CHAPTER LVIII: THE TRENCH
Malcolm had not yet, after all the health giving of the voyage,
entirely recovered from the effects of the ill compounded potion.
Indeed, sometimes the fear crossed his mind that never would he be
the same man again, that the slow furnace of the grave alone would
destroy the vile deposit left in his house of life. Hence it came
that he was weary, and overslept himself the next day--but it was
no great matter; he had yet time enough. He swallowed his breakfast
as a working man alone can, and set out for Duff Harbour. At Leith,
where they had put in for provisions, he had posted a letter to Mr
Soutar, directing him to have Kelpie brought on to his own town,
whence he would fetch her himself. The distance was about ten
miles, the hour eight, and he was a good enough walker, although
boats and horses had combined to prevent him, he confessed, from
getting over fond of Shanks' mare. To men who delight in the
motions of a horse under them, the legs of a man are a tame, dull
means of progression, although they too have their superiorities;
and one of the disciplines of this world is to have to get out of
the saddle and walk afoot. He who can do so with perfect serenity,
must very nearly have learned with St Paul in whatsoever state he is
therein to be content. It was the loveliest of mornings, however,
to be abroad in upon any terms, and Malcolm hardly needed the
resources of one who knew both how to be abased and how to abound
--enviable perfection---for the enjoyment of even a long walk.
Heaven and earth were just settling to the work of the day after
their morning prayer, and the whole face of things yet wore something
of that look of expectation which one who mingled the vision of
the poet with the faith of the Christian might well imagine to be
their upward look of hope after a night of groaning and travailing
--the earnest gaze of the creature waiting for the manifestation
of the sons of God and for himself, though the hardest thing was
yet to come, there was a satisfaction in finding himself almost up
to his last fence, with the heavy ploughed land through which he
had been floundering nearly all behind him--which figure means
that he had almost made up his mind what to do.
When he reached the Duff Arms, he walked straight into the yard,
where the first thing he saw was a stable boy in the air, hanging
on to a twitch on the nose of the rearing Kelpie. In another instant
he would have been killed or maimed for life, and Kelpie loose,
and scouring the streets of Duff Harbour. When she heard Malcolm's
voice and the sound of his running feet, she stopped as if to
listen. He flung the boy aside and caught her halter. Once or twice
more she reared, in the vain hope of so ridding herself of the pain
that clung to her lip and nose, nor did she, through the mist of
her anger and suffering, quite recognize her master in his yacht
uniform. But the torture decreasing, she grew able to scent his
presence, welcomed him with her usual glad whinny, and allowed him
to do with her as he would.
Having fed her, found Mr Soutar, and arranged several matters with
him, he set out for home.
That was a ride! Kelpie was mad with life. Every available field
he jumped her into, and she tore its element of space at least
to shreds with her spurning hoofs. But the distance was not great
enough to quiet her before they got to hard turnpike and young
plantations. He would have entered at the grand gate, but found no
one at the lodge, for the factor, to save a little, had dismissed
the old keeper. He had therefore to go on, and through the town,
where, to the awe stricken eyes of the population peeping from
doors and windows, it seemed as if the terrible horse would carry
him right over the roofs of the fisher cottages below, and out to
"Eh, but he's a terrible cratur that Ma'colm MacPhail!" said the old
wives to each other, for they felt there must be something wicked
in him to ride like that. But he turned her aside from the steep
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
"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
"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
"Mr Crathie," he said calmly, "you are banishing the best man in
"No doubt! no doubt! seeing he's a crony of yours," laughed the
factor in mighty scorn. "A canting, prayer meeting rascal!" he
"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.
"Men," cried Malcolm, "you have no right to stop up this road. I
want to go and see Blue Peter."
"Come on," cried one of the young men, emulous of Dubs's humour,
and spread out his arms as if to receive Kelpie to his bosom.
"Stand out of the way then," said Malcolm, "I am coming."
As he spoke, he took Kelpie a little round, keeping out of the way
of the factor, who sat trembling with rage on his still excited
animal, and sent her at the trench.
The Deevil's Jock, as they called him, kept jumping, with his arms
outspread, from one place to another, as if to receive Kelpie's
charge, but when he saw her actually coming, in short, quick
bounds, straight to the trench, he was seized with terror, and,
half paralysed, slipped as he turned to flee, and rolled into the
ditch, just in time to let Kelpie fly over his head. His comrades
scampered right and left, and Malcolm, rather disgusted, took no
notice of them.
A cart, loaded with their little all, the horse in the shafts,
was standing at Peter's door, but nobody was near it. Hardly was
Malcolm well into the close, however, when out rushed Annie, and,
heedless of Kelpie's demonstrative repellence, reached up her hands
like a child, caught him by the arm, while yet he was busied with
his troublesome charge, drew him down towards her, and held him
till, in spite of Kelpie, she had kissed him again and again.
"Eh, Ma'colm! eh, my lord!" she said, "ye ha'e saved my faith. I
kenned ye wad come!"
"Haud yer tongue, Annie. I mauna be kenned," said Malcolm.
"There's nae danger. They'll tak' it for sweirin'," answered Annie,
laughing and crying both at once.
Out next came Blue Peter, his youngest child in his arms.
"Eh, Peter man! I'm blythe to see ye," cried Malcolm. "Gie's a grup
o' yer honest han'."
More than even the sight of his face beaming with pleasure, more
than that grasp of the hand that would have squeezed the life out
of a polecat, was the sound of the mother tongue from his lips. The
cloud of Peter's long distrust broke and vanished, and the sky of
his soul was straightway a celestial blue. He snatched his hand from
Malcolm's, walked back into the empty house, ran into the little
closet off the kitchen, bolted the door, fell on his knees in the
void little sanctuary that had of late been the scene of so many
foiled attempts to lift up his heart, and poured out speechless
thanksgiving to the God of all grace and consolation, who had
given him back his friend, and that in the time of his sore need.
So true was his heart in its love, that, giving thanks for his
friend, he forgot that friend was the Marquis of Lossie, before
whom his enemy was but as a snail in the sun.
When he rose from his knees, and went out again, his face shining
and his eyes misty, his wife was on the top of the cart, tying a
rope across the cradle.
"Peter," said Malcolm, "ye was quite richt to gang, but I'm glaid
they didna lat ye."
"I wad ha'e been half w'y to Port Gordon or noo," said Peter.
"But noo ye'll no gang to Port Gordon," said Malcolm. "Ye'll jist
gang to the Salmon for a feow days, till we see hoo things gang."
"I'll du onything ye like, Ma'colm," said Peter, and went into the
house to fetch his bonnet.
In the street arose the cry of a woman, and into the close rushed
one of the fisherwives, followed by the factor. He had found a
place on the eastern side of the village, where, jumping a low earth
wail, he got into a little back yard, and was trampling over its
few stocks of kail, and its one dusty miller and double daisy, when
the woman to whose cottage it belonged caught sight of him through
the window, and running out fell to abusing him in no measured
language. He rode at her in his rage, and she fled shrieking
into Peter's close, where she took refuge behind the cart, never
ceasing her vituperation, but calling him every choice name in her
vocabulary. Beside himself with the rage of murdered dignity, he
rode up, and struck at her over the corner of the cart, whereupon,
from the top of it, Annie Mair ventured to expostulate.
"Hoot, sir! It's no mainners to lat at a wuman like that."
He turned upon her, and gave her a cut on the arm and hand, so
stinging that she cried out, and nearly fell from the cart. Out
rushed Peter and flew at the factor, who from his seat of vantage
began to ply his whip about his head. But Malcolm, who, when the
factor appeared, had moved aside to keep Kelpie out of mischief,
and saw only the second of the two assaults, came forward with a
scramble and a bound.
"Haud awa, Peter," he cried. "This belangs to me. I ga'e him back
's whup, an' sae I'm accoontable.--Mr Crathie,"--and as he spoke
he edged his mare up to the panting factor, "the man who strikes
a woman must be taught that he is a scoundrel, and that office I
take. I would do the same if you were the lord of Lossie instead
of his factor."
Mr Crathie, knowing himself now in the wrong, was a little frightened
at the set speech, and began to bluster and stammer, but the swift
descent of Malcolm's heavy riding whip on his shoulders and back
made him voluble in curses. Then began a battle that could not last
long with such odds on the side of justice. It was gazed at from
the mouth of the close by many spectators, but none dared enter
because of the capering and plunging and kicking of the horses. In
less than a minute the factor turned to flee, and spurring out of
the court, galloped up the street at full stretch.
"Haud oot o' the gait," cried Malcolm, and rode after him. But more
careful of the people, he did not get a good start, and the factor
was over the trench and into the fields before he caught him
up. Then again the stinging switch buckled about the shoulders of
the oppressor, driven with all the force of Malcolm's brawny arm.
The factor yelled and cursed and swore, and still Malcolm plied
the whip, and still the horses flew--over fields and fences and
ditches. At length in the last field, from which they must turn into
the high road, the factor groaned out--"For God's sake, Ma'colm,
The youth's uplifted arm fell by his side. He turned his mare's
head, and when the factor turned his, he saw the avenger already
halfway back to Scaurnose, and the constables in full flight meeting
While Malcolm was thus occupied, his sister was writing to Lady
Bellair. She told her that, having gone out for a sail in her yacht,
which she had sent for from Scotland, the desire to see her home
had overpowered her to such a degree that of the intended sail she
had made a voyage, and here she was, longing just as much now to
see Lady Bellair; and if she thought proper to bring a gentleman
to take care of her, he also should be welcomed for her sake. It
was a long way for her to come, she said, and Lady Bellair knew
what sort of a place it was; but there was nobody in London now,
and if she had nothing more enticing on her tablets, &c., &c. She
ended with begging her, if she was mercifully inclined to make her
happy with her presence, to bring to her Caley and her hound Demon.
She had hardly finished when Malcolm presented himself.
She received him very coldly, and declined to listen to anything
about the fishers. She insisted that, being one of their party,
he was prejudiced in their favour; and that of course a man of Mr
Crathie's experience must know better than he what ought to be done
with such people, in view of protecting her rights, and keeping
them in order. She declared that she was not going to disturb the
old way of things to please him; and said that he had now done
her all the mischief he could, except, indeed, he were to head the
fishers and sack Lossie House.
Malcolm found that, by making himself known to her as her brother,
he had but given her confidence in speaking her mind to him, and set
her free from considerations of personal dignity when she desired
to humiliate him. But he was a good deal surprised at the ability
with which she set forth and defended her own view of her affairs,
for she did not tell him that the Rev. Mr Cairns had been with her
all the morning, flattering her vanity, worshipping her power, and
generally instructing her in her own greatness--also putting in
a word or two anent his friend Mr Crathie and his troubles with her
ladyship's fisher tenants. She was still, however, so far afraid
of her brother--which state of feeling was, perhaps, the main
cause of her insulting behaviour to him--that she sat in some
dread lest he might chance to see the address of the letter she
had been writing.
I may mention here that Lady Bellair accepted the invitation with
pleasure for herself and Liftore, promised to bring Caley, but
utterly declined to take charge of Demon, or allow him to be of the
party. Thereupon Florimel, who was fond of the animal, and feared
much, as he was no favourite, that something would happen to him,
wrote to Clementina, praying her to visit her in her lovely loneliness
--good as The Gloom in its way, though not quite so dark--and
to add a hair to the weight of her obligations if she complied, by
allowing her deerhound to accompany her. Clementina was the only
one, she said, of her friends for whom the animal had ever shown
Malcolm retired from his sister's presence much depressed, saw Mrs
Courthope, who was kind as ever, and betook himself to his own room,
next to that in which his strange history began. There he sat down
and wrote urgently to Lenorme, stating that he had an important
communication to make, and begging him to start for the north the
moment he received the letter. A messenger from Duff Harbour well
mounted, he said, would ensure his presence within a couple of
He found the behaviour of his old acquaintances and friends in the
Seaton much what he had expected: the few were as cordial as ever,
while the many still resented, with a mingling of the jealousy of
affection, his forsaking of the old life for a calling they regarded
as unworthy of one bred at least if not born a fisherman. A few
there were besides who always had been, for reasons perhaps best
known to themselves, less than friendly. The women were all cordial.
"Sic a mad-like thing," said old Futtocks, who was now the leader
of the assembly at the barn, "to gang scoorin' the cuintry on that
mad brute o' a mere! What guid, think ye, can come sic like?"
"H'ard ye him ever tell the story aboot Colonsay Castel yon'er?"
"Weel, isna his mere 'at they ca' Kelpie jist the pictur' o' the
deil's ain horse 'at lay at the door an' watched, whan he flaw oot
an' tuik the wa' wi' 'im ?"
"I cudna say till I saw whether the deil himsel' cud gar her lie