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- Malcolm - 10/113 -
Mrs Courthope, the housekeeper at Lossie House, was a good woman, who did not stand upon her dignities, as small rulers are apt to do, but cultivated friendly relations with the people of the Sea Town. Some of the rougher of the women despised the sweet outlandish speech she had brought with her from her native England, and accused her of mim mou'dness, or an affected modesty in the use of words; but not the less was she in their eyes a great lady,--whence indeed came the special pleasure in finding flaws in her--for to them she was the representative of the noble family on whose skirts they and their ancestors had been settled for ages, the last marquis not having visited the place for many years, and the present having but lately succeeded.
Duncan MacPhail was a favourite with her; for the English woman will generally prefer the highland to the lowland Scotsman; and she seldom visited the Seaton without looking in upon him so that when Malcolm returned from the Alton, or Old Town, where the school was, it did not in the least surprise him to find her seated with his grandfather.
Apparently, however, there had been some dissension between them; for the old man sat in his corner strangely wrathful, his face in a glow, his head thrown back, his nostrils distended, and his eyelids working, as if his eyes were "poor dumb mouths," like Caesar's wounds, trying to speak.
"We are told in the New Testament to forgive our enemies, you know," said Mrs Courthope, heedless of his entrance, but in a voice that seemed rather to plead than oppose.
"Inteet she will not be false to her shief and her clan," retorted Duncan persistently. "She will not forgife Cawmil of Glenlyon."
"But he's dead long since, and we may at least hope he repented and was forgiven."
"She'll be hoping nothing of the kind, Mistress Kertope," replied Duncan. "But if, as you say, God will be forgifing him, which I do not belief;--let that pe enough for ta greedy blackguard. Sure, it matters but small whether poor Tuncan MacPhail will be forgifing him or not. Anyhow, he must do without it, for he shall not haf it. He is a tamn fillain and scounrel, and so she says, with her respecs to you, Mistress Kertope."
His sightless eyes flashed with indignation; and perceiving it was time to change the subject, the housekeeper turned to Malcolm.
"Could you bring me a nice mackerel or whiting for my lord's breakfast tomorrow morning, Malcolm?" she said.
"Certaintly, mem. I 's be wi ye in guid time wi' the best the sea 'll gie me," he answered.
"If I have the fish by nine o'clock, that will be early enough," she returned.
"I wad na like to wait sae lang for my brakfast," remarked Malcolm.
"You wouldn't mind it much, if you waited asleep," said Mrs Courthope.
"Can onybody sleep till sic a time o' day as that?" exclaimed the youth.
"You must remember my lord doesn't go to bed for hours after you, Malcolm."
"An' what can keep him up a' that time? It's no as gien he war efter the herrin', an' had the win' an' the watter an' the netfu's o' waumlin craturs to baud him waukin'."
"Oh! he reads and writes, and sometimes goes walking about the grounds after everybody else is in bed," said Mrs Courthope, "he and his dog."
"Well, I wad rather be up ear'," said Malcolm; "a heap raither. I like fine to be oot i' the quaiet o' the mornin' afore the sun's up to set the din gaun; whan it's a' clear but no bricht--like the back o' a bonny sawmon; an' air an' watter an' a' luiks as gien they war waitin' for something--quaiet, verra quaiet, but no content."
Malcolm uttered this long speech, and went on with more like it, in the hope of affording time for the stormy waters of Duncan's spirit to assuage. Nor was he disappointed; for, if there was a sound on the earth Duncan loved to hear, it was the voice of his boy; and by degrees the tempest sank to repose, the gathered glooms melted from his countenance, and the sunlight of a smile broke out.
"Hear to him!" he cried. "Her poy will be a creat pard some tay, and sing pefore ta Stuart kings, when they come pack to Holyrood!"
Mrs Courthope had enough of poetry in her to be pleased with Malcolm's quiet enthusiasm, and spoke a kind word of sympathy with the old man's delight as she rose to take her leave. Duncan rose also, and followed her to the door, making her a courtly bow, and that just as she turned away.
"It 'll pe a coot 'oman, Mistress Kertope," he said as he came back; "and it 'll no pe to plame her for forgifing Glenlyon, for he did not kill her creat crandmother. Put it'll pe fery paad preeding to request her nainsel, Tuncan MacPhail, to be forgifing ta rascal. Only she'll pe put a voman, and it'll not pe knowing no petter to her.--You'll be minding you'll be firing ta cun at six o'clock exackly, Malcolm, for all she says; for my lord peing put shust come home to his property, it might be a fex to him if tere was any mistake so soon. Put inteed, I yonder he hasn't been sending for old Tuncan to be gifing him a song or two on ta peeps; for he'll pe hafing ta oceans of fery coot highland plood in his own feins; and his friend, ta Prince of Wales, who has no more rights to it than a maackerel fish, will pe wearing ta kilts at Holyrood. So mind you pe firing ta cun at sax, my son."
For some years, young as he was, Malcolm had hired himself to one or other of the boat proprietors of the Seaton or of Scaurnose, for the herring fishing--only, however, in the immediate neighbourhood, refusing to go to the western islands, or any station whence he could not return to sleep at his grandfather's cottage. He had thus on every occasion earned enough to provide for the following winter, so that his grandfather's little income as piper, and other small returns, were accumulating in various concealments about the cottage; for, in his care for the future, Duncan dreaded lest Malcolm should buy things for him, without which, in his own sightless judgment, he could do well enough.
Until the herring season should arrive, however, Malcolm made a little money by line fishing; for he had bargained, the year before, with the captain of a schooner for an old ship's boat, and had patched and caulked it into a sufficiently serviceable condition. He sold his fish in the town and immediate neighbourhood, where a good many housekeepers favoured the handsome and cheery young fisherman.
He would now be often out in the bay long before it was time to call his grandfather, in his turn to rouse the sleepers of Portlossie. But the old man had as yet always waked about the right time, and the inhabitants had never had any ground of complaint--a few minutes one way or the other being of little consequence. He was the cock which woke the whole yard: morning after morning his pipes went crowing through the streets of the upper region, his music ending always with his round. But after the institution of the gun signal, his custom was to go on playing where he stood until he heard it, or to stop short in the midst of his round and his liveliest reveille the moment it reached his ear. Loath as he might be to give over, that sense of good manners which was supreme in every highlander of the old time, interdicted the fingering of a note after the marquis's gun had called aloud.
When Malcolm meant to go fishing, he always loaded the swivel the night before, and about sunset the same evening he set out for that purpose. Not a creature was visible on the border of the curving bay except a few boys far off on the gleaming sands whence the tide had just receded: they were digging for sand eels--lovely little silvery fishes--which, as every now and then the spade turned one or two up, they threw into a tin pail for bait. But on the summit of the long sandhill, the lonely figure of a man was walking to and fro in the level light of the rosy west; and as Malcolm climbed the near end of the dune, it was turning far off at the other: halfway between them was the embrasure with the brass swivel, and there they met. Although he had never seen him before, Malcolm perceived at once it must be Lord Lossie, and lifted his bonnet. The marquis nodded and passed on, but the next moment, hearing the noise of Malcolm's proceedings with the swivel, turned and said-- "What are you about there with that gun, my lad?"
"I'm jist ga'in' to dicht her oot an' lod her, my lord," answered Malcolm.
"And what next? You're not going to fire the thing?"
"Ay--the morn's mornin', my lord."
"What will that be for?"
"Ow, jist to wauk yer lordship."
"Hm!" said his lordship, with more expression than articulation.
"Will I no lod her?" asked Malcolm, throwing down the ramrod, and approaching the swivel, as if to turn the muzzle of it again into the embrasure.
"Oh, yes! load her by all means. I don't want to interfere with any of your customs. But if that is your object, the means, I fear, are inadequate."
"It's a comfort to hear that, my lord; for I canna aye be sure o' my auld watch, an' may weel be oot a five minutes or twa whiles. Sae, in future, seem' it's o' sic sma' consequence to yer lordship, I s' jist let her aff whan it's convenient. A feow minutes winna maitter muckle to the bailie bodies."
There was something in Malcolm's address that pleased Lord Lossie --the mingling of respect and humour, probably--the frankness and composure, perhaps. He was not self conscious enough to be shy, and was so free from design of any sort that he doubted the good will of no one.
"What's your name?" asked the marquis abruptly.
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