The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter III

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter III
by George MacDonald

Chapter III.

MISS HORN.

The door opened, and in walked a tall, gaunt, hard-featured woman, in a huge bonnet trimmed with black ribbons, and a long black net veil, worked over with sprigs, coming down almost to her waist. She looked stern, determined, almost fierce, shook hands with a sort of loose dissatisfaction, and dropped into one of the easy-chairs with which the library abounded. With the act the question seemed shot from her, "Duv ye ca' yersel' an honest man, no, Ma'colm?"

"I ca' mysel' naething," answered the youth, "but I wad fain be what ye say, Miss Horn."

"Ow! I dinna doobt ye wadna steal, nor yet tell lees about a horse: I hae jist come frae a sair waggin' o' tongues aboot ye. Mistress Crathie tells me her man's in a sair vex 'at ye winna tell a wordless lee about the black mere: that's what I ca't — no her. But lee it wad be, an' dinna ye aither wag or haud a leein' tongue. A gentleman maunna lee, no even by sayin' naething — na, no gien 't war to win intill the kingdom. But, Guid be thankit! that's whaur leears never come. Maybe ye're thinkin' I hae sma' occasion to say sic-like to yersel'. An' yet what's yer life but a lee, Ma'colm? You 'at's the honest Marquis o' Lossie to waur yer time, an' the stren'th o' yer boady, an' the micht o' yer sowl tyauvin' (wrestling) wi' a deeyil o' a she-horse, whan there's that half-sister o' yer ain gaein' to the verra deevil o' perdition himsel' amang the godless gentry o' Lon'on!"

"What wad ye hae me un'erstan' by that, Miss Horn?" returned Malcolm. "I hear no ill o' her. I daur say she's no jist a sa'nt yet, but that's no to be luikit for in ane o' the breed: they maun a' try the warl' first, ony gait. There's a heap o' fowk — an' no aye the warst, maybe," continued Malcolm, thinking of his father — "'at wull hae their bite o' the aipple afore they spit it oot. But for my leddy sister, she's ower prood ever to disgrace hersel'."

"Weel, maybe, gien she be na misguided by them she's wi'. But I'm no sae muckle concernt aboot her. Only it's plain 'at ye hae no richt to lead her intill temptation."

"Hoo am I temptin' at her, mem?"

"That's plain to half an e'e. Are ye no lattin' her live believin' a lee? Ir ye no allooin' her to gang on as gien she was somebody mair nor mortal, whan ye ken she's nae mair Marchioness o' Lossie nor ye're the son o' auld Duncan MacPhail? Faith, ye hae lost trowth, gien ye hae gaint the warl', i' the cheenge o' forbeirs!"

"*Mint at naething again' the deid, mem. My father's gane till 's accoont; an' it's weel for him he has his Father, an' no his sister, to pronoonce upo' him."

"'Deed ye're richt there, laddie!" assented Miss Horn in a subdued tone.

"He's made it up wi' my mither afore noo, I'm thinkin': an', ony gait, he confessed her his wife, an' me her son, afore he dee'd; an' what mair had he time to du?"

"It's fac'," returned Miss Horn. "An' noo luik at yersel'. What yer father confesst wi' the very deid-thraw o' a laborin' speerit — to the whilk naething cud hae broucht him but the deid-thraws {death struggles) o' the bodily natur' an' the fear o' hell — that same confession ye row up again i' the clout o' secrecy, in place o' dightin' wi' 't the blot frae the memory o' ane whae I believe I lo'ed mair as my third cousin nor ye du as yer ain mither."

"There's no blot upo' her memory, mem," returned the youth, "or I wad be markis the morn. There's never a sowl kens she was mither but kens she was wife; ay, an' whase wife tu."

Miss Horn had neither wish nor power to reply, and changed her front. "An' sae, Ma'colm Colonsay," she said, "ye hae no less nor made up yer min' to pass yer days in yer ain stable, neither better nor waur than an ostler at the Lossie Airms; an' that efter a' I hae borne an' dune to mak a gentleman o' ye, bairdin' yer father here like a verra lion in 's den, an' garrin' him confess the thing again' ilka hair upo' the stiff neck o' 'im? Losh, laddie! it was a pictur' to see him stan'in' wi' 's back to the door like a camstairy (obstinate) bullock!"

"Haud yer tongue, mem, gien ye please. I canna bide to hear my father spoken o' like that. For, ye see, I lo'ed him afore I kenned he was ony drap's blude to me."

"Weel, that's verra weel; but father an' mither's man an' wife, an' ye cam' na o' a father alane."

"That's true, mem; an' it canna be I sud ever forget yon face ye shawed me i' the coffin — the bonniest, sairest sicht I ever saw," returned Malcolm with a quaver in his voice.

"But what for cairry yer thouchts to the deid face o' her? Ye kenned the leevin' ane weel," objected Miss Horn.

"That's true, mem, but the deid face maist blotit the leevin' oot o' my brain."

"I'm sorry for that. Eh, laddie, but she was bonny to see!"

"I aye thoucht her the bonniest leddy I ever set e'e upo'. An' dinna think, mem, I'm gauin to forget the deid 'cause I'm mair concernt aboot the leevin'. I tell ye I jist dinna ken what to do. What wi' my father's deein' words, committin' her to my chairge, an' the more than regaird I hae to Leddy Florimel hersel', I'm jist whiles driven to ane mair. Hoo can I tak the verra sunsheen oot o' her life 'at I lo'ed afore I kenned she was my ain sister, an' jist thoucht lang to win near eneuch till to do her ony guid turn worth duin'? An' here I am, her ain half-brither, wi' naething i' my pooer but to scaud the hert o' her, or else lee! Supposin' even she was weel merried first, hoo wad she stan' wi' her man whan he cam to ken 'at she was nae marchioness — hed no lawfu' richt to ony name but her mither's? An' afore that, what richt cud I hae to alloo ony man to merry her ohn kenned the trowth aboot her? Faith! it wad be a fine chance, though, for fin'in' oot whether or no the fallow was fit for her. But we canna mak a playock o' her hert. Puir thing! she luiks doon upo' me frae the tap o' her bonny neck as frae a h'avenly heicht, but I s' lat her ken yet, gien only I can get at the gait o' 't, that I haena come nigh her for naething." He gave a sigh with the words, and a pause followed.

"The trowth's the trowth," resumed Miss Horn, "neither mair nor less."

"Ay," responded Malcolm, "but there's a richt an' a wrang time for the tellin' o' 't. It's no as gien I had had han' or tongue in ony forgane lee. It was naething o' my duin', as ye ken, mem. To mysel' I was never onything but a fisherman born. I confess, whiles, whan we wad be lyin' i' the lee o' the nets, tethered to them like, wi' the win' blawin' strong an' steady, I hae thoucht wi' mysel' hoo 'at I kennt naething aboot my father, an' what gien it sud turn oot 'at I was the son o' somebody — what wad I du wi' my siller?"

"An' what thoucht ye ye wad du, laddie?" asked Miss Horn gently.

"What but bigg a harbor at Scaurnose for the puir fisher-fowk 'at was like my ain flesh an' blude?"

"Weel," rejoined Miss Horn eagerly, "div ye no luik upo' that as 'a voo to the Almichty — a voo 'at ye're bun' to pay — noo 'at ye hae yer wuss? An' it's no merely 'at ye hae the means, but there's no anither that has the richt; for they're yer ain fowk, 'at ye gaither rent frae, an' 'at 's been for mony a generation sattlet upo' yer lan' — though for the maitter o' the lan' they hae had little mair o' that than the birds o' the rock hae ohn feued — an' them honest fowk wi' wives an' sowls o' their ain! Hoo upo' airth are ye to du yer duty by them, an' render yer accoont at the last, gien ye dinna tak till ye yer pooer an' reign? Ilk man 'at 's in ony sense a king o' men, he's bun' to reign ower them in that sense. I ken little aboot things mysel', an' I hae no feelin's to guide me, but I hae a wheen cowmon sense, an' that maun jist stan' for the lave."

A silence followed.

"What for speak na ye, Malcolm?" said Miss Horn at length.

"I was jist tryin'," he answered, "to min' upon a twa lines 'at I cam' upo' the ither day in a buik 'at Maister Graham gied me afore he gaed awa', 'cause I reckon he kent them a' by hert. They say jist siclike's ye been sayin', mem, gien I cud but min' upo' them. They're aboot a man 'at aye does the richt gait — made by ane they ca' Wordsworth."

"I ken naething aboot him," said Miss Horn with emphasized indifference.

"An' I ken but little: I s' ken mair or lang, though. This is hoo the piece begins: —

Who is the happy warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?
It is the generous spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his childish thought.

There! that's what ye wad hae o' me, mem."

"Hear till him!" cried Miss Horn. "The man's i' the richt, though naebody never h'ard o' 'im. Haud ye by that, Ma'colm, an' dinna ye rist till ye hae biggit a herbor to the men an' women o' Scaurnose. Wha kens hoo mony may gang to the boddom afore it be dune, jist for the want o' 't?"

"The fundation maun be laid in richteousness, though, mem, else what gien 't war to save lives better lost?"

"That belangs to the Michty," said Miss Horn.

"Ay, but the layin' o' the fundation belangs to me, an' I'll no du 't till I can du 't ohn ruint my sister."

"Weel, there's ae thing clear: ye'll never ken what to du sae lang's ye hing on aboot a stable fu' o' fower-fitted animals wantin' sense, an' some twa-fittit 'at has less."

"I doobt ye're richt there, mem; an' den I cud but tak puir Kelpie awa' wi' me ——"

"Hoots! I'm affrontit wi' ye. Kelpie, quo he! Preserve 's a'! The laad 'll lat his ain sister gang an' bide at hame wi' a mere!"

Malcolm held his peace. "Ay, I'm thinkin' I maun gang," he said at last.

"Whaur till, than?" asked Miss Horn.

"Ow! to Lon'on — whaur ither?"

"An' what'll your lordship du there?"

"Dinna say lordship to me, mem, or I'll think ye're jeerin' at me. What wad the caterpillar say," he added with a laugh, "gien ye ca'd her my leddy Psyche?" Malcolm of course pronounced the Greek word in Scotch fashion.

"I ken naething aboot yer Suchies or yer Sukies," rejoined Miss Horn. "I ken 'at ye're bun' to be a lord, an' no a stable-man, an' I s' no lat ye rist till ye up an' say, What neist?"

"It's what I hae been sayin' for the last three month," said Malcolm.

"Ay, I daur say! but ye hae been sayin' 't upo' the braid o' yer back, an' I wad hae ye up an' sayin' 't."

"Gien I but kent what to du!" said Malcolm for the thousandth time.

"Ye can at least gang whaur ye hae a chance o' learnin'," returned his friend. "Come an' tak yer supper wi' me the nicht — a rizzart haddie an' an egg — an' I'll tell ye mair aboot yer mither."

But Malcolm avoided a promise, lest it should interfere with what he might find best to do.