The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter LIV

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter LIV
by George MacDonald



When Mr. Crathie heard of the outrage the people of Scaurnose had committed upon the surveyors, he vowed he would empty every house in the place at Michaelmas. His wife warned him that such a wholesale proceeding must put him in the wrong with the country, seeing they could not all have been guilty. He replied it would be impossible, the rascals hung so together, to find out the ringleaders even. She returned that they all deserved it, and that a correct discrimination was of no consequence: it would be enough to the purpose if he made a difference. People would then say he had done his best to distinguish. The factor was persuaded, and made out a list of those who were to leave, in which he took care to include all the principal men, to whom he gave warning forthwith to quit their houses at Michaelmas. I do not know whether the notice was in law sufficient, but exception was not taken on that score.

Scaurnose, on the receipt of the papers, all at the same time, by the hand of the bellman of Portlossie, was like a hive about to swarm. Endless and complicated were the comings and goings between the houses, the dialogues, confabulations and consultations, in the one street and its many closes. In the middle of it, in front of the little public-house, stood, all that day and the next, a group of men and women, for no five minutes in its component parts the same, but, like a cloud, ever slow-dissolving and as continuously re-forming, some dropping away, others falling to. Such nid-nodding, such uplifting and fanning of palms among the women, such semi-revolving side-shakes of the head, such demonstration of fists and such cursing among the men, had never before been seen and heard in Scaurnose. The result was a conclusion to make common cause with the first victim of the factor's tyranny — namely, Blue Peter — whose expulsion would arrive three months before theirs, and was unquestionably head and front of the same cruel scheme for putting down the fisher-folk altogether.

Three of them, therefore, repaired to Joseph's house, commissioned with the following proposal and condition of compact: that Joseph should defy the notice given him to quit, they pledging themselves that he should not be expelled. Whether he agreed or not, they were equally determined, they said, when their turn came, to defend the village; but if he would cast in his lot with them, they would, in defending him, gain the advantage of having the question settled three months sooner for themselves. Blue Peter sought to dissuade them, specially insisting on the danger of bloodshed. They laughed. They had anticipated objection, but being of the youngest and roughest in the place, the idea of a scrimmage was, neither in itself nor in its probable consequences, at all repulsive to them. They answered that a little bloodletting would do nobody any harm; neither would there be much of that, for they scorned to use any weapon sharper than their fists or a good thick rung: the women and children would take stones of course. Nobody would be killed, but every meddlesome authority taught to let Scaurnose and fishers alone. Peter objected that their enemies could easily starve them out. Dubs rejoined that if they took care to keep the sea-door open, their friends at Portlossie would not let them starve. Grosert said he made no doubt the factor would have the Seaton to fight as well as Scaurnose, for they must see plainly enough that their turn would come next. Joseph said the factor would apply to the magistrates, and they would call out the militia.

"An' we'll call out Buckie," answered Dubs.

"Man," said Fite Folp, the eldest of the three, "the haill shore, frae the Brough to Fort George, 'ill be up in a jiffie, an' a' the cuintray, frae John o' Groats to Berwick, 'ill hear hoo the fisherfowk 's misguidit; an' at last it 'll come to the king, an' syne we'll get oor richts, for he'll no stan' to see't, an' maitters 'll sune be set upon a better futtin' for puir fowk 'at has no freen' but God an' the sea."

The greatness of the result represented laid hold of Peter's imagination, and the resistance to injustice necessary to reach it stirred the old tar in him. When they took their leave he walked halfway up the street with them, and then returned to tell his wife what they had been saying, all the way murmuring to himself as he went, "The Lord is a man of war." And ever as he said the words he saw as in a vision the great man-of-war in which he had served sweeping across the bows of a Frenchman, and raking him, gun after gun, from stem to stem. Nor did the warlike mood abate until he reached home and looked his wife in the eyes. He told her all, ending with the half-repudiatory, half-tentative words, "That's what they say, ye see, Annie."

"And what say ye, Joseph?" returned his wife.

"Ow! I'm no sayin'," "he answered.

"What are ye thinkin' than, Joseph?" she pursued. "Ye canna say ye're no thinkin'."

"Na, I'll no say that, lass," he replied, but said so more.

"Weel, gien ye winna say," resumed Annie, "I wull; an' my say is, 'at it luiks to me unco like takin' things intil yer ain han'."

"An' whase han' sud we tak them intil but oor ain?" said Peter, with a falseness which in another would, have roused his righteous indignation.

"That's no the p'int. It's whase han' ye're takin' them oot o'," returned she, and spoke with solemnity and significance.

Peter made no answer, but the words Vengeance is mine began to ring in his mental ears instead of The Lord is a man of war.

Before Mr. Graham left them, and while Peter's soul was flourishing, he would have simply said that it was their part to endure, and leave the rest to the God of the sparrows. But now the words of men whose judgment had no weight with him threw him back upon the instinct of self-defence — driven from which by the words of his wife, he betook himself, not, alas! to the protection, but to the vengeance, of the Lord.

The next day he told the three commissioners that he was sorry to disappoint them, but he could not make common cause with them, for he could not see it his duty to resist, much as it would gratify the natural man. They must therefore excuse him if he left Scaurnose at the time appointed. He hoped he should leave friends behind him.

They listened respectfully, showed no offence, and did not even attempt to argue the matter with him. But certain looks passed between them.

After this Blue Peter was a little happier in his mind and went more briskly about his affairs.