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.