The Marquis of Lossie

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When Malcolm left his sister, he had a dim sense of having lapsed into Scotch, and set about buttressing and strengthening his determination to get rid of all unconscious and unintended use of the northern dialect, not only that, in his attendance upon Florimel, he might be neither offensive nor ridiculous, but that, when the time should come in which he must appear what he was, it might be less of an annoyance to her to yield the marquisate to one who could speak like a gentleman and one of the family. But not the less did he love the tongue he had spoken from his childhood, and in which were on record so many precious ballads and songs, old and new; and he resolved that, when he came out as a marquis, he would at Lossie House indemnify himself for the constraint of London. He would not have an English servant there except Mrs Courthope: he would not have the natural country speech corrupted with cockneyisms, and his people taught to speak like Wallis! To his old friends the fishers and their families, he would never utter a sentence but in the old tongue, haunted with all the memories of relations that were never to be obliterated or forgotten, its very tones reminding him and them of hardships together endured, pleasures shared, and help willingly given. At night, notwithstanding, he found that in talking with Blue Peter, he had forgotten all about his resolve, and it vexed him with himself not a little. He now saw that if he could but get into the way of speaking English to him, the victory would be gained, for with no one else would he find any difficulty then.

The next morning he went down to the stairs at London Bridge, and took a boat to the yacht. He had to cross several vessels to reach it. When at length he looked down from the last of them on the deck of the little cutter, he saw Blue Peter sitting on the coamings of the hatch, his feet hanging down within. He was lost in the book he was reading. Curious to see, without disturbing him, what it was that so absorbed him, Malcolm dropped quietly on the tiller, and thence on the deck, and approaching softly peeped over his shoulder. He was reading the epistle of James the apostle. Malcolm fell a-thinking. From Peter's thumbed bible his eyes went wandering through the thicket of masts, in which moved so many busy seafarers, and then turned to the docks and wharfs and huge warehouses lining the shores; and while they scanned the marvellous vision, the thoughts that arose and passed through his brain were like these: "What are ye duin' here, Jeames the Just? Ye was naething but a fisher body upon a sma' watter i' the hert o' the hills, 'at wasna even saut; an' what can the thochts that gaed throu' your fish catchin' brain hae to du wi' sic a sicht 's this? I won'er gien at this moment there be anither man in a' Lon'on sittin' readin' that epistle o' yours but Blue Peter here? He thinks there's naething o' mair importance, 'cep' maybe some ither pairts o' the same buik; but syne he's but a puir fisher body himsel', an' what kens he o' the wisdom an' riches an' pooer o' this michty queen o' the nations, thron't aboot him?--Is't possible the auld body kent something 'at was jist as necessar' to ilka man, the busiest in this croodit mairt, to ken an' gang by, as it was to Jeames an' the lave o' the michty apostles themsel's? For me, I dinna doobt it--but hoo it sud ever be onything but an auld warld story to the new warld o' Lon'on, I think it wad bleck Maister Graham himsel' til imaigine."

Before this, Blue Peter had become aware that some one was near him, but, intent on the words of his brother fisher of the old time, had half unconsciously put off looking up to see who was behind him. When now he did so, and saw Malcolm, he rose and touched his bonnet.

"It was jist i' my heid, my lord," he said, without any preamble, "sic a kin' o' a h'avenly Jacobin as this same Jacobus was! He's sic a leveller as was feow afore 'im, I doobt, wi' his gowd ringt man, an' his cloot cled brither! He pat me in twa min's, my lord, whan I got up, whether I wad touch my bonnet to yer lordship or no."

Malcolm laughed with hearty appreciation.

"When I am king of Lossie," he said, "be it known to all whom it may concern, that it is and shall be the right of Blue Peter, and all his descendants, to the end of time, to stand with bonneted heads in the presence of Lord or--no, not Lady, Peter--of the house of Lossie."

"Ay, but ye see, Ma'colm," said Peter, forgetting his address, and his eye twinkling in the humour of the moment, "it's no by your leave, or ony man's leave; it's the richt o' the thing; an' that I maun think aboot, an' see whether I be at leeberty to ca' ye my lord or no."

"Meantime, don't do it," said Malcolm, "lest you should have to change afterwards. You might find it difficult."

"Ye're cheengt a'ready," said Blue Peter, looking up at him sharply. "I ne'er h'ard ye speyk like that afore."

"Make nothing of it," returned Malcolm. "I am only airing my English on you; I have made up my mind to learn to speak in London as London people do, and so, even to you, in the meantime only, I am going to speak as good English as I can.--It's nothing between you and .me, Peter and you must not mind it," he added, seeing a slight cloud come over the fisherman's face.

Blue Peter turned away with a sigh. The sounds of English speech from the lips of Malcolm addressed to himself, seemed vaguely to indicate the opening of a gulf between them, destined ere long to widen to the whole social width between a fisherman and a marquis, swallowing up in it not only all old memories, but all later friendship and confidence. A shadow of bitterness crossed the poor fellow's mind, and in it the seed of distrust began to strike root, and all because a newer had been substituted for an older form of the same speech and language. Truly man's heart is a delicate piece of work, and takes gentle handling or hurt. But that the pain was not all of innocence is revealed in the strange fact, afterwards disclosed by the repentant Peter himself, that, in that same moment, what had just passed his mouth as a joke, put on an important, serious look, and appeared to involve a matter of doubtful duty: was it really right of one man to say my lord to another? Thus the fisherman, and not the marquis, was the first to sin against the other because of altered fortune. Distrust awoke pride in the heart of Blue Pete; and he erred in the lack of the charity that thinketh no evil.

But the lack and the doubt made little show as yet. The two men rowed in the dinghy down the river to the Aberdeen wharf to make arrangements about Kelpie, whose arrival Malcolm expected the following Monday, then dined together, and after that had a long row up the river.

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