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- Warlock o' Glenwarlock - 30/98 -


"Oh, if you come to that," returned his lordship, "three fourths of the titles in use are merely of courtesy. Joan there has no more right than yourself to be called MY LADY. Neither has my son Borland the smallest right to the title; it is mine, and mine only, as much as Mergwain."

The old lady turned her head, and fixed a stolen but searching gaze on her guest, and to the end of the meal took every opportunity of regarding him unobserved. Her son from the other end of the table saw her looks, and guessed her suspicions; saw also that she did not abate her courtesy, but little thought to what her calmness was owing.

Mrs. Warlock, ready to welcome anything marvellous, had held with Grizzie much conference concerning what had passed in the night--one accidental result of which was the disappearance for the time of all little rivalries and offences between them in the common interest of an awful impending denouement. She had never heard, or had forgotten the title to which Lord Borland of the old time was heir; and now that all doubt as to the identity of the man was over, although, let her strain her vision as she might, she could not, through the deformation of years, descry the youthful visage, she felt that all action on the part of the generation in possession was none the less forestalled and precluded by the presence of one in the house who had evidently long waited his arrival, and had certainly but begun his reprisals. More would be heard ere the next dawn, she said to herself; and with things in such a train she would not interfere by the smallest show of feud or offence. Who could tell how much that certain inmate of the house--she hesitated to call him a member of the family--and, in all righteous probability, of a worse place as well, had to do with the storm that drove Borland thither, and the storms that might detain him there! already there were signs of a fresh onset of the elements! the wind was rising; it had begun to moan in the wide chimney; and from the quarter whence it now blew, it was certain to bring more storm, that is snow!

The dinner went on. The great magnum before the fire was gathering genial might from the soft insinuation of limpid warmth, renewing as much of its youth as was to be desired in wine; and redeveloping relations, somewhat suppressed, with the slackening nerves and untwisting fibres of an old man's earthly being!

But there was not a drop to drink on the table, except water; and the toper found it hard to lay solid foundation enough for the wine that was to follow, and grumbled inwardly. The sight of the bottle before the fire, however, did much to enable him, not to be patient, but to suppress the shows of impatience. He eyed it, and loved it, and held his peace. He saw the water at his elbow, and hated it the worse that it was within his reach--hated its cold staring rebuke as he hated virtue--hated it as if its well were in the churchyard where the old captain was buried sixty years ago. --Confound him! why wouldn't he lie still? He made some effort to be polite to the old hag, as he called her, in that not very secret chamber of his soul, whose door was but too ready to fall ajar, and allow its evil things to issue. He searched his lumber-room for old stories to tell, but found it difficult to lay hold on any fit for the ears present, though one of the ladies was an old woman--old enough, he judged, not to be startled at anything, and the other his own daughter, who ought to see no harm when her father made the company laugh! It was a miserable time for him, but, like a much enduring magician awaiting the moment of power, he kept eying the bottle, and gathering comfort.

Grizzie eyed him from behind, almost as he eyed the bottle. She eyed him as she might the devil caught in the toils of the arch-angel; and if she did not bring against him a railing accusation, it was more from cunning than politeness. "Ah, my fine fellow!" her eyes said, "he is after you! he will be here presently!"

Grizzie afforded a wonderfully perfect instance of a relation which is one of the loveliest in humanity--absolute service without a shade of servility. She would have died for her master, but even to him she must speak her mind. Her own affairs were nothing to her, and those of her master as those of the universe, but she was vitally one of his family, as the toes belong to the head! In truth, she was of the family like a poor relation, with few privileges, and no end of duties; and she thought ten times more of her duties than her privileges. She would have fed, and sometimes did feed with perfect satisfaction on the poorest scraps remaining from meals, but a doubt of the laird's preference of her porridge to that of any maker in broad Scotland, would have given her a sore heart. She would have wept bitter tears had the privilege of washing the laird's feet been taken from her. If reverence for the human is an essential element of greatness, then at least greatness was possible to Grizzie. She dealt with no abstractions; she worshipped one living man, and that is the first step toward the love of all men; while some will talk glowingly about humanity, and be scornful as a lap-dog to the next needy embodiment of it that comes in their way. Such as Grizzie will perhaps prove to be of those last foredoomed to be first. With the tenderness of a ministering angel and mother combined, her eyes waited upon her master. She took her return beforehand in the assurance that the laird would follow her to the grave, would miss her, and at times think nobody could do something or other so much to his mind as old Grizzie. And if, like the old captain, she might be permitted to creep about the place after night-fall, she desired nothing better than the chance of serving him still, if but by rolling a stone out of his way. The angels might bear him in their hands--she could not aspire to that, but it would be much the same whether she got the stone out of the way of his foot, or they lifted his foot above the stone!

Dinner over, the laird asked his guest whether he would take his wine where he was, or have it carried to the drawing-room. The offering of this alternative the old lady, to use an Elizabethan phrase, took in snuff; for although she never now sat in the drawing--room, and indeed rarely crossed its threshold, it was HER room; and, ladies having been banished from the dining-room while men drank, what would be left them if next, bottle in hand, the men invaded the drawing--room? But happily their guest declined the proposal, and that on the very ground of respect for her ladyship's apartment; the consequence of which was that she very nearly forgave him the murder of which she never doubted him guilty, saying to herself that, whatever he might be when disguised, poor man--and we all had our failings--he knew how to behave when sober, and that was more than could be said for everybody! So the old lord sat in the kitchen and drank his wine; and the old lady sat by the fire and knitted her stocking, went to sleep, and woke up, and went to sleep again a score of times, and enjoyed her afternoon. Not a word passed between the two: now, in his old age, Lord Mergwain never talked over his bottle; he gave his mind to it. The laird went and came, unconsciously anxious to be out of the way of his guest, and consciously anxious not to neglect him, but nothing was said on either side. The old lady knitted and dozed, and his lordship sat and drank, now and then mingling the aesthetic with the sensual, and holding his glass to the light to enjoy its colour and brilliancy,--doing his poor best to encourage the presence of what ideas he counted agreeable, and prevent the intrusion of their opposites. And still as he drank, the braver he grew, and the more confident that the events of the past night were but the foolish consequences of having mingled so many liquors, which, from the state of the thermometer, had grown cold in his very stomach, and bred rank fancies! "With two bottles like this under my belt," he said to himself, "I would defy them all, but this wretched night-capped curmudgeon of a host will never fetch me a second! If he had not been so niggardly last night, I should have got through well enough!"

Lady Joan and Cosmo had been all over the house, and were now sitting in the drawing-room, silent in the firelight. Lady Joan did not yet find Cosmo much of a companion, though she liked to have him beside her, and would have felt the dreariness more penetrating without him. But to Cosmo her presence was an experience as marvellous and lovely as it was new and strange. He had never save in his dreams before been with one who influenced him with beauty; and never one of his dreams came up to the dream--like reality that now folded him about with bliss. For he sat, an isolating winter stretched miles and miles around him, in the old paradise of his mother's drawing-room, in the glorious twilight of a peat and wood fire, the shadows flickering about at their own wild will over all the magic room, at the feet of a lady, whose eyes were black as the night, but alive with a radiance such as no sun could kindle, whose hand was like warm snow, whose garments were lovely as the clouds that clothe a sunset, and who inhabited an atmosphere of evanescent odours that were themselves dreams from a region beyond the stars, while the darkness that danced with the firelight played all sorts of variations on the theme of her beauty.

How long he had sat lost in the dream-haunted gorgeous silence he did not know, when suddenly he bethought himself that he ought to be doing something to serve or amuse, or at least interest the heavenly visitant. Strangers and angels must be entertained, nor must the shadow of loneliness fall upon them. Now to that end he knew one thing always good, always at hand, and specially fitting the time.

"Shall I tell you a story, my lady?" he said, looking up to her from the low stool on which he had taken his place at her feet.

"Yes, if you please," she answered, finding herself in a shoal of sad thoughts, and willing to let them drift.

"Then I will try. But I am sorry I cannot tell it so well as Grizzie told it me. Her old-fashioned way suits the story. And then I must make English of it for your ladyship, and that goes still worse with it."

Alas! alas! the speech of every succeeding generation is a falling away from the pith and pathos of the preceding. Speech gains in scope, but loses in intensity.

"There was once a girl in the Highlands," began Cosmo, "--not very far from here it was, who was very beautiful, so that every young man in the neighbourhood fell in love with her. She was as good as she was beautiful, and of course would not let more than one be her lover, and said no to every one else; and if after that they would go on loving her, she could not help it. She was the daughter of a sheep--farmer, who had a great many sheep that fed about over the hills, and she helped her father to look after them, and was as good and obedient as any lamb of his flock. And her name was Mary. Her other name I do not know.

"Now her father had a young shepherd, only a year or two older than Mary, and he of course was in love with her as well as the rest, and more in love with her than any of them, because he was the most to be trusted of all in that country-side. He was very strong and very handsome, and a good shepherd. He was out on the hills all


Warlock o' Glenwarlock - 30/98

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