MoboReader > Literature > Warlock o' Glenwarlock

   Chapter 2 THE KITCHEN.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 19575

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

He entered the wide kitchen, paved with large slabs of slate. One brilliant gray-blue spot of sunlight lay on the floor. It came through a small window to the east, and made the peat-fire glow red by the contrast. Over the fire, from a great chain, hung a three-legged pot, in which something was slowly cooking. Between the fire and the sun-spot lay a cat, content with fate and the world. At the corner of the fire sat an old lady, in a chair high-backed, thick-padded, and covered with striped stuff. She had her back to the window that looked into the court, and was knitting without regarding her needles. This was Cosmo's grandmother. The daughter of a small laird in the next parish, she had started in life with an overweening sense of her own importance through that of her family, nor had she lived long enough to get rid of it. I fancy she had clung to it the more that from the time of her marriage nothing had seemed to go well with the family into which she had married. She and her husband had struggled and striven, but to no seeming purpose; poverty had drawn its meshes closer and closer around them. They had but one son, the present laird, and he had succeeded to an estate yet smaller and more heavily encumbered. To all appearance he must leave it to Cosmo, if indeed he left it, in no better condition. From the growing fear of its final loss, he loved the place more than any of his ancestors had loved it, and his attachment to it had descended yet stronger to his son.

But although Cosmo the elder wrestled and fought against encroaching poverty, and with little success, he had never forgot small rights in anxiety to be rid of large claims. What man could he did to keep his poverty from bearing hard on his dependents, and never master or landlord was more beloved. Such being his character and the condition of his affairs, it is not very surprising that he should have passed middle age before thinking seriously of marriage. Nor did he then fall in love, in the ordinary sense of the phrase; he reflected with himself that it would be cowardice so far to fear poverty as to run the boat of the Warlocks aground, and leave the scrag end of a property and a history without a man to take them up, and possibly bear them on to redemption; for who could tell what life might be in the stock yet! Anyhow, it would be better to leave an heir to take the remnant in charge, and at least carry the name a generation farther, even should it be into yet deeper poverty than hitherto. A Warlock could face his fate. Thereupon, with a sense of the fitness of things not always manifested on such occasions, he had paid his addresses to a woman of five and thirty, the daughter of the last clergyman of the parish, and had by her been accepted with little hesitation. She was a capable and brave woman, and, fully informed of the state of his affairs, married him in the hope of doing something to help him out of his difficulties. A few pounds she had saved up, and a trifle her mother had left her, she placed unreservedly at his disposal, and he in his abounding honesty spent it on his creditors, bettering things for a time, and, which was of much more consequence, greatly relieving his mind, and giving the life in him a fresh start. His marriage was of infinitely more salvation to the laird than if it had set him free from all his worldly embarrassments, for it set him growing again-and that is the only final path out of oppression.

Whatever were the feelings with which he took his wife home, they were at least those of a gentleman; and it were a good thing indeed, if, at the end of five years, the love of most pairs who marry for love were equal to that of Cosmo Warlock to his middle-aged wife; and now that she was gone, his reverence for her memory was something surpassing. From the day almost of his marriage the miseries of life lost half their bitterness, nor had it returned at her death. Instinctively he felt that outsiders, those even who respected him as an honest man, believed that, somehow or other, they could only conjecture how, he must be to blame for the circumstances he was in-either this, or providence did not take care of the just man. Such was virtually the unuttered conclusion of many, who nevertheless imagined they understood the Book of Job, and who would have counted Warlock's rare honesty, pride or fastidiousness or unjustifiable free-handedness. Hence they came to think and speak of him as a poor creature, and soon the man, through the keen sensitiveness of his nature, became aware of the fact. But to his sense of the misprision of neighbours and friends, came the faith and indignant confidence of his wife like the closing and binding up and mollifying of a wound with ointment. The man was of a far finer nature than any of those who thus judged him, of whom some would doubtless have got out of their difficulties sooner than he-only he was more honorable in debt than they were out of it. A woman of strong sense, with an undeveloped stratum of poetry in the heart of it, his wife was able to appreciate the finer elements of his nature; and she let him see very plainly that she did. This was strength and a lifting up of the head to the husband, who in his youth had been oppressed by the positiveness, and in his manhood by the opposition, of his mother, whom the neighbours regarded as a woman of strength and faculty. And now, although, all his life since, he had had to fight the wolf as constantly as ever, things, even after his wife's death, continued very different from what they had been before he married her; his existence looked a far more acceptable thing seen through the regard of his wife than through that of his neighbours. They had been five years married before she brought him an heir to his poverty, and she lived five years more to train him-then, after a short illness, departed, and left the now aging man virtually alone with his little child, coruscating spark of fresh vitality amidst the ancient surroundings. This was the Cosmo who now, somewhat sore at heart from the result of his cogitations, entered the kitchen in search of his kind.

Another woman was sitting on a three-legged stool, just inside the door, paring potatoes-throwing each, as she cut off what the old lady, watching, judged a paring far too thick, into a bowl of water. She looked nearly as old as her mistress, though she was really ten years younger. She had come with the late mistress from her father's house, and had always taken, and still took her part against the opposing faction-namely the grandmother.

A second seat-not over easy, but comfortable enough, being simply a wide arm-chair of elm, with a cushion covered in horse-hair, stood at the opposite corner of the fire. This was the laird's seat, at the moment, as generally all the morning till dinner-time, empty: Cosmo, not once looking up, walked straight to it, diagonally across the floor, and seated himself like one verily lost in thought. Now and then, as she peeled, Grizzie would cast a keen glance at him out of her bright blue eyes, round whose fire the wrinkles had gathered like ashes: those eyes were sweet and pleasant, and the expression of her face was one of lovely devotion; but otherwise she was far from beautiful. She gave a grim smile to herself every time she glanced up at him from her potatoes, as much as to say she knew well enough what he was thinking, though no one else did. "He'll be a man yet!" she said to herself.

The old lady also now and then looked over her Stocking at the boy, where he sat with his back to the white deal dresser, ornate with homeliest dishes.

"It'll be lang or ye fill that chair, Cossie, my man!" she said at length,-but not with the smile of play, rather with the look of admonition, as if it was the boy's first duty to grow in breadth in order to fill the chair, and restore the symmetry of the world.

Cosmo glanced up, but did not speak, and presently was lost again in the thoughts from which his grandmother had roused him as one is roused by a jolt on the road.

"What are you dreaming about, Cossie?" she said again, in a tone wavering but imperative.

Her speech was that of a gentlewoman of the old time, when the highest born in Scotland spoke Scotch.

Not yet did Cosmo reply. Reverie does not agree well with manners, but it would besides have been hard for him to answer the old lady's question-not that he did not know something at least of what was going on in his mind, but that, he knew instinctively, it would have sounded in her ears no hair better than the jabber of Jule Sandy.

"Mph!" she said, offended at his silence; "Ye'll hae to learn manners afore ye're laird o' Glenwarlock, young Cosmo!"

A shadow of indignation passed over Grizzie's rippled, rather than wrinkled face, but she said nothing. There was a time to speak and a time to be silent; nor was Grizzie indebted to Solomon, but to her own experience and practice, for the wisdom of the saw. Only the pared potatoes splashed louder in the water as they fell. And the old lady knew as well what that meant, as if the splashes had been articulate sounds from the mouth of the old partisan.

The boy rose, and coming forward, rather like one walking in his sleep, stood up before his grandmother, and said,

"What was ye sayin', gran'mamma?"

"I was sayin' what ye wadna hearken till, an that's enouch," she answered, willing to show offence.

"Say 't again, gran'mamma, if you please. I wasna noticin'."

"Na! Is' warran' ye frae noticin'! There ye winna gang, whaur yer ain fule fancy does na lead the w'y. Cosmo, by gie ower muckle tether to wull thoucht, an' someday ye'll be laid i' the dub, followin' what has naither sense intil't, nor this warl's

gude. -What was ye thinkin' aboot the noo?-Tell me that, an' Is' lat ye gang."

"I was thinkin' aboot the burnie, gran'mamma."

"It wad be tellin' ye to lat the burnie rin, an' stick to yer buik, laddie!"

"The burnie wull rin, gran'mamma, and the buik 'ill bide," said

Cosmo, perhaps not very clearly understanding himself.

"Ye're gettin' on to be a man, noo," said his grandmother, heedless of the word of his defence, "an' ye maun learn to put awa' bairnly things. There's a heap depen'in' upo' ye, Cosmo. Ye'll be the fift o' the name i' the family, an' I'm feart ye may be the last. It's but sma' honour, laddie, to ony man to be the last; an' gien ye dinna gaither the wit ye hae, and du the best ye can, ye winna lang be laird o' Glenwarlock. Gien it wasna for Grizzie there, wha has no richt to owerhear the affairs o' the family, I micht think the time had come for enlichtenin' ye upo' things it's no shuitable ye should gang ignorant o'. But we'll put it aff till a mair convenient sizzon, atween oor ain twa lanes."

"An' a mair convanient spokesman, I houp, my leddy," said Grizzie, deeply offended.

"An' wha sud that be?" rejoined her mistress.

"Ow, wha but the laird himsel'?" answered Grizzie, "Wha's to come atween father an' son wi' licht upo' family-affairs? No even the mistress hersel' wad hae prezhunt upo' that?"

"Keep your own place, Grizzie," said the old lady with dignity.

And Grizzie, who, had gone farther in the cause of propriety, than propriety itself could justify, held her peace. Only the potatoes splashed yet louder in the bowl. Her mistress sat grimly silent, for though she had had the last word and had been obeyed, she was rebuked in herself. Cosmo, judging the specialty of the interview over, turned and went back to his father's chair; but just as he was seating himself in it, his father appeared in the doorway.

The form was that of a tall, thin man, a little bent at the knees and bowed in the back, who yet carried himself with no small dignity, cloaked in an air of general apology-as if he would have said, "I am sorry my way is not yours, for I see very well how wrong you must think it." He wore large strong shoes-I think a description should begin with the feet rather than the head-fit for boggy land; blue, ribbed, woollen stockings; knee-breeches of some home-made stuff: all the coarser cloth they wore, and they wore little else, was shorn from their own sheep, and spun, woven, and made at home; an old blue dress coat with bright buttons; a drab waistcoat which had once been yellow; and to crown all, a red woollen nightcap, hanging down on one side with a tassel.

"Weel, Grizzie!" he said, in a gentle, rather sad voice, as if the days of his mourning were not yet ended, "I'm ower sune the day!"

He never passed Grizzie without greeting her, and Grizzie's devotion to him was like that of slave and sister mingled.

"Na, laird," she answered, "ye can never be ower sune for yer ain fowk, though ye may be for yer ain stamack. The taties winna be lang bilin' the day. They're some sma'."

"That's because you pare them so much, Grizzie," said the grandmother.

Grizzie vouchsafed no reply.

The moment young Cosmo saw whose shadow darkened the doorway, he rose in haste, and standing with his hand upon the arm of the chair, waited for his father to seat himself in it. The laird acknowledged his attention with a smile, sat down, and looked like the last sitter grown suddenly old. He put out his hand to the boy across the low arm of the chair, and the boy laid his hand in his father's, and so they remained, neither saying a word. The laird leaned back, and sat resting. All were silent.

Notwithstanding the oddity of his dress, no one who had any knowledge of humanity could have failed to see in Cosmo Warlock, the elder, a high bred gentleman. His face was small, and the skin of it was puckered into wrinkles innumerable; his mouth was sweet, but he had lost his teeth, and the lips had fallen in; his chin, however, was large and strong; while his blue eyes looked out from under his narrow high forehead with a softly piercing glance of great gentleness and benignity. A little gray hair clustered about his temples and the back of his head-the red nightcap hid the rest. There was three days' growth of gray beard on his chin, for NOW THAT HE HAD NOBODY, he would say, he had not the heart to shave every morning.

For some time he sat looking straight before him, smiling to his mother's hands as they knitted, she casting on him now and then a look that seemed to express the consciousness of blame for not having made a better job of him, or for having given him too much to do in the care of himself. For neither did his mother believe in him farther than that he had the best possible intentions in what he did, or did not do. At the same time she never doubted he was more of a man than ever his son would be, seeing they had such different mothers.

"Grizzie," said the laird, "hae ye a drappy o' soor milk? I'm some dry."

"Ay, that hae I, sir!" answered Grizzie with alacrity, and rising went into the darker region behind the kitchen, whence presently she emerged with a white basin full of rich milk-half cream, it was indeed. Without explanation or apology she handed it to her master, who received and drank it off.

"Hoots, woman!" he said, "ye wad hae me a shargar (A SKIN-AND-BONE

CALF)! That's no soor milk!"

"I'm vexed it's no to yer taste, laird!" returned Grizzie coolly, "but I hae nane better."

"Ye tellt me ye had soor milk," said the laird-without a particle of offence, rather in the tone of apology for having by mistake made away with something too good for him.

"Weel, laird," replied Grizzie, "it's naething but the guidman's milk; an' gien ye dinna ken what's guid for ye at your time o' life, it's weel there sud be anither 'at does. What has a man o' your 'ears to du drinkin' soor milk-eneuch to turn a' soor thegither i' the inside o' ye! It's true I win' ye weel a sma' bairn i' my leddy's airms-

"Ye may weel du that!" interrupted her mistress.

"I wasna weel intil my teens, though, my leddy!" returned Grizzie. "An' I'm sure," she added, in revenge for the insinuation as to her age, "it wad ill become ony wuman to grudge a man o' the laird's stan'in a drap o' the best milk in's ain cellar!"

"Who spoke of refusing it to him?" said his mother.

"Ye spak yersel' sic an' siclike," answered Grizzie.

"Hoots, Grizzie! haud yer tongue, my wuman," said the laird, in the gentlest tone, yet with reproof in it. "Ye ken weel it's no my mother wad grudge me the milk ye wad gie me. It was but my'sel' 'at didna think mysel' worthy o' that same, seein' it's no a week yet sin' bonny Hawkie dee'd!"

"An' wad ye hae the Lord's anintit depen' upo' Hawkie?" cried

Grizzie with indignation.

The contest went no farther, and Grizzie had had the best of it, as none knew better than she. In a minute or two the laird rose and went out, and Cosmo went with him.

Before Cosmo's mother died, old Mrs. Warlock would have been indignant at the idea of sitting in the kitchen, but things had combined to bring her to it. She found herself very lonely seated in state in the drawing-room, where, as there was no longer a daughter-in-law to go and come, she learned little or nothing of what was doing about the place, and where few that called cared to seek her out, for she had never been a favourite with the humbler neighbours. Also, as time went on, and the sight of money grew rarer and rarer, it became more desirable to economize light in the winter. They had not come to that with firing, for, as long as there were horses and intervals of less labour on the farm, peats were always to be had-though at the same time, the drawing-room could not be made so warm as the kitchen. But for light, even for train-oil to be burned in the simplest of lamps, money had to be paid-and money was of all ordinary things the seldomest seen at Castle Warlock. From these operative causes it came by degrees, that one winter, for the sake of company, of warmth, of economy, Mistress Warlock had her chair carried to the kitchen; and the thing once done, it easily and naturally grew to a custom, and extended itself to the summer as well; for she who had ceased to stand on ceremony in the winter, could hardly without additional loss of dignity reascend her pedestal only because it was summer again. To the laird it was a matter of no consequence where he sat, ate, or slept. When his wife was alive, wherever she was, that was the place for him; when she was gone, all places were the same to him. There was, besides, that in the disposition of the man which tended to the homely:-any one who imagines that in the least synonymous with the coarse, or discourteous, or unrefined, has yet to understand the essentials of good breeding. Hence it came that the other rooms of the house were by degrees almost neglected. Both the dining-room and drawing-room grew very cold, cold as with the coldness of what is dead; and though he slept in the same part of the house by choice, not often did the young laird enter either. But he had concerning them, the latter in particular, a notion of vastness and grandeur; and along with that, a vague sense of sanctity, which it is not quite easy to define or account for. It seems however to have the same root with all veneration for place-for if there were not a natural inclination to venerate place, would any external reason make men capable of it? I think we shall come at length to feel all places, as all times and all spaces, venerable, because they are the outcome of the eternal nature and the eternal thought. When we have God, all is holy, and we are at home.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top