in its place by a band across her chest, she would walk as many as
twenty miles, arriving at some inland town early in the forenoon,
in time to dispose of her fish for the requirements of the day. I
may add that, although her eldest child was probably born within a
few weeks after her marriage, infidelity was almost unknown amongst
In some respects, although in none of its good qualities, Mrs. Mair
was an exception from her class. Her mother had been the daughter
of a small farmer, and she had well to do relations in an inland
parish; but how much these facts were concerned in the result it
would be hard to say: certainly she was one of those elect whom
Nature sends into the world for the softening and elevation of her
other children. She was still slight and graceful, with a clear
complexion, and the prettiest teeth possible; the former two at
least of which advantages she must have lost long before, had it
not been that, while her husband's prudence had rendered hard work
less imperative, he had a singular care over her good looks; and
that a rough, honest, elder sister of his lived with them, whom it
would have been no kindness to keep from the hardest work, seeing
it was only through such that she could have found a sufficiency
of healthy interest in life. While Janet Mair carried the creel,
Annie only assisted in making the nets, and in cleaning and drying
the fish, of which they cured considerable quantities; these, with
her household and maternal duties, afforded her ample occupation.
Their children were well trained, and being of necessity, from the
narrowness of their house accommodation, a great deal with their
parents, heard enough to make them think after their faculty.
The mad laird was, as I have said, a visitor at their house oftener
than anywhere else. On such occasions he slept in a garret accessible
by a ladder from the ground floor, which consisted only of a kitchen
and a closet. Little Phemy Mair was therefore familiar with his
appearance, his ways, and his speech; and she was a favourite with
him, although hitherto his shyness had been sufficient to prevent
any approach to intimacy with even a child of ten.
When the poor fellow had got some little distance beyond the
boats, he stopped and withdrew his hands from his ears: in rushed
the sound of the sea, the louder that the caverns of his brain had
been so long closed to its entrance. With a moan of dismay he once
more pressed his palms against them, and thus deafened, shouted
with a voice of agony into the noise of the rising tide: "I dinna
ken whaur I come frae!" after which cry, wrung from the grief of
human ignorance, he once more took to his heels, though with far
less swiftness than before, and fled stumbling and scrambling over
Scarcely had he vanished from view of the boats, when Phemy scrambled
out of her big mussell shell. Its upheaved side being toward the
boat at which her father was at work, she escaped unperceived, and
so ran along the base of the promontory, where the rough way was
perhaps easier to the feet of a child content to take smaller steps
and climb or descend by the help of more insignificant inequalities.
She came within sight of the laird just as he turned into the mouth
of a well known cave and vanished.
Phemy was one of those rare and blessed natures which have endless
courage because they have no distrust, and she ran straight into
the cave after him, without even first stopping to look in.
It was not a very interesting cave to look into. The strata of
which it was composed, upheaved almost to the perpendicular, shaped
an opening like the half of a Gothic arch divided vertically and
leaning over a little to one side, which opening rose to the full
height of the cave, and seemed to lay bare every corner of it to
a single glance. In length it was only about four or five times
its width. The floor was smooth and dry, consisting of hard rock.
The walls and roof were jagged with projections and shadowed with
recesses, but there was little to rouse any frightful fancies.
When Phemy entered, the laird was nowhere to be seen. But she went
straight to the back of the cave, to its farthest visible point.
There she rounded a projection and began an ascent which only
familiarity with rocky ways could have enabled such a child to
accomplish. At the top she passed through another opening, and by
a longer and more gently sloping descent reached the floor of a
second cave, as level and nearly as smooth as a table. On her left
hand, what light managed to creep through the tortuous entrance was
caught and reflected in a dull glimmer from the undefined surface
of a well of fresh water which lay in a sort of basin in the rock:
on a bedded stone beside it sat the laird, with his head in his
hands, his elbows on his knees, and his hump upheaved above his
head, like Mount Sinai over the head of Christian in the Pilgrim's
As his hands were still pressed on his ears, he heard nothing of
Phemy's approach, and she stood for a while staring at him in the
vague glimmer, apparently with no anxiety as to what was to come
Weary at length - for the forlorn man continued movelessly sunk
in his own thoughts, or what he had for such - the eyes of the
child began to wander about the darkness, to which they had already
got so far accustomed as to make the most of the scanty light.
Presently she fancied she saw something glitter, away in the
darkness - two things: they must be eyes! - the eyes of an otter
or of a polecat, in which creatures the caves along the shore
abounded. Seized with sudden fright, she ran to the laird and laid
her hand on his shoulder, crying,
"Leuk, laird, leuk!"
He started to his feet and gazed bewildered at the child, rubbing
his eyes once and again. She stood between the well and the entrance,
so that all the light there was, gathered upon her pale face.
"Whaur do ye come frae?" he cried.
"I cam frae the auld boat," she answered.
"What do ye want wi' me?"
"Naething, sir; I only cam to see hoo ye was gettin' on. I wadna
hae disturbit ye, sir, but I saw the twa een o' a wullcat, or sic
like, glowerin' awa yonner i' the mirk, an' they fleyt me 'at I
"Weel, weel; sit ye doon, bairnie," said the mad laird in a soothing
voice; "the wullcat sanna touch ye. Ye're no fleyt at me, are ye?"
"Na!" answered the child. "What for sud I be fleyt at you, sir?
I'm Phemy Mair."
"Eh, bairnie! it's you, is't?" he returned in tones of satisfaction,
for he had not hitherto recognised her. "Sit ye doon, sit ye doon,
an' we'll see about it a'."
Phemy obeyed, and seated herself on the nearest projection.
The laird placed himself beside her, and once more buried his face,
but not his ears, in his hands. Nothing entered them, however, but
the sound of the rising tide, for Phemy sat by him in the faintly
glimmering dusk, as without fear felt, so without word spoken.
The evening crept on, and the night came down, but all the effect
of the growing darkness was that the child drew gradually nearer
to her uncouth companion, until at length her hand stole into his,
her head sank upon his shoulder, his arm went round her to hold
her safe, and thus she fell fast asleep. After a while, the laird
gently roused her and took her home, on their way warning her,
in strange yet to her comprehensible utterance, to say nothing of
where she had found him, for if she exposed his place of refuge,
wicked people would take him, and he should never see her again.
CHAPTER V: LADY FLORIMEL
All the coast to the east of the little harbour was rock, bold and
high, of a grey and brown hard stone, which after a mighty sweep,
shot out northward, and closed in the bay on that side with a
second great promontory. The long curved strip of sand on the west,
reaching to the promontory of Scaurnose, was the only open portion
of the coast for miles. Here the coasting vessel gliding past gained a
pleasant peep of open fields, belts of wood and farm houses, with
now and then a glimpse of a great house amidst its trees. In the
distance one or two bare solitary hills, imposing in aspect only
from their desolation, for their form gave no effect to their
altitude, rose to the height of over a thousand feet.
On this comparatively level part of the shore, parallel with its
line, and at some distance beyond the usual high water mark, the
waves of ten thousand northern storms had cast up a long dune or
bank of sand, terminating towards the west within a few yards of
a huge solitary rock of the ugly kind called conglomerate, which
must have been separated from the roots of the promontory by the
rush of waters at unusually high tides, for in winter they still
sometimes rounded the rock, and running down behind the dune,
turned it into a long island. The sand on the inland side of the
dune, covered with short sweet grass, browsed on by sheep, and with
the largest and reddest of daisies, was thus occasionally swept by
wild salt waves, and at times, when the northern wind blew straight
as an arrow and keen as a sword from the regions of endless snow,
lay under a sheet of gleaming ice.
The sun had been up for some time in a cloudless sky. The wind had
changed to the south, and wafted soft country odours to the shore,
in place of sweeping to inland farms the scents of seaweed and broken
salt waters, mingled with a suspicion of icebergs. From what was
called the Seaton, or seatown, of Portlossie, a crowd of cottages
occupied entirely by fisherfolk, a solitary figure was walking
westward along this grass at the back of the dune, singing. On his
left hand the ground rose to the high road; on his right was the
dune, interlaced and bound together by the long clasping roots of
the coarse bent, without which its sands would have been but the
sport of every wind that blew. It shut out from him all sight of
the sea, but the moan and rush of the rising tide sounded close
behind it. At his back rose the town of Portlossie, high above the
harbour and the Seaton, with its houses of grey and brown stone,
roofed with blue slates and red tiles. It was no highland town
- scarce one within it could speak the highland tongue, yet down
from its high streets on the fitful air of the morning now floated
intermittently the sound of bagpipes - borne winding from street
to street, and loud blown to wake the sleeping inhabitants and let
them know that it was now six of the clock.
He was a youth of about twenty, with a long, swinging, heavy footed
stride, which took in the ground rapidly - a movement unlike that
of the other men of the place, who always walked slowly, and never
but on dire compulsion ran. He was rather tall, and large limbed.
His dress was like that of a fisherman, consisting of blue serge
trowsers, a shirt striped blue and white, and a Guernsey frock,
which he carried flung across his shoulder. On his head he wore a
round blue bonnet, with a tuft of scarlet in the centre.
His face was more than handsome - with large features, not finely
cut, and a look of mingled nobility and ingenuousness - the latter
amounting to simplicity, or even innocence; while the clear outlook
from his full and well opened hazel eyes indicated both courage
and promptitude. His dark brown hair came in large curling masses
from under his bonnet. It was such a form and face as would have
drawn every eye in a crowded thoroughfare.
About the middle of the long sandhill, a sort of wide embrasure was
cut in its top, in which stood an old fashioned brass swivel gun:
when the lad reached the place, he sprang up the sloping side of
the dune, seated himself on the gun, drew from his trowsers a large
silver watch, regarded it steadily for a few minutes, replaced it,
and took from his pocket a flint and steel, wherewith he kindled
a bit of touch paper, which, rising, he applied to the vent of the
swivel. Followed a great roar.
It echoes had nearly died away, when a startled little cry reached
his keen ear, and looking along the shore to discover whence it
came, he spied a woman on a low rock that ran a little way out into
the water. She had half risen from a sitting posture, and apparently
her cry was the result of the discovery that the rising tide
had overreached and surrounded her. There was no danger whatever,
but the girl might well shrink from plunging into the clear beryl
depth in which swayed the seaweed clothing the slippery slopes of
the rock. He rushed from the sandhill, crying, as he approached
her, "Dinna be in a hurry, mem; bide till I come to ye," and running
straight into the water struggled through the deepening tide, the
distance being short and the depth almost too shallow for swimming.
In a moment he was by her side, scarcely saw the bare feet she had
been bathing in the water, heeded as little the motion of the hand
which waved him back, caught her in his arms like a baby, and had
her safe on the shore ere she could utter a word; nor did he stop
until he had carried her to the slope of the sandhill, where he
set her gently down, and without a suspicion of the liberty he was
taking, and filled only with a passion of service, was proceeding
to dry her feet with the frock which he had dropped there as he
ran to her assistance.
"Let me alone, pray," cried the girl with a half amused indignation,
drawing back her feet and throwing down a book she carried that she
might the better hide them with her skirt. But although she shrank
from his devotion, she could neither mistake it nor help being pleased
with his kindness. Probably she had never before been immediately
indebted to such an ill clad individual of the human race, but even
in such a costume she could not fail to see he was a fine fellow.
Nor was the impression disturbed when he opened his mouth and spoke
in the broad dialect of the country, for she had no associations
to cause her to misinterpret its homeliness as vulgarity.
"Whaur's yer stockin's, mem?" he said.
"You gave me no time to bring them away, you caught me up so -
rudely," answered the girl half querulously, but in such lovely
speech as had never before greeted his Scotish ears.
Before the words were well beyond her lips he was already on his way
back to the rock, running, as he walked, with great, heavy footed
strides. The abandoned shoes and stockings were in imminent danger
of being floated off by the rising water, but he dashed in, swam a
few strokes, caught them up, waded back to the shore, and, leaving
a wet track all the way behind him but carrying the rescued clothing
at arm's length before him, rejoined their owner. Spreading his
frock out before her, he laid the shoes and stockings upon it,
and, observing that she continued to keep her feet hidden under
the skirts of her dress, turned his back and stood.
"Why don't you go away?" said the girl, venturing one set of toes
from under their tent, but hesitating to proceed further in the
Without word or turn of head he walked away.
Either flattered by his absolute obedience, and persuaded that he
was a true squire, or unwilling to forego what amusement she might
gain from him, she drew in her half issuing foot, and, certainly
urged in part by an inherent disposition to tease, spoke again.
"You're not going away without thanking me?" she said.
"What for, mem?" he returned simply, standing stock still again
with his back towards her.
"You needn't stand so. You don't think I would go on dressing while
you remained in sight?"
"I was as guid's awa', mem," he said, and turning a glowing face,
looked at her for a moment, then cast his eyes on the ground.
"Tell me what you mean by not thanking me," she insisted.
"They wad be dull thanks, mem, that war thankit afore I kenned what
"For allowing you to carry me ashore, of course."
"Be thankit, mem, wi' a' my hert. Will I gang doon o' my knees?"
"No. Why should you go on your knees?"
"'Cause ye're 'maist ower bonny to luik at stan'in', mem, an' I'm
feared for angerin' ye."
"Don't say ma'am to me."
"What am I to say, than, mem? - I ask yer pardon, mem."
"Say my lady. That's how people speak to me."
"I thocht ye bude (behoved) to be somebody by ordinar', my leddy!
That'll be hoo ye're so terrible bonny," he returned, with some
tremulousness in his tone. "But ye maun put on yer hose, my leddy,
or ye'll get yer feet cauld, and that's no guid for the likes o'
The form of address she prescribed, conveyed to him no definite
idea of rank. It but added intensity to the notion of her being a
lady, as distinguished from one of the women of his own condition
"And pray what is to become of you," she returned, "with your
clothes as wet as water can make them?"
"The saut water kens me ower weel to do me ony ill," returned the
lad. "I gang weet to the skin mony a day frae mornin' till nicht,
and mony a nicht frae nicht till mornin' - at the heerin' fishin',
ye ken, my leddy."
One might well be inclined to ask what could have tempted her to
talk in such a familiar way to a creature like him - human indeed,
but separated from her by a gulf more impassable far than that
which divided her from the thrones, principalities, and powers of
the upper regions? And how is the fact to be accounted for, that here
she put out a dainty foot, and reaching for one of her stockings,
began to draw it gently over the said foot? Either her sense of his
inferiority was such that she regarded his presence no more than
that of a dog, or, possibly, she was tempted to put his behaviour
to the test. He, on his part, stood quietly regarding the operation,
either that, with the instinct of an inborn refinement, he was
aware he ought not to manifest more shamefacedness than the lady
herself, or that he was hardly more accustomed to the sight of
gleaming fish than the bare feet of maidens.
"I'm thinkin', my leddy," he went on, in absolute simplicity, "that
sma' fut o' yer ain has danced mony a braw dance on mony a braw
"How old do you take me for then?" she rejoined, and went on drawing
the garment over her foot by the shortest possible stages.
"Ye'll no be muckle ower twenty," he said.
"I'm only sixteen," she returned, laughing merrily.
"What will ye be or ye behaud!" he exclaimed, after a brief pause
"Do you ever dance in this part of the country?" she asked, heedless
of his surprise.
"No that muckle, at least amo' the fisherfowks, excep' it be at a
weddin'. I was at ane last nicht."
"And did you dance?"
"'Deed did I, my leddy. I danced the maist o' the lasses clean aff
o' their legs."
"What made you so cruel?"
"Weel, ye see, mem, - I mean my leddy, - fowk said I was ill
aboot the bride; an' sae I bude to dance 't oot o' their heids."
"And how much truth was there in what they said?" she asked, with
a sly glance up in the handsome, now glowing face.
"Gien there was ony, there was unco little," he replied. "The
chield's walcome till her for me. But she was the bonniest lassie
we had. - It was what we ca' a penny weddin'," he went on, as if
willing to change the side of the subject.
"And what's a penny wedding?"
"It's a' kin' o' a custom amo' the fishers. There's some gey puir
fowk amon' 's, ye see, an' when a twa o' them merries, the lave o'
's wants to gie them a bit o' a start like. Sae we a' gang to the
weddin' an' eats an' drinks plenty, an' pays for a' 'at we hae;
and they mak' a guid profit out o' 't, for the things doesna cost
them nearhan' sae muckle as we pay. So they hae a guid han'fu' ower
for the plenishin'."
"And what do they give you to eat and drink?" asked the girl, making
"Ow, skate an' mustard to eat, an' whusky to drink," answered the
lad, laughing. "But it's mair for the fun. I dinna care muckle
about whusky an' that kin' o' thing mysel'. It's the fiddles an
the dancin' 'at I like."
"You have music, then?"
"Ay; jist the fiddles an' the pipes."
"The bagpipes, do you mean?"
"Ay; my gran'father plays them."
"But you're not in the Highlands here: how come you to have bagpipes?"
"It's a stray bag, an' no more. But the fowk here likes the cry
o' 't well eneuch, an' hae 't to wauk them ilka mornin'. Yon was
my gran'father ye heard afore I fired the gun. Yon was his pipes
waukin' them, honest fowk."
"And what made you fire the gun in that reckless way? Don't you
know it is very dangerous?"
"Dangerous mem - my leddy, I mean! There was naething intill 't
but a pennyworth o' blastin' pooder. It wadna blaw the froth aff
o' the tap o' a jaw (billow)."
"It nearly blew me out of my small wits, though."
"I'm verra sorry it frichtit ye. But, gien I had seen ye, I bude
to fire the gun."
"I don't understand you quite; but I suppose you mean it was your
business to fire the gun."
"Jist that, my leddy."
"'Cause it's been decreet i' the toon cooncil that at sax o' the
clock ilka mornin' that gun's to be fired - at least sae lang's
my lord, the marquis, is at Portlossie Hoose. Ye see it's a royal
brugh, this, an' it costs but aboot a penny, an' it's gran' like
to hae a sma' cannon to fire. An' gien I was to neglec' it, my
gran'father wad gang on skirlin' - what's the English for skirlin',
my leddy - skirlin' o' the pipes?"
"I don't know. But from the sound of the word I should suppose it
stands for screaming."
"Aye, that's it; only screamin's no sae guid as skirlin'.
My gran'father's an auld man, as I was gaein' on to say, an' has
hardly breath eneuch to fill the bag; but he wad be efter dirkin'
onybody 'at said sic a thing, and till he heard that gun he wad
gang on blawin' though he sud burst himsel.' There's naebody kens
the smeddum in an auld hielan' man!"
By the time the conversation had reached this point, the lady had
got her shoes on, had taken up her book from the sand, and was now
sitting with it in her lap. No sound reached them but that of the
tide, for the scream of the bagpipes had ceased the moment the
swivel was fired. The sun was growing hot, and the sea, although so
far in the cold north, was gorgeous in purple and green, suffused
as with the overpowering pomp of a peacock's plumage in the sun.
Away to the left the solid promontory trembled against the horizon,
as if ready to dissolve and vanish between the bright air and the
lucid sea that fringed its base with white. The glow of a young
summer morning pervaded earth and sea and sky, and swelled the
heart of the youth as he stood in unconscious bewilderment before
the self possession of the girl. She was younger than he, and knew
far less that was worth knowing, yet had a world of advantage over
him - not merely from the effect of her presence on one who had
never seen anything half so beautiful, but from a certain readiness
of surface thought, combined with the sweet polish of her speech,
and an assurance of superiority which appeared to them both to lift
her, like one of the old immortals, far above the level of the man
whom she favoured with her passing converse. What in her words,
as here presented only to the eye, may seem brusqueness or even
forwardness, was so tempered, so toned, so fashioned by the naivete
with which she spoke, that it sounded in his ears as the utterance
of absolute condescension. As to her personal appearance, the lad
might well have taken her for twenty, for she looked more of a
woman than, tall and strongly built as he was, he looked of a man.
She was rather tall, rather slender, finely formed, with small hands
and feet, and full throat. Her hair was of a dark brown; her eyes
of such a blue that no one could have suggested grey; her complexion
fair - a little freckled, which gave it the warmest tint it had;
her nose nearly straight, her mouth rather large but well formed;
and her forehead, as much of it as was to be seen under a garden
hat, rose with promise above a pair of dark and finely pencilled
The description I have here given may be regarded as occupying the
space of a brief silence, during which the lad stood motionless,
like one awaiting further command.
"Why don't you go?" said the lady. "I want to read my book."
He gave a great sigh, as if waking from a pleasant dream, took
off his bonnet with a clumsy movement which yet had in it a grace
worthy of a Stuart court, and descending the dune walked away along
the sands towards the sea town.
When he had gone about a couple of hundred yards, he looked back
involuntarily. The lady had vanished. He concluded that she had
crossed to the other side of the dune; but when he had gone so far
on his way to the village as to clear the eastern end of the sandhill,