The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XVI

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XVI
by George MacDonald



When Malcolm left his sister he had a dim sense of having lapsed into Scotch, and set about buttressing and strengthening his determination to get rid of all unconscious and unintended use of the northern dialect, not only that in his attendance upon Florimel he might be neither offensive nor ridiculous, but that when the time should come in which he must appear what he was, it might be less of an annoyance to her to yield the marquisate to one who could speak like a gentleman and one of the family. But not the less did he love the tongue he had spoken from his childhood, and in which were on record so many precious ballads and songs, old and new; and he resolved that when he came out as marquis he would at Lossie House indemnify himself for the constraint of London. He would not have an English servant there except Mrs. Courthope: he would not have the natural country speech corrupted with cockneyisms and his people taught to speak like Wallis. To his old friends, the fishers and their families, he would never utter a sentence but in the old tongue, haunted with all the memories of relations that were never to be obliterated or forgotten, its very tones reminding him and them of hardships together endured, pleasures shared and help willingly given. At night, notwithstanding, he found that in talking with Blue Peter he had forgotten all about his resolve, and it vexed him with himself not a little. He now saw that if he could but get into the way of speaking English to him, the victory would be gained, for with no one else would he find any difficulty then.

The next morning he went down to the stairs at London Bridge and took a boat to the yacht. He had to cross several vessels to reach it. When at length he looked down from one of them on the deck of the little cutter, he saw Blue Peter sitting on the coamings of the companion hatchway, with his feet hanging down within, lost in the book he was reading. Curious to see, without disturbing him, what it was that so absorbed him, he dropped quietly on the tiller and thence on the deck, and approaching softly peeped over his shoulder, and saw that he was reading the Epistle of James the Apostle. From Peter's thumbed Bible Malcolm's eyes went wandering through the thicket of masts, in which moved so many busy seafarers, and then turned to the docks and wharves and huge warehouses lining the shores; and while they scanned the marvelous vision thoughts like these arose and passed through his brain: "What are ye duin' here, Jeames the just? Ye was naething but a fisherbody upon a sma' watter i' the hert o' the hills, 'at wasna even saut; an' what can the thouchts that gaed throu' your fish-catchin' brain hae to do wi' sic a sicht 's this? I won'er gien at this moment there be another man in a' Lon'on sittin' readin' that epistle o' yours but Blue Peter here? He thinks there's naething o' mair importance, 'cep' maybe some ither pairts o' the same buik; but syne he's but a puir fisher-body himsel', an' what kens he o' the wisdom an' riches an' pooer o' this michty queen o' the nations thront about 'im? Is 't possible the auld body kent something that was jist as necessar' to ilka man, the busiest in this croodit mairt, to ken an' gang by, as it was to Jeames an' the lave o' the michty apostles themsel's? For me, I dinna doobt it, but hoo it sud ever he onything but an auld-warld story to the new warld o' Lon'on, I think it wud bleck Maister Graham himsel' til imaigine."

Before this, Blue Peter had become aware that some one was near him, but, intent on the words of his brother fisher of the old time, had half-consciously put off looking up to see who was behind him. When now he did so, and saw Malcolm, he rose and touched his bonnet. "It was jist i' my heid, my lord," he said without any preamble, "sic a kin' o' a h'avenly Jacobin as this same Jacobus was! He's sic a leveler as was feow afore 'm, I doobt, wi' his gowdringt man an' his cloot-cled brither! He pat me in twa min's, my lord, whan I got up, whether I wad touch my bonnet to yer lordship or no."

Malcolm laughed with hearty appreciation. "When I am king of Lossie," he said, "be it known to all whom it may concern that it is and shall be the right of Blue Peter, and all his descendants to the end of time, to stand with bonneted heads in the presence of the lord or — no, not lady, Peter — of the house of Lossie."

"Ay, but ye see, Ma'colm," said Peter, forgetting his address, and his eye twinkling in the humor of the moment, "it's no by your leave, or ony man's leave: it's the richt o' the thing; an' that I maun think aboot, an' see whether I be at liberty to ca' ye my lord or no."

"Meantime, don't do it," said Malcolm, "lest you should have to change afterward. You might find it difficult."

"Ye're cheengt a'ready," said Blue Peter, looking up at him sharply. "I ne'er h'ard ye speyk like that afore."

"Make nothing of it," returned Malcolm. "I am only airing my English on you. I have made up my mind to learn to speak in London as London people do, and so, even to you — in the mean time only — I am going to speak as good English as I can. It's nothing between you and me, Peter, and you must not mind it," he added, seeing a slight cloud come over the fisherman's face.

Blue Peter turned away with a sigh. The sounds of English speech from the lips of Malcolm, addressed to himself, seemed vaguely to indicate the opening of a gulf between them, destined ere long to widen to the whole social width between a fisherman and a marquis, and swallow up in it not only old memories, but later friendship and confidence. A shadow of bitterness crossed the poor fellow's mind, and in it the seed of distrust began to strike root, for nothing but that a newer had been substituted for an older form of the same speech and language. Truly man's heart is a delicate piece of work, and takes gentle handling or hurt. But that the pain was not all of innocence is revealed in the strange fact afterward disclosed by the repentant Peter himself, that in the same moment what had just passed his mouth as a joke put on an important, serious look, and appeared to involve a matter of doubtful duty: was it really right of one man to say my lord to another? Thus the fisherman, and not the marquis, was the first to sin against the other because of altered fortune. Distrust awoke pride in the heart of Blue Peter, and although in action the man could never have been unfaithful, he yet erred in the lack of the charity that thinketh no evil.

But the lack and the doubt made little show as yet. The two men rowed together in their dingy down the river to the Aberdeen wharf, to make arrangements about Kelpie, whose arrival Malcolm expected the following Monday, then dined together, and after that had a long row up the river.