of his thin grey hair and a stoop in the shoulders. He was dressed
in a shabby black tailcoat, and clean white neckcloth; the rest of
his clothes were of parson grey, noticeably shabby also. The quiet
sweetness of his smile, and a composed look of submission were
suggestive of the purification of sorrow, but were attributed by the
townsfolk to disappointment; for he was still but a schoolmaster,
whose aim they thought must be a pulpit and a parish. But Mr Graham
had been early released from such an ambition, if it had ever
possessed him, and had for many years been more than content to
give himself to the hopefuller work of training children for the
true ends of life: he lived the quietest of studious lives, with
an old housekeeper.
Malcolm had been a favourite pupil, and the relation of master
and scholar did not cease when the latter saw that he ought to do
something to lighten the burden of his grandfather, and so left
the school and betook himself to the life of a fisherman - with
the slow leave of Duncan, who had set his heart on making a scholar
of him, and would never, indeed, had Gaelic been amongst his studies,
have been won by the most laboursome petition. He asserted himself
perfectly able to provide for both for ten years to come at least,
in proof of which he roused the inhabitants of Portlossie, during
the space of a whole month, a full hour earlier than usual, with
the most terrific blasts of the bagpipes, and this notwithstanding
complaint and expostulation on all sides, so that at length the
provost had to interfere; after which outburst of defiance to time,
however, his energy had begun to decay so visibly that Malcolm gave
himself to the pipes in secret, that he might be ready, in case
of sudden emergency, to take his grandfather's place; for Duncan
lived in constant dread of the hour when his office might be taken
from him and conferred on a mere drummer, or, still worse, on a
certain ne'er do weel cousin of the provost, so devoid of music as
to be capable only of ringing a bell.
"I've had an invitation to Miss Campbell's funeral - Miss Horn's
cousin, you know," said Mr Graham, in a hesitating and subdued
voice: "could you manage to take the school for me, Malcolm?"
"Yes, sir. There's naething to hinner me. What day is 't upo'?"
"Verra weel, sir. I s' be here in guid time."
This matter settled, the business of the school, in which, as he
did often, Malcolm had come to assist, began. Only a pupil of his
own could have worked with Mr Graham, for his mode was very peculiar.
But the strangest fact in it would have been the last to reveal
itself to an ordinary observer. This was, that he rarely contradicted
anything: he would call up the opposing truth, set it face to face
with the error, and leave the two to fight it out. The human mind
and conscience were, he said, the plains of Armageddon, where the
battle of good and evil was for ever raging; and the one business
of a teacher was to rouse and urge this battle by leading fresh
forces of the truth into the field - forces composed as little
as might be of the hireling troops of the intellect, and as much
as possible of the native energies of the heart, imagination, and
conscience. In a word, he would oppose error only by teaching the
In early life he had come under the influence of the writings of
William Law, which he read as one who pondered every doctrine in
that light which only obedience to the truth can open upon it. With
a keen eye for the discovery of universal law in the individual
fact, he read even the marvels of the New Testament practically.
Hence, in training his soldiers, every lesson he gave them was a
missile; every admonishment of youth or maiden was as the mounting
of an armed champion, and the launching of him with a Godspeed into
the thick of the fight.
He now called up the Bible class, and Malcolm sat beside and
listened. That morning they had to read one of the chapters in the
history of Jacob.
"Was Jacob a good man?" he asked, as soon as the reading, each of
the scholars in turn taking a verse, was over.
An apparently universal expression of assent followed; halting its
wake, however, came the voice of a boy near the bottom of the class:
"Wasna he some dooble, sir?"
"You are right, Sheltie," said the master; "he was double. I must,
I find, put the question in another shape: - Was Jacob a bad man?"
Again came such a burst of yesses that it might have been taken
for a general hiss. But limping in the rear came again the half
dissentient voice of Jamie Joss, whom the master had just addressed
"You think, then, Sheltie, that a man may be both bad and good?"
"I dinna ken, sir. I think he may be whiles ane an' whiles the
ither, an' whiles maybe it wad be ill to say whilk. Oor collie's
whiles in twa min's whether he'll du what he's telled or no."
"That's the battle of Armageddon, Sheltie, my man. It's aye ragin',
ohn gun roared or bayonet clashed. Ye maun up an' do yer best in't,
my man. Gien ye dee fechtin' like a man, ye'll flee up wi' a quaiet
face an' wide open een; an' there's a great Ane 'at 'll say to ye,
'Weel dune, laddie!' But gien ye gie in to the enemy, he'll turn ye
intill a creepin' thing 'at eats dirt; an' there 'll no be a hole
in a' the crystal wa' o' the New Jerusalem near eneuch to the grun'
to lat ye creep throu'."
As soon as ever Alexander Graham, the polished thinker and sweet
mannered gentleman, opened his mouth concerning the things he
loved best, that moment the most poetic forms came pouring out in
the most rugged speech.
"I reckon, sir," said Sheltie, "Jacob hadna fouchten oot his battle."
"That's jist it, my boy. And because he wouldna get up and fecht
manfully, God had to tak him in han'. Ye've heard tell o' generals,
when their troops war rinnin' awa', haein' to cut this man doon,
shute that ane, and lick anither, till he turned them a' richt face
aboot and drave them on to the foe like a spate! And the trouble
God took wi' Jacob wasna lost upon him at last."
"An' what cam o' Esau, sir?" asked a pale faced maiden with blue
eyes. "He wasna an ill kin' o' a chield - was he, sir?"
"No, Mappy," answered the master; "he was a fine chield, as you
say; but he nott (needed) mair time and gentler treatment to mak
onything o' him. Ye see he had a guid hert, but was a duller kin'
o' cratur a'thegither, and cared for naething he could na see or
hanle. He never thoucht muckle aboot God at a'. Jacob was anither
sort - a poet kin' o' a man, but a sneck drawin' cratur for a'
that. It was easier, hooever, to get the slyness oot o' Jacob, than
the dulness oot o' Esau. Punishment tellt upo' Jacob like upon a
thin skinned horse, whauras Esau was mair like the minister's powny,
that can hardly be made to unnerstan' that ye want him to gang on.
But o' the ither han', dullness is a thing that can be borne wi':
there's nay hurry aboot that; but the deceitfu' tricks o' Jacob war
na to be endured, and sae the tawse (leather strap) cam doon upo'
"An' what for didna God mak Esau as clever as Jacob?" asked a
wizened faced boy near the top of the class.
"Ah, my Peery!" said Mr Graham, "I canna tell ye that. A' that I can
tell is, that God hadna dune makin' at him, an' some kin' o' fowk
tak langer to mak oot than ithers. An' ye canna tell what they're
to be till they're made oot. But whether what I tell ye be richt
or no, God maun hae the verra best o' rizzons for 't, ower guid
maybe for us to unnerstan' - -the best o' rizzons for Esau himsel', I
mean, for the Creator luiks efter his cratur first ava' (of all).
- And now," concluded Mr Graham, resuming his English, "go to your
lessons; and be diligent, that God may think it worth while to get
on faster with the making of you."
In a moment the class was dispersed and all were seated. In another,
the sound of scuffling arose, and fists were seen storming across
"Andrew Jamieson and Poochy, come up here," said the master in a
"He hittit me first," cried Andrew, the moment they were within a
respectful distance of the master, whereupon Mr Graham turned to
the other with inquiry in his eyes.
"He had nae business to ca' me Poochy."
"No more he had; but you had just as little right to punish him
for it. The offence was against me: he had no right to use my name
for you, and the quarrel was mine. For the present you are Poochy
no more: go to your place, William Wilson."
The boy burst out sobbing, and crept back to his seat with his
knuckles in his eyes.
"Andrew Jamieson," the master went on, "I had almost got a name
for you, but you have sent it away. You are not ready for it yet,
I see. Go to your place."
With downcast looks Andrew followed William, and the watchful eyes
of the master saw that, instead of quarrelling any more during
the day, they seemed to catch at every opportunity of showing each
other a kindness.
Mr Graham never used bodily punishment: he ruled chiefly by the
aid of a system of individual titles, of the mingled characters of
pet name and nickname. As soon as the individuality of a boy had
attained to signs of blossoming - that is, had become such that
he could predict not only an upright but a characteristic behaviour
in given circumstances, he would take him aside and whisper in his
ear that henceforth, so long as he deserved it, he would call him
by a certain name - one generally derived from some object in the
animal or vegetable world, and pointing to a resemblance which was
not often patent to any eye but the master's own. He had given the
name of Peachy, for instance to William Wilson, because, like the
kangaroo, he sought his object in a succession of awkward, yet not
the less availing leaps - gulping his knowledge and pocketing his
conquered marble after a like fashion. Mappy, the name which thus
belonged to a certain flaxen haired, soft eyed girl, corresponds
to the English bunny. Sheltie is the small Scotch mountain pony,
active and strong. Peery means pegtop. But not above a quarter of
the children had pet names. To gain one was to reach the highest
honour of the school; the withdrawal of it was the severest of
punishments, and the restoring of it the sign of perfect reconciliation.
The master permitted no one else to use it, and was seldom known
to forget himself so far as to utter it while its owner was in
disgrace. The hope of gaining such a name, or the fear of losing
it, was in the pupil the strongest ally of the master, the most
powerful enforcement of his influences. It was a scheme of government
by aspiration. But it owed all its operative power to the character
of the man who had adopted rather than invented it - for the scheme
had been suggested by a certain passage in the book of the Revelation.
Without having read a word of Swedenborg, he was a believer in the
absolute correspondence of the inward and outward; and, thus long
before the younger Darwin arose, had suspected a close relationship
- remote identity, indeed, in nature and history, between the
animal and human worlds. But photographs from a good many different
points would be necessary to afford anything like a complete notion
of the character of this country schoolmaster.
Towards noon, while he was busy with an astronomical class,
explaining, by means partly of the blackboard, partly of two boys
representing the relation of the earth and the moon, how it comes
that we see but one half of the latter, the door gently opened
and the troubled face of the mad laird peeped slowly in. His body
followed as gently, and at last - sad symbol of his weight of care
- his hump appeared, with a slow half revolution as he turned to
shut the door behind him. Taking off his hat, he walked up to Mr
Graham, who, busy with his astronomy, had not perceived his entrance,
touched him on the arm, and, standing on tiptoe, whispered softly
in his ear, as if it were a painful secret that must be respected,
"I dinna ken whaur I cam frae. I want to come to the school."
Mr Graham turned and shook hands with him, respectfully addressing
him as Mr Stewart, and got down for him the armchair which stood
behind his desk. But, with the politest bow, the laird declined
it, and mournfully repeating the words, "I dinna ken whaur I cam
frae," took a place readily yielded him in the astronomical circle
surrounding the symbolic boys.
This was not by any means his first appearance there; for every
now and then he was seized with a desire to go to school, plainly
with the object of finding out where he came from. This always
fell in his quieter times, and for days together he would attend
regularly; in one instance he was not absent an hour for a whole
month. He spoke so little, however, that it was impossible to tell
how much he understood, although he seemed to enjoy all that went
on. He was so quiet, so sadly gentle, that he gave no trouble of
any sort, and after the first few minutes of a fresh appearance,
the attention of the scholars was rarely distracted by his presence.
The way in which the master treated him awoke like respect in his
pupils. Boys and girls were equally ready t. make room for him on
their forms, and any one of the latter who had by some kind attention
awakened the watery glint of a smile on the melancholy features of
the troubled man, would boast of her success. Hence it came that
the neighbourhood of Portlossie was the one spot in the county
where a person of weak intellect or peculiar appearance might go
about free of insult.
The peculiar sentence the laird so often uttered was the only one
he invariably spoke with definite clearness. In every other attempt
at speech he was liable to be assailed by an often recurring
impediment, during the continuance of which he could compass
but a word here and there, often betaking himself in the agony of
suppressed utterance, to the most extravagant gestures, with which
he would sometimes succeed in so supplementing his words as to
render his meaning intelligible.
The two boys representing the earth and the moon, had returned
to their places in the class, and Mr Graham had gone on to give
a description of the moon, in which he had necessarily mentioned
the enormous height of her mountains as compared with those of
the earth. But in the course of asking some questions, he found a
need of further explanation, and therefore once more required the
services of the boy sun and boy moon. The moment the latter, however,
began to describe his circle around the former, Mr Stewart stepped
gravely up to him, and, laying hold of his hand, led him back to
his station in the class: then, turning first one shoulder, then
the other to the company, so as to attract attention to his hump,
uttered the single word Mountain, and took on himself the part of
the moon, proceeding to revolve in the circle which represented her
orbit. Several of the boys and girls smiled, but no one laughed,
for Mr Graham's gravity maintained theirs. Without remark, he used
the mad laird for a moon to the end of his explanation.
Mr Stewart remained in the school all the morning, stood up with
every class Mr Graham taught, and in the intervals sat, with book
or slate before him, still as a Brahmin on the fancied verge of
his re-absorption, save that he murmured to himself now and then,
"I dinna ken whaur I cam frae."
When his pupils dispersed for dinner, Mr Graham invited him to go
to his house and share his homely meal, but with polished gesture
and broken speech, Mr Stewart declined, walked away towards the
town, and was seen no more that afternoon.
CHAPTER VIII: THE SWIVEL
Mrs Courthope, the housekeeper at Lossie House, was a good woman,
who did not stand upon her dignities, as small rulers are apt to
do, but cultivated friendly relations with the people of the Sea
Town. Some of the rougher of the women despised the sweet outlandish
speech she had brought with her from her native England, and accused
her of mim mou'dness, or an affected modesty in the use of words;
but not the less was she in their eyes a great lady, - whence
indeed came the special pleasure in finding flaws in her - for to
them she was the representative of the noble family on whose skirts
they and their ancestors had been settled for ages, the last marquis
not having visited the place for many years, and the present having
but lately succeeded.
Duncan MacPhail was a favourite with her; for the English woman
will generally prefer the highland to the lowland Scotsman; and
she seldom visited the Seaton without looking in upon him so that
when Malcolm returned from the Alton, or Old Town, where the school
was, it did not in the least surprise him to find her seated with
Apparently, however, there had been some dissension between them;
for the old man sat in his corner strangely wrathful, his face in
a glow, his head thrown back, his nostrils distended, and his eyelids
working, as if his eyes were "poor dumb mouths," like Caesar's
wounds, trying to speak.
"We are told in the New Testament to forgive our enemies, you know,"
said Mrs Courthope, heedless of his entrance, but in a voice that
seemed rather to plead than oppose.
"Inteet she will not be false to her shief and her clan," retorted
Duncan persistently. "She will not forgife Cawmil of Glenlyon."
"But he's dead long since, and we may at least hope he repented
and was forgiven."
"She'll be hoping nothing of the kind, Mistress Kertope," replied
Duncan. "But if, as you say, God will be forgifing him, which I do
not belief; - let that pe enough for ta greedy blackguard. Sure,
it matters but small whether poor Tuncan MacPhail will be forgifing
him or not. Anyhow, he must do without it, for he shall not haf
it. He is a tamn fillain and scounrel, and so she says, with her
respecs to you, Mistress Kertope."
His sightless eyes flashed with indignation; and perceiving it was
time to change the subject, the housekeeper turned to Malcolm.
"Could you bring me a nice mackerel or whiting for my lord's
breakfast tomorrow morning, Malcolm?" she said.
"Certaintly, mem. I 's be wi ye in guid time wi' the best the sea
'll gie me," he answered.
"If I have the fish by nine o'clock, that will be early enough,"
"I wad na like to wait sae lang for my brakfast," remarked Malcolm.
"You wouldn't mind it much, if you waited asleep," said Mrs Courthope.
"Can onybody sleep till sic a time o' day as that?" exclaimed the
"You must remember my lord doesn't go to bed for hours after you,
"An' what can keep him up a' that time? It's no as gien he war
efter the herrin', an' had the win' an' the watter an' the netfu's
o' waumlin craturs to baud him waukin'."
"Oh! he reads and writes, and sometimes goes walking about the
grounds after everybody else is in bed," said Mrs Courthope, "he
and his dog."
"Well, I wad rather be up ear'," said Malcolm; "a heap raither. I
like fine to be oot i' the quaiet o' the mornin' afore the sun's
up to set the din gaun; whan it's a' clear but no bricht - like
the back o' a bonny sawmon; an' air an' watter an' a' luiks as
gien they war waitin' for something - quaiet, verra quaiet, but
Malcolm uttered this long speech, and went on with more like it,
in the hope of affording time for the stormy waters of Duncan's
spirit to assuage. Nor was he disappointed; for, if there was a
sound on the earth Duncan loved to hear, it was the voice of his
boy; and by degrees the tempest sank to repose, the gathered glooms
melted from his countenance, and the sunlight of a smile broke out.
"Hear to him!" he cried. "Her poy will be a creat pard some tay,
and sing pefore ta Stuart kings, when they come pack to Holyrood!"
Mrs Courthope had enough of poetry in her to be pleased with
Malcolm's quiet enthusiasm, and spoke a kind word of sympathy with
the old man's delight as she rose to take her leave. Duncan rose
also, and followed her to the door, making her a courtly bow, and
that just as she turned away.
"It 'll pe a coot 'oman, Mistress Kertope," he said as he came back;
"and it 'll no pe to plame her for forgifing Glenlyon, for he did
not kill her creat crandmother. Put it'll pe fery paad preeding to
request her nainsel, Tuncan MacPhail, to be forgifing ta rascal.
Only she'll pe put a voman, and it'll not pe knowing no petter to
her. - You'll be minding you'll be firing ta cun at six o'clock
exackly, Malcolm, for all she says; for my lord peing put shust
come home to his property, it might be a fex to him if tere was
any mistake so soon. Put inteed, I yonder he hasn't been sending
for old Tuncan to be gifing him a song or two on ta peeps; for he'll
pe hafing ta oceans of fery coot highland plood in his own feins;
and his friend, ta Prince of Wales, who has no more rights to it
than a maackerel fish, will pe wearing ta kilts at Holyrood. So
mind you pe firing ta cun at sax, my son."
For some years, young as he was, Malcolm had hired himself to one
or other of the boat proprietors of the Seaton or of Scaurnose, for
the herring fishing - only, however, in the immediate neighbourhood,
refusing to go to the western islands, or any station whence
he could not return to sleep at his grandfather's cottage. He had
thus on every occasion earned enough to provide for the following
winter, so that his grandfather's little income as piper, and other
small returns, were accumulating in various concealments about the
cottage; for, in his care for the future, Duncan dreaded lest Malcolm
should buy things for him, without which, in his own sightless
judgment, he could do well enough.
Until the herring season should arrive, however, Malcolm made a little
money by line fishing; for he had bargained, the year before, with
the captain of a schooner for an old ship's boat, and had patched
and caulked it into a sufficiently serviceable condition. He sold
his fish in the town and immediate neighbourhood, where a good many
housekeepers favoured the handsome and cheery young fisherman.
He would now be often out in the bay long before it was time to call
his grandfather, in his turn to rouse the sleepers of Portlossie.
But the old man had as yet always waked about the right time, and
the inhabitants had never had any ground of complaint - a few
minutes one way or the other being of little consequence. He was
the cock which woke the whole yard: morning after morning his pipes
went crowing through the streets of the upper region, his music
ending always with his round. But after the institution of the
gun signal, his custom was to go on playing where he stood until
he heard it, or to stop short in the midst of his round and his
liveliest reveille the moment it reached his ear. Loath as he might
be to give over, that sense of good manners which was supreme in
every highlander of the old time, interdicted the fingering of a
note after the marquis's gun had called aloud.
When Malcolm meant to go fishing, he always loaded the swivel the
night before, and about sunset the same evening he set out for that
purpose. Not a creature was visible on the border of the curving
bay except a few boys far off on the gleaming sands whence the tide
had just receded: they were digging for sand eels - lovely little
silvery fishes - which, as every now and then the spade turned one
or two up, they threw into a tin pail for bait. But on the summit
of the long sandhill, the lonely figure of a man was walking to
and fro in the level light of the rosy west; and as Malcolm climbed
the near end of the dune, it was turning far off at the other:
halfway between them was the embrasure with the brass swivel, and
there they met. Although he had never seen him before, Malcolm
perceived at once it must be Lord Lossie, and lifted his bonnet.
The marquis nodded and passed on, but the next moment, hearing the
noise of Malcolm's proceedings with the swivel, turned and said -
"What are you about there with that gun, my lad?"
"I'm jist ga'in' to dicht her oot an' lod her, my lord," answered
"And what next? You're not going to fire the thing?"
"Ay - the morn's mornin', my lord."
"What will that be for?"
"Ow, jist to wauk yer lordship."
"Hm!" said his lordship, with more expression than articulation.
"Will I no lod her?" asked Malcolm, throwing down the ramrod, and
approaching the swivel, as if to turn the muzzle of it again into
"Oh, yes! load her by all means. I don't want to interfere with
any of your customs. But if that is your object, the means, I fear,
"It's a comfort to hear that, my lord; for I canna aye be sure o'