Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part III.--His Manhood
Chapter IX. The Brothers.
One day, as Falconer sat at a late breakfast, Shargar burst into his room. Falconer had not even known that he was coming home, for he had outstripped the letter he had sent. He had his arm in a sling, which accounted for his leave.
'Shargar!' cried Falconer, starting up in delight.
'Major Shargar, if you please. Give me all my honours, Robert,' said Moray, presenting his left hand.
'I congratulate you, my boy. Well, this is delightful! But you are wounded.'
'Bullet--broken--that's all. It's nearly right again. I'll tell you about it by and by. I am too full of something else to talk about trifles of that sort. I want you to help me.'
He then rushed into the announcement that he had fallen desperately in love with a lady who had come on board with her maid at Malta, where she had been spending the winter. She was not very young, about his own age, but very beautiful, and of enchanting address. How she could have remained so long unmarried he could not think. It could not be but that she had had many offers. She was an heiress, too, but that Shargar felt to be a disadvantage for him. All the progress he could yet boast of was that his attentions had not been, so far as he could judge, disagreeable to her. Robert thought even less of the latter fact than Shargar himself, for he did not believe there were many women to whom Shargar's attentions would be disagreeable: they must always be simple and manly. What was more to the point, she had given him her address in London, and he was going to call upon her the next day. She was on a visit to Lady Janet Gordon, an elderly spinster, who lived in Park-street.
'Are you quite sure she's not an adventuress, Shargar?'
'It's o' no mainner o' use to tell ye what I'm sure or no sure o', Robert, in sic a case. But I'll manage, somehoo, 'at ye sall see her yersel', an' syne I'll speir back yer ain queston at ye.'
'Weel, hae ye tauld her a' aboot yersel'?'
'No!' answered Shargar, growing suddenly pale. 'I never thocht aboot that. But I had no richt, for a' that passed, to intrude mysel' upo' her to that extent.'
'Weel, I reckon ye're richt. Yer wounds an' yer medals ought to weigh weel against a' that. There's this comfort in 't, that gin she bena richt weel worthy o' ye, auld frien', she winna tak ye.'
Shargar did not seem to see the comfort of it. He was depressed for the remainder of the day. In the morning he was in wild spirits again. Just before he started, however, he said, with an expression of tremulous anxiety,
'Oucht I to tell her a' at ance--already--aboot--aboot my mither?'
'I dinna say that. Maybe it wad be equally fair to her and to yersel' to lat her ken ye a bit better afore ye do that.--We'll think that ower.--Whan ye gang doon the stair, ye'll see a bit brougham at the door waitin' for ye. Gie the coachman ony orders ye like. He's your servant as lang 's ye're in London. Commit yer way to the Lord, my boy.'
Though Shargar did not say much, he felt strengthened by Robert's truth to meet his fate with something of composure. But it was not to be decided that day. Therein lay some comfort.
He returned in high spirits still. He had been graciously received both by Miss Hamilton and her hostess--a kind-hearted old lady, who spoke Scotch with the pure tone of a gentlewoman, he said--a treat not to be had once in a twelvemonth. She had asked him to go to dinner in the evening, and to bring his friend with him. Robert, however, begged him to make his excuse, as he had an engagement in--a very different sort of place.
When Shargar returned, Robert had not come in. He was too excited to go to bed, and waited for him. It was two o'clock before he came home. Shargar told him there was to be a large party at Lady Patterdale's the next evening but one, and Lady Janet had promised to procure him an invitation.
The next morning Robert went to see Mary St. John, and asked if she knew anything of Lady Patterdale, and whether she could get him an invitation. Miss St. John did not know her, but she thought she could manage it for him. He told her all about Shargar, for whose sake he wished to see Miss Hamilton before consenting to be introduced to her. Miss St. John set out at once, and Falconer received a card the next day. When the evening came, he allowed Shargar to set out alone in his brougham, and followed an hour later in a hansom.
When he reached the house, the rooms were tolerably filled, and as several parties had arrived just before him, he managed to enter without being announced. After a little while he caught sight of Shargar. He stood alone, almost in a corner, with a strange, rather raised expression in his eyes. Falconer could not see the object to which they were directed. Certainly, their look was not that of love. He made his way up to him and laid his hand on his arm. Shargar betrayed no little astonishment when he saw him.
'You here, Robert!' he said.
'Yes, I'm here. Have you seen her yet? Is she here?'
'Wha do ye think 's speakin' till her this verra minute? Look there!' Shargar said in a low voice, suppressed yet more to hide his excitement.
Following his directions, Robert saw, amidst a little group of gentlemen surrounding a seated lady, of whose face he could not get a peep, a handsome elderly man, who looked more fashionable than his years justified, and whose countenance had an expression which he felt repulsive. He thought he had seen him before, but Shargar gave him no time to come to a conclusion of himself.
'It's my brither Sandy, as sure 's deith!' he said; 'and he's been hingin' aboot her ever sin' she cam in. But I dinna think she likes him a'thegither by the leuk o' her.'
'What for dinna ye gang up till her yersel', man? I wadna stan' that gin 'twas me.'
'I'm feared 'at he ken me. He's terrible gleg. A' the Morays are gleg, and yon marquis has an ee like a hawk.'
'What does 't maitter? Ye hae dune naething to be ashamed o' like him.'
'Ay; but it's this. I wadna hae her hear the trowth aboot me frae that boar's mou' o' his first. I wad hae her hear 't frae my ain, an' syne she canna think I meant to tak her in.'
At this moment there was a movement in the group. Shargar, receiving no reply, looked round at Robert. It was now Shargar's turn to be surprised at his expression.
'Are ye seein' a vraith, Robert?' he said. 'What gars ye leuk like that, man?'
'Oh!' answered Robert, recovering himself, 'I thought I saw some one I knew. But I'm not sure. I'll tell you afterwards. We've been talking too earnestly. People are beginning to look at us.'
So saying, he moved away towards the group of which the marquis still formed one. As he drew near he saw a piano behind Miss Hamilton. A sudden impulse seized him, and he yielded to it. He made his way to the piano, and seating himself, began to play very softly--so softly that the sounds could scarcely be heard beyond the immediate neighbourhood of the instrument. There was no change on the storm of talk that filled the room. But in a few minutes a face white as a shroud was turned round upon him from the group in front, like the moon dawning out of a cloud. He stopped at once, saying to himself, 'I was right;' and rising, mingled again with the crowd. A few minutes after, he saw Shargar leading Miss Hamilton out of the room, and Lady Janet following. He did not intend to wait his return, but got near the door, that he might slip out when he should re-enter. But Shargar did not return. For, the moment she reached the fresh air, Miss Hamilton was so much better that Lady Janet, whose heart was as young towards young people as if she had never had the unfortunate love affair tradition assigned her, asked him to see them home, and he followed them into her carriage. Falconer left a few minutes after, anxious for quiet that he might make up his mind as to what he ought to do. Before he had walked home, he had resolved on the next step. But not wishing to see Shargar yet, and at the same time wanting to have a night's rest, he went home only to change his clothes, and betook himself to a hotel in Covent Garden.
He was at Lady Janet's door by ten o'clock the next morning, and sent in his card to Miss Hamilton. He was shown into the drawing-room, where she came to him.
'May I presume on old acquaintance?' he asked, holding out his hand.
She looked in his face quietly, took his hand, pressed it warmly, and said,
'No one has so good a right, Mr. Falconer. Do sit down.'
He placed a chair for her, and obeyed.
After a moment's silence on both sides:
'Are you aware, Miss--?' he said and hesitated.
'Miss Hamilton,' she said with a smile. 'I was Miss Lindsay when you knew me so many years ago. I will explain presently.'
Then with an air of expectation she awaited the finish of his sentence.
'Are you aware, Miss Hamilton, that I am Major Moray's oldest friend?'
'I am quite aware of it, and delighted to know it. He told me so last night.'
Somewhat dismayed at this answer, Falconer resumed,
'Did Major Moray likewise communicate with you concerning his own history?'
'He did. He told me all.'
Falconer was again silent for some moments.
'Shall I be presuming too far if I venture to conclude that my friend will not continue his visits?'
'On the contrary,' she answered, with the same delicate blush that in old times used to overspread the lovely whiteness of her face, 'I expect him within half-an-hour.'
'Then there is no time to be lost,' thought Falconer.
'Without presuming to express any opinion of my own,' he said quietly, 'a social code far less severe than that which prevails in England, would take for granted that an impassable barrier existed between Major Moray and Miss Hamilton.'
'Do not suppose, Mr. Falconer, that I could not meet Major Moray's honesty with equal openness on my side.'
Falconer, for the first time almost in his life, was incapable of speech from bewilderment. But Miss Hamilton did not in the least enjoy his perplexity, and made haste to rescue both him and herself. With a blush that was now deep as any rose, she resumed,
'But I owe you equal frankness, Mr. Falconer. There is no barrier between Major Moray and myself but the foolish--no, wicked--indiscretion of an otherwise innocent and ignorant girl. Listen, Mr. Falconer: under the necessity of the circumstances you will not misjudge me if I compel myself to speak calmly. This, I trust, will be my final penance. I thought Lord Rothie was going to marry me. To do him justice, he never said so. Make what excuse for my folly you can. I was lost in a mist of vain imaginations. I had had no mother to teach me anything, Mr. Falconer, and my father never suspected the necessity of teaching me anything. I was very ill on the passage to Antwerp, and when I began to recover a little, I found myself beginning to doubt both my own conduct and his lordship's intentions. Possibly the fact that he was not quite so kind to me in my illness as I had expected, and that I felt hurt in consequence, aided the doubt. Then the thought of my father returning and finding that I had left him, came and burned in my heart like fire. But what was I to do? I had never been out of Aberdeen before. I did not know even a word of French. I was altogether in Lord Rothie's power. I thought I loved him, but it was not much of love that sea-sickness could get the better of. With a heart full of despair I went on shore. The captain slipped a note into my hand. I put it in my pocket, but pulled it out with my handkerchief in the street. Lord Rothie picked it up. I begged him to give it me, but he read it, and then tore it in pieces. I entered the hotel, as wretched as girl could well be. I began to dislike him. But during dinner he was so kind and attentive that I tried to persuade myself that my fears were fanciful. After dinner he took me out. On the stairs we met a lady whose speech was Scotch. Her maid called her Lady Janet. She looked kindly at me as I passed. I thought she could read my face. I remembered afterwards that Lord Rothie turned his head away when we met her. We went into the cathedral. We were standing under that curious dome, and I was looking up at its strange lights, when down came a rain of bell-notes on the roof over my head. Before the first tune was over, I seemed to expect the second, and then the third, without thinking how I could know what was coming; but when they ended with the ballad of the Witch Lady, and I lifted up my head and saw that I was not by my father's fireside, but in Antwerp Cathedral with Lord Rothie, despair filled me with a half-insane resolution. Happily Lord Rothie was at some little distance talking to a priest about one of Rubens's pictures. I slipped unseen behind the nearest pillar, and then flew from the church. How I got to the hotel I do not know, but I did reach it. 'Lady Janet,' was all I could say. The waiter knew the name, and led me to her room. I threw myself on my knees, and begged her to save me. She assured me no one should touch me. I gasped 'Lord Rothie,' and fainted. When I came to myself--but I need not tell you all the particulars. Lady Janet did take care of me. Till last night I never saw Lord Rothie again. I did not acknowledge him, but he persisted in talking to me, behave as I would, and I saw well enough that he knew me.'
Falconer took her hand and kissed it.
'Thank God,' he said. 'That spire was indeed the haunt of angels as I fancied while I played upon those bells.'
'I knew it was you--that is, I was sure of it when I came to think about it; but at the time I took it for a direct message from heaven, which nobody heard but myself.'
'It was such none the less that I was sent to deliver it,' said Falconer. 'I little thought during my imprisonment because of it, that the end of my journey was already accomplished.'
Mysie put her hand in his.
'You have saved me, Mr. Falconer.'
'For Ericson's sake, who was dying and could not,' returned Falconer.
'Ah!' said Mysie, her large eyes opening with wonder. It was evident she had had no suspicion of his attachment to her.
'But,' said Falconer, 'there was another in it, without whom I could have done nothing.'
'Who was that?'
'Did he know me then?'
'No. Fortunately not. You would not have looked at him then. It was all done for love of me. He is the truest fellow in the world, and altogether worthy of you, Miss Hamilton. I will tell you the whole story some day, lest he should not do himself justice.'
'Ah, that reminds me. Hamilton sounds strange in your voice. You suspected me of having changed my name to hide my history?'
It was so, and Falconer's silence acknowledged the fact.
'Lady Janet brought me home, and told my father all. When he died a few years after, she took me to live with her, and never rested till she had brought me acquainted with Sir John Hamilton, in favour of whom my father had renounced his claim to some disputed estates. Sir John had lost his only son, and he had no daughter. He was a kind-hearted old man, rather like my own father. He took to me, as they say, and made me change my name to his, leaving me the property that might have been my father's, on condition that whoever I married should take the same name. I don't think your friend will mind making the exchange,' said Mysie in conclusion, as the door opened and Shargar came in.
'Robert, ye're a' gait (everywhere)!' he exclaimed as he entered. Then, stopping to ask no questions, 'Ye see I'm to hae a name o' my ain efter a',' he said, with a face which looked even handsome in the light of his gladness.
Robert shook hands with him, and wished him joy heartily.
'Wha wad hae thocht it, Shargar,' he added, 'that day 'at ye pat bonnets for hose upo' Black Geordie's huves?'
The butler announced the Marquis of Boarshead. Mysie's eyes flashed. She rose from her seat, and advanced to meet the marquis, who entered behind the servant. He bowed and held out his hand. Mysie retreated one step, and stood.
'Your lordship has no right to force yourself upon me. You must have seen that I had no wish to renew the acquaintance I was unhappy enough to form--now, thank God, many years ago.'
'Forgive me, Miss Hamilton. One word in private,' said the marquis.
'Not a word,' returned Mysie.
'Before these gentlemen, then, whom I have not the honour of knowing, I offer you my hand.'
'To accept that offer would be to wrong myself even more than your lordship has done.'
She went back to where Moray was standing, and stood beside him. The evil spirit in the marquis looked out at its windows.
'You are aware, madam,' he said, 'that your reputation is in the hand I offer you?'
'The worse for it, my lord,' returned Mysie, with a scornful smile. 'But your lordship's brother will protect it.'
'My brother!' said the marquis. 'What do you mean? I have no brother!'
'Ye hae mair brithers than ye ken o', Lord Sandy, and I'm ane o' them,' said Shargar.
'You are either a liar or a bastard, then,' said the marquis, who had not been brought up in a school of which either self-restraint or respect for women were prominent characteristics.
Falconer forgot himself for a moment, and made a stride forward.
'Dinna hit him, Robert,' cried Shargar. 'He ance gae me a shillin', an' it helpit, as ye ken, to haud me alive to face him this day.--No liar, my lord, but a bastard, thank heaven.' Then, with a laugh, he instantly added, 'Gin I had been ain brither to you, my lord, God only knows what a rascal I micht hae been.'
'By God, you shall answer for your damned insolence,' said the marquis, and, lifting his riding-whip from the table where he had laid it, he approached his brother.
Mysie rang the bell.
'Haud yer han', Sandy,' cried Shargar. 'I hae faced mair fearsome foes than you. But I hae some faimily-feelin', though ye hae nane: I wadna willin'ly strike my brither.'
As he spoke, he retreated a little. The marquis came on with raised whip. But Falconer stepped between, laid one of his great hands on the marquis's chest, and flung him to the other end of the room, where he fell over an ottoman. The same moment the servant entered.
'Ask your mistress to oblige me by coming to the drawing-room,' said Mysie.
The marquis had risen, but had not recovered his presence of mind when Lady Janet entered. She looked inquiringly from one to the other.
'Please, Lady Janet, will you ask the Marquis of Boarshead to leave the house,' said Mysie.
'With all my hert,' answered Lady Janet; 'and the mair that he's a kin' o' a cousin o' my ain. Gang yer wa's, Sandy. Ye're no fit company for decent fowk; an' that ye wad ken yersel', gin ye had ony idea left o' what decency means.'
Without heeding her, the marquis went up to Falconer.
'Your card, sir.'
Lady Janet followed him.
''Deed ye s' get nae cairds here,' she said, pushing him aside. 'So you allow your friends to insult me in your own house as they please, cousin Janet?' said the marquis, who probably felt her opposition the most formidable of all.
''Deed they canna say waur o' ye nor I think. Gang awa', an' repent. Consider yer gray hairs, man.'
This was the severest blow he had yet received. He left the room, 'swearing at large.'
Falconer followed him; but what came of it nobody ever heard.
Major and Miss Hamilton were married within three months, and went out to India together, taking Nancy Kennedy with them.