Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1716/The Marquis of Lossie - Part XV
THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.
BY GEORGE MACDONALD, AUTHOR OF "MALCOLM," ETC.
PORTLOSSIE AND SCAURNOSE.
Meantime, things were going rather badly at Portlossie and Scaurnose, and the factor was the devil of them. Those who had known him longest said he must be fey — that is doomed — so strangely altered was his behavior. Others said he took more counsel with his bottle than had been his wont, and got no good from it. Almost all the fishers found him surly, and upon some he broke out in violent rage, while to certain whom he regarded as Malcolm's special friends he carried himself with cruel oppression. The notice to leave at midsummer clouded the destiny of Joseph Mair and his family, and every householder in the two villages believed that to take them in would be to call down the like fate upon himself. But Meg Partan at least was not to be intimidated. Her outbursts of temper were but the hurricanes of a tropical heart — not much the less true and good and steadfast that it was fierce. Let the factor rage as he would, Meg was absolute in her determination that if the cruel sentence were carried out — which she hardly expected — her house should be the shelter of those who had received her daughter when her severity had driven her from her home. That would leave her own family and theirs three months to look out for another abode. Certain of Blue Peter's friends ventured a visit of intercession to the factor, and were received with composure and treated with consideration until their object appeared, when his wrath burst forth so wildly that they were glad to escape without having to defend their persons: only the day before had he learned with certainty from Miss Horn that Malcolm was still in the service of the marchioness, and in constant attendance upon her when she rode. It almost maddened him. He had for some time taken to drinking more toddy after his dinner, and it was fast ruining his temper. His wife, who had from the first excited his indignation against Malcolm, was now reaping her reward. To complete the troubles of the fisher-folk, the harbor at Portlossie had, by a severe equinoctial storm, been so filled with sand as to be now inaccessible at lower than half tide, nobody as yet having made it his business to see it attended to.
But in the midst of his anxieties about Florimel and his interest in Clementina, Malcolm had not been forgetting them. As soon as he was a little settled in London he had written to Mr. Soutar, and he to architects and contractors, on the subject of a harbor at Scaurnose. But there were difficulties, and the matter had been making but slow progress. Malcolm, however, had insisted, and in consequence of his determination to have the possibilities of the thing thoroughly understood, three men appeared one morning on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff on the west side of the Nose. The children of the village discovered them, and carried the news; whereupon the men being all out in the bay, the women left their work and went to see what the strangers were about. The moment they were satisfied that they could make nothing of their proceedings, they naturally became suspicious. To whom the fancy first occurred nobody ever knew, but such was the unhealthiness of the moral atmosphere of the place, caused by the injustice and severity of Mr. Crathie, that, once suggested, it was universally received that they were sent by the factor, and that for a purpose only too consistent with the treatment Scaurnose, they said, had invariably received ever since first it was the dwelling of fishers. Had not their fathers told them how unwelcome they were to the lords of the land? And what rents had they not to pay! and how poor was the shelter for which they paid so much! — without a foot of land to grow a potato in! To crown all, the factor was at length about to drive them in a body from the place — Blue Peter first, one of the best as well as most considerable men amongst them! His notice to quit was but the beginning of a clearance. It was easy to see what those villains were about — on that precious rock, their only friend, the one that did its best to give them the sole shadow of harborage they had, cutting off the wind from the north-east a little, and breaking the eddy round the point of the Nose! What could they be about but marking the spots where to bore the holes for the blasting-powder that should scatter it to the winds, and let death and destruction and the wild sea howling in upon Scaurnose, that the cormorant and the bittern might possess it, the owl and the raven dwell in it? But it would be seen what their husbands and fathers would say to it when they came home! In the mean time, they must themselves do what they could. What were they men's wives for, if not to act for their husbands when they happened to be away?
The result was a shower of stones upon the unsuspecting surveyors, who forthwith fled, and carried the report of their reception to Mr. Soutar at Duff Harbor. He wrote to Mr. Crathie, who till then had heard nothing of the business; and the news increased both his discontent with his superiors and his wrath with those whom he had come to regard as his rebellious subjects. The stiff-necked people of the Bible was to him always now, as often as he heard the words, the people of Scaurnose and the Seaton of Portlossie. And having at length committed this overt outrage, would he not be justified by all in taking more active measures against them?
When the fishermen came home and leard how their women had conducted themselves, they accepted their conjectures and approved of their defence of the settlement. It was well for the land-loupers, they said, that they had only the women to deal with.
Blue Peter did not so soon hear of the affair as the rest, for his Annie had not been one of the assailants. But when the hurried retreat of the surveyors was described to him in somewhat graphic language by one of those concerned in causing it, he struck his clenched fist in the palm of his other hand, and cried, "Weel saired! There! that's what comes o' yer new ——"
He had all but broken his promise, as he had already broken his faith, to Malcolm, when his wife laid her hand on his mouth and stopped the issuing word. He started with sudden conviction, and stood for a moment in absolute terror at sight of the precipice down which he had been on the point of falling, then straightway excusing himself to his conscience on the ground of non-intent, was instantly angrier with Malcolm than before. He could not reflect that the disregarded cause of the threatened sin was the greater sin of the two. The breach of that charity which thinketh no evil may be a graver fault than a hasty breach of promise.
Peter had not been improving since his return from London. He found less satisfaction in his religious exercises; was not unfrequently clouded in temper, occasionally even to sullenness; referred things oftener than formerly to the vileness of the human nature, but was far less willing than before to allow that he might himself be wrong; while somehow the Bible had no more the same plenitude of relation to the wants of his being, and he rose from the reading of it unrefreshed. Men asked each other what had come to Blue Peter, but no one could answer the question. For himself, he attributed the change which he could not but recognize, although he did not understand it, to the withdrawing of the spirit of God, in displeasure that he had not merely allowed himself to be inveigled into a playhouse, but, far worse, had enjoyed the wickedness he saw there. When his wife reasoned that God knew he had gone in ignorance, trusting his friend, "What's that to him," he cried, "wha judges richteous judgment? What's a' oof puir meeserable excuzes i' the een 'at can see throu' the wa's o' the hert? Ignorance is no innocence."
Thus he lied for God, pleading his cause on the principles of hell. But the eye of his wife was single, and her body full of light: therefore to her it was plain that neither the theatre nor his conscience concerning it was the cause of the change: it had to do with his feelings toward Malcolm. He wronged his friend in his heart — half knew it, but would not own it. Fearing to search himself, he took refuge in resentment, and to support his hard judgment put false and cruel interpretations on whatever befell. So that, with love and anger and wrong unacknowledged, his heart was full of bitterness.
"It's a' the drumblet (muddied, troubled) luve o' 'im!" said Annie to herself. "Puir fallow! gien only Ma'colm wad come hame an' lat him ken he's no the villain he taks him for! I'll no believe mysel' 'at the laad I kissed like my ain mither's son afore he gaed awa' wad turn like that upo' 's maist the meenute he wat oot o' sicht, an' a' for a feow words aboot a fulish playactin'. Lord bliss us a'! markisses is men! — We'll see, Peter, my man," she said, when the neighbor took her leave, "whether the wife, though she hasna been to the ill place — an' that's surely Lon'on — canna tell the true frae the fause full better nor her man 'at kens sae muckle mair nor she wants to ken! Lat sit an' lat see."
Blue Peter made no reply; but perhaps the deepest depth in his fall was that he feared his wife might be right, and he have one day to stand ashamed before both her and his friend. But there are marvellous differences in the quality of the sins of different men, and a noble nature like Peter's would have to sink far indeed to be beyond a ready redemption. Still, there was one element mingling with his wrongness whose very triviality increased the difficulty of long-delaying repentance: he had been not a little proud at finding himself the friend of a marquis. From the first they had been friends, when the one was a youth and the other a child, and had been out together in many a stormy and dangerous sea. More than once or twice, driven from the churlish ocean to the scarce less inhospitable shore, they had lain all night in each other's arms to keep the life awake within their frozen garments. And now this marquis spoke English to him! It rankled.
All the time Blue Peter was careful to say nothing to injure Malcolm in the eyes of his former comrades. His manner when his name was mentioned, however, he could not honestly school to the conveyance of the impression that things were as they had been betwixt them. Folk marked the difference, and it went to swell the general feeling that Malcolm had done ill to forsake a seafaring life for one upon which all fishermen must look down with contempt. Some in the Seaton went so far in their enmity as even to hint an explanation of his conduct in the truth of the discarded scandal which had laid Lizzy's child at his door.
But amongst them was one who, having wronged him thus, and been convinced of her error, was now so fiercely his partisan as to be ready to wrong the whole town in his defence: that was Meg Partan, properly Mistress Findlay, Lizzy's mother. Although the daughter had never confessed, the mother had yet arrived at the right conclusion concerning the father of her child — how, she could hardly herself have told, for the conviction had grown by accretion: a sign here and a sign there, impalpable save to maternal sense, had led her to the truth; and now, if any one had a word to say against Malcolm, he had better not say it in the presence of the Partaness.
One day Blue Peter was walking home from the upper town of Portlossie, not with the lazy gait of the fisherman off work, poised backward with hands in trouser-pockets, but stooping care-laden with listless swinging arms. Thus Meg Partan met him, and of course attributed his dejection to the factor: "Deil hae 'im for an upsettin' rascal 'at hasna pride eneuch to haud him ohn lickit the gentry's shune! The man maun be fey! I houp he may, an' I wuss I saw the beerial o' 'im makin' for the kirkyaird. It's nae ill to wuss weel to a' body 'at wad be left! His nose is turnt twise the color i' the last twa month. He'll be drinkin' byous. Gien only Ma'colm Mac Phail had been at hame to haud him in order!"
Peter said nothing, and his silence, to one who spoke out whatever came, seemed fuller of restraints and meanings than it was. She challenged it at once: "Noo, what mean ye by sayin' naething, Peter? Guid kens it's the warst thing man or woman can say o' onybody to haud their tongue. It's a thing I never was blamed wi' mysel', an' I wadna du't."
"That's verra true," said Peter.
"The mair weicht's intill't whan I layt 't to the door o' anither," persisted Meg. "Peter, gien ye hae onything again' my freen', Ma'colm MacPhail, oot wi 't like a man, an' no playac' the gunpoother plot ower again. Ill wull's the warst poother ye can lay i' the boddom o' ony man's boat. But say 'at ye like, I s' uphaud Ma'colm again' the haill poustie o' ye. Gien he was but here! I say 't again, honest laad!"
But she could not rouse Peter to utterance, and losing what little temper she had, she rated him soundly, and sent him home saying with the prophet Jonah, "Do I not well to be angry? " for that also he placed to Malcolm's account. Nor was his home any more a harbor for his riven boat, seeing his wife only longed for the return of him with whom his spirit chode: she regarded him as an exiled king, one day to reappear and justify himself in the eyes of all, friends and enemies.
Though unable to eat any breakfast, Malcolm persuaded himself that he felt nearly as well as usual when he went to receive his mistress's orders. Florimel had had enough of horseback, indeed, for several days to come, and would not ride. So he saddled Kelpie, and rode to Chelsea to look after his boat. To get rid of the mare, he rang the stable-bell at Mr. Lenorme's and the gardener let him in. As he was putting her up, the man told him that the housekeeper had heard from his master. Malcolm went to the house to learn what he might, and found to his surprise, that if he had gone on the Continent he was there no longer, for the letter, which contained only directions concerning some of his pictures, was dated from Newcastle, and bore the Durham postmark of a week ago. Malcolm remembered that he had heard Lenorme speak of Durham Cathedral, and in the hope that he might be spending some time there, begged the housekeeper to allow him to go to the study to write to her master. When he entered, however, he saw something that made him change his plan, and having written, instead of sending the letter, as he had intended, enclosed to the postmaster at Durham, he left it upon an easel. It contained merely an earnest entreaty to be made and kept acquainted with his movements, that he might at once let him know if anything should occur that he ought to be informed concerning.
He found all on board the yacht in shipshape, only Davy was absent. Travers explained that he sent him on shore for a few hours every day. He was a sharp boy, he said, and the more he saw the more useful he would be, and as he never gave him any money, there was no risk of his mistaking his hours.
"When do you expect him?" asked Malcolm."At four o'clock," answered Travers.
"It is four now," said Malcolm.
A shrill whistle came from the Chelsea shore.
"And there's Davy," said Travers.
Malcolm got into the dinghy and rowed ashore.
"Davy," he said, "I don't want you to be all day on board, but I can't have you be longer away than an hour at a time."
"Ay, ay, sir," said Davy.
"Now attend to me."
"Ay, ay, sir."
"Do you know Lady Lossie's house?"
"No, sir, but I ken hersel'."
"How is that?"
"I hae seen her mair nor twa or three times ridin' wi' yersel' to yon hoose yonder."
"Would you know her again?"
"Ay wad I — fine that. What for no, sir?"
"It's a good way to see a lady across the Thames and know her again."
"Ow! but I tuik the spy-glass till her," answered Davy, reddening.
"You are sure of her, then?"
"I am that, sir."
"Then come with me, and I will show you where she lives. I will not ride faster than you can run. But mind you don't look as if you belonged to me."
"Na, na, sir. There's fowk takin' nottice.
"What do you mean by that?"
"There's a wee laddie been efter mysel' twise or thrice."
"Did you do anything?"
"He wasna big eneuch to lick, sae I jist got him the last time an' pu'd his niz, an' I dinna think he'll come efter me again."
To see what the boy could do, Malcolm let Kelpie go at a good trot, but Davy kept up without effort, now shooting ahead, now falling behind, now stopping to look in at a window, and now to cast a glance at a game of pitch-and-toss. No mere passer-by could have suspected that the sailor-boy belonged to the horseman. He dropped him not far from Portland Place, telling him to go and look at the number, but not stare at the house.
All the time he had had no return of the sickness, but, although thus actively occupied, had felt greatly depressed. One main cause of this was, however, that he had not found his religion stand him in such stead as he might have hoped. It was not yet what it must be to prove its reality. And now his eyes were afresh opened to see that in his nature and thoughts lay large spaces wherein God ruled not supreme — desert places where who could tell what might appear? For in such regions wild beasts range, evil herbs flourish, and demons go about. If in very deed he lived and moved and had his being in God, then assuredly there ought not to be one cranny in his nature, one realm of his consciousness, one wellspring of thought, where the will of God was a stranger. If all were as it should be, then surely there would be no moment, looking back on which he could not at least say, —
Yet, like some sweet beguiling melody —
So sweet, we know not we are listening to it —
Thou, the mean while, was blending with my thought,
Yea, with my life and life's own secret joy!
"In that agony o' sickness, as I sat upo' the stair," he said to himself — for still in his own thoughts he spoke his native tongue — "whaur was my God in a' my thouchts? I did cry till 'im, I min' weel, but it was my reelin' brain an' no my trustin' hert 'at cried. Aih me! I doobt gien the Lord war to come to me noo, he wadna fin' muckle faith i' my pairt o' the yerth. Aih! I wad like to lat him see something like lippenin'! I would fain trust him till his hert's content. But I doobt it's only speeritual ambeetion, or better wad hae come o' 't by this time. Gien that sickness come again, I maun see, noo 'at I'm forewarned o' my ain wakeness, what I can du. It maun be something better nor last time, or I'll tine hert a'thegither. Weel, maybe I need to be heumblet. The Lord help me!"
In the evening he went to the schoolmaster, and gave him a pretty full account of where he had been and what had taken place since last he saw him, dwelling chiefly on his endeavors with Lady Clementina.
From Mr. Graham's lodging to the north-eastern gate of the Regent's Park the nearest way led through a certain passage, which, although a thoroughfare to persons on foot, was little known. Malcolm had early discovered it, and always used it. Part of this short cut was the yard and back premises of a small public-house. It was between eleven and twelve as he entered it for the second time that night. Sunk in thought and suspecting no evil, he was struck down from behind and lost his consciousness. When he came to himself he was lying in the public-house, with his head bound up and a doctor standing over him, who asked him if he had been robbed. He searched his pockets and found that his old watch was gone, but his money left. One of the men standing about said he would see him home. He half thought he had seen him before, and did not like the look of him, but accepted the offer, hoping to get on the track of something thereby. As soon as they entered the comparative solitude of the park he begged his companion, who had scarcely spoken all the way, to give him his arm, and leaned upon it as if still suffering, but watched him closely. About the middle of the park, where not a creature was in sight, he felt him begin to fumble in his coat-pocket and draw something from it. But when, unresisted, he snatched away his other arm, Malcolm's fist followed it, and the man fell, nor made any resistance while he took from him a short stick loaded with lead, and his own watch, which he found in his waistcoat pocket. Then the fellow rose with apparent difficulty, but the moment he was on his legs ran like a hare, and Malcolm let him run, for he felt unable to follow him. As soon as he reached home he went to bed, for his head ached severely; but he slept pretty well, and in the morning flattered himself he felt much as usual. But it was as if all the night that horrible sickness had been lying in wait on the stair to spring upon him; for the moment he reached the same spot on his way down, he almost fainted. It was worse than before: his very soul seemed to turn sick. But although his heart died within him, somehow, in the confusion of thought and feeling occasioned by intense suffering, it seemed while he clung to the balusters as if with both hands he were clinging to the skirts of God's garment, and through the black smoke of his fainting his soul seemed to be struggling up toward the light of his being. Presently the horrible sense subsided as before, and again he sought to descend the stair and go to Kelpie. But immediately the sickness returned, and all he could do after a long and vain struggle was to crawl on hands and knees up the stairs and back to his room. There he crept upon his bed, and was feebly committing Kelpie to the care of her Maker, when consciousness forsook him.
It returned, heralded by frightful pains all over his body, which by-and-by subsiding, he sunk again to the bottom of the black Lethe.
Meantime, Kelpie had got so wildly uproarious that Merton tossed her half a truss of hay, which she attacked like an enemy, and ran to the house to get somebody to call Malcolm. After what seemed endless delay the door was opened by his admirer, the scullery-maid, who, as soon as she heard what was the matter, hastened to his room.
Before he came again to himself Malcolm had a dream, which, although very confused, was in parts more vivid than any he had ever had. His surroundings in it were those in which he actually lay, and he was ill, but he thought it the one illness he had before. His head ached, and he could rest in no position he tried. Suddenly he heard a step he knew better than any other approaching the door of his chamber; it opened, and his grandfather in great agitation entered, not following his hands, however, in the fashion usual to blindness, but carrying himself like any sight-gifted man. He went straight to the washstand, took up the water-bottle, and with a look of mingled wrath and horror dashed it on the floor. The same instant a cold shiver ran through the dreamer, and his dream vanished. But instead of waking in his bed, he found himself standing in the middle of the floor, his feet wet, the bottle in shivers about them, and, strangest of all, the neck of the bottle in his hand. He lay down again, grew delirious, and tossed about in the remorseless persecution of centuries. But at length his tormentors left him, and when he came to himself he knew he was in his right mind.
It was evening, and some one was sitting near his bed. By the light of the long-snuffed tallow candle he saw the glitter of two great black eyes watching him, and recognized the young woman who had admitted him to the house the night of his return, and whom he had since met once or twice as he came and went. The moment she perceived that he was aware of her presence she threw herself on her knees at his bedside, hid her face and began to weep. The sympathy of his nature rendered yet more sensitive by weakness and suffering, Malcolm laid his hand on her head and sought to comfort her. "Don't be alarmed about me," he said: "I shall soon be all right again."
"I can't bear it," she sobbed. "I can't bear to see you like that, and all my fault."
"Your fault! What can you mean?" said Malcolm.
"But I did go for the doctor, for all it maybe the hanging of me," she sobbed.
"Miss Caley said I wasn't to, but I would and I did. They can't say I meant it — can they?"
"I don't understand," said Malcolm feebly.
The doctor says somebody's been an' p'isoned you," said the girl with a cry that sounded like a mingled sob and howl; "an' he's been a-pokin' of all sorts of things down your poor throat." And again she cried aloud in her agony.
"Well, never mind: I'm not dead, you see, and I'll take better care of myself after this. Thank you for being so good to me: you've saved my life."
"Ah! you won't be so kind to me when you know all, Mr. MacPhail," sobbed the girl. "It was myself gave you the horrid stuff, but God knows I didn't mean to do you no harm no more than your own mother."
"What made you do it, then?" asked Malcolm.
"The witch-woman told me to. She said that — that — if I gave it you — you would — you would ——" She buried her face in the bed, and so stifled a fresh howl of pain and shame. "And it was all lies — lies!" she resumed, lifting her face again, which now flashed with rage, "for I know you'll hate me worse than ever now."
"My poor girl, I never hated you," said Malcolm.
"No, but you did as bad: you never looked at me. And now you'll hate me out and out. And the doctor says if you die he'll have it all searched into, and Miss Caley she look at me as if she suspect me of a hand in it; and they won't let alone till they've got me hanged for it; and it's all along of love of you; and I tell you the truth, Mr. MacPhail, and you can do anything with me you like — I don't care — only you won't let them hang me, will you? Oh, please don't!" She said all this with clasped hands and the tears streaming down her face.
Malcolm's impulse was of course to draw her to him and comfort her, but something warned him. "Well, you see I'm not going to die just yet," he said as merrily as he could; "and if I find myself going I shall take care the blame falls on the right person. What was the witch-woman like ? Sit down on the chair there and tell me all about her."
She obeyed with a sigh, and gave him such a description as he could not mistake. He asked where she lived, but the girl had never met her anywhere but in the street, she said.
Questioning her very carefully as to Caley's behavior to her, Malcolm was convinced that she had a hand in the affair. Indeed, she had happily more to do with it than even Mrs. Catanach knew, for she had traversed her treatment to the advantage of Malcolm. The midwife had meant the potion to work slowly, but the lady's-maid had added to the pretended philtre a certain ingredient in whose efficacy she had reason to trust; and the combination, while it wrought more rapidly, had yet apparently set up a counteraction favorable to the efforts of the struggling vitality which it stung to an agonized resistance.
But Malcolm's strength was now exhausted. He turned faint, and the girl had the sense to run to the kitchen and get him some soup. As he took it her demeanor and regards made him anxious, uncomfortable, embarrassed. It is to any true man a hateful thing to repel a woman: it is such a reflection upon her. "I've told you everything, Mr. MacPhail, and it's gospel truth I've told you," said the girl after a long pause. It was a relief when first she spoke, but the comfort vanished as she went on, and with slow perhaps unconscious movements approached him. "I would have died for you, and here that devil of a woman has been making me kill you! Oh, how I hate her! Now you will never love me a bit — not one tiny little bit forever and ever!"
There was a tone of despairful entreaty in her words that touched Malcolm deeply. "I am more indebted to you than I can speak or you imagine," he said. "You have saved me from my worst enemy. Do not tell any other what you have told me, or let any one know that we have talked together. The day will come when I shall be able to show you my gratitude."
Something in his tone struck her, even through the folds of her passion. She looked at him a little amazed, and for a moment the tide ebbed. Then came a rush that overmastered her. She flung her hands above her head, and cried, "That means you will do anything but love me!"
"I cannot love you as you mean," said Malcolm. "I promise to be your friend, but more is out of my power."
A fierce light came in the girl's eyes. But that instant a terrible cry, such as Malcolm had never heard, but which he knew must be Kelpie's, rang through the air, followed by the shouts of men, the tones of fierce execration and the clash and clang of hoofs. "Good God!" he exclaimed, and forgetting everything else, sprung from the bed and ran to the window outside his door. The light of their lanterns dimly showed a confused crowd in the yard of the mews, and amid the hellish uproar of their coarse voices he could hear Kelpie plunging and kicking. Again she uttered the same ringing scream. He threw the window open and cried to her that he was coming, but the noise was far too great for his enfeebled voice. Hurriedly he added a garment or two to his half-dress, rushed to the stair, passing his new friend, who watched anxiously at the head of it, without seeing her, and shot from the house.
THE DEMONESS AT BAY.
When he reached the yard of the mews the uproar had nothing abated. But when he cried out to Kelpie, through it all came a whinny of appeal, instantly followed by a scream. When he got up to the lanterns he found a group of wrathful men with stable-forks surrounding the poor animal, from whom the blood was streaming before and behind. Fierce as she was, she dared not move, but stood trembling, with the sweat of terror pouring from her. Yet her eye showed that not even terror had cowed her. She was but biding her time. Her master's first impulse was to scatter the men right and left, but on second thoughts, of which he was even then capable, he saw that they might have been driven to apparent brutality in defence of their lives, and besides, he could not tell what Kelpie might do if suddenly released. So he caught her by the broken halter and told them to fall back. They did so, carefully — it seemed unwillingly. But the mare had eyes and ears only for her master. What she had never done before, she nosed him over face and shoulders, trembling all the time. Suddenly one of her tormentors darted forward and gave her a terrible prod in the off hind-quarter. But he paid dearly for it. Ere he could draw back she lashed out and shot him half across the yard with his knee-joint broken. The whole set of them rushed at her.
"Leave her alone," shouted Malcolm, "or I will take her part. Between us we'll do for a dozen of you."
"The devil's in her," said one of them.
"You'll find more of him in that rascal groaning yonder. You had better see to him. He'll never do such a thing again, I fancy. Where is Merton?"
They drew off and went to help their comrade, who lay senseless.
When Malcolm would have led Kelpie in, she stopped suddenly at the stable-door, and started back shuddering as if the memory of what she had endured there overcame her. Every fibre of her trembled. He saw that she must have been pitifully used before she broke loose and got out. But she yielded to his coaxing, and he led her to her stall without difficulty. He wished Lady Clementina herself could have been his witness how she knew her friend and trusted him. Had she seen how the poor bleeding thing rejoiced over him, she could not have doubted that his treatment had been in part at least a success.
Kelpie had many enemies amongst the men of the mews. Merton had gone out for the evening, and they had taken the opportunity of getting into her stable and tormenting her. At length she broke her fastenings: they fled, and she rushed out after them.
They carried the maimed man to the hospital, where his leg was immediately amputated.
Malcolm washed and dried his poor animal, handling her as gently as possible, for she was in a sad plight. It was plain he must not have her here any longer: worse to her at least was sure to follow. He went up, trembling himself now, to Mrs. Merton. She told him she was just running to fetch him when he arrived: she had no idea how ill he was. But he felt all the better for the excitement, and after he had taken a cup of strong tea wrote to Mr. Soutar to provide men on whom he could depend — if possible the same who had taken her there before — to await Kelpie's arrival at Aberdeen. There he must also find suitable housing and attention for her at any expense until further directions, or until, more probably, he should claim her himself. He added many instructions to be given as to her treatment.
Until Merton returned he kept watch, then went back to the chamber of his torture, which, like Kelpie, he shuddered to enter. The cook let him in and gave him his candle, but hardly had he closed his door when a tap came to it, and there stood Rose, his preserver. He could not help feeling embarrassed when he saw her.
"I see you don't trust me," she said.
"I do trust you," he answered. "Will you bring me some water? I dare not drink anything that has been standing."
She looked at him with inquiring eyes, nodded her head and went. When she returned he drank the water.
"There! you see I trust you," he said with a laugh. But there are people about who for certain reasons want to get rid of me: will you be on my side?"
"That I will," she answered eagerly.
"I have not got my plans laid yet; but will you meet me somewhere near this tomorrow night? I shall not be at home, perhaps, all day."
She stared at him with great eyes, but agreed at once, and they appointed time and place. He then bade her good-night, and the moment she left him lay down on the bed to think. But he did not trouble himself yet to unravel the plot against him, or determine whether the violence he had suffered had the same origin with the poisoning. Nor was the question merely how to continue to serve his sister without danger to his life; for he had just learned what rendered it absolutely imperative that she should be removed from her present position. Mrs. Merton had told him that Lady Lossie was about to accompany Lady Bellair and Lord Liftore to the Continent. That must not be, whatever means might be necessary to prevent it. Before he went to sleep things had cleared themselves up considerably.
He woke much better, and rose at his usual hour. Kelpie rejoiced him by affording little other sign of the cruelty she had suffered than the angry twitching of her skin when hand or brush approached a wound. The worst fear was that some few white hairs might by-and-by in consequence fleck her spotless black. Having urgently committed her to Merton's care, he mounted Honor and rode to the Aberdeen wharf. There, to his relief, time growing precious, he learned that the same smack in which Kelpie had come was to sail the next morning for Aberdeen. He arranged at once for her passage, and saw, before he left, to every contrivance he could think of for her safety and comfort. He warned the crew concerning her temper, but at the same time prejudiced them in her favor by the argument of a few sovereigns. He then rode to the Chelsea Reach, where the Psyche had now grown to be a feature of the river in the eyes of the dwellers upon its banks. At his whistle Davy tumbled into the dinghy like a round ball over the gunwale, and was rowing for the shore ere his whistle had ceased ringing in Malcolm's own ears. He left him with his horse, went on board and gave various directions to Travers; then took Davy with him, and bought many things at different shops, which he ordered to be delivered to Davy when he should call for them. Having next instructed him to get everything on board as soon as possible, and appointed to meet him at the same place and hour he had arranged with Rose, he went home.
A little anxious lest Florimel might have wanted him, for it was now past the hour at which he usually waited her orders, he learned to his relief that she was gone shopping with Lady Bellair, upon which he set out for the hospital whither they had carried the man Kelpie had so terribly mauled. He went, not merely led by sympathy, but urged by a suspicion also which he desired to verify or remove. On the plea of identification he was permitted to look at him for a moment, but not to speak to him. It was enough: he recognized him at once as the same whose second attack he had foiled in the Regent's Park. He remembered having seen him about the stable, but had never spoken to him. Giving the nurse a sovereign and Mr. Soutar's address, he requested her to let that gentleman know as soon as it was possible to conjecture the time of his leaving. Returning, he gave Merton a hint to keep his eye on the man, and some money to spend for him as he judged best. He then took Kelpie for an airing. To his surprise, she fatigued him so much that when he had put her up again he was glad to go and lie down.
When it came near the time for meeting Rose and Davy he got his things together in the old carpet-bag, which held all he cared for, and carried it with him. As he drew near the spot, he saw Davy already there, keeping a sharp lookout on all sides. Presently Rose appeared, but drew back when she saw Davy. Malcolm went to her. "Rose," he said, "I am going to ask you to do me a great favor. But you cannot except you are able to trust me."
"I do trust you," she answered.
"All I can tell you now is that you must go with that boy to-morrow. Before night you shall know more. Will you do it?"
"I will," answered Rose. "I dearly love a secret."
"I promise to let you understand it if you do just as I tell you."
"Be at this very spot, then, to-morrow morning at six o'clock. Come here, Davy. This boy will take you where I shall tell him."
She looked from the one to the other. "I'll risk it," she said.
"Put on a clean frock, and take a change of linen with you and your dressing-things. No harm shall come to you."
"I'm not afraid," she answered, but looked as if she would cry.
"Of course you will not tell any one."
"I will not, Mr. MacPhail."
"You are trusting me a great deal, Rose, but I am trusting you too — more than you think. Be off with that bag, Davy, and be here at six to-morrow morning to carry this young woman's for her." Davy vanished.
"Now, Rose," continued Malcolm, "you had better go and make your preparations."
"Is that all, sir?" she said.
"Yes. I shall see you to-morrow. Be brave."
Something in Malcolm's tone and manner seemed to work strangely on the girl. She gazed up at him half frightened, but submissive, and went at once, looking, however, sadly disappointed.
Malcolm had intended to go and tell Mr. Graham of his plans that same night, but he found himself too much exhausted to walk to Camden Town. And thinking over it, he saw that it might be as well if he took the bold measure he contemplated without revealing it to his friend, to whom the knowledge might be the cause of inconvenience. He therefore went home and to bed, that he might be strong for the next day.