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   Chapter 14 THE CASTLE INN.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 26981

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The noise of their approach, heard from the bottom of the ascent, within the lonely winter castle, awoke profound conjecture, and Grizzie proceeded to light the lanthern that she might learn the sooner what catastrophe could cause such a phenomenon: something awful must have taken place! Perhaps they had cut off the king's head as they did in France! But such was the rapidity of the horses' ascent in the hope of rest, and warmth, and supper, that the carriage was in the close, and rattling up to the door, ere she had got the long wick of the tallow candle to acknowledge the dominion of fire. The laird rose in haste from his arm-chair, and went to the door. There stood the chaise, in the cloud of steam that rose from the quick-heaving sides of the horses. And there were Cosmo and Agnes at the door of it, assisting somebody to descend. The laird was never in a hurry. He was too thorough a gentleman to trouble approach by uneasy advance, and he had no fear of anything Cosmo had done. He stood therefore in the kitchen door, calmly expectant.

A long-cloaked lady got down, and, turning from the assistant hand of his son, came towards him-a handsome lady, tall and somewhat stately, but weary, and probably in want of food as well as rest. He bowed with old-fashioned worship, and held out his hand to welcome her. She gave him hers graciously, and thanked him for the hospitality his son had offered them.

"Come in, come in, madam," said the old man. "The fireside is the best place for explanations. Welcome to a poor house but a warm hearth! So much we can yet offer stranger-friends."

He led the way, and she followed him into the kitchen. On a small piece of carpet before the fire, stood the two chairs of state, each protected by a large antique screen. From hers the grandmother rose with dignified difficulty, when she perceived the quality of the entering stranger.

"Mother," said the laird, "it is not often we have the pleasure of visitors at this time of the year!"

"The more is the rare foot welcome," answered she, and made Lady Joan as low a courtesy as she dared: she could not quite reckon on her power of recovery.

Lady Joan returned her salute, little impressed with the honour done her, but recognizing that she was in the presence of a gentlewoman. She took the laird's seat at his invitation, and, leaning forward, gazed wearily at the fire.

The next moment, a not very pleasant-looking old man entered, supported on one side by Cosmo and on the other by Agnes. They had had no little difficulty in waking him up, and he entered vaguely supposing they had arrived at an inn where they were to spend the night. If his grumbling and swearing as he advanced was SOTTO VOCE, the assuagement was owing merely to his not being sufficiently awake to use more vigour. The laird left the lady and advanced to meet him, but he took no notice of him, regarding his welcome as the obsequiousness of a landlord, and turned shivering towards the fire, where Grizzie was hastening to set him a chair.

"The fire's the best flooer i' the gairden, an' the pig's the best coo i' the herdin', my lord," she said-an old saw to which his lordship might have been readier to respond, had he remembered that the PIG sometimes meant the stone jar that held the whisky.

As soon as Lord Mergwain was seated, Cosmo drew his father aside, told him the names of their guests, and in what difficulty he had found them, and added that the lady and the horses were sober enough, but for the other two he would not answer.

"We have been spending some weeks at Canmore Castle in Ross-shire, and are now on our way home," said Lady Joan to Mistress Warlock.

"You have come a long way round," remarked the old lady, not so pleased with the manners of her male visitor, on whom she kept casting, every now and then, a full glance.

"We have," replied Lady Joan. "We turned out of our way to visit an old friend of papa's, and have been storm-bound till he-I mean papa-could bear it no longer. We sent our servants on this morning. They are, I hope, by this time, waiting us at Howglen."

The fire had been thawing the sleep out of Lord Mergwain, and now at length he was sufficiently awake to be annoyed that his daughter should hold so much converse with the folk of the inn.

"Can't you show us to a room?" he said gruffly, "and get us something to eat?"

"We are doing the best we can for your lordship," replied the laird. "But we were not expecting visitors, and one of the rooms you will have to occupy, has not been in use for some time. In such weather as this, it will take two or three hours of a good fire to render it fit to sleep in. But I will go myself, and see that the servant is making what haste she can."

He put on his hat over his night-cap, and made for the door.

"That's right, landlord," cried his lordship; "always see to the comfort of your guests yourself-But bless me! you don't mean we have to go out of doors to reach our bedrooms?"

"I am afraid we cannot help it," returned the laird, arresting his step. "There used to be a passage connecting the two houses, but for some reason or other-I never heard what-it was closed in my father's time."

"He must have been an old fool!" remarked the visitor.

"My lord!"

"I said your father must have been an old fool," repeated his lordship testily.

"You speak of my husband!" said Mistress Warlock, drawing herself up with dignity.

"I can't help that. I didn't give you away. Let's have some supper, will you? I want a tumbler of toddy, and without something to eat it might make me drunk."

Lady Joan sat silent, with a look half of contempt, half of mischievous enjoyment on her handsome face. She had too often to suffer from her father's rudeness not to enjoy its bringing him into a scrape. But the laird was sharper than she thought him, and seeing both the old man's condition and his mistake, humoured the joke. His mother rose, trembling with indignation. He gave her his arm, and conducted her to a stair which ascended immediately from the kitchen, whispering to her on the way, that the man was the worse of drink, and he must not quarrel with him. She retired without leave-taking. He then called Cosmo and Agnes, who were talking together in a low voice at the other end of the kitchen, and taking them to Grizzie in the spare room, told them to help her, that she might the sooner come and get the supper ready.

"I am afraid, my lord," he said, returning, "we are but poorly provided for such guests as your lordship, but we will do what we can."

"A horrible country!" growled his lordship; "but look you, I don't want jaw-I want drink."

"What drink would your lordship have? If it be in my power-"

"I doubt, for all your talk, if you've got anything but your miserable whisky!" interrupted Lord Mergwain.

Now the laird had some remnants of old wine in the once well stored cellar, and, thankless as his visitor seemed likely to turn out, his hospitality would not allow him to withhold what he had.

"I have a few bottles of claret," he said, "-if it should not be over-old!-I do not understand much about wine myself."

"Let's have it up," cried his lordship. "We'll see. If you don't know good wine, I do. I'm old enough for any wine."

The laird would have had more confidence in recommending his port, which he had been told was as fine as any in Scotland, but he thought claret safer for one in his lordship's condition-one who having drunk would drink again. He went therefore to the wine cellar, which had once been the dungeon of the castle, and brought thence a most respectable-looking magnum, dirty as a burrowing terrier, and to the eye of the imagination hoary with age. The eyes of the toper glistened at the sight. Eagerly he stretched out both hands towards it. They actually trembled with desire. Hardly could he endure the delay of its uncorking. No sooner did the fine promissory note of the discharge of its tompion reach his ear, than he cried out, with the authority of a field-officer at least:

"Decant it. Leave the last glass in the bottom."

The laird filled a decanter, and set it before him.

"Haven't you a mangum-jug?"

"No, my lord."

"Then fill another decanter, and mind the last glass."

"I have not another decanter, my lord."

"Not got two decanters, you fool?" sneered his lordship, enraged at not having the whole bottle set down to him at once. "But after all," he resumed, "it mayn't be worth a rush, not to say a decanter. Bring the bottle. Set it down. Here!-Carefully! Bring a glass. You should have brought the glasses first. Bring three; I like to change my glass. Make haste, will you!"

The laird did make haste, smiling at the exigence of his visitor. Lord Mergwain listened to the glug-glug in the long neck of the decanter as if it had been a song of love, and the moment it was over, was holding the glass to his nose.

"Humph! Not much aroma here!" he growled, "I ought to have made the old fool"-the laird must have been some fifteen years younger than he.-"set it down before the fire-only what would have become of me while it was thawing? It's no wonder though! By the time I've been buried as long, I shall want thawing too!"

The wine, however, turned out more satisfactory to the palate of the toper than to his nostrils-which in truth, so much had he drunk that day, were at present incapable of doing it justice-and he set himself to enjoy it. How that should be possible to a man for whom the accompanying dried olives of memory could do so little, I find it difficult to understand. One would think, to enjoy his wine alone, a man must have either good memories or good hopes: Lord Mergwain had forgotten the taste of hope; and most men would shrink from touching the spring that would set a single scene of such a panorama unrolling itself, as made up the past of Lord Mergwain. However there he sat, and there he drank, and, truth to tell, now and then smiled grimly.

The laird set a pair of brass candlesticks on the table-there were no silver utensils any more in the house of Glenwarlock; years ago the last of them had vanished-and retired to a wooden chair at the end of the hearth, under the lamp that hung on the wall. But on his way he had taken from a shelf an old, much-thumbed folio which Mr. Simon had lent him-the journal of George Fox, and the panorama which then for a while kept passing before his mind's eye, was not a little different from that passing before Lord Mergwain's. What a study to a spirit able to watch the unrolling of the two side by side!

In a few minutes Grizzie entered, carrying a fowl newly killed, its head almost touching the ground at the end of its long, limp neck. She seated herself on a stool, somewhere about the middle of the large space, and proceeded to pluck, and otherwise prepare it for the fire. Having, last of all, split it open from end to end, turning it into something like an illegible heraldic crest, she approached the fire, the fowl in one hand, the gridiron in the other.

"I doobt I maun get his lordship to sit a wee back frae the fire," she said. "I maun jist bran'er this chuckie for his supper."

Lady Joan had taken Mrs. Warlock's chair, and her father had taken the laird's, and pulled it right in front of the fire, where a small deal table supported his bottle, his decanter, and his three glasses.

"What does the woman mean?" said his lordship. "-Oh! I see; a spread-eagle!-But is my room not ready yet? Or haven't you one to sit in? I don't relish feasting my nose so much in advance of my other senses."

"Ow! nae fear o' yer lordship's nose,'cep' it be frae yer lordship's hose, my lord!" said Grizzie, "for I doobt ye're birstlin' yer lordship's shins! I'll tak the cratur oot to the cairt-shed, an' sing' 't there first. But 'deed I wadna advise ye to gang to yer room a minute afore ye need, for it winna be that warm the nicht. I hae made a fire 'at's baith big an' bricht, an' fit to ro'st Belzebub-an' I beg your pardon, laird-but it's some days-I micht say ooks-sin' there was a fire intil 't, an' the place needs time to tak the heat intil its auld neuks."

She might have said years not a few, instead of some weeks, but her truthfulness did not drive her so far. She turned, and left the house, carrying with her the fowl to singe.

"Here," said his lordship to his host, "move back this table and chair a bit, will you? I don't relish having the old witch fussing about my knees. What a mistake it is not to have rooms ready for whoever may come!"

The laird rose, laid his book down, and moved the table, then helped his guest to rise, moved his chair, and placed the screen again betwixt him and the door. Lord Mergwain re-settled himself to his bottle.

In the meantime, in the guest-chamber, which had for so long entertained neither friend nor stranger, Cosmo and Aggie were busy-too busy to talk much-airing the linen, dusting the furniture, setting things tidy, and keeping up a roaring fire. For this purpose the remnants of an old broken-down cart, of which the axle was anciently greasy, had been fetched from the winter-store, and the wood and peats together, with a shovelful of coal to give the composition a little body, had made a glorious glow. But the heat had hardly yet begun to affect sensibly the general atmosphere of the place. It was a large room, the same size as the drawing-room immediately unde

r it, and still less familiar to Cosmo. For, if the latter filled him with a kind of loving awe, the former caused him a kind of faint terror, so that, in truth, even in broad daylight, at no time was he willing to enter it. Now and then he would open the door in passing, and for a moment stand peering in, with a stricken, breath-bating enjoyment of the vague atmosphere of dread, which, issuing, seemed to envelope him in its folds; but to go in was too much, and he neither desired nor endured even the looking in for more than a few seconds. For so long it was to him like a page in a book of horrors: to go to the other end of it, and in particular to approach the heavily curtained bed, was more than he cared to do without cogent reason. At the same time he rejoiced to think there was such a room in the house, and attached to it an idea of measureless value-almost as if it had a mysterious window that looked out upon the infinite. The cause of this feeling was not to himself traceable. Until old Grannie's story, he had heard no tale concerning it that he remembered: he may have heard hints-a word dropped may have made its impression, and roused fancies outlasting the memory of their origin; for feelings, like memories of scents and sounds, remain, when the related facts have vanished. What it was about the room that scared him, he could not tell, but the scare was there. With a companion like Aggie, however, even after hearing Grannie's terrible reminiscence, he was able to be in the room without experiencing worse than that same milder, almost pleasant degree of dread, caused by the mere looking through the door into the strange brooding silence of the place. But, I must confess, this applies only to the space on the side of the bed next the fire. The bed itself-not to mention the shadowy region beyond it-on which the body of the pirate had lain, he could not regard without a sense of the awfully gruesome: itself looked scared at its own consciousness of the fact, and of the feeling it caused in the beholder.

[Illustration: Cosmo and Aggie Dusting]

In the strength of Aggie's presence, he was now able to take a survey of the room such as never before. Over walls, floor, and ceiling, his eyes were wandering, when suddenly a question arose on which he desired certainty: "Is there," he said to himself, "a door upo' the ither side o' the bed?"

"Did Grannie mak mention o' sic a door?" he asked himself next, and could not be certain of the answer. He gazed around him, and saw no door other than that by which they had entered, but at the head of the bed, on the other side, was a space hidden by the curtain: it might be there! When they went to put the sheets on the bed, he would learn! He dared not go till then! "Dare not!" he repeated to himself-and went at once.

He saw and trembled. It was the strangest feeling. If it was not fear, it was something very like it, but with a mixture of wondrous pleasure: there was the door! The curtains hid Aggie, and for a moment he felt as if he were miles alone, and must rush back to the refuge of her presence. But he would not yield to the folly-compelled himself to walk to the door.

Whether he was more disappointed or relieved, he could not, the first instant, have told: instead of a door, scarcely leaning against the wall, was an old dark screen, in stamped leather, from which the gilding was long faded. Disappointment and not relief was then his only sense.

"Aggie," he called, still on the farther side of the bed-he called gently, but trembled at the sound of his own voice-"did ye ever hear-did Grannie mak mention o' a door 'at the auld captain gaed oot at?"

"Whisht, whisht!" cried Aggie, in a loud hissing whisper, which seemed to pierce the marrow of Cosmo's bones, "I rede ye say nae thing aboot that i' this chaumer. Bide till we're oot o' 't: I hae near dune. Syne we'll steek the door, an' lat the fire work. It'll hae eneuch adu afore it mak the place warm; the cauld intil this room's no a coamon ane. There's something by ord'nar intil 't."

Cosmo could no longer endure having the great, old, hearse-like bed between him and Aggie. With a shiver in the very middle of his body, he hastened to the other side: there lay the country of air, and fire, and safe earthly homeliness: the side he left was the dank region of the unknown, whose march-ditch was the grave.

They hurried with the rest of their work. Aggie insisted on being at the farther side of the bed when they made it. Not another word was spoken between them, till they were safe from the room, and had closed its door behind them.

They went up to Cosmo's room, to make it something fitter for a lady's bower. Opening a certain chest, they took from it-stored there by his mother, Cosmo loved to think-another set of curtains, clean blankets, fine sheets, and a counterpane of silk patchwork, and put them all on the bed. With these, a white toilet-cover, and a chair or two from the drawing-room, they so changed the room that Cosmo declared he would not have known it. They then filled the grate with as much fuel as it would hold, and running fast down the two stairs, went again to the kitchen. At the door of it, however, Aggie gave her companion the slip, and set out to go back to her grannie at Muir o' Warlock.

Cosmo found the table spread for supper, the English lord sitting with his wine before him, and the lady in his grandmother's chair, leaning back, and yawning wearily. Lord Mergwain looked muddled, and his daughter cast on him now and then a look that had in it more of annoyance than affection. He was not now a very pleasant lord to look on, whatever he might once have been. He was red-faced and blear-eyed, and his nose, partly from the snuff which he took in large quantity, was much injured in shape and colour: a closer description the historical muse declines. His eyes had once been blue, but tobacco, potations, revellings day and night-everything but tears, had washed from them almost all the colour. It added much to the strange unpleasantness of his appearance, that he wore a jet-black wig, so that to the unnatural came the untimely, and enhanced the withered. His mouth, which was full of false teeth, very white, and ill-fitting, had a cruel expression, and Death seemed to look out every time he grinned.

As soon as he and Lady Joan were seated at the supper-table, with Grizzie to wait upon them, the laird and Cosmo left the kitchen, and went to the spare-room, for the laird judged that, in the temper and mistake her father was in, the lady would be more comfortable in their absence.

"Cosmo," he said, standing with his back to the fire, when he had again made it up, "I cannot help feeling as if I had known that man before. But I can recall no circumstances, and it may be a mere fancy. YOU have never seen him before, my boy, have you?"

"I don't think I have, papa; and I don't care if I never see him again," answered Cosmo. "The lady is pretty, but not very pleasant, I think, though she is a lord's daughter."

"Ah, but such a lord, Cosmo!" returned his father. "When a man goes on drinking like that, he is no better than a cheese under the spigot of a wine-cask; he lives to keep his body well soaked-that it may be the nicer, or the nastier for the worms. Cosmo, my son, don't you learn to drown your soul in your body, like the poor Duke of Clarence in the wine-butt."

The material part of us ought to keep growing gradually thinner, to let the soul out when its time comes, and the soul to keep growing bigger and stronger every day, until it bursts the body at length, as a growing nut does its shell; when, instead, the body grows thicker and thicker, lessening the room within, it squeezes the life out of the soul, and when such a man's body dies, his soul is found a shrivelled thing, too poor to be a comfort to itself or to anybody else. Cosmo, to see that man drink, makes me ashamed of my tumbler of toddy. And now I think of it, I don't believe it does me any good; and, just to make sure that I am in earnest, from this hour I will take no more.-"Then," he added, after a short pause, "I shall be pretty sure you will not take it."

"Oh, papa!" cried Cosmo, "take your toddy all the same: I promise you-and a Warlock will not break his word-never to taste strong drink while I live."

"I should prefer the word of a man to that of a Warlock," said his father. "A Warlock is nothing except he be a man. Some Warlocks have been men."

From that day, I may here mention, the laird drank nothing but water, much to the pleasure of Peter Simon, who was from choice a water-drinker.

"What a howling night it is, Cosmo!" he resumed. "If that poor old drinker had tried to get on to Howglen, he would have been frozen to death; when the drink is out of the drunkard, he has nothing to resist with."

By this time Lord Mergwain had had his supper, and had begun to drink again. Grizzie wanted to get rid of him, that she might "redd up" her kitchen. But he would not move. He was quite comfortable where he was, he said, and though it was the kitchen! he wouldn't stir a peg till he had finished the magnum. My lady might go when she pleased; the magnum was better company than the whole houseful!

Grizzie was on the point of losing her temper with him altogether, when the laird returned to the kitchen. He found her standing before him with her two hands on her two hips, and lingered a moment at the door to hear what she was saying.

"Na, na, my lord!" expostulated Grizzie, "I canna lea' ye here. Yer lordship'll sune be past takin' care o' yersel-no 'at ye wad be a witch at it this present! Ye wad be thinkin' ye was i' yer bed whan ye was i' the mids' o' the middin', or pu'in' the blankets o' the denk dub ower yer heid! Lord! my lord, yet micht set the hoose o' fire, an' burn a', baith stable an' byre, an' horses an' cairts, an' cairt-sheds, an' hiz a' to white aisse in oor nakit beds!"

"Hold your outlandish gibberish," returned his lordship. "Go and fetch me some whisky. This stuff is too cold to go to sleep on in such weather."

"Deil a drap or drap o' whusky, or oucht else, yer lordship's hae fra my han' this nicht-nae mair nor gien ye war a bairn 'at wantit poother to blaw himsel' up wi'! Ye hae had ower muckle a'ready, gien ye war but cawpable o' un'erstan'in', or failin' that, o' believin' an honest wuman 'at kens what state ye are in better nor ye du yersel'.-A bonny lordship!" she muttered to herself as she turned from him.

The laird thought it time to show himself, and went forward. Lord Mergwain had understood not the half of what Grizzie said; but had found sufficient provocation in the tone, and was much too angry for any articulate attempt at speech beyond swearing.

"My lord," said the laird, "I think you will find your room tolerably comfortable now: shall I have the pleasure of showing you the way?"

"No, indeed! I'm not going to stir. Fetch me a bottle of your whisky-that's pretty safe to be good."

"Indeed, my lord, you shall have no more drink to-night," said the laird, and taking the bottle, which was nearly empty, carried it from the table.

Though nearly past everything else, his guest was not yet too far gone to swear with vigour, and the volley that now came pouring from his outraged heart was such, that, for the sake of Grizzie and Cosmo, the laird took the bottle again in his hand, and said, that, if his lordship would drink it in his own room, he should have what was left of it.

Not too drunk to see where his advantage lay, Lord Mergwain yielded; the thunder of imprecation from bellowing sank to growling, then to muttering, and the storm gradually subsided. The laird gave him one arm, Cosmo another, and Grizzie came behind, ready to support or push, and so in procession they moved from the kitchen along the causeway, his lordship grumbling and slipping, hauled, carried, and shoved-through the great door, as they called it, up the stairs, past the drawing-room, and into "the muckle chaumer." There he was deposited in an easy chair, before the huge fire, and was fast asleep in a moment. Lady Joan had followed them, and while they were in her father's room, had passed up to her own, so that when they re-entered the kitchen, there was nobody there. With a sigh of relief the laird sank into his mother's. chair. After a little while, he sent Cosmo to bed, and, rejoicing in the quiet, got again the journal of George Fox, and began to read. When Grizzie had pottered about for a while, she too went to bed, and the laird was alone.

When he had read about an hour, he thought it time to see after his guest, and went to his room. He found him still asleep in his chair before the fire; but he could not be left there through such a night, for the fire would go out, and then a pack of wolves would hardly be worse than the invading cold. It was by no means an easy task to rouse him, however, and indeed remained in large measure unaccomplished-so far so, that, after with much labour and contrivance relieving him of his coat and boots, the laird had to satisfy his hospitality with getting him into bed in the remainder of his clothes. He then heaped fresh fuel on the fire, put out the candles, and left him to what repose there might be for him. Returning to his chair and his book, the laird read for another hour, and then went to bed. His room was in the same block, above that of his mother.

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