MALCOLM by George MacDonald
CHAPTER I: MISS HORN
"Na, na; I hae nae feelin's, I'm thankfu' to say. I never kent ony guid come o' them. They're a terrible sicht i' the gait."
"Naebody ever thoucht o' layin' 't to yer chairge, mem."
"'Deed, I aye had eneuch adu to du the thing I had to du, no to say the thing 'at naebody wad du but mysel'. I hae had nae leisur' for feelin's an' that," insisted Miss Horn.
But here a heavy step descending the stair just outside the room attracted her attention, and checking the flow of her speech perforce, with three ungainly strides she reached the landing.
"Watty Witherspail! Watty!" she called after the footsteps down the stair.
"Yes, mem," answered a gruff voice from below.
"Watty, whan ye fess the bit boxie, jist pit a hemmer an' a puckle nails i' your pooch to men' the hen hoose door. The tane maun be atten't till as weel's the tither."
"The bit boxie" was the coffin of her third cousin Griselda Campbell, whose body lay on the room on her left hand as she called down the stair. Into that on her right Miss Horn now re-entered, to rejoin Mrs Mellis, the wife of the principal draper in the town, who had called ostensibly to condole with her, but really to see the corpse.
"Aih! she was taen yoong!" sighed the visitor, with long drawn tones and a shake of the head, implying that therein lay ground of complaint, at which poor mortals dared but hint.
"No that yoong," returned Miss Horn. "She was upo' the edge o' aucht an' thirty."
"Weel, she had a sair time o' 't."
"No that sair, sae far as I see—an' wha sud ken better? She's had a bien doon sittin' (sheltered quarters), and sud hae had as lang's I was to the fore. Na, na; it was nowther sae young nor yet sae sair."
"Aih! but she was a patient cratur wi' a' flesh," persisted Mrs Mellis, as if she would not willingly be foiled in the attempt to extort for the dead some syllable of acknowledgment from the lips of her late companion.
"'Deed she was that!—a wheen ower patient wi' some. But that cam' o' haein mair hert nor brains. She had feelin's gien ye like— and to spare. But I never took ower ony o' the stock. It's a pity she hadna the jeedgment to match, for she never misdoobted onybody eneuch. But I wat it disna maitter noo, for she's gane whaur it's less wantit. For ane 'at has the hairmlessness o' the doo 'n this ill wulled warl', there's a feck o' ten 'at has the wisdom o' the serpent. An' the serpents mak sair wark wi' the doos—lat alane them 'at flees into the verra mouws o' them."
"Weel, ye're jist richt there," said Mrs Mellis. "An' as ye say, she was aye some easy to perswaud. I hae nae doubt she believed to the ver' last he wad come back and mairry her."
"Come back and mairry her! Wha or what div ye mean? I jist tell ye Mistress Mellis—an' it's weel ye're named—gien ye daur to hint at ae word o' sic clavers, it's this side o' this door o' mine ye's be less acquant wi'."
As she spoke, the hawk eyes of Miss Horn glowed on each side of her hawk nose, which grew more and more hooked as she glared, while her neck went craning forward as if she were on the point of making a swoop on the offender. Mrs Mellis's voice trembled with something like fear as she replied:
"Gude guide 's, Miss Horn! What hae I said to gar ye look at me sae by ordinar 's that?"
"Said!" repeated Miss Horn, in a tone that revealed both annoyance with herself and contempt for her visitor. "There's no a claver in a' the countryside but ye maun fess 't hame aneth yer oxter, as gin 't were the prodigal afore he repentit. Ye's get sma thanks for sic like here. An' her lyin' there as she'll lie till the jeedgment day, puir thing!"
"I'm sure I meant no offence, Miss Horn," said her visitor. "I thocht a' body kent 'at she was ill about him."
"Aboot wha, i' the name o' the father o' lees?"
"Ow, aboot that lang leggit doctor 'at set oat for the Ingies, an' dee'd afore he wan across the equautor. Only fouk said he was nae mair deid nor a halvert worm, an' wad be hame whan she was merried."
"It's a' lees frae heid to fiit, an' frae bert to skin."
"Weel, it was plain to see she dwyned awa efter he gaed, an' never was hersel' again—ye dinna deny that?"
"It's a' havers," persisted Miss Horn, but in accents considerably softened. "She cared na mair aboot the chield nor I did mysel'. She dwyned, I grant ye, an' he gaed awa, I grant ye; but the win' blaws an' the water rins, an the tane has little to du wi' the tither."
"Weel, weel; I'm sorry I said onything to offen' ye, an' I canna say mair. Wi' yer leave, Miss Horn, I'll jist gang an' tak' a last leuk at her, puir thing!"
"'Deed, ye s' du naething o' the kin'! I s' lat nobody glower at her 'at wad gang an spairge sic havers about her, Mistress Mellis. To say 'at sic a doo as my Grizel, puir, saft hertit, winsome thing, wad hae lookit twice at ony sic a serpent as him! Na, na, mem! Gang yer wa's hame, an' come back straucht frae yer prayers the morn's mornin'. By that time she'll be quaiet in her coffin, an' I'll be quaiet i' my temper. Syne I'll lat ye see her—maybe.—I wiss I was weel rid o' the sicht o' her, for I canna bide it. Lord, I canna bide it."
These last words were uttered in a murmured aside, inaudible to Mrs Mellis, to whom, however, they did not apply, but to the dead body. She rose notwithstanding in considerable displeasure, and with a formal farewell walked from the room, casting a curious glance as she left it in the direction of that where the body lay, and descended the stairs as slowly as if on every step she deliberated whether the next would bear her weight. Miss Horn, who had followed her to the head of the stair, watched her out of sight below the landing, when she turned and walked back once more into the parlour, but with a lingering look towards the opposite room, as if she saw through the closed door what lay white on the white bed.
"It's a God's mercy I hae no feelin's," she said to herself. "To even (equal) my bonny Grizel to sic a lang kyte clung chiel as yon! Aih, puir Grizel! She's gane frae me like a knotless threid."
CHAPTER II: BARBARA CATANACH
Miss Horn was interrupted by the sound of the latch of the street door, and sprung from her chair in anger.
"Canna they lat her sleep for five meenutes?" she cried aloud, forgetting that there was no fear of rousing her any more.—"It'll be Jean come in frae the pump," she reflected, after a moment's pause; but, hearing no footstep along the passage to the kitchen, concluded—"It's no her, for she gangs aboot the hoose like the fore half o' a new shod cowt;" and went down the stair to see who might have thus presumed to enter unbidden.
In the kitchen, the floor of which was as white as scrubbing could make it, and sprinkled with sea sand—under the gaily painted Dutch clock, which went on ticking as loud as ever, though just below the dead—sat a woman about sixty years of age, whose plump face to the first glance looked kindly, to the second, cunning, and to the third, evil. To the last look the plumpness appeared unhealthy, suggesting a doughy indentation to the finger, and its colour also was pasty. Her deep set, black bright eyes, glowing from under the darkest of eyebrows, which met over her nose, had something of a fascinating influence—so much of it that at a first interview one was not likely for a time to notice any other of her features. She rose as Miss Horn entered, buried a fat fist in a soft side, and stood silent.
"Weel?" said Miss Horn interrogatively, and was silent also.
"I thocht ye micht want a cast o' my callin'," said the woman.
"Na, na; there's no a han' 'at s' lay finger upo' the bairn but mine ain," said Miss Horn. "I had it a' ower, my lee lane, afore the skreigh o' day. She's lyin' quaiet noo—verra quaiet—waitin' upo' Watty Witherspail. Whan he fesses hame her bit boxie, we s' hae her laid canny intill 't, an' hae dune wi' 't."
"Weel, mem, for a leddy born, like yersel', I maun say, ye tak it unco composed!"
"I'm no awaur, Mistress Catanach, o' ony necessity laid upo' ye to say yer min' i' this hoose. It's no expeckit. But what for sud I no tak' it wi' composur'? We'll hae to tak' oor ain turn er lang, as composed as we hae the skiel o', and gang oot like a lang nibbit can'le—ay, an lea' jist sic a memory ahin' some o' 's, Bawby."
"I kenna gien ye mean me, Miss Horn," said the woman; "but it's no that muckle o' a memory I expec' to lea' ahin' me."
"The less the better," muttered Miss Horn; but her unwelcome visitor went on:
"Them 'at 's maist i' my debt kens least aboot it; and then mithers canna be said to hae muckle to be thankfu' for. It's God's trowth, I ken waur nor ever I did mem. A body in my trade canna help fa'in' amo' ill company whiles, for we're a' born in sin, an' brocht furth in ineequity, as the Buik. says; in fac', it's a' sin thegither: we come o' sin an' we gang for sin; but ye ken the likes o' me maunna clype (tell tales). A' the same, gien ye dinna tak the help o' my han', ye winna refuse me the sicht o' my een, puir thing!"
"There's nane sall luik upon her deid 'at wasna a pleesur' till her livin'; an' ye ken weel eneuch, Bawby, she cudna thole (bear) the sicht o' you."
"An' guid rizzon had she for that, gien a' 'at gangs throu' my heid er I fa' asleep i' the lang mirk nichts be a hair better nor ane o' the auld wives' fables 'at fowk says the holy buik maks sae licht o'."
"What mean ye?" demanded Miss Horn, sternly and curtly.
"I ken what I mean mysel', an' ane that's no content wi' that, bude (behaved) ill be a howdie (midwife). I wad fain hae gotten a fancy oot o' my heid that's been there this mony a lang day; but please yersel', mem, gien ye winna be neebourly."
"Ye s' no gang near her—no to save ye frae a' the ill dreams that ever gethered aboot a sin stappit (stuffed) bowster!" cried Miss Horn, and drew down her long upper lip in a strong arch.
"Ca cannie! ca cannie! (drive gently)," said Bawby. "Dinna anger me ower sair, for I am but mortal. Fowk tak a heap frae you, Miss Horn, 'at they'll tak frae nane ither, for your temper's weel kent, an' little made o'; but it's an ill faured thing to anger the howdie —sae muckle lies upo' her; an, I'm no i' the tune to put up wi' muckle the nicht. I wonner at ye bein' sae oonneebourlike—at sic a time tu, wi' a corp i' the hoose!"
"Gang awa—gan oot o't: it's my hoose," said Miss Horn, in a low, hoarse voice, restrained from rising to tempest pitch only by the consciousness of what lay on the other side of the ceiling above her head. "I wad as sune lat a cat intill the deid chaumer to gang loupin' ower the corp, or may be waur, as I wad lat yersel' intill 't Bawby Catanach; an' there's till ye!"
At this moment the opportune entrance of Jean afforded fitting occasion to her mistress for leaving the room without encountering the dilemma of either turning the woman out—a proceeding which the latter, from the way in which she set her short, stout figure square on the floor, appeared ready to resist—or of herself abandoning the field in discomfiture: she turned and marched from the kitchen with her head in the air, and the gait of one who had been insulted on her own premises.
She was sitting in the parlour, still red faced and wrathful, when Jean entered, and, closing the door behind her, drew near to her mistress, bearing a narrative, commenced at the door, of all she had seen, heard, and done, while "oot an' aboot i' the toon." But Miss Horn interrupted her the moment she began to speak.
"Is that wuman furth the hoose, Jean?" she asked, in the tone of one who waited her answer in the affirmative as a preliminary condition of all further conversation.
"She's gane, mem," answered Jean—adding to herself in a wordless thought, "I'm no sayin' whaur."
"She's a wuman I wadna hae ye throng wi', Jean."
"I ken no ill o' her, mem," returned Jean.
"She's eneuch to corrup' a kirkyaird!" said her mistress, with more force than fitness.
Jean, however, was on the shady side of fifty, more likely to have already yielded than to be liable to a first assault of corruption; and little did Miss Horn think how useless was her warning, or where Barbara Catanach was at that very moment Trusting to Jean's cunning, as well she might; she was in the dead chamber, and standing over the dead. She had folded back the sheet—not from the face, but from the feet—and raised the night dress of fine linen in which the love of her cousin had robed the dead for the repose of the tomb.
"It wad hae been tellin' her," she muttered, "to hae spoken Bawby fair! I'm no used to be fa'en foul o' that gait. I 's be even wi' her yet, I'm thinkin'—the auld speldin'! Losh! and Praise be thankit! there it's! It's there!—a wee darker, but the same —jist whaur I could ha' laid the pint o' my finger upo't i' the mirk!—Noo lat the worms eat it," she concluded, as she folded down the linen of shroud and sheet—"an' no mortal ken o' 't but mysel' an' him 'at bude till hae seen 't, gien he was a hair better nor Glenkindie's man i' the auld ballant!"
The instant she had rearranged the garments of the dead, she turned and made for the door with a softness of step that strangely contrasted with the ponderousness of her figure, and indicated great muscular strength, opened it with noiseless circumspection to the width of an inch, peeped out from the crack, and seeing the opposite door still shut, stepped out with a swift, noiseless swing of person and door simultaneously, closed the door behind her, stole down the stairs, and left the house. Not a board creaked, not a latch clicked as she went. She stepped into the street as sedately as if she had come from paying to the dead the last offices of her composite calling, the projected front of her person appearing itself aware of its dignity as the visible sign and symbol of a good conscience and kindly heart.
CHAPTER III: THE MAD LAIRD
When Mistress Catanach arrived at the opening of a street which was just opposite her own door, and led steep toward the sea town, she stood, and shading her eyes with her hooded hand, although the sun was far behind her, looked out to sea. It was the forenoon of a day of early summer. The larks were many and loud in the skies above her—for, although she stood in a street, she was only a few yards from the green fields—but she could hardly have heard them, for their music was not for her. To the northward, whither her gaze—if gaze it could be called—was directed, all but cloudless blue heavens stretched over an all but shadowless blue sea; two bold, jagged promontories, one on each side of her, formed a wide bay; between that on the west and the sea town at her feet, lay a great curve of yellow sand, upon which the long breakers, born of last night's wind, were still roaring from the northeast, although the gale had now sunk to a breeze—cold and of doubtful influence. From the chimneys of the fishermen's houses below, ascended a yellowish smoke, which, against the blue of the sea, assumed a dull green colour as it drifted vanishing towards the southwest. But Mrs Catanach was looking neither at nor for anything: she had no fisherman husband, or any other relative at sea; she was but revolving something in her unwholesome mind, and this was her mode of concealing an operation which naturally would have been performed with down bent head and eyes on the ground.
While she thus stood a strange figure drew near, approaching her with step almost as noiseless as that with which she had herself made her escape from Miss Horn's house. At a few yards' distance from her it stood, and gazed up at her countenance as intently as she seemed to be gazing on the sea. It was a man of dwarfish height and uncertain age, with a huge hump upon his back, features of great refinement, a long thin beard, and a forehead unnaturally large, over eyes which, although of a pale blue, mingled with a certain mottled milky gleam, had a pathetic, dog-like expression. Decently dressed in black, he stood with his hands in the pockets of his trowsers, gazing immovably in Mrs Catanach's face.
Becoming suddenly aware of his presence, she glanced downward, gave a great start and a half scream, and exclaimed in no gentle tones:
"Preserve 's! Whaur come ye frae?"
It was neither that she did not know the man, nor that she meant any offence: her words were the mere embodiment of the annoyance of startled surprise; but their effect was peculiar.
Without a single other motion he turned abruptly on one heel, gazed seaward with quick flushed cheeks and glowing eyes, but, apparently too polite to refuse an answer to the evidently unpleasant question, replied in low, almost sullen tones:
"I dinna ken whaur I come frae. Ye ken 'at I dinna ken whaur I come frae. I dinna ken whaur ye come frae. I dinna ken whaur onybody comes frae."
"Hoot, laird! nae offence!" returned Mrs Catanach. "It was yer ain wyte (blame). What gart ye stan' glowerin' at a body that gait, ohn telled (without telling) them 'at ye was there?"
"I thocht ye was luikin' whaur ye cam frae," returned the man in tones apologetic and hesitating.
"'Deed I fash wi' nae sic freits," said Mrs Catanach.
"Sae lang's ye ken whaur ye're gaein' till," suggested the man
"Toots! I fash as little wi' that either, and ken jist as muckle about the tane as the tither," she answered with a low oily guttural laugh of contemptuous pity.
"I ken mair nor that mysel', but no muckle," said the man. "I dinna ken whaur I cam frae, and I dinna ken whaur I'm gaun till; but I ken 'at I'm gaun whaur I cam frae. That stan's to rizzon, ye see; but they telled me 'at ye kenned a' about whaur we a' cam frae."
"Deil a bit o' 't!" persisted Mrs Catanach, in tones of repudiation. "What care I whaur I cam frae, sae lang's—"
"Sae lang's what, gien ye please?" pleaded the man, with a childlike entreaty in his voice.
"Weel—gien ye wull hae't—sae lang's I cam frae my mither," said the woman, looking down on the inquirer with a vulgar laugh.
The hunchback uttered a shriek of dismay, and turned and fled; and as he turned, long, thin, white hands flashed out of his pockets, pressed against his ears, and intertwined their fingers at the back of his neck. With a marvellous swiftness he shot down the steep descent towards the shore.
"The deil's in't 'at I bude to anger him!" said the woman, and walked away, with a short laugh of small satisfaction.
The style she had given the hunchback was no nickname. Stephen Stewart was laird of the small property and ancient house of Kirkbyres, of which his mother managed the affairs—hardly for her son, seeing that, beyond his clothes, and five pounds a year of pocket money, he derived no personal advantage from his possessions. He never went near his own house, for, from some unknown reason, plentifully aimed at in the dark by the neighbours, he had such a dislike to his mother that he could not bear to hear the name of mother, or even the slightest allusion to the relationship.
Some said he was a fool; others a madman; some both; none, however, said he was a rogue; and all would have been willing to allow that whatever it might be that caused the difference between him and other men, throughout the disturbing element blew ever and anon the air of a sweet humanity.
Along the shore, in the direction of the great rocky promontory that closed in the bay on the west, with his hands still clasped over his ears, as if the awful word were following him, he flew rather than fled. It was nearly low water, and the wet sand afforded an easy road to his flying feet. Betwixt sea and shore, a sail in the offing the sole other moving thing in the solitary landscape, like a hunted creature he sped, his footsteps melting and vanishing behind him in the half quicksand.
Where the curve of the water line turned northward at the root of the promontory, six or eight fishing boats were drawn up on the beach in various stages of existence. One was little more than half built, the fresh wood shining against the background of dark rock. Another was newly tarred; its sides glistened with the rich shadowy brown, and filled the air with a comfortable odour. Another wore age long neglect on every plank and seam; half its props had sunk or decayed, and the huge hollow leaned low on one side, disclosing the squalid desolation of its lean ribbed and naked interior, producing all the phantasmic effect of a great swampy desert; old pools of water overgrown with a green scum, lay in the hollows between its rotting timbers, and the upper planks were baking and cracking in the sun. Near where they lay a steep path ascended the cliff, whence through grass and ploughed land, it led across the promontory to the fishing village of Scaurnose, which lay on the other side of it. There the mad laird, or Mad Humpy, as he was called by the baser sort, often received shelter, chiefly from the family of a certain Joseph Mair, one of the most respectable inhabitants of the place.
But the way he now pursued lay close under the cliffs of the headland, and was rocky and difficult. He passed the boats, going between them and the cliffs, at a footpace, with his eyes on the ground, and not even a glance at the two men who were at work on the unfinished boat. One of them was his friend, Joseph Mair. They ceased their work for a moment to look after him.
"That's the puir laird again," said Joseph, the instant he was beyond hearing. "Something's wrang wi' him. I wonder what's come ower him!"
"I haena seen him for a while noo," returned the other. "They tell me 'at his mither made him ower to the deil afore he cam to the light; and sae, aye as his birthday comes roun', Sawtan gets the pooer ower him. Eh, but he's a fearsome sicht whan he's ta'en that gait!" continued the speaker. "I met him ance i' the gloamin', jist ower by the toon, wi' his een glowerin' like uily lamps, an' the slaver rinnin' doon his lang baird. I jist laup as gien I had seen the muckle Sawtan himsel'."
"Ye nott na (needed not) hae dune that," was the reply. "He's jist as hairmless, e'en at the warst, as ony lamb. He's but a puir cratur wha's tribble's ower strang for him—that's a'. Sawtan has as little to du wi' him as wi' ony man I ken."
CHAPTER IV: PHEMY MAIR
With eyes that stared as if they and not her ears were the organs of hearing, this talk was heard by a child of about ten years of age, who sat in the bottom of the ruined boat, like a pearl in a decaying oyster shell, one hand arrested in the act of dabbling in a green pool, the other on its way to her lips with a mouthful of the seaweed called dulse. She was the daughter of Joseph Mair just mentioned—a fisherman who had been to sea in a man of war (in consequence of which his to-name or nickname was Blue Peter), where having been found capable, he was employed as carpenter's mate, and came to be very handy with his tools: having saved a little money by serving in another man's boat, he was now building one for himself.
He was a dark complexioned, foreign looking man, with gold rings in his ears, which he said enabled him to look through the wind "ohn his een watered." Unlike most of his fellows, he was a sober and indeed thoughtful man, ready to listen to the voice of reason from any quarter; they were, in general, men of hardihood and courage, encountering as a mere matter of course such perilous weather as the fishers on a great part of our coasts would have declined to meet, and during the fishing season were diligent in their calling, and made a good deal of money; but when the weather was such that they could not go to sea, when their nets were in order, and nothing special requiring to be done, they would have bouts of hard drinking, and spend a great portion of what ought to have been their provision for the winter.
Their women were in general coarse in manners and rude in speech; often of great strength and courage, and of strongly marked character. They were almost invariably the daughters of fishermen, for a wife taken from among the rural population would have been all but useless in regard of the peculiar duties required of her. If these were less dangerous than those of their husbands, they were quite as laborious, and less interesting. The most severe consisted in carrying the fish into the country for sale, in a huge creel or basket, which when full was sometimes more than a man could lift to place on the woman's back. With this burden, kept in its place by a band across her chest, she would walk as many as twenty miles, arriving at some inland town early in the forenoon, in time to dispose of her fish for the requirements of the day. I may add that, although her eldest child was probably born within a few weeks after her marriage, infidelity was almost unknown amongst them.
In some respects, although in none of its good qualities, Mrs. Mair was an exception from her class. Her mother had been the daughter of a small farmer, and she had well to do relations in an inland parish; but how much these facts were concerned in the result it would be hard to say: certainly she was one of those elect whom Nature sends into the world for the softening and elevation of her other children. She was still slight and graceful, with a clear complexion, and the prettiest teeth possible; the former two at least of which advantages she must have lost long before, had it not been that, while her husband's prudence had rendered hard work less imperative, he had a singular care over her good looks; and that a rough, honest, elder sister of his lived with them, whom it would have been no kindness to keep from the hardest work, seeing it was only through such that she could have found a sufficiency of healthy interest in life. While Janet Mair carried the creel, Annie only assisted in making the nets, and in cleaning and drying the fish, of which they cured considerable quantities; these, with her household and maternal duties, afforded her ample occupation. Their children were well trained, and being of necessity, from the narrowness of their house accommodation, a great deal with their parents, heard enough to make them think after their faculty.
The mad laird was, as I have said, a visitor at their house oftener than anywhere else. On such occasions he slept in a garret accessible by a ladder from the ground floor, which consisted only of a kitchen and a closet. Little Phemy Mair was therefore familiar with his appearance, his ways, and his speech; and she was a favourite with him, although hitherto his shyness had been sufficient to prevent any approach to intimacy with even a child of ten.
When the poor fellow had got some little distance beyond the boats, he stopped and withdrew his hands from his ears: in rushed the sound of the sea, the louder that the caverns of his brain had been so long closed to its entrance. With a moan of dismay he once more pressed his palms against them, and thus deafened, shouted with a voice of agony into the noise of the rising tide: "I dinna ken whaur I come frae!" after which cry, wrung from the grief of human ignorance, he once more took to his heels, though with far less swiftness than before, and fled stumbling and scrambling over the rocks.
Scarcely had he vanished from view of the boats, when Phemy scrambled out of her big mussell shell. Its upheaved side being toward the boat at which her father was at work, she escaped unperceived, and so ran along the base of the promontory, where the rough way was perhaps easier to the feet of a child content to take smaller steps and climb or descend by the help of more insignificant inequalities. She came within sight of the laird just as he turned into the mouth of a well known cave and vanished.
Phemy was one of those rare and blessed natures which have endless courage because they have no distrust, and she ran straight into the cave after him, without even first stopping to look in.
It was not a very interesting cave to look into. The strata of which it was composed, upheaved almost to the perpendicular, shaped an opening like the half of a Gothic arch divided vertically and leaning over a little to one side, which opening rose to the full height of the cave, and seemed to lay bare every corner of it to a single glance. In length it was only about four or five times its width. The floor was smooth and dry, consisting of hard rock. The walls and roof were jagged with projections and shadowed with recesses, but there was little to rouse any frightful fancies.
When Phemy entered, the laird was nowhere to be seen. But she went straight to the back of the cave, to its farthest visible point. There she rounded a projection and began an ascent which only familiarity with rocky ways could have enabled such a child to accomplish. At the top she passed through another opening, and by a longer and more gently sloping descent reached the floor of a second cave, as level and nearly as smooth as a table. On her left hand, what light managed to creep through the tortuous entrance was caught and reflected in a dull glimmer from the undefined surface of a well of fresh water which lay in a sort of basin in the rock: on a bedded stone beside it sat the laird, with his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees, and his hump upheaved above his head, like Mount Sinai over the head of Christian in the Pilgrim's Progress.
As his hands were still pressed on his ears, he heard nothing of Phemy's approach, and she stood for a while staring at him in the vague glimmer, apparently with no anxiety as to what was to come next.
Weary at length—for the forlorn man continued movelessly sunk in his own thoughts, or what he had for such—the eyes of the child began to wander about the darkness, to which they had already got so far accustomed as to make the most of the scanty light. Presently she fancied she saw something glitter, away in the darkness—two things: they must be eyes!—the eyes of an otter or of a polecat, in which creatures the caves along the shore abounded. Seized with sudden fright, she ran to the laird and laid her hand on his shoulder, crying,
"Leuk, laird, leuk!"
He started to his feet and gazed bewildered at the child, rubbing his eyes once and again. She stood between the well and the entrance, so that all the light there was, gathered upon her pale face.
"Whaur do ye come frae?" he cried.
"I cam frae the auld boat," she answered.
"What do ye want wi' me?"
"Naething, sir; I only cam to see hoo ye was gettin' on. I wadna hae disturbit ye, sir, but I saw the twa een o' a wullcat, or sic like, glowerin' awa yonner i' the mirk, an' they fleyt me 'at I grippit ye."
"Weel, weel; sit ye doon, bairnie," said the mad laird in a soothing voice; "the wullcat sanna touch ye. Ye're no fleyt at me, are ye?"
"Na!" answered the child. "What for sud I be fleyt at you, sir? I'm Phemy Mair."
"Eh, bairnie! it's you, is't?" he returned in tones of satisfaction, for he had not hitherto recognised her. "Sit ye doon, sit ye doon, an' we'll see about it a'."
Phemy obeyed, and seated herself on the nearest projection.
The laird placed himself beside her, and once more buried his face, but not his ears, in his hands. Nothing entered them, however, but the sound of the rising tide, for Phemy sat by him in the faintly glimmering dusk, as without fear felt, so without word spoken.
The evening crept on, and the night came down, but all the effect of the growing darkness was that the child drew gradually nearer to her uncouth companion, until at length her hand stole into his, her head sank upon his shoulder, his arm went round her to hold her safe, and thus she fell fast asleep. After a while, the laird gently roused her and took her home, on their way warning her, in strange yet to her comprehensible utterance, to say nothing of where she had found him, for if she exposed his place of refuge, wicked people would take him, and he should never see her again.
CHAPTER V: LADY FLORIMEL
All the coast to the east of the little harbour was rock, bold and high, of a grey and brown hard stone, which after a mighty sweep, shot out northward, and closed in the bay on that side with a second great promontory. The long curved strip of sand on the west, reaching to the promontory of Scaurnose, was the only open portion of the coast for miles. Here the coasting vessel gliding past gained a pleasant peep of open fields, belts of wood and farm houses, with now and then a glimpse of a great house amidst its trees. In the distance one or two bare solitary hills, imposing in aspect only from their desolation, for their form gave no effect to their altitude, rose to the height of over a thousand feet.
On this comparatively level part of the shore, parallel with its line, and at some distance beyond the usual high water mark, the waves of ten thousand northern storms had cast up a long dune or bank of sand, terminating towards the west within a few yards of a huge solitary rock of the ugly kind called conglomerate, which must have been separated from the roots of the promontory by the rush of waters at unusually high tides, for in winter they still sometimes rounded the rock, and running down behind the dune, turned it into a long island. The sand on the inland side of the dune, covered with short sweet grass, browsed on by sheep, and with the largest and reddest of daisies, was thus occasionally swept by wild salt waves, and at times, when the northern wind blew straight as an arrow and keen as a sword from the regions of endless snow, lay under a sheet of gleaming ice.
The sun had been up for some time in a cloudless sky. The wind had changed to the south, and wafted soft country odours to the shore, in place of sweeping to inland farms the scents of seaweed and broken salt waters, mingled with a suspicion of icebergs. From what was called the Seaton, or seatown, of Portlossie, a crowd of cottages occupied entirely by fisherfolk, a solitary figure was walking westward along this grass at the back of the dune, singing. On his left hand the ground rose to the high road; on his right was the dune, interlaced and bound together by the long clasping roots of the coarse bent, without which its sands would have been but the sport of every wind that blew. It shut out from him all sight of the sea, but the moan and rush of the rising tide sounded close behind it. At his back rose the town of Portlossie, high above the harbour and the Seaton, with its houses of grey and brown stone, roofed with blue slates and red tiles. It was no highland town —scarce one within it could speak the highland tongue, yet down from its high streets on the fitful air of the morning now floated intermittently the sound of bagpipes—borne winding from street to street, and loud blown to wake the sleeping inhabitants and let them know that it was now six of the clock.
He was a youth of about twenty, with a long, swinging, heavy footed stride, which took in the ground rapidly—a movement unlike that of the other men of the place, who always walked slowly, and never but on dire compulsion ran. He was rather tall, and large limbed. His dress was like that of a fisherman, consisting of blue serge trowsers, a shirt striped blue and white, and a Guernsey frock, which he carried flung across his shoulder. On his head he wore a round blue bonnet, with a tuft of scarlet in the centre.
His face was more than handsome—with large features, not finely cut, and a look of mingled nobility and ingenuousness—the latter amounting to simplicity, or even innocence; while the clear outlook from his full and well opened hazel eyes indicated both courage and promptitude. His dark brown hair came in large curling masses from under his bonnet. It was such a form and face as would have drawn every eye in a crowded thoroughfare.
About the middle of the long sandhill, a sort of wide embrasure was cut in its top, in which stood an old fashioned brass swivel gun: when the lad reached the place, he sprang up the sloping side of the dune, seated himself on the gun, drew from his trowsers a large silver watch, regarded it steadily for a few minutes, replaced it, and took from his pocket a flint and steel, wherewith he kindled a bit of touch paper, which, rising, he applied to the vent of the swivel. Followed a great roar.
It echoes had nearly died away, when a startled little cry reached his keen ear, and looking along the shore to discover whence it came, he spied a woman on a low rock that ran a little way out into the water. She had half risen from a sitting posture, and apparently her cry was the result of the discovery that the rising tide had overreached and surrounded her. There was no danger whatever, but the girl might well shrink from plunging into the clear beryl depth in which swayed the seaweed clothing the slippery slopes of the rock. He rushed from the sandhill, crying, as he approached her, "Dinna be in a hurry, mem; bide till I come to ye," and running straight into the water struggled through the deepening tide, the distance being short and the depth almost too shallow for swimming. In a moment he was by her side, scarcely saw the bare feet she had been bathing in the water, heeded as little the motion of the hand which waved him back, caught her in his arms like a baby, and had her safe on the shore ere she could utter a word; nor did he stop until he had carried her to the slope of the sandhill, where he set her gently down, and without a suspicion of the liberty he was taking, and filled only with a passion of service, was proceeding to dry her feet with the frock which he had dropped there as he ran to her assistance.
"Let me alone, pray," cried the girl with a half amused indignation, drawing back her feet and throwing down a book she carried that she might the better hide them with her skirt. But although she shrank from his devotion, she could neither mistake it nor help being pleased with his kindness. Probably she had never before been immediately indebted to such an ill clad individual of the human race, but even in such a costume she could not fail to see he was a fine fellow. Nor was the impression disturbed when he opened his mouth and spoke in the broad dialect of the country, for she had no associations to cause her to misinterpret its homeliness as vulgarity.
"Whaur's yer stockin's, mem?" he said.
"You gave me no time to bring them away, you caught me up so— rudely," answered the girl half querulously, but in such lovely speech as had never before greeted his Scotish ears.
Before the words were well beyond her lips he was already on his way back to the rock, running, as he walked, with great, heavy footed strides. The abandoned shoes and stockings were in imminent danger of being floated off by the rising water, but he dashed in, swam a few strokes, caught them up, waded back to the shore, and, leaving a wet track all the way behind him but carrying the rescued clothing at arm's length before him, rejoined their owner. Spreading his frock out before her, he laid the shoes and stockings upon it, and, observing that she continued to keep her feet hidden under the skirts of her dress, turned his back and stood.
"Why don't you go away?" said the girl, venturing one set of toes from under their tent, but hesitating to proceed further in the business.
Without word or turn of head he walked away.
Either flattered by his absolute obedience, and persuaded that he was a true squire, or unwilling to forego what amusement she might gain from him, she drew in her half issuing foot, and, certainly urged in part by an inherent disposition to tease, spoke again.
"You're not going away without thanking me?" she said.
"What for, mem?" he returned simply, standing stock still again with his back towards her.
"You needn't stand so. You don't think I would go on dressing while you remained in sight?"
"I was as guid's awa', mem," he said, and turning a glowing face, looked at her for a moment, then cast his eyes on the ground.
"Tell me what you mean by not thanking me," she insisted.
"They wad be dull thanks, mem, that war thankit afore I kenned what for."
"For allowing you to carry me ashore, of course."
"Be thankit, mem, wi' a' my hert. Will I gang doon o' my knees?"
"No. Why should you go on your knees?"
"'Cause ye're 'maist ower bonny to luik at stan'in', mem, an' I'm feared for angerin' ye."
"Don't say ma'am to me."
"What am I to say, than, mem?—I ask yer pardon, mem."
"Say my lady. That's how people speak to me."
"I thocht ye bude (behoved) to be somebody by ordinar', my leddy! That'll be hoo ye're so terrible bonny," he returned, with some tremulousness in his tone. "But ye maun put on yer hose, my leddy, or ye'll get yer feet cauld, and that's no guid for the likes o' you."
The form of address she prescribed, conveyed to him no definite idea of rank. It but added intensity to the notion of her being a lady, as distinguished from one of the women of his own condition in life.
"And pray what is to become of you," she returned, "with your clothes as wet as water can make them?"
"The saut water kens me ower weel to do me ony ill," returned the lad. "I gang weet to the skin mony a day frae mornin' till nicht, and mony a nicht frae nicht till mornin'—at the heerin' fishin', ye ken, my leddy."
One might well be inclined to ask what could have tempted her to talk in such a familiar way to a creature like him—human indeed, but separated from her by a gulf more impassable far than that which divided her from the thrones, principalities, and powers of the upper regions? And how is the fact to be accounted for, that here she put out a dainty foot, and reaching for one of her stockings, began to draw it gently over the said foot? Either her sense of his inferiority was such that she regarded his presence no more than that of a dog, or, possibly, she was tempted to put his behaviour to the test. He, on his part, stood quietly regarding the operation, either that, with the instinct of an inborn refinement, he was aware he ought not to manifest more shamefacedness than the lady herself, or that he was hardly more accustomed to the sight of gleaming fish than the bare feet of maidens.
"I'm thinkin', my leddy," he went on, in absolute simplicity, "that sma' fut o' yer ain has danced mony a braw dance on mony a braw flure."
"How old do you take me for then?" she rejoined, and went on drawing the garment over her foot by the shortest possible stages.
"Ye'll no be muckle ower twenty," he said.
"I'm only sixteen," she returned, laughing merrily.
"What will ye be or ye behaud!" he exclaimed, after a brief pause of astonishment.
"Do you ever dance in this part of the country?" she asked, heedless of his surprise.
"No that muckle, at least amo' the fisherfowks, excep' it be at a weddin'. I was at ane last nicht."
"And did you dance?"
"'Deed did I, my leddy. I danced the maist o' the lasses clean aff o' their legs."
"What made you so cruel?"
"Weel, ye see, mem,—I mean my leddy,—fowk said I was ill aboot the bride; an' sae I bude to dance 't oot o' their heids."
"And how much truth was there in what they said?" she asked, with a sly glance up in the handsome, now glowing face.
"Gien there was ony, there was unco little," he replied. "The chield's walcome till her for me. But she was the bonniest lassie we had.—It was what we ca' a penny weddin'," he went on, as if willing to change the side of the subject.
"And what's a penny wedding?"
"It's a' kin' o' a custom amo' the fishers. There's some gey puir fowk amon' 's, ye see, an' when a twa o' them merries, the lave o' 's wants to gie them a bit o' a start like. Sae we a' gang to the weddin' an' eats an' drinks plenty, an' pays for a' 'at we hae; and they mak' a guid profit out o' 't, for the things doesna cost them nearhan' sae muckle as we pay. So they hae a guid han'fu' ower for the plenishin'."
"And what do they give you to eat and drink?" asked the girl, making talk.
"Ow, skate an' mustard to eat, an' whusky to drink," answered the lad, laughing. "But it's mair for the fun. I dinna care muckle about whusky an' that kin' o' thing mysel'. It's the fiddles an the dancin' 'at I like."
"You have music, then?"
"Ay; jist the fiddles an' the pipes."
"The bagpipes, do you mean?"
"Ay; my gran'father plays them."
"But you're not in the Highlands here: how come you to have bagpipes?"
"It's a stray bag, an' no more. But the fowk here likes the cry o' 't well eneuch, an' hae 't to wauk them ilka mornin'. Yon was my gran'father ye heard afore I fired the gun. Yon was his pipes waukin' them, honest fowk."
"And what made you fire the gun in that reckless way? Don't you know it is very dangerous?"
"Dangerous mem—my leddy, I mean! There was naething intill 't but a pennyworth o' blastin' pooder. It wadna blaw the froth aff o' the tap o' a jaw (billow)."
"It nearly blew me out of my small wits, though."
"I'm verra sorry it frichtit ye. But, gien I had seen ye, I bude to fire the gun."
"I don't understand you quite; but I suppose you mean it was your business to fire the gun."
"Jist that, my leddy."
"'Cause it's been decreet i' the toon cooncil that at sax o' the clock ilka mornin' that gun's to be fired—at least sae lang's my lord, the marquis, is at Portlossie Hoose. Ye see it's a royal brugh, this, an' it costs but aboot a penny, an' it's gran' like to hae a sma' cannon to fire. An' gien I was to neglec' it, my gran'father wad gang on skirlin'—what's the English for skirlin', my leddy—skirlin' o' the pipes?"
"I don't know. But from the sound of the word I should suppose it stands for screaming."
"Aye, that's it; only screamin's no sae guid as skirlin'. My gran'father's an auld man, as I was gaein' on to say, an' has hardly breath eneuch to fill the bag; but he wad be efter dirkin' onybody 'at said sic a thing, and till he heard that gun he wad gang on blawin' though he sud burst himsel.' There's naebody kens the smeddum in an auld hielan' man!"
By the time the conversation had reached this point, the lady had got her shoes on, had taken up her book from the sand, and was now sitting with it in her lap. No sound reached them but that of the tide, for the scream of the bagpipes had ceased the moment the swivel was fired. The sun was growing hot, and the sea, although so far in the cold north, was gorgeous in purple and green, suffused as with the overpowering pomp of a peacock's plumage in the sun. Away to the left the solid promontory trembled against the horizon, as if ready to dissolve and vanish between the bright air and the lucid sea that fringed its base with white. The glow of a young summer morning pervaded earth and sea and sky, and swelled the heart of the youth as he stood in unconscious bewilderment before the self possession of the girl. She was younger than he, and knew far less that was worth knowing, yet had a world of advantage over him—not merely from the effect of her presence on one who had never seen anything half so beautiful, but from a certain readiness of surface thought, combined with the sweet polish of her speech, and an assurance of superiority which appeared to them both to lift her, like one of the old immortals, far above the level of the man whom she favoured with her passing converse. What in her words, as here presented only to the eye, may seem brusqueness or even forwardness, was so tempered, so toned, so fashioned by the naivete with which she spoke, that it sounded in his ears as the utterance of absolute condescension. As to her personal appearance, the lad might well have taken her for twenty, for she looked more of a woman than, tall and strongly built as he was, he looked of a man. She was rather tall, rather slender, finely formed, with small hands and feet, and full throat. Her hair was of a dark brown; her eyes of such a blue that no one could have suggested grey; her complexion fair—a little freckled, which gave it the warmest tint it had; her nose nearly straight, her mouth rather large but well formed; and her forehead, as much of it as was to be seen under a garden hat, rose with promise above a pair of dark and finely pencilled eyebrows.
The description I have here given may be regarded as occupying the space of a brief silence, during which the lad stood motionless, like one awaiting further command.
"Why don't you go?" said the lady. "I want to read my book."
He gave a great sigh, as if waking from a pleasant dream, took off his bonnet with a clumsy movement which yet had in it a grace worthy of a Stuart court, and descending the dune walked away along the sands towards the sea town.
When he had gone about a couple of hundred yards, he looked back involuntarily. The lady had vanished. He concluded that she had crossed to the other side of the dune; but when he had gone so far on his way to the village as to clear the eastern end of the sandhill, and there turned and looked up its southern slope, she was still nowhere to be seen. The old highland stories of his grandfather came crowding to mind, and, altogether human as she had appeared, he almost doubted whether the sea, from which he had thought he rescued her, were not her native element. The book, however, not to mention the shoes and stockings, was against the supposition. Anyhow, he had seen a vision of some order or other, as certainly as if an angel from heaven had appeared to him, for the waters of his mind had been troubled with a new sense of grace and beauty, giving an altogether fresh glory to existence.
Of course no one would dream of falling in love with an unearthly creature, even an angel; at least, something homely must mingle with the glory ere that become possible; and as to this girl, the youth could scarcely have regarded her with a greater sense of far offness had he known her for the daughter of a king of the sea —one whose very element was essentially death to him as life to her. Still he walked home as if the heavy boots he wore were wings at his heels, like those of the little Eurus or Boreas that stood blowing his trumpet for ever in the round open temple which from the top of a grassy hill in the park overlooked the Seaton.
"Sic een!" he kept saying to himself; "an' sic sma' white han's! an' sic a bonny flit! Eh hoo she wad glitter throu' the water in a bag net! Faith! gien she war to sing 'come doon' to me, I wad gang. Wad that be to lowse baith sowl an' body, I wonner? I'll see what Maister Graham says to that. It's a fine question to put till 'im: 'Gien a body was to gang wi' a mermaid, wha they say has nae sowl to be saved, wad that be the loss o' his sowl, as weel's o' the bodily life o' 'im?"'
CHAPTER VI: DUNCAN MACPHAIL
The sea town of Portlossie was as irregular a gathering of small cottages as could be found on the surface of the globe. They faced every way, turned their backs and gables every way—only of the roofs could you predict the position; were divided from each other by every sort of small, irregular space and passage, and looked like a national assembly debating a constitution. Close behind the Seaton, as it was called, ran a highway, climbing far above the chimneys of the village to the level of the town above. Behind this road, and separated from it by a high wall of stone, lay a succession of heights and hollows covered with grass. In front of the cottages lay sand and sea. The place was cleaner than most fishing villages, but so closely built, so thickly inhabited, and so pervaded with "a very ancient and fishlike smell," that but for the besom of the salt north wind it must have been unhealthy. Eastward the houses could extend no further for the harbour, and westward no further for a small river that crossed the sands to find the sea—discursively and merrily at low water, but with sullen, submissive mingling when banked back by the tide.
Avoiding the many nets extended long and wide on the grassy sands, the youth walked through the tide swollen mouth of the river, and passed along the front of the village until he arrived at a house, the small window in the seaward gable of which was filled with a curious collection of things for sale—dusty looking sweets in a glass bottle; gingerbread cakes in the shape of large hearts, thickly studded with sugar plums of rainbow colours, invitingly poisonous; strings of tin covers for tobacco pipes, overlapping each other like fish scales; toys, and tapes, and needles, and twenty other kinds of things, all huddled together.
Turning the corner of this house, he went down the narrow passage between it and the next, and in at its open door. But the moment it was entered it lost all appearance of a shop, and the room with the tempting window showed itself only as a poor kitchen with an earthen floor.
"Weel, hoo did the pipes behave themsels the day, daddy?" said the youth as he strode in.
"Och, she'll pe peing a coot poy today," returned the tremulous voice of a grey headed old man, who was leaning over a small peat fire on the hearth, sifting oatmeal through the fingers of his left hand into a pot, while he stirred the boiling mess with a short stick held in his right.
It had grown to be understood between them that the pulmonary conditions of the old piper should be attributed not to his internal, but his external lungs—namely, the bag of his pipes. Both sets had of late years manifested strong symptoms of decay, and decided measures had had to be again and again resorted to in the case of the latter to put off its evil day, and keep within it the breath of its musical existence. The youth's question, then, as to the behaviour of the pipes, was in reality an inquiry after the condition of his grandfather's lungs, which, for their part, grew yearly more and more asthmatic: notwithstanding which Duncan MacPhail would not hear of resigning the dignity of town piper.
"That's fine, daddy," returned the youth. "Wull I mak oot the parritch? I'm thinkin ye've had eneuch o' hingin' ower the fire this het mornin'."
"No, sir," answered Duncan. "She'll pe perfectly able to make ta parritch herself, my poy Malcolm. Ta tay will tawn when her poy must make his own parritch, an' she'll be wantin' no more parritch, but haf to trink ta rainwater, and no trop of ta uisgebeatha to put into it, my poy Malcolm."
His grandson was quite accustomed to the old man's heathenish mode of regarding his immediate existence after death as a long confinement in the grave, and generally had a word or two ready wherewith to combat the frightful notion; but, as he spoke, Duncan lifted the pot from the fire, and set it on its three legs on the deal table in the middle of the room, adding:
"Tere, my man—tere's ta parritch! And was it ta putter, or ta traicle, or ta pottle o' peer, she would be havin' for kitchie tis fine mornin'?"
This point settled, the two sat down to eat their breakfast; and no one would have discovered, from the manner in which the old man helped himself, nor yet from the look of his eyes, that he was stone blind. It came neither of old age nor disease—he had been born blind. His eyes, although large and wide, looked like those of a sleep walker—open with shut sense; the shine in them was all reflected light—glitter, no glow; and their colour was so pale that they suggested some horrible sight as having driven from them hue and vision together.
"Haf you eated enough, my son?" he said, when he heard Malcolm lay down his spoon.
"Ay, plenty, thank ye, daddy, and they were richt weel made," replied the lad, whose mode of speech was entirely different from his grandfather's: the latter had learned English as a foreign language, but could not speak Scotch, his mother tongue being Gaelic.
As they rose from the table, a small girl, with hair wildly suggestive of insurrection and conflagration, entered, and said, in a loud screetch—"Maister MacPhail, my mither wants a pot o' bleckin', an' ye're to be sure an' gie her't gweed, she says."
"Fery coot, my chilt, Jeannie; but young Malcolm and old Tuncan hasn't made teir prayers yet, and you know fery well tat she won't sell pefore she's made her prayers. Tell your mother tat she'll pe bringin' ta blackin' when she comes to look to ta lamp."
The child ran off without response. Malcolm lifted the pot from the table and set it on the hearth; put the plates together and the spoons, and set them on a chair, for there was no dresser; tilted the table, and wiped it hearthward—then from a shelf took down and laid upon it a bible, before which he seated himself with an air of reverence. The old man sat down on a low chair by the chimney corner, took off his bonnet, closed his eyes and murmured some almost inaudible words; then repeated in Gaelic the first line of the hundred and third psalm—
O m' anam, beannuich thus' a nis
—and raised a tune of marvellous wail. Arrived at the end of the line, he repeated the process with the next, and so went on, giving every line first in the voice of speech and then in the voice of song, through three stanzas of eight lines each. And no less strange was the singing than the tune—wild and wailful as the wind of his native desolations, or as the sound of his own pipes borne thereon; and apparently all but lawless, for the multitude of so called grace notes, hovering and fluttering endlessly around the centre tone like the comments on a text, rendered it nearly impossible to unravel from them the air even of a known tune. It had in its kind the same liquid uncertainty of confluent sound which had hitherto rendered it impossible for Malcolm to learn more than a few of the common phrases of his grandfather's mother tongue.
The psalm over, during which the sightless eyeballs of the singer had been turned up towards the rafters of the cottage—a sign surely that the germ of light, "the sunny seed," as Henry Vaughan calls it, must be in him, else why should he lift his eyes when he thought upward?—Malcolm read a chapter of the Bible, plainly the next in an ordered succession, for it could never have been chosen or culled; after which they kneeled together, and the old man poured out a prayer, beginning in a low, scarcely audible voice, which rose at length to a loud, modulated chant. Not a sentence, hardly a phrase, of the utterance, did his grandson lay hold of; but there were a few inhabitants of the place who could have interpreted it, and it was commonly believed that one part of his devotions was invariably a prolonged petition for vengeance on Campbell of Glenlyon, the main instrument in the massacre of Glenco.
He could have prayed in English, and then his grandson might have joined in his petitions, but the thought of such a thing would never have presented itself to him. Nay, although, understanding both languages, he used that which was unintelligible to the lad, he yet regarded himself as the party who had the right to resent the consequent schism. Such a conversation as now followed was no new thing after prayers.
"I could fery well wish, Malcolm, my son," said the old man, "tat you would be learnin' to speak your own lancuach. It is all fery well for ta Sassenach (Saxon, i.e., non-Celtic) podies to read ta Piple in English, for it will be pleasing ta Maker not to make tem cawpable of ta Gaelic, no more tan monkeys; but for all tat it's not ta vord of God. Ta Gaelic is ta lancuach of ta carden of Aiden, and no doubt but it pe ta lancuach in which ta Shepherd calls his sheep on ta everlastin' hills. You see, Malcolm, it must be so, for how can a mortal man speak to his God in anything put Gaelic? When Mr Craham—no, not Mr Craham, ta coot man; it was ta new Minister—he speak an' say to her: 'Mr MacPhail, you ought to make your prayers in Enclish,' I was fery wrathful, and I answered and said: 'Mr Downey, do you tare to suppose tat God doesn't prefer ta Gaelic to ta Sassenach tongue!'—'Mr MacPhail,' says he, 'it'll pe for your poy I mean it How's ta lad to learn ta way of salvation if you speak to your God in his presence in a strange tongue? So I was opedient to his vord, and ta next efening I tid kneel town in Sassenach and I tid make begin. But, ochone! she wouldn't go; her tongue would be cleafing to ta roof of her mouth; ta claymore would be sticking rusty in ta scappard; for her heart she was ashamed to speak to ta Hielan'man's Maker in ta Sassenach tongue. You must pe learning ta Gaelic, or you'll not pe peing worthy to pe her nain son, Malcolm."
"But daddy, wha's to learn me?" asked his grandson, gayly.
"Learn you, Malcolm! Ta Gaelic is ta lancuach of Nature, and wants no learning. I nefer did pe learning it, yat I nefer haf to say to myself 'What is it she would be saying?' when I speak ta Gaelic; put she always has to set ta tead men—that is ta vords—on their feet, and put tem in pattle array, when she would pe speaking ta dull mechanic English. When she opens her mouth to it, ta Gaelic comes like a spring of pure water, Malcolm. Ta plenty of it must run out. Try it now, Malcolm. Shust oppen your mouth in ta Gaelic shape, and see if ta Gaelic will not pe falling from it."
Seized with a merry fit, Malcolm did open his mouth in the Gaelic shape, and sent from it a strange gabble, imitative of the most frequently recurring sounds of his grandfather's speech.
"Hoo will that du, daddy?" he asked, after jabbering gibberish for the space of a minute.
"It will not be paad for a peginning, Malcolm. She cannot say it shust pe vorts, or tat tere pe much of ta sense in it; but it pe fery like what ta pabes will say pefore tey pekin to speak it properly. So it's all fery well, and if you will only pe putting your mouth in ta Gaelic shape often enough, ta sounds will soon pe taking ta shape of it, and ta vorts will be coming trough ta mists, and pefore you know, you'll pe peing a creat credit to your cranfather, my boy, Malcolm."
A silence followed, for Malcolm's attempt had not had the result he anticipated: he had thought only to make his grandfather laugh. Presently the old man resumed, in the kindest voice:
"And tere's another thing, Malcolm, tat's much wanting to you: you'll never pe a man—not to speak of a pard like your cranfather— if you'll not pe learning to play on ta bagpipes."
Malcolm, who had been leaning against the chimney lug while his grandfather spoke, moved gently round behind his chair, reached out for the pipes where they lay in a corner at the old man's side, and catching them up softly, put the mouthpiece to his lips. With a few vigorous blasts he filled the bag, and out burst the double droning bass, while the youth's fingers, clutching the chanter as by the throat, at once compelled its screeches into shape far better, at least, than his lips had been able to give to the crude material of Gaelic. He played the only reel he knew, but that with vigour and effect.
At the first sound of its notes the old man sprung to his feet and began capering to the reel—partly in delight with the music, but far more in delight with the musician, while, ever and anon, with feeble yell, he uttered the unspellable Hoogh of the Highlander, and jumped, as he thought, high in the air, though his failing limbs, alas! lifted his feet scarce an inch from the floor.
"Aigh! aigh!" he sighed at length, yielding the contest between his legs and the lungs of the lad—"aigh! aigh! she'll die happy! she'll die happy! Hear till her poy, how he makes ta pipes speak ta true Gaelic! Ta pest o' Gaelic, tat! Old Tuncan's pipes 'll not know how to be talking Sassenach. See to it! see to it! He had put to blow in at ta one end, and out came ta reel at the other. Hoogh! hoogh! Play us ta Righil Thulachan, Malcolm, my chief!"
"I kenna reel, strathspey, nor lilt, but jist that burd alane, daddy."
"Give tem to me, my poy!" cried the old piper, reaching out a hand as eager to clutch the uncouth instrument as the miser's to finger his gold; "hear well to me as I play, and you'll soon be able to play pibroch or coronach with the best piper between Cape Wrath and ta Mull o' Cantyre."
He played tune after tune until his breath failed him, and an exhausted grunt of the drone—in the middle of a coronach, followed by an abrupt pause, revealed the emptiness of both lungs and bag. Then first he remembered his object, forgotten the moment he had filled his bag.
"Now, Malcolm," he said, offering the pipes to his grandson; "you play tat after."
He had himself of course, learned all by the ear, but could hardly have been serious in requesting Malcolm to follow him through such a succession of tortuous mazes.
"I haena a memory up to that, daddy; but I s' get a hand o' Mr Graham's flute music, and maybe that'll help me a bit.—Wadna ye be takin' hame Meg Partan's blackin' 'at ye promised her?"
"Surely, my son. She should always be keeping her promises." He rose, and getting a small stone bottle and his stick from the corner between the projecting inglecheek and the window, left the house, to walk with unerring steps through the labyrinth of the village, threading his way from passage to passage, and avoiding pools and projecting stones, not to say houses, and human beings. His eyes, or indeed perhaps rather his whole face, appeared to possess an ethereal sense as of touch, for, without the slightest contact in the ordinary sense of the word, he was aware of the neighbourhood of material objects, as if through the pulsations of some medium to others imperceptible. He could, with perfect accuracy, tell the height of any wall or fence within a few feet of him; could perceive at once whether it was high or low or half tide, and that merely by going out in front of the houses and turning his face with its sightless eyeballs towards the sea; knew whether a woman who spoke to him had a child in her arms or not; and, indeed, was believed to know sooner than ordinary mortals that one was about to become a mother.
He was a strange figure to look upon in that lowland village, for he invariably wore the highland dress: in truth, he had never had a pair of trowsers on his legs, and was far from pleased that his grandson clothed himself in such contemptible garments. But, contrasted with the showy style of his costume, there was something most pathetic in the blended pallor of hue into which the originally gorgeous colours of his kilt had faded—noticeable chiefly on weekdays, when he wore no sporran; for the kilt, encountering, from its loose construction, comparatively little strain or friction, may reach an antiquity unknown to the garments of the low country, and, while perfectly decent, yet look ancient exceedingly. On Sundays, however, he made the best of himself, and came out like a belated and aged butterfly—with his father's sporran, or tasselled goatskin purse, in front of him, his grandfather's dirk at his side, his great grandfather's skene dhu, or little black hafted knife, stuck in the stocking of his right leg, and a huge round brooch of brass—nearly half a foot in diameter, and, Mr Graham said, as old as the battle of Harlaw—on his left shoulder. In these adornments he would walk proudly to church, leaning on the arm of his grandson.
"The piper's gey (considerably) brokken-like the day," said one of the fishermen's wives to a neighbour as he passed them—the fact being that he had not yet recovered from his second revel in the pipes so soon after the exhaustion of his morning's duty, and was, in consequence, more asthmatic than usual.
"I doobt he'll be slippin' awa some cauld nicht," said the other: "his leevin' breath's ill to get."
"Ay; he has to warstle for't, puir man! Weel, he'll be missed, the blin' body! It's exterordinor hoo he's managed to live, and bring up sic a fine lad as that Malcolm o' his."
"Weel, ye see, Providence has been kin' till him as weel 's ither blin' craturs. The toon's pipin' 's no to be despised; an' there's the cryin', an' the chop, an' the lamps. 'Deed he's been an eident (diligent) cratur—an' for a blin' man, as ye say, it's jist exterordinar."
"Div ye min' whan first he cam' to the toon, lass?"
"Ay; what wad hinner me min'in' that? It's nae sae lang."
"Ma'colm 'at's sic a fine laad noo, they tell me wasna muckle bigger nor a gey haddie (tolerable haddock)."
"But the auld man was an auld man than, though nae doobt he's unco' failed sin syne."
"A dochter's bairn, they say, the laad."
"Ay, they say, but wha kens? Duncan could never be gotten to open his mou' as to the father or mither o' 'im, an' sae it weel may be as they say. It's nigh twenty year noo, I'm thinkin' sin he made's appearance. Ye wasna come frae Scaurnose er' than."
"Some fowk says the auld man's name's no MacPhail, an' he maun hae come here in hidin' for some rouch job or ither 'at he's been mixed up wi'.
"I s' believe nae ill o' sic a puir, hairmless body. Fowk 'at maks their ain livin', wantin' the een to guide them, canna be that far aff the straucht. Guid guide 's! we hae eneuch to answer for, oor ainsels, ohn passed (without passing) jeedgment upo ane anither."
"I was but tellin' ye what fowk telled me," returned the younger woman.
"Ay, ay, lass; I ken that, for I ken there was fowk to tell ye."
CHAPTER VII: ALEXANDER GRAHAM
As soon as his grandfather left the house, Malcolm went out also, closing the door behind him, and turning the key, but leaving it in the lock. He ascended to the upper town, only, however, to pass through its main street, at the top of which he turned and looked back for a few moments, apparently in contemplation. The descent to the shore was so sudden that he could see nothing of the harbour or of the village he had left—nothing but the blue bay and the filmy mountains of Sutherlandshire, molten by distance into cloudy questions, and looking, betwixt blue sea and blue sky, less substantial than either. After gazing for a moment, he turned again, and held on his way, through fields which no fence parted from the road. The morning was still glorious, the larks right jubilant, and the air filled with the sweet scents of cottage flowers. Across the fields came the occasional low of an ox, and the distant sounds of children at play. But Malcolm saw without noting, and heard without seeding, for his mind was full of speculation concerning the lovely girl, whose vision appeared already far off:—who might she be? whence had she come? whither could she have vanished? That she did not belong to the neighbourhood was certain, he thought; but there was a farm house near the sea town where they let lodgings; and, although it was early in the season, she might belong to some family which had come to spend a few of the summer weeks there; possibly his appearance had prevented her from having her bath that morning. If he should have the good fortune to see her again, he would show her a place far fitter for the purpose—a perfect arbour of rocks, utterly secluded, with a floor of deep sand, and without a hole for crab or lobster.
His road led him in the direction of a few cottages lying in a hollow. Beside them rose a vision of trees, bordered by an ivy grown wall, from amidst whose summits shot the spire of the church; and from beyond the spire, through the trees, came golden glimmers as of vane and crescent and pinnacled ball, that hinted at some shadowy abode of enchantment within; but as he descended the slope towards the cottages the trees gradually rose and shut in everything.
These cottages were far more ancient than the houses of the town, were covered with green thatch, were buried in ivy, and would soon be radiant with roses and honeysuckles. They were gathered irregularly about a gate of curious old ironwork, opening on the churchyard, but more like an entrance to the grounds behind the church, for it told of ancient state, bearing on each of its pillars a great stone heron with a fish in its beak.
This was the quarter whence had come the noises of children, but they had now ceased, or rather sunk into a gentle murmur, which oozed, like the sound of bees from a straw covered beehive, out of a cottage rather larger than the rest, which stood close by the churchyard gate. It was the parish school, and these cottages were all that remained of the old town of Portlossie, which had at one time stretched in a long irregular street almost to the shore. The town cross yet stood, but away solitary on a green hill that overlooked the sands.
During the summer the long walk from the new town to the school and to the church was anything but a hardship: in winter it was otherwise, for then there were days in which few would venture the single mile that separated them.
The door of the school, bisected longitudinally, had one of its halves open, and by it outflowed the gentle hum of the honeybees of learning. Malcolm walked in, and had the whole of the busy scene at once before him. The place was like a barn, open from wall to wall, and from floor to rafters and thatch, browned with the peat smoke of vanished winters. Two thirds of the space were filled with long desks and forms; the other had only the master's desk, and thus afforded room for standing classes. At the present moment it was vacant, for the prayer was but just over, and the Bible class had not been called up: there Alexander Graham, the schoolmaster, descending from his desk, met and welcomed Malcolm with a kind shake of the hand. He was a man of middle height, but very thin; and about five and forty years of age, but looked older, because of his thin grey hair and a stoop in the shoulders. He was dressed in a shabby black tailcoat, and clean white neckcloth; the rest of his clothes were of parson grey, noticeably shabby also. The quiet sweetness of his smile, and a composed look of submission were suggestive of the purification of sorrow, but were attributed by the townsfolk to disappointment; for he was still but a schoolmaster, whose aim they thought must be a pulpit and a parish. But Mr Graham had been early released from such an ambition, if it had ever possessed him, and had for many years been more than content to give himself to the hopefuller work of training children for the true ends of life: he lived the quietest of studious lives, with an old housekeeper.
Malcolm had been a favourite pupil, and the relation of master and scholar did not cease when the latter saw that he ought to do something to lighten the burden of his grandfather, and so left the school and betook himself to the life of a fisherman—with the slow leave of Duncan, who had set his heart on making a scholar of him, and would never, indeed, had Gaelic been amongst his studies, have been won by the most laboursome petition. He asserted himself perfectly able to provide for both for ten years to come at least, in proof of which he roused the inhabitants of Portlossie, during the space of a whole month, a full hour earlier than usual, with the most terrific blasts of the bagpipes, and this notwithstanding complaint and expostulation on all sides, so that at length the provost had to interfere; after which outburst of defiance to time, however, his energy had begun to decay so visibly that Malcolm gave himself to the pipes in secret, that he might be ready, in case of sudden emergency, to take his grandfather's place; for Duncan lived in constant dread of the hour when his office might be taken from him and conferred on a mere drummer, or, still worse, on a certain ne'er do weel cousin of the provost, so devoid of music as to be capable only of ringing a bell.
"I've had an invitation to Miss Campbell's funeral—Miss Horn's cousin, you know," said Mr Graham, in a hesitating and subdued voice: "could you manage to take the school for me, Malcolm?"
"Yes, sir. There's naething to hinner me. What day is 't upo'?"
"Verra weel, sir. I s' be here in guid time."
This matter settled, the business of the school, in which, as he did often, Malcolm had come to assist, began. Only a pupil of his own could have worked with Mr Graham, for his mode was very peculiar. But the strangest fact in it would have been the last to reveal itself to an ordinary observer. This was, that he rarely contradicted anything: he would call up the opposing truth, set it face to face with the error, and leave the two to fight it out. The human mind and conscience were, he said, the plains of Armageddon, where the battle of good and evil was for ever raging; and the one business of a teacher was to rouse and urge this battle by leading fresh forces of the truth into the field—forces composed as little as might be of the hireling troops of the intellect, and as much as possible of the native energies of the heart, imagination, and conscience. In a word, he would oppose error only by teaching the truth.
In early life he had come under the influence of the writings of William Law, which he read as one who pondered every doctrine in that light which only obedience to the truth can open upon it. With a keen eye for the discovery of universal law in the individual fact, he read even the marvels of the New Testament practically. Hence, in training his soldiers, every lesson he gave them was a missile; every admonishment of youth or maiden was as the mounting of an armed champion, and the launching of him with a Godspeed into the thick of the fight.
He now called up the Bible class, and Malcolm sat beside and listened. That morning they had to read one of the chapters in the history of Jacob.
"Was Jacob a good man?" he asked, as soon as the reading, each of the scholars in turn taking a verse, was over.
An apparently universal expression of assent followed; halting its wake, however, came the voice of a boy near the bottom of the class:
"Wasna he some dooble, sir?"
"You are right, Sheltie," said the master; "he was double. I must, I find, put the question in another shape:—Was Jacob a bad man?"
Again came such a burst of yesses that it might have been taken for a general hiss. But limping in the rear came again the half dissentient voice of Jamie Joss, whom the master had just addressed as Sheltie:
"You think, then, Sheltie, that a man may be both bad and good?"
"I dinna ken, sir. I think he may be whiles ane an' whiles the ither, an' whiles maybe it wad be ill to say whilk. Oor collie's whiles in twa min's whether he'll du what he's telled or no."
"That's the battle of Armageddon, Sheltie, my man. It's aye ragin', ohn gun roared or bayonet clashed. Ye maun up an' do yer best in't, my man. Gien ye dee fechtin' like a man, ye'll flee up wi' a quaiet face an' wide open een; an' there's a great Ane 'at 'll say to ye, 'Weel dune, laddie!' But gien ye gie in to the enemy, he'll turn ye intill a creepin' thing 'at eats dirt; an' there 'll no be a hole in a' the crystal wa' o' the New Jerusalem near eneuch to the grun' to lat ye creep throu'."
As soon as ever Alexander Graham, the polished thinker and sweet mannered gentleman, opened his mouth concerning the things he loved best, that moment the most poetic forms came pouring out in the most rugged speech.
"I reckon, sir," said Sheltie, "Jacob hadna fouchten oot his battle."
"That's jist it, my boy. And because he wouldna get up and fecht manfully, God had to tak him in han'. Ye've heard tell o' generals, when their troops war rinnin' awa', haein' to cut this man doon, shute that ane, and lick anither, till he turned them a' richt face aboot and drave them on to the foe like a spate! And the trouble God took wi' Jacob wasna lost upon him at last."
"An' what cam o' Esau, sir?" asked a pale faced maiden with blue eyes. "He wasna an ill kin' o' a chield—was he, sir?"
"No, Mappy," answered the master; "he was a fine chield, as you say; but he nott (needed) mair time and gentler treatment to mak onything o' him. Ye see he had a guid hert, but was a duller kin' o' cratur a'thegither, and cared for naething he could na see or hanle. He never thoucht muckle aboot God at a'. Jacob was anither sort—a poet kin' o' a man, but a sneck drawin' cratur for a' that. It was easier, hooever, to get the slyness oot o' Jacob, than the dulness oot o' Esau. Punishment tellt upo' Jacob like upon a thin skinned horse, whauras Esau was mair like the minister's powny, that can hardly be made to unnerstan' that ye want him to gang on. But o' the ither han', dullness is a thing that can be borne wi': there's nay hurry aboot that; but the deceitfu' tricks o' Jacob war na to be endured, and sae the tawse (leather strap) cam doon upo' him."
"An' what for didna God mak Esau as clever as Jacob?" asked a wizened faced boy near the top of the class.
"Ah, my Peery!" said Mr Graham, "I canna tell ye that. A' that I can tell is, that God hadna dune makin' at him, an' some kin' o' fowk tak langer to mak oot than ithers. An' ye canna tell what they're to be till they're made oot. But whether what I tell ye be richt or no, God maun hae the verra best o' rizzons for 't, ower guid maybe for us to unnerstan'—-the best o' rizzons for Esau himsel', I mean, for the Creator luiks efter his cratur first ava' (of all). —And now," concluded Mr Graham, resuming his English, "go to your lessons; and be diligent, that God may think it worth while to get on faster with the making of you."
In a moment the class was dispersed and all were seated. In another, the sound of scuffling arose, and fists were seen storming across a desk.
"Andrew Jamieson and Poochy, come up here," said the master in a loud voice.
"He hittit me first," cried Andrew, the moment they were within a respectful distance of the master, whereupon Mr Graham turned to the other with inquiry in his eyes.
"He had nae business to ca' me Poochy."
"No more he had; but you had just as little right to punish him for it. The offence was against me: he had no right to use my name for you, and the quarrel was mine. For the present you are Poochy no more: go to your place, William Wilson."
The boy burst out sobbing, and crept back to his seat with his knuckles in his eyes.
"Andrew Jamieson," the master went on, "I had almost got a name for you, but you have sent it away. You are not ready for it yet, I see. Go to your place."
With downcast looks Andrew followed William, and the watchful eyes of the master saw that, instead of quarrelling any more during the day, they seemed to catch at every opportunity of showing each other a kindness.
Mr Graham never used bodily punishment: he ruled chiefly by the aid of a system of individual titles, of the mingled characters of pet name and nickname. As soon as the individuality of a boy had attained to signs of blossoming—that is, had become such that he could predict not only an upright but a characteristic behaviour in given circumstances, he would take him aside and whisper in his ear that henceforth, so long as he deserved it, he would call him by a certain name—one generally derived from some object in the animal or vegetable world, and pointing to a resemblance which was not often patent to any eye but the master's own. He had given the name of Peachy, for instance to William Wilson, because, like the kangaroo, he sought his object in a succession of awkward, yet not the less availing leaps—gulping his knowledge and pocketing his conquered marble after a like fashion. Mappy, the name which thus belonged to a certain flaxen haired, soft eyed girl, corresponds to the English bunny. Sheltie is the small Scotch mountain pony, active and strong. Peery means pegtop. But not above a quarter of the children had pet names. To gain one was to reach the highest honour of the school; the withdrawal of it was the severest of punishments, and the restoring of it the sign of perfect reconciliation. The master permitted no one else to use it, and was seldom known to forget himself so far as to utter it while its owner was in disgrace. The hope of gaining such a name, or the fear of losing it, was in the pupil the strongest ally of the master, the most powerful enforcement of his influences. It was a scheme of government by aspiration. But it owed all its operative power to the character of the man who had adopted rather than invented it—for the scheme had been suggested by a certain passage in the book of the Revelation.
Without having read a word of Swedenborg, he was a believer in the absolute correspondence of the inward and outward; and, thus long before the younger Darwin arose, had suspected a close relationship —remote identity, indeed, in nature and history, between the animal and human worlds. But photographs from a good many different points would be necessary to afford anything like a complete notion of the character of this country schoolmaster.
Towards noon, while he was busy with an astronomical class, explaining, by means partly of the blackboard, partly of two boys representing the relation of the earth and the moon, how it comes that we see but one half of the latter, the door gently opened and the troubled face of the mad laird peeped slowly in. His body followed as gently, and at last—sad symbol of his weight of care —his hump appeared, with a slow half revolution as he turned to shut the door behind him. Taking off his hat, he walked up to Mr Graham, who, busy with his astronomy, had not perceived his entrance, touched him on the arm, and, standing on tiptoe, whispered softly in his ear, as if it were a painful secret that must be respected, "I dinna ken whaur I cam frae. I want to come to the school."
Mr Graham turned and shook hands with him, respectfully addressing him as Mr Stewart, and got down for him the armchair which stood behind his desk. But, with the politest bow, the laird declined it, and mournfully repeating the words, "I dinna ken whaur I cam frae," took a place readily yielded him in the astronomical circle surrounding the symbolic boys.
This was not by any means his first appearance there; for every now and then he was seized with a desire to go to school, plainly with the object of finding out where he came from. This always fell in his quieter times, and for days together he would attend regularly; in one instance he was not absent an hour for a whole month. He spoke so little, however, that it was impossible to tell how much he understood, although he seemed to enjoy all that went on. He was so quiet, so sadly gentle, that he gave no trouble of any sort, and after the first few minutes of a fresh appearance, the attention of the scholars was rarely distracted by his presence.
The way in which the master treated him awoke like respect in his pupils. Boys and girls were equally ready t. make room for him on their forms, and any one of the latter who had by some kind attention awakened the watery glint of a smile on the melancholy features of the troubled man, would boast of her success. Hence it came that the neighbourhood of Portlossie was the one spot in the county where a person of weak intellect or peculiar appearance might go about free of insult.
The peculiar sentence the laird so often uttered was the only one he invariably spoke with definite clearness. In every other attempt at speech he was liable to be assailed by an often recurring impediment, during the continuance of which he could compass but a word here and there, often betaking himself in the agony of suppressed utterance, to the most extravagant gestures, with which he would sometimes succeed in so supplementing his words as to render his meaning intelligible.
The two boys representing the earth and the moon, had returned to their places in the class, and Mr Graham had gone on to give a description of the moon, in which he had necessarily mentioned the enormous height of her mountains as compared with those of the earth. But in the course of asking some questions, he found a need of further explanation, and therefore once more required the services of the boy sun and boy moon. The moment the latter, however, began to describe his circle around the former, Mr Stewart stepped gravely up to him, and, laying hold of his hand, led him back to his station in the class: then, turning first one shoulder, then the other to the company, so as to attract attention to his hump, uttered the single word Mountain, and took on himself the part of the moon, proceeding to revolve in the circle which represented her orbit. Several of the boys and girls smiled, but no one laughed, for Mr Graham's gravity maintained theirs. Without remark, he used the mad laird for a moon to the end of his explanation.
Mr Stewart remained in the school all the morning, stood up with every class Mr Graham taught, and in the intervals sat, with book or slate before him, still as a Brahmin on the fancied verge of his re-absorption, save that he murmured to himself now and then,
"I dinna ken whaur I cam frae."
When his pupils dispersed for dinner, Mr Graham invited him to go to his house and share his homely meal, but with polished gesture and broken speech, Mr Stewart declined, walked away towards the town, and was seen no more that afternoon.
CHAPTER VIII: THE SWIVEL
Mrs Courthope, the housekeeper at Lossie House, was a good woman, who did not stand upon her dignities, as small rulers are apt to do, but cultivated friendly relations with the people of the Sea Town. Some of the rougher of the women despised the sweet outlandish speech she had brought with her from her native England, and accused her of mim mou'dness, or an affected modesty in the use of words; but not the less was she in their eyes a great lady,—whence indeed came the special pleasure in finding flaws in her—for to them she was the representative of the noble family on whose skirts they and their ancestors had been settled for ages, the last marquis not having visited the place for many years, and the present having but lately succeeded.
Duncan MacPhail was a favourite with her; for the English woman will generally prefer the highland to the lowland Scotsman; and she seldom visited the Seaton without looking in upon him so that when Malcolm returned from the Alton, or Old Town, where the school was, it did not in the least surprise him to find her seated with his grandfather.
Apparently, however, there had been some dissension between them; for the old man sat in his corner strangely wrathful, his face in a glow, his head thrown back, his nostrils distended, and his eyelids working, as if his eyes were "poor dumb mouths," like Caesar's wounds, trying to speak.
"We are told in the New Testament to forgive our enemies, you know," said Mrs Courthope, heedless of his entrance, but in a voice that seemed rather to plead than oppose.
"Inteet she will not be false to her shief and her clan," retorted Duncan persistently. "She will not forgife Cawmil of Glenlyon."
"But he's dead long since, and we may at least hope he repented and was forgiven."
"She'll be hoping nothing of the kind, Mistress Kertope," replied Duncan. "But if, as you say, God will be forgifing him, which I do not belief;—let that pe enough for ta greedy blackguard. Sure, it matters but small whether poor Tuncan MacPhail will be forgifing him or not. Anyhow, he must do without it, for he shall not haf it. He is a tamn fillain and scounrel, and so she says, with her respecs to you, Mistress Kertope."
His sightless eyes flashed with indignation; and perceiving it was time to change the subject, the housekeeper turned to Malcolm.
"Could you bring me a nice mackerel or whiting for my lord's breakfast tomorrow morning, Malcolm?" she said.
"Certaintly, mem. I 's be wi ye in guid time wi' the best the sea 'll gie me," he answered.
"If I have the fish by nine o'clock, that will be early enough," she returned.
"I wad na like to wait sae lang for my brakfast," remarked Malcolm.
"You wouldn't mind it much, if you waited asleep," said Mrs Courthope.
"Can onybody sleep till sic a time o' day as that?" exclaimed the youth.
"You must remember my lord doesn't go to bed for hours after you, Malcolm."
"An' what can keep him up a' that time? It's no as gien he war efter the herrin', an' had the win' an' the watter an' the netfu's o' waumlin craturs to baud him waukin'."
"Oh! he reads and writes, and sometimes goes walking about the grounds after everybody else is in bed," said Mrs Courthope, "he and his dog."
"Well, I wad rather be up ear'," said Malcolm; "a heap raither. I like fine to be oot i' the quaiet o' the mornin' afore the sun's up to set the din gaun; whan it's a' clear but no bricht—like the back o' a bonny sawmon; an' air an' watter an' a' luiks as gien they war waitin' for something—quaiet, verra quaiet, but no content."
Malcolm uttered this long speech, and went on with more like it, in the hope of affording time for the stormy waters of Duncan's spirit to assuage. Nor was he disappointed; for, if there was a sound on the earth Duncan loved to hear, it was the voice of his boy; and by degrees the tempest sank to repose, the gathered glooms melted from his countenance, and the sunlight of a smile broke out.
"Hear to him!" he cried. "Her poy will be a creat pard some tay, and sing pefore ta Stuart kings, when they come pack to Holyrood!"
Mrs Courthope had enough of poetry in her to be pleased with Malcolm's quiet enthusiasm, and spoke a kind word of sympathy with the old man's delight as she rose to take her leave. Duncan rose also, and followed her to the door, making her a courtly bow, and that just as she turned away.
"It 'll pe a coot 'oman, Mistress Kertope," he said as he came back; "and it 'll no pe to plame her for forgifing Glenlyon, for he did not kill her creat crandmother. Put it'll pe fery paad preeding to request her nainsel, Tuncan MacPhail, to be forgifing ta rascal. Only she'll pe put a voman, and it'll not pe knowing no petter to her.—You'll be minding you'll be firing ta cun at six o'clock exackly, Malcolm, for all she says; for my lord peing put shust come home to his property, it might be a fex to him if tere was any mistake so soon. Put inteed, I yonder he hasn't been sending for old Tuncan to be gifing him a song or two on ta peeps; for he'll pe hafing ta oceans of fery coot highland plood in his own feins; and his friend, ta Prince of Wales, who has no more rights to it than a maackerel fish, will pe wearing ta kilts at Holyrood. So mind you pe firing ta cun at sax, my son."
For some years, young as he was, Malcolm had hired himself to one or other of the boat proprietors of the Seaton or of Scaurnose, for the herring fishing—only, however, in the immediate neighbourhood, refusing to go to the western islands, or any station whence he could not return to sleep at his grandfather's cottage. He had thus on every occasion earned enough to provide for the following winter, so that his grandfather's little income as piper, and other small returns, were accumulating in various concealments about the cottage; for, in his care for the future, Duncan dreaded lest Malcolm should buy things for him, without which, in his own sightless judgment, he could do well enough.
Until the herring season should arrive, however, Malcolm made a little money by line fishing; for he had bargained, the year before, with the captain of a schooner for an old ship's boat, and had patched and caulked it into a sufficiently serviceable condition. He sold his fish in the town and immediate neighbourhood, where a good many housekeepers favoured the handsome and cheery young fisherman.
He would now be often out in the bay long before it was time to call his grandfather, in his turn to rouse the sleepers of Portlossie. But the old man had as yet always waked about the right time, and the inhabitants had never had any ground of complaint—a few minutes one way or the other being of little consequence. He was the cock which woke the whole yard: morning after morning his pipes went crowing through the streets of the upper region, his music ending always with his round. But after the institution of the gun signal, his custom was to go on playing where he stood until he heard it, or to stop short in the midst of his round and his liveliest reveille the moment it reached his ear. Loath as he might be to give over, that sense of good manners which was supreme in every highlander of the old time, interdicted the fingering of a note after the marquis's gun had called aloud.
When Malcolm meant to go fishing, he always loaded the swivel the night before, and about sunset the same evening he set out for that purpose. Not a creature was visible on the border of the curving bay except a few boys far off on the gleaming sands whence the tide had just receded: they were digging for sand eels—lovely little silvery fishes—which, as every now and then the spade turned one or two up, they threw into a tin pail for bait. But on the summit of the long sandhill, the lonely figure of a man was walking to and fro in the level light of the rosy west; and as Malcolm climbed the near end of the dune, it was turning far off at the other: halfway between them was the embrasure with the brass swivel, and there they met. Although he had never seen him before, Malcolm perceived at once it must be Lord Lossie, and lifted his bonnet. The marquis nodded and passed on, but the next moment, hearing the noise of Malcolm's proceedings with the swivel, turned and said— "What are you about there with that gun, my lad?"
"I'm jist ga'in' to dicht her oot an' lod her, my lord," answered Malcolm.
"And what next? You're not going to fire the thing?"
"Ay—the morn's mornin', my lord."
"What will that be for?"
"Ow, jist to wauk yer lordship."
"Hm!" said his lordship, with more expression than articulation.
"Will I no lod her?" asked Malcolm, throwing down the ramrod, and approaching the swivel, as if to turn the muzzle of it again into the embrasure.
"Oh, yes! load her by all means. I don't want to interfere with any of your customs. But if that is your object, the means, I fear, are inadequate."