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- Malcolm - 20/113 -


I ken weel hoo muckle ower ear' ye was! But what fowk taks in han', fowk sud put oot o' han' in a proper mainner, and no misguggle 't a'thegither like yon. An' for what they say i' the toon, there's Mistress Catanach--"

"Mistress Catanach is a paad 'oman," said Duncan.

"I wad advise you, piper, to haud a quaiet sough about her. She's no to be meddlet wi', Mistress Catanach, I can tell ye. Gien ye anger her, it'll be the waur for ye. The neist time ye hae a lyin' in, she'll be raxin' (reaching) ye a hairless pup, or, deed, maybe a stan' o' bagpipes, as the produck."

"Her nain sel' will not pe requiring her sairvices, Mistress Partan; she'll pe leafing tat to you, if you'll excuse me," said Duncan.

"Deed, ye're richt there! An auld speldin' (dried haddock) like you! Ha! ha! ha!"

Malcolm judged it time to interfere, and stepped into the cottage. Duncan was seated in the darkest corner of the room, with an apron over his knees, occupied with a tin lamp. He had taken out the wick and laid its flat tube on the hearth, had emptied the oil into a saucer, and was now rubbing the lamp vigorously: cleanliness rather than brightness must have been what he sought to produce.

Malcolm's instinct taught him to side so far with the dame concerning Mrs Catanach, and thereby turn the torrent away from his grandfather.

"'Deed ye're richt there, Mistress Findlay!" he said. "She's no to be meddlet wi'. She's no mowse (safe)."

Malcolm was a favourite with Meg, as with all the women of the place; hence she did not even start in resentment at his sudden appearance, but, turning to Duncan, exclaimed victoriously,-- "Hear till her ain oye! He's a laad o' sense!"

"Ay, hear to him!" rejoined the old man with pride. "My Malcolm will always pe speaking tat which will pe worth ta hearing with ta ears. Poth of you and me will be knowing ta Mistress Catanach pretty well--eh, Malcolm, my son? We'll not be trusting her fery too much--will we, my son?"

"No a hair, daddy," returned Malcolm.

"She's a dooms clever wife, though; an' ane 'at ye may lippen till i' the w'y o' her ain callin'," said Meg Partan, whose temper had improved a little under the influence of the handsome youth's presence and cheery speech.

"She'll not pe toubting it," responded Duncan; "put, ach! ta voman 'll be hafing a crim feesage and a fearsome eye!"

Like all the blind, he spoke as if he saw perfectly.

"Weel, I hae hard fowk say 'at ye bude (behoved) to hae the second sicht," said Mrs Findlay, laughing rudely; "but wow! it stan's ye in sma' service gien that be a' it comes till. She's a guid natur'd, sonsy luikin' wife as ye wad see; an' for her een, they're jist sic likes mine ain.--Haena ye near dune wi' that lamp yet?"

"The week of it 'll pe shust a lettle out of orter," answered the old man. "Ta pairns has been' pulling it up with a peen from ta top, and not putting it in at ta hole for ta purpose. And she'll pe thinking you'll be cleaning off ta purnt part with a peen yourself, rna'am, and not with ta pair of scissors she tolt you of, Mistress Partan."

"Gae 'wa' wi' yer nonsense!" cried Meg. "Daur ye say 1 dinna ken hoo to trim an uilyie lamp wi' the best blin' piper that ever cam frae the bare leggit Heelans?"

"A choke's a choke, ma'am," said Duncan, rising with dignity; "put for a laty to make a choke of a man's pare leks is not ta propriety!"

"Oot o' my hoose wi' ye!" screamed the she Partan. "Wad ye threep (insist) upo' me onything I said was less nor proaper. 'At I sud say what wadna stan' the licht as weels the bare houghs o' ony heelan' rascal 'at ever lap a lawlan' dyke!"

"Hoot toot, Mistress Findlay," interposed Malcolm, as his grandfather strode from the door; "ye maunna forget 'at he's auld an' blin'; an' a' heelan' fowk's some kittle (touchy) about their legs."

"Deil shochle them!" exclaimed the Partaness; "what care I for 's legs!"

Duncan had brought the germ of this ministry of light from his native Highlands, where he had practised it in his own house, no one but himself being permitted to clean, or fill, or, indeed, trim the lamp. How first this came about, I do not believe the old man himself knew. But he must have had some feeling of a call to the work; for he had not been a month in Portlossie, before he had installed himself in several families as the genius of their lamps, and he gradually extended the relation until it comprehended almost all the houses in the village.

It was strange and touching to see the sightless man thus busy about light for others. A marvellous symbol of faith he was--not only believing in sight, but in the mysterious, and to him altogether unintelligible means by which others saw! In thus lending his aid to a faculty in which he had no share, he himself followed the trail of the garments of Light, stooping ever and anon to lift and bear her skirts. He haunted the steps of the unknown Power, and flitted about the walls of her temple as we mortals haunt the borders of the immortal land, knowing nothing of what lies behind the unseen veil, yet believing in an unrevealed grandeur. Or shall we say he stood like the forsaken merman, who, having no soul to be saved, yet lingered and listened outside the prayer echoing church? Only old Duncan had got farther: though he saw not a glimmer of the glory, he yet asserted his part and lot in it, by the aiding of his fellows to that of which he lacked the very conception himself. He was a doorkeeper in the house, yea, by faith the blind man became even a priest in the temple of Light.

Even when his grandchild was the merest baby, he would never allow the gloaming to deepen into night without kindling for his behoof the brightest and cleanest of train oil lamps. The women who at first looked in to offer their services, would marvel at the trio of blind man, babe, and burning lamp, and some would expostulate with him on the needless waste. But neither would he listen to their words, nor accept their offered assistance in dressing or undressing the child. The sole manner in which he would consent to avail himself of their willingness to help him, was to leave the baby in charge of this or that neighbour while he went his rounds with the bagpipes: when he went lamp cleaning he always took him along with him.

By this change of guardians Malcolm was a great gainer, for thus he came to be surreptitiously nursed by a baker's dozen of mothers, who had a fund of not very wicked amusement in the lamentations of the old man over his baby's refusal of nourishment, and his fears that he was pining away. But while they honestly declared that a healthier child had never been seen in Portlossie, they were compelled to conceal the too satisfactory reasons of the child's fastidiousness; for they were persuaded that the truth would only make Duncan terribly jealous, and set him on contriving how at once to play his pipes and carry his baby.

He had certain days for visiting certain houses, and cleaning the lamps in them. The housewives had at first granted him as a privilege the indulgence of his whim, and as such alone had Duncan regarded it; but by and by, when they found their lamps burn so much better from being properly attended to, they began to make him some small return; and at length it became the custom with every housewife who accepted his services, to pay him a halfpenny a week during the winter months for cleaning her lamp. He never asked for it; if payment was omitted, never even hinted at it; received what was given him thankfully; and was regarded with kindness, and, indeed, respect, by all. Even Mrs Partan, as he alone called her, was his true friend: no intensity of friendship could have kept her from scolding. I believe if we could thoroughly dissect the natures of scolding women, we should find them in general not at all so unfriendly as they are unpleasant.

A small trade in oil arose from his connection with the lamps, and was added to the list of his general dealings. The fisher folk made their own oil, but sometimes it would run short, and then recourse was had to Duncan's little store, prepared by himself of the best; chiefly, now, from the livers of fish caught by his grandson. With so many sources of income, no one wondered at his getting on. Indeed no one would have been surprised to hear, long before Malcolm had begun to earn anything, that the old man had already laid by a trifle.

CHAPTER XV: THE SLOPE OF THE DUNE

Looking at Malcolm's life from the point of his own consciousness, and not from that of the so called world, it was surely pleasant enough. Innocence, devotion to another, health, pleasant labour with an occasional shadow of danger to arouse the energies, leisure, love of reading, a lofty minded friend, and, above all, a supreme presence, visible to his heart in the meeting of vaulted sky and outspread sea, and felt at moments in any waking wind that cooled his glowing cheek and breathed into him anew of the breath of life, --lapped in such conditions, bathed in such influences, the youth's heart was swelling like a rosebud ready to burst into blossom.

But he had never yet felt the immediate presence of woman in any of her closer relations. He had never known mother or sister; and, although his voice always assumed a different tone and his manner grew more gentle in the presence, of a woman, old or young, he had found little individually attractive amongst the fisher girls. There was not much in their circumstances to bring out the finer influences of womankind in them: they had rough usage, hard work at the curing and carrying of fish and the drying of nets, little education, and but poor religious instruction. At the same time any failure in what has come to be specially called virtue, was all but unknown amongst them; and the profound faith in women, and corresponding worship of everything essential to womanhood which essentially belonged to a nature touched to fine issues, had as yet met with no check. It had never come into Malcolm's thoughts that there were live women capable of impurity. Mrs. Catanach was the only woman he had ever looked upon with dislike--and that dislike had generated no more than the vaguest suspicion. Let a woman's faults be all that he had ever known in woman; he yet could look on her with reverence--and the very heart of reverence is love,


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