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Produced by Martin Robb

by George MacDonald


"Na, na; I hae nae feelin's, I'm thankfu' to say. I never kent ony
guid come o' them. They're a terrible sicht i' the gait."

"Naebody ever thoucht o' layin' 't to yer chairge, mem."

"'Deed, I aye had eneuch adu to du the thing I had to du, no to
say the thing 'at naebody wad du but mysel'. I hae had nae leisur'
for feelin's an' that," insisted Miss Horn.

But here a heavy step descending the stair just outside the
room attracted her attention, and checking the flow of her speech
perforce, with three ungainly strides she reached the landing.

"Watty Witherspail! Watty!" she called after the footsteps down
the stair.

"Yes, mem," answered a gruff voice from below.

"Watty, whan ye fess the bit boxie, jist pit a hemmer an' a puckle
nails i' your pooch to men' the hen hoose door. The tane maun be
atten't till as weel's the tither."

"The bit boxie" was the coffin of her third cousin Griselda Campbell,
whose body lay on the room on her left hand as she called down the
stair. Into that on her right Miss Horn now re-entered, to rejoin
Mrs Mellis, the wife of the principal draper in the town, who had
called ostensibly to condole with her, but really to see the corpse.

"Aih! she was taen yoong!" sighed the visitor, with long drawn
tones and a shake of the head, implying that therein lay ground of
complaint, at which poor mortals dared but hint.

"No that yoong," returned Miss Horn. "She was upo' the edge o'
aucht an' thirty."

"Weel, she had a sair time o' 't."

"No that sair, sae far as I see - an' wha sud ken better? She's
had a bien doon sittin' (sheltered quarters), and sud hae had as
lang's I was to the fore. Na, na; it was nowther sae young nor yet
sae sair."

"Aih! but she was a patient cratur wi' a' flesh," persisted Mrs
Mellis, as if she would not willingly be foiled in the attempt to
extort for the dead some syllable of acknowledgment from the lips
of her late companion.

"'Deed she was that! - a wheen ower patient wi' some. But that
cam' o' haein mair hert nor brains. She had feelin's gien ye like -
and to spare. But I never took ower ony o' the stock. It's a pity
she hadna the jeedgment to match, for she never misdoobted onybody
eneuch. But I wat it disna maitter noo, for she's gane whaur it's
less wantit. For ane 'at has the hairmlessness o' the doo 'n this
ill wulled warl', there's a feck o' ten 'at has the wisdom o' the
serpent. An' the serpents mak sair wark wi' the doos - lat alane
them 'at flees into the verra mouws o' them."

"Weel, ye're jist richt there," said Mrs Mellis. "An' as ye say,
she was aye some easy to perswaud. I hae nae doubt she believed to
the ver' last he wad come back and mairry her."

"Come back and mairry her! Wha or what div ye mean? I jist tell ye
Mistress Mellis - an' it's weel ye're named - gien ye daur to
hint at ae word o' sic clavers, it's this side o' this door o' mine
ye's be less acquant wi'."

As she spoke, the hawk eyes of Miss Horn glowed on each side of
her hawk nose, which grew more and more hooked as she glared, while
her neck went craning forward as if she were on the point of making
a swoop on the offender. Mrs Mellis's voice trembled with something
like fear as she replied:

"Gude guide 's, Miss Horn! What hae I said to gar ye look at me
sae by ordinar 's that?"

"Said!" repeated Miss Horn, in a tone that revealed both annoyance
with herself and contempt for her visitor. "There's no a claver in
a' the countryside but ye maun fess 't hame aneth yer oxter, as
gin 't were the prodigal afore he repentit. Ye's get sma thanks for
sic like here. An' her lyin' there as she'll lie till the jeedgment
day, puir thing!"

"I'm sure I meant no offence, Miss Horn," said her visitor. "I
thocht a' body kent 'at she was ill about him."

"Aboot wha, i' the name o' the father o' lees?"

"Ow, aboot that lang leggit doctor 'at set oat for the Ingies, an'
dee'd afore he wan across the equautor. Only fouk said he was nae
mair deid nor a halvert worm, an' wad be hame whan she was merried."

"It's a' lees frae heid to fiit, an' frae bert to skin."

"Weel, it was plain to see she dwyned awa efter he gaed, an' never
was hersel' again - ye dinna deny that?"

"It's a' havers," persisted Miss Horn, but in accents considerably
softened. "She cared na mair aboot the chield nor I did mysel'.
She dwyned, I grant ye, an' he gaed awa, I grant ye; but the win'
blaws an' the water rins, an the tane has little to du wi' the

"Weel, weel; I'm sorry I said onything to offen' ye, an' I canna
say mair. Wi' yer leave, Miss Horn, I'll jist gang an' tak' a last
leuk at her, puir thing!"

"'Deed, ye s' du naething o' the kin'! I s' lat nobody glower at her
'at wad gang an spairge sic havers about her, Mistress Mellis. To
say 'at sic a doo as my Grizel, puir, saft hertit, winsome thing,
wad hae lookit twice at ony sic a serpent as him! Na, na, mem! Gang
yer wa's hame, an' come back straucht frae yer prayers the morn's
mornin'. By that time she'll be quaiet in her coffin, an' I'll be
quaiet i' my temper. Syne I'll lat ye see her - maybe. - I wiss
I was weel rid o' the sicht o' her, for I canna bide it. Lord, I
canna bide it."

These last words were uttered in a murmured aside, inaudible to
Mrs Mellis, to whom, however, they did not apply, but to the dead
body. She rose notwithstanding in considerable displeasure, and with
a formal farewell walked from the room, casting a curious glance
as she left it in the direction of that where the body lay, and
descended the stairs as slowly as if on every step she deliberated
whether the next would bear her weight. Miss Horn, who had followed
her to the head of the stair, watched her out of sight below the
landing, when she turned and walked back once more into the parlour,
but with a lingering look towards the opposite room, as if she saw
through the closed door what lay white on the white bed.

"It's a God's mercy I hae no feelin's," she said to herself. "To
even (equal) my bonny Grizel to sic a lang kyte clung chiel as
yon! Aih, puir Grizel! She's gane frae me like a knotless threid."


Miss Horn was interrupted by the sound of the latch of the street
door, and sprung from her chair in anger.

"Canna they lat her sleep for five meenutes?" she cried aloud,
forgetting that there was no fear of rousing her any more. - "It'll
be Jean come in frae the pump," she reflected, after a moment's
pause; but, hearing no footstep along the passage to the kitchen,
concluded - "It's no her, for she gangs aboot the hoose like the
fore half o' a new shod cowt;" and went down the stair to see who
might have thus presumed to enter unbidden.

In the kitchen, the floor of which was as white as scrubbing could
make it, and sprinkled with sea sand - under the gaily painted
Dutch clock, which went on ticking as loud as ever, though just
below the dead - sat a woman about sixty years of age, whose plump
face to the first glance looked kindly, to the second, cunning,
and to the third, evil. To the last look the plumpness appeared
unhealthy, suggesting a doughy indentation to the finger, and its
colour also was pasty. Her deep set, black bright eyes, glowing
from under the darkest of eyebrows, which met over her nose, had
something of a fascinating influence - so much of it that at a
first interview one was not likely for a time to notice any other
of her features. She rose as Miss Horn entered, buried a fat fist
in a soft side, and stood silent.

"Weel?" said Miss Horn interrogatively, and was silent also.

"I thocht ye micht want a cast o' my callin'," said the woman.

"Na, na; there's no a han' 'at s' lay finger upo' the bairn but
mine ain," said Miss Horn. "I had it a' ower, my lee lane, afore the
skreigh o' day. She's lyin' quaiet noo - verra quaiet - waitin'
upo' Watty Witherspail. Whan he fesses hame her bit boxie, we s'
hae her laid canny intill 't, an' hae dune wi' 't."

"Weel, mem, for a leddy born, like yersel', I maun say, ye tak it
unco composed!"

"I'm no awaur, Mistress Catanach, o' ony necessity laid upo' ye
to say yer min' i' this hoose. It's no expeckit. But what for sud
I no tak' it wi' composur'? We'll hae to tak' oor ain turn er lang,
as composed as we hae the skiel o', and gang oot like a lang nibbit
can'le - ay, an lea' jist sic a memory ahin' some o' 's, Bawby."

"I kenna gien ye mean me, Miss Horn," said the woman; "but it's no
that muckle o' a memory I expec' to lea' ahin' me."

"The less the better," muttered Miss Horn; but her unwelcome visitor
went on:

"Them 'at 's maist i' my debt kens least aboot it; and then mithers
canna be said to hae muckle to be thankfu' for. It's God's trowth,
I ken waur nor ever I did mem. A body in my trade canna help fa'in'
amo' ill company whiles, for we're a' born in sin, an' brocht furth
in ineequity, as the Buik. says; in fac', it's a' sin thegither: we
come o' sin an' we gang for sin; but ye ken the likes o' me maunna
clype (tell tales). A' the same, gien ye dinna tak the help o' my
han', ye winna refuse me the sicht o' my een, puir thing!"

"There's nane sall luik upon her deid 'at wasna a pleesur' till
her livin'; an' ye ken weel eneuch, Bawby, she cudna thole (bear)
the sicht o' you."

"An' guid rizzon had she for that, gien a' 'at gangs throu' my
heid er I fa' asleep i' the lang mirk nichts be a hair better nor
ane o' the auld wives' fables 'at fowk says the holy buik maks sae
licht o'."

"What mean ye?" demanded Miss Horn, sternly and curtly.

"I ken what I mean mysel', an' ane that's no content wi' that,
bude (behaved) ill be a howdie (midwife). I wad fain hae gotten a
fancy oot o' my heid that's been there this mony a lang day; but
please yersel', mem, gien ye winna be neebourly."

"Ye s' no gang near her - no to save ye frae a' the ill dreams
that ever gethered aboot a sin stappit (stuffed) bowster!" cried
Miss Horn, and drew down her long upper lip in a strong arch.

"Ca cannie! ca cannie! (drive gently)," said Bawby. "Dinna anger
me ower sair, for I am but mortal. Fowk tak a heap frae you, Miss
Horn, 'at they'll tak frae nane ither, for your temper's weel kent,
an' little made o'; but it's an ill faured thing to anger the howdie
- sae muckle lies upo' her; an, I'm no i' the tune to put up wi'
muckle the nicht. I wonner at ye bein' sae oonneebourlike - at
sic a time tu, wi' a corp i' the hoose!"

"Gang awa - gan oot o't: it's my hoose," said Miss Horn, in a low,
hoarse voice, restrained from rising to tempest pitch only by the
consciousness of what lay on the other side of the ceiling above
her head. "I wad as sune lat a cat intill the deid chaumer to gang
loupin' ower the corp, or may be waur, as I wad lat yersel' intill
't Bawby Catanach; an' there's till ye!"

At this moment the opportune entrance of Jean afforded fitting
occasion to her mistress for leaving the room without encountering
the dilemma of either turning the woman out - a proceeding which
the latter, from the way in which she set her short, stout figure
square on the floor, appeared ready to resist - or of herself
abandoning the field in discomfiture: she turned and marched from
the kitchen with her head in the air, and the gait of one who had
been insulted on her own premises.

She was sitting in the parlour, still red faced and wrathful, when
Jean entered, and, closing the door behind her, drew near to her
mistress, bearing a narrative, commenced at the door, of all she
had seen, heard, and done, while "oot an' aboot i' the toon." But
Miss Horn interrupted her the moment she began to speak.

"Is that wuman furth the hoose, Jean?" she asked, in the tone
of one who waited her answer in the affirmative as a preliminary
condition of all further conversation.

"She's gane, mem," answered Jean - adding to herself in a wordless
thought, "I'm no sayin' whaur."

"She's a wuman I wadna hae ye throng wi', Jean."

"I ken no ill o' her, mem," returned Jean.

"She's eneuch to corrup' a kirkyaird!" said her mistress, with more
force than fitness.

Jean, however, was on the shady side of fifty, more likely to have
already yielded than to be liable to a first assault of corruption;
and little did Miss Horn think how useless was her warning, or
where Barbara Catanach was at that very moment Trusting to Jean's
cunning, as well she might; she was in the dead chamber, and
standing over the dead. She had folded back the sheet - not from
the face, but from the feet - and raised the night dress of fine
linen in which the love of her cousin had robed the dead for the
repose of the tomb.

"It wad hae been tellin' her," she muttered, "to hae spoken Bawby
fair! I'm no used to be fa'en foul o' that gait. I 's be even
wi' her yet, I'm thinkin' - the auld speldin'! Losh! and Praise
be thankit! there it's! It's there! - a wee darker, but the same
- jist whaur I could ha' laid the pint o' my finger upo't i' the
mirk! - Noo lat the worms eat it," she concluded, as she folded
down the linen of shroud and sheet - "an' no mortal ken o' 't but
mysel' an' him 'at bude till hae seen 't, gien he was a hair better
nor Glenkindie's man i' the auld ballant!"

The instant she had rearranged the garments of the dead, she
turned and made for the door with a softness of step that strangely
contrasted with the ponderousness of her figure, and indicated great
muscular strength, opened it with noiseless circumspection to the
width of an inch, peeped out from the crack, and seeing the opposite
door still shut, stepped out with a swift, noiseless swing of
person and door simultaneously, closed the door behind her, stole
down the stairs, and left the house. Not a board creaked, not a
latch clicked as she went. She stepped into the street as sedately
as if she had come from paying to the dead the last offices of
her composite calling, the projected front of her person appearing
itself aware of its dignity as the visible sign and symbol of a
good conscience and kindly heart.


When Mistress Catanach arrived at the opening of a street which
was just opposite her own door, and led steep toward the sea town,
she stood, and shading her eyes with her hooded hand, although the
sun was far behind her, looked out to sea. It was the forenoon of
a day of early summer. The larks were many and loud in the skies
above her - for, although she stood in a street, she was only a
few yards from the green fields - but she could hardly have heard
them, for their music was not for her. To the northward, whither
her gaze - if gaze it could be called - was directed, all but
cloudless blue heavens stretched over an all but shadowless blue
sea; two bold, jagged promontories, one on each side of her, formed
a wide bay; between that on the west and the sea town at her feet,
lay a great curve of yellow sand, upon which the long breakers,
born of last night's wind, were still roaring from the northeast,
although the gale had now sunk to a breeze - cold and of doubtful
influence. From the chimneys of the fishermen's houses below,
ascended a yellowish smoke, which, against the blue of the sea,
assumed a dull green colour as it drifted vanishing towards the
southwest. But Mrs Catanach was looking neither at nor for anything:
she had no fisherman husband, or any other relative at sea; she
was but revolving something in her unwholesome mind, and this was
her mode of concealing an operation which naturally would have been
performed with down bent head and eyes on the ground.

While she thus stood a strange figure drew near, approaching her
with step almost as noiseless as that with which she had herself
made her escape from Miss Horn's house. At a few yards' distance
from her it stood, and gazed up at her countenance as intently as
she seemed to be gazing on the sea. It was a man of dwarfish height
and uncertain age, with a huge hump upon his back, features of great
refinement, a long thin beard, and a forehead unnaturally large,
over eyes which, although of a pale blue, mingled with a certain
mottled milky gleam, had a pathetic, dog-like expression. Decently
dressed in black, he stood with his hands in the pockets of his
trowsers, gazing immovably in Mrs Catanach's face.

Becoming suddenly aware of his presence, she glanced downward, gave
a great start and a half scream, and exclaimed in no gentle tones:

"Preserve 's! Whaur come ye frae?"

It was neither that she did not know the man, nor that she meant
any offence: her words were the mere embodiment of the annoyance
of startled surprise; but their effect was peculiar.

Without a single other motion he turned abruptly on one heel, gazed
seaward with quick flushed cheeks and glowing eyes, but, apparently
too polite to refuse an answer to the evidently unpleasant question,
replied in low, almost sullen tones:

"I dinna ken whaur I come frae. Ye ken 'at I dinna ken whaur I come
frae. I dinna ken whaur ye come frae. I dinna ken whaur onybody
comes frae."

"Hoot, laird! nae offence!" returned Mrs Catanach. "It was yer ain
wyte (blame). What gart ye stan' glowerin' at a body that gait,
ohn telled (without telling) them 'at ye was there?"

"I thocht ye was luikin' whaur ye cam frae," returned the man in
tones apologetic and hesitating.

"'Deed I fash wi' nae sic freits," said Mrs Catanach.

"Sae lang's ye ken whaur ye're gaein' till," suggested the man

"Toots! I fash as little wi' that either, and ken jist as muckle
about the tane as the tither," she answered with a low oily guttural
laugh of contemptuous pity.

"I ken mair nor that mysel', but no muckle," said the man. "I dinna
ken whaur I cam frae, and I dinna ken whaur I'm gaun till; but I
ken 'at I'm gaun whaur I cam frae. That stan's to rizzon, ye see;
but they telled me 'at ye kenned a' about whaur we a' cam frae."

"Deil a bit o' 't!" persisted Mrs Catanach, in tones of repudiation.
"What care I whaur I cam frae, sae lang's - "

"Sae lang's what, gien ye please?" pleaded the man, with a childlike
entreaty in his voice.

"Weel - gien ye wull hae't - sae lang's I cam frae my mither,"
said the woman, looking down on the inquirer with a vulgar laugh.

The hunchback uttered a shriek of dismay, and turned and fled; and
as he turned, long, thin, white hands flashed out of his pockets,
pressed against his ears, and intertwined their fingers at the back
of his neck. With a marvellous swiftness he shot down the steep
descent towards the shore.

"The deil's in't 'at I bude to anger him!" said the woman, and
walked away, with a short laugh of small satisfaction.

The style she had given the hunchback was no nickname. Stephen Stewart
was laird of the small property and ancient house of Kirkbyres, of
which his mother managed the affairs - hardly for her son, seeing
that, beyond his clothes, and five pounds a year of pocket money,
he derived no personal advantage from his possessions. He never
went near his own house, for, from some unknown reason, plentifully
aimed at in the dark by the neighbours, he had such a dislike to
his mother that he could not bear to hear the name of mother, or
even the slightest allusion to the relationship.

Some said he was a fool; others a madman; some both; none, however,
said he was a rogue; and all would have been willing to allow that
whatever it might be that caused the difference between him and
other men, throughout the disturbing element blew ever and anon
the air of a sweet humanity.

Along the shore, in the direction of the great rocky promontory
that closed in the bay on the west, with his hands still clasped
over his ears, as if the awful word were following him, he flew
rather than fled. It was nearly low water, and the wet sand afforded
an easy road to his flying feet. Betwixt sea and shore, a sail in
the offing the sole other moving thing in the solitary landscape,
like a hunted creature he sped, his footsteps melting and vanishing
behind him in the half quicksand.

Where the curve of the water line turned northward at the root of
the promontory, six or eight fishing boats were drawn up on the
beach in various stages of existence. One was little more than
half built, the fresh wood shining against the background of dark
rock. Another was newly tarred; its sides glistened with the rich
shadowy brown, and filled the air with a comfortable odour. Another
wore age long neglect on every plank and seam; half its props
had sunk or decayed, and the huge hollow leaned low on one side,
disclosing the squalid desolation of its lean ribbed and naked
interior, producing all the phantasmic effect of a great swampy
desert; old pools of water overgrown with a green scum, lay in
the hollows between its rotting timbers, and the upper planks were
baking and cracking in the sun. Near where they lay a steep path
ascended the cliff, whence through grass and ploughed land, it led
across the promontory to the fishing village of Scaurnose, which
lay on the other side of it. There the mad laird, or Mad Humpy, as
he was called by the baser sort, often received shelter, chiefly
from the family of a certain Joseph Mair, one of the most respectable
inhabitants of the place.

But the way he now pursued lay close under the cliffs of the
headland, and was rocky and difficult. He passed the boats, going
between them and the cliffs, at a footpace, with his eyes on the
ground, and not even a glance at the two men who were at work on
the unfinished boat. One of them was his friend, Joseph Mair. They
ceased their work for a moment to look after him.

"That's the puir laird again," said Joseph, the instant he was
beyond hearing. "Something's wrang wi' him. I wonder what's come
ower him!"

"I haena seen him for a while noo," returned the other. "They tell
me 'at his mither made him ower to the deil afore he cam to the
light; and sae, aye as his birthday comes roun', Sawtan gets the
pooer ower him. Eh, but he's a fearsome sicht whan he's ta'en that
gait!" continued the speaker. "I met him ance i' the gloamin',
jist ower by the toon, wi' his een glowerin' like uily lamps, an'
the slaver rinnin' doon his lang baird. I jist laup as gien I had
seen the muckle Sawtan himsel'."

"Ye nott na (needed not) hae dune that," was the reply. "He's jist
as hairmless, e'en at the warst, as ony lamb. He's but a puir cratur
wha's tribble's ower strang for him - that's a'. Sawtan has as
little to du wi' him as wi' ony man I ken."


With eyes that stared as if they and not her ears were the organs
of hearing, this talk was heard by a child of about ten years of
age, who sat in the bottom of the ruined boat, like a pearl in a
decaying oyster shell, one hand arrested in the act of dabbling in
a green pool, the other on its way to her lips with a mouthful of
the seaweed called dulse. She was the daughter of Joseph Mair just
mentioned - a fisherman who had been to sea in a man of war (in
consequence of which his to-name or nickname was Blue Peter), where
having been found capable, he was employed as carpenter's mate,
and came to be very handy with his tools: having saved a little
money by serving in another man's boat, he was now building one
for himself.

He was a dark complexioned, foreign looking man, with gold rings in
his ears, which he said enabled him to look through the wind "ohn
his een watered." Unlike most of his fellows, he was a sober and
indeed thoughtful man, ready to listen to the voice of reason from
any quarter; they were, in general, men of hardihood and courage,
encountering as a mere matter of course such perilous weather as
the fishers on a great part of our coasts would have declined to
meet, and during the fishing season were diligent in their calling,
and made a good deal of money; but when the weather was such that
they could not go to sea, when their nets were in order, and nothing
special requiring to be done, they would have bouts of hard drinking,
and spend a great portion of what ought to have been their provision
for the winter.

Their women were in general coarse in manners and rude in speech;
often of great strength and courage, and of strongly marked
character. They were almost invariably the daughters of fishermen,
for a wife taken from among the rural population would have been
all but useless in regard of the peculiar duties required of her.
If these were less dangerous than those of their husbands, they
were quite as laborious, and less interesting. The most severe
consisted in carrying the fish into the country for sale, in
a huge creel or basket, which when full was sometimes more than a
man could lift to place on the woman's back. With this burden, kept

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