Read CHAPTER XVII - A SENTIMENTAL SECRET of Doom Castle , free online book, by Neil Munro, on ReadCentral.com.

“Good night,” said Olivia, at last, and straightway Count Victor felt the glory of the evening eclipse.  He opened the door to let her pass through.

“I go back to my cell quiet enough,” she said, in low tones, and with a smiling frown upon her countenance.

“Happy prisoner!” said he, “to be condemned to no worse than your own company.”

“Ah! it is often a very dull and pitiful company that, Count Victor,” said Olivia, with a sigh.

It was not long till he, too, sought his couch, and the Baron of Doom was left alone.

Doom sat long looking at his crumbling walls, and the flaming fortunes, the blush, the heat-white and the dead grey ash of the peat-fire.  He sighed now and then with infinite despondency.  Once or twice he pshawed his melancholy vapours, gave a pace back and forward on the oaken floor, with a bent head, a bereaved countenance, and sat down again, indulging in the passionate void that comes to a bosom reft of its joys, its hopes and loves, and only mournful recollection left.  A done man!  Not an old man; not even an elderly, but a done man none the less, with the heart out of him, and all the inspiration clean gone!

Count Victor’s advent in the castle had brought its own bitterness, for it was not often now that Doom had the chance to see anything of the big, brave outer world of heat and enterprise.  This gallant revived ungovernably the remembrances he for ever sought to stifle-all he had been and all he had seen, now past and gone for ever, as Annapla did not scruple to tell him when the demands of her Gift or a short temper compelled her.  His boyhood in the dear woods, by the weedy river-banks, in the hill-clefts where stags harboured, on a shore for ever sounding with the enchanting sea-oh, sorrow! how these things came before him.  The gentle mother, with the wan, beautiful face; the eager father looking ardent out to sea-they were plain to view.  And then St. Andrews, when he was a bejant of St. Leonard’s, roystering with his fellows, living the life of youth with gusto, but failing lamentably at the end; then the despondency of those scanty acres and decayed walls; his marriage with the dearest woman in the world, Death at the fireside, the bairn crying at night in the arms of her fosterer; his journeys abroad, the short hour of glory and forgetfulness with Saxe at Fontenoy and Laffeldt, to be followed only by these weary years of spoliation by law, of oppression by the usurping Hanoverian.

A done man!  Only a poor done man of middle age, and the fact made all the plainer to himself by contrast with his guest, alert and even gay upon a fiery embassy of retribution.

It was exactly the hour of midnight by a clock upon the mantel; a single candle, by which he had made a show of reading, was guttering all to a side and an ungracious end in a draught that came from some cranny in the ill-seamed ingle-walls, for all that the night seemed windless.  A profound stillness wrapped all; the night was huge outside, with the sea dead-flat to moon and pulsing star.

He shook off his vapours vexatiously, and, as he had done on the first night of Count Victor’s coming, he went to his curious orisons at the door-the orisons of the sentimentalist, the home-lover.  Back he drew the bars softly, and looked at the world that ever filled him with yearning and apprehension, at the draggled garden, at the sea, with its roadway strewn with golden sand all shimmering, at the mounts-Ben Ime, Ardno, and Ben Artair, haughty in the night.

Then he shut the doors reluctantly, stood hesitating-more the done man than ever-in the darkness of the entrance, finally hurried to save the guttering candle.  He lit a new one at its expiring flame and left the salle.  He went, not to his bedchamber, but to the foot of the stair that led to the upper flats, to his daughter’s room, to the room of his guest, and to the ancient chapel.  With infinite caution, he crept round and round on the narrow corkscrew stair; at any step it might have been a catacomb cell.

He listened at the narrow corridor leading to Olivia’s room and that adjoining of her umquhile warder, Annapla; he paused, too, for a second, at Montaiglon’s door.  None gave sign of life.  He went up higher.

A storey over the stage on which Count Victor slumbered the stair ended abruptly at an oaken door, which he opened with a key.  As he entered, a wild flurry of wings disturbed the interior, and by the light of the candle and some venturesome rays of the moon a flock of bats or birds were to be seen in precipitous flight through unglazed windows and a broken roof.

Doom placed his candle in a niche of the wall and went over to an ancient armoire, or chest, which seemed to be the only furniture of what had apparently once been the chapel of the castle, to judge from its size and the situation of an altar-like structure at the east end-.

He unlocked the heavy lid, threw it open, looked down with a sigh at its contents, which seemed, in the light of he candle, nothing wonderful.  But a suit of Highland clothes, and some of the more martial appurtenances of the lost Highland state, including the dirk that had roused Montaiglon’s suspicion!

He drew them out hurriedly upon the floor, but yet with an affectionate tenderness, as if they were the relics of a sacristy, and with eagerness substituted the gay tartan for his dull mulberry Saxon habiliments.  It was like the creation of a man from a lay figure.  The jerk at the kilt-belt buckle somehow seemed to brace the sluggish spirit; his shoulders found their old square set above a well-curved back; his feet-his knees-by an instinct took a graceful poise they had never learned in the mean immersement of breeches and Linlithgow boots.  As he fastened his buckled brogues, he hummed the words of MacMhaister Allister’s songs: 

     “Oh! the black-cloth of the Saxon,
     Dearer far’s the Gaelic tartan!”

“Hugh Bethune’s content with the waistcoat, is he?” he said to himself.  “He’s no Gael to be so easily pleased, and him with a freeman’s liberty!  And yet-and yet-I would be content myself to have the old stuff only about my heart.”

He assumed the doublet and plaid, drew down upon his brow a bonnet with an eagle plume; turned him to the weapons.  The knife-the pistols-the dirk, went to their places, and last he put his hand upon the hilt of a sword-not a claymore, but the weapon he had worn in the foreign field.  As foolish a piece of masquerade as ever a child had found entertainment in, and yet, if one could see it, with some great element of pathos and of dignity.  For with every item of the discarded and degraded costume of his race he seemed to put on a grace not there before, a manliness, a spirit that had lain in abeyance with the clothes in that mothy chest.  It was no done man who eagerly trod the floor of that ruined chapel, no lack-lustre failure of life, but one complete, commingling action with his sentiment.  He felt the world spacious about him again; a summons to ample fields beyond the rotting woods and the sonorous shore of Doom.  The blood of his folk, that had somehow seemed to stay about his heart in indolent clots, began to course to every extremity, and gave his brain a tingling clarity, a wholesome intoxication of the perfect man.

He drew the sword from its scabbard, joying hugely in the lisp of the steel, at its gleam in the candle-light, and he felt anew the wonder of one who had drunk the wine of life and venture to its lees.

He made with the weapon an airy academic salute a la Gerard and the new school of fence, thrust swift in tierce like a sun-flash in forest after rain, followed with a parade, and felt an expert’s ecstasy.  The blood tingled to his veins; his eyes grew large and flashing; a flush came to that cheek, for ordinary so wan.  Over and over again he sheathed the sword, and as often withdrew it from its scabbard.  Then he handled the dirk with the pleasure of a child.  But always back to the sword, handled with beauty and aplomb, always back to the sword, and he had it before him, a beam of fatal light, when something startled him, as one struck unexpectedly by a whip.

There was a furious rapping at the outer door!