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- The Marquis of Lossie - 6/95 -
CHAPTER VII: BLUE PETER
The door of Blue Peter's cottage was opened by his sister. Not much at home in the summer, when she carried fish to the country, she was very little absent in the winter, and as there was but one room for all uses, except the closet bedroom and the garret at the top of the ladder, Malcolm, instead of going in, called to his friend, whom he saw by the fire with his little Phemy upon his knee, to come out and speak to him.
Blue Peter at once obeyed the summons.
"There's naething wrang, I houp, Ma'colm?" he said, as he closed the door behind him.
"Maister Graham wad say," returned Malcolm, "naething ever was wrang but what ye did wrang yersel', or wadna pit richt whan ye had a chance. I ha'e him nae mair to gang till, Joseph, an' sae I'm come to you. Come doon by, an' i' the scoug o' a rock, I'll tell ye a' aboot it."
"Ye wadna ha'e the mistress no ken o' 't?" said his friend. "I dinna jist like haein' secrets frae her."
"Ye sall jeedge for yersel', man, an' tell her or no just as ye like. Only she maun haud her tongue, or the black dog 'll ha'e a' the butter."
"She can haud her tongue like the tae stane o' a grave," said Peter.
As they spoke they reached the cliff that hung over the shattered shore. It was a clear, cold night. Snow, the remnants of the last storm, which frost had preserved in every shadowy spot, lay all about them. The sky was clear, and full of stars, for the wind that blew cold from the northwest had dispelled the snowy clouds. The waves rushed into countless gulfs and crannies and straits on the ruggedest of shores, and the sounds of waves and wind kept calling like voices from the unseen. By a path, seemingly fitter for goats than men, they descended halfway to the beach, and under a great projection of rock stood sheltered from the wind. Then Malcolm turned to Joseph Mair, commonly called Blue Peter, because he had been a man of war's man, and laying his hand on his arm said:
"Blue Peter, did ever I tell ye a lee?"
"No, never," answered Peter. "What gars ye speir sic a thing?"
"Cause I want ye to believe me noo, an' it winna be easy."
"I'll believe onything ye tell me--'at can be believed."
"Weel, I ha'e come to the knowledge 'at my name's no MacPhail: it's Colonsay. Man, I'm the Markis o' Lossie."
Without a moment's hesitation, without a single stare of unbelief or even astonishment, Blue Peter pulled off his bonnet, and stood bareheaded before the companion of his toils.
"Peter!" cried Malcolm, "dinna brak my hert: put on yer bonnet."
"The Lord o' lords be thankit, my lord!" said Blue Peter: "the puir man has a freen' this day."
Then replacing his bonnet he said--"An' what'll be yer lordship's wull?"
"First and foremost, Peter, that my best freen', efter my auld daddy and the schulemaister, 's no to turn again' me 'cause I hed a markis an' neither piper nor fisher to my father."
"It's no like it, my lord," returned Blue Peter, "whan the first thing I say is--what wad ye ha'e o' me? Here I am--no speirin' a queston!"
"Weel, I wad ha'e ye hear the story o' 't a'."
"Say on, my lord," said Peter.
But Malcolm was silent for a few moments.
"I was thinkin', Peter," he said at last, "whether I cud bide to hear you say my lord to me. Dootless, as it 'll ha'e to come to that, it wad be better to grow used till 't while we're thegither, sae 'at whan it maun be, it mayna ha'e the luik o' cheenge until it, for cheenge is jist the thing I canna bide. I' the meantime, hooever, we canna gi'e in till 't, 'cause it wad set fowk jaloosin'. But I wad be obleeged till ye, Peter, gien you wad say my lord whiles, whan we're oor lanes, for I wad fain grow sae used till't 'at I never kent ye said it, for 'atween you an' me I dinna like it. An' noo I s' tell ye a' 'at I ken."
When he had ended the tale of what had come to his knowledge, and how it had come, and paused:
"Gie's a grup o' yer han', my lord," said Blue Peter, "an' may God haud ye lang in life an' honour to reule ower us. Noo, gien ye please, what are ye gauin' to du?"
"Tell ye me, Peter, what ye think I oucht to du."
"That wad tak a heap o' thinkin'," returned the fisherman; "but ae thing seems aboot plain: ye ha'e no richt to lat yer sister gang exposed to temptations ye cud haud frae her. That's no, as ye promised, to be kin' till her. I canna believe that's hoo yer father expeckit o' ye. I ken weel 'at fowk in his poseetion ha'ena the preevileeges o' the like o' hiz--they ha'ena the win, an' the watter, an' whiles a lee shore to gar them know they are but men, an' sen' them rattling at the wicket of h'aven; but still I dinna think, by yer ain accoont, specially noo 'at I houp he's forgi'en an' latten in--God grant it!--I div not think he wad like my leddy Florimel to be oon'er the influences o' sic a ane as that Leddy Bellair. Ye maun gang till her. Ye ha'e nae ch'ice, my lord."
"But what am I to do, whan I div gang?"
"That's what ye hev to gang an' see."
"An' that's what I ha'e been tellin' mysel', an' what Miss Horn's been tellin' me tu. But it's a gran' thing to get yer ain thouchts corroborat. Ye see I'm feart for wrangin' her for pride, and bringin' her doon to set mysel' up."
"My lord," said Blue Peter, solemnly, "ye ken the life o' puir fisher fowk; ye ken hoo it micht be lichtened, sae lang as it laists, an' mony a hole steikit 'at the cauld deith creeps in at the noo: coont ye them naething, my lord? Coont ye the wull o' Providence, 'at sets ye ower them, naething? What for could the Lord ha'e gie ye sic an upbringin' as no markis' son ever hed afore ye, or maybe ever wull ha'e efter ye, gien it bena 'at ye sud tak them in han' to du yer pairt by them? Gien ye forsak them noo, ye'll be forgettin' him 'at made them an' you, an' the sea, an' the herrin' to be taen intil 't. Gien ye forget them, there's nae houp for them, but the same deith 'ill keep on swallowin' at them upo' sea an' shore."
"Ye speyk the trowth as I ha'e spoken't till mysel', Peter. Noo, hearken: will ye sail wi' me the nicht for Lon'on toon?" The fisherman was silent a moment--then answered, "I wull, my lord; but I maun tell my wife."
"Rin, an' fess her here than, for I'm fleyed at yer sister, honest wuman, an' little Phemy. It wad blaud a' thing gien I was hurried to du something afore I kenned what."
"I s' ha'e her oot in a meenute," said Joseph, and scrambled up the cliff.
CHAPTER VIII: VOYAGE TO LONDON
For a few minutes Malcolm stood alone in the dim starlight of winter, looking out on the dusky sea, dark as his own future, into which the wind now blowing behind him would soon begin to carry him. He anticipated its difficulties, but never thought of perils: it was seldom anything oppressed him but the doubt of what he ought to do. This was ever the cold mist that swallowed the airy castles he built and peopled with all the friends and acquaintances of his youth. But the very first step towards action is the death warrant of doubt, and the tide of Malcolm's being ran higher that night, as he stood thus alone under the stars, than he had ever yet known it run. With all his common sense, and the abundance of his philosophy, which the much leisure belonging to certain phases of his life had combined with the slow strength of his intellect to render somewhat long winded in utterance, there was yet room in Malcolm's bonnet for a bee above the ordinary size, and if it buzzed a little too romantically for the taste of the nineteenth century, about disguises and surprises and bounty and plots and rescues and such like, something must be pardoned to one whose experience had already been so greatly out of the common, and whose nature was far too childlike and poetic, and developed in far too simple a surrounding of labour and success, difficulty and conquest, danger and deliverance, not to have more than the usual amount of what is called the romantic in its composition.
The buzzing of his bee was for the present interrupted by the return of Blue Peter with his wife. She threw her arms round Malcolm's neck, and burst into tears.
"Hoots, my woman!" said her husband, "what are ye greitin' at?"
"Eh, Peter!" she answered, "I canna help it. It's jist like a deith. He's gauin' to lea' us a', an' gang hame till 's ain, an' I canna bide 'at he sud grow strange-like to hiz 'at ha'e kenned him sae lang."
"It'll be an ill day," returned Malcolm, "whan I grow strange to ony freen'. I'll ha'e to gang far down the laich (low) ro'd afore that be poassible. I mayna aye be able to du jist what ye wad like; but lippen ye to me: I s' be fair to ye. An' noo I want Blue Peter to gang wi' me, an' help me to what I ha'e to du--gien ye ha'e nae objection to lat him."
"Na, nane ha'e I. I wad gang mysel' gien I cud be ony use," answered Mrs Mair; "but women are i' the gait whiles."
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