The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XVII

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XVII
by George MacDonald



Notwithstanding his keenness of judgment and sobriety in action, Malcolm had yet a certain love for effect — a delight, that is, in the show of concentrated results — which, as I believe I have elsewhere remarked, belongs especially to the Celtic nature, and is one form in which the poetic element vaguely embodies itself. Hence arose the temptation to try on Blue Peter the effect of a literally theatrical surprise. He knew well the prejudices of the greater portion of the Scots people against every possible form of artistic, most of all dramatic, representation. He knew, therefore, also, that Peter would never be persuaded to go with him to the theatre: to invite him would be like asking him to call upon Beelzebub; but as this feeling was cherished in utter ignorance of its object, he judged he would be doing him no wrong if he made experiment how the thing itself would affect the heart and judgment of the unsophisticated fisherman.

Finding that "The Tempest" was still the play represented, he contrived, as they walked together, so to direct their course that they should be near Drury Lane toward the hour of commencement. He did not want to take him in much before the time: he would not give him scope for thought, doubt, suspicion, discovery.

When they came in front of the theatre, people were crowding in and carriages setting down their occupants. Blue Peter gave a glance at the building. "This'll be ane o' the Lon'on kirks, I'm thinkin'?" he said. "It's a muckle place; an' there maun be a heap o' guid fowk in Lon'on, for as ill's it's ca'd, to see sae mony, an' i' their cairritches, comin' to the kirk — on a Setterday nicht tu! It maun be some kin' o' a prayer-meetin', I'm thinkin'."

Malcolm said nothing, but led the way to the pit-entrance.

"That's no an ill w'y o' getherin' the baubees," said Peter, seeing how the incomers paid their money. "I hae h'ard o' the plate bein' robbit in a muckle toon afore noo."

When at length they were seated, and he had time to glance reverently around him, he was a little staggered at sight of the decorations, and the thought crossed his mind of the pictures and statues he had heard of in Catholic churches; but he remembered Westminster Abbey, its windows and monuments, and returned to his belief that he was, if in an Episcopal, yet in a Protestant church. But he could not help the thought that the galleries were a little too gaudily painted, while the high pews in them astonished him. Peter's nature, however, was one of those calm, slow ones, which, when occupied by an idea or a belief, are by no means ready to doubt its correctness, and are even ingenious in reducing all apparent contradictions to theoretic harmony with it; whence it came that to him all this was only part of the church furniture according to the taste and magnificence of London. He sat quite tranquil, therefore, until the curtain rose, revealing the ship's company in all the confusion of the wildest of sea-storms.

Malcolm watched him narrowly. But Peter was first so taken by surprise, and then so carried away with the interest of what he saw, that thinking had ceased in him utterly, and imagination lay passive as a mirror to the representation. Nor did the sudden change from the first to the second scene rouse him, for before his thinking machinery could be set in motion the delight of the new show had again caught him in its meshes. For to him, as it had been to Malcolm, it was the shore at Portlossie, while the cave that opened behind was the Baillie's Barn, where his friends the fishers might at that moment, if it were a fine night, be holding one of their prayer-meetings.

The mood lasted all through the talk of Prospero and Miranda, but when Ariel entered there came a snap, and the spell was broken. With a look in which doubt wrestled with horror, Blue Peter turned to Malcolm, and whispered with bated breath, "I'm jaloosin — it cannabe! — it's no a playhoose, this?" Malcolm merely nodded, but from the nod Peter understood that he had had no discovery to make as to the character of the place they were in. "Eh!" he groaned, overcome with dismay. Then rising suddenly, "Guidnicht to ye, my lord," he said with indignation, and rudely forced his way from the crowded house.

Malcolm followed in his wake, but said nothing till they were in the street. Then, forgetting utterly his resolves concerning English in the distress of having given his friend ground to complain of his conduct toward him, he laid his hand on Blue Peter's arm and stopped him in the middle of the narrow street "I but thoucht, Peter," he said, "to get ye to see wi' yer ain een an' hear wi' yer ain ears afore ye passed jeedgment; but ye're jist like the lave."

"An' what for sudna I be jist like the lave? " returned Peter fiercely.

"'Cause it's no fair to set doon a' thing for wrang 'at ye hae been i' the w'y o' hearin' abus't by them 'at kens as little aboot them as yersel'. I cam here mysel', ohn kent whaur I was gaein', the ither nicht, for the first time i' my life; but I wasna fleyt like you, 'cause I kent frae the buik a' 'at was comin'. I hae h'ard in a kirk in ae ten meenutes jist a sicht o' what maun hae been saer displeasin' to the he'rt o' the Maister o' 's a'; but that nicht I saw nae ill an' h'ard nae ill, but was well peyed back upo' them 'at did it an' said it afore the business was ower; an' that's mair nor ye'll see i' the streets o' Portlossie ilka day. The playhoose is whaur ye gang to see what comes o' things 'at ye canna follow oot in ordinar' life."

Whether Malcolm after a year's theatre-going would have said precisely the same is hardly doubtful. He spoke of the ideal theatre to which Shakespeare is true, and in regard to that he spoke rightly.

"Ye decoy't me intill the hoose o' ineequity!" was Peter's indignant reply; "an' it's no what ye ever gae me cause to expec' o' ye, sae 'at I micht hae ta'en tent o' ye."

"I thoucht nae ill o' 't" returned Malcolm.

"Weel, I div,? retorted Peter.

"Then perhaps you are wrong," said Malcolm, "for charity thinketh no evil. You wouldn't stay to see the thing out."

"There ye are at yer English again; an' misgugg'lin' Scriptur' wi' 't; an' a' this upo' Setterday nicht — maist the Sawbath day! Weel, I hae aye h'ard 'at Lon'on was an awfu' place, but I little thoucht the verra air o' 't wad sae sune turn an honest laadlike Ma'colm MacPhail intill a scoffer. But maybe it's the markis o' 'im, an' no the muckle toon 'at 's made the differ. Ony gait, I'm thinkin' it'll be aboot time for me to be gauin' hame."

Malcolm was vexed with himself, and both disappointed and troubled at the change which had come over his friend and threatened to destroy the lifelong relation between them: his feelings therefore held him silent.

Peter concluded that the marquis was displeased, and it clenched his resolve to "What w'y am I to win hame, my lord?" he said, when they had walked some distance without one word spoken.

"By the Aberdeen smack," returned Malcolm: " she sails on Tuesday. I will see you on board. You must take young Davy with you, for I wouldn't have him here after you are gone. There will be nothing for him to do."

"Ye're unco ready to pairt wt' 's, noo 'at ye hae nae mair use for 's," said Peter.

"No sae ready as ye seem to pairt wi' yer charity," said Malcolm, now angry too.

"Ye see, Annie 'ill be thinkin' lang," said Peter, softening a little.

No more angry words passed between them, but neither did any thoroughly cordial ones, and they parted at the stairs in mutual, though, with such men, it could not be more than superficial, estrangement.