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- The Marquis of Lossie - 80/95 -
She wished much to speak English, and I have tried to represent the thing she did speak, which was neither honest Scotch nor anything like English. Alas! the good, pithy, old Anglo Saxon dialect is fast perishing, and a jargon of corrupt English taking its place.
"But, mem," said Malcolm, taking no notice either of the coin or the words that accompanied the offer of it, "I canna lee. I wasna in drink, an' I'm no sorry."
"Hoot!" returned Mrs Crathie, blurting out her Scotch fast enough now, "I's warran' ye can lee well eneuch whan ye ha'e occasion. Tak' yer siller, an' du as I tell ye."
"Wad ye ha'e me damned, mem?"
Mrs Crathie gave a cry and held up her hands. She was too well accustomed to imprecations from the lips of her husband for any but an affected horror, but, regarding the honest word as a bad one, she assumed an air of injury.
"Wad ye daur to sweir afore a leddy," she exclaimed, shaking her uplifted hands in pretence of ghasted astonishment.
"If Mr Crathie wishes to see me, ma'am," rejoined Malcolm, taking up the shield of English, "I am ready. If not, please allow me to go."
The same moment the bell whose rope was at the head of the factor's bed, rang violently, and Mrs Crathie's importance collapsed.
"Come this w'y," she said, and turning led him up the stair to the room where her husband lay.
Entering, Malcolm stood astonished at the change he saw upon the strong man of rubicund countenance, and his heart filled with compassion. The factor was sitting up in bed, looking very white and worn and troubled. Even his nose had grown thin and white. He held out his hand to him, and said to his wife, "Tak the door to ye, Mistress Crathie," indicating which side he wished it closed from.
"Ye was some sair upo' me, Ma'colm," he went on, grasping the youth's hand.
"I doobt I was ower sair," said Malcolm, who could hardly speak for a lump in his throat.
"Weel, I deserved it. But eh, Ma'colm! I canna believe it was me: it bude to be the drink."
"It was the drink," rejoined Malcolm; "an' eh sir! afore ye rise frae that bed, sweir to the great God 'at ye'll never drink nae mair drams, nor onything 'ayont ae tum'ler at a sittin'."
"I sweir't; I sweir't, Ma'colm!" cried the factor.
"It's easy to sweir't noo, sir, but whan ye're up again it'll be hard to keep yer aith.--O Lord!" spoke the youth, breaking out into almost involuntary prayer, "help this man to haud troth wi' thee.--An' noo, Maister Crathie," he resumed, "I'm yer servan', ready to do onything I can. Forgi'e me, sir, for layin' on ower sair."
"I forgi'e ye wi' a' my hert," returned the factor, inly delighted to have something to forgive.
"I thank ye frae mine," answered Malcolm, and again they shook hands.
"But eh, Ma'colm, my man!" said the factor, "hoo will I ever shaw my face again?"
"Fine that!" returned Malcolm, eagerly. "Fowk's terrible guid natur'd whan ye alloo 'at ye're i' the wrang. I do believe 'at whan a man confesses till 's neebour, an' says he's sorry, he thinks mair o' 'im nor afore he did it. Ye see we a' ken we ha'e dune wrang, but we ha'ena a' confessed. An' it's a queer thing, but a man'll think it gran' o' 's neebour to confess, whan a' the time there's something he winna repent o' himsel' for fear o' the shame o' ha'ein' to confess 't. To me, the shame lies in no confessin' efter ye ken ye're wrang. Ye'll see, sir, the fisher fowk 'll min' what ye say to them a heap better noo."
"Div ye railly think it, Ma'colm?" sighed the factor with a flush.
"I div that, sir. Only whan ye grow better, gien ye'll alloo me to say't, sir, ye maunna lat Sawtan temp' ye to think 'at this same repentin' was but a wakeness o' the flesh, an' no an enlichtenment o' the speerit."
"I s' tie mysel' up till 't," cried the factor, eagerly. "Gang an' tell them i' my name, 'at I tak' back ilka scart o' a nottice I ever ga'e ane o' them to quit, only we maun ha'e nae mair stan'in' o' honest fowk 'at comes to bigg herbours till them.--Div ye think it wad be weel ta'en gien ye tuik a poun' nott the piece to the twa women?"
"I wadna du that, sir, gien I was you," answered Malcolm. "For yer ain sake, I wadna to Mistress Mair, for naething wad gar her tak' it--it wad only affront her; an' for Nancy Tacket's sake, I wadna to her, for as her name so's her natur': she wad not only tak it, but she wad lat ye play the same as aften 's ye likit for less siller. Ye'll ha'e mony a chance o' makin' 't up to them baith, ten times ower, afore you an' them pairt, sir."
"I maun lea' the cuintry, Ma'colm."
"'Deed, sir, ye'll du naething o' the kin'. The fishers themsel's wad rise, no to lat ye, as they did wi' Blew Peter! As sune's ye're able to be aboot again, ye'll see plain eneuch 'at there's no occasion for onything like that, sir. Portlossie wadna ken 'tsel' wantin' ye. Jist gie me a commission to say to the twa honest women 'at ye're sorry for what ye did, an' that's a' 'at need be said 'atween you an them, or their men aither."
The result showed that Malcolm was right; for, the very next day, instead of looking for gifts from him, the two injured women came to the factor's door, first Annie Mair, with the offering of a few fresh eggs, scarce at the season, and after her Nancy Tacket, with a great lobster.
CHAPTER LXIV: A VISITATION
Malcolm's custom was, first, immediately after breakfast, to give Kelpie her airing--and a tremendous amount of air she wanted for the huge animal furnace of her frame, and the fiery spirit that kept it alight; then, returning to the Seaton, to change the dress of the groom, in which he always appeared about the house, lest by any chance his mistress should want him, for that of the fisherman, and help with the nets, or the boats, or in whatever was going on. As often as he might he did what seldom a man would--went to the long shed where the women prepared the fish for salting, took a knife, and wrought as deftly as any of them, throwing a marvellously rapid succession of cleaned herrings into the preserving brine. It was no wonder he was a favourite with the women. Although, however, the place was malodorous and the work dirty, I cannot claim so much for Malcolm as may at first appear to belong to him, for he had been accustomed to the sight and smell from earliest childhood. Still, as I say, it was work the men would not do. He had such a chivalrous humanity that it was misery to him to see man or woman at anything scorned, except he bore a hand himself He did it half in love, half in terror of being unjust.
He had gone to Mr Crathie in his fisher clothes, thinking it better the sick man should not be reminded of the cause of his illness more forcibly than could not be helped. The nearest way led past a corner of the house overlooked by one of the drawing room windows, Clementina saw him, and, judging by his garb that he would probably return presently, went out in the hope of meeting him; and as he was going back to his net by the sea gate, he caught sight of her on the opposite side of the burn, accompanied only by a book. He walked through the burn, climbed the bank, and approached her.
It was a hot summer afternoon. The burn ran dark and brown and cool in deep shade, but the sea beyond was glowing in light, and the laburnum blossoms hung like cocoons of sunbeams. No breath of air was stirring; no bird sang; the sun was burning high in the west. Clementina stood waiting him, like a moon that could hold her own in the face of the sun.
"Malcolm," she said, "I have been watching all day, but have not found a single opportunity of speaking to your mistress as you wished. But to tell the truth, I am not sorry, for the more I think about it, the less I see what to say. That another does not like a person, can have little weight with one who does, and I know nothing against him. I wish you would release me from my promise. It is such an ugly thing to speak to one's hostess to the disadvantage of a fellow guest!"
"I understand," said Malcolm. "It was not a right thing to ask of you. I beg your pardon, my lady, and give you back your promise, if such you count it. But indeed I do not think you promised."
"Thank you, I would rather be free. Had it been before you left London.--Lady Lossie is very kind, but does not seem to put the same confidence in me as formerly. She and Lady Bellair and that man make a trio, and I am left outside. I almost think I ought to go. Even Caley is more of a friend than I am. I cannot get rid of the suspicion that something not right is going on. There seems a bad air about the place. Those two are playing their game with the inexperience of that poor child, your mistress."
"I know that very well, my lady, but I hope yet they will not win," said Malcolm.
By this time they were near the tunnel.
"Could you let me through to the shore?" asked Clementina.
"Certainly, my lady.--I wish you could see the boats go out. From the Boar's Tail it is a pretty sight. They will all be starting together as soon as the tide turns."
Thereupon Clementina began questioning him about the night fishing, and Malcolm described its pleasures and dangers, and the pleasures of its dangers, in such fashion that Clementina listened with delight. He dwelt especially on the feeling almost of disembodiment,
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