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   Chapter 1 CASTLE WARLOCK.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 17150

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


A rough, wild glen it was, to which, far back in times unknown to its annals, the family had given its name, taking in return no small portion of its history, and a good deal of the character of its individuals. It lay in the debatable land between highlands and lowlands; most of its inhabitants spoke both Scotch and Gaelic; and there was often to be found in them a notable mingling of the chief characteristics of the widely differing Celt and Teuton. The country produced more barley than wheat, more oats than barley, more heather than oats, more boulders than trees, and more snow than anything. It was a solitary, thinly peopled region, mostly of bare hills, and partially cultivated glens, each with its small stream, on the banks of which grew here and there a silver birch, a mountain ash, or an alder tree, but with nothing capable of giving much shade or shelter, save cliffy banks and big stones. From many a spot you might look in all directions and not see a sign of human or any other habitation. Even then however, you might, to be sure, most likely smell the perfume-to some nostrils it is nothing less than perfume-of a peat fire, although you might be long in finding out whence it came; for the houses, if indeed the dwellings could be called houses, were often so hard to be distinguished from the ground on which they were built, that except the smoke of fresh peats were coming pretty freely from the wide-mouthed chimney, it required an experienced eye to discover the human nest. The valleys that opened northward produced little; there the snow might some years be seen lying on patches of oats yet green, destined now only for fodder; but where the valley ran east and west, and any tolerable ground looked to the south, there things put on a different aspect. There the graceful oats would wave and rustle in the ripening wind, and in the small gardens would lurk a few cherished strawberries, while potatoes and peas would be tolerably plentiful in their season.

Upon a natural terrace in such a slope to the south, stood Castle Warlock. But it turned no smiling face to the region whence came the warmth and the growth. A more grim, repellant, unlovely building would be hard to find; and yet, from its extreme simplicity, its utter indifference to its own looks, its repose, its weight, and its gray historical consciousness, no one who loved houses would have thought of calling it ugly. It was like the hard-featured face of a Scotch matron, suggesting no end of story, of life, of character: she holds a defensive if not defiant face to the world, but within she is warm, tending carefully the fires of life. Summer and winter the chimneys of that desolate-looking house smoked; for though the country was inclement, and the people that lived in it were poor, the great, sullen, almost unhappy-looking hills held clasped to their bare cold bosoms, exposed to all the bitterness of freezing winds and summer hail, the warmth of household centuries: their peat-bogs were the store-closets and wine-cellars of the sun, for the hoarded elixir of physical life. And although the walls of the castle, as it was called, were so thick that in winter they kept the warmth generated within them from wandering out and being lost on the awful wastes of homeless hillside and moor, they also prevented the brief summer heat of the wayfaring sun from entering with freedom, and hence the fires were needful in the summer days as well-at least at the time my story commences, for then, as generally, there were elderly and aged people in the house, who had to help their souls to keep their bodies warm.

The house was very old. It had been built for more kinds of shelter than need to be thought of in our days. For the enemies of our ancestors were not only the cold, and the fierce wind, and the rain, and the snow; they were men also-enemies harder to keep out than the raging storm or the creeping frost. Hence the more hospitable a house could be, the less must it look what it was: it must wear its face haughty, and turn its smiles inward. The house of Glenwarlock, as it was also sometimes called, consisted of three massive, narrow, tall blocks of building, which showed little connection with each other beyond juxtaposition, two of them standing end to end, with but a few feet of space between, and the third at right angles to the two. In the two which stood end to end, and were originally the principal parts, hardly any windows were to be seen on the side that looked out into the valley; while in the third, which, though looking much of the same age, was of later build, were more windows, but none in the lowest story. Narrow as were these buildings, and four stories high, they had a solid, ponderous look, suggesting a thickness of the walls such as to leave little of a hollow within for the indwellers-like great marine shells for a small mollusk. On the other side was a kind of a court, completed by the stables and cowhouses, and towards this court were most of the windows-many of them for size more like those in the cottages around, than suggestive of a house built by the lords of the soil. The court was now merely that of a farmyard.

There must have been at one time outer defences to the castle, but they were no longer to be distinguished by the inexperienced eye; and indeed the windowless walls of the house itself seemed strong enough to repel any attack without artillery-except indeed the assailants had got into the court. There were however some signs of the windows there having been enlarged if not increased at a later period.

In the block that stood angle-wise to the rest, was the kitchen, the door of which opened immediately on the court; and behind the kitchen, in that part which had no windows to the valley, was the milk-cellar, as they called the dairy, and places for household storage. A rough causeway ran along the foot of the walls, connecting the doors in the different blocks. Of these, the kitchen door for the most part stood open: sometimes the snow would be coming fast down the wide chimney, with little soft hisses in the fire, and the business of the house going on without a thought of closing it, though from it you could not have seen across the yard for the falling flakes.

But when my story opens, the summer held the old house and the older hills in its embrace. The sun was pouring torrents of light and heat into the valley, and the slopes of it were covered with green. The bees were about, contenting themselves with the flowers, while the heather was getting ready its bloom for them, and a boy of fourteen was sitting in a little garden that lay like a dropped belt of beauty about the feet of the grim old walls. This was on the other side-that to the south, parting the house from the slope where the corn began-now with the ear half-formed. The boy sat on a big stone, which once must have had some part in the house itself, or its defences, but which he had never known except as a seat for himself. His back leaned against the hoary wall, and he was in truth meditating, although he did not look as if he were. He was already more than an incipient philosopher, though he could not yet have put into recognizable shape the thought that was now passing through his mind. The bees were the primary but not the main subject of it. It came thus: he thought how glad the bees would be when their crop of heather was ripe; then he thought how they preferred the heather to the flowers; then, that the one must taste nicer to them than the other; and last awoke the question whether their taste of sweet was the same as his. "For," said he, "if their honey is sweet to them with the same sweetness with which it is sweet to me, then there is something in the make of the bee that's the same with the make of me; and perhaps then a man might some day, if he wanted, try the taste of being a bee all out for a little while." But to see him, nobody would have thought he was doing anything but basking in the sun. The scents of the flowers all about his feet came and went on the eddies of the air, paying my lord many a visit in his antechamber, his brain; the windy noises of the insects, the watery noises of the pigeons, the noises from the poultry yard, the song of the mountain river, visited, him also through the portals of his ears; but at the moment, the boy seemed lost in the mere fundamental satisfaction of existence.

Neither, although broad summer was on the earth, and all the hill-tops, and as much of the valleys as their shadows did not hide,

were bathed in sunlight, although the country was his native land, and he loved it with the love of his country's poets, was the consciousness of the boy free from a certain strange kind of trouble connected with, if not resulting from the landscape before him. A Celt through many of his ancestors, and his mother in particular, his soul, full of undefined emotion, was aware of an ever recurring impulse to song, ever checked and broken, ever thrown back upon itself. There were a few books in the house, amongst them certain volumes of verse-a copy of Cowly, whose notable invocation of Light he had instinctively blundered upon; one of Milton; the translated Ossian; Thomson's Seasons-with a few more; and from the reading of these, among other results, had arisen this-that, in the midst of his enjoyment of the world around him, he found himself every now and then sighing after a lovelier nature than that before his eyes. There he read of mountains, if not wilder, yet loftier and more savage than his own, of skies more glorious, of forests of such trees as he knew only from one or two old engravings in the house, on which he looked with a strange, inexplicable reverence: he would sometimes wake weeping from a dream of mountains, or of tossing waters. Once with his waking eyes he saw a mist afar off, between the hills that ramparted the horizon, grow rosy after the sun was down, and his heart filled as with the joy of a new discovery. Around him, it is true, the waters rushed well from their hills, but their banks had little beauty. Not merely did the want of trees distress him, but the nature of their channel; most of them, instead of rushing through rocks, cut their way only through beds of rough gravel, and their bare surroundings were desolate without grandeur-almost mean to eyes that had not yet pierced to the soul of them. Nor had he yet learned to admire the lucent brown of the bog waters. There seemed to be in the boy a strain of some race used to a richer home; and yet all the time the frozen regions of the north drew his fancy tenfold more than Italy or Egypt.

His name was Cosmo, a name brought from Italy by one of the line who had sold his sword and fought for strangers. Not a few of the younger branches of the family had followed the same evil profession, and taken foreign pay-chiefly from poverty and prejudice combined, but not a little in some cases from the inborn love of fighting that seems to characterize the Celt. The last soldier of them had served the East India Company both by sea and land: tradition more than hinted that he had chiefly served himself. Since then the heads of the house had been peaceful farmers of their own land, contriving to draw what to many farmers nowadays would seem but a scanty subsistence from an estate which had dwindled to the twentieth part of what it had been a few centuries before, though even then it could never have made its proprietor rich in anything but the devotion of his retainers.

Growing too hot between the sun and the wall, Cosmo rose, and passing to the other side of the house beyond the court-yard, and crossing a certain heave of grass, came upon one unfailing delight in his lot-a preacher whose voice, inarticulate, it is true, had, ever since he was born, been at most times louder in his ear than any other. It was a mountain stream, which, through a channel of rock, such as nearly satisfied his most fastidious fancy, went roaring, rushing, and sometimes thundering, with an arrow-like, foamy swiftness, down to the river in the glen below. The rocks were very dark, and the foam stood out brilliant against them. From the hill-top above, it came, sloping steep from far. When you looked up, it seemed to come flowing from the horizon itself, and when you looked down, it seemed to have suddenly found it could no more return to the upper regions it had left too high behind it, and in disgust to shoot headlong to the abyss. There was not much water in it now, but plenty to make a joyous white rush through the deep-worn brown of the rock: in the autumn and spring it came down gloriously, dark and fierce, as if it sought the very centre, wild with greed after an absolute rest.

The boy stood and gazed, as was his custom. Always he would seek this endless water when he grew weary, when the things about him put on their too ordinary look. Let the aspect of this be what it might, it seemed still inspired and sent forth by some essence of mystery and endless possibility. There was in him an unusual combination of the power to read the hieroglyphic internal aspect of things, and the scientific nature that bows before fact. He knew that the stream was in its second stage when it rose from the earth and rushed past the house, that it was gathered first from the great ocean, through millions of smallest ducts, up to the reservoirs of the sky, thence to descend in snows and rains, and wander down and up through the veins of the earth; but the sense of its mystery had not hitherto begun to withdraw. Happily for him, the poetic nature was not merely predominant in him, but dominant, sending itself, a pervading spirit, through the science that else would have stifled him. Accepting fact, he found nothing in its outward relations by which a man can live, any more than by bread; but this poetic nature, illuminating it as with the polarized ray, revealed therein more life and richer hope. All this was as yet however as indefinite as it was operative in him, and I am telling of him what he could not have told of himself.

He stood gazing now in a different mood from any that had come to him before: he had begun to find out something fresh about this same stream, and the life in his own heart to which it served as a revealing phantasm. He recognized that what in the stream had drawn him from earliest childhood, with an infinite pleasure, was the vague sense, for a long time an ever growing one, of its MYSTERY-the form the infinite first takes to the simplest and liveliest hearts. It was because it was ALWAYS flowing that he loved it, because it could not stop: whence it came was utterly unknown to him, and he did not care to know. And when at length he learned that it came flowing out of the dark hard earth, the mystery only grew. He imagined a wondrous cavity below in black rock, where it gathered and gathered, nobody could think how-not coming from anywhere else, but beginning just there, and nowhere beyond. When, later on, he had to shift its source, and carry it back to the great sky, it was no less marvellous, and more lovely; it was a closer binding together of the gentle earth and the awful withdrawing heavens. These were a region of endless hopes, and ever recurrent despairs: that his beloved, an earthly finite thing, should rise there, was added joy, and gave a mighty hope with respect to the unknown and appalling. But from the sky, he was sent back to the earth in further pursuit; for, whence came the rain, his books told him, but from the sea? That sea he had read of, though never yet beheld, and he knew it was magnificent in its might; gladly would he have hailed it as an intermediate betwixt the sky and the earth-so to have the sky come first! but, alas! the ocean came first in order. And then, worse and worse! how was the ocean fed but from his loved torrent? How was the sky fed but from the sea? How was the dark fountain fed but from the sky? How was the torrent fed but from the fountain? As he sat in the hot garden, with his back against the old gray wall, the nest of his family for countless generations, with the scent of the flowers in his nostrils, and the sound of the bees in his ears, it had begun to dawn upon him that he had lost the stream of his childhood, the mysterious, infinite idea of endless, inexplicable, original birth, of outflowing because of essential existence within! There was no production any more, nothing but a mere rushing around, like the ring-sea of Saturn, in a never ending circle of formal change! Like a great dish, the mighty ocean was skimmed in particles invisible, which were gathered aloft into sponges all water and no sponge; and from this, through many an airy, many an earthy channel, deflowered of its mystery, his ancient, self-producing fountain to a holy merry river, was FED-only FED! He grew very sad, and well he might. Moved by the spring eternal in himself, of which the love in his heart was but a river-shape, he turned away from the deathened stream, and without knowing why, sought the human elements about the place.

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