The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter LVII

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter LVII
by George MacDonald



It was two days after the longest day of the year, when there is no night in those regions, only a long twilight in which many dream and do not know it. There had been a few days of variable weather, with sudden changes of wind to east and north, and round again by south to west, and then there had been a calm for several days. But now the little wind there was blew from the north-east, and the fervor of a hot June was rendered more delicious by the films of flavoring cold that floated through the mass of heat. All Portlossie more or less, the Seaton especially, was in a state of excitement, for its little neighbor Scaurnose was more excited still. There the man most threatened, and with greatest injustice, was the only one calm amongst the men, and amongst the women his wife was the only one that was calmer than he. Blue Peter was resolved to abide the stroke of wrong, and not resist the powers that were, believing them in some true sense — which he found it hard to understand when he thought of the factor as the individual instance — ordained of God. He had a dim perception too that it was better that one, and that one he, should suffer, than that order should be destroyed and law defied. Suffering, he might still in patience possess his soul, and all be well with him; but what would become of the country if every one wronged were to take the law into his own hands? Thousands more would be wronged by the lawless in a week than by unjust powers in a year. But the young men were determined to pursue their plan of resistance, and those of the older and soberer who saw the uselessness of it gave themselves little trouble to change the minds of the rest. Peter, although he knew they were not at rest, neither inquired what their purpose might be, nor allowed any conjecture or suspicion concerning it to influence him in his preparations for departure. Not that he had found a new home. Indeed, he had not heartily set about searching for one — in part because, unconsciously to himself, he was buoyed up by the hope he read so clear in the face of his more trusting wife that Malcolm would come, to deliver them. His plan was to leave her and his children with certain friends at Port Gordon: he would not hear of going to the Partans to bring them into trouble. He would himself set out immediately after for the Lewis fishing. Few had gone from Scaurnose or Portlossie. The magnitude of the events that were about to take place, yet more the excitement and interest they occasioned, kept the most of the men at home, and they contented themselves with fishing the waters of the Moray Firth — not without notable success. But what was success with such a tyrant over them as the factor, threatening to harry their nests and turn the sea-birds and their young out of their heritage of rock and sand and shingle? They could not keep house on the waves any more than the gulls. Those who still held their religious assemblies in the cave called the Baillies' Barn met often, read and sang the comminatory Psalms more than any others, and prayed much against the wiles and force of their enemies both temporal and spiritual; while Mr. Crathie went every Sunday to church, grew redder in the nose and hotter in the temper.

Miss Horn was growing more and more uncomfortable concerning events, and dissatisfied with Malcolm. She had not for some time heard from him, and here was his most important duty unattended to — she would not yet say neglected — the well-being of his tenantry left in the hands of an unsympathetic, self-important underling, who was fast losing all the good sense he had once possessed! Were the life and history of all these brave fishermen and their wives and children to be postponed to the pampered feelings of one girl, and that because she was what she had no right to be — namely, his half-sister? said Miss Horn to herself, that bosom friend to whom some people, and those not the worst, say oftener what they do not mean than what they do. She had written to him within the last month a very hot letter indeed, which had afforded no end of amusement to Mrs. Catanach as she sat in his old lodging over the curiosityshop, but, I need hardly say, had not reached Malcolm; and now there was but one night and the best of all the fisher families would have nowhere to lie down. Miss Horn, with Joseph Mair, thought she did well to be angry with Malcolm.

The blind piper had been very restless all day. Questioned again and again by his Mistress Partan as to what was amiss with him, he had given her odd and evasive answers. Every few minutes he got up — even from cleaning her lamp — to go to the shore. He had not far to go to reach it — had but to cross the threshold, and take a few steps through the close, and he was on the road that ran along, the seafront of the village. On the one side were the cottages, scattered and huddled — on the other, the shore and ocean, wide outstretched. He would walk straight across the road until he felt the sand under his feet; there stand for a few moments facing the sea, and, with nostrils distended, breathing deep breaths of the air from the north-east, then turn and walk back to Meg Partan's kitchen and resume his ministration of light. These his sallies were so frequent, and his absences so short, that a more serene temper than hers might have been fretted by them. But there was something about his look and behavior that, while it perplexed, restrained her, and instead of breaking out upon him she eyed him curiously. She had found that it would not do to stare at him. The moment she began to do so he began to fidget, and turned his back to her. It had made her lose her temper for a moment, and declare aloud as her conviction that he was after all an impostor, and saw as well as any of them.

"She has told you so, Mistress Partan, one hundred thousand times," replied Duncan with an odd smile; "and perhaps she will pe see a little petter as any of you, no matter."

Thereupon she murmured to herself, "The cratur' 'ill be seem' something!" and with mingled awe and curiosity sought to lay some restraint upon her unwelcome observation of him.

Thus it went on the whole day, and as the evening approached he grew still more excited. The sun went down and the twilight began, and as the twilight deepened still his excitement grew. Straightway it seemed as if the whole Seaton had come to share in it. Men and women were all out of doors; and, late as it was when the sun set, to judge by the number of bare legs and feet that trotted in and out with a little red flash, with a dull patter-pat on earthen floor and hard road, and a scratching and hustling among the pebbles, there could not have been one older than a baby in bed; while of the babies even not a few were awake in their mothers' arms, and out with them on the seafront, where the men, with their hands in their trouser-pockets, were lazily smoking pigtail in short clay pipes with tin covers fastened to the stems by little chains, and some of the women, in short blue petticoats and worsted stockings, were doing the same. Some stood in their doors, talking with neighbors standing in their doors, but these were mostly the elder women: the younger ones — all but Lizzy Findlay — were out in the road. One man half-leaned, half-sat on the windowsill of Duncan's former abode, and round him were two or three more, and some women, talking about Scaurnose, and the factor, and what the lads there would do to-morrow; while the hush of the sea on the pebbles mingled with their talk like an unknown tongue of the Infinite — never articulating, only suggesting — uttering in song and not in speech — dealing not with thoughts, but with feelings and foretastes. No one listened: what to them was the Infinite, with Scaurnose in the near distance? It was now almost as dark as it would be throughout the night if it kept clear.

Once more there was Duncan, standing as if looking out to sea, and shading his brows with his hand as if to protect his eyes from the glare of the sun and enable his sight.

"There's the auld piper again!" said one of the group, a young woman. "He's unco fule-like to be stan'in' that gait (way), makin' as gien he cudna weel see for the sun in 's een."

"Haud ye yer tongue, lass," rejoined an elderly woman beside her. "There's mair things nor ye ken, as the Beuk says. There's een 'at can see an' een 'at canna, an' een 'at can see twise ower, an' een 'at can see steikit what nane can see open."

"Ta poat! ta poat of my chief!" cried the seer. "She is coming like a tream of ta night, put one tat will not tepart with ta morning!" He spoke as one suppressing a wild joy.

"Wha'll that be, lucky-deddy?" inquired in a respectful voice the woman who had last spoken, while all within hearing hushed each other and stood in silence. And all the time the ghost of the day was creeping round from west to east, to put on its resurrection body and rise new born. It gleamed faint like a cold ashy fire in the north.

"And who will it pe than her own son, Mistress Reekie?" answered the piper, calling her by her husband's nickname, as was usual, but, as was his sole wont, prefixing the title of respect where custom would have employed but her Christian name. "Who'll should it pe put her own Malcolm?" he went on. "I see his poat come round ta Tead Head. She flits over the water like a pale ghost over Morven. But it's ta young and ta strong she is pringing home to Tuncan. O m'anam, beannuich!"

Involuntarily, all eyes turned toward the point, called the Death's Head, which bounded the bay on the east.

"It's ower dark to see onything," said the man on the window-sill. "There's a bit haar (fog) come up."

"Yes," said Duncan, "it 'ill pe too tark for you who haf cot no eyes only to speak of. Put you'll wait a few, and you'll pe seeing as well as herself. Och, her poy! her poy! O m'anam! Ta Lort pe praised! and she'll tie in peace, for he'll pe only ta one-half of him a Cam'ell, and he'll pe safed at last as sure as there's a heafen to co to and a hell to co from. For ta half tat's not a Cam'ell must be ta strong half, and it will trag ta other half into heafen — where it will not pe ta welcome howefer."

As if to get rid of the unpleasant thought that his Malcolm could not enter heaven without taking half a Campbell with him, he turned from the sea and hurried into the house, but only to catch up his pipes and hasten out again, filling the bag as he went. Arrived once more on the verge of the sand, he stood again facing the north-east, and began to blow a pibroch loud and clear.

Meantime, the Partan had joined the same group, and they were talking in a low tone about the piper's claim to the second-sight — for although all were more or less inclined to put faith in Duncan, there was here no such unquestioning belief in the marvel as would have been found on the west coast in every glen from the Mull of Cantyre to Loch Eribol — when suddenly Meg Partan, almost the only one hitherto remaining in the house, appeared rushing from the close. "Hech, sirs!" she cried, addressing the Seaton in general, "gien the auld man be in the richt ——"

"She'll pe aal in ta right, Mistress Partan, and tat you'll pe seeing," said Duncan, who, hearing her first cry, had stopped his drone and played softly, listening.

But Meg went on without heeding him any more than was implied in the repetition of her exordium: "Gien the auld man be i' the richt, it 'll be the marchioness hersel', 'at's h'ard o' the ill-duin's o' her factor, an' 's comin' to see efter her fowk. An' it 'll be Ma'colm's duin'; an' that 'll be seen. But the bonny laad winna ken the state o' the hearbor, an' he'll be makin' for the moo' o' 't, an' he'll jist rin 's bonny boatie agrun' 'atween the twa piers; an' that 'll no be a richt hame-comin' for the leddy o' the lan'; an' what's mair, Ma'colm 'ill get the wyte (blame) o' 't; an' that 'll be seen. Sae ye maun, some o' ye, to the pier-heid, an' luik oot to gie them warnin'."

Her own husband was the first to start, proud of the foresight of his wife. "Haith, Meg!" he cried, "ye're maist as guid at the lang sicht as the piper himsel'!"

Several followed him, and as they ran Meg cried after them, giving her orders as if she had been vice-admiral of the red, in a voice shrill enough to pierce the worst gale that ever blew on northern shore. "Ye'll jist tell the bonnie laad to haud wast a bit an' rin her ashore, an' we'll a' be there, an' hae her as dry 's Noah's ark in a jiffie. Tell her leddyship we'll cairry the boat an' her intil't to the tap o' the Boar's Tail gien she'll gie 's her orders. Winna we, laads?"

"We can but try," said one. "But the Fisky 'ill be waur to get a grip o' nor Nancy here," he added, turning suddenly upon the plumpest girl in the place, who stood next to him. But she foiled him of the kiss he had thought to snatch, and turned the laugh from herself upon him, so cleverly avoiding his clutch that he staggered into the road and nearly fell upon his nose.

By the time the Partan and his companions reached the pier-head something was dawning in the vague of sea and sky that might be a sloop, and standing for the harbor. Thereupon the Partan and Jamie Ladle jumped into a small boat and pulled out. Dubs, who had come from Scaurnose on the business of the conjuration, had stepped into the stern, not to steer, but to show a white ensign — somebody's Sunday shirt he had gathered as they ran from a furze-bush, where it hung to dry, between the Seaton and the harbor.

"Hoots! ye'll affront the marchioness," objected the Partan.

"Man, i' the gloamin' she'll no ken't frae buntin'," said Dubs, and at once displayed it, holding it by the two sleeves. The wind had now fallen to the softest breath, and the little vessel came on slowly. The men rowed hard, shouting and waving their flag, and soon heard a hail which none of them could mistake for other than Malcolm's. In a few minutes they were on board, greeting their old friend with jubilation, but talking in a subdued tone, for they knew by Malcolm's that the cutter bore their lady. Briefly the Partan communicated the state of the harbor, and recommended porting his helm and running the Fisky ashore about opposite the brass swivel. "A' the men an' women i' the Seaton," he said, "'ill be there to haul her up."

Malcolm took the helm, gave his orders and steered farther westward.

By this time the people on shore had caught sight of the cutter. They saw her come stealing out of the thin dark like a thought half thought, and go gliding along the shore like a sea-ghost over the dusky water, faint, uncertain, noiseless, glimmering. It could be no other than the Fisky! Both their lady and their friend Malcolm must be on board, they were certain, for how could the one of them come without the other? and doubtless the marchioness — whom they all remembered as a good-humored, handsome girl, ready to speak to any and everybody — would immediately deliver them from the hateful red-nosed ogre, her factor. Out at once they all set along the shore to greet her arrival, each running regardless of the rest, so that from the Seaton to the middle of the Boar's Tail there was a long, straggling, broken string of hurrying fisher-folk, men and women, old and young, followed by all the current children, tapering to one or two toddlers, who felt themselves neglected and wept their way along. The piper, too asthmatic to run, but not too asthmatic to walk and play his bagpipes, delighting the heart of Malcolm, who could not mistake the style, believed he brought up the rear, but was mistaken; for the very last came Mrs. Findlay and Lizzy, carrying between them their little deal kitchen-table for her ladyship to step out of the boat upon, and Lizzy's child fast asleep on the top of it.

The foremost ran and ran until they saw that the Fisky had chosen her lair, and was turning her bows to the shore, when they stopped and stood ready with greased planks and ropes to draw her up. In a few minutes the whole population was gathered, darkening, in the June midnight, the yellow sands between the tide and the dune. The Psyche was well manned now with a crew of six. On she came under full sail till within a few yards of the beach, when in one and the same moment every sheet was let go, and she swept softly up like a summer wave, and lay still on the shore. The butterfly was asleep. But ere she came to rest, the instant indeed that her canvas went fluttering away, thirty strong men had rushed into the water and laid hold of the now wingless Psyche. In a few minutes she was high and dry.

Malcolm leaped on the sand just as the Partaness came bustling up with her kitchen table between her two hands like a tray. She set it down, and across it shook hands with him violently; then caught it up again, and deposited it firm on its four legs beneath the cutter's waist. "Noo, my leddy," said Meg, looking up at the marchioness, "set ye yer bit fut upo' my table, an' we'll think the mair o' 't efter whan we tak oor denner aff o' 't."

Florimel thanked her, stepped lightly upon it, and sprang to the sand, where she was received with words of welcome from many, and shouts which rendered them inaudible from the rest. The men, their bonnets in their hands, and the women curtseying, made a lane for her to pass through, while the young fellows would gladly have begged leave to carry her could they have extemporized any suitable sort of palanquin or triumphal litter. Followed by Malcolm, she led the way over the Boar's Tail — nor would accept any help in climbing it — straight for the tunnel: Malcolm had never laid aside the key his father had given him to the private doors while he was yet a servant. They crossed by the embrasure of the brass swivel. That implement had now long been silent, but they had not gone many paces from the bottom of the dune when it went off with a roar. The shouts of the people drowned the startled cry with which Florimel turned to Malcolm, involuntarily mindful of old and for her better times. She had not looked for such a reception, and was both flattered and touched by it. For a brief space the spirit of her girlhood came back. Possibly, had she then understood that hope rather than faith or love was at the heart of their enthusiasm, that her tenants looked upon her as their savior from the factor, and sorely needed the exercise of her sovereignty, she might have better understood her position and her duty toward them.

Malcolm unlocked the door of the tunnel, and she entered, followed by Rose, who felt as if she were walking in a dream. But as he stepped in after them he was seized from behind and clasped close in an embrace he knew at once. "Daddy, daddy!" he said, and turning threw his arms round the piper.

"My poy! my poy! her nain son Malcolm!" said the old man in a whisper of intense satisfaction and suppression.

"You'll must pe forgifing her for coming pack to you. She cannot help lofing you, and you must forget tat you are a Cam'ell."

Malcolm kissed his cheek, and said, also in a whisper, "My ain daddy! I hae a heap to tell ye, but I maun see my leddy hame first."

"Co, co, this moment co!" cried the old man, pushing him away. "To your tuties to my leddyship first, and then come to her old daddy."

"I'll be wi' ye in half an hoor or less."

"Coot poy! coot poy! Come to Mistress Partan's."

"Ay, ay, daddy!" said Malcolm, and hurried through the tunnel.

As Florimel approached the ancient dwelling of her race, now her own to do with as she would, her pleasure grew. Whether it was the twilight or the breach in dulling custom, everything looked strange, the grounds wider, the trees larger, the house grander and more anciently venerable. And all the way the burn sang in the hollow. The spirit of her father seemed to hover about the place, and while the thought that her father's voice would not greet her when she entered the hall cast a solemn funereal state over her simple return, her heart yet swelled with satisfaction and far-derived pride. All this was hers to do with as she would, to confer as she pleased! No thought of her tenants, fishers or farmers, who did their strong part in supporting the ancient dignity of her house, had even an associated share in the bliss of the moment. She had forgotten her reception already, or regarded it only as the natural homage to such a position and power as hers. As to owing anything in return, the idea had indeed been presented to her when with Clementina and Malcolm she talked over "St. Ronan's Well," but it had never entered her mind.

The drawing-room and the hall were lighted. Mrs. Courthope was at the door, as if she expected her, and Florimel was careful to take everything as a matter of course.

"When will your ladyship please to want me?" asked Malcolm.

"At the usual hour, Malcolm," she answered.

He turned and ran to the Seaton.

His first business was the accommodation of Travers and Davy, but he found them already housed at the Salmon, with Jamie Ladle teaching Travers to drink toddy. They had left the Psyche snug: she was high above high-water mark, and there were no tramps about: they had furled her sails, locked the companion-door and left her.

Mrs. Findlay rejoiced over Malcolm as if he had been her own son from a far country, but the poor piper, between politeness and gratitude on the one hand and the urging of his heart on the other, was sorely tried by her loquacity: he could hardly get in a word. Malcolm perceived his suffering, and as soon as seemed prudent proposed that he should walk with him to Miss Horn's, where he was going to sleep, he said, that night. Mrs. Partan snuffed, but held her peace. For the third or fourth time that day, wonderful to tell, she restrained herself!

As soon as they were out of the house Malcolm assured Duncan, to the old man's great satisfaction, that, had he not found him there, he would within another month have set out to roam Scotland in search of him.

Miss Horn had heard of their arrival, and was wandering about the house, unable even to sit down until she saw the marquis. To herself she always called him the marquis: to his face he was always Ma'colm. If he had not come she declared she could not have gone to bed; yet she received him with an edge to her welcome: he had to answer for his behavior. They sat down, and Duncan told a long sad story; which finished, with the toddy that had sustained him during the telling, the old man thought it better, for fear of annoying his Mistress Partan, to go home. As it was past one o'clock, they both agreed.

"And if she'll tie to-night, my poy," said Duncan, "she'll pe lie awake in her crave all ta long tarkness to pe waiting to hear ta voice of your worrts in ta morning. And nefer you mind, Malcolm, she'll has learned to forgive you for peing only ta one-half of yourself a cursed Cam'ell."

Miss Horn gave Malcolm a wink, as much as to say, "Let the old man talk: it will hurt no Campbell;" and showed him out with much attention.

And then at last Malcolm poured out his whole story, and his heart with it, to Miss Horn, who heard and received it with understanding, and a sympathy which grew ever as she listened. At length she declared herself perfectly satisfied, for not only had he done his best, but she did not see what else he could have done. She hoped, however, that now he would contrive to get this part over as quickly as possible, for which in the morning she would show him cogent reasons.

"I hae no feelin's mysel', as ye weel ken, Ma'colm," she remarked in conclusion, "an' I doobt, gien I had been i' your place, I wad na hae luikit ta a' sides o' the thing at ance, as ye hae dune. An' it was a man like you 'at sae near lost yer life for the hizzy!" she exclaimed. "I maunna think aboot it, or I winna sleep a wink. But we maun get that deevil Catanach (an' cat eneuch !) hangt. Weel, my man, ye may haud up yer heid afore the father o' ye, for ye're the first o' the race, I'm thinkin', 'at ever was near han' deein' for anither. But mak ye a speedy en' till 't noo, laad, an' fa' to the lave o' yer wark. There's a terrible heap to be dune. But I maun haud my tongue the nicht, for I wad fain ye had a guid sleep; an' I'm needin' ane s'air mysel', for I'm no sae yoongas I ance was; an' I hae been that anxious aboot ye, Ma'colm, 'at though I never hed ony feelin's, yet, noo 'at it's a'gaein' richt, an' ye're a' richt, an' like to be richt for evermair, my heid's jist like to split. Gang yer wa's to yer bed, and soon' may ye sleep! It's the bed yer bonny mither got a soon' sleep in at last, 'an muckle was she i' need o' 't! An' jist tak tent the morn what ye say whan Jean's i' the room, or maybe o' the ither side o' the door, for she's no mowse. I dinna ken what gars me keep the jaud. I believe 'at gien the verra deevil himsel' had been wi' me sae lang, I wadna hae the hert to turn him aboot his ill business. That's what comes o' haein' no feelin's. Ither fowk wad hae gotten rid o' her half a score o' years sin' syne.".