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- Malcolm - 1/113 -
Produced by Martin Robb
MALCOLM by George MacDonald
CHAPTER I: MISS HORN
"Na, na; I hae nae feelin's, I'm thankfu' to say. I never kent ony guid come o' them. They're a terrible sicht i' the gait."
"Naebody ever thoucht o' layin' 't to yer chairge, mem."
"'Deed, I aye had eneuch adu to du the thing I had to du, no to say the thing 'at naebody wad du but mysel'. I hae had nae leisur' for feelin's an' that," insisted Miss Horn.
But here a heavy step descending the stair just outside the room attracted her attention, and checking the flow of her speech perforce, with three ungainly strides she reached the landing.
"Watty Witherspail! Watty!" she called after the footsteps down the stair.
"Yes, mem," answered a gruff voice from below.
"Watty, whan ye fess the bit boxie, jist pit a hemmer an' a puckle nails i' your pooch to men' the hen hoose door. The tane maun be atten't till as weel's the tither."
"The bit boxie" was the coffin of her third cousin Griselda Campbell, whose body lay on the room on her left hand as she called down the stair. Into that on her right Miss Horn now re-entered, to rejoin Mrs Mellis, the wife of the principal draper in the town, who had called ostensibly to condole with her, but really to see the corpse.
"Aih! she was taen yoong!" sighed the visitor, with long drawn tones and a shake of the head, implying that therein lay ground of complaint, at which poor mortals dared but hint.
"No that yoong," returned Miss Horn. "She was upo' the edge o' aucht an' thirty."
"Weel, she had a sair time o' 't."
"No that sair, sae far as I see--an' wha sud ken better? She's had a bien doon sittin' (sheltered quarters), and sud hae had as lang's I was to the fore. Na, na; it was nowther sae young nor yet sae sair."
"Aih! but she was a patient cratur wi' a' flesh," persisted Mrs Mellis, as if she would not willingly be foiled in the attempt to extort for the dead some syllable of acknowledgment from the lips of her late companion.
"'Deed she was that!--a wheen ower patient wi' some. But that cam' o' haein mair hert nor brains. She had feelin's gien ye like-- and to spare. But I never took ower ony o' the stock. It's a pity she hadna the jeedgment to match, for she never misdoobted onybody eneuch. But I wat it disna maitter noo, for she's gane whaur it's less wantit. For ane 'at has the hairmlessness o' the doo 'n this ill wulled warl', there's a feck o' ten 'at has the wisdom o' the serpent. An' the serpents mak sair wark wi' the doos--lat alane them 'at flees into the verra mouws o' them."
"Weel, ye're jist richt there," said Mrs Mellis. "An' as ye say, she was aye some easy to perswaud. I hae nae doubt she believed to the ver' last he wad come back and mairry her."
"Come back and mairry her! Wha or what div ye mean? I jist tell ye Mistress Mellis--an' it's weel ye're named--gien ye daur to hint at ae word o' sic clavers, it's this side o' this door o' mine ye's be less acquant wi'."
As she spoke, the hawk eyes of Miss Horn glowed on each side of her hawk nose, which grew more and more hooked as she glared, while her neck went craning forward as if she were on the point of making a swoop on the offender. Mrs Mellis's voice trembled with something like fear as she replied:
"Gude guide 's, Miss Horn! What hae I said to gar ye look at me sae by ordinar 's that?"
"Said!" repeated Miss Horn, in a tone that revealed both annoyance with herself and contempt for her visitor. "There's no a claver in a' the countryside but ye maun fess 't hame aneth yer oxter, as gin 't were the prodigal afore he repentit. Ye's get sma thanks for sic like here. An' her lyin' there as she'll lie till the jeedgment day, puir thing!"
"I'm sure I meant no offence, Miss Horn," said her visitor. "I thocht a' body kent 'at she was ill about him."
"Aboot wha, i' the name o' the father o' lees?"
"Ow, aboot that lang leggit doctor 'at set oat for the Ingies, an' dee'd afore he wan across the equautor. Only fouk said he was nae mair deid nor a halvert worm, an' wad be hame whan she was merried."
"It's a' lees frae heid to fiit, an' frae bert to skin."
"Weel, it was plain to see she dwyned awa efter he gaed, an' never was hersel' again--ye dinna deny that?"
"It's a' havers," persisted Miss Horn, but in accents considerably softened. "She cared na mair aboot the chield nor I did mysel'. She dwyned, I grant ye, an' he gaed awa, I grant ye; but the win' blaws an' the water rins, an the tane has little to du wi' the tither."
"Weel, weel; I'm sorry I said onything to offen' ye, an' I canna say mair. Wi' yer leave, Miss Horn, I'll jist gang an' tak' a last leuk at her, puir thing!"
"'Deed, ye s' du naething o' the kin'! I s' lat nobody glower at her 'at wad gang an spairge sic havers about her, Mistress Mellis. To say 'at sic a doo as my Grizel, puir, saft hertit, winsome thing, wad hae lookit twice at ony sic a serpent as him! Na, na, mem! Gang yer wa's hame, an' come back straucht frae yer prayers the morn's mornin'. By that time she'll be quaiet in her coffin, an' I'll be quaiet i' my temper. Syne I'll lat ye see her--maybe.--I wiss I was weel rid o' the sicht o' her, for I canna bide it. Lord, I canna bide it."
These last words were uttered in a murmured aside, inaudible to Mrs Mellis, to whom, however, they did not apply, but to the dead body. She rose notwithstanding in considerable displeasure, and with a formal farewell walked from the room, casting a curious glance as she left it in the direction of that where the body lay, and descended the stairs as slowly as if on every step she deliberated whether the next would bear her weight. Miss Horn, who had followed her to the head of the stair, watched her out of sight below the landing, when she turned and walked back once more into the parlour, but with a lingering look towards the opposite room, as if she saw through the closed door what lay white on the white bed.
"It's a God's mercy I hae no feelin's," she said to herself. "To even (equal) my bonny Grizel to sic a lang kyte clung chiel as yon! Aih, puir Grizel! She's gane frae me like a knotless threid."
CHAPTER II: BARBARA CATANACH
Miss Horn was interrupted by the sound of the latch of the street door, and sprung from her chair in anger.
"Canna they lat her sleep for five meenutes?" she cried aloud, forgetting that there was no fear of rousing her any more.--"It'll be Jean come in frae the pump," she reflected, after a moment's pause; but, hearing no footstep along the passage to the kitchen, concluded--"It's no her, for she gangs aboot the hoose like the fore half o' a new shod cowt;" and went down the stair to see who might have thus presumed to enter unbidden.
In the kitchen, the floor of which was as white as scrubbing could make it, and sprinkled with sea sand--under the gaily painted Dutch clock, which went on ticking as loud as ever, though just below the dead--sat a woman about sixty years of age, whose plump face to the first glance looked kindly, to the second, cunning, and to the third, evil. To the last look the plumpness appeared unhealthy, suggesting a doughy indentation to the finger, and its colour also was pasty. Her deep set, black bright eyes, glowing from under the darkest of eyebrows, which met over her nose, had something of a fascinating influence--so much of it that at a first interview one was not likely for a time to notice any other of her features. She rose as Miss Horn entered, buried a fat fist in a soft side, and stood silent.
"Weel?" said Miss Horn interrogatively, and was silent also.
"I thocht ye micht want a cast o' my callin'," said the woman.
"Na, na; there's no a han' 'at s' lay finger upo' the bairn but mine ain," said Miss Horn. "I had it a' ower, my lee lane, afore the skreigh o' day. She's lyin' quaiet noo--verra quaiet--waitin' upo' Watty Witherspail. Whan he fesses hame her bit boxie, we s' hae her laid canny intill 't, an' hae dune wi' 't."
"Weel, mem, for a leddy born, like yersel', I maun say, ye tak it unco composed!"
"I'm no awaur, Mistress Catanach, o' ony necessity laid upo' ye to say yer min' i' this hoose. It's no expeckit. But what for sud I no tak' it wi' composur'? We'll hae to tak' oor ain turn er lang, as composed as we hae the skiel o', and gang oot like a lang nibbit can'le--ay, an lea' jist sic a memory ahin' some o' 's, Bawby."
"I kenna gien ye mean me, Miss Horn," said the woman; "but it's no that muckle o' a memory I expec' to lea' ahin' me."
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