The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter IV

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter IV
by George MacDonald

CHAPTER IV.

KELPIE'S AIRING.

When Miss Horn left him — with a farewell kindlier than her greeting — rendered yet more restless by her talk, he went back to the stable, saddled Kelpie and took her out for an airing. As he passed the factor's house, Mrs. Crathie saw him from the window. Her color rose. She rose herself also, and looked after him from the door — a proud and peevish woman, jealous of her husband's dignity, still more jealous of her own. "The verra image o' the auld markis!" she said to herself, for in the recesses of her bosom she spoke the Scotch she scorned to utter aloud; "an' sits jist like himsel', wi' a wee stoop i' the saiddle an' ilka noo an' than a swing o' his haill boady back, as gien some thoucht had set him straucht. Gien the fractious brute wad but brak a bane or two o' him!" she went on in growing anger. "The impidence o' the fallow! He has his leave; what for disna he tak it an' gang? But oot o' this gang he sail. To ca' a man like mine a heepocreet 'cause he wadna' procleem till a haill market ilka secritfau't o' the horse he had to sell! Haith! he cam' upo' the wrang side o' the sheet to play the lord and maister here; an' that I can tell him."

The mare was fresh, and the roads through the policy hard both by nature and by frost, so that he could not let her go, and had enough to do with her. He turned, therefore, toward the sea-gate, and soon reached the shore. There, westward of the Seaton where the fisher-folk lived, the sand lay smooth, flat and wet along the edge of the receding tide. He gave Kelpie the rein, and she sprang into a wild gallop, every now and then flinging her heels as high as her rider's head. But finding, as they approached the stony level from which rose the great rock called the Bored Craig, that he could not pull her up in time, he turned her head toward the long dune of sand which, a little beyond the tide, ran parallel with the shore. It was dry and loose, and the ascent steep. Kelpie's hoofs sank at every step, and when she reached the top, with widespread struggling haunches and "nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim," he had her in hand. She stood panting, yet pawing and dancing, and making the sand fly in all directions.

Suddenly a woman with a child in her arms rose, as it seemed to Malcolm, under Kelpie's very head. She wheeled and reared, and in wrath or in terror strained every nerve to unseat her rider, while, whether from faith or despair, the woman stood still as a statue, staring at the struggle.

"Haud awa' a bit, Lizzy!" cried Malcolm. "She's a mad brute, an' I mayna be able to haud her. Ye hae the bairnie, ye see."

She was a young woman, with a sad white face. To what Malcolm said she paid no heed, but stood with her child in her arms and gazed at Kelpie as she went on plunging and kicking about on the top of the dune.

"I reckon ye wadna care though the she-devil knockit oot yer brains; but ye hae the bairn, woman; hae mercy on the bairn an' rin to the boddom."

"I want to speyk to ye, Ma'colm MacPhail," she said in a tone whose very stillness revealed a depth of trouble.

"I doobt I canna hearken to ye richt the noo?" said Malcolm. "But bide a wee." He swung himself from Kelpie's back, and, hanging hard on the bit with one hand, searched with the other in the pocket of his coat, saying as he did so, "Sugar, Kelpie! sugar!"

The animal gave an eager snort, settled on her feet, and began snuffing about him. He made haste, for if her eagerness should turn to impatience, she would do her endeavor to bite him. After crunching three or four lumps she stood pretty quiet, and Malcolm must make the best of it.

"Noo, Lizzy," he said hurriedly, "speak while ye can."

"Ma'colm," said the girl — and looked him full in the face for a moment, for agony had overcome shame: then her gaze sought the far horizon, which to seafaring people is as the hills whence cometh their aid to the people who dwell among mountains — "Ma'colm, he's gaein' to merry Leddy Florimel."

Malcolm started. Could the girl have learned more concerning his sister than had yet reached himself? A fine watching over her was his, truly! But who was this he?

Lizzy had never uttered the name of the father of her child, and all her people knew was that he could not be a fisherman, for then he would have married her before the child was born. But Malcolm had had a suspicion from the first, and now her words all but confirmed it. And was that fellow going to marry his sister? He turned white with dismay, then red with anger, and stood speechless.

But he was quickly brought to himself by a sharp pinch under the shoulderblade from Kelpie's long teeth: he had forgotten her, and she had taken the advantage.

"Wha tellt ye that, Lizzy?" he said.

"I'm no at leeberty to say, Ma'colm, but I'm sure it's true, an' my hert's like to brak."

"Puir lassie!" said Malcolm, whose own trouble had never at any time rendered him insensible to that of others.

"But is't onybody 'at kens what he says?" he pursued.

"Weel, I dinna jist richtly ken gien she kens, but I think she maun hae gude rizzon, or she wadna say as she says. Oh me! me! my bairnie 'll be scornin' me sair whan he comes to ken. Ma'colm, ye're the only ane 'at disna luik doon upo' me, an' whan ye cam ower the tap o' the Boar's tail it was like an angel in a fire-flaucht, an' something inside me said, Tell 'im, tell 'im; an' sae I bude to tell ye."

Malcolm was even too simple to feel flattered by the girl's confidence, though to be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.

"Hearken, Lizzy!" he said. "I canna e'en think wi' this brute ready ilka meenute to ate me up: I maun tak her hame. Efter that, gien ye wad like to tell me onything, I s' be at yer service. Bide aboot here, or — luik ye, here's the key o' yon door — come throu' that intill the park — throu' 'aneth the toll-ro'd, ye ken. There ye'll get into the lythe (lee) wi' the bairnie, an' I'll be wi' ye in a quarter o' an hoor. It'll tak' me but five meenutes to gang hame. Stoat 'll pit up the mere, an' I'll be back — I can du't in ten meenutes."

"Eh! dinna hurry for me, Ma'colm: I'm no worth it," said Lizzy.

But Malcolm was already at full speed along the top of the dune.

"Lord preserve 's!" cried Lizzy when she saw him clear the brass swivel. "Sic a laad as that is! Eh, he maun hae a richt lass to lo'e him some day! It's a' ane to him, boat or beast. He wadna turn frae the deil himsel'. An' syne he's jist as saft 's a deuk's neck whan he speyks till a wuman or a bairn — ay, or an auld man aither."

And, full of trouble as it was about another, Lizzy's heart yet ached at the thought that she should be so unworthy of one like him.