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- Malcolm - 90/113 -


He took a candle from the hall table, and went up the square staircase, followed by Florimel.

"What w'y is 't, my leddy, 'at the hoose is no lockit up, an' ilka body i' their beds?" he asked.

"My father is coming home tonight. Didn't you know? But I should have thought a storm like this enough to account for people not being in bed!"

"It's a fearfu' nicht for him to be sae far frae his! Whaur's he comin' frae! Ye never speyk to me noo, my leddy, an' naebody tell't me."

"He was to come from Fochabers tonight. Stoat took the bay mare to meet him yesterday."

"He wad never start in sic a win'! It's fit to blaw the saiddle aff o' the mear's back."

"He may have started before it came on to blow like this," said Lady Florimel.

Malcolm liked the suggestion the less because of its probability, believing, in that case, he should have arrived long ago. But he took care not to increase Florimel's alarm.

By this time Malcolm knew the whole of the accessible inside of the roof well--better far than any one else about the house. From one part to another, over the whole of it, he now led Lady Florimel. In the big shadowed glimmer of his one candle, all parts of the garret seemed to him frowning with knitted brows over resentful memories--as if the phantom forms of all the past joys and self renewing sorrows, all the sins and wrongs, all the disappointments and failures of the house, had floated up, generation after generation, into that abode of helpless brooding, and there hung hovering above the fast fleeting life below, which now, in its turn, was ever sending up like fumes from heart and brain, to crowd the dim, dreary, larva haunted, dream wallowing chaos of half obliterated thought and feeling. To Florimel it looked a dread waste, a region deserted and forgotten, mysterious with far reaching nooks of darkness, and now awful with the wind raving and howling over slates and leads so close to them on all sides,--as if a flying army of demons were tearing at the roof to get in and find covert from pursuit.

At length they approached Malcolm's own quarters, where they would have to pass the very door of the wizard's chamber to reach a short ladder-like stair that led up into the midst of naked rafters, when, coming upon a small storm window near the end of a long passage, Lady Florimel stopped and peeped out.

"The moon is rising," she said, and stood looking.

Malcolm glanced over her shoulder. Eastward a dim light shone up from behind the crest of a low hill. Great part of the sky was clear, but huge masses of broken cloud went sweeping across the heavens. The wind had moderated.

"Aren't we somewhere near your friend the wizard?" said Lady Florimel, with a slight tremble in the tone of mockery with which she spoke.

Malcolm answered as if he were not quite certain.

"Isn't your own room somewhere hereabouts?" asked the girl sharply.

"We'll jist gang till ae ither queer place," observed Malcolm, pretending not to have heard her, "and gien the rufe be a' richt there, I s' no bather my heid mair aboot it till the mornin'. It's but a feow steps farther, an' syne a bit stair."

A fit of her not unusual obstinacy had however seized Lady Florimel.

"I won't move a step," she said, "until you have told me where the wizard's chamber is."

"Ahint ye, my leddy, gien ye wull hae 't," answered Malcolm, not unwilling to punish her a little; "--jist at the far en' o' the transe there."

In fact the window in which she stood, lighted the whole length of the passage from which it opened.

Even as he spoke, there sounded somewhere as it were the slam of a heavy iron door, the echoes of which seemed to go searching into every cranny of the multitudinous garrets. Florimel gave a shriek, and laying hold of Malcolm, clung to him in terror. A sympathetic tremor, set in motion by her cry, went vibrating through the fisherman's powerful frame, and, almost involuntarily, he clasped her close. With wide eyes they stood staring down the long passage, of which, by the poor light they carried, they could not see a quarter of the length. Presently they heard a soft footfall along its floor, drawing slowly nearer through the darkness; and slowly out of the darkness grew the figure of a man, huge and dim, clad in a long flowing garment, and coming straight on to where they stood. They clung yet closer together. The apparition came within three yards of them, and then they recognized Lord Lossie in his dressing gown.

They started asunder. Florimel flew to her father, and Malcolm stood, expecting the last stroke of his evil fortune. The marquis looked pale, stern, and agitated. Instead of kissing his daughter on the forehead as was his custom, he put her from him with one expanded palm, but the next moment drew her to his side. Then approaching Malcolm, he lighted at his the candle he carried, which a draught had extinguished on the way.

"Go to your room, MacPhail," he said, and turned from him, his arm still round Lady Florimel.

They walked a way together down the long passage, vaguely visible in flickering fits. All at once their light vanished, and with it Malcolm's eyes seemed to have left him. But a merry laugh, the silvery thread in which was certainly Florimel's, reached his ears, and brought him to himself.

CHAPTER LVI: SOMETHING FORGOTTEN

I will not trouble my reader with the thoughts that kept rising, flickering, and fading, one after another, for two or three dismal hours, as he lay with eyes closed but sleepless. At length he opened them wide, and looked out into the room. It was a bright moonlit night; the wind had sunk to rest; all the world slept in the exhaustion of the storm; he only was awake; he could lie no longer; he would go out, and discover, if possible, the mischief the tempest had done.

He crept down the little spiral stair used only by the servants, and knowing all the mysteries of lock and bar, was presently in the open air. First he sought a view of the building against the sky, but could not see that any portion was missing. He then proceeded to walk round the house, in order to find what had fallen.

There was a certain neglected spot nearly under his own window, where a wall across an interior angle formed a little court or yard; he had once peeped in at the door of it, which was always half open, and seemed incapable of being moved in either direction, but had seen nothing except a broken pail and a pile of brushwood; the flat arch over this door was broken, and the door itself half buried in a heap of blackened stones and mortar. Here was the avalanche whose fall had so terrified the household! The formless mass had yesterday been a fair proportioned and ornate stack of chimneys.

He scrambled to the top of the heap and sitting down on a stone carved with a plaited Celtic band, yet again fell athinking. The marquis must dismiss him in the morning; would it not be better to go away now, and spare poor old Duncan a terrible fit of rage? He would suppose he had fled from the pseudo maternal net of Mrs Stewart; and not till he had found a place to which he could welcome him would he tell him the truth. But his nature recoiled both from the unmanliness of such a flight, and from the appearance of conscious wrong it must involve, and he dismissed the notion. Scheme after scheme for the future passed through his head, and still he sat on the heap in the light of the high gliding moon, like a ghost on the ruins of his earthly home, and his eyes went listlessly straying like servants without a master. Suddenly he found them occupied with a low iron studded door in the wall of the house, which he had never seen before. He descended, and found it hardly closed, for there was no notch to receive the heavy latch. Pushing. it open on great rusty hinges, he saw within what in the shadow appeared a precipitous descent His curiosity was roused; he stole back to his room and fetched his candle; and having, by the aid of his tinderbox, lighted it in the shelter of the heap, peeped again through the doorway, and saw what seemed a narrow cylindrical pit, only, far from showing a great yawning depth, it was filled with stones and rubbish nearly to the bottom of the door. The top of the door reached almost to the vaulted roof, one part of which, close to the inner side of the circular wall, was broken. Below this breach, fragments of stone projected from the wall, suggesting the remnants of a stair. With the sight came a foresight of discovery.

One foot on the end of a long stone sticking vertically from the rubbish, and another on one of the stones projecting from the wall, his head was already through the break in the roof; and in a minute more he was climbing a small, broken, but quite passable spiral staircase, almost a counterpart of that already described as going like a huge augerbore through the house from top to bottom--that indeed by which he had just descended. There was most likely more of it buried below, probably communicating with an outlet in some part of the rock towards the burn, but the portion of it which, from long neglect, had gradually given way, had fallen down the shaft, and cut off the rest with its ruins.

At the height of a storey, he came upon a built up doorway, and again, at a similar height, upon another; but the parts filled in looked almost as old as the rest of the wall. Not until he reached the top of the stair, did he find a door. It was iron studded, and heavily hinged, like that below. It opened outward--noiselessly he found, as if its hinges had been recently oiled, and admitted him to a small closet, the second door of which he opened hurriedly, with a beating heart. Yes! there was the check curtained bed! it must be the wizard's chamber! Crossing to another door, he found it both locked and further secured by a large iron bolt in a strong staple. This latter he drew back, but there was no key in the lock. With scarce a doubt remaining, he shot down the one stair and flew


Malcolm - 90/113

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