But when they reached the end of the bridge its round back was bare
from end to end. On the other side of the river, the trees came
close up, and pursuit was hopeless in the gathering darkness.
"Laird, laird! they've taen awa' Phemy, an' we dinna ken whaur to
luik for her," cried the poor father aloud.
Almost the same instant, and as if he had issued from the ground,
the laird stood before them. The men started back with astonishment
- soon changed into pity, for there was light enough to see how
miserable the poor fellow looked. Neither exposure nor privation
had thus wrought upon him: he was simply dying of fear. Having
greeted Joseph with embarrassment, he kept glancing doubtfully at
Malcolm, as if ready to run on his least movement. In a few words
Joseph explained their quest, with trembling voice and tears that
would not be denied enforcing the tale. Ere he had done, the laird's
jaw had fallen, and further speech was impossible to him. But by
gestures sad and plain enough, he indicated that he knew nothing
of her, and had supposed her safe at home with her parents. In vain
they tried to persuade him to go back with them, promising every
protection: for sole answer he shook his head mournfully.
There came a sudden gust of wind among the branches. Joseph,
little used to trees and their ways with the wind, turned towards
the sound, and Malcolm unconsciously followed his movement. When
they turned again, the laird had vanished, and they took their way
homeward in sadness.
What passed next with the laird, can be but conjectured. It came
to be well enough known afterwards where he had been hiding; and
had it not been dusk as they came down the riverbank, the two men
might, looking up to the bridge from below, have had it suggested
to them. For in the half spandrel wall between the first arch and
the bank, they might have spied a small window, looking down on
the sullen, silent gloom, foam flecked with past commotion, that
crept languidly away from beneath. It belonged to a little vaulted
chamber in the bridge, devised by some banished lord as a kind of
summer house - long neglected, but having in it yet a mouldering
table, a broken chair or two, and a rough bench. A little path led
steep from the end of the parapet down to its hidden door. It was
now used only by the gamekeepers for traps and fishing gear, and
odds and ends of things, and was generally supposed to be locked
up. The laird had, however, found it open, and his refuge in it had
been connived at by one of the men, who, as they heard afterwards,
had given him the key, and assisted him in carrying out a plan he
had devised for barricading the door. It was from this place he
had so suddenly risen at the call of Blue Peter, and to it he had
as suddenly withdrawn again - to pass in silence and loneliness
through his last purgatorial pain.*
* [Com'io fui dentro, in un bogliente vetro
Gittato mi sarci per rinfrescarmi,
Tant' era ivi lo 'ncendio senza metro.
Del Purgatoria, xxvii. 49.]
Mrs Stewart was sitting in her drawing room alone: she seldom had
visitors at Kirkbyres - not that she liked being alone, or indeed
being there at all, for she would have lived on the Continent, but
that her son's trustees, partly to indulge their own aversion to
her, taking upon them a larger discretionary power than rightly
belonged to them, kept her too straitened, which no doubt in the
recoil had its share in poor Stephen's misery. It was only after
scraping for a whole year that she could escape to Paris or Hamburg,
where she was at home. There her sojourn was determined by her good
or ill fortune at faro.
What she meditated over her knitting by the firelight, - she had
put out her candles, - it would be hard to say, perhaps unwholesome
to think: - there are souls to look into which is, to our dim
eyes, like gazing down from the verge of one of the Swedenborgian
But much of the evil done by human beings is as the evil of evil
beasts: they know not what they do - an excuse which, except in
regard of the past, no man can make for himself, seeing the very
making of it must testify its falsehood.
She looked up, gave a cry, and started to her feet: Stephen stood
before her, halfway between her and the door. Revealed in a flicker
of flame from the fire, he vanished in the following shade, and
for a moment she stood in doubt of her seeing sense. But when the
coal flashed again, there was her son, regarding her out of great
eyes that looked as if they had seen death. A ghastly air hung
about him as if he had just come back from Hades, but in his silent
bearing there was a sanity, even dignity, which strangely impressed
her. He came forward a pace or two, stopped, and said -
"Dinna be frichtit, mem. I 'm come. Sen' the lassie hame, an' du
wi' me as ye like. I canna haud aff o' me. But I think I 'm deein',
an ye needna misguide me."
His voice, although it trembled a little, was clear and unimpeded,
and though weak, in its modulation manly.
Something in the woman's heart responded. Was it motherhood -
or the deeper godhead? Was it pity for the dignity housed in the
crumbling clay, or repentance for the son of her womb? Or was it
that sickness gave hope, and she could afford to be kind?
"I don't know what you mean, Stephen," she said, more gently than
he had ever heard her speak.
Was it an agony of mind or of body, or was it but a flickering
of the shadows upon his face? A moment, and he gave a half choked
shriek, and fell on the floor. His mother turned from him with
disgust, and rang the bell.
"Send Tom here," she said.
An elderly, hard featured man came.
"Stephen is in one of his fits," she said.
The man looked about him: he could see no one in the room but his
"There he is," she continued, pointing to the floor. "Take him
away. Get him up to the loft and lay him in the hay."
The man lifted his master like an unwieldy log, and carried him
convulsed from the room.
Stephen's mother sat down again by the fire, and resumed her
CHAPTER LXV: THE LAIRD'S VISION
Malcolm had just seen his master set out for his solitary ride,
when one of the maids informed him that a man from Kirkbyres wanted
him. Hiding his reluctance, he went with her and found Tom, who was
Mrs Stewart's grieve, and had been about the place all his days.
"Mr Stephen's come hame, sir," he said, touching his bonnet, a
civility for which Malcolm was not grateful.
"It's no possible!" returned Malcolm. "I saw him last nicht."
"He cam about ten o'clock, sir, an' hed a turn o' the fa'in' sickness
o' the spot. He 's verra ill the noo, an' the mistress sent me ower
to speir gien ye wad obleege her by gaein' to see him."
"Has he ta'en till 's bed?" asked Malcolm.
"We pat him till 't, sir. He 's ravin' mad, an' I 'm thinkin' he
's no far frae his hin'er en'."
"I 'll gang wi' ye direckly," said Malcolm.
In a few minutes they were riding fast along the road to Kirkbyres,
neither with much to say to the other, for Malcolm distrusted every
one about the place, and Tom was by nature taciturn.
"What garred them sen' for me - div ye ken?" asked Malcolm at
length, when they had gone about halfway.
"He cried oot upo' ye i' the nicht," answered Tom.
When they arrived, Malcolm was shown into the drawing room, where
Mrs Stewart met him with red eyes.
"Will you come and see my poor boy?" she said.
"I wull du that, mem. Is he verra ill?"
"Very. I 'm afraid he is in a bad way."
She led him to a dark old fashioned chamber, rich and gloomy.
There, sunk in the down of a huge bed with carved ebony posts, lay
the laird, far too ill to be incommoded by the luxury to which he
was unaccustomed. His head kept tossing from side to side, and his
eyes seemed searching in vacancy.
"Has the doctor been to see 'im, mem?" asked Malcolm.
"Yes; but he says he can't do anything for him."
"Wha waits upon 'im, mem?"
"One of the maids and myself."
I 'll jist bide wi' 'im."
"That will be very kind of you."
"I s' bide wi' 'im till I see 'im oot o' this, ae w'y or ither,"
added Malcolm, and sat down by the bedside of his poor distrustful
friend. There Mrs Stewart left him.
The laird was wandering in the thorny thickets and slimy marshes
which, haunted by the thousand misshapen honors of delirium, beset
the gates of life. That one so near the light, and slowly drifting
into it, should lie tossing in hopeless darkness! Is it that the
delirium falls, a veil of love, to hide other and more real terrors?
His eyes would now and then meet those of Malcolm, as they gazed
tenderly upon him, but the living thing that looked out of the
windows was darkened, and saw him not. Occasionally a word would
fall from him, or a murmur of half articulation float up, like
the sound of a river of souls; but whether Malcolm heard, or only
seemed to hear, something like this, he could not tell, for he could
not be certain that he had not himself shaped the words by receiving
the babble into the moulds of the laird's customary thought and
"I dinna ken whaur I cam frae! - I kenna whaur I 'm gaein' till.
- Eh, gien he wad but come oot an' shaw himsel'! - O Lord! tak
the deevil aff o' my puir back. - O Father o' lichts! gar him tak
the hump wi' him. I hae nae fawvour for 't, though it 's been my
constant companion this mony a lang."
But in general, he only moaned, and after the words thus heard or
fashioned by Malcolm, lay silent and nearly still for an hour.
All the waning afternoon Malcolm sat by his side, and neither
mother, maid, nor doctor came near them.
"Dark wa's an' no a breath!" he murmured or seemed to murmur again.
"Nae gerse, nor flooers, nor bees! - I hae na room for my hump,
an' I canna lie upo' 't, for that wad kill me! - Wull I ever ken
whaur I cam frae? - The wine 's unco guid. Gie me a drap mair, gien
ye please, Lady Horn. - I thought the grave was a better place.
I hae lain safter afore I dee'd! - Phemy! Phemy! Rin, Phemy, rin!
I s' bide wi' them this time. Ye rin, Phemy!"
As it grew dark, the air turned very chill, and snow began to fall
thick and fast Malcolm laid a few sticks on the smouldering peat
fire, but they were damp and did not catch. All at once the laird
gave a shriek, and crying out, "Mither, mither!" fell into a fit
so violent that the heavy bed shook with his convulsions. Malcolm
held his wrists and called aloud. No one came, and bethinking himself
that none could help, he waited in silence, for what would follow.
The fit passed quickly, and he lay quiet. The sticks had meantime
dried, and suddenly they caught fire and blazed up. The laird turned
his face towards the flame; a smile came over it; his eyes opened
wide, and with such an expression of seeing gazed beyond Malcolm,
that he turned his in the same direction.
"Eh, the bonny man! The bonny man!" murmured the laird.
But Malcolm saw nothing, and turned again to the laird: his jaw had
fallen, and the light was fading out of his face like the last of
a sunset. He was dead.
Malcolm rang the bell, told the woman who answered it what had taken
place, and hurried from the house, glad at heart that his friend
was at rest.
He had ridden but a short distance when he was overtaken by a boy
on a fast pony, who pulled up as he neared him.
"Whaur are ye for?" asked Malcolm.
"I'm gaein' for Mistress Cat'nach," answered the boy.
"Gang yer wa's than, an' dinna haud the deid waitin'," said Malcolm,
with a shudder.
The boy cast a look of dismay behind him, and galloped off.
The snow still fell, and the night was dark. Malcolm spent nearly
two hours on the way, and met the boy returning, who told him that
Mrs Catanach was not to be found.
His road lay down the glen, past Duncan's cottage, at whose door
he dismounted, but he did not find him. Taking the bridle on his
arm he walked by his horse the rest of the way. It was about nine
o'clock, and the night very dark. As he neared the house, he heard
"Malcolm, my son! Will it pe your own self?" it said.
"It wull that, daddy," answered Malcolm.
The piper was sitting on a fallen tree, with the snow settling
softly upon him.
"But it's ower cauld for ye to be sittin' there i' the snaw, an'
the mirk tu!" added Malcolm.
"Ta tarkness will not be ketting to ta inside of her," returned
the seer. "Ah, my poy! where ta light kets in, ta tarkness will pe
ketting in too. Tis now, your whole pody will pe full of tarkness,
as ta piple will say, and Tuncan's pody - tat will pe full of ta
light." Then with suddenly changed tone he said "Listen, Malcolm,
my son! She 'll pe fery uneasy till you 'll wass pe come home."
"What's the maitter noo, daddy?" returned Malcolm. "Ony thing wrang
aboot the hoose?"
"Someting will pe wrong, yes, put she 'll not can tell where. No,
her pody will not pe full of light! For town here in ta curset
Lowlands, ta sight has peen almost cone from her, my son. It will
now pe no more as a co creeping troo' her, and she 'll nefer see
plain no more till she 'll pe cone pack to her own mountains."
"The puir laird's gane back to his," said Malcolm. "I won'er gien
he kens yet, or gien he gangs speirin' at ilk ane he meets gien he
can tell him whaur he cam frae. He's mad nae mair, ony gait."
"How? Will he pe not tead? Ta poor lairt! Ta poor maad lairt!"
"Ay, he's deid: maybe that's what 'll be troublin' yer sicht,
"No, my son. Ta maad lairt was not fery maad, and if he was maad
he was not paad, and it was not to ta plame of him; he wass coot
"He was that, daddy."
"But it will pe something fery paad, and it will pe troubling her
speerit. When she'll pe take ta pipes, to pe amusing herself, and
will plow Till an crodh a' Dhonnachaidh (Turn the cows, Duncan),
out will pe come Cumhadh an fhir mhoir (The Lament of the Big Man).
All is not well, my son."
"Weel, dinna distress yersel', daddy. Lat come what wull come.
Foreseein' 's no forefen'in'. Ye ken yersel' 'at mony 's the time
the seer has broucht the thing on by tryin' to haud it aff."
"It will pe true, my son. Put it would aalways haf come."
"Nae doobt; sae ye jist come in wi' me, daddy, an' sit doon by the
ha' fire, an' I 'll come to ye as sune 's I've been to see 'at the
maister disna want me. But ye'll better come up wi' me to my room
first," he went on, "for the maister disna like to see me in onything
but the kilt."
"And why will he no pe in ta kilts aal as now?"
"I hae been ridin', ye ken, daddy, an' the trews fits the saiddle
better nor the kilts."
"She'll not pe knowing tat. Old Allister, your creat - her own
crandfather, was ta pest horseman ta worrlt efer saw, and he 'll
nefer pe hafing ta trews to his own lecks nor ta saddle to his
horse's pack. He 'll chust make his men pe strap on an old plaid,
and he 'll pe kive a chump, and away they wass, horse and man, one
peast, aal two of tem poth together."
Thus chatting they went to the stable, and from the stable to the
house, where they met no one, and went straight up to Malcolm's
room - the old man making as little of the long ascent as Malcolm
CHAPTER LXVI: THE CRY FROM THE CHAMBER
Brooding, if a man of his temperament may ever be said to brood,
over the sad history of his young wife and the prospects of his
daughter, the marquis rode over fields and through gates - he never
had been one to jump a fence in cold blood - till the darkness
began to fall; and the bearings of his perplexed position came
plainly before him.
First of all, Malcolm acknowledged, and the date of his mother's death
known, what would Florimel be in the eyes of the world? Supposing
the world deceived by the statement that his mother died when he
was born, where yet was the future he had marked out for her? He
had no money to leave her, and she must be helplessly dependent on
Malcolm, on the other hand, might make a good match, or, with the
advantages he could secure him, in the army, still better in the
navy, well enough push his way in the world.
Miss Horn could produce no testimony; and Mrs Catanach had asserted
him the son of Mrs Stewart. He had seen enough, however, to make
him dread certain possible results if Malcolm were acknowledged
as the laird of Kirkbyres. No; there was but one hopeful measure,
one which he had even already approached in a tentative way -
an appeal, namely, to Malcolm himself - in which, acknowledging
his probable rights, but representing in the strongest manner
the difficulty of proving them, he would set forth, in their full
dismay, the consequences to Florimel of their public recognition,
and offer, upon the pledge of his word to a certain line of conduct,
to start him in any path he chose to follow.
Having thought the thing out pretty thoroughly, as he fancied, and
resolved at the same time to feel his way towards negotiations with
Mrs Catanach, he turned and rode home.
After a tolerable dinner, he was sitting over a bottle of the port
which he prized beyond anything else his succession had brought him,
when the door of the dining room opened suddenly, and the butler
appeared, pale with terror.
"My lord! my lord!" he stammered, as he closed the door behind him.
"Well? What the devil's the matter now? Whose cow's dead?"
"Your lordship didn't hear it then?" faltered the butler.
"You've been drinking, Bings," said the marquis, lifting his seventh
glass of port.
"I didn't say I heard it, my lord."
"Heard what - in the name of Beelzebub?"
"The ghost, my lord."
"The what?" shouted the marquis.
"That's what they call it, my lord. It 's all along of having that
wizard's chamber in the house, my lord."
"You're a set of fools," said the marquis, "the whole kit of you!"
"That's what I say, my lord. I don't know what to do with them,
stericking and screaming. Mrs Courthope is trying her best with
them; but it's my belief she's about as bad herself."
The marquis finished his glass of wine, poured out and drank another,
then walked to the door. When the butler opened it, a strange sight
met his eyes. All the servants in the house, men and women, Duncan
and Malcolm alone excepted, had crowded after the butler, every one
afraid of being left behind; and there gleamed the crowd of ghastly
faces in the light of the great hall fire. Demon stood in front,
his mane bristling, and his eyes flaming. Such was the silence that
the marquis heard the low howl of the waking wind, and the snow
like the patting of soft hands against the windows. He stood for a
moment, more than half enjoying their terror, when from somewhere
in the building a far off shriek, shrill and piercing, rang in
every ear. Some of the men drew in their breath with a gasping sob,
but most of the women screamed outright, and that set the marquis
Duncan and Malcolm had but just entered the bedroom of the latter,
when the shriek rent the air close beside, and for a moment deafened
them. So agonized, so shrill, so full of dismal terror was it, that
Malcolm stood aghast, and Duncan started to his feet with responsive
outcry. But Malcolm at once recovered himself.
"Bide here till I come back," he whispered, and hurried noiselessly
In a few minutes he returned - during which all had been still.
"Noo, daddy," he said, "I'm gaein' to drive in the door o' the
neist room. There 's some deevilry at wark there. Stan' ye i' the
door, an' ghaist or deevil 'at wad win by ye, grip it, an' haud on
like Demon the dog."
"She will so, she will so!" muttered Duncan in a strange tone. "Ochone!
that she'll not pe hafing her turk with her! Ochone! Ochone!"
Malcolm took the key of the wizard's chamber from his chest, and
his candle from the table, which he set down in the passage. In a
moment he had unlocked the door, put his shoulder to it, and burst
it open. A light was extinguished, and a shapeless figure went
gliding away through the gloom. It was no shadow, however, for,
dashing itself against a door at the other side of the chamber, it
staggered back with an imprecation of fury and fear, pressed two
hands to its head, and, turning at bay, revealed the face of Mrs
In the door stood the blind piper, with outstretched arms, and
hands ready to clutch, the fingers curved like claws, his knees
and haunches bent, leaning forward like a rampant beast prepared
to spring. In his face was wrath, hatred, vengeance, disgust - an
enmity of all mingled kinds.
Malcolm was busied with something in the bed, and when she turned,
Mrs Catanach saw only the white face of hatred gleaming through
"Ye auld donnert deevil!" she cried, with an addition too coarse
to be set down, and threw herself upon him.
The old man said never a word, but with indrawn breath hissing
through his clenched teeth, clutched her, and down they went together
in the passage, the piper undermost. He had her by the throat, it
is true, but she had her fingers in his eyes, and kneeling on his
chest, kept him down with a vigour of hostile effort that drew the
very picture of murder. It lasted but a moment, however, for the
old man, spurred by torture as well as hate, gathered what survived
of a most sinewy strength into one huge heave, threw her back into
the room, and rose, with the blood streaming from his eyes - just
as the marquis came round the near end of the passage, followed by
Mrs Courthope, the butler, Stoat, and two of the footmen. Heartily
enjoying a row, he stopped instantly, and signing a halt to his
followers, stood listening to the mud geyser that now burst from
Mrs Catanach's throat.
"Ye blin' abortion o' Sawtan's soo!" she cried, "didna I tak ye to
du wi' ye as I likit. An' that deil's tripe ye ca' yer oye (grandson)
- he! he! - him yer gran'son! He's naething but ane o' yer hatit
"A teanga a' diabhuil mhoir, tha thu ag deanamh breug (O tongue of
the great devil thou art making a lie)!" screamed Duncan, speaking
for the first time.
"God lay me deid i' my sins gien he be onything but a bastard
Cawm'ell!" she asseverated with a laugh of demoniacal scorn. "Yer
dautit (petted) Ma'colm 's naething but the dyke side brat o' the
late Grizel Cawm'ell, 'at the fowk tuik for a sant 'cause she grat
an' said naething. I laid the Cawm'ell pup i' yer boody (scarecrow)
airms wi' my ain han's, upo' the tap o' yer curst scraighin' bagpipes
'at sae aften drave the sleep frae my een. Na, ye wad nane o' me!
But I ga'e ye a Cawm'ell bairn to yer hert for a' that, ye auld,
hungert, weyver (spider) leggit, worm aten idiot!"
A torrent of Gaelic broke from Duncan, into the midst of which
rushed another from Mrs Catanach, similar, but coarse in vowel and
harsh in consonant sounds.
The marquis stepped into the room.
"What is the meaning of all this?" he said with dignity. The tumult
of Celtic altercation ceased. The piper drew himself up to his full
height, and stood silent. Mrs Catanach, red as fire with exertion
and wrath, turned ashy pale. The marquis cast on her a searching
and significant look.
"See here, my lord," said Malcolm.
Candle in hand, his lordship approached the bed. The same moment
Mrs Catanach glided out with her usual downy step, gave a wink as
of mutual intelligence to the group at the door, and vanished.
On Malcolm's arm lay the head of a young girl. Her thin, worn
countenance was stained with tears, and livid with suffocation.
She was recovering, but her eyes rolled stupid and visionless.
"It's Phemy, my lord - Blue Peter's lassie 'at was tint," said
"It begins to look serious," said the marquis. "Mrs Catanach! -
He turned towards the door. Mrs Courthope entered, and a head or two
peeped in after her. Duncan stood as before, drawn up and stately,
his visage working, but his body motionless as the statue of a
"Where is the Catanach woman gone?" cried the marquis.
"Cone!" shouted the piper. "Cone! and her huspant will pe waiting
to pe killing her! Och nan ochan!"
"Her husband!" echoed the marquis.
"Ach! she 'll not can pe helping it, my lort - no more till one
will pe tead - and tat should pe ta woman, for she 'll pe a paad
woman - ta worstest woman efer was married, my lort."
"That's saying a good deal," returned the marquis.
"Not one worrt more as enough, my lort," said Duncan "She was only
pe her next wife, put, ochone! ochone! why did she'll pe marry
her? You would haf stapt her long aco, my lort, if she'll was your
wife, and you was knowing the tamned fox and padger she was pe.
Ochone! and she tidn't pe have her turk at her hench nor her sgian
in her hose."