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spoke, the sounds of her voice and step had been advancing, with cautious intermittent approach.
"I hae ye noo," she said, as she seated herself at length beside the other. "The gowk, Geordie Bray!" she went on, "--to tak it intill's oogly heid 'at the cratur wad be hurklin' here! It's no the place for ane 'at has to hide 's heid for verra shame o' slippin' aff the likes o' himsel' upo' sic a braw mither! Could he get nae ither door to win in at, haith!"
"Woman, you 'll drive me mad!" said the other.
"Weel, hinney," returned the former, suddenly changing her tone, "I'm mair an' mair convenced 'at yon's the verra laad for yer purpose. For ae thing, ye see, naebody kens whaur he cam frae, as the laird, bonny laad, wad say, an' naebody can contradick a word-- the auld man less than onybody, for I can tell him what he kens to be trowth. Only I winna muv till I ken whaur he comes frae."
"Wouldn't you prefer not knowing for certain? You could swear with the better grace."
"Deil a bit! It maitters na to me whilk side o' my teeth I chow wi'. But I winna sweir till I ken the trowth--'at I may haud off o' 't. He's the man, though, gien we can get a grip o' 'im! He luiks the richt thing, ye see, mem. He has a glisk (slight look) o' the markis tu--divna ye think, mem?"
"Caw canny, mem--'thing maun be considered. It wad but gar the thing luik, the mair likly. Fowk gangs the len'th o' sayin' 'at Humpy himsel' 's no the sin (son) o' the auld laird, honest man.
"It's a wicked lie," burst with indignation from the other.
"There may be waur things nor a bit lee. Ony gait, ae thing's easy priven: ye lay verra dowie (poorly) for a month or sax ooks ance upon a time at Lossie Hoose, an' that was a feow years, we needna speir hoo mony, efter ye was lichtened o' the tither. Whan they hear that at that time ye gae birth till a lad bairn, the whilk was stown awa', an' never hard tell o' till noo--'It may weel be,' fowk'll say: 'them 'at has drunk wad drink again!' It wad affoord rizzons, ye see, an' guid anes, for the bairn bein' putten oot a' sicht, and wad mak the haul story mair nor likly i' the jeedgment o' a' 'at hard it."
"You scandalous woman! That would be to confess to all the world that he was not the son of my late husband!"
"They say that o' him 'at is, an' hoo muckle the waur are ye? Lat them say 'at they like, sae lang 's we can shaw 'at he cam o' your body, an' was born i' wedlock? Ye hae yer Ian's ance mair, for ye hae a sin 'at can guide them--and ye can guide him. He's a bonny lad--bonny eneuch to be yer leddyship's--and his lordship's: an' sae, as I was remarkin', i' the jeedgment a' ill thouchtit fowk, the mair likly to be heir to auld Stewart o' Kirkbyres!"
She laughed huskily.
"But I maun hae a scart a' yer pen, mem, afore I wag tongue aboot it," she went on. "I ken brawly hoo to set it gauin'! I sanna be the first to ring the bell. Na, na; I s' set Miss Horn's Jean jawin', an' it 'll be a' ower the toon in a jiffy--at first in a kin o' a sough 'at naebody 'ill unnerstan': but it 'll grow looder an' plainer. At the lang last it 'll come to yer leddyship's hearin: an' syne ye hae me taen up an' questoned afore a justice o' the peace, that there may be no luik o' ony compack atween the twa o' 's. But, as I said afore, I'll no muv till I ken a' aboot the lad first, an' syne get a scart o' yer pen, mem."
"You must be the devil himself!" said the other, in a tone that was not of displeasure.
"I hae been tellt that afore, an' wi' less rizzon," was the reply --given also in a tone that was not of displeasure.
"But what if we should be found out?"
"Ye can lay 't a' upo' me."
"And what will you do with it?"
"Tak it wi' me," was the answer, accompanied by another husky laugh.
"Speir nae questons, an' ye'll be tellt nae lees. Ony gait, I s' lea' nae track ahin' me. An' for that same sake, I maun hae my pairt i' my han' the meenute the thing's been sworn till. Gien ye fail me, ye'll sune see me get mair licht upo' the subjec', an' confess till a great mistak. By the Michty, but I'll sweir the verra contrar the neist time I'm hed up! Ay, an' ilka body 'ill believe me. An' whaur'll ye be than, my leddy? For though I micht mistak, ye cudna! Faith! they'll hae ye ta'en up for perjury."
"You're a dangerous accomplice," said the lady.
"I'm a tule ye maun tak by the han'le, or ye'll rue the edge," returned the other quietly.
"As soon then as I get a hold of that misbegotten elf--"
"Mean ye the yoong laird, or the yoong markis, mem?"
"You forget, Mrs Catanach, that you are speaking to a lady!"
"Ye maun hae been unco like ane ae nicht, ony gait, mem. But I'm dune wi' my jokin'."
"As soon, I say, as I get my poor boy into proper hands, I shall be ready to take the next step."
"What for sod ye pit it aff till than? He canna du muckle ae w'y or ither."
"I will tell you. His uncle, Sir Joseph, prides himself on being an honest man, and if some busybody were to tell him that poor Stephen, as I am told people are saying, was no worse than harsh treatment had made him--for you know his father could not bear the sight of him till the day of his death--he would be the more determined to assert his guardianship, and keep things out of my hands. But if I once had the poor fellow in an asylum, or in my own keeping--you see--"
"Weel, mem, gien I be potty, ye're panny!" exclaimed the midwife with her gelatinous laugh. "Losh, mem!" she burst out after a moment's pause, "sen you an' me was to fa' oot, there wad be a stramash! He! he! he!"
They rose and left the cave together, talking as they went; and Phemy, trembling all over, rejoined the laird.
She could understand little of what she had heard, and yet, enabled by her affection, retained in her mind a good deal of it. After events brought more of it to her recollection, and what I have here given is an attempted restoration of the broken mosaic. She rightly judged it better to repeat nothing of what she had overheard to the laird, to whom it would only redouble terror; and when he questioned her in his own way concerning it, she had little difficulty, so entirely did he trust her, in satisfying him with a very small amount of information. When they reached her home, she told all she could to her father; whose opinion it was, that the best, indeed the only-thing they could do, was to keep, if possible, a yet more vigilant guard over the laird and his liberty.
Soon after they were gone, Malcolm returned, and little thinking that there was no one left to guard, chose a sheltered spot in the cave, carried thither a quantity of dry sand, and lay down to sleep, covered with his tarpaulin coat. He found it something chilly, however, and did not rest so well but that he woke with the first break of day.
The morning, as it drew slowly on, was a strange contrast, in its gray and saffron, to the gorgeous sunset of the night before.
The sea crept up on the land as if it were weary, and did not care much to flow any more. Not a breath of wind was in motion, and yet the air even on the shore seemed full of the presence of decaying leaves and damp earth. He sat down in the mouth of the cave, and looked out on the still, half waking world of ocean and sky before him--a leaden ocean, and a dull misty sky; and as he gazed, a sadness came stealing over him, and a sense of the endlessness of labour--labour ever returning on itself and making no progress. The mad laird was always lamenting his ignorance of his origin: Malcolm thought he knew whence he came--and yet what was the much good of life? Where was the end to it all? People so seldom got what they desired! To be sure his life was a happy one, or had been--but there was the poor laird! Why should he be happier than the laird? Why should the laird have a hump and he have none? If all the world were happy but one man, that one's misery would be as a cairn on which the countless multitudes of the blessed must heap the stones of endless questions and enduring perplexities.
It is one thing to know from whom we come, and another to know from Whom we come.
Then his thoughts turned to Lady Florimel. All the splendours of existence radiated from her, but to the glory he could never draw nearer; the celestial fires of the rainbow fountain of her life could never warm him; she cared about nothing he cared about; if they had a common humanity they could not share it; to her he was hardly human. If he were to unfold before her the deepest layers of his thought, she would look at them curiously, as she might watch the doings of an ant or a spider. Had he no right to look for more? He did not know, and sat brooding with bowed head.
Unseen from where he sat, the sun drew nearer the horizon, the light grew; the tide began to ripple up more diligently; a glimmer of dawn touched even the brown rock in the farthest end of the cave.
Where there was light there was work, and where there was work for any one, there was at least justification of his existence. That work must be done, if it should return and return in a never broken circle. Its theory could wait. For indeed the only hope of finding the theory of all theories, the divine idea, lay in the going on of things.
In the meantime, while God took care of the sparrows by himself, he
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