George MacDonald.

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A fit of her not unusual obstinacy had however seized Lady Florimel.

"I won't move a step," she said, "until you have told me where the
wizard's chamber is."

"Ahint ye, my leddy, gien ye wull hae 't," answered Malcolm, not
unwilling to punish her a little; " - jist at the far en' o' the
transe there."

In fact the window in which she stood, lighted the whole length of
the passage from which it opened.

Even as he spoke, there sounded somewhere as it were the slam of
a heavy iron door, the echoes of which seemed to go searching into
every cranny of the multitudinous garrets. Florimel gave a shriek,
and laying hold of Malcolm, clung to him in terror. A sympathetic
tremor, set in motion by her cry, went vibrating through the
fisherman's powerful frame, and, almost involuntarily, he clasped
her close. With wide eyes they stood staring down the long passage,
of which, by the poor light they carried, they could not see a
quarter of the length. Presently they heard a soft footfall along
its floor, drawing slowly nearer through the darkness; and slowly
out of the darkness grew the figure of a man, huge and dim, clad
in a long flowing garment, and coming straight on to where they
stood. They clung yet closer together. The apparition came within
three yards of them, and then they recognized Lord Lossie in his
dressing gown.

They started asunder. Florimel flew to her father, and Malcolm
stood, expecting the last stroke of his evil fortune. The marquis
looked pale, stern, and agitated. Instead of kissing his daughter
on the forehead as was his custom, he put her from him with
one expanded palm, but the next moment drew her to his side. Then
approaching Malcolm, he lighted at his the candle he carried, which
a draught had extinguished on the way.

"Go to your room, MacPhail," he said, and turned from him, his arm
still round Lady Florimel.

They walked a way together down the long passage, vaguely visible
in flickering fits. All at once their light vanished, and with
it Malcolm's eyes seemed to have left him. But a merry laugh, the
silvery thread in which was certainly Florimel's, reached his ears,
and brought him to himself.


I will not trouble my reader with the thoughts that kept rising,
flickering, and fading, one after another, for two or three dismal
hours, as he lay with eyes closed but sleepless. At length he opened
them wide, and looked out into the room. It was a bright moonlit
night; the wind had sunk to rest; all the world slept in the exhaustion
of the storm; he only was awake; he could lie no longer; he would
go out, and discover, if possible, the mischief the tempest had

He crept down the little spiral stair used only by the servants,
and knowing all the mysteries of lock and bar, was presently in the
open air. First he sought a view of the building against the sky,
but could not see that any portion was missing. He then proceeded
to walk round the house, in order to find what had fallen.

There was a certain neglected spot nearly under his own window, where
a wall across an interior angle formed a little court or yard; he
had once peeped in at the door of it, which was always half open,
and seemed incapable of being moved in either direction, but had
seen nothing except a broken pail and a pile of brushwood; the flat
arch over this door was broken, and the door itself half buried
in a heap of blackened stones and mortar. Here was the avalanche
whose fall had so terrified the household! The formless mass had
yesterday been a fair proportioned and ornate stack of chimneys.

He scrambled to the top of the heap and sitting down on a stone
carved with a plaited Celtic band, yet again fell athinking. The
marquis must dismiss him in the morning; would it not be better to
go away now, and spare poor old Duncan a terrible fit of rage? He
would suppose he had fled from the pseudo maternal net of Mrs Stewart;
and not till he had found a place to which he could welcome him
would he tell him the truth. But his nature recoiled both from the
unmanliness of such a flight, and from the appearance of conscious
wrong it must involve, and he dismissed the notion. Scheme after
scheme for the future passed through his head, and still he sat
on the heap in the light of the high gliding moon, like a ghost on
the ruins of his earthly home, and his eyes went listlessly straying
like servants without a master. Suddenly he found them occupied
with a low iron studded door in the wall of the house, which he
had never seen before. He descended, and found it hardly closed,
for there was no notch to receive the heavy latch. Pushing. it open
on great rusty hinges, he saw within what in the shadow appeared
a precipitous descent His curiosity was roused; he stole back
to his room and fetched his candle; and having, by the aid of his
tinderbox, lighted it in the shelter of the heap, peeped again
through the doorway, and saw what seemed a narrow cylindrical pit,
only, far from showing a great yawning depth, it was filled with
stones and rubbish nearly to the bottom of the door. The top of the
door reached almost to the vaulted roof, one part of which, close
to the inner side of the circular wall, was broken. Below this
breach, fragments of stone projected from the wall, suggesting the
remnants of a stair. With the sight came a foresight of discovery.

One foot on the end of a long stone sticking vertically from the
rubbish, and another on one of the stones projecting from the wall,
his head was already through the break in the roof; and in a minute
more he was climbing a small, broken, but quite passable spiral
staircase, almost a counterpart of that already described as going
like a huge augerbore through the house from top to bottom - that
indeed by which he had just descended. There was most likely more
of it buried below, probably communicating with an outlet in some
part of the rock towards the burn, but the portion of it which, from
long neglect, had gradually given way, had fallen down the shaft,
and cut off the rest with its ruins.

At the height of a storey, he came upon a built up doorway, and
again, at a similar height, upon another; but the parts filled in
looked almost as old as the rest of the wall. Not until he reached
the top of the stair, did he find a door. It was iron studded, and
heavily hinged, like that below. It opened outward - noiselessly
he found, as if its hinges had been recently oiled, and admitted
him to a small closet, the second door of which he opened hurriedly,
with a beating heart. Yes! there was the check curtained bed! it
must be the wizard's chamber! Crossing to another door, he found
it both locked and further secured by a large iron bolt in a strong
staple. This latter he drew back, but there was no key in the lock.
With scarce a doubt remaining, he shot down the one stair and flew
up the other to try the key that lay in his chest. One moment and
he stood in the same room, admitted by the door next his own.

Some exposure was surely not far off! Anyhow here was room for counter
plot, on the chance of baffling something underhand - villainy
most likely, where Mrs Catanach was concerned! - And yet, with
the control of it thus apparently given into his hands, he must
depart, leaving the house at the mercy of a low woman - for the
lock of the wizard's door would not exclude her long if she wished
to enter and range the building! He would not go, however, without
revealing all to the marquis, and would at once make some provision
towards her discomfiture.

Going to the forge, and bringing thence a long bar of iron to use
as a lever, he carefully drew from the door frame the staple of
the bolt, and then replaced it so, that, while it looked just as
before, a good push would now send it into the middle of the room.
Lastly, he slid the bolt into it, after having carefully removed
all traces of disturbance, left the mysterious chamber by its own
stair, and once more ascending to the passage, locked the door,
and retired to his room with the key.

He had now plenty to think about beyond himself! Here certainly
was some small support to the legend of the wizard earl. The stair
which he had discovered, had been in common use at one time; its
connection with other parts of the house had been cut off with an
object; and by degrees it had come to be forgotten altogether; many
villainies might have been effected by means of it. Mrs Catanach
must have discovered it the same night on which he found her there,
had gone away by it then, and had certainly been making use of it
since. When he smelt the sulphur, she must have been lighting a

It was now getting towards morning, and at last he was tired. He
went to bed and fell asleep. When he woke, it was late, and as he
dressed, he heard the noise of hoofs and wheels in the stable yard.
He was sitting at breakfast in Mrs Courthope's room, when she came
in full of surprise at the sudden departure of her lord and lady.
The marquis had rung for his man, and Lady Florimel for her maid,
as soon as it was light; orders were sent at once to the stable;
four horses were put to the travelling carriage; and they were
gone, Mrs Courthope could not tell whither.

Dreary as was the house without Florimel, things had turned out a
shade or two better than Malcolm had expected, and he braced himself
to endure his loss.


Things were going pretty well with the laird: Phemy and he drew.
yet closer to each other, and as he became yet more peaceful in her
company, his thoughts flowed more freely, and his utterance grew
less embarrassed; until at length, in talking with her, his speech
was rarely broken with even a slight impediment, and a stranger
might have overheard a long conversation between them without
coming to any more disparaging conclusion in regard to him than
that the hunchback was peculiar in mind as well as in body. But his
nocturnal excursions continuing to cause her apprehension, and his
representations of the delights to be gathered from Nature while
she slept, at the same time alluring her greatly, Phemy had become,
both for her own pleasure and his protection, anxious in these also
to be his companion.

With a vital recognition of law, and great loyalty to any utterance
of either parent, she had yet been brought up in an atmosphere of
such liberty, that except a thing were expressly so conditioned,
or in itself appeared questionable, she never dreamed of asking
permission to do it; and, accustomed as she had been to go with
the laird everywhere, and to be out with him early and late, her
conscience never suggested the possibility of any objection to her
getting up at twelve, instead of four or five, to accompany him.
It was some time, however, before the laird himself would consent;
and then he would not unfrequently interpose with limitations,
especially, if the night were not mild and dry, sending her always
home again to bed. The mutual rule and obedience between them was
something at once strange and lovely.

At midnight Phemy would enter the shop, and grope her way until
she stood under the trapdoor. This was the nearest she could come
to the laird's chamber, for he had not only declined having the
ladder stand there for his use, but had drawn a solemn promise from
the carpenter that at night it should always be left slung up to
the joists. For himself he had made a rope ladder, which he could
lower from beneath when he required it, invariably drew up after
him, and never used for coming down.

One night Phemy made her customary signal by knocking against the
trapdoor with a long slip of wood: it opened, and, as usual, the
body of the laird appeared, hung for a moment in the square gap,
like a huge spider, by its two hands, one on each side, then dropped
straight to the floor, when, without a word, he hastened forth,
and Phemy followed.

The night was very still - and rather dark, for it was cloudy about
the horizon, and there was no moon. Hand in hand the two made for
the shore - here very rocky - a succession of promontories with
little coves between. Down into one of these they went by a winding
path, and stood at the lip of the sea. A violet dimness, or, rather,
a semi-transparent darkness, hung over it, through which came now
and then a gleam, where the slow heave of some Triton shoulder caught
a shine of the sky; a hush also, as of sleep, hung over it, which
not to break, the wavelets of the rising tide carefully stilled
their noises; and the dimness and the hush seemed one. They sat
down on a rock that rose but a foot or two from the sand and for
some moments listened in silence to the inarticulate story of the
night. At length the laird turned to Phemy, and taking one of her
hands in both of his, very solemnly said, as if breaking to her
his life's trouble, "Phemy, I dinna ken whaur I cam frae."

"Hoot, laird! ye ken weel eneuch ye cam frae Go-od," answered Phemy,
lengthening out the word with solemn utterance.

The laird did not reply, and again the night closed around them,
and the sea hushed at their hearts. But a soft light air began
to breathe from the south, and it waked the laird to more active

"Gien he wad but come oot an' shaw himsel'!" he said. "What for
disna he come oot?"

"Wha wad ye hae come oot?" asked Phemy.

"Ye ken wha, weel eneuch. They say he 's a' gait at ance: jist
hearken. What for will he aye bide in, an' never come oot an' lat
a puir body see him?"

The speech was broken into pauses, filled by the hush rather than
noise of the tide, and the odour-like wandering of the soft air in
the convolutions of their ears.

"The lown win' maun be his breath - sae quaiet! - He 's no
hurryin' himsel' the nicht. - There 's never naebody rins efter
him. - Eh, Phemy! I jist thoucht he was gauin' to speyk!"

This last exclamation he uttered in a whisper, as the louder gush
of a larger tide pulse died away on the shore.

"Luik, Phemy, luik!" he resumed. "Luik oot yonner! Dinna ye see
something 'at micht grow to something?"

His eyes were fixed on a faint spot of steely blue, out on the sea,
not far from the horizon. It was hard to account for, with such a
sky overheard, wherein was no lighter part to be seen that might
be reflected in the water below; but neither of the beholders was
troubled about its cause: there it glimmered on in the dimness of
the wide night - a cold, faint splash of blue grey.

"I dinna think muckle o' that, sir," said Phemy.

"It micht be the mark o' the sole o' his fut, though," returned
the laird. "He micht hae fist setten 't doon, an' the watter hae
lowed (flamed) up aboot it, an' the low no be willin' to gang oot!
Luik sharp, Phemy; there may come anither at the neist stride -
anither fut mark. Luik ye that gait an' I'll luik this. - What for
willna he come oot? The lift maun be fu' o' 'im, an' I 'm hungert
for a sicht o' 'im. Gien ye see ony thing, Phemy, cry oot."

"What will I cry?" asked Phemy.

"Cry 'Father o' lichts!'" answered the laird.

"Will he hear to that - div ye think, sir?"

"Wha kens! He micht jist turn his heid; an' ae luik wad sair me
for a hunner year."

"I s' cry, gien I see onything," said Phemy.

As they sat watching, by degrees the laird's thought swerved a
little. His gaze had fixed on the northern horizon, where, as if
on the outer threshold of some mighty door, long low clouds, with
varied suggestion of recumbent animal forms, had stretched themselves,
like creatures of the chase, watching for their lord to issue.

"Maybe he's no oot o' the hoose yet," he said. "Surely it canna be
but he comes oot ilka nicht! He wad never hae made sic a sicht o'
bonny things to lat them lie wi'oot onybody to gaither them! An'
there's nae ill fowk the furth at this time o' nicht, ta mak an
oogly din, or disturb him wi' the sicht o' them. He maun come oot
i' the quaiet o' the nicht, or else what's 't a' for? - Ay! he
keeps the nicht till himsel', an' lea's the day to hiz (us). That
'll be what the deep sleep fa's upo' men for, doobtless - to haud
them oot o' his gait! Eh! I wuss he wad come oot whan I was by! I
micht get a glimp o' 'm. - Maybe he wad tak the hump aff o' me,
an' set things in order i' my heid, an' mak me like ither fowk.
Eh me! that wad be gran'! Naebody wad daur to touch me syne. Eh!
Michty! come oot! Father o' lichts! Father o' lichts!"

He went on repeating the words till, growing softer and softer,
his voice died away in silence, and still as his seat of stone he
sat, a new Job, on the verge of the world waters, like the old Job
on his dunghill when he cried out, -

"Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not; he passeth on also, but I
perceive him not - Call thou, and I will answer; or let me speak
and answer thou me. - Oh that I knew where I might find him! that
I might come even to his seat! - Behold I go forward, but he is not
there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand,
where he doth work, but I cannot behold him; he hideth himself on
the right hand, that I cannot see him."

At length he rose and wandered away from the shore, his head sunk
upon his chest. Phemy rose also and followed him in silence. The
child had little of the poetic element in her nature, but she had
much of that from which everything else has to be developed -
heart. When they reached the top of the brae, she joined him, and
said, putting her hand in his, but not looking at, or even turning
towards him, "Maybe he 'll come oot upo' ye afore ye ken some day
- whan ye 're no luikin' for him."

The laird stopped, gazed at her for a moment, shook his head, and
walked on.

Grassy steeps everywhere met the stones and sands of the shore,
and the grass and the sand melted, as it were, and vanished each
in the other. Just where they met in the next hollow, stood a small
building of stone with a tiled roof. It was now strangely visible
through the darkness, for from every crevice a fire illumined smoke
was pouring. But the companions were not alarmed or even surprised.
They bent their way towards it without hastening a step, and coming
to a fence that enclosed a space around it, opened a little gate,
and passed through. A sleepy watchman challenged them. "It 's me,"
said the laird.

"A fine nicht, laird," returned the voice, and said no more.

The building was divided into several compartments, each with
a separate entrance. On the ground in each burned four or five
little wood fires, and the place was filled with smoke and glow.
The smoke escaped partly by openings above the doors, but mostly
by the crannies of the tiled roof. Ere it reached these, however,
it had to pass through a great multitude of pendent herrings. Hung
up by the gills, layer above layer, nearly to the roof, their last
tails came down as low as the laird's head. From beneath nothing
was to be seen but a firmament of herring tails. These fish were
the last of the season, and were thus undergoing the process of
kippering. It was a new venture in the place, and its success as
yet a question.

The laird went into one of the compartments, and searching about
a little amongst the multitude within his reach, took down a plump
one, then cleared away the blazing wood from the top of one of the
fires, and laid his choice upon the glowing embers beneath.

"What are ye duin' there, laird?" cried Phemy from without, whose
nostrils the resulting odour had quickly reached. "The fish is no

"Ye dinna think I wad tak it wantin' leave, Phemy!" returned the
laird. "Mony a supper hae I made this w'y, an' mony anither I houp
to mak. It'll no be this sizzon though, for this lot's the last o'
them. They're fine aitin', but I'm some feart they winna keep."

"Wha gae ye leave, sir?" persisted Phemy showing herself the
indivertible guardian of his morals as well as of his freedom.

"Ow, Mr Runcie himsel', of coorse!" answered the laird. "Wull I
pit ane on to you?"

"Did ye speir leave for me tu?" asked the righteous maiden.

"Ow, na; but I'll tell him the neist time I see him."

"I 'm nae for ony," said Phemy.

The fish wanted little cooking. The laird turned it, and after
another half minute of the fire, took it up by the tail, sat down
on a stone beside the door, spread a piece of paper on his knees,
laid the fish upon it, pulled a lump of bread from his pocket, and
proceeded to make his supper. Ere he began, however, he gazed all
around with a look which Phemy interpreted as a renewed search for
the Father of lights, whom he would fain thank for his gifts. When
he had finished, he threw the remnants into one of the fires, then
went down to the sea, and there washed his face and hands in a rock
pool, after which they set off again, straying yet further along
the coast.

One of the peculiarities in the friendship of the strange couple
was that, although so closely attached, they should maintain such
a large amount of mutual independence. They never quarrelled, but
would flatly disagree, with never an attempt at compromise; the
whole space between midnight and morning would sometimes glide by
without a word spoken between them; and the one or the other would
often be lingering far behind. As, however, the ultimate goal of
the night's wandering was always understood between them, there
was little danger of their losing each other.

On the present occasion, the laird, still full of his quest, was
the one who lingered. Every few minutes he would stop and stare, now
all around the horizon, now up to the zenith, now over the wastes
of sky - for, any moment, from any spot in heaven, earth, or sea,
the Father of lights might show foot, or hand, or face. He had
at length seated himself on a lichen covered stone with his head
buried in his hands, as if, wearied with vain search for him outside
he would now look within and see if God might not be there, when
suddenly a sharp exclamation from Phemy reached him. He listened.

"Rin! rin! rin!" she cried - the last word prolonged into a scream.

While it yet rang in his ears, the laird was halfway down the steep.
In the open country he had not a chance; but, knowing every cranny
in the rocks large enough to hide him, with anything like a start
near enough to the shore for his short lived speed, he was all but
certain to evade his pursuers, especially in such a dark night as

He was not in the least anxious about Phemy, never imagining she
might be less sacred in other eyes than in his, and knowing neither
that her last cry of loving solitude had gathered intensity from
a cruel grasp, nor that while he fled in safety, she remained a

Trembling and panting like a hare just escaped from the hounds,
he squeezed himself into a cleft, where he sat half covered with
water until the morning began to break. Then he drew himself out and
crept along the shore, from point to point, with keen circumspection,
until he was right under the village and within hearing of its
inhabitants, when he ascended hurriedly, and ran home. But having
reached his burrow, pulled down his rope ladder, and ascended, he
found, with trebled dismay, that his loft had been invaded during
the night. Several of the hooked cords had been cut away, on one
or two were shreds of clothing, and on the window sill was a drop
of blood.

He threw himself on the mound for a moment, then started to his
feet, caught up his plaid, tumbled from the loft, and fled from
Scaurnose as if a visible pestilence had been behind him.


When her parents discovered that Phemy was not in her garret,
it occasioned them no anxiety. When they had also discovered that
neither was the laird in his loft, and were naturally seized with
the dread that some evil had befallen him, his hitherto invariable
habit having been to house himself with the first gleam of returning
day, they supposed that Phemy, finding he had not returned, had
set out to look for him. As the day wore on, however, without her
appearing, they began to be a little uneasy about her as well. Still
the two might be together, and the explanation of their absence a
very simple and satisfactory one; for a time therefore they refused
to admit importunate disquiet. But before night, anxiety, like
the slow but persistent waters of a flood, had insinuated itself
through their whole being - nor theirs alone, but had so mastered
and possessed the whole village that at length all employment was
deserted, and every person capable joined in a search along the
coast, fearing to find their bodies at the foot of some cliff. The
report spread to the neighbouring villages. In Portlossie Duncan

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMalcolm → online text (page 35 of 43)