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- Malcolm - 100/113 -
"Wad the tale haud wi' lassies as weel 's laddies, Mistress Findlay, div ye think?" said Mrs Mair.
"Ow, surely!" was the response; "it maun du that. There no respec' o' persons wi' him. There 's no a doobt but yer Phemy 'ill come hame to ye safe an' soon'."
"I was thinkin' aboot Lizzy," said the other, a little astonished; and then the prayer began, and they had to be silent.
The sermon of the ploughman was both dull and sensible,--an excellent variety where few of the sermons were either; but it made little impression on Mrs Findlay or Mrs Mair.
As they left the cave together in the crowd of issuing worshippers, Mrs Mair whispered again:
"I wad invete ye ower, but ye wad be wantin' Lizzy hame, an' I can ill spare the comfort o' her the noo," she said, with the cunning of a dove.
"An' what comes o' me?" rejoined Mrs Findlay, her claws out in a moment where her personal consequence was touched. "Ye wadna surely tak her frae me a' at ance!" pleaded Mrs Mair. "Ye micht lat her bide--jist till Phemy comes hame; an' syne--" But there she broke down; and the tempest of sobs that followed quite overcame the heart of Mrs Findlay. She was, in truth, a woman like another; only being of the crustacean order, she had not yet swallowed her skeleton, as all of us have to do more or less, sooner or later, the idea of that scaffolding being that it should be out of sight. With the best commonplaces at her command she sought to comfort her companion; walked with her to the foot of the red path; found her much more to her mind than Mrs Catanach: seemed inclined to go with her all the way, but suddenly stopped, bade her goodnight, and left her.
CHAPTER LXIII: MISS HORN AND LORD LOSSIE
Notwithstanding the quarrel, Mrs Catanach did not return without having gained something; she had learned that Miss Horn had been foiled in what she had no doubt was an attempt to obtain proof that Malcolm was not the son of Mrs Stewart. The discovery was a grateful one; for who could have told but there might be something in existence to connect him with another origin than she and Mrs Stewart would assign him?
The next day the marquis returned. Almost his first word was the desire that Malcolm should be sent to him. But nobody knew more than that he was missing; whereupon he sent for Duncan. The old man explained his boy's absence, and as soon as he was dismissed, took his way to the town, and called upon Miss Horn. In half an hour, the good lady started on foot for Duff Harbour. It was already growing dark; but there was one feeling Miss Horn had certainly been created without, and that was fear.
As she approached her destination, tramping eagerly along, in a half cloudy, half starlit night, with a damp east wind blowing cold from the German Ocean, she was startled by the swift rush of something dark across the road before her. It came out of a small wood on the left towards the sea, and bolted through a hedge on the right.
"Is that you, laird?" she cried; but there came no answer.
She walked straight to the house of her lawyer friend, and, after an hour's rest, the same night set out again for Portlossie, which she reached in safety by her bedtime.
Lord Lossie was very accessible. Like Shakspere's Prince Hal, he was so much interested in the varieties of the outcome of human character, that he would not willingly lose a chance of seeing "more man." If the individual proved a bore, he would get rid of him without remorse; if amusing, he would contrive to prolong the interview. There was a great deal of undeveloped humanity somewhere in his lordship, one of whose indications was this spectacular interest in his kind. As to their bygone history, how they fared out of his sight, or what might become of them, he never gave a thought to anything of the kind--never felt the pull of one of the bonds of brotherhood, laughed at them the moment they were gone, or, if a woman's story had touched him, wiped his eyes with an oath, and thought himself too good a fellow for this world.
Since his retirement from the more indolent life of the metropolis to the quieter and more active pursuits of the country, his character had bettered a little--inasmuch as it was a shade more accessible to spiritual influences; the hard soil had in a few places cracked a hair's breadth, and lay thus far open to the search of those sun rays which, when they find the human germ, that is, the conscience, straightway begin to sting it into life. To this betterment the company of his daughter had chiefly contributed; for if she was little more developed in the right direction than himself she was far less developed in the wrong, and the play of affection between them was the divinest influence that could as yet be brought to bear upon either; but certain circumstances of late occurrence had had a share in it, occasioning a revival of old memories which had a considerably sobering effect upon him.
As he sat at breakfast, about eleven o'clock on the morning after his return, one of his English servants entered with the message that a person, calling herself Miss Horn, and refusing to explain her business desired to see his lordship for a few minutes "Who is she?" asked the marquis. The man did not know.
"What is she like?"
"An odd looking old lady, my lord, and very oddly dressed."
"Show her into the next room. I shall be with her directly."
Finishing his cup of coffee and peafowl's egg with deliberation, while he tried his best to recall in what connection he could have heard the name before, the marquis at length sauntered into the morning room in his dressing gown, with the Times of the day before yesterday, just arrived, in his hand. There stood his visitor waiting for him, such as my reader knows her, black and gaunt and grim, in a bay window, whose light almost surrounded her, so that there was scarcely a shadow about her, and yet to the eyes of the marquis she seemed wrapped in shadows. Mysterious as some sybil, whose being held secrets the first whisper of which had turned her old, but made her immortal, she towered before him, with her eyes fixed upon him, and neither spoke nor moved.
"To what am I indebted--?" began his lordship; but Miss Horn speedily interrupted his courtesy.
"Own to nae debt, my lord, till ye ken what it 's for," she said, without a tone or inflection to indicate a pleasantry.
"Good!" returned his lordship, and waited with a smile. She promised amusement, and he was ready for it--but it hardly came.
"Ken ye that han' o' wreet, my lord?" she inquired, sternly advancing a step, and holding out a scrap of paper at arm's length, as if presenting a pistol.
The marquis took it. In his countenance curiosity had mingled with the expectation. He glanced at it. A shadow swept over his face but vanished instantly: the mask of impervious non expression which a man of his breeding always knows how to assume, was already on his visage.
"Where did you get this?" he said quietly, with just the slightest catch in his voice.
"I got it, my lord, whaur there's mair like it."
"Show me them."
"I hae shawn ye plenty for a swatch (pattern), my lord."
"You refuse?" said the marquis; and the tone of the question was like the first cold puff that indicates a change of weather.
"I div, my lord," she answered imperturbably.
"If they are not my property, why do you bring me this?"
"Are they your property, my lord?"
"This is my handwriting."
"Ye alloo that?"
"Certainly, my good woman. You did not expect me to deny it?"
"God forbid, my lord! But will ye uphaud yersel' the lawfu' heir to the deceased? It lies 'atween yer lordship an' mysel'--i' the meantime."
He sat down, holding the scrap of paper between his finger and thumb.
"I will buy them of you," he said coolly, after a moment's thought, and as he spoke he looked keenly at her.
The form of reply which first arose in Miss Horn's indignant soul never reached her lips.
"It's no my trade," she answered, with the coldness of suppressed wrath. "I dinna deal in sic waurs."
"What do you deal in then?" asked the marquis.
"In trouth an' fair play, my lord," she answered, and was again silent.
So was the marquis for some moments, but was the first to resume.
"If you think the papers to which you refer of the least value, allow me to tell you it is an entire mistake."
"There was ane thoucht them o' vailue," replied Miss Horn--and her voice trembled a little, but she hemmed away her emotion-- "for a time at least, my lord; an' for her sake they're o' vailue to me, be they what they may to yer lordship. But wha can tell? Scots law may put life intill them yet, an' gie them a vailue to
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