The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter V

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The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter V
by George MacDonald



From the sands she saw him gain the turnpike road with a bound and a scramble. Crossing it, he entered the park by the sea-gate: she had to enter it by the tunnel that passed under the same road. She approached the grated door, unlocked it and looked in with a shudder. It was dark, the other end of it being obscured by trees and the roots of the hill on whose top stood the Temple of the Winds. Through the tunnel blew what seemed quite another wind — one of death — from regions beneath. She drew her shawl, one end of which was rolled about her baby, closer around them both ere she entered. Never before had she set foot within the place, and a strange horror of it filled her. She did not know that by that passage, on a certain lovely summer night, Lord Meikleham had issued to meet her on the sands under the moon. The sea was not terrible to her — she knew all its ways nearly as well as Malcolm knew the moods of Kelpie — but the earth and its ways were less known to her, and to turn her face toward it and enter by a little door into its bosom was like a visit to her grave. But she gathered her strength, entered with a shudder, passed in growing hope and final safety through it, and at the other end came out again into the light, only the cold of it seemed to cling to her still. But the day had grown colder: the clouds that, seen or unseen, ever haunt the winter sun, had at length caught and shrouded him, and through the gathering vapor he looked ghastly. The wind blew from the sea. The tide was going down. There was snow in the air. The thin, leafless trees were all bending away from the shore, and the wind went sighing, hissing, and almost wailing, through their bare boughs and budless twigs. There would be storm, she thought, ere the morning, but none of their people were out. Had there been — well, she had almost ceased to care about anything, and her own life was so little to her now that she had become less able to value that of other people. To this had the ignis fatuus of a false love brought her. She had dreamed heedlessly, to wake sorrowfully. But not until she heard he was going to be married had she come right awake, and now she could dream no more. Alas! alas! what claim had she upon him? How could she tell, since such he was, what poor girl like herself she might not have, robbed of her part in him? Yet even in the midst of her misery and despair it was some consolation to think that Malcolm was her friend.

Not knowing that he had already suffered from the blame of her fault, or the risk at which he met her, she would have gone toward the house to meet him the sooner, had not this been a part of the grounds where she knew Mr. Crathie tolerated no one without express leave given. The fisher-folk in particular must keep to the road by the other side of the burn, to which the sea-gate admitted them. Lizzy therefore lingered near the tunnel, afraid of being seen.

Mr. Crathie was a man who did well under authority, but upon the top of it was consequential, overbearing, and far more exacting than the marquis. Full of his employer's importance when he was present, and of his own when he was absent, he was yet, in the latter circumstance, so doubtful of its adequate recognition by those under him that he had grown very imperious, and resented with indignation the slightest breach of his orders. Hence he was in no great favor with the fishers. Now, all the day he had been fuming over Malcolm's behavior to him in the morning, and when he went home and learned that his wife had seen him upon Kelpie as if nothing had happened, he became furious, and in this possession of the devil was at the present moment wandering about the grounds, brooding on the words Malcolm had spoken. He could not get rid of them. They caused an acrid burning in his bosom, for they had in them truth, like which no poison stings.

Malcolm, having crossed by the great bridge at the house, hurried down the western side of the burn to find Lizzy, and soon came upon her, walking up and down. "Eh, lassie, ye maun be cauld?" he said.

"No that cauld," she answered, and with the words burst into tears. "Naebody says a kin' word to me noo," she said in excuse, "an' I canna weel bide the soun' o' ane whan it comes: I'm no used till 't"

"Naebody?" exclaimed Malcolm.

"Na, naebody," she answered. "My mither winna, my father daurna, an' the bairnie canna, an' I gang near naebody forbye."

"Weel, we maunna stan' oot here i' the cauld: come this gait," said Malcolm. "The bairnie 'ill get its deid."

"There wadna be mony to greit at that," returned Lizzy, and pressed the child closer to her bosom.

Malcolm led the way to the little chamber contrived under the temple in the heart of the hill, and unlocking the door made her enter. There he seated her in a comfortable chair, and wrapped her in the plaid he had brought for the purpose. It was all he could do to keep from taking her in his arms for very pity, for, both body and soul, she seemed too frozen to shiver.

He shut the door, sat down on the table near her, and said, "There's naebody to disturb 's here, Lizzy; what wad ye say to me noo?"

The sun was nearly down, and its light already smothered in clouds, and the little chamber, whose door and window were in the deep shadow of the hill, was nearly dark.

"I wadna hae ye tell me onything ye promised no to tell," resumed Malcolm, finding she did not reply, "but I wad like to hear as muckle as ye can say."

"I hae naething to tell ye, Ma'colm, but jist 'at my Leddy Florimel's gauin' to be merried upo' Lord Meikleham — Lord Liftore, they ca' 'im noo. Hech me!"

"God forbid she sud be merried upon ony sic a bla'guard!" cried Malcolm.

"Dinna ca' 'im ill names, Ma'colm. I canna bide it, though I hae no richt to tak up the stick for him."

"I wadna say a word 'at micht fa' sair on a sair hert," he returned; "but gien ye kent a', ye wad ken I hed a gey-sized craw to pluck wi' 's lordship mysel'."

The girl gave a low cry. "Ye wadna hurt 'im, Ma'colm?" she said, in terror at the thought of the elegant youth in the clutches of an angry fisherman, even if he were the generous Malcolm MacPhail himself.

"I wad raither not," he replied, "but we maun see hoo he carries himsel'."

"Du naething till 'im for my sake, Ma'colm. Ye can hae naething again' him yersel'."

It was too dark for Malcolm to see the keen look of wistful regret with which Lizzy tried to pierce the gloom and read his face: for a moment the poor girl thought he meant he had loved her himself. But far other thoughts were in Malcolm's mind: one was that her whom, as a scarce approachable goddess, he had loved before he knew her of his own blood, he would rather see married to any honest fisherman in the Seaton of Portlossie than to such a lord as Meikleham. He had seen enough of him at Lossie House to know what he was; and puritanical, fish-catching Malcolm had ideas above those of most marquises of his day: the thought of the alliance was horrible to him. It was possibly not inevitable, however; only what could he do, and at the same time avoid grievous hurt? "I dinna think he'll ever merry my leddy," he said.

"What' gars ye say that, Ma'colm?" returned Lizzy with eagerness.

"I canna tell ye jist i' the noo, but ye ken a body canna weel be aye aboot a place ohn seen things. But I'll tell ye something o' mair consequence," he continued. "Some fowk say there's a God, an' some say there's nane, an' I hae no richt to preach to ye, Lizzy; but I maun jist tell ye this — 'at gien God dinna help them 'at cry till 'im i' the warst o' tribles, they micht jist as weel hae nae God at a'. For my ain pairt, I hae been helpit, an' I think it was him intil 't. Wi' his help a man may warstle throu' onything. I say I think it was himsel' tuik me throu' 't, an' here I stan' afore ye, ready for the neist trible, an' the help 'at 'll come wi' it. What may be God only knows."