The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter VIII

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter VIII
by George MacDonald



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.