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Mr Crathie, seeing nothing more of Malcolm, believed himself at last well rid of him; but it was days before his wrath ceased to flame, and then it went on smouldering. Nothing occurred to take him to the Seaton, and no business brought any of the fisher people to his office during that time. Hence he heard nothing of the mode of Malcolm's departure. When at length in the course of ordinary undulatory propagation the news reached him that Malcolm had taken the yacht with him, he was enraged beyond measure at the impudence of the theft, as he called it, and ran to the Seaton in a fury. He had this consolation, however: the man who had accused him of dishonesty and hypocrisy had proved but a thief.
He found the boathouse indeed empty, and went storming from cottage to cottage, but came upon no one from whom his anger could draw nourishment, not to say gain satisfaction. At length he reached the Partan's, found him at home, and commenced, at haphazard, abusing him as an aider and abettor of the felony. But Meg Partan was at home also, as Mr Crathie soon learned to his cost; for, hearing him usurp her unique privilege of falling out upon her husband, she stole from the ben end, and having stood for a moment silent in the doorway, listening for comprehension, rushed out in a storm of tongue.
"An' what for sudna my man," she cried, at full height of her screeching voice, "lay tu his han' wi' ither honest fowk to du for the boat what him 'at was weel kent for the captain o' her, sin' ever she was a boat, wantit dune? Wad ye tak the comman' o' the boat, sir, as weel's o' a' thing ither aboot the place?"
"Hold your tongue, woman," said the factor; "I have nothing to say to you."
"Aigh, sirs! but it's a peety ye wasna foreordeent to be markis yersel'! It maun be a sair vex to ye 'at ye're naething but the factor."
"If ye don't mind your manners, Mistress Fin'lay," said Mr Crathie in glowing indignation, "perhaps you'll find that the factor is as much as the marquis, when he's all there is for one."
"Lord safe 's hear till 'im !" cried the Partaness. "Wha wad hae thoucht it o' 'im? There's fowk 'at it sets weel to tak upo' them! His father, honest man, wad ne'er hae spoken like that to Meg Partan; but syne he was an honest man, though he was but the heid shepherd upo' the estate. Man, I micht hae been yer mither--gien I had been auld eneuch for 's first wife, for he wad fain hae had me for 's second."
"I've a great mind to take out a warrant against you, John Fin'lay, otherwise called the Partan, as airt an' pairt in the stealing of the Marchioness of Lossie's pleasure boat," said the factor. "And for you, Mistress Fin'lay, I would have you please to remember that this house, as far at least as you are concerned, is mine, although I am but the factor, and not the marquis; and if you don't keep that unruly tongue of yours a little quieter in your head, I'll set you in the street the next quarter day but one, as sure's ever you gutted a herring, and then you may bid goodbye to Portlossie, for there's not a house, as you very well know, in all the Seaton, that belongs to another than her ladyship."
"'Deed, Mr Crathie," returned Meg Partan, a little sobered by the threat, "ye wad hae mair sense nor rin the risk o' an uprisin' o' the fisher fowk. They wad ill stan' to see my auld man an' me misused, no to say 'at her leddyship hersel' wad see ony o' her ain fowk turned oot o' hoose an' haudin' for naething ava."
"Her ladyship wad gi'e hersel' sma' concern gien the haill bilin' o' ye war whaur ye cam frae," returned the factor. "An' for the toon here, the fowk kens the guid o' a quaiet caus'ay ower weel to lament the loss o' ye."
"The deil's i' the man!" cried the Partaness in high scorn. "He wad threip upo' me 'at I was ane o' thae lang tongued limmers 'at maks themsel's h'ard frae ae toon's en' to the tither! But I s' gar him priv 's words yet!"
"Ye see, sir," interposed the mild Partan, anxious to shove extremities aside, "we didna ken 'at there was onything intill't by ord'nar. Gien we had but kent 'at he was oot o' your guid graces,--"
"Haud yer tongue afore ye lee, man," interrupted his wife. "Ye ken weel eneuch ye wad du what Ma'colm MacPhail wad hae ye du, for ony factor in braid Scotlan'."
"You must have known," said the factor to the Partan, apparently heedless of this last outbreak of the generous evil temper, and laying a cunning trap for the information he sorely wanted, but had as yet failed in procuring--"else why was it that not a soul went with him? He could ill manage the boat alone."
"What put sic buff an' styte i' yer heid, sir?" rejoined Meg; defiant of the hints her husband sought to convey to her. "There's mony ane wad hae been ready to gang, only wha sud gang but him 'at gaed wi' him an' 's lordship frae the first?"
"And who was that?" asked Mr Crathie.
"Ow! wha but Blue Peter?" answered Meg.
"Hm!" said the factor, in a tone that for almost the first time in her life made the woman regret that she had spoken, and therewith he rose and left the cottage.
"Eh, mither!" cried Lizzy, in her turn appearing from the ben end, with her child in her arms, "ye hae wroucht ruin i' the earth! He'll hae Peter an' Annie an' a' oot o' hoose an' ha', come midsummer."
"I daur him till't!" cried her mother, in the impotence and self despite of a mortifying blunder; "I'll raise the toon upon 'im."
"What wad that du, mither?" returned Lizzy, in distress about her friends. "It wad but mak' ill waur."
"An' wha are ye to oppen yer mou' sae wide to yer mither?" burst forth Meg Partan, glad of an object upon which the chagrin that consumed her might issue in flame. "Ye havena luikit to yer ain gait sae weel 'at ye can thriep to set richt them 'at broucht ye forth.--Wha are ye, I say?" she repeated in rage.
"Ane 'at folly's made wiser, maybe, mither," answered Lizzie sadly, and proceeded to take her shawl from behind the door: she would go to her friends at Scaurnose, and communicate her fears for their warning. But her words smote the mother within the mother, and she turned and looked at her daughter with more of the woman and less of the Partan in her rugged countenance than had been visible there since the first week of her married life. She had been greatly injured by the gaining of too easy a conquest and resultant supremacy over her husband, whence she had ever after revelled in a rule too absolute for good to any concerned. As she was turning away, her daughter caught a glimpse of her softened eyes, and went out of the house with more comfort in her heart than she had felt ever since first she had given her conscience cause to speak daggers to her.
The factor kept raging to himself all the way home, flung himself trembling on his horse, vouchsafing his anxious wife scarce any answer to her anxious enquiries, and galloped to Duff Harbour to Mr Soutar.
I will not occupy my tale with their interview. Suffice it to say that the lawyer succeeded at last in convincing the demented factor that it would be but prudent to delay measures for the recovery of the yacht and the arrest and punishment of its abductors, until he knew what Lady Lossie would say to the affair. She had always had a liking for the lad, Mr Soutar said, and he would not be in the least surprised to hear that Malcolm had gone straight to her ladyship and put himself under her protection. No doubt by this time the cutter was at its owner's disposal: it would be just like the fellow! He always went the nearest road anywhere. And to prosecute him for a thief would in any case but bring down the ridicule of the whole coast upon the factor, and breed him endless annoyance in the getting in of his rents--especially among the fishermen. The result was that Mr Crathie went home--not indeed a humbler or wiser man than he had gone, but a thwarted man, and therefore the more dangerous in the channels left open to the outrush of his angry power.
When Lizzy reached Scaurnose, her account of the factor's behaviour, to her surprise, did not take much effect upon Mrs Mair: a queer little smile broke over her countenance, and vanished. An enforced gravity succeeded, however, and she began to take counsel with Lizzy as to what they could do, or where they could go, should the worst come to the worst, and the doors, not only of her own house, but of Scaurnose and Portlossie as well, be shut against them. But through it all reigned a calm regard and fearlessness of the future which, to Lizzy's roused and apprehensive imagination, was strangely inexplicable. Annie Mair seemed possessed of some hidden and upholding assurance that raised her above the fear of man or what he could do to her. The girl concluded it must be the knowledge of God, and prayed more earnestly that night than she had prayed since the night on which Malcolm had talked to her so earnestly before he left. I must add this much, that she was not altogether astray: God was in Malcolm, giving new hope to his fisher folk.
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