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It was a lovely summer evening, and the sun, going down just beyond the point of the Scaurnose, shone straight upon the Partan's door. That it was closed in such weather had a significance--general as well as individual. Doors were oftener closed in the Seaton now. The spiritual atmosphere of the place was less clear and open than hitherto. The behaviour of the factor, the trouble of their neighbours, the conviction that the man who depopulated Scaurnose would at least raise the rents upon them, had brought a cloud over the feelings and prospects of its inhabitants--which their special quarrel with the oppressor for Malcolm's sake, had drawn deeper around the Findlays; and hence it was that the setting sun shone upon the closed door of their cottage.
But a shadow darkened it, cutting off the level stream of rosy red. An aged man, in Highland garments, stood and knocked. His overworn dress looked fresher and brighter in the friendly rays, but they shone very yellow on the bare hollows of his old knees. It was Duncan MacPhail, the supposed grandfather of Malcolm. He was older and feebler, I had almost said blinder, but that could not be, certainly shabbier than ever. The glitter of dirk and broadsword at his sides, and the many coloured ribbons adorning the old bagpipes under his arms, somehow enhanced the look of more than autumnal, of wintry desolation in his appearance.
Before he left the Seaton, the staff he carried was for show rather than use, but now he was bent over it, as if but for it he would fall into his grave. His knock was feeble and doubtful, as if unsure of a welcoming response. He was broken, sad, and uncomforted.
A moment passed. The door was unlatched, and within stood the Partaness, wiping her hands in her apron, and looking thunderous. But when she saw who it was, her countenance and manner changed utterly.
"Preserve's a'! Ye're a sicht for sair e'en, Maister MacPhail!" she cried, holding out her hand, which the blind man took as if he saw as well as she. "Come awa' but the hoose. Wow! but ye're walcome."
"She thanks your own self, Mistress Partan," said Duncan, as he followed her in; "and her heart will pe thanking you for ta coot welcome; and it will pe a long time since she'll saw you howefer."
"Noo, noo!" exclaimed Meg, stopping in the middle of her little kitchen, as she was getting a chair for the old man, and turning upon him to revive on the first possible chance what had been a standing quarrel between them, "what can be the rizon 'at gars ane like you, 'at never saw man or wuman i' yer lang life, the verra meenute ye open yer mou', say it's lang sin' ye saw me. A mensefu' body like you, Maister MacPhail, sud speyk mair to the p'int."
"Ton't you'll pe preaking her heart with ta one hand while you'll pe clapping her head with ta other," said the piper. "Ton't be taking her into your house to pe telling her she can't see. Is it that old Tuncan is not a man as much as any woman in ta world, tat you'll pe telling her she can't see? I tell you she can see, and more tan you'll pe think. And I will tell it to you, tere iss a pape in this house, and tere was pe none when Tuncan she'll co away."
"We a' ken ye ha'e the second sicht," said Mrs Findlay, who had not expected such a reply; "an' it was only o' the first I spak. Haith! it wad be ill set o' me to anger ye the moment ye come back to yer ain. Sit ye doon there by the chimla neuk, till I mask ye a dish o' tay. Or maybe ye wad prefar a drap o' parritch an' milk? It's no muckle I ha'e to offer ye, but ye cudna be mair walcome."
As easily appeased as irritated, the old man sat down with a grateful, placid look, and while the tea was drawing Mrs Findlay, by judicious questions, gathered from him the history of his adventures.
Unable to rise above the disappointment and chagrin of finding that the boy he loved as his own soul, and had brought up as his own son was actually the child of a Campbell woman, one of the race to which belonged the murderer of his people in Glencoe, and which therefore he hated with an absolute passion of hatred, unable also to endure the terrible schism in his being occasioned by the conflict between horror at the Campbell blood, and ineffaceable affection for the youth in whose veins it ran, and who so fully deserved all the love he had lavished upon him, he had concluded to rid himself of all the associations of place and people and event now grown so painful, to make his way back to his native Glencoe, and there endure his humiliation as best he might, beheld of the mountains which had beheld the ruin of his race. He would end the few and miserable days of his pilgrimage amid the rushing of the old torrents, and the calling of the old winds about the crags and precipices that had hung over his darksome yet blessed childhood. These were still his friends. But he had not gone many days' journey before a farmer found him on the road insensible, and took him home. As he recovered, his longing after his boy Malcolm grew, until it rose to agony, but he fought with his heart, and believed he had overcome it. The boy was a good boy, he said to himself; the boy had been to him as the son of his own heart; there was no fault to find with him or in him; he was as brave as he was kind, as sincere as he was clever, as strong as he was gentle; he could play on the bagpipes, and very nearly talk Gaelic, but his mother was a Campbell, and for that there was no help. To be on loving terms with one in whose veins ran a single drop of the black pollution was a thing no MacDhonuill must dream of. He had lived a man of honour, and he would die a man of honour, hating the Campbells to their last generation. How should the bard of his clan ever talk to his own soul if he knew himself false to the name of his fathers! Hard fate for him! As if it were not enough that he had been doomed to save and rear a child of the brood abominable, he was yet further doomed, worst fate of all, to love the evil thing! he could not tear the lovely youth from his heart. But he could go further and further from him.
As soon as he was able, he resumed his journey westward, and at length reached his native glen, the wildest spot in all the island. There he found indeed the rush of the torrents and the call of the winds unchanged, but when his soul cried out in its agonies, they went on with the same song that had soothed his childhood; for the heart of the suffering man they had no response. Days passed before he came upon a creature who remembered him; for more than twenty years were gone, and a new generation had come up since he forsook the glen. Worst of all, the clan spirit was dying out, the family type of government all but extinct, the patriarchal vanishing in a low form of the feudal, itself already in abject decay. The hour of the Celt was gone by, and the long wandering raven, returning at last, found the ark it had left afloat on the waters dry and deserted and rotting to dust. There was not even a cottage in which he could hide his head. The one he had forsaken when cruelty and crime drove him out, had fallen to ruins, and now there was nothing of it left but its foundations. The people of the inn at the mouth of the valley did their best for him, but he learned by accident that they had Campbell connections, and, rising that instant, walked from it for ever. He wandered about for a time, playing his pipes, and everywhere hospitably treated; but at length his heart could endure its hunger no more: he must see his boy, or die. He walked therefore straight to the cottage of his quarrelsome but true friend, Mrs Partan--to learn that his benefactor, the marquis, was dead, and Malcolm gone. But here alone could he hope ever to see him again, and the same night he sought his cottage in the grounds of Lossie House, never doubting his right to re-occupy it. But the door was locked, and he could find no entrance. He went to the House, and there was referred to the factor. But when he knocked at his door, and requested the key of the cottage, Mr Crathie, who was in the middle of his third tumbler, came raging out of his dining room, cursed him for an old Highland goat, and heaped insults on him and his grandson indiscriminately. It was well he kept the door between him and the old man, for otherwise he would never have finished the said third tumbler. That door carried in it thenceforth the marks of every weapon that Duncan bore, and indeed the half of his sgian dhu was the next morning found sticking in it, like the sting which the bee is doomed to leave behind her. He returned to Mistress Partan white and trembling, in a mountainous rage with "ta low pred hount of a factor." Her sympathy was enthusiastic, for they shared a common wrath. And now came the tale of the factor's cruelty to the fishers, his hatred of Malcolm, and his general wildness of behaviour. The piper vowed to shed the last drop of his blood in defence of his Mistress Partan. But when, to strengthen the force of his asseveration, he drew the dangerous looking dirk from its sheath, she threw herself upon him, wrenched it from his hand, and testified that "fules sudna hae chappin' sticks, nor yet teylors guns." It was days before Duncan discovered where she had hidden it. But not the less heartily did she insist on his taking up his abode with her; and the very next day he resumed his old profession of lamp cleaner to the community.
When Miss Horn heard that he had come and where he was, old feud with Meg Partan rendering it imprudent to call upon him, she watched for him in the street, and welcomed him home, assuring him that, if ever he should wish to change his quarters, her house was at his service.
"I'm nae Cam'ell, ye ken, Duncan," she concluded, "an' what an auld wuman like mysel' can du to mak ye coamfortable sail no fail, an' that I promise ye."
The old man thanked her with the perfect courtesy of the Celt, confessed that he was not altogether at ease where he was, but said he must not hurt the feelings of Mistress Partan, "for she'll not pe a paad womans," he added, "but her house will pe aalways in ta flames, howefer."
So he remained where he was, and the general heart of the Seaton was not a little revived by the return of one whose presence reminded them of a better time, when no such cloud as now threatened them heaved its ragged sides above their horizon.
The factor was foolish enough to attempt inducing Meg to send her guest away.
"We want no landloupin' knaves, old or young, about Lossie," he said. "If the place is no keepit dacent, we'll never get the young marchioness to come near's again."
"'Deed, factor," returned Meg, enhancing the force of her utterance by a composure marvellous from it's rarity, "the first thing to mak' the place--I'll no say dacent, sae lang there's sae mony claverin' wives in't, but mair dacent nor it has been for the last ten year, wad be to sen' factors back whaur they cam' frae."
"And whaur may that be?" asked Mr Crathie.
"That's mair nor I richtly can say," answered Meg Partan, "but auld farand fouk threepit it was somewhaur 'ithin the swing o' Sawtan's tail."
The reply on the factor's lips as he left the house, tended to justify the rude sarcasm.
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