Read CHAPTER XV - A RAY OF LIGHT of Doom Castle , free online book, by Neil Munro, on ReadCentral.com.

For the remainder of the night Count Victor’s sleep was delicious or disturbed by dreams in which the gloomy habitation of that strange Highland country was lit with lamps-the brightest a woman’s eyes.  Sometimes she was Cecile, dancing-all abandoned, a child of dalliance, a nymph irresolute-to the music of a flageolet; sometimes another whose radiance fascinated, whose presence yet had terror, for (in the manner of dreams that at their maddest have some far-compassing and tremendous philosophy such as in the waking world is found in poems) she was more than herself, she was the other also, at least sharing the secrets of that great sisterhood of immaculate and despoiled, and, looking in his face, compelled to see his utter unworthiness.

He rose early and walked in the narrow garden, still sodden with rain, though a bold, warm sun shone high to the east.  For ordinary he was not changeable, but an Olivia in Doom made a difference:  those mouldering walls contained her; she looked out on the sea from those high peering windows; that bower would sometimes shelter her; those alien breezes flowing continually round Doom were privileged to kiss her hair.  Positively there seems no great reason, after all, why he should be so precipitate in his removal to the town!  Indeed (he told himself with the smile of his subconscious self at the subterfuge) there was a risk of miscarriage for his mission among tattling aubergistes, lawyers, and merchants.  He was positively vexed when he encountered Mungo, and that functionary informed him that, though he was early afoot, the Baron was earlier still, and off to the burgh to arrange for his new lodgings.  This precipitancy seemed unpleasantly like haste to be rid of him.

“Ah,” said he to the little servant, “your master is so good, so kind, so attentive.  Yet I do not wonder, for your Highland hospitality is renowned.  I have heard much of it from the dear exiles-Glengarry par exemple, when he desired to borrow the cost of a litre or the price of the diligence to Dun-querque in the season when new-come Scots were reaching there in a humour to be fleeced by a compatriot with three languages at command and the boast of connections with Versailles.”

Mungo quite comprehended.

“Sir,” said he, with some feeling, “there was never bed nor board grudged at Doom.  It’s like father like son a’ through them.  The Baron’s great-gutcher, auld Alan, ance thought the place no’ braw enough for the eye o’ a grand pairty o’ Irish nobeelity that had bidden themsel’s to see him, and the day they were to come he burned the place hauf doon.  It was grand summer weather, and he camped them i’ the park behin’ there, sparing time nor money nor device in their entertainment.  Ye see what might hae been a kin’ o’ penury in a castle was the very extravagance o’ luxury in a camp.  A hole in the hose is an accident nae gentleman need be ashamed o’, but the same darned is a disgrace, bein’ poverty confessed, as Annapla says.”

It was a touchy servant this, Montaiglon told himself-somewhat sharper, too, than he had thought:  he must hazard no unkind ironies upon the master.

“Charming, charming! good Mungo,” said he.  “The expedient might have been devised by my own great-grandfather-a gentleman of-of-of commercial pursuits in Lyons city.  I am less fastidious, perhaps, than the Irish, being very glad to take Doom Castle as I have the honour to find it.”

“But ye’re thinkin’ the Baron is in a hurry to billet ye elsewhere,” said the servant bluntly.

In an ordinary lackey this boldness would have been too much for Count Victor; in this grotesque, so much in love, it seemed, with his employer, and so much his familiar and friend in a ridiculous Scots fashion, the impertinence appeared pardonable.  Besides, he blamed himself for the ill-breeding of his own irony.

“That, if I may be permitted to point it out, is not for us to consider, Monsieur Mungo,” said he.  “I have placed myself unreservedly in the Baron’s hands, and if he considers it good for my indifferent health that I should change the air and take up my residence a little farther along your delightful coast while my business as a wine merchant from Bordeaux is marching, I have no doubt he has reason.”

A smile he made no effort to conceal stole over Mungo’s visage.

“Wine merchant frae Bordeaux!” he cried.  “I’ve seen a hantle o’ them hereaboots at the fish-curin’ season, but they cam’ in gabbarts to French Foreland, and it wasnae usual for them to hae Coont to their names nor whingers to their hips.  It was mair ordinär the ink-horn at their belts and the sporran at their groins.”

“A malediction on the creature’s shrewdness!” said Count Victor inwardly, while outwardly he simply smiled back.

“The red wine is my specialty,” said he, patting his side where the hilt of his sword should be.  “My whinger, as you call it, is an auger:  who the devil ever broached a pipe of Scots spirits with a penknife?  But I see you are too much in the confidence of the Baron for there to be any necessity of concealment between us.”

“H’m!” exclaimed Mungo dryly, as one who has a sense of being flattered too obviously.  “The Baron’s a bairn, like a’ true gentlemen I’ve seen, and he kens me lang enough and likes me weel enough to mak’ nae secret o’ what it were to a’body’s advantage should be nae secret to Mungo Byde.  In this place I’m sentinel, spy, and garrison; it wad ill become the officer in command to let me be doin’ my wark withoot some clew to the maist important pairt o’t.  Ye’re here on a search for ane Drimdarroch.”

“You are a wizard, Monsieur Mungo!” cried Montaiglon, not without chagrin at Doom’s handing over so vast and vital a secret to a menial.

“Ay, and ye might think it droll that I should ken that; But I be’t to ken it, for there’s mony a plot against my maister, and nae foreigneer comes inside thae wa’s whase pedigree I canna’ hae an inklin’ o’.  Ye’re here aifter Drimdarroch, and ye’re no’ very sure aboot your host, and that’s the last thing I wad haggle wi’ ye aboot, for your error’ll come to ye by-and-by.”

Count Victor waved a deprecating hand.

“Oh, I ken a’ aboot what mak’s ye sae suspicious,” went on Mungo, undisturbed, “and it’s a thing I could mak’ clear to ye in a quarter-hour’s crack if I had his leave.  Tak’ my word for’t, there’s no’ a better man wi’ his feet in brogues this day than the Baron o’ Doom.  He should be searchin’ the warld wi’ the sword o’ his faithers (and the same he can use), but the damned thing is the warld for him doesna gang by the snout o’ Cowal and the pass o’ Glencroe.  He had a wife ance; she’s dead and buried in Kilmorich; noo he’s doited on his hame and his dochter-”

“The charming Olivia!” cried Count Victor, thinking in one detail at all events to surprise this little custodian of all the secrets.

“Ye met her last night,” said Mungo, calmly, seeming to enjoy the rapidity with which his proofs of omniscience could be put forth.  “That’s half the secret.  Ye were daunderin’ aboot the lobby wi’ thae fine French manners I hae heard o’-frae the French theirsels-and wha’ wad blame ye in a hoose like this?  And ye’re early up the day, but the lass was up earlier to tell me o’ your meeting.  She had to come to me before Annapla was aboot, for Annapla’s no’ in this part o’ the ploy at all.”

“I protest I have no head for charades,” said Count Victor, with a gesture of bewilderment.  “I do not know what you mean.”

Mungo chuckled with huge satisfaction.

“Man, it’s as plain’s parridge!  There’s a gentleman in the toon down by that’s a hot wooer, and daddy’s for nane o’ his kind roon’ Doom; d’ye tak’ me?”

“But still-but still-”

“But still the trystin’ gaes on, ye were aboot to say.  That’s very true, Coont, but it’s only the like o’ you and me that has nae dochters to plague oorsel’s wi’ that can guess the like o’ that.  Ay, it gaes on as ye say, and that’s where me and Miss Olivia maun put oor trust in you.  In this affair I’ll admit I’m a traitor in the camp-at least, to the camp commander, but I think it’s in a guid cause.  The lassie’s fair aff her heid, and nae wonder, for he’s a fine mak’ o’ a man.”

“And a good one, I hope?” interjected Count Victor.

“Humph!” said Mungo.  “I thocht that wasna laid muckle stress on in France.  He’s a takin’ deevil, and the kind’s but middlin’ morally, sae far as I had ony experience o’ them.  Guid or bad, Miss Olivia, nae further gane nor last Friday, refused to promise she wad gie up meetin’ him-though she’s the gem o’ dochters, God bless her bonny een!  His lordship got up in a tirravee and ordered her to her room, wi’ Annapla for warder, till he should mak’ arrangements for sending her to his guid-sister’s in the low country.  Your comin’ found us in a kin’ o’ confusion, but ye might hac spared yersel’ my trepannin’ in the tolbooth upstairs, and met her in a mair becomin’ way at her faither’s table if it hadna been for Annapla.”

“For Annapla?” repeated Montaiglon.

“Oh, ah!  Annapla has the Gift, ye ken.  Dae ye think I wad hae been sae ceevil the ither nicht to her when she was yelping on the stair-heid if it hadna been her repute for the Evil E’e?  Ye may lauch, but I could tell tales o’ Annapla’s capacity.  The night afore ye cam’ she yoked himsel’ on his jyling the lassie, though she’s the last that wad thraw him.  ‘Oh.’ said he, ‘ye’re a’ tarred wi’ the ae stick:  if ye connive at his comin’ here without my kennin’, I’ll gie him death wi’ his boots on!’ It was in the Gaelic this, ye maun ken; Annapla gied me’t efter.  ‘Boots here, boots there,’ quo’ she, ’love’s the fine adventurer, and I see by the griosach’ (that’s the fire-embers, ye ken; between the ash o’ a peat and the creesh o’ a candle thae kin’ o’ witches can tell ye things frae noo to Hogmanay)-’ I see by the griosach,’ says she, ‘that this ane’ll come wi’ his bare feet.’  It staggered him; oh, ay! it staggered him a bit.  ‘Barefit or brogues,’ said he, ’she’ll see no man from this till the day she gaes!’ And he’s the man to keep his word; but it looks as though we might shuffle the pack noo and start a new game, for the plans o’ flittin’ her to Dunbarton hae fallen through, I hear, and he’ll hae to produce her before ye leave.”

“I’m in no hurry,” said Count Victor, coolly twisting his moustache.

“What!  To hae her produced?” said the little man, slyly.

Farceur! No, to leave.”

“Indeed is that sae?” asked Mungo, in a quite new tone, and reddening.  “H’m!  Ye may hae come barefit, but the ither ane has the preference.”

“He has my sincere félicitations, I assure you,” said Count Victor, “and I can only hope he is worthy of the honour of Master Mungo’s connivance and the lady’s devotion.”

“Oh! he’s a’ richt!  It’s only a whim o’ Doom’s that mak’s him discoontenance the fellow.  I’ll allow the gentleman has a name for gallantry and debt, and a wheen mair genteel vices that’s neither here nor there, but he’s a pretty lad.  He’s the man for my fancy-six feet tall, a back like a board, and an e’e like lightning.  And he’s nane the waur o’ ha’in’ a great interest in Mungo Byde’s storie.”

“Decidedly a diplomatist!” said Count Victor, laughing.  “I always loved an enthusiast; go on-go on, good Mungo.  And so he is my nocturnal owl, my flautist of the bower, my Orpheus of the mountains.  Does the gifted Annapla also connive, and are hers the window signals?”

“Annapla kens naething o’ that-”

“The-what do you call it?-the Second Sight appears to have its limitations.”

“At least if it does she’s nane the less willin’ to be an unconscious aid, and put a flag at the window at the biddin’ o’ Olivia to keep the witches awa’.  The same flag that keeps aff a witch may easily fetch a bogle.  There’s but ae time noo and then when it’s safe for the lad to venture frae the mainland, and for that there maun be a signal o’ some kind, otherwise, if I ken his spirit, he wad never be aff this rock.  I’m tellin’ ye a’ that by Mistress Olivia’s command, and noo ye’re in the plot like the lave of us.”

Mungo heaved a deep breath as if relieved of a burden.

“Still-still,” said Count Victor, “one hesitates to mention it to so excellent a custodian of the family reputation-still there are other things to me somewhat-somewhat crepuscular.”

His deprecatory smile and the gesture of his hands and shoulders conveyed his meaning.

“Ye’re thinkin’ o’ the Baron in tartan,” said Mungo, bluntly.  He smiled oddly.  “That’s the funniest bit of all.  If ye’re here a while länger that’ll be plain to ye too.  Between the darkest secrets and oor understanding o’ them there’s whiles but a rag, and that minds me that Mistress Olivia was behin’ the arras tapestry chitterin’ wi’ fright when ye broke in by her window.  Sirs! sirs! what times we’re ha’in; there’s ploy in the warld yet, and me unable-tuts!  I’m no’ that auld either.  And faith here’s himsel’.”

Mungo punctiliously saluted his master as that gentleman emerged beneath the frowning doorway and joined Count Victor in the dejected garden, lifted the faggot of firewood he had laid at his feet during his talk with the visitor, and sought his kitchen.

In Doom’s aspect there was restraint:  Count Victor shared the feeling, for now he realised that, in some respects, at all events, he had been doing an injustice to his host.

“I find, M. Count,” said Doom, after some trivial introductories, “that you cannot be accommodated in the inn down by for some days yet-possibly another week.  The Circuit Court has left a pack of the legal gentlemen and jurymen there, who will not be persuaded to return to Edinburgh so long as the cellar at the inn holds out, and my doer, Mr. Petullo, expresses a difficulty in getting any other lodging.”

“I regret exceedingly-”

“No regret at all, M. Count,” said Doom, “no regret at all, unless it be that you must put up with a while longer of a house that must be very dull to you.  It is my privilege and pleasure to have you here-without prejudice to your mission-and the only difficulty there might be about it has been removed through-through-through your meeting with my daughter Olivia.  I learn you met her on the stair last night.  Well-it would look droll, I dare say, to have encountered that way, and no word of her existence from me, but-but-but there has been a little disagreement between us.  I hope I am a decently indulgent father, M. Count, but-”

“You see before you one with great shame of his awkwardness, Baron,” said Montaiglon.  “Ordinarily, I should respect a host’s privacy to the extent that I should walk a hundred miles round rather than stumble upon it, but this time I do not know whether to blame myself for my gaucherie or feel pleased that for once it brought me into good company.  Mungo has just hinted with his customary discretion at the cause of the mystery.  I sympathise with the father; I am, with the daughter, très charme and-”

This hint of the gallant slightly ruffled Doom.

Chut!” he cried.  “The man with an only daughter had need be a man of patience.  I have done my best with this Olivia of mine.  She lost her mother when a child”-an accent of infinite tenderness here came to his voice.  “These woods and this shore and this lonely barn of ours, all robbed of what once made it a palace to me and mine, were, I fancied, uncongenial to her spirit, and I sent her to the Lowlands.  She came back, educated, as they call it-I think she brought back as good a heart as she took away, but singularly little tolerance sometimes for the life in the castle of Doom.  It has been always the town for her these six months, always the town, for there she fell in with a fellow who is no fancy of mine.”

Count Victor listened sympathetically, somewhat envying the lover, reviving in his mental vision the figure he had seen first twelve hours ago or less.  He was brought to a more vivid interest in the story by the altered tone of Doom, who seemed to sour at the very mention of the unwelcome cavalier.

“Count,” said he, “it’s the failing of the sex-the very best of them, because the simplest and the sweetest-that they will prefer a fool to a wise man and a rogue to a gentleman.  They’re blind, because the rogue is for ever showing off his sham good qualities till they shine better than an ordinary decent man’s may.  To my eyes, if not quite to my knowledge, this man is as great a scoundrel as was ever left unhung.  It’s in his look-well, scarcely so, to tell the truth, but something of it is in his mouth as well as in his history, and sooner than see my daughter take up for life with a creature of his stamp I would have her in her grave beside her mother.  Unluckily, as I say, the man’s a plausible rogue:  that’s the most dangerous rogue of all, and the girl’s blind to all but the virtues and graces he makes a display of.  I’ll forgive Petullo his cheatry in the common way of his craft sooner than his introduction of such a man to my girl.”

To all this Count Victor could no more than murmur his sympathy, but he had enough of the young gallant in him to make some mental reservations in favour of the persistent wooer.  It was an alluring type, this haunter of the midnight bower, and melancholy sweet breather in the classic reed.  All the wooers of only daughters, he reminded himself, as well as all the sweethearts of only sons, were unworthy in the eyes of parents, and probably Mungo’s unprejudiced attitude towards the conspiring lovers was quite justified by the wooer’s real character in spite of the ill repute of his history.  He reflected that this confidence of Doom’s left unexplained his own masquerade of the previous night, but he gave no whisper to the thought, and had, indeed, forgotten it by evening, when for the first time Olivia joined them at her father’s table.