Geoffrey’s confusion over the owner of the library brings to Sandy’s mind that there are still several trunks of his stored somewhere about the house, containing his own books and other matters, and does he intend staying here, he might unpack them and see is there some place he might keep them more convenient.
He mentions this to Clorinda. O, indeed, she cries, I daresay one might put up more shelves in the library, mayhap a few about your chamber – I wonder might we come about to make a study for you –
No, no, I am quite contented to be about philosophizing in the library –
Do I not disturb you am I in and out?
Not in the least, dearest Clorinda. And, my dear, do I continue to be part of this household, you have been treating me entirely as a guest in Liberty Hall, but I should wish to pay my way -
Clorinda looks as if she might object, and then says, with a lopsided smile, that sure he would not wish to be a kept man and 'twould be somewhat to reassure the dear children that he does not take advantage of a poor lonesome creature –
Exactly. I do not wish to acquire the reputation of a parasite.
O, poo. But let us go summon Hector about this matter of shelves: I doubt not he will say that do we have carpenters in there are other matters that would require their attention.
This is indeed so. Hector also shows some disposition towards bringing down the trunks from the attic in which they are stored for Sandy’s examination, but is finally prevailed upon to concede that this may take place in the attic, and only such matters as turn out to be required need be brought down.
So the next morn, he ascends to the attic and looks at the boxes that hold his past life, and tells himself that he must be philosophical about the business, for it is entirely foolish to leave all these things stowed away.
And is almost undone at the outset, flinging open a lid and finding, resting on top of everything, his worn volume of Burns’ poems. That had been with him so long and to so many places, and from which he had read at so many gatherings.
He picks it up as if it might bite. Closes his eyes and lets it fall open (entire superstition) and then opens his eyes to read
Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
Tears spring to his eyes, as he is overwhelmed by the memories of how indeed he and Gervase had loved so kindly, had enjoyed happiness for so many years in a world so very hostile to men like them. And he would not have given that up in spite of the grief he feels now. Gervase at his fencing practice. Gervase frowning thoughtfully at his mirrored reflection and adjusting his cravat. Gervase teaching him to dance. Gervase clinging to him in the aftermath of nightmare. Gervase’s face when he returned from Naples. Gervase laughing at some sally of Clorinda’s. Gervase practising a speech so that he might give it in the Lords without stammering. Gervase in that masquerade costume as a Jacobite out of Scott.
He lets the memories flood over him.
Some hours later, though he has not quite finished the task, for each box opened releases further clouds of memories, the antithesis of the evils that emerged from Pandora’s box, he goes downstairs to the parlour, clutching the volume of Burns in his hand.
Clorinda looks up. You have cobwebs in your hair, o bello scozzese. She stands up and comes over and reaches up to brush them away.
Listen! he says, and begins to read the lines to her, realising as he does so that his voice is softening out of the English intonation it has acquired over the years –
- and Clorinda bursts into heaving sobs quite unlike the affecting tearfulness she will sometimes manifest, and leaning on his chest, gasps out, O, Sandy, I miss them so much.
He puts his arms around her, reminded of the time she disclosed in similar fashion that she was with child. Dear Clorinda, he says.
At length her sobs diminish and she leans away from him, fumbling for her handkerchief, blowing her nose, and making apologies, saying, La, you are not obliged to endeavour go soothe a lady that succumbs to a fit of hysterics.
He hugs her to him again and says, Perchance it might ease your mind to talk sometimes of happy times with one that knows somewhat of the inwardness?
She gives a shaky laugh and says, Fie, Mr MacDonald, I confide you would be mightily shocked did I so.
Must be of considerable philosophical and scientific interest, he says.
They both fall into a fit of somewhat hysterical giggling.
Clorinda sits down and dabs at her eyes and says, does she look calm enough that the household will not get into a fret does any observe her? For she confides that they could both do with some good strong coffee.
When she has tidied herself a little she rings the bell to request coffee.
As they sit drinking it, he looks across at his friend and says, Dearest Clorinda, I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange? Sure I do not know how I would have contrived without you. You have always been so kind to one that I fear can be a very tiresome fellow.
La, my dear, you have ever shown more than civil to a silly creature of no education, spoke to me as if I was a rational being, been the kindest of friends. Sure we have been through a deal of difficulties together: though none, she adds thoughtfully, as trying as this present one.
They both sigh and gaze mournfully into their cups. And then look up again and smile at one another.
The door opens and Josh comes in, dishevelled and weary-eyed. I have, he says, been attending upon the accouchement of Lady Raxdell’s wanton doggie. Do we know any that would like a puppy of extreme dubious ancestry?
Why, says, Clorinda, let us go think over those of our acquaintance that have children that would greatly desire a puppy, and would not go be nice over matters of breeding -
The two men look at her fondly and smile.
- I suppose one cannot yet tell are they like to be fine ratters, sure Sam will always be glad of ratters for the stables – but I could not offer take one myself, Motley and Fribble would object most vehement –
Through the half-open door Prue can be heard singing hymns about her work - I woke: the dungeon flamed with light.
And Sandy thinks that his own dungeon of loss does not flame yet with light: but there is the small steady candle of Clorinda’s love and concern driving away the worst of the shadows.