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,"
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,
and existence as pure thought, arising from the all pervading
clarity and fluidity, the suspension, and the unceasing motion.
"I wish I could once feel like that," exclaimed Clementina. "Could
I not go with you--for one night--just for once, Malcolm?"
"My lady, it would hardly do, I am afraid. If you knew the discomforts
that must assail one unaccustomed--I cannot tell--but I doubt
if you would go. All the doors to bliss have their defences of
swamps and thorny thickets through which alone they can be gained.
You would need to be a fisherman's sister--or wife, I fear, my
lady, to get through to this one."
Clementina smiled gravely, but did not reply, and Malcolm too was
"Yes," he said at last, "I see how we can manage it. You
shall have a boat for your own use, my lady, and--"
"But I want to see just what you see, and to feel, as nearly as
I may, what you feel. I don't want a downy, rose leaf notion of
the thing. I want to understand what you fishermen encounter and
"We must make a difference though, my lady. Look what clothes, what
boots we fishers must wear to be fit for our work! But you shall
have a true idea as far as it reaches, and one that will go a long
way towards enabling you to understand the rest. You shall go in
a real fishing boat, with a full crew and all the nets, and you
shall catch real herrings; only you shall not be out longer than
you please.--But there is hardly time to arrange for it tonight,
"Yes. I have no doubt I can manage it then."
"Oh, thank you!" said Clementina. "It will be a great delight."
"And now," suggested Malcolm, "would you like to go through the
village, and see some of the cottages, and how the fishers live?"
"If they would not think me inquisitive, or intrusive," answered
"There is no danger of that," rejoined Malcolm. "If it were my Lady
Bellair, to patronize, and deal praise and blame, as if what she
calls poverty were fault and childishness, and she their spiritual
as well as social superior, they might very likely be what she
would call rude. She was here once before, and we have some notion
of her about the Seaton. I venture to say there is not a woman in
it who is not her moral superior, and many of them are her superiors
in intellect and true knowledge, if they are not so familiar with
London scandal. Mr Graham says that in the kingdom of heaven every
superior is a ruler, for there to rule is to raise, and a man's
rank is his power to uplift."
"I would I were in the kingdom of heaven, if it be such as you and
Mr Graham take it for," said Clementina.
"You must be in it, my lady, or you couldn't wish it to be such as
"Can one then be in it, and yet seem to be out of it, Malcolm?"
"So many are out of it that seem to be in it, my lady, that one
might well imagine it the other way with some."
"Are you not uncharitable, Malcolm?"
"Our Lord speaks of many coming up to his door confident of admission,
whom yet he sends from him. Faith is obedience, not confidence."
"Then I do well to fear."
"Yes, my lady, so long as your fear makes you knock the louder."
"But if I be in, as you say, how can I go on knocking?"
"There are a thousand more doors to knock at after you are in, my
lady. No one content to stand just inside the gate will be inside
it long. But it is one thing to be in, and another to be satisfied
that we are in. Such a satisfying as comes from our own feelings
may, you see from what our Lord says, be a false one. It is one
thing to gather the conviction for ourselves, and another to have
it from God. What wise man would have it before he gives it? He who
does what his Lord tells him, is in the kingdom, if every feeling
of heart or brain told him he was out. And his Lord will see that
he knows it one day. But I do not think, my lady, one can ever be
quite sure, until the king himself has come in to sup with him,
and has let him know that he is altogether one with him."
During the talk of which this is the substance, they reached the
Seaton, and Malcolm took her to see his grandfather.
"Taal and faer and chentle and coot!" murmured the old man as he
held her hand for a moment in his. With a start of suspicion he
dropped it, and cried out in alarm--"She'll not pe a Cam'ell,
"Na, na, daddy--far frae that," answered Malcolm.
"Then my laty will pe right welcome to Tuncan's heart," he replied,
and taking her hand again led her to a chair.
When they left, she expressed herself charmed with the piper, but
when she learned the cause of his peculiar behaviour at first, she
looked grave, and found his feeling difficult to understand.
They next visited the Partaness, with whom she was far more amused
than puzzled. But her heart was drawn to the young woman who sat
in a corner, rocking her child in its wooden cradle, and never
lifting her eyes from her needlework: she knew her for the fisher
girl of Malcolm's picture.
From house to house he took her, and where they went, they were
welcomed. If the man was smoking, he put away his pipe, and the
woman left her work and sat down to talk with her. They did the
honours of their poor houses in a homely and dignified fashion.
Clementina was delighted. But Malcolm told her he had taken her
only to the best houses in the place to begin with. The village,
though a fair sample of fishing villages, was no ex-sample, he said:
there were all kinds of people in it as in every other. It was a
class in the big life school of the world, whose special masters
were the sea and the herrings.
"What would you do now, if you were lord of the place?" asked
Clementina, as they were walking back by the sea gate; "--I mean,
what would be the first thing you would do?"
"As it would be my business to know my tenants that I might rule
them," he answered, "I would first court the society and confidence of
the best men among them. I should be in no hurry to make changes,
but would talk openly with them, and try to be worthy of their
confidence. Of course I would see a little better to their houses,
and improve their harbour: and I would build a boat for myself that
would show them a better kind; but my main hope for them would be
the same as for myself--the knowledge of him whose is the sea
and all its store, who cares for every fish in its bosom, but for
the fisher more than many herrings. I would spend my best efforts
to make them follow him whose first servants were the fishermen of
Galilee, for with all my heart I believe that that Man holds the
secret of life, and that only the man who obeys him can ever come
to know the God who is the root and crown of our being, and whom
to know is freedom and bliss."
A pause followed.
"But do you not sometimes find it hard to remember God all through
your work?" asked Clementina.
"Not very hard, my lady. Sometimes I wake up to find that I have
been in an evil mood and forgetting him, and then life is hard until
I get near him again. But it is not my work that makes me forget
him. When I go a-fishing, I go to catch God's fish; when I take
Kelpie out, I am teaching one of God's wild creatures; when I read
the Bible or Shakspere, I am listening to the word of God, uttered
in each after its kind. When the wind blows on my face, what matter
that the chymist pulls it to pieces! He cannot hurt it, for his
knowledge of it cannot make my feeling of it a folly, so long as
he cannot pull that to pieces with his retorts and crucibles: it
is to me the wind of him who makes it blow, the sign of something
in him, the fit emblem of his spirit, that breathes into my spirit
the breath of life. When Mr Graham talks to me, it is a prophet
come from God that teaches me, as certainly as if his fiery chariot
were waiting to carry him back when he had spoken; for the word
he utters at once humbles and uplifts my soul, telling it that God
is all in all and my God--that the Lord Christ is the truth and
the life, and the way home to the Father."
After a little pause,
"And when you are talking to a rich, ignorant, proud lady?" said
Clementina, "--what do you feel then?"
"That I would it were my lady Clementina instead," answered Malcolm
with a smile.
She held her peace.
When he left her, Malcolm hurried to Scaurnose and arranged with
Blue. Peter for his boat and crew the next night. Returning to his
grandfather, he found a note waiting him from Mrs Courthope, to
the effect that, as Miss Caley, her ladyship's maid, had preferred
another room, there was no reason why, if he pleased, he should
not re-occupy his own.