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- Malcolm - 70/113 -
his well known riches!
Concerning this final form of the whisper, a few of the women of the burgh believed or thought or fancied they remembered both the birth and reported death of the child in question--also certain rumours afloat at the time, which cast an air of probability over the new reading of his fate. In circles more remote from authentic sources, the general reports met with remarkable embellishments, but the framework of the rumour--what I may call the bones of it --remained undisputed.
From Mrs Catanach's behaviour, every one believed that she knew all about the affair, but no one had a suspicion that she was the hidden fountain and prime mover of the report--so far to the contrary was it that people generally anticipated a frightful result for her when the truth came to be known, for that Mrs Stewart would follow her with all the vengeance of a bereaved tigress. Some indeed there were who fancied that the mother, if not in full complicity with the midwife, had at least given her consent to the arrangement; but these were not a little shaken in their opinion when at length Mrs Stewart herself began to figure more immediately in the affair, and it was witnessed that she had herself begun to search into the report. Certain it was that she had dashed into the town in a carriage and pair--the horses covered with foam--and had hurried, quite raised-like, from house to house, prosecuting inquiries. It was said that, finding at length, after much labour that she could arrive at no certainty even as to the first promulgator of the assertion, she had a terrible fit of crying, and professed herself unable, much as she would have wished it, to believe a word of the report: it was far too good news to be true; no such luck ever fell to her share--and so on. That she did not go near Duncan MacPhail was accounted for by the reflection, that, on the supposition itself, he was of the opposite party, and the truth was not to be looked for from him.
At length it came to be known that, strongly urged, and battling with a repugnance all but invincible, she had gone to see Mrs Catanach, and had issued absolutely radiant with joy, declaring that she was now absolutely satisfied, and, as soon as she had communicated with the young man himself, would, without compromising any one, take what legal steps might be necessary to his recognition as her son.
Although, however, these things had been going on all the week that Malcolm was confined to his room, they had not reached this last point until after he was out again, and mean time not a whisper of them had come to his or Duncan's ears. Had they been still in the Seaton, one or other of the travelling ripples of talk must have found them; but Duncan had come and gone between his cottage and Malcolm's bedside, without a single downy feather from the still widening flap of the wings of Fame ever dropping on him; and the only persons who visited Malcolm besides were the Doctor--too discreet in his office to mix himself up with gossip; Mr Graham, to whom nobody, except it had been Miss Horn, whom he had not seen for a fortnight, would have dreamed of mentioning such a subject; and Mrs Courthope--not only discreet like the doctor, but shy of such discourse as any reference to the rumour must usher in its train.
At length he was sufficiently recovered to walk to his grandfather's cottage; but only now for the first time had he a notion of how far bodily condition can reach in the oppression and overclouding of the spiritual atmosphere.
"Gien I be like this," he said to himself, "what maun the weather be like aneth yon hump o' the laird's!"
Now also for the first time he understood what Mr Graham had meant when he told him that he only was a strong man who was strong in weakness; he only a brave man who, inhabiting trembling, yet faced his foe; he only a true man who, tempted by good, yet abstained.
Duncan received him with delight, made him sit in his own old chair, got him a cup of tea, and waited upon him with the tenderness of a woman. While he drank his tea, Malcolm recounted his last adventure in connection with the wizard's chamber.
"Tat will be ta ped she 'll saw in her feeshon," said Duncan, whose very eyes seemed to listen to the tale.
When Malcolm came to Mrs Catanach's assertion that she knew more of him than he did himself--
"Then she peliefs ta voman does, my poy. We are aall poth of us in ta efil voman's power," said Duncan sadly.
"Never a hair, daddy!" cried Malcolm. "A' pooer 's i' the han's o' ane, that's no her maister. Ken she what she likes, she canna pairt you an' me, daddy."
"God forpid!" responded Duncan. "But we must pe on our kard."
Close by the cottage stood an ivy grown bridge, of old leading the king's highway across the burn to the Auld Toon, but now leading only to the flower garden. Eager for the open air of which he had been so long deprived, and hoping he might meet the marquis or Lady Florimel, Malcolm would have had his grandfather to accompany him thither; but Duncan declined, for he had not yet attended to the lamps; and Malcolm therefore went alone.
He was slowly wandering, where never wind blew, betwixt rows of stately hollyhocks, on which his eyes fed, while his ears were filled with the sweet noises of a little fountain, issuing from the upturned beak of a marble swan, which a marble urchin sought in vain to check by squeezing the long throat of the bird, when the sounds of its many toned fall in the granite basin seemed suddenly centupled on every side, and Malcolm found himself caught in a tremendous shower. Prudent enough to avoid getting wet in the present state of his health, he made for an arbour he saw near by, on the steep side of the valley--one he had never before happened to notice.
Now it chanced that Lord Lossie himself was in the garden, and, caught also by the rain while feeding some pet goldfishes in a pond, betook himself to the same summer house, following Malcolm.
Entering the arbour, Malcolm was about to seat himself until the shower should be over, when, perceiving a mossy arched entrance to a gloomy recess in the rock behind, he went to peep into it, curious to see what sort of a place it was.
Now the foolish whim of a past generation had, in the farthest corner of the recess, and sideways from. the door, seated the figure of a hermit, whose jointed limbs were so furnished with springs and so connected with the stone that floored the entrance, that as soon as a foot pressed the threshold, he rose, advanced a step, and held out his hand.
The moment, therefore, Malcolm stepped in, up rose a pale, hollow cheeked, emaciated man, with eyes that stared glassily, made a long skeleton like stride towards him, and held out a huge bony hand, rather, as it seemed, with the intent of clutching, than of greeting, him. An unaccountable horror seized him; with a gasp which had nearly become a cry, he staggered backwards out of the cave. It seemed to add to his horror that the man did not follow--remained lurking in the obscurity behind. In the arbour Malcolm turned-- turned to flee!--though why, or from what, he had scarce an idea.
But when he turned he encountered the marquis, who was just entering the arbour.
"Well, MacPhail," he said kindly, "I'm glad--"
But his glance became fixed in a stare; he changed colour, and did not finish his sentence.
"I beg yer lordship's pardon," said Malcolm, wondering through all his perturbation at the look he had brought on his master's face; "I didna ken ye was at han'."
"What the devil makes you look like that?" said the marquis, plainly with an effort to recover himself.
Malcolm gave a hurried glance over his shoulder.
"Ah! I see!" said his lordship, with a mechanical kind of smile, very unlike his usual one; "--you've never been in there before?"
"No, my lord."
"And you got a fright?"
"Ken ye wha's that, in there, my lord?"
"You booby! It's nothing but a dummy--with springs, and--and --all damned tomfoolery!"
While he spoke his mouth twitched oddly, but instead of his bursting into the laugh of enjoyment natural to him at the discomfiture of another, his mouth kept on twitching and his eyes staring.
"Ye maun hae seen him yersel' ower my shouther, my lord," hinted Malcolm.
"I saw your face, and that was enough to--" But the marquis did not finish the sentence.
"Weel, 'cep it was the oonnaiteral luik o' the thing--no human, an' yet sae dooms like it--I can not account for the grue or the trimmle 'at cam ower me, my lord, I never fan' onything like it i' my life afore. An' even noo 'at I unnerstan' what it is, I kenna what wad gar me luik the boody (bogie) i' the face again."
"Go in at once," said the marquis fiercely.
Malcolm looked him full in the eyes.
"Ye mean what ye say, my lord?"
"Yes, by God!" said the marquis, with an expression I can describe only as of almost savage solemnity.
Malcolm stood silent for one moment.
"Do you think I'll have a man about me that has no more courage than --than--a woman!" said his master, concluding with an effort.
"I was jist turnin' ower an auld question, my lord--whether it be lawfu' to obey a tyrant. But it's na worth stan'in' oot upo'. I s' gang."
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