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   Chapter 39 THE SHADOW OF DEATH.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 13240

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Every step Cosmo took after leaving the village, was like a revelation and a memory in one. When he turned out of the main road, the hills came rushing to meet and welcome him, yet it was only that they stood there changeless, eternally the same, just as they had been: that was the welcome with which they met the heart that had always loved them.

When first he opened his eyes, they were as the nursing arms the world spread out to take him; and now, returning from the far countries where they were unknown, they spread them out afresh to receive him home. The next turn was home itself, for that turn was at the base of the ridge on which the castle stood.

The moment he took it, a strange feeling of stillness came over him, and as he drew nearer, it deepened. When he entered the gate of the close, it was a sense, and had grown almost appalling. With sudden inroad his dream returned! Was the place empty utterly? Was there no life in it? Not yet had he heard a sound; there was no sign from cow-house or stable. A cart with one wheel stood in the cart-shed; a harrow lay, spikes upward, where he had hollowed the mound of snow. The fields themselves had an unwonted, a haggard sort of look. A crop of oats was ripening in that nearest the close, but they covered only the half of it: the rest was in potatoes, and amongst them, sole show of labour or life, he saw Aggie: she was pulling the PLUMS off their stems. The doors were shut all round the close-all but the kitchen-door; that stood as usual wide open. A sickening fear came upon Cosmo: it was more than a week since he had heard from home! In that time his father might be dead, and therefore the place be so desolate! He dared not enter the house. He would go first into the garden, and there pray, and gather courage.

He went round the kitchen-tower, as the nearest block was called, and made for his old seat, the big, smooth stone. Some one was sitting there, with his head bent forward on his knees! By the red night-cap it must be his father, but how changed the whole aspect of the good man! His look was that of a worn-out labourer-one who has borne the burden and heat of the day, and is already half asleep, waiting for the night. Motionless as a statue of weariness he sat; on the ground lay a spade which looked as if it had dropped from his hand as he sat upon the stone; and beside him on that lay his Marion's Bible. Cosmo's heart sank within him, and for a moment he stood motionless.

But the first movement he made forward, the old man lifted his head with an expectant look, then rose in haste, and, unable to straighten himself, hurried, stooping, with short steps, to meet him. Placing his hands on his son's shoulders, he raised himself up, and laid his face to his; then for a few moments they were silent, each in the other's arms.

The laird drew back his head and looked his son in the face. A heavenly smile crossed the sadness of his countenance, and his wrinkled old hand closed tremulous on Cosmo's shoulder.

"They canna tak frae me my son!" he murmured-and from that time rarely spoke to him save in the mother-tongue.

Then he led him to the stone, where there was just room enough for two that loved each other, and they sat down together.

The laird put his hand on his son's knee, as, when a boy, Cosmo used to put his on his father's.

"Are ye the same, Cosmo?" he asked. "Are ye my ain bairn?"

"Father," returned Cosmo, "gien it be possible, I loe ye mair nor ever. I'm come hame to ye, no to lea' ye again sae lang as ye live. Gien ye be in ony want, I s' better 't gien I can, an' share 't ony gait. Ay, I may weel say I'm the same, only mair o' 't."

"The Lord's name be praist!" murmured the laird. "-But du ye loe

HIM the same as ever, Cosmo?" again he asked.

"Father, I dinna loe him the same-I loe him a heap better. He kens noo 'at he may tak his wull o' me. Naething' at I ken o' comes 'atween him an' me."

The old man raised his arm, and put it round his boy's shoulders: he was not one of the many Scotch fathers who make their children fear more than love them.

"Then, Lord, let me die in peace," he said, "for mine eyes hae seen thy salvation!-But ye dinna luik freely the same, Cosmo!-Hoo is 't?"

"I hae come throuw a heap, lately, father," answered Cosmo. "I hae been ailin' in body, an' sair harassed in hert. I'll tell ye a' aboot it, whan we hae time-and o' that we'll hae plenty, I s' warran', for I tell ye I winna lea' ye again; an' gien ye had only latten me ken ye was failin', I wad hae come hame lang syne. It was sair agen the grain 'at I baid awa'."

"The auld sudna lie upo' the tap o' the yoong, Cosmo, my son."

"Father, I wad willin'ly be a bed to ye to lie upo', gien that wad ease ye; but I'm thinkin' we baith may lie saft upo' the wull o' the great Father, e'en whan that's hardest."

"True as trowth!" returned the laird. "-But ye're luikin' some tired-like, Cosmo!"

"I AM some tired, an' unco dry. I wad fain hae a drink o' milk."

The old man's head dropped again on his bosom, and so for the space of about a minute he sat. Then he lifted it up, and said, looking with calm clear eyes in those of his son,

"I winna greit, Cosmo; I'll say YET, the will o' the Lord be dune, though it be sair upo' me the noo, whan I haena a drap o' milk aboot the place to set afore my only-begotten son whan he comes hame to me frae a far country!-Eh, Lord! whan yer ain son cam hame frae his sair warstle an' lang sojourn amo' them 'at kenned na him nor thee, it wasna til an auld shabby man he cam hame, but til the Lord o' glory an' o' micht! An' whan we a' win hame til the Father o' a', it'll be to the leevin' stren'th o' the universe.-Cosmo, the han' o' man's been that heavy upo' me 'at coo efter coo's gane frae me, an' the last o' them, bonny Yally, left only thestreen. Ye'll hae to drink cauld watter, my bairn!"

Again the old man's heart overcame him; his head sank, and he murmured,-"Lord, I haena a drap o' milk to gie my bairn-me 'at wad gie 'im my hert's bluid! But, Lord, wha am I to speyk like that to thee, wha didst lat thine ain poor oot his verra sowl's bluid for him an' me!"

"Father," said Cosmo, "I can du wi' watter as weel's onybody. Du ye think I'm nae mair o' a man nor to care what I pit intil me? Gien ye be puirer nor ever, I'm prooder nor ever to share wi' ye. Bide ye here, an' I'll jist rin an' get a drink, an' come back to ye."

"Na; I maun gang wi' ye, man," answered the laird, rising. "Grizzie's a heap taen up wi' yer gran'mither. She's been weirin' awa' this fortnicht back. She's no in

pain, the Lord be praised! an' she'll never ken the straits her hoose is com till! Cosmo, I hae been a terrible cooard-dreidin' day an' nicht yer hame-comin', no submittin' 'at ye sud see sic a broken man to the father o' ye! But noo it's ower, an' here ye are, an' my hert's lichter nor it's been this mony a lang!"

Cosmo's own sorrow drew back into the distance from before the face of his father's, and he felt that the business, not the accident of his life, must henceforth be to support and comfort him. And with that it was as if a new well of life sprung up suddenly in his being.

"Father," he said, "we'll haud on thegither i' the stret ro'd.

There's room for twa abreist in't-ance ye're in!"

"Ay! ay!" returned the laird with a smile; "that's the bonniest word ye cud hae come hame wi' til me! We maun jist perk up a bit, an' be patient, that patience may hae her perfe't wark. I s' hae anither try-an' weel I may, for the licht o' my auld e'en is this day restored til me!"

"An' sae gran'mother's weirin awa', father!"

"To the lan' o' the leal, laddie."

"Wull she ken me?"

"Na, she winna ken ye; she'll never ken onybody mair i' this warl'; but she'll ken plenty whaur she's gaein'!"

He rose, and they walked together towards the kitchen. There was nobody there, but they heard steps going to and fro in the room above. The laird made haste, but before he could lay his hand on a vessel, to get for Cosmo the water he so much desired, Grizzie appeared on the stair, descending. She hurried down, and across the floor to Cosmo, and seizing him by the hand, looked him in the face with the anxiety of an angel-hen. Her look said what his father's voice had said just before-"Are ye a' there-a' 'at there used to be?"

"Hoo's gran'mamma?" asked Cosmo.

"Ow, duin' weel eneuch, sir-weirin awa' bonny. She has naither pang nor knowledge o' sorrow to tribble her. The Lord grant the sowls o' 's a' sic anither lowsin'!"

"Hae ye naething better nor cauld watter to gie 'im a drink o',

Grizzie, wuman?" asked the laird, but in mere despair.

"Nae 'cep he wad condescen' til a grainie meal intil 't," returned Grizzie mournfully, and she looked at him again, with an anxious deprecating look now, as if before the heir she was ashamed of the poverty of the house, and dreaded blame."-But laird, "she resumed, turning to her master, "ye hae surely a drap o' something i' yer cellar! Weel I wat ye hae made awa' wi' nane o' 't yersel!"

"Weel, there ye wat wrang, Grizzie, my bonny wuman!" replied the laird, with the flicker of a humourous smile on his wrinkled face, "for I sellt the last bottle oot o' 't a month ago to Stronach o' the distillery. I thought it cudna du muckle ill there, for it wadna make his nose sae reid as his ain whusky. Whaur, think ye, wad the sma' things ye wantit for my mother hae come frae, gien I hadna happent to hae that property left? We're weel taen care o', ye see, Grizzie! That WAD hae tried my faith, to hae my mother gang wi'oot things! But he never suffers us to be tried ayont what we're able to beir; an' sae lang as my faith hauds the grup, I carena for back nor belly! Cosmo, I can bide better 'at ye sud want. Ye're mair like my ain nor even my mother, an' sae we bide it thegither. It maun be 'cause ye're pairt o' my Mar'on as weel 's o' mysel'. Eh, man! but this o' faimilies is a won'erfu' Godlike contrivance! Gien he had taen ony ither w'y o' makin' fowk, whaur wad I hae been this day wantin' you, Cosmo?"

While he spoke, Cosmo was drinking the water Grizzie had brought him-with a little meal on the top of it-the same drink he used to give his old mare, now long departed to the place prepared for her, when they were out spending the day together.

"There's this to be said for the watter, father," he remarked, as he set down the wooden bowl in which Grizzie had thought proper to supply it, "that it comes mair direc' frae the han' o' God himsel'-maybe nor even the milk. But I dinna ken; for I doobt organic chemistry maun efter a' be nearer his han' nor inorganic! Ony gait, I never drank better drink; an' gien ae day he but saitisfee my sowl's hunger efter his richteousness as he has this minute saitisfeed my body's drowth efter watter, I s' be a happier man nor ever sat still ohn danced an' sung."

"It's an innocent cratur' at gies thanks for cauld watter-I hae aye remarkit that!" said Grizzie. "But I maun awa' to my bairn up the stair; an' may it please the Lord to lift her or lang, for they maun be luikin for her yont the burn by this time. Whan she wauks i' the mornin', the' 'ill be nae mair scornin'!"

This was Grizzie's last against her mistress. The laird took no notice of it: he knew Grizzie's devotion, and, well as he loved his mother, could not but know also that there was some ground for her undevised couplet.

Scarcely a minute had passed when the voice of the old woman came from the top of the stair, calling aloud and in perturbation,

"Laird! laird! come up direc'ly. Come up, lairds baith! She's comin' til hersel'!"

They hastened up, Cosmo helping his father, and approached the bed together.

With smooth, colourless face, unearthly to look upon, the old lady lay motionless, her eyes wide open, looking up as if they saw something beyond the tester of the bed, her lips moving, but uttering no sound. At last came a murmur, in which Cosmo's ears alone were keen enough to discern the articulation.

"Mar'on, Mar'on," she said, "ye're i' the lan' o' forgiveness! I hae dune the lad no ill. He'll come hame to ye nane the waur for ony words o' mine. We're no' a' made sae guid to begin wi' as yersel', Mar'on!"

Here her voice became a mere murmur, so far as human ears could distinguish, and presently ceased. A minute or so more and her breathing grew intermittent. After a few long respirations, at long intervals, it stopped.

"She'll be haein' 't oot wi' my ain mistress or lang!" remarked

Grizzie to herself as she closed her eyes.

"Mother! mother!" cried the laird, and kneeled by the bedside. Cosmo kneeled also, but no word of the prayers that ascended was audible. The laird was giving thanks that another was gone home, and Cosmo was praying for help to be to his father a true son, such as the Son of Man was to the Father of Man. They rose from their knees, and went quietly down the stair; and as they went from the room, they heard Grizzie say to herself,

"She's gang whaur there's mair-eneuch an' to spare!"

The remains of Lady Joan's ten pounds was enough to bury her.

They invited none, but all the village came to her funeral.

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