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THE CREW OF THE BONNIE ANNIE
Having caught as many fish as he wanted, Malcolm rowed to the other side of the Scaurnose. There he landed and left the dinghy in the shelter of the rocks, the fish covered with long broad leaved tangles, climbed the steep cliff, and sought Blue Peter. The brown village was quiet as a churchyard, although the sun was now growing hot. Of the men some were not yet returned from the night's fishing, and some were asleep in their beds after it. Not a chimney smoked. But Malcolm seemed to have in his own single being life and joy enough for a world; such an intense consciousness of bliss burned within him, that, in the sightless, motionless village, he seemed to himself to stand like an altar blazing in the midst of desert Carnac. But he was not the only one awake: on the threshold of Peter's cottage sat his little Phemy, trying to polish a bit of serpentine marble upon the doorstep, with the help of water, which stood by her side in a broken tea cup.
She lifted her sweet gray eyes, and smiled him a welcome.
"Are ye up a'ready, Phemy?" he said.
"I ha'ena been doon yet," she answered. "My mither was oot last nicht wi' the boat, an' Auntie Jinse was wi' the bairn, an' sae I cud du as I likit."
"An' what did ye like, Phemy?"
"A'body kens what I like," answered the child: "I was oot an' aboot a' nicht. An' eh, Ma'colm! I hed a veesion."
"What was that, Phemy?"
"I was upo' the tap o' the Nose, jist as the sun rase, luikin' aboot me, an' awa' upo' the Boar's Tail I saw twa angels sayin' their prayers. Nae doobt they war prayin' for the haill warl', i' the quaiet o' the mornin' afore the din begud. Maybe ane them was that auld priest wi' the lang name i' the buik o' Genesis, 'at hed naither father nor mither--puir man!--him 'at gaed aboot blissin' fowk."
Malcolm thought he might take his own time to set the child right, and asked her to go and tell her father that he wanted to see him. In a few minutes Blue Peter appeared, rubbing his eyes--one of the dead called too early from the tomb of sleep.
"Freen' Peter," said Malcolm, "I'm gaein' to speak oot the day."
Peter woke up.
"Weel," he said, "I am glaid o' that, Ma'colm,--I beg yer pardon, my lord, I sud say.--Annie!"
"Haud a quaiet sough, man. I wadna hae 't come oot at Scaurnose first. I'm come noo 'cause I want ye to stan' by me."
"I wull that, my lord."
"Weel, gang an' gether yer boat's crew, an' fess them doon to the cove, an' I'll tell them, an' maybe they'll stan' by me as weel."
"There's little fear o' that, gien I ken my men," answered Peter, and went off, rather less than half clothed, the sun burning hot upon his back, through the sleeping village, to call them, while Malcolm went and waited beside the dinghy.
At length six men in a body, and one lagging behind, appeared coming down the winding path--all but Peter no doubt wondering why they were called so soon from their beds, on such a peaceful morning, after being out the night before. Malcolm went to meet them.
"Freen's," he said, "I'm in want o' yer help."
"Onything ye like, Ma'colm, sae far 's I'm concernt, 'cep' it be to. ride yer mere. That I wull no tak in han'," said Jeames Gentle.
"It's no that," returned Malcolm. "It's naething freely sae hard's that, I'm thinkin'. The hard 'll be to believe what I'm gaein' to tell ye."
"Ye'll no be gaein' to set up for a proaphet?" said Girnel, with something approaching a sneer.
Girnel was the one who came down behind the rest.
"Na, na; naething like it," said Blue Peter.
"But first ye'll promise to haud yer tongues for half a day?" said Malcolm.
"Ay, ay; we'll no clype."--"We s' haud ower tongues," cried one and another and another, and all seemed to assent.
"Weel," said Malcolm, "My name 's no Ma'colm MacPhail, but--"
"We a' ken that," said Girnel.
"An' what mair du ye ken?" asked Blue Peter, with some anger at his interruption.
"Weel, ye ken little," said Peter, and the rest laughed.
"I'm the Markis o' Lossie," said Malcolm.
Every man but Peter laughed again: all took it for a joke precursive of some serious announcement. That which it would have least surprised them to hear, would have been that he was a natural son of the late marquis.
"My name 's Ma'colm Colonsay," resumed Malcolm, quietly; "an' I'm the saxt Markis o' Lossie."
A dead silence followed, and in doubt, astonishment, bewilderment, and vague awe, accompanied in the case of two or three by a strong inclination to laugh, with which they struggled, belief began. Always a curious observer of humanity, Malcolm calmly watched them. From discord of expression, most of their faces had grown idiotic. But after a few moments of stupefaction, first one and then another turned his eyes upon Blue Peter, and perceiving that the matter was to him not only serious but evidently no news, each began to come to his senses, the chaos within him slowly arranged itself, and his face gradually settled into an expression of sanity--the foolishness disappearing while the wonder and pleasure remained.
"Ye mauna tak it ill, my lord," said Peter, "gien the laads be ta'en aback wi' the news. It's a some suddent shift o' the win, ye see, my lord."
"I wuss yer lordship weel," thereupon said one, and held out his hand.
"Lang life to yer lordship," said another.
Each spoke a hearty word, and shook hands with him--all except Girnel, who held back, looking on, with his right hand in his trouser pocket. He was one who always took the opposite side-- a tolerably honest and trustworthy soul, with a good many knots and pieces of cross grain in the timber of him. His old Adam was the most essential and thorough of dissenters, always arguing and disputing, especially on theological questions.
"Na," said Girnel; "ye maun saitisfee me first wha ye are, an' what ye want o' me. I'm no to be drawn into onything 'at I dinna ken a' aboot aforehan'. I s' no tie mysel' up wi' ony promises. Them 'at gangs whaur they kenna, may lan' at the widdie (gallows)."
"Nae doobt," said Malcolm, "yer ain jeedgement 's mair to ye nor my word, Girnel; but saw ye ever onything in me 'at wad justifee ye in no lippenin' to that sae far 's it gaed?"
"Ow na! I'm no sayin' that naither. But what ha'e ye to shaw anent the privin' o' 't?"
"I have papers signed by my father, the late marquis, and sealed and witnessed by well known gentlemen of the neighbourhood."
"Whaur are they?" said Girnel, holding out his hand.
"I don't carry such valuable things about me," answered Malcolm. "But if you go with the rest, you shall see them afterwards."
"I'll du naething i' the dark," persisted Girnel. "Whan I see the peppers, I'll ken what to du."
With a nod of the head as self important as decisive, he turned his back.
"At all events," said Malcolm, "you will say nothing about it before you hear from one of us again?"
"I mak nae promises," answered Girnel, from behind his own back.
A howl arose from the rest.
"Ye promised a'ready," said Blue Peter.
"Na, I didna that. I said never a word."
"What right then had you to remain and listen to my disclosure?" said Malcolm. "If you be guilty of such a mean trick as betray me and ruin my plans, no honest man in Portlossie or Scaurnose but will scorn you."
"There! tak ye that!" said Peter. "An' I s' promise ye, ye s' never lay leg ower the gunnel o' my boat again. I s' hae nane but Christian men i' my pey."
"Ye hired me for the sizon, Blew Peter," said Girnel, turning defiantly.
"Oh! ye s' ha'e yer wauges. I'm no ane to creep oot o' a bargain, or say 'at I didna promise. Ye s' get yer reward, never fear. But into my boat ye s' no come. We'll ha'e nae Auchans i' oor camp. Eh, Girnel, man, but ye ha'e lost yersel' the day! He'll never loup far 'at winna lippen. The auld worthies tuik their life i' their han', but ye tak yer fit (foot) i' yours. I'm clean affrontit 'at ever I hed ye amo' my men."
But with that there rushed over Peter the recollection of how he had himself mistrusted, not Malcolm's word indeed, but his heart. He turned, and clasping his hands in sudden self reproach,
"My lord, I saired ye ill mysel' ance," he cried; "for I misdoobted 'at ye wasna the same to me efter ye cam to yer ain. I beg yer pardon, my lord, here i' the face o' my freen's. It was ill temper an' pride i' me, jist the same as it's noo in Girnel there; an' ye maun forgi'e him, as ye forga'e me, my lord, as sune 's ye can."
"I'll du that, my Peter, the verra moment he wants to be forgi'en," said Malcolm.
But Girnel turned with a grunt, and moved away towards the cliff.
"This 'll never du," said Peter. "A man 'at 's honest i' the main may play the verra dog afore he gets the deevil oot o' 'im ance he 's in like that. Gang efter 'im, laads, an' kep (intercept) 'im an' keep 'im. We'll ha'e to cast a k-not or twa aboot 'im, an' lay 'im i' the boddom o' the boat."
The six had already started after him like one man. But Malcolm cried,
"Let him go: he has done me no wrong yet, and I don't believe will do me any. But for no risk must we prevent wrong with wrong."
So Girnel was allowed to depart--scarcely in peace, for he was already ashamed of himself. With the understanding that they were to be ready to his call, and that they should hear from him in the course of the day, Malcolm left them, and rowed back to the Psyche. There he took his basket of fish on his arm, which he went and distributed according to his purpose, ending with Mrs Courthope at the House. Then he fed and dressed Kelpie, saddled her and galloped to Duff Harbour, where he found Mr Soutar at breakfast, and arranged with him to be at Lossie House at two o'clock. On his way back he called on Mr Morrison, and requested his presence at the same hour. Skirting the back of the House, and riding as straight as he could, he then made for Scaurnose, and appointed his friends to be near the House at noon, so placed as not to attract observation and yet be within hearing of his whistle from door or window in the front.
Returning to the House, he put up Kelpie, rubbed her down and fed her; then, as there was yet some time to spare, paid a visit to the factor. He found his lady, for all his present of fish in the earlier morning, anything but friendly. She did all she could to humble him; insisted on paying him for the fish; and ordered him, because they smelt of the stable, to take off his boots before he went upstairs--to his master's room, as she phrased it. But Mr Crathie was cordial, and, to Malcolm's great satisfaction, much recovered. He had better than pleasant talk with him.
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