Littell's Living Age/Volume 131/Issue 1689/The Marquis of Lossie - Part II
THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.
BY GEORGE MACDONALD, AUTHOR OF "MALCOLM," ETC.
When Miss Horn left him — with a farewell kindlier than her greeting — rendered yet more restless by her talk, he went back to the stable, saddled Kelpie and took her out for an airing. As he passed the factor's house, Mrs. Crathie saw him from the window. Her color rose. She rose herself also, and looked after him from the door — a proud and peevish woman, jealous of her husband's dignity, still more jealous of her own. "The verra image o' the auld markis!" she said to herself, for in the recesses of her bosom she spoke the Scotch she scorned to utter aloud; "an' sits jist like himsel', wi' a wee stoop i' the saiddle an' ilka noo an' than a swing o' his haill boady back, as gien some thoucht had set him straucht. Gien the fractious brute wad but brak a bane or two o' him!" she went on in growing anger. "The impidence o' the fallow! He has his leave; what for disna he tak it an' gang? But oot o' this gang he sail. To ca' a man like mine a heepocreet 'cause he wadna' procleem till a haill market ilka secritfau't o' the horse he had to sell! Haith! he cam' upo' the wrang side o' the sheet to play the lord and maister here; an' that I can tell him."
The mare was fresh, and the roads through the policy hard both by nature and by frost, so that he could not let her go, and had enough to do with her. He turned, therefore, toward the sea-gate, and soon reached the shore. There, westward of the Seaton where the fisher-folk lived, the sand lay smooth, flat and wet along the edge of the receding tide. He gave Kelpie the rein, and she sprang into a wild gallop, every now and then flinging her heels as high as her rider's head. But finding, as they approached the stony level from which rose the great rock called the Bored Craig, that he could not pull her up in time, he turned her head toward the long dune of sand which, a little beyond the tide, ran parallel with the shore. It was dry and loose, and the ascent steep. Kelpie's hoofs sank at every step, and when she reached the top, with widespread struggling haunches and "nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim," he had her in hand. She stood panting, yet pawing and dancing, and making the sand fly in all directions.
Suddenly a woman with a child in her arms rose, as it seemed to Malcolm, under Kelpie's very head. She wheeled and reared, and in wrath or in terror strained every nerve to unseat her rider, while, whether from faith or despair, the woman stood still as a statue, staring at the struggle.
"Haud awa' a bit, Lizzy!" cried Malcolm. "She's a mad brute, an' I mayna be able to haud her. Ye hae the bairnie, ye see."
She was a young woman, with a sad white face. To what Malcolm said she paid no heed, but stood with her child in her arms and gazed at Kelpie as she went on plunging and kicking about on the top of the dune.
"I reckon ye wadna care though the she-devil knockit oot yer brains; but ye hae the bairn, woman; hae mercy on the bairn an' rin to the boddom."
"I want to speyk to ye, Ma'colm MacPhail," she said in a tone whose very stillness revealed a depth of trouble.
"I doobt I canna hearken to ye richt the noo?" said Malcolm. "But bide a wee." He swung himself from Kelpie's back, and, hanging hard on the bit with one hand, searched with the other in the pocket of his coat, saying as he did so, "Sugar, Kelpie! sugar!"
The animal gave an eager snort, settled on her feet, and began snuffing about him. He made haste, for if her eagerness should turn to impatience, she would do her endeavor to bite him. After crunching three or four lumps she stood pretty quiet, and Malcolm must make the best of it.
"Noo, Lizzy," he said hurriedly, "speak while ye can."
"Ma'colm," said the girl — and looked him full in the face for a moment, for agony had overcome shame: then her gaze sought the far horizon, which to seafaring people is as the hills whence cometh their aid to the people who dwell among mountains — "Ma'colm, he's gaein' to merry Leddy Florimel."
Malcolm started. Could the girl have learned more concerning his sister than had yet reached himself? A fine watching over her was his, truly! But who was this he?
Lizzy had never uttered the name of the father of her child, and all her people knew was that he could not be a fisherman, for then he would have married her before the child was born. But Malcolm had had a suspicion from the first, and now her words all but confirmed it. And was that fellow going to marry his sister? He turned white with dismay, then red with anger, and stood speechless.
But he was quickly brought to himself by a sharp pinch under the shoulderblade from Kelpie's long teeth: he had forgotten her, and she had taken the advantage.
"Wha tellt ye that, Lizzy?" he said.
"I'm no at leeberty to say, Ma'colm, but I'm sure it's true, an' my hert's like to brak."
"Puir lassie!" said Malcolm, whose own trouble had never at any time rendered him insensible to that of others.
"But is't onybody 'at kens what he says?" he pursued.
"Weel, I dinna jist richtly ken gien she kens, but I think she maun hae gude rizzon, or she wadna say as she says. Oh me! me! my bairnie 'll be scornin' me sair whan he comes to ken. Ma'colm, ye're the only ane 'at disna luik doon upo' me, an' whan ye cam ower the tap o' the Boar's tail it was like an angel in a fire-flaucht, an' something inside me said, Tell 'im, tell 'im; an' sae I bude to tell ye."
Malcolm was even too simple to feel flattered by the girl's confidence, though to be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.
"Hearken, Lizzy!" he said. "I canna e'en think wi' this brute ready ilka meenute to ate me up: I maun tak her hame. Efter that, gien ye wad like to tell me onything, I s' be at yer service. Bide aboot here, or — luik ye, here's the key o' yon door — come throu' that intill the park — throu' 'aneth the toll-ro'd, ye ken. There ye'll get into the lythe (lee) wi' the bairnie, an' I'll be wi' ye in a quarter o' an hoor. It'll tak' me but five meenutes to gang hame. Stoat 'll pit up the mere, an' I'll be back — I can du't in ten meenutes."
"Eh! dinna hurry for me, Ma'colm: I'm no worth it," said Lizzy.
But Malcolm was already at full speed along the top of the dune.
"Lord preserve 's!" cried Lizzy when she saw him clear the brass swivel. "Sic a laad as that is! Eh, he maun hae a richt lass to lo'e him some day! It's a' ane to him, boat or beast. He wadna turn frae the deil himsel'. An' syne he's jist as saft 's a deuk's neck whan he speyks till a wuman or a bairn — ay, or an auld man aither."
And, full of trouble as it was about another, Lizzy's heart yet ached at the thought that she should be so unworthy of one like him.
From the sands she saw him gain the turnpike road with a bound and a scramble. Crossing it, he entered the park by the sea-gate: she had to enter it by the tunnel that passed under the same road. She approached the grated door, unlocked it and looked in with a shudder. It was dark, the other end of it being obscured by trees and the roots of the hill on whose top stood the Temple of the Winds. Through the tunnel blew what seemed quite another wind — one of death — from regions beneath. She drew her shawl, one end of which was rolled about her baby, closer around them both ere she entered. Never before had she set foot within the place, and a strange horror of it filled her. She did not know that by that passage, on a certain lovely summer night, Lord Meikleham had issued to meet her on the sands under the moon. The sea was not terrible to her — she knew all its ways nearly as well as Malcolm knew the moods of Kelpie — but the earth and its ways were less known to her, and to turn her face toward it and enter by a little door into its bosom was like a visit to her grave. But she gathered her strength, entered with a shudder, passed in growing hope and final safety through it, and at the other end came out again into the light, only the cold of it seemed to cling to her still. But the day had grown colder: the clouds that, seen or unseen, ever haunt the winter sun, had at length caught and shrouded him, and through the gathering vapor he looked ghastly. The wind blew from the sea. The tide was going down. There was snow in the air. The thin, leafless trees were all bending away from the shore, and the wind went sighing, hissing, and almost wailing, through their bare boughs and budless twigs. There would be storm, she thought, ere the morning, but none of their people were out. Had there been — well, she had almost ceased to care about anything, and her own life was so little to her now that she had become less able to value that of other people. To this had the ignis fatuus of a false love brought her. She had dreamed heedlessly, to wake sorrowfully. But not until she heard he was going to be married had she come right awake, and now she could dream no more. Alas! alas! what claim had she upon him? How could she tell, since such he was, what poor girl like herself she might not have, robbed of her part in him? Yet even in the midst of her misery and despair it was some consolation to think that Malcolm was her friend.
Not knowing that he had already suffered from the blame of her fault, or the risk at which he met her, she would have gone toward the house to meet him the sooner, had not this been a part of the grounds where she knew Mr. Crathie tolerated no one without express leave given. The fisher-folk in particular must keep to the road by the other side of the burn, to which the sea-gate admitted them. Lizzy therefore lingered near the tunnel, afraid of being seen.
Mr. Crathie was a man who did well under authority, but upon the top of it was consequential, overbearing, and far more exacting than the marquis. Full of his employer's importance when he was present, and of his own when he was absent, he was yet, in the latter circumstance, so doubtful of its adequate recognition by those under him that he had grown very imperious, and resented with indignation the slightest breach of his orders. Hence he was in no great favor with the fishers. Now, all the day he had been fuming over Malcolm's behavior to him in the morning, and when he went home and learned that his wife had seen him upon Kelpie as if nothing had happened, he became furious, and in this possession of the devil was at the present moment wandering about the grounds, brooding on the words Malcolm had spoken. He could not get rid of them. They caused an acrid burning in his bosom, for they had in them truth, like which no poison stings.
Malcolm, having crossed by the great bridge at the house, hurried down the western side of the burn to find Lizzy, and soon came upon her, walking up and down. "Eh, lassie, ye maun be cauld?" he said.
"No that cauld," she answered, and with the words burst into tears. "Naebody says a kin' word to me noo," she said in excuse, "an' I canna weel bide the soun' o' ane whan it comes: I'm no used till 't"
"Naebody?" exclaimed Malcolm.
"Na, naebody," she answered. "My mither winna, my father daurna, an' the bairnie canna, an' I gang near naebody forbye."
"Weel, we maunna stan' oot here i' the cauld: come this gait," said Malcolm. "The bairnie 'ill get its deid."
"There wadna be mony to greit at that," returned Lizzy, and pressed the child closer to her bosom.
Malcolm led the way to the little chamber contrived under the temple in the heart of the hill, and unlocking the door made her enter. There he seated her in a comfortable chair, and wrapped her in the plaid he had brought for the purpose. It was all he could do to keep from taking her in his arms for very pity, for, both body and soul, she seemed too frozen to shiver.
He shut the door, sat down on the table near her, and said, "There's naebody to disturb 's here, Lizzy; what wad ye say to me noo?"
The sun was nearly down, and its light already smothered in clouds, and the little chamber, whose door and window were in the deep shadow of the hill, was nearly dark.
"I wadna hae ye tell me onything ye promised no to tell," resumed Malcolm, finding she did not reply, "but I wad like to hear as muckle as ye can say."
"I hae naething to tell ye, Ma'colm, but jist 'at my Leddy Florimel's gauin' to be merried upo' Lord Meikleham — Lord Liftore, they ca' 'im noo. Hech me!"
"God forbid she sud be merried upon ony sic a bla'guard!" cried Malcolm.
"Dinna ca' 'im ill names, Ma'colm. I canna bide it, though I hae no richt to tak up the stick for him."
"I wadna say a word 'at micht fa' sair on a sair hert," he returned; "but gien ye kent a', ye wad ken I hed a gey-sized craw to pluck wi' 's lordship mysel'."
The girl gave a low cry. "Ye wadna hurt 'im, Ma'colm?" she said, in terror at the thought of the elegant youth in the clutches of an angry fisherman, even if he were the generous Malcolm MacPhail himself.
"I wad raither not," he replied, "but we maun see hoo he carries himsel'."
"Du naething till 'im for my sake, Ma'colm. Ye can hae naething again' him yersel'."
It was too dark for Malcolm to see the keen look of wistful regret with which Lizzy tried to pierce the gloom and read his face: for a moment the poor girl thought he meant he had loved her himself. But far other thoughts were in Malcolm's mind: one was that her whom, as a scarce approachable goddess, he had loved before he knew her of his own blood, he would rather see married to any honest fisherman in the Seaton of Portlossie than to such a lord as Meikleham. He had seen enough of him at Lossie House to know what he was; and puritanical, fish-catching Malcolm had ideas above those of most marquises of his day: the thought of the alliance was horrible to him. It was possibly not inevitable, however; only what could he do, and at the same time avoid grievous hurt? "I dinna think he'll ever merry my leddy," he said.
"What' gars ye say that, Ma'colm?" returned Lizzy with eagerness.
"I canna tell ye jist i' the noo, but ye ken a body canna weel be aye aboot a place ohn seen things. But I'll tell ye something o' mair consequence," he continued. "Some fowk say there's a God, an' some say there's nane, an' I hae no richt to preach to ye, Lizzy; but I maun jist tell ye this — 'at gien God dinna help them 'at cry till 'im i' the warst o' tribles, they micht jist as weel hae nae God at a'. For my ain pairt, I hae been helpit, an' I think it was him intil 't. Wi' his help a man may warstle throu' onything. I say I think it was himsel' tuik me throu' 't, an' here I stan' afore ye, ready for the neist trible, an' the help 'at 'll come wi' it. What may be God only knows."
He was interrupted by the sudden opening of the door and the voice of the factor in exultant wrath. "MacPhail!" it cried, "come out with you. Don't think to sneak there. I know you. What right have you to be on the premises? Didn't I turn you about your business this morning?"
"Ay, sir, but ye didna pey me my wages," said Malcolm, who had sprung to the door, and now stood holding it half shut, while Mr. Crathie pushed it half open.
"No matter. You're nothing better than a housebreaker if you enter any building about the place."
"I brak nae lock," returned Malcolm: "I hae the key my lord gae me to ilka place 'ithin the wa' excep' the strongroom."
"Give it me directly: I'm master here now."
"'Deed, I s' du nae sic thing, sir. What he gae me I'll keep."
"Give up that key, or I'll go at once and get a warrant against you for theft."
"Weel, we s' refar 't to Maister Soutar."
"Damn your impudence — 'at I sud say 't! — what has he to do with my affairs? Come out of that directly."
"Huly, huly, sir!" returned Malcolm, in terror lest he should discover who was with him.
"You low-bred rascal! who have you there with you?"
As he spoke, Mr. Crathie would have forced his way into the dusky chamber, where he could just perceive a motionless, undefined form. But, stiff as a statue, Malcolm kept his stand, and the door was immovable. Mr. Crathie gave a second and angrier push, but the youth's corporeal as well as mental equilibrium was hard to upset, and his enemy drew back in mounting fury.
"Get out of there," he cried, "or I'll horsewhip you for a damned blackguard!"
"Whip awa'," said Malcolm, "but in here ye s' no come the nicht."
The factor rushed at him, his heavy whip upheaved, and the same moment found himself, not in the room, but lying on the flower-bed in front of it. Malcolm instantly stepped out, locked the door, put the key in his pocket and turned to assist him. But he was up already, and busy with words unbefitting the mouth of an elder of the kirk.
"Didna I say 'at ye sudna come in, sir? What for wull fowk no tak a tellin'? " expostulated Malcolm.
But the factor was far beyond force of logic or illumination of reason. He raved and swore. "Get out o' my sicht," he cried, "or I'll shot ye like a tyke."
"Gang an' fess yer gun," said Malcolm, "an' gien ye fin' me waitin' for ye, ye can lat at me."
The factor uttered a horrible imprecation on himself if he did not make him pay dearly for his behavior.
"Hoots, sir! Be ashamet o' yersel'. Gang hame to the mistress, an' I s' be up the morn's mornin' for my wages."
"If you set foot on the grounds again I'll set every dog in the place upon you."
Malcolm laughed: "Gien I war to turn the order the ither gait, wad they min' you or me, div ye think, Maister Crathie?"
"Give me that key, and go about your business."
"Na, na, sir! What my lord gae me I s' keep, for a' the factors atween this an' the Lan's En'," returned Malcolm. "An' for lea'in' the place, gien I be nae in your service, Maister Crathie, I'm nae un'er your orders. I'll gang whan it shuits me. An' mair yet: ye s' gang oot o' this first, or I s' gar ye, an' that ye'll see."
It was a violent proceeding, but for a matter of manners he was not going to risk what of her good name poor Lizzy had left: like the books of the Sibyl, that grew in value. He made, however, but one threatful stride toward the factor, when the great man turned and fled.
The moment he was out of sight Malcolm unlocked the door, led Lizzy put, and brought her safely through the tunnel to the sands. Then he turned his face to Scaurnose.
The door of Blue Peter's cottage was opened by his sister. Not much at home in the summer, when she carried fish to the country, she was very little absent in the winter, and as there was but one room for all uses, except the closet-bedroom and the garret at the top of the ladder, Malcolm, instead of going in, called to his friend, whom he saw by the fire with Phemy upon his knee, to come out and speak to him.
Blue Peter at once obeyed the summons. "There's naething wrang, I houp, Ma'colm?" he said, as he closed the door behind him.
"Maister Graham wad say," returned Malcolm, "naething ever was wrang but what ye did wrang yersel', or wadna pit richt whan ye had a chance. I hae him nae mair to gang till, Joseph, an' sae I'm come to you. Come doon by, an' i' the scoug o' a rock I'll tell ye a' aboot it."
"Ye wadna hae the mistress no ken o' 't?" said his friend. "I dinna jist like haein' secrets frae her."
"Ye sail jeedge for yersel', man, an' tell her or no jist as ye like. Only she maun haud her tongue, or the black dog 'ill hae a' the butter."
"She can haud her tongue like the taestane o' a grave," said Peter.
As they spoke, they reached the cliff that hung over the shattered shore. It was a clear, cold night. Snow, the remnants of the last storm, which frost had preserved in every shadowy spot, lay all about them. The sky was clear and full of stars, for the wind that blew cold from the north-west had dispelled the snowy clouds. The waves rushed into countless gulfs and crannies and straits on the ruggedest of shores, and the sounds of waves and wind kept calling like voices from the unseen. By a path seemingly fitter for goats than men they descended halfway to the beach, and under a great projection of rock stood sheltered from the wind. Then Malcolm turned to Joseph Mair — commonly called Blue Peter, because he had been a man-of-war's man — and laying his hand on his arm, said, "Blue Peter, did ever I tell ye a lee?"
"No, never," answered Peter. "What gars ye speir sic a thing?"
"'Cause I want ye to believe me noo, an' it winna be easy."
"I'll believe onything ye tell me — 'at can be believed."
"Weel, I hae come to the knowledge 'at my name's no MacPhail: it's Colonsay. Man, I'm the Markis o' Lossie."
Without a moment's hesitation, without a single stare, Blue Peter pulled off his bonnet and stood bareheaded before the companion of his toils.
"Peter!" cried Malcolm, "dinna brak my hert: put on yer bonnet."
"The Lord o' lords be thankit, my lord!" said Blue Peter: "the puir man has a frien' this day." Then replacing his bonnet, he said, "An' what'il be yer lordship's wull?"
"First an' foremost, Peter, that my best frien', efter my auld daddy and the schule-maister, 's no to turn again' me 'cause I hed a marquis, an' naither piper nor fisher, to my father."
"It's no like it, my lord," returned Blue Peter, "whan the first thing I say is, What wad ye hae o' me? Here I am — no speirin' a question."
"Weel, I wad hae ye hear the story o' 't a'."
"Say on, my lord," said Peter.
But Malcolm was silent for a few moments. "I was thinkin', Peter," he said at last, "whether I cud bide to hear ye say my lord to me. Doobtless, as it'll hae to come to that, it wad be better to grow used till 't while we're thegither, sae 'at whan it maun be it mayna hae the luik o' cheenge intill 't, for cheenge is jist the thing I canna bide. I' the mean time, hooever, we canna gie in till 't, 'cause 't wad set fowk jaloosin'. But I wad be obleeged till ye, Peter, gien ye wad say my lord whiles whan we're oor lanes, for I wad fain grow sae used till 't 'at I never kent ye said it, for, atween you an' me, I dinna like it. An' noo I s' tell ye a' 'at I ken."
When he had ended the tale of what had come to his knowledge, and how it had come, and had paused, "Gie's a grup o' yer han', my lord," said Blue Peter, "an' may God haud ye lang in life an' honor to reule ower us! Noo, gien ye please, what are ye gauin' to du?"
"Tell ye me, Peter, what ye think I oucht to du."
"That wad tak a heap o' thinkin'," returned the fisherman; "but ae thing seems aboot plain: ye hae no richt to lat yer sister gang exposed to temptations ye cud haud frae her. That's no as ye promised, to be kin' till her. I canna believe that's hoo yer father expeckit o' ye. I ken weel 'at fowk in his poseetion haena the preevleeges o' the like o' hiz: they haena the win', an' the watter, an' whiles a lee shore, to gar them know they are but men, an' sen' them rattlin' at the wicket o' h'aven; but still, I dinna think, by yer ain accoont — 'specially noo 'at I houp he's forgi'en an' latten in — God grant it! — I div not think he wad like my Leddy Florimel to be ooner the enfluences o' sic a ane as that Leddy Bellair. Ye maun gang till her: ye hae nae ch'ice, my lord."
"But what am I to du when I div gang?"
"That's what ye hev to gang an' see."
"An' that's what I hae been tellin' mysel', an' what Miss Horn's been tellin' me tu. But it's a gran' thing to get yer ain thouchts corroborat. Ye see I'm feart for wrangin' her for pride, an' bringin' her doon to set mysel' up."
"My lord," said Blue Peter solemnly, "ye ken the life o' puir fisher fowk: ye ken hoo it micht be lichtened sae lang as it laists, an' mony a hole steikit 'at the cauld deith creeps in at the noo. Coont ye them naething, my lord? Coont ye the wull o' Providence, 'at sets ye ower them, naething? What for could the Lord hae gien ye sic an up-bringin' as no markis's son ever hed afore ye, or maybe ever wull hae efter ye, gien it bena 'at ye sud tak them in han' to du yer pairt by them? Gien ye forsak' them noo, ye'll be forgettin' him 'at made them an' you, an' the sea, an' the herrin' to be taen intill 't. Gien ye forget them there's nae houp for them, but the same deith 'ill keep on swallowin' at them upo' sea an' shore."
"Ye speyk the trouth, as I hae spoken 't till mysel', Peter. Noo hearken: will ye sail wi' me the nicht for Lon'on toon?"
The fisherman was silent a moment — then answered, "I wull, my lord, but I maun tell my wife."
"Rin, an' fess her here, man, for I'm fleyed at yer sister, honest wuman, an' little Phemy. It wad blaud a' thing gien I was hurried to du something afore I kenned what."
"I s' hae her oot in a meenute," said Joseph, and scrambled up the cliff.
For a few minutes Malcolm stood alone in the dim starlight of winter, looking out on the dusky sea, dark as his own future, into which the wind now blowing behind him would soon begin to carry him. He anticipated its difficulties, but never thought of perils: it was seldom anything oppressed him but the doubt of what he ought to do. This was ever the cold mist that swallowed the airy castles he built, peopled with all the friends and acquaintances of his youth. But the very first step toward action is the death-warrant of doubt, and the tide of Malcolm's being ran higher that night, as he stood thus alone under the stars, than he had ever yet known it run. With all his common sense and the abundance of his philosophy, which the much leisure belonging to certain phases of his life had combined with the slow strength of his intellect to render somewhat long-winded in utterance, there was yet room in Malcolm's bonnet for a bee above the ordinary size, and if it buzzed a little too romantically for the taste of the nineteenth century about disguises, and surprises, and bounty, and plots, and rescues, and such like, something must be pardoned to one whose experience had already been so greatly out of the common, and whose nature was far too childlike and poetic, and developed in far too simple a surrounding of labor and success, difficulty and conquest, danger and deliverance, not to have more than the usual amount of what is called the romantic in its composition.
The buzzing of his bee was for the present interrupted by the return of Blue Peter with his wife. She threw her arms round Malcolm's neck and burst into tears.
"Hoots, my woman!" said her husband, "what are ye greitin' at?"
"Eh, Peter!" she answered, "I canna help it. It's jist like a deith. He's gauin' to lea' us a', an' gang hame till 's ain, an' I canna bide 'at he sud grow strange-like to hiz 'at hae kenned him sae lang."
"It 'll be an ill day," returned Malcolm, "whan I grow strange to ony freen'. I'll hae to gang far doon the laick (low) ro'd afore that be poassible. I mayna aye be able to du jist what ye wad like; but lippen ye to me: I s' be fair to ye. An' noo I want Blue Peter to gang wi' me, an' help me to what I hae to du, gien ye hae nae objection to lat him."
"Na, nane hae I. I wad gang mysel' gien I cud be o' ony use," answered Mrs. Mair; "but women are i' the gait whiles."
"Weel, I'll no even say thank ye: I'll be awin' ye that as weel 's the lave. But gien I dinna du weel, it winna be the fau't o' ane or the ither o' you twa freen's. — Noo, Peter, we maun be off."
"No the nicht, surely?" said Mrs. Mair, a little taken by surprise.
"The suner the better, lass," replied her husband. "An' we cudna hae a better win'. Jist rin ye hame an' get some vicktooals thegither, an' come efter hiz to Portlossie."
"But hoo 'll ye get the boat to the waiter ohn mair han's? I'll need to come mysel', an' fess Jean."
"Na, na: lat Jean sit. There's plenty i' the Seaton to help. We're gauin' to tak' the markis's cutter. She's a heap easier to lainch, an' she 'll sail a heap fester."
"But what'll Maister Crathie say?"
"We maun tak oor chance o' that," answered her husband with a smile of confidence; and he and Malcolm set out for the Seaton, while Mrs. Mair went home to get ready some provisions for the voyage, consisting chiefly of oat-cakes.
The prejudice against Malcolm from his imagined behavior to Lizzy Findlay had by this time, partly through the assurances of Peter, partly through the power of the youth's innocent presence, almost died out, and when the two men reached the Seaton they found plenty of hands ready to help them to launch the little sloop. Malcolm said he was going to take her to Peterhead, and they asked no questions but such as he contrived to answer with truth or to leave unanswered. Once afloat, there was very little to' be done, for she had been laid up in perfect condition, and as soon as Mrs. Mair appeared with her basket, and they had put that, a keg of water, some fishing-lines, and a pan of mussels for bait on board, they were ready to sail, and bade their friends a light goodbye, leaving them to imagine they were gone but for a day or two, probably on some business of Mr. Crathie's.
With the wind from the north-west they soon reached Duff Harbor, where Malcolm went on shore and saw Mr. Soutar. He, with a landsman's prejudices, made strenuous objection to such a mad prank as sailing to London at that time of the year; but in vain. Malcolm saw nothing mad in it, and the lawyer had to admit he ought to know best. He brought on board with him a lad of Peter's acquaintance, and, now fully manned, they set sail again, and by the time the sun appeared were not far from Peterhead.
Malcolm's spirits kept rising as they bowled along over the bright, cold water. He never felt so capable as when at sea. His energies had first been called out in combat with the elements, and hence he always felt strongest, most at home, and surest of himself on the water. Young as he was, however, such had been his training under Mr. Graham that a large part of this elevation of spirit was owing to an unreasoned sense of being there more immediately in the hands of God. Later in life he interpreted the mental condition thus — that of course he was always and in every place equally in God's hands, but that at sea he felt the truth more keenly. Where a man has nothing firm under him, where his life depends on winds invisible and waters unstable, where a single movement may be death, he learns to feel what is at the same time just as true every night he spends asleep in the bed in which generations have slept before him, or any sunny hour he spends walking over ancestral acres.
They put in at Peterhead, purchased a few provisions, and again set sail. And now it seemed to Malcolm that he must soon come to a conclusion as to the steps he must take when he reached London. But, think as he would, he could plan nothing beyond finding out where his sister lived, and going to look at the house and get into it if he might. Nor could his companion help him with any suggestions, and indeed he could not talk much with him because of the presence of Davy, a rough, round-eyed, red-haired young Scot of the dull, invaluable class that can only do what they are told, but do that to the extent of their faculty.
They knew all the coast as far as the Frith of Forth: after that they had to be more careful. They had no charts on board, nor could have made much use of any. But the wind continued favorable, and the weather cold, bright, and full of life. They spoke many coasters on their way, and received many directions.
Off the Nore they had rough weather, and had to stand off and on for a day and a night, till it moderated. Then they spoke a fishing-boat, took a pilot on board, and were soon in smooth water, wondering more and more as the channel narrowed. They ended their voyage at length below London Bridge in a very jungle of masts.
Leaving Davy to keep the sloop, the two fishermen went on shore. Passing from the narrow precincts of the river, they found themselves at once in the roar of London city. Stunned at first, then excited, then bewildered, then dazed, without any plan to guide their steps, they wandered about until, unused to the hard stones, their feet ached." It was a dull day in March. A keen wind blew round the corners of the streets. They wished themselves at sea again.
"Sic a sicht o' fowk!" said Blue Peter.
"It's hard to think," rejoined Malcolm, "what w'y the God 'at made them can luik efter them a' in sic a tumult. But they say even the sheep-dog kens ilk sheep i' the flock 'at's gien him in chairge."
"Ay, but ye see," said Blue Peter, "they're mair like a shoal o' herrin' nor a flock o' sheep."
"It's no the num'er o' them 'at plagues me," said Malcolm. "The gran' diffeeculty is hoo he can lat ilk ane tak his ain gait an' yet luik efter them a'. But gien he does 't, it stan's to rizzon it maun be in some w'y 'at them 'at's sae luikit efter canna by ony possibeelity un'erstan'."
"That's trowth, I'm thinkin'. We maun jist gie up, an' confess there's things abune a' human comprehension."
"Wha kens but that may be 'cause i' their verra natur they're ower semple for cr'atur's like hiz 'at's made sae mixed-like, an' sees sae little into the hert o' things?"
"Ye're ayont me there," said Blue Peter; and a silence followed.
It was a conversation very unsuitable to London streets, but then these were raw Scotch fishermen, who had not yet learned how absurd it is to suppose ourselves come from anything greater than ourselves, and had no conception of the liberty it confers on a man to know that he is the child of a protoplasm, or something still, more beautifully small.
At length a policeman directed them to a Scotch eating-house, where they fared after their country's fashions, and from the landlady gathered directions by which to guide themselves toward Curzon Street, a certain number in which Mr. Soutar had given Malcolm as Lady Bellair's address.
The door was opened to Malcolm's knock by a slatternly charwoman, who, unable to understand a word he said, would but for its fine frank expression have shut the door in his face. From the expression of hers, however, Malcolm suddenly remembered that he must speak English, and having a plentiful store of the book sort, he at once made himself intelligible in spite of tone and accent It was, however, only a shifting of the difficulty, for he now found it nearly impossible to understand her. But by repeated questioning and hard listening he learned at last that Lady Bellair had removed her establishment to Lady Lossie's house in Portland Place.
After many curious perplexities, odd blunders, and vain endeavors to understand shop-signs and notices in the windows; after they had again and again imagined themselves back at a place they had left miles away; after many a useless effort to lay hold upon directions given so rapidly that the very sense could not gather the sounds, — they at length stood not in Portland Place, but in front of Westminster Abbey. Inquiring what it was, and finding they could go in, they entered.
For some moments not a word was spoken between them, but when they had walked slowly about halfway up the nave, Malcolm turned and said, "Eh, Peter! sic a blessin'!" and Peter replied: "There canna be muckle o' this i' the warl'." Comparing impressions afterward. Peter said that the moment he stepped in he heard the rush of the tide on the rocks of Scaurnose, and Malcolm declared he felt as if he had stepped out of the world into the regions of eternal silence.
"What a mercy it maun be," he went on, "to mony a cr'atur', in sic a whummle an' a rum'le an' a remish as this Lon'on, to ken 'at there is sic a cave hoykit oot o' the din, 'at he can gang intill an' say his prayers intill! Man, Peter! I'm jist some feared whiles 'at the verra din i' my lugs mayna maist drive the thoucht o' God oot o' me."
At length they found their way into Regent Street, and leaving its mere assertion behind, reached the stately modesty of Portland Place; and Malcolm was pleased to think the house he sought was one of those he now saw.
It was one of the largest in the place. He would not, however, yield to the temptation to have a good look at it, for fear of attracting attention from its windows and being recognized. They turned, therefore, aside into some of the smaller thoroughfares lying between Portland Place and Great Portland Street, where, searching about, they came upon a decent-looking-house, and inquired after lodgings. They were directed to a woman in the neighborhood who kept a dingy little curiosity-shop. On payment of a week's rent in advance she allowed them to occupy a small double-bedded room. But Malcolm did not want Peter with him that night: he wished to feel perfectly free; and besides, it was more than desirable that Peter should go and look after the boat and the boy.
Left alone, he fell once more to his hitherto futile scheming. How was he to get near his sister? To the whitest of lies he had insuperable objection, and if he appeared before her with no reason to give, would she not be far too offended with his presumption to retain him in her service? And except he could be near her as a servant he did not see a chance of doing anything for her without disclosing facts which might make all such service as he would most gladly render her impossible, by causing her to hate the very sight of him. Plan after plan rose and passed from his mind rejected, and the only resolution he could come to was to write to Mr. Soutar, to whom he had committed the protection of Kelpie, to send her up by the first smack from Aberdeen. He did so, and wrote also to Miss Horn, telling her where he was: then went out and made his way back to Portland Place.
Night had closed in, and thick vapors hid the moon, but lamps and lighted windows illuminated the wide street. Presently it began to snow, but through the snow and the night went carriages in all directions, with great lamps that turned the flakes into white stars for a moment as they gleamed past. The hoofs of the horses echoed hard from the firm road. Could that house really belong to him? It did, yet he dared not enter it. That which was dear and precious to him was in the house, and just became of that he could not call it his own. There was less light in it than in any other within his range. He walked up and down the opposite side of the street its whole length some fifty times, but saw no sign of vitality about the house. At length a brougham stopped at the door, and a man got out and knocked. Malcolm instantly crossed, but could not see his face. The door opened, and he entered. The brougham waited. After about a quarter of an hour he came out again, accompanied by two ladies, one of whom he judged by her figure to be Florimel. They all get into the carriage, and Malcolm braced himself for a terrible run. But the coachman drove carefully: the snow lay a few inches deep, and he found no difficulty in keeping near them, following with fleet foot and husbanded breath. They stopped at the doors of a large dark-looking building in a narrow street. He thought it was a church, and wondered, from what he knew of his sister, that she should be going there on a week-night. Nor did the aspect of the entrance-hall, into which he followed them, undeceive him. It was more showy certainly, than the vestibule of any church he had ever been in, but what might not churches be in London? They went up a great flight of stairs — to reach the gallery, as he thought — and still he went after them. When he reached the top they were just vanishing round a curve, and his advance was checked: a man came up to him, said he could not come there, and gruffly requested him to show his ticket.
"I haven't got one. What is this place?" said Malcolm, mouthing his English with Scotch deliberation.
The man gave him a look of contemptuous surprise, and turning to another, who lounged behind him with his hands in his pockets, said, "Tom, here's a gentleman as wants to know where he is: can you tell him?"
The person addressed laughed, and gave Malcolm a queer look.
"Every cock crows on his own midden," said Malcolm, "but if I were on mine I would try to be civil."
"You go down there and pay for a pit-ticket, and you'll soon know where you are, mate," said Tom.
Malcolm went, and after a few inquiries and the outlay of two shillings found himself in the pit of one of the largest of the London theatres.