CHAPTER LVII: THE SHORE
It was two days after the longest day of the year, when there is no
night in those regions, only a long twilight, in which many dream
and do not know it. There had been a week of variable weather,
with sudden changes of wind to east and north, and round again by
south to west, and then there had. been a calm for several days.
But now the little wind there was blew from the northeast; and
the fervour of June was rendered more delicious by the films of
flavouring cold that floated through the mass of heat. All Portlossie
more and less, the Seaton especially, was in a state of excitement,
for its little neighbour, Scaurnose, was more excited still. There
the man most threatened, and with greatest injustice, was the only
one calm amongst the men, and amongst the women his wife was the
only one that was calmer than he. Blue Peter was resolved to abide
the stroke of wrong, and not resist the powers that were, believing
them in some true sense, which he found it hard to understand when
he thought of the factor as the individual instance, ordained of
God. He had a dim perception too that it was better that one, that
one he, should suffer, than that order should be destroyed and law
defied. Suffering, he might still in patience possess his soul,
and all be well with him; but what would become of the country if
everyone wronged were to take the law into his own hands? Thousands
more would be wronged by the lawless in a week than by unjust powers
in a year. But the young men were determined to pursue their plan
of resistance, and those of the older and soberer who saw the
uselessness of it, gave themselves little trouble to change the
minds of the rest.
Peter, although he knew they were not for peace, neither inquired
what their purpose might be, nor allowed any conjecture or suspicion
concerning it to influence him in his preparations for departure.
Not that he had found a new home. Indeed he had not heartily set
about searching for one; in part because, unconsciously to himself
he was buoyed up by the hope he read so clear in the face of his
more trusting wife--that Malcolm would come to deliver them. His
plan was to leave her and his children with certain friends at Port
Gordon; he would not hear of going to the Partans to bring them
into trouble. He would himself set out immediately after for the
Few had gone to the Hebrides that year from Scaurnose or Portlossie.
The magnitude of the events that were about to take place, yet more
the excitement and interest they occasioned, kept the most of the
men at home--to content themselves with fishing the waters of
the Moray Frith. And they had notable success. But what was success
with such a tyrant over them as the factor, threatening to harry
their nests, and turn the sea birds and their young out of their
heritage of rock and sand and shingle? They could not keep house
on the waves, any more than the gulls! Those who still held their
religious assemblies in the cave called the Baillies' Barn, met
often, read and sang the comminatory psalms more than any others,
and prayed much against the wiles and force of their enemies both
temporal and spiritual; while Mr Crathie went every Sunday to
Church, grew redder in the nose, and hotter in the temper.
Miss Horn was growing more and more uncomfortable concerning
events, and dissatisfied with Malcolm. She had not for some time
heard from him, and here was his most important duty unattended to--
she would not yet say neglected--the well being of his tenantry,
namely, left in the hands of an unsympathetic, self important underling,
who was fast losing all the good sense he had once possessed! Was
the life and history of all these brave fishermen and their wives
and children to be postponed to the pampered feelings of one girl,
and that because she was what she had no right to be, his half
sister forsooth? said Miss Horn to herself--that bosom friend to
whom some people, and those not the worst, say oftener what they
do not mean than what they do. She had written to him within the
last month a very hot letter indeed, which had afforded no end of
amusement to Mrs Catanach, as she sat in his old lodging over the
curiosity shop, but, I need hardly say, had not reached Malcolm:
and now there was but one night, and the best of all the fisher
families would have nowhere to lie down! Miss Horn, with Joseph
Mair, thought she did well to be angry with Malcolm.
The blind piper had been very restless all day. Questioned again
and again by Meg Partan as to what was amiss with him, he had always
returned her odd and evasive answers. Every few minutes he got up
--even from cleaning her lamp--to go to the shore. He had but
to cross the threshold, and take a few steps through the close,
to reach the road that ran along the sea front of the village: on
the one side were the cottages, scattered and huddled, on the other
the shore and ocean wide outstretched. He would walk straight across
this road until he felt the sand under his feet; there stand for a
few moments facing the sea, and, with nostrils distended, breathing
deep breaths of the air from the northeast; then turn and walk
back to Meg Partan's kitchen, to resume his ministration of light.
These his sallies were so frequent, and his absences so short, that
a more serene temper than hers might have been fretted by them.
But there was something about his look and behaviour that, while
it perplexed, restrained her; and instead of breaking out upon him,
she eyed him curiously.
She had found that it would not do to stare at him. The instant
she began to do so, he began to fidget, and turned his back to her.
It had made her lose her temper for a moment, and declare aloud as
her conviction that he was after all an impostor, and saw as well
as any of them.
"She has told you so, Mistress Partan, one hundred thousand times,"
replied Duncan with an odd smile: "and perhaps she will pe see a
little petter as any of you, no matter."
Thereupon she murmured to herself "The cratur 'ill be seein' something!"
and with mingled awe and curiosity sought to lay restraint upon
her unwelcome observation of him.
Thus it went on the whole day, and as the evening approached, he
grew still more excited. The sun went down, and the twilight began;
and, as the twilight deepened, still his excitement grew.
Straightway it seemed as if the whole Seaton had come to share in
it. Men and women were all out of doors; and, late as it was when
the sun set, to judge by the number of red legs and feet that trotted
in and out with a little shadowy flash, with a dull patter pat on
earthen floor and hard road, and a scratching and hustling among
the pebbles, there could not have been one older than a baby in
bed; while of the babies even not a few were awake in their mothers'
arms, and out with them on the sea front.
The men, with their hands in their trouser pockets, were lazily
smoking pigtail, in short clay pipes with tin covers fastened to
the stems by little chains, and some of the women, in short blue
petticoats and worsted stockings, doing the same.
Some stood in their doors, talking with neighbours standing in their
doors; but these were mostly the elder women: the younger ones--
all but Lizzy Findlay--were out in the road. One man half leaned,
half sat on the window sill of Duncan's former abode, and round him
were two or three more, and some women, talking about Scaurnose,
and the factor, and what the lads would do tomorrow; while the hush
of the sea on the pebbles mingled with their talk, like an unknown
tongue of the infinite--never articulating, only suggesting--
uttering in song and not in speech--dealing not with thoughts,
but with feelings and foretastes. No one listened: what to them
was the Infinite with Scaurnose in the near distance! It was now
almost as dark as it would be throughout the night if it kept as
Once more there was Duncan, standing as if looking out to sea, and
shading his brows with his hand as if to protect his eyes from the
glare of the sun, and enable his sight!
"There's the auld piper again!" said one of the group, a young
woman. "He's unco fule like to be stan'in that gait (way), makin'
as gien he cudna weel see for the sun in 's e'en."
"Haud ye yer tongue, lass," rejoined an elderly woman beside her.
"There's mair things nor ye ken, as the Beuk says. There's een 'at
can see an' een 'at canna, an' een 'at can see twise ower, an' een
'at can see steikit what nane can see open."
"Ta poat! ta poat of my chief!" cried the seer. "She is coming like
a tream of ta night, put one tat will not tepart with ta morning."
He spoke as one suppressing a wild joy.
"Wha'll that be, lucky deddy (grandfather)?" inquired, in a respectful
voice, the woman who had last spoken, while those within hearing
hushed each other and stood in silence. And all the time the ghost
of the day was creeping round from west to east to put on its
resurrection body, and rise new born. It gleamed faint like a cold
ashy fire in the north.
"And who will it pe than her own son, Mistress Reekie?" answered
the piper, calling her by her husband's nickname, as was usual,
but, as was his sole wont, prefixing the title of respect, where
custom would have employed but her Christian name.
"Who'll should it pe put her own Malcolm?" he went on. "I see his
poat come round ta Tead Head. She flits over the water like a pale
ghost over Morven. But it's ta young and ta strong she is pringing
home to Tuncan. O m'anam, beannuich!"
Involuntarily all eyes turned towards the point called the Death's
Head, which bounded the bay on the east.
"It's ower dark to see onything," said the man on the window sill.
"There's a bit haar (fog) come up."
"Yes," said Duncan, "it'll pe too tark for you who haf cot no eyes
only to speak of. Put your'll wait a few, and you'll pe seeing as
well as herself. Och, her poy! her poy! O m'anam! Ta Lort pe praised!
and she'll tie in peace, for he'll pe only ta one half of him a
Cam'ell, and he'll pe safed at last, as sure as there's a heafen to
co to and a hell to co from. For ta half tat's not a Cam'ell must
pe ta strong half and it will trag ta other half into heafen--
where it will not pe ta welcome, howefer."
As if to get rid of the unpleasant thought that his Malcolm could
not enter heaven without taking half a Campbell with him, he turned
from the sea and hurried into the house--but only to catch up his
pipes and hasten out again, filling the bag as he went. Arrived once
more on the verge of the sand, he stood again facing the northeast,
and began to blow a pibroch loud and clear.
Meantime the Partan had joined the same group, and they were talking
in a low tone about the piper's claim to the second sight, for,
although all were more or less inclined to put faith in Duncan,
there was here no such unquestioning belief in the marvel as would
have been found on the west coast in every glen from the Mull
of Cantyre to Loch Eribol--when suddenly Meg Partan, almost the
only one hitherto remaining in the house, appeared rushing from
"Hech, sirs!" she cried, addressing the Seaton in general,
"gien the auld man be i' the richt,--"
"She'll pe aal in ta right, Mistress Partan, and tat you'll pe
seeing," said Duncan, who, hearing her first cry, had stopped his
drone, and played softly, listening.
But Meg went on without heeding him any more than was implied in
the repetition of her exordium.
"Gien the auld man be i' the richt, it'll be the marchioness hersel'
'at's h'ard o' the ill duin's o' her factor, an's comin' to see
efter her fowk! An' it'll be Ma'colm's duin', an' that'll be seen.
But the bonny laad winna ken the state o' the herbour, an' he'll be
makin' for the moo' o't, an' he'll jist rin 's bonny boatie agrun'
'atween the twa piers, an' that'll no be a richt hame comin' for
the leddy o' the lan', an' what's mair, Ma'colm 'ill get the wyte
(blame) o' 't, an' that'll be seen. Sae ye maun some o' ye to the
pier-heid, an' luik oot to gie 'im warnin'."
Her own husband was the first to start, proud of the foresight of
"Haith, Meg !" he cried, "ye're maist as guid at the lang sicht as
the piper himsel'!"
Several followed him, and as they ran, Meg cried after them, giving
her orders as if she had been vice admiral of the red, in a voice
shrill enough to pierce the worst gale that ever blew on northern
"Ye'll jist tell the bonnie laad to haud wast a bit an' rin her
ashore, an' we'll a' be there an' hae her as dry's Noah's ark in a
jiffie. Tell her leddyship we'll cairry the boat, an' her intil't,
to the tap o' the Boar's Tail, gien she'll gie's her orders.--
Winna we, laads?"
"We can but try!" said one. "--But the Fisky 'ill be waur to
get a grip o' nor Nancy here," he added, turning suddenly upon the
plumpest girl in the place, who stood next to him. She foiled him
however of the kiss he had thought to snatch, and turned the laugh
from herself upon him, so cleverly avoiding his clutch that he
staggered into the road, and nearly fell upon his nose.
By the time the Partan and his companions reached the pier head,
something was dawning in the vague of sea and sky that might be a
sloop and standing for the harbour. Thereupon the Partan and Jamie
Ladle jumped into a small boat and pulled out. Dubs, who had come
from Scaurnose on the business of the conjuration, had stepped into
the stern, not to steer but to show a white ensign--somebody's
Sunday shirt he had gathered, as they ran, from a furze bush, where
it hung to dry, between the Seaton and the harbour.
"Hoots! ye'll affront the marchioness," objected the Partan.
"Man, i' the gloamin' she'll no ken 't frae buntin'," said Dubs,
and at once displayed it, holding it by the two sleeves.
The wind had now fallen to the softest breath, and the little
vessel came on slowly. The men rowed hard, shouting, and waving
their flag, and soon heard a hail which none of them could mistake
for other than Malcolm's. In a few minutes they were on board,
greeting their old friend with jubilation, but talking in a subdued
tone, for they perceived by Malcolm's that the cutter bore their
Briefly the Partan communicated the state of the harbour, and
recommended porting his helm, and running the Fisky ashore about
opposite the brass swivel.
"A' the men an' women i' the Seaton," he said, "'ill be there to
haul her up."
Malcolm took the helm, gave his orders, and steered further westward.
By this time the people on shore had caught sight of the cutter.
They saw her come stealing out of the thin dark like a thought half
thought, and go gliding along the shore like a sea ghost over the
dusky water, faint, uncertain, noiseless, glimmering. It could be
no other than the Fisky! Both their lady and their friend Malcolm
must be on board, they were certain, for how could the one of them
come without the other? and doubtless the marchioness, whom they
all remembered as a good humoured handsome young lady, never shy
of speaking to anybody, had come to deliver them from the hateful
red nosed ogre, her factor! Out at once they all set along the
shore to greet her arrival, each running regardless of the rest,
so that from the Seaton to the middle of the Boar's Tail there was
a long, straggling broken string of hurrying fisher folk, men and
women, old and young, followed by all the current children, tapering
to one or two toddlers, who felt themselves neglected and wept their
way along. The piper, too asthmatic to run, but not too asthmatic
to walk and play his bagpipes, delighting the heart of Malcolm,
who could not mistake the style, believed he brought up the rear,
but was wrong; for the very last came Mrs Findlay and Lizzy, carrying
between them their little deal kitchen table, for her ladyship to
step out of the boat upon, and Lizzy's child fast asleep on the
top of it.
The foremost ran and ran until they saw that the Psyche had chosen
her couch, and was turning her head to the shore, when they stopped
and stood ready with greased planks and ropes to draw her up.
In a few moments the whole population was gathered, darkening, in
the June midnight, the yellow sands between the tide and dune. The
Psyche was well manned now with a crew of six. On she came under
full sail till within a few yards of the beach, when, in one and
the same moment, every sheet was let go, and she swept softly up
like a summer wave, and lay still on the shore.
The butterfly was asleep. But ere she came to rest, the instant
indeed that her canvas went fluttering away, thirty strong men had
rushed into the water and laid hold of the now broken winged thing.
In a few minutes she was high and dry.
Malcolm leaped on the sand just as the Partaness came bustling up
with her kitchen table between her two hands like a tray. She set
it down, and across it shook hands with him violently; then caught
it up and deposited it firm on its four legs beneath the cutter's
"Noo, my leddy," said Meg, looking up at the marchioness, "set ye
yer bit fut upo' my table, an' we'll think the mair o't efter whan
we tak' oor denner aff o' 't."
Florimel thanked her, stepped lightly upon it, and sprang to the
sand, where she was received with words of welcome from many, and
shouts which rendered them inaudible from the rest. The men, their
bonnets in their hands, and the women courtesying, made a lane
for her to pass through, while the young fellows would gladly have
begged leave to carry her, could they have extemporised any suitable
sort of palanquin or triumphal litter.
Followed by Malcolm, she led the way over the Boar's Tail--nor
would accept any help in climbing it--straight for the tunnel:
Malcolm had never laid aside the key to the private doors his father
had given him while he was yet a servant. They crossed by the
embrasure of the brass swivel. That implement had now long been
silent, but they had not gone many paces from the bottom of the
dune when it went off with a roar. The shouts of the people drowned
the startled cry with which Florimel, involuntarily mindful of old
and for her better times, turned to Malcolm. She had not looked
for such a reception, and was both flattered and touched by it.
For a brief space the spirit of her girlhood came back. Possibly,
had she then understood that hope rather than faith or love was at
the heart of their enthusiasm, that her tenants looked upon her as
their saviour from the factor, and sorely needed the exercise of
her sovereignty, she might have better understood her position,
and her duty towards them.
Malcolm unlocked the door of-the tunnel, and she entered, followed
by Rose, who felt as if she were walking in a dream. As he stepped
in after them, he was seized from behind, and clasped close in an
embrace he knew at once.
"Daddy, daddy!" he said, and turning threw his arms round the piper.
"My poy! my poy! Her nain son Malcolm!" cried the old man in a
whisper of intense satisfaction and suppression. "You'll must pe
forgifing her for coming pack to you. She cannot help lofing you,
and you must forget tat you are a Cam'ell."
Malcolm kissed his cheek, and said, also in a whisper:
"My ain daddy! I ha'e a heap to tell ye, but I maun see my leddy
"Co, co, this moment co," cried the old man, pushing him away. "To
your tuties to my leddyship first, and then come to her old daddy."
"I'll be wi' ye in half an hoor or less."
"Coot poy! coot poy! Come to Mistress Partan's."
"Ay, ay, daddy!" said Malcolm, and hurried through the tunnel.
As Florimel approached the ancient dwelling of her race, now her
own to do with as she would, her pleasure grew. Whether it was
the twilight, or the breach in dulling custom, everything looked
strange, the grounds wider, the trees larger, the house grander
and more anciently venerable. And all the way the burn sang in the
hollow. The spirit of her father seemed to hover about the place,
and while the thought that her father's voice would not greet her
when she entered the hall, cast a solemn funereal state over her
simple return, her heart yet swelled with satisfaction and far
All this was hers to work her pleasure with, to confer as she
pleased! No thought of her tenants, fishers or farmers, who did
their strong part in supporting the ancient dignity of her house,
had even an associated share in the bliss of the moment. She had
forgotten her reception already, or regarded it only as the natural
homage to such a position and power as hers. As to owing anything
in return, the idea had indeed been presented to her when with
Clementina and Malcolm she talked over "St Ronan's Well," but it
had never entered her mind.
The drawing room and the hall were lighted. Mrs Courthope was at
the door as if she expected her, and Florimel was careful to take
everything as a matter of course.
"When will your ladyship please to want me?" asked Malcolm.
"At the usual hour, Malcolm," she answered.
He turned, and ran to the Seaton.
His first business was the accommodation of Travers and Davy, but he
found them already housed at the Salmon, with Jamie Ladle teaching
Travers to drink toddy. They had left the Psyche snug: she was
high above high water mark, and there were no tramps about; they
had furled her sails, locked the companion door, and left her.
Mrs Findlay rejoiced over Malcolm as if he had been her own
son from a far country; but the poor piper between politeness and
gratitude on the one hand, and the urging of his heart on the other,
was sorely tried by her loquacity: he could hardly get in a word.
Malcolm perceived his suffering, and, as soon as seemed prudent,
proposed that he should walk with him to Miss Horn's, where he was
going to sleep, he said, that night. Mrs Partan snuffed, but held
her peace. For the third or fourth time that day, wonderful to
tell, she restrained herself!
As soon as they were out of the house, Malcolm assured Duncan, to
the old man's great satisfaction, that, had he not found him there,
he would, within another month, have set out to roam Scotland in
search of him.
Miss Horn had heard of their arrival, and was wandering about
the house, unable even to sit down until she saw the marquis. To
herself she always called him the marquis; to his face he was always
Malcolm. If he had not come, she declared she could not have gone
to bed--yet she received him with an edge to her welcome: he
had to answer for his behaviour. They sat down, and Duncan told a
long sad story; which finished, with the toddy that had sustained
him during the telling, the old man thought it better, for fear
of annoying his Mistress Partan, to go home. As it was past one
o'clock, they both agreed.
"And if she'll tie tonight, my poy," said Duncan, "she'll pe lie
awake in her crave all ta long tarkness, to pe waiting to hear ta
voice of your worrts in ta morning. And nefer you mind, Malcolm,
she'll has learned to forgife you for peing only ta one half of
yourself a cursed Cam'ell."
Miss Horn gave Malcolm a wink, as much as to say, "Let the old
man talk. It will hurt no Campbell," and showed him out with much
attention. And then at last Malcolm poured forth his whole story,
and his heart with it, to Miss Horn, who heard and received it with
understanding, and a sympathy which grew ever as she listened. At
length she declared herself perfectly satisfied, for not only had
he done his best, but she did not see what else he could have done.
She hoped, however, that now he would contrive to get this part
over as quickly as possible, for which, in the morning, she would,
she said, show him cogent reasons.
"I ha'e no feelin's mysel', as ye weel ken, laddie," she remarked
in conclusion, "an' I doobt, gien I had been i' your place, I wad
na hae luikit to a' sides o' the thing at ance as ye hae dune.--
An' it was a man like you 'at sae near lost yer life for the hizzy!"
she exclaimed. "I maunna think aboot it, or I winna sleep a wink.
But we maun get that deevil Catanach (an' cat eneuch!) hangt. Weel,
my man, ye may haud up yer heid afore the father o' ye, for ye're
the first o' the race, I'm thinkin', 'at ever was near han' deein'
for anither. But mak ye a speedy en' till 't noo, laad, an' fa'
to the lave o' yer wark. There's a terrible heap to be dune. But I
maun haud my tongue the nicht, for I wad fain ye had a guid sleep,
an' I'm needin' ane sair mysel', for I'm no sae yoong as I ance
was, an' I ha'e been that anxious aboot ye, Ma'colm, 'at though I
never hed ony feelin's, yet, noo 'at a' 's gaein' richt, an' ye're
a' richt, and like to be richt for ever mair, my heid's just like
to split. Gang yer wa's to yer bed, and soon may ye sleep. It's
the bed yer bonny mither got a soon' sleep in at last, and muckle
was she i' the need o' 't! An' jist tak tent the morn what ye say
whan Jean's i' the room, or maybe o' the ither side o' the door, for
she's no mowse. I dinna ken what gars me keep the jaud. I believe
'at gien the verra deevil himsel' had been wi' me sae lang, I wadna
ha'e the hert to turn him aboot his ill business. That's what comes
o' haein' no feelin's. Ither fowk wad ha'e gotten rid o' her half
a score years sin' syne."