George MacDonald.

Malcolm online

. (page 9 of 43)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMalcolm → online text (page 9 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

rushed up the bank, or to go softly hurtling down the slope with
it as it sank. As she read, Malcolm was walking towards her along
the top of the dune, but not until he came almost above where she
lay, did she hear his step in the soft quenching sand.

She nodded kindly, and he descended approaching her.

"Did ye want me, my leddy?" he asked.

"No," she answered.

"I wasna sure whether ye noddit 'cause ye wantit me or no," said
Malcolm, and turned to reascend the dune.

"Where are you going now?" she asked.

"Ow! nae gait in particlar. I jist cam oot to see hoo things war

"What things?"

"Ow! jist the lift (sky), an' the sea, an' sic generals."

That Malcolm's delight in the presences of Nature - I say presences,
as distinguished from forms and colours and all analyzed sources
of her influences - should have already become a conscious thing
to himself requires to account for it the fact that his master,
Graham, was already under the influences of Wordsworth, whom he had
hailed as a Crabbe that had burst his shell and spread the wings
of an eagle the virtue passed from him to his pupil.

"I won't detain you from such important business," said Lady
Florimel, and dropped her eyes on her book.

"Gien ye want my company, my leddy, I can luik aboot me jist as
weel here as ony ither gait," said Malcolm.

And as he spoke, he gently stretched himself on the dune, about
three yards aside and lower down. Florimel looked half amused and
half annoyed, but she had brought it on herself, and would punish
him only by dropping her eyes again on her book, and keeping silent.
She had come to the Florimel of snow.

Malcolm lay and looked at her for a few moments pondering; then
fancying he had found the cause of her offence, rose, and, passing
to the other side of her, again lay down, but at a still more
respectful distance.

"Why do you move?" she asked, without looking up.

"'Cause there's jist a possible air o' win' frae the nor'east."

"And you want me to shelter you from it?" said Lady Florimel.

"Na, na, my leddy," returned Malcolm, laughing; "for as bonny's ye
are, ye wad be but sma' scoug (shelter)."

"Why did you move, then?" persisted the girl, who understood what
he said just about half.

"Weel, my leddy, ye see it's het, an' I'm aye amang the fish mair
or less, an' I didna ken 'at I was to hae the honour o' sittin'
doon aside ye; sae I thocht ye was maybe smellin' the fish. It's
healthy eneuch, but some fowk disna like it; an' for a' that I ken,
you gran' fowk's senses may be mair ready to scunner (take offence)
than oors. 'Deed, my leddy, we wadna need to be particlar, whiles,
or it wad be the waur for 's."

Simple as it was, the explanation served to restore her equanimity,
disturbed by what had seemed his presumption in lying down in her
presence: she saw that she had mistaken the action. The fact was,
that, concluding from her behaviour she had something to say to him,
but was not yet at leisure for him, he had lain down, as a loving
dog might, to await her time. It was devotion, not coolness. To remain
standing before her would have seemed a demand on her attention; to
lie down was to withdraw and wait. But Florimel, although pleased,
was only the more inclined to torment - a peculiarity of disposition
which she inherited from her father: she bowed her face once more
over her book, and read though three whole stanzas, without however
understanding a single phrase in them, before she spoke. Then
looking up, and regarding for a moment the youth who lay watching
her with the eyes of the servants in the psalm, she said, - "Well?
What are you waiting for?"

"I thocht ye wantit me, my leddy! I beg yer pardon," answered
Malcolm, springing to his feet, and turning to go.

"Do you ever read?" she asked.

"Aften that," replied Malcolm, turning again, and standing stock
still. "An' I like best to read jist as yer leddyship's readin'
the noo, lyin' o' the san' hill, wi' the haill sea afore me, an
naething atween me an' the icebergs but the watter an' the stars
an' a wheen islands. It's like readin' wi' fower een, that!"

"And what do you read on such occasions?" carelessly drawled his

"Whiles ae thing an' whiles anither - whiles onything I can lay my
han's upo'. I like traivels an' sic like weel eneuch; an' history,
gien it be na ower dry like. I div not like sermons, an' there's
mair o' them in Portlossie than onything ither. Mr Graham - that's
the schoolmaister - has a gran' libbrary, but it's maist Laitin an'
Greek, an' though I like the Laitin weel, it's no what I wad read
i' the face o' the sea. When ye're in dreid o' wantin' a dictionar',
that spiles a'."

"Can you read Latin then?"

"Ay: what for no, my leddy? I can read Virgil middlin'; an' Horace's
Ars Poetica, the whilk Mr Graham says is no its richt name ava, but
jist Epistola ad Pisones; for gien they bude to gie 't anither it
sud ha' been Ars Dramatica. But leddies dinna care aboot sic things."

"You gentlemen give us no chance. You won't teach us."

"Noo, my leddy, dinna begin to mak' ghem o' me, like my lord. I
cud ill bide it frae him, an' gien ye tak till 't as weel, 1 maun
jist haud oot o' yer gait. I'm nae gentleman, an' hae ower muckle
respeck for what becomes a gentleman to be pleased at bein' ca'd
ane. But as for the Laitin, I'll be prood to instruck yer leddyship
whan ye please."

"I'm afraid I've no great wish to learn," said Florimel.

"I daur say no," said Malcolm quietly, and again addressed himself
to go.

"Do you like novels?" asked the girl.

"I never saw a novelle. There's no ane amo' a' Mr Graham's buiks,
an' I s' warran' there's full twa hunner o' them. I dinna believe
there's a single novelle in a' Portlossie."

"Don't be too sure: there are a good many in our library."

"I hadna the presumption, my leddy, to coont the Hoose in Portlossie
- Ye'll hae a sicht o' buiks up there, no?"

"Have you never been in the library?"

"I never set fut i' the hoose - 'cep' i' the kitchie, an' ance
or twise steppin' across the ha' frae the ae door to the tither.
I wad fain see what kin' o' a place great fowk like you bides in,
an' what kin' o' things, buiks an' a', ye hae aboot ye. It's no
easy for the like o' huz 'at has but a but an' a ben (outer and
inner room), to unnerstan' hoo ye fill sic a muckle place as yon.
I wad be aye i' the libbrary, I think. But," he went on, glancing
involuntarily at the dainty little foot that peered from under her
dress, "yer leddyship's sae licht fittit, ye'll be ower the haill
dwallin', like a wee bird in a muckle cage. Whan I want room, I
like it wantin' wa's."

Once more he was on the point of going, but once more a word detained

"Do you ever read poetry?"

"Ay, sometimes - whan it's auld."

"One would think you were talking about wine! Does age improve
poetry as well?"

"I ken naething aboot wine, my leddy. Miss Horn gae me a glaiss the
ither day, an' it tastit weel, but whether it was merum or mixtum,
I couldna tell mair nor a haddick. Doobtless age does gar poetry
smack a wee better; but I said auld only 'cause there's sae little
new poetry that I care aboot comes my gait. Mr Graham's unco ta'en
wi' Maister Wordsworth - no an ill name for a poet; do ye ken
onything aboot him, my leddy?"

"I never heard of him."

"I wadna gie an auld Scots ballant for a barrowfu' o' his. There's
gran' bits here an' there, nae doobt, but it 's ower mim mou'ed
for me."

"What do you mean by that?"

"It's ower saft an' sliddery like i' yer mou', my leddy."

"What sort do you like then?"

"I like Milton weel. Ye get a fine mou'fu' o' him. I dinna like
the verse 'at ye can murle (crumble) oot atween yer lips an' yer
teeth. I like the verse 'at ye maun open yer mou' weel to lat gang.
Syne it's worth yer while, whether ye unnerstan' 't or no."

"I don't see how you can say that."

"Jist hear, my leddy! Here's a bit I cam upo' last nicht:

His volant touch,
Instinct through all proportions, low and high,
Fled and pursued transverse the resonant fugue.

Hear till 't! It's gran' - even though ye dinna ken what it means
a bit."

"I do know what it means," said Florimel. "Let me see: volant means
- what does volant mean?"

"It means fleein', I suppose."

"Well, he means some musician or other."

"Of coorse: it maun be Jubal - I ken a' the words but fugue; though
I canna tell what business instinct an' proportions hae there."

"It's describing how the man's fingers, playing a fugue - on the
organ, I suppose, - "

"A fugue 'll be some kin' o' a tune, than? That casts a heap o'
licht on't, my leddy - I never saw an organ: what is 't like?"

"Something like a pianoforte."

"But I never saw ane o' them either. It's ill makin' things
a'thegither oot o' yer ain heid."

"Well, it's played with the fingers - like this," said Florimel.
"And the fugue is a kind of piece where one part pursues the other,
- "

"An' syne," cried Malcolm eagerly, "that ane turns roon' an' rins
efter the first; - that 'll be 'fled and pursued transverse.'
I hae't! I hae't! See, my leddy, what it is to hae sic schoolin',
wi' music an' a'! The proportions - that's the relation o' the
notes to ane anither; an' fugue - that comes frae fugere to flee
- 'fled and pursued transverse the resonant fugue ' - the tane
rinnin' efter the tither, roon' an' roon'. Ay, I hae't noo! -
Resonant - that's echoing or resounding. But what's instinct my
leddy? It maun be an adjective, I'm thinkin'."

Although the modesty of Malcolm had led him to conclude the girl
immeasurably his superior in learning because she could tell him
what a fugue was, he soon found she could help him no further, for
she understood scarcely anything about grammar, and her vocabulary
was limited enough. Not a doubt interfered, however, with her
acceptance of the imputed superiority; for it is as easy for some
to assume as it is for others to yield.

"I hae't! It is an adjective," cried Malcolm, after a short pause
of thought. "It's the touch that's instinct. But I fancy there sud
be a comma efter instinct. - His fingers were sae used till 't
that they could 'maist do the thing o' themsel's - Isna 't lucky,
my leddy, that I thocht o' sayin' 't ower to you! I'll read the buik
frae the beginnin', - it's the neist to the last, I think, - jist
to come upo' the twa lines i' their ain place, ohn their expeckin'
me like, an' see hoo gran' they soon' whan a body unnerstan's them.
Thank ye, my leddy."

"I suppose you read Milton to your grandfather?"

"Ay, sometimes - i' the lang forenights."

"What do you mean by the forenights?"

"I mean efter it's dark an' afore ye gang to yer bed. - He likes
the battles o' the angels best. As sune 's it comes to ony fechtin',
up he gets, an' gangs stridin' aboot the flure; an' whiles he maks
a claucht at 's claymore; an' faith! ance he maist cawed aff my
heid wi' 't, for he had made a mistak aboot whaur I was sittin'."

"What's a claymore?"

"A muckle heelan' braidswoord, my leddy. Clay frae gladius verra
likly; an' more 's the Gaelic for great: claymore, great sword.
Blin' as my gran'father is, ye wad sweer he had fochten in 's day,
gien ye hard hoo he'll gar't whurr an' whustle aboot 's heid as
gien 't war a bit lath o' wud."

"But that's very dangerous," said Florimel, something aghast at
the recital.

"Ow, ay!" assented Malcolm, indifferently, - "Gien ye wad luik
in, my leddy, I wad lat ye see his claymore, an' his dirk, an' his
skene dhu, an' a'."

"I don't think I could venture. He's too dreadful! I should be
terrified at him."

"Dreidfu' my leddy? He's the quaietest, kin'liest auld man I that
is, providit ye say naething for a Cawmill, or agen ony ither
hielanman. Ye see he comes o' Glenco, an' the Cawmills are jist a
hate till him - specially Cawmill o' Glenlyon, wha was the warst
o' them a'. Ye sud hear him tell the story till 's pipes, my leddy!
It's gran' to hear him! An' the poetry a' his ain!"


There came a blinding flash, and a roar through the leaden air,
followed by heavy drops mixed with huge hailstones. At the flash,
Florimel gave a cry and half rose to her feet, but at the thunder,
fell as if stunned by the noise, on the sand. As if with a bound,
Malcolm was by her side, but when she perceived his terror, she
smiled, and laying hold of his hand, sprung to her feet.

"Come, come," she cried; and still holding his hand, hurried up the
dune, and down the other side of it. Malcolm accompanied her step
for step, strongly tempted, however, to snatch her up, and run for
the bored craig: he could not think why she made for the road -
high on an unscalable embankment, with the park wall on the other
side. But she ran straight for a door in the embankment itself,
dark between two buttresses, which, never having seen it open, he
had not thought of. For a moment she stood panting before it, while
with trembling hand she put a key in the lock; the next she pushed
open the creaking door and entered. As she turned to take out the
key, she saw Malcolm yards away in the middle of the road and in
a cataract of rain, which seemed to have with difficulty suspended
itself only until the lady should be under cover. He stood with
his bonnet in his hand, watching for a farewell glance.

"Why don't you come in?" she said impatiently.

He was beside her in a moment.

"I didna ken ye wad lat me in," he said.

"I wouldn't have you drowned," she returned, shutting the door.

"Droont!" he repeated, "It wad tak a hantle (great deal) to droon
me. I stack to the boddom o' a whumled boat a haill nicht whan I
was but fifeteen."

They stood in a tunnel which passed under the road, affording
immediate communication between the park and the shore. The further
end of it was dark with trees. The upper half of the door by which
they had entered was a wooden grating, for the admission of light,
and through it they were now gazing, though they could see little
but the straight lines of almost perpendicular rain that scratched
out the colours of the landscape. The sea was troubled, although no
wind blew; it heaved as with an inward unrest. But suddenly there
was a great broken sound somewhere in the air; and the next moment
a storm came tearing over the face of the sea, covering it with
blackness innumerably rent into spots of white. Presently it struck
the shore, and a great rude blast came roaring through the grating,
carrying with it a sheet of rain, and, catching Florimel's hair,
sent it streaming wildly out behind her.

"Dinna ye think, my leddy," said Malcolm, "ye had better mak for the
hoose? What wi' the win' an' the weet thegither, ye'll be gettin'
yer deith o' cauld. I s' gang wi' ye sae far, gien ye'll alloo me,
jist to baud it ohn blawn ye awa'."

The wind suddenly fell, and his last words echoed loud in the
vaulted sky. For a moment it grew darker in the silence, and then
a great flash carried the world away with it, and left nothing but
blackness behind. A roar of thunder followed, and even while it yet
bellowed, a white face flitted athwart the grating, and a voice of
agony shrieked aloud:

"I dinna ken whaur it comes frae!"

Florimel grasped Malcolm's arm: the face had passed close to hers
- only the grating between, and the cry cut through the thunder
like a knife.

Instinctively, almost unconsciously, he threw his arm around her,
to shield her from her own terror.

"Dinna be fleyt, my leddy," he said. "It's naething but the mad
laird. He's a quaiet cratur eneuch, only he disna ken whaur he comes
frae - he disna ken whaur onything comes frae - an' he canna bide
it. But he wadna hurt leevin' cratur, the laird."

"What a dreadful face!" said the girl, shuddering.

"It's no an ill faured face," said Malcolm, "only the storm's
frichtit him by ord'nar, an' it's unco ghaistly the noo."

"Is there nothing to be done for him?" she said compassionately.

"No upo' this side the grave, I doobt, my leddy," answered Malcolm.

Here coming to herself the girl became aware of her support, and
laid her hand on Malcolm's to remove his arm. He obeyed instantly,
and she said nothing.

"There was some speech," he went on hurriedly, with a quaver in
his voice, "o' pittin' him intill the asylum at Aberdeen, an' no
lattin' him scoor the queentry this gait, they said; but it wad
hae been sheer cruelty, for the cratur likes naething sac weel
as rinnin' aboot, an' does no' mainner o' hurt. A verra bairn can
guide him. An' he has jist as guid a richt to the leeberty God gies
him as ony man alive, an' mair nor a hantle (more than many)."

"Is nothing known about him?"

"A' thing's known aboot him, my leddy, 'at 's known aboot the lave
(rest) o' 's. His father was the laird o' Gersefell - an' for
that maitter he's laird himsel' noo. But they say he's taen sic a
scunner (disgust) at his mither, that he canna bide the verra word
o' mither; he jist cries oot whan he hears 't."

"It seems clearing," said Florimel.

"I doobt it's only haudin' up for a wee," returned Malcolm, after
surveying as much of the sky as was visible through the bars; "but
I do think ye had better run for the hoose, my leddy. I s' jist
follow ye, a feow yairds ahin', till I see ye safe. Dinna ye be
feared - I s' tak guid care: I wadna hae ye seen i' the company
o' a fisher lad like me."

There was no doubting the perfect simplicity with which this was
said, and the girl took no exception. They left the tunnel, and
skirting the bottom of the little hill on which stood the temple
of the winds, were presently in the midst of a young wood, through
which a gravelled path led towards the House. But they had not gone
far ere a blast of wind, more violent than any that had preceded
it, smote the wood, and the trees, young larches and birches and
sycamores, bent streaming before it. Lady Florimel turned to see
where Malcolm was, and her hair went from her like a Maenad's,
while her garments flew fluttering and straining, as if struggling
to carry her off. She had never in her life before been out in a
storm, and she found the battle joyously exciting. The roaring of
the wind in the trees was grand; and what seemed their terrified
struggles while they bowed and writhed and rose but to bow again,
as in mad effort to unfix their earthbound roots and escape, took
such sympathetic hold of her imagination, that she flung out her
arms, and began to dance and whirl as if herself the genius of the
storm. Malcolm, who had been some thirty paces behind, was with
her in a moment.

"Isn't it splendid?" she cried.

"It blaws weel - verra near as weel 's my daddy," said Malcolm,
enjoying it quite as much as the girl.

"How dare you make game of such a grand uproar?" said Florimel with

"Mak ghem o' a blast o' win' by comparin' 't to my gran'father!"
exclaimed Malcolm. "Hoot, my leddy! its a coamplement to the biggest
blast 'at ever blew to be compairt till an auld man like him. I'm
ower used to them to min' them muckle mysel', 'cep' to fecht wi'
them. But whan I watch the seagoos dartin' like arrowheids throu'
the win', I sometimes think it maun be gran' for the angels to caw
aboot great flags o' wings in a mortal warstle wi' sic a hurricane
as this."

"I don't understand you one bit," said Lady Florimel petulantly.

As she spoke, she went on, but, the blast having abated, Malcolm
lingered, to place a proper distance between them.

"You needn't keep so far behind," said Florimel, looking back.

"As yer leddyship pleases," answered Malcolm, and was at once by
her side. "I'll gang till ye tell me to stan'. - Eh, sae different
's ye look frae the ither mornin'!"

"What morning?"

"Whan ye was sittin' at the fut o' the bored craig."

"Bored craig? What's that?"

"The rock wi' a hole throu' 'it. Ye ken the rock weel eneuch, my
leddy. Ye was sittin' at the fut o' 't, readin' yer buik, as white
's gien ye had been made o' snaw. It cam to me that the rock was
the sepulchre, the hole the open door o' 't, an' yersel' ane o' the
angels that had faulded his wings an' was waitin' for somebody to
tell the guid news till, that he was up an awa'."

"And what do I look like today?" she asked.

"Ow! the day, ye luik like some cratur o' the storm; or the storm
itsel' takin' a leevin' shape, an' the bonniest it could; or maybe,
like Ahriel, gaein' afore the win', wi' the blast in 's feathers,
rufflin' them 'a gaits at ance."

"Who's Ahriel?"

"Ow, the fleein' cratur i' the Tempest! But in your bonny southern
speech, I daursay ye wad ca' him - or her, I dinna ken whilk the
cratur was - ye wad ca' 't Ayriel?"

"I don't know anything about him or her or it," said Lady Florimel.

"Ye'll hae a' aboot him up i' the libbrary there though," said
Malcolm. "The Tempest's the only ane o' Shakspere's plays 'at I hae
read, but it's a gran' ane, as Maister Graham has empooered me to

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Florimel, "I've lost my book!"

"I'll gang back an' luik for 't this meenute, my leddy," said Malcolm.
"I ken ilka fit o' the road we've come, an' it's no possible but
I fa' in wi' 't. - Ye'll sune be hame noo, an' it'll hardly be on
again afore ye win in," he added, looking up at the clouds.

"But how am I to get it? I want it very much."

"I'll jest fess 't up to the Hoose, an' say 'at I fan' 't whaur I
will fin' 't. But I wiss ye wad len' me yer pocket nepkin to row
't in, for I'm feared for blaudin' 't afore I get it back to ye."

Florimel gave him her handkerchief, and Malcolm took his leave,
saying. - "I'll be up i' the coorse o' a half hoor at farthest."

The humble devotion and absolute service of the youth, resembling
that of a noble dog, however unlikely to move admiration in Lady
Florimel's heart, could not fail to give her a quiet and welcome
pleasure. He was an inferior who could be depended upon, and
his worship was acceptable. Not a fear of his attentions becoming
troublesome ever crossed her mind. The wider and more impassable the
distinctions of rank, the more possible they make it for artificial
minds to enter into simply human relations; the easier for the oneness
of the race to assert itself, in the offering and acceptance of a
devoted service. There is more of the genuine human in the relationship
between some men and their servants, than between those men and
their own sons.

With eyes intent, and keen as those of a gazehound, Malcolm retraced
every step, up to the grated door. But no volume was to be seen.
Turning from the door of the tunnel, for which he had no Sesame,
he climbed to the foot of the wall that crossed it above, and with
a bound, a clutch at the top, a pull and a scramble, was in the
high road in a moment. From the road to the links was an easy drop,
where, starting from the grated door, he retraced their path from
the dune. Lady Florimel had dropped the book when she rose, and
Malcolm found it lying on the sand, little the worse. He wrapped
it in its owner's handkerchief, and set out for the gate at the
mouth of the river.

As he came up to it, the keeper, an ill conditioned snarling fellow,
who, in the phrase of the Seaton folk, "rade on the riggin (ridge)
o' 's authority," rushed out of the lodge, and just as Malcolm was
entering, shoved the gate in his face.

"Ye comena in wi'oot the leave o' me," he cried, with a vengeful

"What's that for?" said Malcolm, who had already interposed his
great boot, so that the spring bolt could not reach its catch.

"There s' nae lan' loupin' rascals come in here," said Bykes,
setting his shoulder to the gate.

That instant he went staggering back to the wall of the lodge, with
the gate after him.

"Stick to the wa' there," said Malcolm, as he strode in.

The keeper pursued him with frantic abuse, but he never turned his
head. Arrived at the House, he committed the volume to the cook,
with a brief account of where he had picked it up, begging her to
inquire whether it belonged to the House. The cook sent a maid with
it to Lady Florimel, and Malcolm waited until she returned - with
thanks and a half crown. He took the money, and returned by the
upper gate through the town.


The next morning, soon after their early breakfast, the gate keeper
stood in the door of Duncan MacPhail's cottage, with a verbal
summons for Malcolm to appear before his lordship.

"An' I'm no to lowse sicht o' ye till ye hae put in yer appearance,"
he added; "sae gien ye dinna come peaceable, I maun gar ye."

"Whaur's yer warrant?" asked Malcolm coolly.

"Ye wad hae the impidence to deman' my warrant, ye young sorner!"
cried Bykes indignantly. "Come yer wa's, my man, or I s' gar ye

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMalcolm → online text (page 9 of 43)