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- The Marquis of Lossie - 70/95 -
hill, and passed along the street that led to the town gate of the House.--Whom should he see, as he turned into it, but Mrs Catanach!--standing on her own doorstep, opposite the descent to the Seaton, shading her eyes with her hand, and looking far out over the water through the green smoke of the village below. As long as he could remember her, it had been her wont to gaze thus; though what she could at such times be looking for, except it were the devil in person, he found it hard to conjecture.
At the sound of his approach she turned; and such an expression crossed her face in a momentary flash ere she disappeared in the house, as added considerably to his knowledge of fallen humanity. Before he reached her door she was out again, tying on a clean white apron as she came, and smiling like a dark pool in sunshine. She dropped him a low courtesy, and looked as if she had been occupying her house for months of his absence. But Malcolm would not meet even cunning with its own weapons, and therefore turned away his head, and took no notice of her. She ground her teeth with the fury of hate, and swore that she would yet disappoint him of his purpose, whatever it were, in this masquerade of service. Her heart being scarcely of the calibre to comprehend one like Malcolm's, her theories for the interpretation of the mystery were somewhat wild, and altogether of a character unfit to see the light.
The keeper of the town gate greeted Malcolm, as he let him in, with a pleased old face and words of welcome; but added instantly, as if it was no time for the indulgence of friendship, that it was a terrible business going on at the Nose.
"What is it?" asked Malcolm, in alarm.
"Ye ha'e been ower lang awa', I doobt," answered the man, "to ken hoo the factor--But, Lord save ye! haud yer tongue," he interjected, looking fearfully around him. "Gien he kenned 'at I said sic a thing, he wad turn me oot o' hoose an' ha'."
"You've said nothing yet," rejoined Malcolm.
"I said factor, an' that same 's 'maist eneuch, for he's like a roarin' lion an' a ragin' bear amang the people, an' that sin' ever ye gaed. Bow o' Meal said i' the meetin' the ither nicht 'at he bude to be the verra man, the wickit ruler propheseed o' sae lang sin syne i' the beuk o' the Proverbs. Eh! it's an awfu' thing to be foreordeent to oonrichteousness!"
"But you haven't told me what is the matter at Scaurnose," said Malcolm impatiently.
"Ow, it's jist this--at this same's midsimmer day, an' Blew Peter, honest fallow! he's been for the last three month un'er nottice frae the factor to quit. An' sae, ye see,--"
"To quit!" exclaimed Malcolm. "Sic a thing was never h'ard tell o'!"
"Haith! it's h'ard tell o' noo," returned the gatekeeper. "Quittin' 's as plenty as quicken (couch grass). 'Deed there's maist naething ither h'ard tell o' bit quittin'; for the full half o' Scaurnose is un'er like nottice for Michaelmas, an' the Lord kens what it 'll a' en' in!"
"But what's it for? Blue Peter's no the man to misbehave himsel'."
"Weel, ye ken mair yersel' nor ony ither as to the warst fau't there is to lay till's chairge; for they say--that is, some say, it's a' yer ain wyte, Ma'colm."
"What mean ye, man? Speyk oot," said Malcolm.
"They say it's a' anent the abduckin' o' the markis's boat, 'at you an' him gaed aff wi' thegither."
"That'll hardly haud, seeing the marchioness hersel' cam' hame in her the last nicht."
"Ay, but ye see the decree's gane oot, an' what the factor says is like the laws o' the Medes an' the Prussians, 'at they say's no to be altert; I kenna mysel'."
"Ow weel! gien that be a', I'll see efter that wi' the marchioness."
"Ay, but ye see there's a lot o' the laads there, as I'm tellt, 'at has vooed 'at factor nor factor's man s'all ever set fut in Scaurnose fine this day furth. Gang ye doon to the Seaton, an' see hoo mony o' yer auld freen's ye'll fin' there. Man, they're a' oot to Scaurnose to see the plisky. The factor he's there, I ken, an' some constables wi' 'im--to see 'at his order 's cairried oot. An' the laads they ha'e been fortifeein' the place--as they ca' 't--for the last oor. They've howkit a trenk, they tell me, 'at nane but a hunter on 's horse cud win ower, an' they're postit alang the toon side o' 't wi' sticks an' stanes, an' boat heuks, an' guns an' pistils. An' gien there bena a man or twa killt a'ready,--"
Before he finished his sentence, Kelpie was levelling herself for the sea gate.
Johnny Bykes was locking it on the other side, in haste to secure his eye share of what was going on, when he caught sight of Malcolm tearing up. Mindful of the old grudge, also that there was no marquis now to favour his foe, he finished the arrested act of turning the key, drew it from the lock, and to Malcolm's orders, threats, and appeals, returned for all answer that he had no time to attend to him, and so left him looking through the bars. Malcolm dashed across the burn, and round the base of the hill on which stood the little windgod blowing his horn, dismounted, unlocked the door in the wall, got Kelpie through, and was in the saddle again before Johnny was halfway from the gate. When the churl saw him, he trembled, turned, and ran for its shelter again in terror--nor perceived until he reached it, that the insulted groom had gone off like the wind in the opposite direction.
Malcolm soon left the high road and cut across the fields--over which the wind bore cries and shouts, mingled with laughter and the animal sounds of coarse jeering. When he came nigh the cart road which led into the village, he saw at the entrance of the street a crowd, and rising from it the well known shape of the factor on his horse. Nearer the sea, where was another entrance through the back yards of some cottages, was a smaller crowd. Both were now pretty silent, for the attention of all was fixed on Malcolm's approach. As he drew up Kelpie foaming and prancing, and the group made way for her, he saw a deep wide ditch across the road, on whose opposite side was ranged irregularly the flower of Scaurnose's younger manhood, calmly, even merrily prepared to defend their entrenchment. They had been chaffing the factor, and loudly challenging the constables to come on, when they recognised Malcolm in the distance, and expectancy stayed the rush of their bruising wit. For they regarded him as beyond a doubt come from the marchioness with messages of goodwill. When he rode up, therefore, they raised a great shout, everyone welcoming him by name. But the factor, who, to judge by appearances, had had his forenoon dram ere he left home, burning with wrath, moved his horse in between Malcolm and the assembled Scaurnoseans on the other side of the ditch. He had self command enough left, however, to make one attempt at the loftily superior.
"Pray what is your business?" he said, as if he had never seen Malcolm in his life before, "I presume you come with a message."
"I come to beg you, sir, not to go further with this business. Surely the punishment is already enough!" said Malcolm respectfully.
"Who sends me the message?" asked the factor, his teeth clenched, and his eyes flaming.
"One," answered Malcolm, "who has some influence for justice, and will use it, upon whichever side the justice may lie."
"Go to hell," cried the Factor, losing utterly his slender self command, and raising his whip.
Malcolm took no heed of the gesture, for he was at the moment beyond his reach.
"Mr Crathie," he said calmly, "you are banishing the best man in the place."
"No doubt! no doubt! seeing he's a crony of yours," laughed the factor in mighty scorn. "A canting, prayer meeting rascal!" he added.
"Is that ony waur nor a drucken elyer o' the kirk?" cried Dubs from the other side of the ditch, raising a roar of laughter.
The very purple forsook the factor's face, and left it a corpse-like grey in the fire of his fury.
"Come, come, my men! that's going too far," said Malcolm.
"An' wha ir ye for a fudgie (truant) fisher, to gi'e coonsel ohn speired?" shouted Dubs, altogether disappointed in the poor part Malcolm seemed taking. "Haud to the factor there wi' yer coonsel."
"Get out of my way," said Mr Crathie, still speaking through his set teeth, and came straight upon Malcolm. "Home with you! or-r-r"
Again he raised his whip, this time plainly with intent.
"For God's sake, factor, min' the mere," cried Malcolm. "Ribs an' legs an' a' 'ill be to crack, gien ye anger her wi' yer whuppin."
As he spoke, he drew a little aside that the factor might pass if he pleased. A noise arose in the smaller crowd, and Malcolm turned to see what it meant: off his guard, he received a stinging cut over the head from the factor's whip. Simultaneously, Kelpie stood up on end, and Malcolm tore the weapon from the treacherous hand.
"If I gave you what you deserve, Mr Crathie, I should knock you and your horse together into that ditch. A touch of the spur would do it. I am not quite sure that I ought not. A nature like yours takes forbearance for fear."
While he spoke, his mare was ramping and kicking, making a clean sweep all about her. Mr Crathie's horse turned restive from sympathy, and it was all his rider could do to keep his seat. As soon as he got Kelpie a little quieter, Malcolm drew near and returned him his whip. He snatched it from his outstretched hand, and essayed a second cut at him, which Malcolm rendered powerless by pushing Kelpie close up to him. Then suddenly wheeling, he left him.
On the other side of the trench the fellows were shouting and roaring with laughter.
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