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- Malcolm - 40/113 -

"What are ye doin' there?" he asked.

"Makin' a string o' beads, to weir at aunty's merriage."

"What are ye makin' them o'?" he went on.

"Haddicks' een."

"Are they a' haddicks'?"

"Na, there's some cods' amo' them; but they're maistly haddicks'. I pikes them out afore they're sautit, an' biles them; an' syne I polish them i' my han's till they're rale bonny."

"Can ye tell me onything about the mad laird, Phemy?" asked Malcolm, in his anxiety too abruptly.

"Ye can gang an' speir at my father: he's oot aboot," she answered, with a sort of marked coolness, which, added to the fact that she had never looked him in the face, made him more than suspect something behind.

"Div ye ken onything aboot him?" he therefore insisted.

"Maybe I div, an' maybe I divna," answered the child, with an expression of determined mystery.

"Ye'll tell me whaur ye think he is, Phemy?"

"Na, I winna."

"What for no?"

"Ow, jist for fear ye sud ken."

"But I'm a freen' till him."

"Ye may think ay, an' the laird may think no."

"Does he think you a freen', Phemy?" asked Malcolm, in the hope of coming at something by widening the sweep of the conversation.

"Ay, he kens I'm a freen'," she replied.

"An' do ye aye ken whaur he is?"

"Na, no aye. He gangs here an' he gangs there--jist as he likes. It's whan naebody kens whaur he is, that I ken, an' gang till him."

"Is he i' the hoose?"

"Na, he's no i' the hoose."

"Whaur is he than, Phemy?" said Malcolm coaxingly. "There's ill fowk aboot 'at's efter deein' him an ill turn."

"The mair need no to tell!" retorted Phemy.

"But I want to tak care 'o 'im. Tell me whaur he is, like a guid lassie, Phemy."

"I'm no sure. I may say I dinna ken."

"Ye say ye ken whan ither fowk disna: noo naebody kens."

"Hoo ken ye that?"

"'Cause he's run awa."

"Wha frae? His mither?"

"Na, na; frae Miss Horn."

"I ken naething aboot her; but gien naebody kens, I ken whaur he is weel eneuch."

"Whaur than? Ye'll be duin' him a guid turn to tell me."

"Whaur I winna tell, an' whaur you nor nae ither body s' get him. An' ye needna speir, for it wadna be richt to tell; an' gien ye gang on speirin', you an' me winna be lang freen's."

As she spoke, the child looked straight up into his face with wide opened blue eyes, as truthful as the heavens, and Malcolm dared not press her, for it would have been to press her to do wrong.

"Ye wad tell yer father, wadna ye?" he said kindly.

"My father wadna speir. My father's a guid man."

"Weel, Phemy, though ye winna trust me--supposin' I was to trust you?"

"Ye can du that gien ye like."

"An' ye winna tell?"

"I s' mak nae promises. It's no trustin', to gar me promise."

"Weel, I wull trust ye.--Tell the laird to haud weel oot o' sicht for a while."

"He'll du that," said Phemy.

"An' tell him gien onything befa' him, to sen' to Miss Horn, for Ma'colm MacPhail may be oot wi' the boats.--Ye winna forget that?"

"I'm no lickly to forget it," answered Phemy, apparently absorbed in boring a hole in a haddock's eye with a pin so bent as to act like a brace and bit.

"Ye'll no get yer string o' beads in time for the weddin', Phemy," remarked Malcolm, going on to talk from a desire to give the child a feeling of his friendliness.

"Ay will I--fine that," she rejoined.

"Whan is 't to be?"

"Ow, neist Setterday. Ye'll be comin' ower?"

"I haena gotten a call."

"Ye 'll be gettin ane.

"Div ye think they'll gie me ane?"

"As sune 's onybody.--Maybe by that time I'll be able to gie ye some news o' the laird."

"There's a guid lassie!"

"Na, na; I'm makin' nae promises," said Phemy.

Malcolm left her and went to find her father, who, although it was Sunday, was already "oot aboot," as she had said. He found him strolling in meditation along the cliffs. They had a little talk together, but Joseph knew nothing of the laird.

Malcolm took Lossie House on his way back, for he had not yet seen the marquis, to whom he must report his adventures of the night before. The signs of past revelling were plentifully visible as he approached the house. The marquis was not yet up, but Mrs Courthope undertaking to send him word as soon as his lordship was to be seen, he threw himself on the grass and waited--his mind occupied with strange questions, started by the Sunday coming after such a Saturday--among the rest, how God could permit a creature to be born so distorted and helpless as the laird, and then permit him to be so abused in consequence of his helplessness. The problems of life were beginning to bite. Everywhere things appeared uneven. He was not one to complain of mere external inequalities: if he was inclined to envy Lord Meikleham, it was not because of his social position: he was even now philosopher enough to know that the life of a fisherman was preferable to that of such a marquis as Lord Lossie--that the desirableness of a life is to be measured by the amount of interest and not by the amount of ease in it, for the more ease the more unrest; neither was he inclined to complain of the gulf that yawned so wide between him and Lady Florimel; the difficulty lay deeper: such a gulf existing, by a social law only less inexorable than a natural one, why should he feel the rent invading his individual being? in a word, though Malcolm put it in no such definite shape: Why should a fisher lad find himself in danger of falling in love with the daughter of a marquis? Why should such a thing, seeing the very constitution of things rendered it an absurdity, be yet a possibility?

The church bell began, rang on, and ceased. The sound of the psalms came, softly mellowed, and sweetly harmonized, across the churchyard through the gray Sabbath air, and he found himself, for the first time, a stray sheep from the fold. The service must have been half through before a lackey, to whom Mrs Courthope had committed the matter when she went to church, brought him the message that the marquis would see him.

"Well, MacPhail, what do you want with me?" said his lordship as he entered.

"It's my duty to acquaint yer lordship wi' certain proceedin's 'at took place last night," answered Malcolm.

"Go on," said the marquis.

Thereupon Malcolm began at the beginning, and told of the men he had watched, and how, in the fancy of following them, he had found himself in the garret, and what he saw and did there.

"Did you recognize either of the women?" asked Lord Lossie.

"Ane o' them, my lord," answered Malcolm. "It was Mistress Catanach, the howdie."

"What sort of a woman is she?"

"Some fowk canna bide her, my lord. I ken no ill to lay till her chairge, but I winna lippen till her. My gran'father--an' he's blin', ye ken--jist trimles whan she comes near him."

The marquis smiled.

Malcolm - 40/113

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