in
the habit of leaving at least a few shillings of their shop bills
to be carried forward to the settlement after the next fishing
season. But when a widow whose husband had left property, would
acknowledge no obligation to discharge his debts, it came to be
rather more than a whim. Evidently the religion of many of them
was as yet of a poor sort - precisely like that of the negroes,
whose devotion so far outstrips their morality.
If there had but been some one of themselves to teach that the true
outlet and sedative of overstrained feeling is right action! that
the performance of an unpleasant duty, say the paying of their debts,
was a far more effectual as well as more specially religious mode
of working off their excitement than dancing! that feeling is but
the servant of character until it becomes its child! or rather,
that feeling is but a mere vapour until condensed into character!
that the only process through which it can be thus consolidated
is well doing - the putting forth of the right thing according to
the conscience universal and individual, and that thus, and thus
only, can the veil be .withdrawn from between the man and his God,
and the man be saved in beholding the face of his Father!
"But have patience - give them time," said Mr Graham, who had
watched the whole thing from the beginning. "If their religion is
religion, it will work till it purifies; if it is not, it will show
itself for what it is, by plunging them into open vice. The mere
excitement and its extravagance - the mode in which their gladness
breaks out - means nothing either way. The man is the willing,
performing being, not the feeling shouting singing being: in the
latter there may be no individuality - nothing more than receptivity
of the movement of the mass. But when a man gets up and goes out
and discharges an obligation, he is an individual; to him God has
spoken, and he has opened his ears to hear: God and that man are
henceforth in communion."
These doings, however, gave - how should they fail to give? - a
strong handle to the grasp of those who cared for nothing in religion
but its respectability - who went to church Sunday after Sunday,
"for the sake of example" as they said - the most arrogant of
Pharisaical reasons! Many a screeching, dancing fisher lass in the
Seaton was far nearer the kingdom of heaven than the most respectable
of such respectable people! I would unspeakably rather dance with
the wildest of fanatics rejoicing over a change in their own spirits,
than sit in the seat of the dull of heart, to whom the old story
is an outworn tale.
CHAPTER XLIX: MOUNT PISGAH
The intercourse between Florimel and Malcolm grew gradually more
familiar, until at length it was often hardly to be distinguished
from such as takes place between equals, and Florimel was by degrees
forgetting the present condition in the possible future of the
young man. But Malcolm, on the other hand, as often as the thought
of that possible future arose in her presence, flung it from him
in horror, lest the wild dream of winning her should make him for
a moment desire its realization.
The claim that hung over him haunted his very life, turning the
currents of his thought into channels of speculation unknown before.
Imagine a young fisherman meditating - as he wandered with bent
head through the wilder woods on the steep banks of the burn, or
the little green levels which it overflowed in winter - of all
possible subjects what analogy there might be betwixt the body and
the soul in respect of derivation - whether the soul was traduced
as well as the body? - as his material form came from the forms
of his father and mother, did his soul come from their souls? or
did the Maker, as at the first he breathed his breath into the form
of Adam, still, at some crisis unknown in its creation, breathe
into each form the breath of individual being? If the latter theory
were the true, then, be his earthly origin what it might, he had
but to shuffle off this mortal coil to walk forth a clean thing,
as a prince might cast off the rags of an enforced disguise, and
set out for the land of his birth. If the former were the true,
then the wellspring of his being was polluted, nor might he by
any death fling aside his degradation, or show himself other than
defiled in the eyes of the old dwellers in "those high countries,"
where all things seem as they are, and are as they seem.
One day when, these questions fighting in his heart, he had for
the hundredth time arrived thus far, all at once it seemed as if
a soundless voice in the depth of his soul replied,
"Even then - should the wellspring of thy life be polluted with
vilest horrors such as, in Persian legends, the lips of the lost
are doomed to drink with loathings inconceivable - the well is
but the utterance of the water, not the source of its existence;
the rain is its father, and comes from the sweet heavens. Thy soul,
however it became known to itself is from the pure heart of God,
whose thought of thee is older than thy being - is its first
and eldest cause. Thy essence cannot be defiled, for in him it is
Even with the thought, the horizon of his life began to clear; a
light came out on the far edge of its ocean - a dull and sombre
yellow, it is true, and the clouds hung yet heavy over sea and
land, while miles of vapour hid the sky; but he could now believe
there might be a blue beyond, in which the sun lorded it with
He had been rambling on the waste hill in which the grounds of
Lossie House, as it were, dissipated. It had a far outlook, but
he had beheld neither sky or ocean. The Soutars of Cromarty had
all the time sat on their stools large in his view; the hills of
Sutherland had invited his gaze, rising faint and clear over the
darkened water at their base, less solid than the sky in which
they were set, and less a fact than the clouds that crossed their
breasts; the land of Caithness had lain lowly and afar, as if,
weary of great things, it had crept away in tired humility to the
rigours of the north; and east and west his own rugged shore had
gone lengthening out, fringed with the white burst of the dark sea;
but none of all these things had he noted.
Lady Florimel suddenly encountered him on his way home, and was
startled by his look.
"Where have you been, Malcolm?" she exclaimed.
"I hardly ken, my leddy: somewhaur aboot the feet o' Mount Pisgah,
I 'm thinkin', if no freely upo' the heid o' 't."
"That's not the name of the hill up there!"
"Ow na; yon's the Binn."
"What have you been about? Looking at things in general, I suppose."
"Na; they've been luikin' at me, I daursay; but I didna heed them,
an' they didna fash me."
"You look so strangely bright!" she said, "as if you had seen
something both marvellous and beautiful!"
The words revealed a quality of insight not hitherto manifested by
Florimel. In truth, Malcolm's whole being was irradiated by the flash
of inward peace that had visited him - a statement intelligible and
therefore credible enough to the mind accustomed to look over the
battlements of the walls that clasp the fair windows of the senses.
But Florimel's insight had reached its limit, and her judgment,
vainly endeavouring to penetrate farther, fell floundering in the
"I know!" she went on: "You've been to see your lady mother!"
Malcolm's face turned white as if blasted with leprosy. The same
scourge that had maddened the poor laird fell hissing on his soul,
and its knotted sting was the same word mother. He turned and walked
slowly away, fighting a tyrannous impulse to thrust his fingers in
his ears and run and shriek.
"Where are your manners?" cried the girl after him, but he never
stayed his slow foot or turned his bowed head, and Florimel wondered.
For the moment, his new found peace had vanished. Even if the old
nobility of heaven might regard him without a shadow of condescension
- that self righteous form of contempt - what could he do with
a mother whom he could neither honour or love? Love! If he could
but cease to hate her! There was no question yet of loving.
But might she not repent? Ah, then, indeed! And might he not help
her to repent? - He would not avoid her. How was it that she had
never yet sought him?
As he brooded thus, on his way to Duncan's cottage, and, heedless
of the sound of coming wheels, was crossing the road which went
along the bottom of the glen, he was nearly run over by a carriage
coming round the corner of a high bank at a fast trot Catching one
glimpse of the face of its occupant, as it passed within a yard
of his own, he turned and fled back through the woods, with again
a horrible impulse to howl to the winds the cry of the mad laird:
"I dinna ken whaur I cam frae!" When he came to himself, he found
his hands pressed hard on his ears, and for a moment felt a sickening
certainty that he too was a son of the lady of Gersefell.
When he returned at length to the House, Mrs Courthope informed
him that Mrs Stewart had called, and seen both the marquis and Lady
Meantime he had grown again a little anxious about the laird,
but as Phemy plainly avoided him, had concluded that he had found
another concealment, and that the child preferred not being questioned
With the library of Lossie House at his disposal, and almost nothing
to do, it might now have been a grand time for Malcolm's studies;
but alas! he too often found it all but impossible to keep his
thoughts on the track of a thought through a single sentence of
The autumn now hung over the verge of its grave. Hoar frost, thick
on the fields, made its mornings look as if they had turned gray
with fear. But when the sun arose, grayness and fear vanished; the
back thrown smile of the departing glory was enough to turn old
age into a memory of youth. Summer was indeed gone, and winter was
nigh with its storms and its fogs and its rotting rains and its
drifting snows, but the sun was yet in the heavens, and, changed
as was his manner towards her, would yet have many a half smile for
the poor old earth - enough to keep her alive until he returned,
bringing her youth with him. To the man who believes that the
winter is but for the sake of the summer; exists only in virtue of
the summer at its heart, no winter, outside or in, can be unendurable.
But Malcolm sorely missed the ministrations of compulsion: he
lacked labour - the most helpful and most healing of all God's
holy things, of which we so often lose the heavenly benefit by
labouring inordinately that we may rise above the earthly need of
it. How many sighs are wasted over the toil of the sickly - a toil
which perhaps lifts off half the weight of their sickness, elevates
their inner life, and makes the outer pass with tenfold rapidity.
Of those who honestly pity such, many would themselves be far less
pitiable were they compelled to share in the toil they behold with
compassion. They are unaware of the healing virtue which the thing
they would not pity at all were it a matter of choice, gains from
the compulsion of necessity.
All over the house big fires were glowing and blazing. Nothing
pleased the marquis worse than the least appearance of stinting
the consumption of coal. In the library two huge gratefuls were
burning from dawn to midnight - well for the books anyhow, if their
owner seldom showed his face amongst them. There were days during
which, except the servant whose duty it was to attend to the fires,
not a creature entered the room but Malcolm. To him it was as the
cave of Aladdin to the worshipper of Mammon, and yet now he would
often sit down indifferent to its hoarded splendours, and gather
But one morning, as he sat there alone, in an oriel looking seawards,
there lay on a table before him a thin folio, containing the chief
works of Sir Thomas Brown - amongst the rest his well known Religio
Medici, from which he had just read the following passage:
"When I take a full view and circle of myself, without this reasonable
moderatour, and equall piece of justice, Death, I doe conceive my
self the most miserablest person extant; were there not another
life that I hoped for, all the vanities of this world should not
intreat a moment's breath from me; could the Devil work my belief
to imagine I could never die, I would not outlive that very thought:
I have so abject a conceit of this common way of existence, this
retaining to the Sun and elements, I cannot think this is to be a
man, or to live according to the dignity of humanity. In expectation
of a better, I can with patience embrace this life, yet in my best
meditations do often desire death; I honour any man that contemnes
it, nor can I highly love any that is afraid of it: this makes me
naturally love a Soldier, and honour those tatter'd and contemptible
Regiments that will die at the command of a Sergeant."
These words so fell in with the prevailing mood of his mind, that
having gathered them, they grew upon him, and as he pondered them,
he sat gazing out on the bright blowing autumn day. The sky was
dimmed with a clear pallor, across which small white clouds were
driving; the yellow leaves that yet cleave to the twigs were few,
and the wind swept through the branches with a hiss. The far off
sea was alive with multitudinous white - the rush of the jubilant
oversea across the blue plain. All without was merry, healthy,
radiant, strong; in his mind brooded a single haunting thought that
already had almost filled his horizon, threatening by exclusion to
become madness! Why should he not leave the place, and the horrors
of his history with it? Then the hideous hydra might unfold itself
as it pleased; he would find at least a better fortune than his
birth had endowed him withal.
Lady Florimel entered in search of something to read: to her
surprise, for she had heard of no arrival, in one of the windows
sat a Highland gentleman, looking out on the landscape. She was on
the point of retiring again, when a slight movement revealed Malcolm.
The explanation was, that the marquis, their seafaring over, had
at length persuaded Malcolm to don the highland attire: it was an
old custom of the house of Lossie that its lord's henchman should
be thus distinguished, and the marquis himself wore the kilt when
on his western estates in the summer, also as often as he went to
court, - would indeed have worn it always but that he was no longer
hardy enough. He would not have succeeded with Malcolm, however,
but for the youth's love to Duncan, the fervent heat of which
vaporized the dark heavy stone of obligation into the purple vapour
of gratitude, and enhanced the desire of pleasing him until it
became almost a passion. Obligation is a ponderous roll of canvas
which Love spreads aloft into a tent wherein he delights to dwell.
This was his first appearance in the garments of Duncan's race.
It was no little trial to him to assume them in the changed aspect
of his circumstances; for alas! he wore them in right of service
only, not of birth, and the tartan of his lord's family was all he
He had not heard Lady Florimel enter. She went softly up behind
him, and laid her hand on his shoulder. He started to his feet.
"A penny for your thoughts," she said, retreating a step or two.
"I wad gie twa to be rid o' them," he returned, shaking his bushy
head as if to scare the invisible ravens hovering about it.
"How fine you are!" Florimel went on, regarding him with an
approbation too open to be altogether gratifying. "The dress suits
you thoroughly. I didn't know you at first. I thought it must be
some friend of papa's. Now I remember he said once you must wear
the proper dress for a henchman. How do you like it?"
"It's a' ane to me," said Malcolm. "I dinna care what I weir. -
Gien only I had a richt till 't!" he added with a sigh.
"It is too bad of you, Malcolm!" rejoined Florimel in a tone of
rebuke. "The moment fortune offers you favour, you fall out with
her - won't give her a single smile. You don't deserve your good
Malcolm was silent.
"There's something on your mind," Florimel went on, partly from
willingness to serve Mrs Stewart, partly enticed by the romance of
being Malcolm's comforter, or perhaps confessor.
"Ay is there, my leddy."
"What is it? Tell me. You can trust me!"
"I could trust ye, but I canna tell ye. I daurna - I maunna."
"I see you will not trust me," said Florimel, with a half pretended,
half real offence.
"I wad lay doon my life - what there is o' 't - for ye, my leddy;
but the verra natur o' my trouble winna be tauld. I maun beir 't
It flashed across Lady Florimel's brain, that the cause of his
misery, the thing he dared not confess, was love of herself. Now,
Malcolm, standing before her in his present dress, and interpreted
by the knowledge she believed she had of his history, was a very
different person indeed from the former Malcolm in the guise of
fisherman or sailor, and she felt as well as saw the difference:
if she was the cause of his misery, why should she not comfort him
a little? why should she not be kind to him? Of course anything more
was out of the question; but a little confession and consolation
would hurt neither of them. Besides, Mrs Stewart had begged her
influence, and this would open a new channel for its exercise.
Indeed, if he was unhappy through her, she ought to do what she
might for him. A gentle word or two would cost her nothing, and
might help to heal a broken heart! She was hardly aware, however,
how little she wanted it healed - all at once.
For the potency of a thought it is perhaps even better that
it should not be logically displayed to the intellect; anyhow the
germ of all this, undeveloped into the definite forms I have given,
sufficed to the determining of Florimel's behaviour. I do not mean
that she had more than the natural tendency of womankind to enjoy
the emotions of which she was the object; but besides the one in
the fable, there are many women with a tendency to arousing; and
the idea of deriving pleasure from the sufferings of a handsome
youth was not quite so repulsive to her as it ought to have been. At
the same time, as there cannot be many cats capable of understanding
the agonies of the mice within reach of their waving whiskers,
probably many cat women are not quite so cruel as they seem.
"Can't you trust me, Malcolm?" she said, looking in his eyes very
sweetly, and bending a little towards him; "Can't you trust me?"
At the words and the look it seemed as if his frame melted to
ether. He dropped on his knees, and, his heart half stifled in the
confluence of the tides of love and misery, sighed out between the
pulses in his throat:
"There's naething I could na tell ye 'at ever I thoucht or did i'
my life, my leddy; but it's ither fowk, my leddy! It's like to burn
a hole i' my hert, an' yet I daurna open my mou'."
There was a half angelic, half dog-like entreaty in his up looking
hazel eyes that seemed to draw hers down into his: she must put a
stop to that.
"Get up, Malcolm," she said kindly, "what would my father or Mrs
"I dinna ken, an' I maist dinna care; atween ae thing an' anither,
I'm near han' distrackit," answered Malcolm, rising slowly, but
not taking his eyes from her face. "An' there's my daddy!" he went
on, "maist won ower to the enemy - an' I daurna tell even him what
for I canna bide it! - Ye haena been sayin' onything till him -
hiv ye, my leddy?"
"I don't quite understand you," returned Florimel, rather guiltily,
for she had spoken on the subject to Duncan. "Saying anything to
your grandfather? About what?"
"Aboot - aboot - Her, ye ken, my leddy."
"What her?" asked Florimel.
"Her 'at - The leddy o' Gersefell."
"And why? What of her? Why, Malcolm! what can have possessed you?
You seem actually to dislike her!"
"I canna bide her," said Malcolm, with the calm earnestness of one
who is merely stating an incontrovertible fact, and for a moment his
eyes, at once troubled and solemn, kept looking wistfully in hers,
as if searching for a comfort too good to be found, then slowly
sank and sought the floor at her feet.
"I canna tell ye."
She supposed it an unreasoned antipathy.
"But that is very wrong," she said, almost as if rebuking a child.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself. What! - dislike your own
"Dinna say the word, my leddy," cried Malcolm in a tone of agony,
"or ye'll gar me skirl an' rin like the mad laird. He's no a hair
madder nor I wad be wi' sic a mither."
He would have passed her to leave the room.
But Lady Florimel could not bear defeat. In any contest she must
win or be shamed in her own eyes, and was she to gain absolutely
nothing in such a passage with a fisher lad? Was the billow of her
persuasion to fall back from such a rock, self beaten into poorest
foam? She would, she must subdue him! Perhaps she did not know how
much the sides of her intent were pricked by the nettling discovery
that she was not the cause of his unhappiness.
"You 're not going to leave me so!" she exclaimed, in a tone of
"I 'll gang or bide as ye wull, my leddy," answered Malcolm
"Bide then," she returned. "I haven't half done with you yet."
"Ye mauna jist tear my hert oot," he rejoined - with a sad half
smile, and another of his dog-like looks.
"That's what you would do to your mother!" said Florimel severely.
"Say nae ill o' my mither!" cried Malcolm, suddenly changing almost
"Why, Malcolm!" said Florimel, bewildered, "what ill was I saying
"It's naething less than an insult to my mither to ca' yon wuman
by her name," he replied with set teeth.
It was to him an offence against the idea of motherhood - against
the mother he had so often imagined luminous against the dull blank
of memory, to call such a woman his mother.
"She's a very ladylike, handsome woman - handsome enough to be
your mother even, Mr Malcolm Stewart."
Florimel could not have dared the words but for the distance between
them; but, then, neither would she have said them while the distance
was greater! They were lost on Malcolm though, for never in his
life having started the question whether he was handsome or not, he
merely supposed her making game of him, and drew himself together
in silence, with the air of one bracing himself to hear and endure
"Even if she should not be your mother," his tormentor resumed,
"to show such a dislike to any woman is nothing less than cruelty."
"She maun pruv' 't," murmured Malcolm - not the less emphatically
that the words were but just audible.