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- Malcolm - 113/113 -
"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 book.
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