The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter LIX

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter LIX
by George MacDonald

CHAPTER LIX.

THE PEACEMAKER.

The heroes of Scaurnose expected a renewal of the attack, and in greater force, the next day, and made their preparations accordingly, strengthening every weak point around the village. They were put in great heart by Malcolm's espousal of their cause, as they considered his punishment of the factor; but most of them set it down in their wisdom as resulting from the popular condemnation of his previous supineness. It did not therefore add greatly to his influence with them. When he would have prevailed upon them to allow Blue Peter to depart, arguing that they had less right to prevent than the factor had to compel him, they once more turned upon him: what right had he to dictate to them? he did not belong to Scaurnose. He reasoned with them that the factor, although he had not justice, had law on his side, and could turn out whom he pleased. They said, "Let him try it!" He told them that they had given great provocation, for he knew that the men they had assaulted came surveying for a harbor, and that they ought at least to make some apology for having maltreated them. It was all useless: that was the women's doing, they said; besides, they did not believe him; and if what he said was true, what was the thing to them, seeing they were all under notice to leave? Malcolm said that perhaps an apology would be accepted. They told him if he did not take himself off they would serve him as he had served the factor. Finding expostulation a failure, therefore, he begged Joseph and Annie to settle themselves again as comfortably as they could, and left them.

Contrary to the expectation of all, however, and considerably to the disappointment of the party of Dubs, Fite Folp and the rest, the next day was as peaceful as if Scaurnose had been a halycon nest floating on the summer waves; and it was soon reported that in consequence of the punishment he had received from Malcolm the factor was far too ill to be troublesome to any but his wife. This was true, but, severe as his chastisement was, it was not severe enough to have had any such consequences but for his late growing habit of drinking whiskey. As it was, fever had followed upon the combination of bodily and mental suffering. But already it had wrought this good in him, that he was far more keenly aware of the brutality of the offence of which he had been guilty than he would otherwise have been all his life through. To his wife, who first learned the reason of Malcolm's treatment of him from his delirious talk in the night, it did not, circumstances considered, appear an enormity, and her indignation with the avenger of it, whom she had all but hated before, was furious. Malcolm, on his part, was greatly concerned to hear the result of his severity. He refrained, however, from calling to inquire, knowing it would be interpreted as an insult, not accepted as a sign of sympathy. He went to the doctor instead, who, to his consternation, looked very serious at first. But when he learned all about the affair, he changed his view considerably, and condescended to give good hopes of his coming through, even adding that it would lengthen his life by twenty years if it broke him of his habits of whiskey-drinking and rage.

And now Malcolm had a little time of leisure, which he put to the best possible use in strengthening his relations with the fishers. For he had nothing to do about the house except look after Kelpie; and Florimel, as if determined to make him feel that he was less to her than before, much as she used to enjoy seeing him sit his mare, never took him out with her — always Stoat. He resolved therefore, seeing he must yet delay action a while in the hope of the appearance of Lenorme, to go out as in the old days after the herring, both for the sake of splicing, if possible, what strands had been broken between him and the fishers, and of renewing for himself the delights of elemental conflict. With these views he hired himself to the Partan, whose boat's crew was short-handed. And now, night after night, he revelled in the old pleasure, enhanced by so many months of deprivation. Joy itself seemed embodied in the wind blowing on him out of the misty infinite while his boat rocked and swung on the waters, hanging between two worlds — that in which the wind blew, and that other dark-swaying mystery whereinto the nets to which it was tied went away down and down, gathering the harvest of the ocean. It was as if nature called up all her motherhood to greet and embrace her long-absent son. When it came on to blow hard, as it did once and again during those summer nights, instead of making him feel small and weak in the midst of the storming forces, it gave him a glorious sense of power and unconquerable life. And when his watch was out, and the boat lay quiet, like a horse tethered and asleep in his clover-field, he too would fall asleep with a sense of simultaneously deepening and vanishing delight such as he had not at all in other conditions experienced. Ever since the poison had got into his system, and crept where it yet lay lurking in hidden corners and crannies, a noise at night would on shore startle him awake, and set his heart beating hard; but no loudest sea-noise ever woke him: the stronger the wind flapped its wings around him, the deeper he slept. When a comrade called him by name he was up at once and wide awake.

It answered also all his hopes in regard to his companions and the fisher-folk generally. Those who had really known him found the same old Malcolm, and those who had doubted him soon began to see that at least he had lost nothing in courage or skill or good-will: ere long he was even a greater favorite than before. On his part, he learned to understand far better the nature of his people, as well as the individual characters of them, for his long (but not too long) absence and return enabled him to regard them with unaccustomed, and therefore in some respects more discriminating, eyes.

Duncan's former dwelling happening to be then occupied by a lonely woman, Malcolm made arrangements with her to take them both in; so that in relation to his grandfather too something very much like the old life returned for a time — with this difference, that Duncan soon began, to check himself as often as the name of his hate with its accompanying curse rose to his lips.

The factor continued very ill. He had sunk into a low state, in which his former indulgence was greatly against him. Every night the fever returned, and at length his wife was worn out with watching and waiting upon him.

And every morning Lizzy Findlay without fail called to inquire how Mr. Crathie had spent the night. To the last, while quarrelling with every one of her neighbors with whom he had anything to do, he had continued kind to her, and she was more grateful than one in other trouble than hers could have understood. But she did not know that an element in the origination of his kindness was the belief that it was by Malcolm she had been wronged and forsaken.

Again and again she had offered, in the humblest manner, to ease his wife's burden by sitting with him at night; and at last, finding she could hold up no longer, Mrs. Crathie consented. But even after a week she found herself still unable to resume the watching, and so, night after night, resting at home during a part of the day, Lizzy sat by the sleeping factor, and when he woke ministered to him like a daughter. Nor did even her mother object, for sickness is a wondrous reconciler. Little did the factor suspect, however, that it was partly for Malcolm's sake she nursed him, anxious to shield the youth from any possible consequences of his righteous vengeance.

While their persecutor lay thus, gradually everything at Scaurnose, and consequently at the Seaton, lapsed into its old way, and the summer of such content as before they had possessed returned to the fishers. I fear it would have proved hard for some of them, had they made effort in that direction, to join in the prayer — if prayer it may be called — put up in church for him every Sunday. What a fearful canopy the prayers that do not get beyond the atmosphere would make if they turned brown with age! Having so lately seen the factor going about like a maniac, raving at this piece of damage and that heap of dirt, the few fishers present could never help smiling when Mr. Cairns prayed for him as "the servant of God and his Church now lying grievously afflicted — persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." Having found the fitting phrases, he seldom varied them.

Through her sorrow Lizzy had grown tender, as through her shame she had grown wise. That the factor had been much in the wrong only rendered her anxious sympathy the more eager to serve him. Knowing so well what it was to have done wrong, she was pitiful over him, and her ministrations were none the less devoted that she knew exactly how Malcolm thought and felt about him; for the affair having taken place in open village and wide field and in the light of mid-day, and having been reported by eye-witnesses many, was everywhere perfectly known, and Malcolm therefore talked of it freely to his friends — among them both to Lizzy and her mother.

Sickness sometimes works marvellous changes, and the most marvellous on persons who to the ordinary observer seem the least liable to change. Much apparent steadfastness of nature, however, is but sluggishness, and comes from incapacity to generate change or contribute toward personal growth; and it follows that those whose nature is such can as little prevent or retard any change that has its initiative beyond them. The men who impress the world as the mightiest are those often who can the least — never those who can the most in their natural kingdom; generally those whose frontiers lie openest to the inroads of temptation, whose atmosphere is most subject to moody changes and passionate convulsions, who, while perhaps they can whisper laws to a hemisphere, can utter no decree of smallest potency as to how things shall be within themselves. Place Alexander ille magnus beside Malcolm's friend Epictetus, ille servorum servus — take his crutch from the slave and set the hero upon his Bucephalus, but set them alone and in a desert — which will prove the great man? which the unchangeable? The question being what the man himself shall or shall not be, shall or shall not feel, shall or shall not recognize as of himself and troubling the motions of his being, Alexander will prove a mere earth-bubble, Epictetus a cavern in which pulses the tide of the eternal and infinite Sea.

But then first when the false strength of the self-imagined great man is gone, when the want or the sickness has weakened the self-assertion which is so often mistaken for strength of individuality, when the occupations in which he formerly found a comfortable consciousness of being have lost their interest, his ambitions their glow and his consolations their color, when suffering has wasted away those upper strata of his factitious consciousness, and laid bare the lower, simpler, truer deeps, of which he has never known or has forgotten the existence, then there is a hope of his commencing a new and real life. Powers then, even powers within himself, of which he knew nothing, begin to assert themselves, and the man commonly reported to possess a strong will is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. This factor, this man of business, this despiser of humbug, to whom the scruples of a sensitive conscience were a contempt, would now lie awake in the night and weep. "Ah!" I hear it answered, "but that was the weakness caused by his illness." True; but what then had become of his strength? And was it all weakness? What if this weakness was itself a sign of returning life, not of advancing death — of the dawn of a new and genuine strength? For he wept because in the visions of his troubled brain he saw once more the cottage of his father the shepherd, with all its store of lovely nothings round which the nimbus of sanctity had gathered while he thought not of them; wept over the memory of that moment of delight when his mother kissed him for parting with his willow whistle to the sister who cried for it: he cried now in his turn, after five-and-fifty years, for not yet had the little fact done with him, nor yet had the kiss of his mother lost its power on the man; wept over the sale of the pet lamb, though he had himself sold thousands of lambs since; wept over even that bush of dusty miller by the door, like the one he trampled under his horse's feet in the little yard at Scaurnose that horrible day. And oh that nest of wild bees with it's combs of honey unspeakable! He used to laugh and sing then: he laughed still sometimes — he could hear how he laughed, and it sounded frightful — but he never sang. Were the tears that honored such childish memories all of weakness? Was it cause of regret that he had not been wicked enough to have become impregnable to such foolish trifles? Unable to mount a horse, unable to give an order, not caring even for his toddy, he was left at the mercy of his fundamentals: his childhood came up and claimed him, and he found the childish things he had put away better than the manly things he had adopted. It is one thing for Saint Paul and another for Mr. Worldly Wiseman to put away childish things. The ways they do it, and the things they substitute, are both so different! And now first to me, whose weakness it is to love life more than manners, and men more than their portraits, the man begins to grow interesting. Picture the dawn of innocence on a dull, whiskey-drinking, commonplace soul, stained by self-indulgence and distorted by injustice! Unspeakably more interesting and lovely is to me such a dawn than the honeymoon of the most passionate of lovers, except indeed I know them such lovers that their love will outlast all the moons.

"I'm a poor creature, Lizzy," he said, turning his heavy face one midnight toward the girl as she sat half-dozing, ready to start awake.

"God comfort ye, sir!" said the girl.

"He'll take good care of that," returned the factor. "What did I ever do to deserve it? There's that MacPhail, now — to think of him! Didn't I do what man could for him? Didn't I keep him about the place when all the rest were dismissed? Didn't I give him the key of the library, that he might read and improve his mind? And look what comes of it!"

"Ye mean, sir," said Lizzy, quite innocently, "'at that's the w'y ye ha'e dune wi' God, an' sae he winna heed ye?"

The factor had meant nothing in the least like it. He had merely been talking as the imps of suggestion tossed up. His logic was as sick and helpless as himself. So at that he held his peace, stung in his pride at least — perhaps in his conscience too, only he was not prepared to be rebuked by a girl like her, who had —— Well, he must let it pass: how much better was he himself?

But Lizzy was loyal: she could not hear him speak so of Malcolm and hold her peace as if she agreed in his condemnation.

"Ye'll ken Ma'colm better some day, sir," she said.

"Well, Lizzy," returned the sick man, in a tone that but for feebleness would have been indignant, "I have heard a good deal of the way women will stand up for men that have treated them cruelly, but you to stand up for him passes!"

"He's the best friend I ever had," said Lizzy.

"Girl! how can you sit there, and tell me so to my face?" cried the factor, his voice strengthened by the righteousness of the reproof it bore. "If it were not the dead of the night ——"

"I tell ye naething but the trowth, sir," said Lizzy, as the contingent threat died away. "But ye maun lie still or I maun gang for the mistress. Gien ye be the waur the morn, it 'll be a' my wyte, 'cause I cudna bide to hear sic things said o' Ma'colm."

"Do ye mean to tell me," persisted her charge, heedless of her expostulation, "that the fellow who brought you to disgrace, and left you with a child you could ill provide for — and I well know never sent you a penny all the time he was away, whatever he may have done now — is the best friend you ever had?"

"Noo God forgie ye, Maister Crathie, for threipin' sic a thing!" cried Lizzy, rising as if she would leave him. "Ma'colm MacPhail 's as clear o' ony sin like mine as my wee bairnie itsel'."

"Do ye daur tell me he's no the father o' that same, lass?"

"No; nor never will be the father o' ony bairn whose mither 's no his wife!" said Lizzy, with burning cheeks but resolute voice.

The factor, who had risen on his elbow to look her in the face, fell back in silence, and neither of them spoke for what seemed to the watcher a long time. When she ventured to look at him, he was asleep.

He lay in one of those troubled slumbers into which weakness and exhaustion will sometimes pass very suddenly; and in that slumber he had a dream which he never forgot. He thought he had risen fron his grave with an awful sound in his ears, and knew he was wanted at the judgment-seat. But he did not want to go, therefore crept into the porch of the church and hoped to be forgotten. But suddenly an angel appeared with a flaming sword, and drove him out of the churchyard away to Scaurnose, where the Judge was sitting. And as he fled in terror before the angel he fell, and the angel came and stood over him, and his sword flashed torture into his bones, but he could not and dared not rise. At last, summoning all his strength, he looked up at him and cried out, "Sir, hae mercy, for God's sake!" Instantly all the flames drew back into the sword, and the blade dropped, burning like a brand from the hilt, which the angel threw away. And lo! it was Malcolm MacPhail, and he was stooping to raise him. With that he awoke, and there was Lizzy looking down on him anxiously. "What are you looking like that for?" he asked crossly.

She did not like to tell him that she had been alarmed by his dropping asleep, and in her confusion she fell back on the last subject. "There maun be some mistak, Mr. Crathie," she said. "I wuss ye wad tell me what gars ye hate Ma'colm MacPhail as ye du."

The factor, although he seemed to himself to know well enough, was yet a little puzzled how to commence his reply; and therewith a process began that presently turned into something with which never in his life before had his inward parts been acquainted — a sort of self-examination, to wit. He said to himself, partly in the desire to justify his present dislike — he would not call it hate, as Lizzy did — that he used to get on with the lad well enough, and had never taken offence at his freedoms, making no doubt his manner came out of his blood, and he could not help it, being a chip of the old block; but when he ran away with the marquis's boat, and went to the marchioness and told her lies against him, then what could he do but — dislike him?

Arrived at this point, he opened his mouth and gave the substance of what preceded it for answer to Lizzy's question. But she replied at once: "Nobody 'ill gar me believe, sir, 'at Ma'colm MacPhail ever tellt a lee again' you or onybody. I dinna believe he ever tellt a lee in 's life. Jist ye exem' him weel anent it, sir. An' for the boat, nae doobt it was makin' free to tak it; but ye ken, sir, 'at hoo he was maister o' the same. It was in his chairge, an' ye ken little aboot boats yersel' or the sailin' o' them, sir."

"But it was me that engaged him again after all the servants at the House had been dismissed: he was my servant."

"That maks the thing luik waur, nae doobt," allowed Lizzy, with something of cunning. "Hoo was 't 'at he cam to du 't ava' (of all at all), sir? Can ye min'?" she pursued.

"I discharged him."

"An' what for, gien I may mak bold to speir, sir?" she went on.

"For insolence."

"Wad ye tell me hoo he answert ye? Dinna think me meddlin', sir: I'm clear certain there's been some mistak. Ye cudna be sae guid to me an' be ill to him, ohn some mistak."

It was consoling to the conscience of the factor, in regard of his behavior to the two women, to hear his own praise for kindness from a woman's lips. He took no offence, therefore, at her persistent questioning, but told her as well and as - truly as he could remember, with no more than the all but unavoidable exaggeration with which feeling will color fact, the whole passage between Malcolm and himself concerning the sale of Kelpie, and closed with an appeal to the judgment of his listener, in which he confidently anticipated her verdict: "A most ridic'lous thing! ye can see yersel' as weel's onybody, Lizzy. An' sic a thing to ca' an honest man like mysel' a hypocreet for! ha! ha! ha! There's no a bairn atween John o' Groat's an' the Lan's En' disna ken 'at the seller o' a horse is b'un' to reese (extol) him, an' the buyer to tak 'care o' himsel'. I'll no say it's jist allooable to tell a doonricht lee, but ye may come full nearer till't in horse-dealin', ohn sinned, nor in ony ither kin' o' merchandeze. It's like luve an' war, in baith which, it's weel kenned, a' thing's fair. The saw sud rin, Luve an' war an' horse-dealin — Div-na ye see, Lizzy?"

But Lizzy did not answer, and the factor, hearing a stifled sob, started to his elbow.

"Lie still, sir!" said Lizzy. "It's naething. I was only jist thinkin' 'at that wad be the w'y 'at the father o' my bairn rizzoned wi' himsel' whan he lee'd to me."

"Hey!" said the astonished factor, and in his turn held his peace, trying to think. Now, Lizzy for the last few months had been going to school — the same school with Malcolm, open to all comers— the only school where one is sure to be led in the direction of wisdom — and there she had been learning to some purpose, as plainly appeared before she had done with the factor.

"Whase kirk are ye elder o', Maister Crathie?" she asked presently.

"Ow, the Kirk o' Scotlan', of coorse," answered the patient, in some surprise at her ignorance.

"Ay, ay," returned Lizzy; "but whase aucht (owning, property) is 't?"

"Ow, whase but the Redeemer's?"

"An' div ye think, Mr. Crathie, 'at gien Jesus Christ had had a horse to sell, he wad hae hidden frae him 'at wad buy ae hair o' a fau't 'at the beast hed? Wad he no hae dune till's neiper as he wad hae his neiper du to him?"

"Lassie! lassie! tak care hoo ye even him to sic-like as hiz (us). What wad he hae to du wi' horseflesh?"

Lizzy held her peace. Here was no room for argument. He had flung the door of his conscience in the face of her who woke it. But it was too late, for the word was in already. Oh that false reverence which men substitute for adoring obedience, and wherewith they reprove the childlike spirit that does not know another kingdom than that of God and that of mammon! God never gave man thing to do concerning which it were irreverent to ponder how the son of God would have done it.

But, I say, the word was in, and, partly no doubt from its following so close upon the dream the factor had had, was potent in its operation. He fell a-thinking, and a-thinking more honestly than he had thought for many a day. And presently it was revealed to him that, if he were in the horse-market wanting to buy, and a man there who had to sell said to him, "He wadna du for you, sir: ye wad be tired o' 'im in a week," he would never remark, "What a fool the fellow is!" but, "Weel, noo, I ca' that neiborly!" He did not get quite so far just then as to see that every man to whom he might want to sell a horse was as much his neighbor as his own brother; nor, indeed, if he had got as far, would it have indicated much progress in honesty, seeing he would at any time, when needful and possible, have cheated that brother in the matter of a horse as certainly as he would a Patagonian or Chinaman. But the warped glass of a bad maxim had at least been cracked in his window.

The peacemaker sat in silence the rest of the night, but the factor's sleep was broken, and at times he wandered. He was not so well the next day, and his wife, gathering that Lizzy had been talking, and herself feeling better, would not allow her to sit up with him any more.

Days and days passed, and still Malcolm had no word from Lenorme, and was getting hopeless in respect to that quarter of possible aid. But so long as Florimel could content herself with the quiet of Lossie House, there was time to wait, he said to himself. She was not idle, and that was promising. Every day she rode out with Stoat. Now and then she would make a call in the neighborhood, and, apparently to trouble Malcolm, took care to let him know that on one of these occasions her call had been upon Mrs. Stewart. One thing he did feel was, that she made no renewal of her friendship with his grandfather: she had, alas! outgrown the girlish fancy. Poor Duncan took it much to heart. She saw more of the minister and his wife — who both flattered her — than anybody else, and was expecting the arrival of Lady Bellair and Lord Liftore with the utmost impatience. They, for their part, were making the journey by the easiest possible stages, tacking and veering, and visiting every one of their friends that lay between London and Lossie: they thought to give Florimel the little lesson that, though they accepted her invitation, they had plenty of friends in the world besides her ladyship, and were not dying to see her.

One evening Malcolm, as he left the grounds of Mr. Morrison, on whom he had been calling, saw a travelling-carriage pass toward Portlossie, and something liker fear laid hold of his heart than he had ever felt except when Florimel and he on the night of the storm took her father for Lord Gernon the wizard. As soon as he reached certain available fields, he sent Kelpie tearing across them, dodged through a fir wood, and came out on the road half a mile in front of the carriage: as again it passed him he saw that his fears were facts, for in it sat the bold-faced countess and the mean-hearted lord. Something must be done at last, and until it was done good watch must be kept.

I must here note that during this time of hoping and waiting Malcolm had attended to another matter of importance. Over every element influencing his life, his family, his dependants, his property, he desired to possess a lawful, honest command: where he had to render account he would be head. Therefore, through Mr. Soutar's London agent, to whom he sent up Davy, and whom he brought acquainted with Merton and his former landlady at the curiosity-shop, he had discovered a good deal about Mrs. Catanach from her London associates, among them the herb-doctor and his little boy who had watched Davy; and he had now almost completed an outline of evidence which, grounded on that of Rose, might be used against Mrs. Catanach at any moment. He had also set inquiries on foot in the track of Caley's antecedents, and had discovered more than the acquaintance between her and Mrs. Catanach. Also he had arranged that Hodges, the man who had lost his leg through his cruelty to Kelpie, should leave for Duff Harbor as soon as possible after his discharge from the hospital. He was determined to crush the evil powers which had been ravaging his little world.