George MacDonald.

Malcolm online

. (page 7 of 43)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMalcolm → online text (page 7 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

that revenge is not a characteristic of the Gael. Whatever instances
of it may have appeared, and however strikingly they may have been
worked up in fiction, such belong to the individual and not to
the race. A remarkable proof of this occurs in the history of the
family of Glenco itself. What remained of it after the massacre in
1689, rose in 1745, and joined the forces of Prince Charles Edward.
Arriving in the neighbourhood of the residence of Lord Stair, whose
grandfather had been one of the chief instigators of the massacre,
the prince took special precautions lest the people of Glenco should
wreak inherited vengeance on the earl. But they were so indignant
at being supposed capable of visiting on the innocent the guilt
of their ancestors, that it was with much difficulty they were
prevented from forsaking the standard of the prince, and returning
at once to their homes. Perhaps a yet stronger proof is the fact,
fully asserted by one Gaelic scholar at least, that their literature
contains nothing to foster feelings of revenge.]

The master placed so little value on any possible results of
mere argument, and had indeed so little faith in any words except
such as came hot from the heart, that he said no more, but, with
an invitation to Malcolm to visit him in the evening, wished them
good day, and turned in at his own door.

The two went slowly on towards the sea town. The road was speckled
with home goers, single and in groups, holding a quiet Sunday pace
to their dinners. Suddenly Duncan grasped Malcolm's arm with the
energy of perturbation, almost of fright, and said in a loud whisper:

"Tere'll be something efil not far from her, Malcolm, my son! Look
apout, look apout, and take care how you'll pe leading her."

Malcolm looked about, and replied, pressing Duncan's arm, and
speaking in a low voice, far less audible than his whisper,

"There's naebody near, daddy - naebody but the howdie wife."

"What howdie wife do you mean, Malcolm?"

"Hoot! Mistress Catanach, ye ken. Dinna lat her hear ye."

"I had a feeshion, Malcolm - one moment, and no more; ta darkness
closed arount it: I saw a ped, Malcolm, and - "

"Wheesht, wheesht; daddy!" pleaded Malcolm importunately. "She hears
ilka word ye're sayin'. She's awfu' gleg, and she's as poozhonous
as an edder. Haud yer tongue, daddy; for guid sake haud yer tongue."

The old man yielded, grasping Malcolm's arm, and quickening his
pace, though his breath came hard, as through the gathering folds
of asthma. Mrs. Catanach also quickened her pace, and came gliding
along the grass by the side of the road, noiseless as the adder
to which Malcolm had likened her, and going much faster than she
seemed. Her great round body looked a persistent type of her calling,
and her arms seemed to rest in front of her as upon a ledge. In one
hand she carried a small bible, round which was folded her pocket
handkerchief, and in the other a bunch of southernwood and rosemary.
She wore a black silk gown, a white shawl, and a great straw bonnet
with yellow ribbons in huge bows, and looked the very pattern of
Sunday respectability; but her black eyebrows gloomed ominous, and
an evil smile shadowed about the corners of her mouth as she passed
without turning her head or taking the least notice of them. Duncan
shuddered, and breathed yet harder, but seemed to recover as she
increased the distance between them. They walked the rest of the
way in silence, however; and even after they reached home, Duncan
made no allusion to his late discomposure.

"What was't ye thocht ye saw, as we cam frae the kirk, daddy?" asked
Malcolm when they were seated at their dinner of broiled mackerel
and boiled potatoes.

"In other times she'll pe hafing such feeshions often, Malcolm,
my son," he returned, avoiding an answer. "Like other pards of her
race she would pe seeing - in the speerit, where old Tuncan can
see. And she'll pe telling you, Malcolm - peware of tat voman;
for ta voman was thinking pad thoughts; and tat will pe what make
her shutter and shake, my son, as she'll pe coing py."


On Sundays, Malcolm was always more or less annoyed by the obtrusive
presence of his arms and legs, accompanied by a vague feeling that,
at any moment, and no warning given, they might, with some insane
and irrepressible flourish, break the Sabbath on their own account,
and degrade him in the eyes of his fellow townsmen, who seemed all
silently watching how he bore the restraints of the holy day. It
must be conceded, however, that the discomfort had quite as much
to do with his Sunday clothes as with the Sabbath day, and that
it interfered but little with an altogether peculiar calm which
appeared to him to belong in its own right to the Sunday, whether
its light flowed in the sunny cataracts of June, or oozed through
the spongy clouds of November. As he walked again to the Alton,
or Old Town in the evening, the filmy floats of white in the lofty
blue, the droop of the long dark grass by the side of the short
brown corn, the shadows pointing like all lengthening shadows
towards the quarter of hope, the yellow glory filling the air and
paling the green below, the unseen larks hanging aloft - like
air pitcher plants that overflowed in song - like electric jars
emptying themselves of the sweet thunder of bliss in the flashing
of wings and the trembling of melodious throats; these were indeed
of the summer but the cup of rest had been poured out upon them;
the Sabbath brooded like an embodied peace over the earth, and
under its wings they grew sevenfold peaceful - with a peace that
might be felt, like the hand of a mother pressed upon the half
sleeping child. The rusted iron cross on the eastern gable of the
old church stood glowing lustreless in the westering sun; while the
gilded vane, whose business was the wind, creaked radiantly this
way and that, in the flaws from the region of the sunset: its shadow
flickered soft on the new grave, where the grass of the wounded
sod was drooping. Again seated on a neighbour stone, Malcolm found
his friend.

"See," said the schoolmaster as the fisherman sat down beside him,
"how the shadow from one grave stretches like an arm to embrace
another! In this light the churchyard seems the very birthplace of
shadows: see them flowing out of the tombs as from fountains, to
overflow the world! Does the morning or the evening light suit such
a place best, Malcolm?"

The pupil thought for a while.

"The evenin' licht, sir," he answered at length; "for ye see the
sun's deem' like, an' deith's like a fa'in asleep, an' the grave's
the bed, an' the sod's the bedclaes, an' there's a lang nicht to
the fore."

"Are ye sure o' that, Malcolm?"

"It's the wye folk thinks an' says aboot it, sir."

"Or maybe doesna think, an' only says?"

"Maybe, sir; I dinna ken."

"Come here, Malcolm," said Mr Graham, and took him by the arm, and
led him towards the east end of the church, where a few tombstones
were crowded against the wall, as if they would press close to a
place they might not enter.

"Read that," he said, pointing to a flat stone, where every hollow
letter was shown in high relief by the growth in it of a lovely
moss. The rest of the stone was rich in gray and green and brown
lichens, but only in the letters grew the bright moss; the inscription
stood as it were in the hand of nature herself - "He is not here;
he is risen."

While Malcolm gazed, trying to think what his master would have
him think, the latter resumed.

"If he is risen - if the sun is up, Malcolm - then the morning and
not the evening is the season for the place of tombs; the morning
when the shadows are shortening and separating, not the evening
when they are growing all into one. I used to love the churchyard
best in the evening, when the past was more to me than the future;
now I visit it almost every bright summer morning, and only
occasionally at night."

"But, sir, isna deith a dreidfu' thing?" said Malcolm.

"That depends on whether a man regards it as his fate, or as the
will of a perfect God. Its obscurity is its dread; but if God be
light, then death itself must be full of splendour - a splendour
probably too keen for our eyes to receive."

"But there's the deein' itsel': isna that fearsome? It's that I
wad be fleyed at."

"I don't see why it should be. It's the want of a God that makes
it dreadful, and you will be greatly to blame, Malcolm, if you
haven't found your God by the time you have to die."

They were startled by a gruff voice near them. The speaker was.
hidden by a corner of the church.

"Ay, she's weel happit (covered)," it said. "But a grave never
luiks richt wantin' a stane, an' her auld cousin wad hear o' nane
bein' laid ower her. I said it micht be set up at her heid, whaur
she wad never fin' the weicht o' 't; but na, na! nane o' 't for
her! She's ane 'at maun tak her ain gait, say the ither thing wha

It was Wattie Witherspail who spoke - a thin shaving of a man,
with a deep, harsh, indeed startling voice.

"An' what ailed her at a stane?" returned the voice of Jonathan
Auldbuird, the sexton. " - Nae doobt it wad be the expense?"

"Amna I tellin' ye what it was? Deil a bit o' the expense cam intil
the calcalation! The auld maiden's nane sae close as fowk 'at disna
ken her wad mak her oot. I ken her weel. She wadna hae a stane
laid upon her as gien she wanted to hand her doon, puir thing! She
said, says she, 'The yerd's eneuch upo' the tap o' her, wantin'

"It micht be some sair, she wad be thinkin' doobtless, for sic a
waik worn cratur to lift whan the trump was blawn," said the sexton,
with the feeble laugh of one who doubts the reception of his wit.

"Weel, I div whiles think," responded Wattie, - but it was impossible
from his tone to tell whether or not he spoke in earnest, - "'at
maybe my boxies is a wheen ower weel made for the use they're
pitten till. They sudna be that ill to rive - gien a' be true 'at
the minister says. Ye see, we dinna ken whan that day may come,
an' there may na be time for the wat an' the worm to ca (drive)
the boords apairt."

"Hoots, man! it's no your lang nails nor yet yer heidit screws 'll
haud doon the redeemt, gien the jeedgement war the morn's mornin',"
said the sexton; "an' for the lave, they wad be glaid eneuch to
bide whaur they are; but they'll a' be howkit oot, - fear na ye

"The Lord grant a blessed uprisin' to you an' me, Jonathan, at that
day!" said Wattie, in the tone of one who felt himself uttering a
more than ordinarily religious sentiment and on the word followed
the sound of their retreating footsteps.

"How closely together may come the solemn and the grotesque! the
ludicrous and the majestic!" said the schoolmaster. "Here, to us
lingering in awe about the doors beyond which lie the gulfs of the
unknown - to our very side come the wright and the grave digger
with their talk of the strength of coffins and the judgment of the
living God!"

"I hae whiles thoucht mysel', sir," said Malcolm, "it was gey strange
like to hae a wuman o' the mak o' Mistress Catanach sittin' at the
receipt o' bairns, like the gatekeeper o' the ither wan', wi' the
hasp o' 't in her han': it doesna promise ower weel for them 'at
she lats in. An' noo ye hae pitten't intil my heid that there's
Wattie Witherspail an' Jonathan Auldbuird for the porters to open
an' lat a' that's left o' 's oot again! Think o' sic like haein'
sic a han' in sic solemn maitters!"

"Indeed some of us have strange porters," said Mr Graham, with a
smile, "both to open to us and to close behind us! yet even in them
lies the human nature, which, itself the embodiment of the unknown,
wanders out through the gates of mystery, to wander back, it may
be, in a manner not altogether unlike that by which it came."

In contemplative moods, the schoolmaster spoke in a calm and
loftily sustained style of book English - quite another language
from that he used when he sought to rouse the consciences of his
pupils, and strangely contrasted with that in which Malcolm kept
up his side of the dialogue.

"I houp, sir," said the latter, "it'll be nae sort o' a celestial
Mistress Catanach 'at 'll be waiting for me o' the ither side; nor
yet for my puir daddy, wha cud ill bide bein' wamled aboot upo'
her knee."

Mr Graham laughed outright.

"If there be one to act the nurse," he answered, "I presume there
will be one to take the mother's part too."

"But speakin' o' the grave, sir," pursued Malcolm, "I wiss ye cud
drop a word 'at micht be o' some comfort to my daddy. It's plain to
me, frae words he lats fa' noo an' than, that, instead o' lea'in'
the warl' ahint him whan he dees, he thinks to lie smorin' an'
smocherin' i' the mools, clammy an' weet, but a' there, an' trimlin'
at the thocht o' the suddent awfu' roar an' din o' the brazen
trumpet o' the archangel. I wiss ye wad luik in an' say something
till him some nicht. It's nae guid mentionin' 't to the minister;
he wad only gie a lauch an' gang awa'. An' gien ye cud jist slide
in a word aboot forgiein' his enemies, sir! I made licht o' the
maitter to Mistress Courthope, 'cause she only maks him waur. She
does weel wi' what the minister pits intill her, but she has little
o' her ain to mix't up wi', an' sae has but sma' weicht wi' the
likes o' my gran'father. Only ye winna lat him think ye called on

They walked about the churchyard until the sun went down in what Mr
Graham called the grave of his endless resurrection - the clouds
on the one side bearing all the pomp of his funeral, the clouds on
the other all the glory of his uprising; and when now the twilight
trembled filmy on the borders of the dark, the master once more
seated himself beside the new grave, and motioned to Malcolm to
take his place beside him: there they talked and dreamed together
of the life to come, with many wanderings and returns; and little
as the boy knew of the ocean depths of sorrowful experience in the
bosom of his companion whence floated up the breaking bubbles of
rainbow hued thought, his words fell upon his heart - not to be
provender for the birds of flitting fancy and airy speculation,
but the seed - it might be decades ere it ripened - of a coming
harvest of hope. At length the master rose and said, "Malcolm, I'm
going in: I should like you to stay here half an hour alone, and
then go straight home to bed."

For the master believed in solitude and silence. Say rather, he
believed in God. What the youth might think, feel, or judge, he
could not tell; but he believed that when the Human is still, the
Divine speaks to it, because it is its own.

Malcolm consented willingly. The darkness had deepened, the graves
all but vanished; an old setting moon appeared, boatlike over
a great cloudy chasm, into which it slowly sank; blocks of cloud,
with stars between, possessed the sky; all nature seemed thinking
about death; a listless wind began to blow, and Malcolm began to
feel as if he were awake too long, and ought to be asleep - as
if he were out in a dream - a dead man that had risen too soon or
lingered too late - so lonely, so forsaken! The wind, soft as it
was, seemed to blow through his very soul. Yet something held him,
and his half hour was long over when he left the churchyard.

As he walked home, the words of a German poem, a version of which
Mr Graham had often repeated to him, and once more that same night,
kept ringing in his heart:

Uplifted is the stone,
And all mankind arisen!
We men remain thine own,
And vanished is our prison!
What bitterest grief can stay
Before thy golden cup,
When earth and life give way,
And with our Lord we sup.

To the marriage Death doth call.
The maidens are not slack;
The lamps are burning all -
Of oil there is no lack.
Afar I hear the walking
Of thy great marriage throng
And hark! the stars are talking
With human tone and tongue!

Courage! for life is hasting
To endless life away;
The inner fire, unwasting,
Transfigures our dull clay
See the stars melting, sinking,
In life wine, golden bright
We, of the splendour drinking,
Shall grow to stars of light.

Lost, lost are all our losses;
Love set for ever free;
The full life heaves and tosses
Like an eternal sea!
One endless living story!
One poem spread abroad!
And the sun of all our glory
Is the countenance of God.


The next morning rose as lovely as if the mantle of the departing
Resurrection day had fallen upon it. Malcolm rose with it, hastened
to his boat, and pulled out into the bay for an hour or two's
fishing. Nearly opposite the great conglomerate rock at the western
end of the dune, called the Bored Craig (Perforated Crag) because
of a large hole that went right through it, he began to draw in his
line. Glancing shoreward as he leaned over the gunwale, he spied
at the foot .of the rock, near the opening, a figure in white,
seated, with bowed head. It was of course the mysterious lady,
whom he had twice before seen thereabout at this unlikely if not
untimely hour; but with yesterday fresh in his mind, how could
he fail to see in her an angel of the resurrection waiting at the
sepulchre to tell the glad news that the Lord was risen?

Many were the glances he cast shoreward as he rebaited his line,
and, having thrown it again into the water, sat waiting until it
should be time to fire the swivel. Still the lady sat on, in her
whiteness a creature of the dawn, without even lifting her head.
At length, having added a few more fishes to the little heap in
the bottom of his boat, and finding his watch bear witness that
the hour was at hand, he seated himself on his thwart, and rowed
lustily to the shore, his bosom filled with the hope of yet another
sight of the lovely face, and another hearing of the sweet English
voice and speech. But the very first time he turned his head to
look, he saw but the sloping foot of the rock sink bare into the
shore. No white robed angel sat at the gate of the resurrection; no
moving thing was visible on the far vacant sands. When he reached
the top of the dune, there was no living creature beyond but a few
sheep feeding on the thin grass. He fired the gun, rowed back to
the Seaton, ate his breakfast, and set out to carry the best of
his fish to the House.

The moment he turned the corner of her street, he saw Mrs Catanach
standing on her threshold with her arms akimbo; although she was
always tidy, and her house spotlessly trim, she yet seemed forever
about the door, on the outlook at least, if not on the watch.

"What hae ye in yer bit basket the day, Ma'colm?" she said, with
a peculiar smile, which was not sweet enough to restore vanished

"Naething guid for dogs," answered Malcolm, and was walking past.

But she made a step forward, and, with a laugh meant to indicate
friendly amusement, said,

"Let's see what's intill't, ony gait (anyhow). - The doggie's awa
on 's traivels the day."

"'Deed, Mistress Catanach," persisted Malcolm, "I canna say I like
to hae my ain fish flung i' my face, nor yet to see ill-faured
tykes rin awa' wi' 't afore my verra een."

After the warning given him by Miss Horn, and the strange influence
her presence had had on his grandfather, Malcolm preferred keeping
up a negative quarrel with the woman.

"Dinna ca' ill names," she returned: "my dog wad tak it waur to be
ca'd an ill faured tyke, nor to hae fish flung in his face. Lat's
see what's i' yer basket, I say."

As she spoke, she laid her hand on the basket, but Malcolm drew
back, and turned away towards the gate.

"Lord safe us!" she cried, with a yelling laugh; "ye're no feared
at an auld wife like me?"

"I dinna ken; maybe ay an' maybe no - I wadna say. But I dinna
want to hae onything to du wi' ye, mem."

"Ma'colm MacPhail," said Mrs Catanach, lowering her voice to
a hoarse whisper, while every trace of laughter vanished from her
countenance, "ye hae had mair to du wi' me nor ye ken, an' aiblins
ye'll hae mair yet nor ye can weel help. Sae caw canny, my man."

"Ye may hae the layin' o' me oot," said Malcolm, "but it sanna be
wi' my wull; an' gien I hae ony life left i' me, I s' gie ye a fleg

"Ye may get a war yersel': I hae frichtit the deid afore noo. Sae
gang yer wa's to Mistress Coorthoup, wi' a flech (flea) i' yer lug
(ear). I wuss ye luck - sic luck as I wad wuss ye I - "

Her last words sounded so like a curse, that to overcome a cold
creep, Malcolm had to force a laugh.

The cook at the House bought all his fish, for they had had none
for the last few days, because of the storm; and he was turning
to go home by the river side, when he heard a tap on a window, and
saw Mrs Courthope beckoning him to another door.

"His lordship desired me to send you to him, Malcolm, the next time
you called," she said.

"Weel, mem, here I am," answered the youth.

"You'll find him in the flower garden," she said. "He's up early
today for a wonder."

He left his basket at the top of the stairs that led down the rock
to the level of the burn, and walked up the valley of the stream.

The garden was a curious old fashioned place, with high hedges, and
close alleys of trees, where two might have wandered long without
meeting, and it was some time before he found any hint of the
presence of the marquis. At length, however, he heard voices, and
following the sound, walked along one of the alleys till he came
to a little arbour, where he discovered the marquis seated, and,
to his surprise, the white robed lady of the sands beside him. A
great deer hound at his master's feet was bristling his mane, and
baring his eye teeth with a growl, but the girl had a hold of his

"Who are you?" asked the marquis rather gruffly, as if he had never
seen him before.

"I beg yer lordship's pardon," said Malcolm, "but they telled me
yer lordship wantit to see me, and sent me to the flooer garden.
Will I gang, or will I bide?"

The marquis looked at him for a moment, frowningly, and made
no reply. But the frown gradually relaxed before Malcolm's modest
but unflinching gaze, and the shadow of a smile slowly usurped its
place. He still kept silent, however.

"Am I to gang or bide, my lord?" repeated Malcolm.

"Can't you wait for an answer?"

"As lang's yer lordship likes - Will I gang an' walk aboot, mem
- my leddy, till his lordship's made up his min'? Wad that please
him, duv ye think?" he said, in the tone of one who seeks advice.

But the girl only smiled, and the marquis said, "Go to the devil."

"I maun luik to yer lordship for the necessar' directions," rejoined

"Your tongue's long enough to inquire as you go," said the marquis.

A reply in the same strain rushed to Malcolm's lips, but he checked
himself in time, and stood silent, with his bonnet in his band,
fronting the two. The marquis sat gazing as if he had nothing to say
to him, but after a few moments the lady spoke - not to Malcolm,

"Is there any danger in boating here, papa?" she said.

"Not more, I daresay, than there ought to be," replied the marquis
listlessly. "Why do you ask?"

"Because I should so like a row! I want to see how the shore looks
to the mermaids."

"Well, I will take you some day, if we can find a proper boat."

"Is yours a proper boat?" she asked, turning to Malcolm with a
sparkle of fun in her eyes.

"That depen's on my lord's definition o' proper."

"Definition!" repeated the marquis.

"Is 't ower lang a word, my lord?" asked Malcolm.

The marquis only smiled.

"I ken what ye mean. It's a strange word in a fisher lad's mou',
ye think. But what for should na a fisher lad hae a smatterin' o'
loagic, my lord? For Greek or Laitin there's but sma' opportunity
o' exerceese in oor pairts; but for loagic, a fisher body may aye
haud his ban' in i' that. He can aye be tryin' 't upo' 's wife, or
's guid mother, or upo' 's boat, or upo' the fish whan they winna
tak. Loagic wad save a heap o' cursin' an' ill words - amo' the
fisher fowk, I mean, my lord."

"Have you been to college?"

"Na, my lord - the mair's the pity! But I've been to the school
sin' ever I can min'."

"Do they teach logic there?"

"A kin' o' 't. Mr Graham sets us to try oor ban' whiles - jist to
mak 's a bit gleg (quick and keen), ye ken."

"You don't mean you go to school still?"

"I dinna gang reg'lar; but I gang as aften as Mr Graham wants me
to help him, an' I aye gether something."

"So it's schoolmaster you are as well as fisherman? Two strings to
your bow! - Who pays you for teaching?"

"Ow! naebody. Wha wad pay me for that?"

"Why, the schoolmaster."

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMalcolm → online text (page 7 of 43)