George MacDonald.

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type and embodiment of the horrors that haunt the dignity of death,
came walking towards him like one at home, her great round body
lightly upborne on her soft foot. It was no time to challenge her
presence, and yielding her the half of the narrow way, he passed
without a greeting. She dropped him a courtesy with an uplook and
again a vailing of her wicked eyes.

The marquis would not have the doctor come near him, and when Malcolm
entered there was no one in the room but Mrs Courthope. The shadow
had crept far along the dial. His face had grown ghastly, the
skin had sunk to the bones, and his eyes stood out as if from much
staring into the dark. They rested very mournfully on Malcolm for
a few moments, and then closed softly.

"Is she come yet?" he murmured, opening them wide, with sudden

"No, my lord." The lids fell again, softly, slowly. "Be good to
her, Malcolm," he murmured.

"I wull, my lord," said Malcolm solemnly.

Then the eyes opened and looked at him; something grew in them -
a light as of love, and drew up after it a tear; but the lips said
nothing. The eyelids fell again, and in a minute more, Malcolm knew
by his breathing that he slept.

The slow night waned. He woke sometimes, but soon dozed off again.
The two watched by him till the dawn. It brought a still grey
morning, without a breath of wind, and warm for the season. The
marquis appeared a little revived, but was hardly able to speak.
Mostly by signs he made Malcolm understand that he wanted Mr Graham,
but that some one else must go for him. Mrs Courthope went!

As soon as she was out of the room, he lifted his hand with effort,
laid feeble hold on Malcolm's jacket, and drawing him down, kissed
him on the forehead. Malcolm burst into tears, and sank weeping by
the bedside.

Mr Graham entering a little after, and seeing Malcolm on his knees,
knelt also, and broke into a prayer.

"O blessed Father!" he said, "who knowest this thing, so strange
to us, which we call death, breathe more life into the heart of
thy dying son, that in the power of life he may front death. O Lord
Christ, who diedst thyself, and in thyself knowest it all, heal
this man in his sore need - heal him with strength to die."

Came a faint Amen from the marquis.

"Thou didst send him into the world: help him out of it. O God,
we belong to thee utterly. We dying men are thy children, O living
Father! Thou art such a father, that thou takest our sins from us
and throwest them behind thy back. Thou cleanest our souls, as thy
Son did wash our feet. We hold our hearts up to thee: make them
what they must be, O Love, O Life of men, O Heart of hearts! Give
thy dying child courage, and hope, and peace - the peace of him
who overcame all the terrors of humanity, even death itself, and
liveth for evermore, sitting at thy right hand, our God brother,
blessed to all ages - amen."

"Amen!" murmured the marquis, and slowly lifting his hand from the
coverlid, he laid it on the head of Malcolm, who did not know it
was the hand of his father, blessing him ere he died.

"Be good to her," said the marquis once more. But Malcolm could not
answer for weeping, and the marquis was not satisfied. Gathering
all his force he said again, "Be good to her."

"I wull, I wull," burst from Malcolm in sobs, and he wailed aloud.

The day wore on, and the afternoon came. Still Lady Florimel had
not arrived, and still the marquis lingered.

As the gloom of the twilight was deepening into the early darkness
of the winter night, he opened wide his eyes, and was evidently
listening. Malcolm could hear nothing; but the light in his master's
face grew, and the strain of his listening diminished. At length
Malcolm became aware of the sound of wheels, which came rapidly
nearer, till at last the carriage swung up to the hall door. A
moment, and Lady Florimel was flitting across the room.

"Papa! papa!" she cried, and, throwing her arm over him, laid her
cheek to his.

The marquis could not return her embrace; he could only receive
her into the depths of his shining tearful eyes.

"Flory!" he murmured, "I'm going away. I'm going - I've got - to
make an - apology. Malcolm, be good - "

The sentence remained unfinished. The light paled from his countenance
- he had to carry it with him. He was dead.

Lady Florimel gave a loud cry. Mrs Courthope ran to her assistance.

"My lady's in a dead faint!" she whispered, and left the room to
get help.

Malcolm lifted Lady Florimel in his great arms, and bore her tenderly
to her own apartment. There he left her to the care of her women,
and returned to the chamber of death.

Meantime Mr Graham and Mr Soutar had come. When Malcolm re-entered,
the schoolmaster took him kindly by the arm and said:

"Malcolm, there can be neither place nor moment fitter for the
solemn communication I am commissioned to make to you: I have, as
in the presence of your dead father, to inform you that you are
now Marquis of Lossie; and God forbid you should be less worthy as
marquis than you have been as fisherman!"

Malcolm stood stupefied. For a while he seemed to himself to be
turning over in his mind something he had heard read from a book,
with a nebulous notion of being somehow concerned in it. The thought
of his father cleared his brain. He ran to the dead body, kissed
its lips, as he had once kissed the forehead of another, and falling
on his knees, wept, he knew not for what. Presently, however, he
recovered himself, rose, and, rejoining the two men, said "Gentlemen,
hoo mony kens this turn o' things?"

"None but Mr Morrison, Mrs Catanach, and ourselves - so far as I
know," answered Mr Soutar.

"And Miss Horn," added Mr Graham. "She first brought out the truth
of it, and ought to be the first to know of your recognition by
your father."

"I s' tell her mysel'," returned Malcolm. "But, gentlemen, I beg
o' ye, till I ken what I 'm aboot an' gie ye leave, dinna open yer
moo' to leevin' cratur' aboot this. There's time eneuch for the
warl' to ken 't."

"Your lordship commands me," said Mr Soutar.

"Yes, Malcolm, - until you give me leave," said Mr Graham.

"Whaur 's Mr Morrison?" asked Malcolm.

"He is still in the house," said Mr Soutar.

"Gang till him, sir, an' gar him promise, on the word o' a gentleman,
to haud his tongue. I canna bide to hae 't blaret a' gait an' a'
at ance. For Mistress Catanach, I s' deal wi' her mysel'."

The door opened, and, in all the conscious dignity conferred by
the immunities and prerogatives of her calling, Mrs Catanach walked
into the room.

"A word wi' ye, Mistress Catanach," said Malcolm.

"Certainly, my lord," answered the howdy, with mingled presumption
and respect, and followed him to the dining room.

"Weel, my lord," she began, before he had turned from shutting the
door behind them, in the tone and with the air, or rather airs, of
having conferred a great benefit, and expecting its recognition.

"Mistress Catanach," interrupted Malcolm, turning and facing her,
"gien I be un'er ony obligation to you, it 's frae anither tongue
I maun hear 't. But I hae an offer to mak ye: Sae lang as it disna
come oot 'at I 'm onything better nor a fisherman born, ye s' hae
yer twinty poun' i' the year, peyed ye quarterly. But the moment
fowk says wha I am, ye touch na a poun' note mair, an' I coont
mysel' free to pursue onything I can pruv agane ye."

Mrs Catanach attempted a laugh of scorn, but her face was grey as
putty, and its muscles declined response.

"Ay or no," said Malcolm. "I winna gar ye sweir, for I wad lippen
to yer aith no a hair."

"Ay, my lord," said the howdy, reassuming at least outward composure,
and with it her natural brass, for as she spoke she held out her
open palm.

"Na, na!" said Malcolm, "nae forehan payments! Three months o'
tongue haudin', an' there 's yer five poun'; an' Maister Soutar o'
Duff Harbour 'ill pay 't intill yer ain han'. But brak troth wi'
me, an' ye s' hear o' 't; for gien ye war hangt, the warl' wad be
but the cleaner. Noo quit the hoose, an' never lat me see ye aboot
the place again. But afore ye gang, I gie ye fair warnin' 'at I
mean to win at a' yer byganes."

The blood of red wrath was seething in Mrs Catanach's face; she drew
herself up, and stood flaming before him, on the verge of explosion.

"Gang frae the hoose," said Malcolm, "or I'll set the muckle hun'
to shaw ye the gait."

Her face turned the colour of ashes, and with hanging cheeks and
scared but not the less wicked eyes, she turned from the room.
Malcolm watched her out of the house, then following her into the
town, brought Miss Horn back with him to aid in the last of earthly
services, and hastened to Duncan's cottage.

But to his amazement and distress, it was forsaken, and the hearth
cold. In his attendance on his father, he had not seen the piper
- he could not remember for how many days; and on inquiry he found
that, although he had not been missed, no one could recall having
seen him later than three or four days agone. The last he could
hear of him in the neighbourhood was, that, about a week before,
a boy had spied him sitting on a rock in the Baillies' Barn, with
his pipes in his lap. Searching the cottage, he found that his
broadsword and dirk, with all his poor finery, were gone.

That same night Mrs Catanach also disappeared.

A week after, what was left of Lord Lossie was buried. Malcolm
followed the hearse with the household. Miss Horn walked immediately
behind him, on the arm of the schoolmaster. It was a great funeral,
with a short road, for the body was laid in the church - close to
the wall, just under the crusader with the Norman canopy.

Lady Florimel wept incessantly for three days; on the fourth she
looked out on the sea and thought it very dreary; on the fifth she
found a certain gratification in hearing herself called the marchioness;
on the sixth she tried on her mourning, and was pleased; on the
seventh she went with the funeral and wept again; on the eighth
came Lady Bellair, who on the ninth carried her away.

To Malcolm she had not spoken once.

Mr Graham left Portlossie.

Miss Horn took to her bed for a week.

Mr Crathie removed his office to the House itself, took upon him
the function of steward as well as factor, had the state rooms
dismantled, and was master of the place.

Malcolm helped Stoat with the horses, and did odd jobs for Mr Crathie.
From his likeness to the old marquis, as he was still called, the
factor had a favour for him, firmly believing the said marquis to
be his father, and Mrs Stewart his mother. Hence he allowed him a
key to the library, of which Malcolm made good use.

The story of Malcolm's plans and what came of them, requires another


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