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- Malcolm - 5/113 -


Either flattered by his absolute obedience, and persuaded that he was a true squire, or unwilling to forego what amusement she might gain from him, she drew in her half issuing foot, and, certainly urged in part by an inherent disposition to tease, spoke again.

"You're not going away without thanking me?" she said.

"What for, mem?" he returned simply, standing stock still again with his back towards her.

"You needn't stand so. You don't think I would go on dressing while you remained in sight?"

"I was as guid's awa', mem," he said, and turning a glowing face, looked at her for a moment, then cast his eyes on the ground.

"Tell me what you mean by not thanking me," she insisted.

"They wad be dull thanks, mem, that war thankit afore I kenned what for."

"For allowing you to carry me ashore, of course."

"Be thankit, mem, wi' a' my hert. Will I gang doon o' my knees?"

"No. Why should you go on your knees?"

"'Cause ye're 'maist ower bonny to luik at stan'in', mem, an' I'm feared for angerin' ye."

"Don't say ma'am to me."

"What am I to say, than, mem?--I ask yer pardon, mem."

"Say my lady. That's how people speak to me."

"I thocht ye bude (behoved) to be somebody by ordinar', my leddy! That'll be hoo ye're so terrible bonny," he returned, with some tremulousness in his tone. "But ye maun put on yer hose, my leddy, or ye'll get yer feet cauld, and that's no guid for the likes o' you."

The form of address she prescribed, conveyed to him no definite idea of rank. It but added intensity to the notion of her being a lady, as distinguished from one of the women of his own condition in life.

"And pray what is to become of you," she returned, "with your clothes as wet as water can make them?"

"The saut water kens me ower weel to do me ony ill," returned the lad. "I gang weet to the skin mony a day frae mornin' till nicht, and mony a nicht frae nicht till mornin'--at the heerin' fishin', ye ken, my leddy."

One might well be inclined to ask what could have tempted her to talk in such a familiar way to a creature like him--human indeed, but separated from her by a gulf more impassable far than that which divided her from the thrones, principalities, and powers of the upper regions? And how is the fact to be accounted for, that here she put out a dainty foot, and reaching for one of her stockings, began to draw it gently over the said foot? Either her sense of his inferiority was such that she regarded his presence no more than that of a dog, or, possibly, she was tempted to put his behaviour to the test. He, on his part, stood quietly regarding the operation, either that, with the instinct of an inborn refinement, he was aware he ought not to manifest more shamefacedness than the lady herself, or that he was hardly more accustomed to the sight of gleaming fish than the bare feet of maidens.

"I'm thinkin', my leddy," he went on, in absolute simplicity, "that sma' fut o' yer ain has danced mony a braw dance on mony a braw flure."

"How old do you take me for then?" she rejoined, and went on drawing the garment over her foot by the shortest possible stages.

"Ye'll no be muckle ower twenty," he said.

"I'm only sixteen," she returned, laughing merrily.

"What will ye be or ye behaud!" he exclaimed, after a brief pause of astonishment.

"Do you ever dance in this part of the country?" she asked, heedless of his surprise.

"No that muckle, at least amo' the fisherfowks, excep' it be at a weddin'. I was at ane last nicht."

"And did you dance?"

"'Deed did I, my leddy. I danced the maist o' the lasses clean aff o' their legs."

"What made you so cruel?"

"Weel, ye see, mem,--I mean my leddy,--fowk said I was ill aboot the bride; an' sae I bude to dance 't oot o' their heids."

"And how much truth was there in what they said?" she asked, with a sly glance up in the handsome, now glowing face.

"Gien there was ony, there was unco little," he replied. "The chield's walcome till her for me. But she was the bonniest lassie we had.--It was what we ca' a penny weddin'," he went on, as if willing to change the side of the subject.

"And what's a penny wedding?"

"It's a' kin' o' a custom amo' the fishers. There's some gey puir fowk amon' 's, ye see, an' when a twa o' them merries, the lave o' 's wants to gie them a bit o' a start like. Sae we a' gang to the weddin' an' eats an' drinks plenty, an' pays for a' 'at we hae; and they mak' a guid profit out o' 't, for the things doesna cost them nearhan' sae muckle as we pay. So they hae a guid han'fu' ower for the plenishin'."

"And what do they give you to eat and drink?" asked the girl, making talk.

"Ow, skate an' mustard to eat, an' whusky to drink," answered the lad, laughing. "But it's mair for the fun. I dinna care muckle about whusky an' that kin' o' thing mysel'. It's the fiddles an the dancin' 'at I like."

"You have music, then?"

"Ay; jist the fiddles an' the pipes."

"The bagpipes, do you mean?"

"Ay; my gran'father plays them."

"But you're not in the Highlands here: how come you to have bagpipes?"

"It's a stray bag, an' no more. But the fowk here likes the cry o' 't well eneuch, an' hae 't to wauk them ilka mornin'. Yon was my gran'father ye heard afore I fired the gun. Yon was his pipes waukin' them, honest fowk."

"And what made you fire the gun in that reckless way? Don't you know it is very dangerous?"

"Dangerous mem--my leddy, I mean! There was naething intill 't but a pennyworth o' blastin' pooder. It wadna blaw the froth aff o' the tap o' a jaw (billow)."

"It nearly blew me out of my small wits, though."

"I'm verra sorry it frichtit ye. But, gien I had seen ye, I bude to fire the gun."

"I don't understand you quite; but I suppose you mean it was your business to fire the gun."

"Jist that, my leddy."

"Why?"

"'Cause it's been decreet i' the toon cooncil that at sax o' the clock ilka mornin' that gun's to be fired--at least sae lang's my lord, the marquis, is at Portlossie Hoose. Ye see it's a royal brugh, this, an' it costs but aboot a penny, an' it's gran' like to hae a sma' cannon to fire. An' gien I was to neglec' it, my gran'father wad gang on skirlin'--what's the English for skirlin', my leddy--skirlin' o' the pipes?"

"I don't know. But from the sound of the word I should suppose it stands for screaming."

"Aye, that's it; only screamin's no sae guid as skirlin'. My gran'father's an auld man, as I was gaein' on to say, an' has hardly breath eneuch to fill the bag; but he wad be efter dirkin' onybody 'at said sic a thing, and till he heard that gun he wad gang on blawin' though he sud burst himsel.' There's naebody kens the smeddum in an auld hielan' man!"

By the time the conversation had reached this point, the lady had got her shoes on, had taken up her book from the sand, and was now sitting with it in her lap. No sound reached them but that of the tide, for the scream of the bagpipes had ceased the moment the swivel was fired. The sun was growing hot, and the sea, although so far in the cold north, was gorgeous in purple and green, suffused as with the overpowering pomp of a peacock's plumage in the sun. Away to the left the solid promontory trembled against the horizon, as if ready to dissolve and vanish between the bright air and the lucid sea that fringed its base with white. The glow of a young summer morning pervaded earth and sea and sky, and swelled the heart of the youth as he stood in unconscious bewilderment before the self possession of the girl. She was younger than he, and knew far less that was worth knowing, yet had a world of advantage over him--not merely from the effect of her presence on one who had never seen anything half so beautiful, but from a certain readiness of surface thought, combined with the sweet polish of her speech, and an assurance of superiority which appeared to them both to lift her, like one of the old immortals, far above the level of the man whom she favoured with her passing converse. What in her words, as here presented only to the eye, may seem brusqueness or even forwardness, was so tempered, so toned, so fashioned by the naivete


Malcolm - 5/113

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