Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1705/The Marquis of Lossie - Part IX
THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.
BY GEORGE MACDONALD, AUTHOR OF "MALCOLM," ETC.
AN EVIL OMEN.
Florimel was beginning to understand that the shield of the portrait was not large enough to cover many more visits to Lenorme's studio. Still, she must and would venture, and should anything be said, there at least was the portrait. For some weeks it had been all but finished, was never off its easel, and always showed a touch of wet paint somewhere: he kept the last of it lingering, ready to prove itself almost yet not altogether finished. What was to follow its absolute completion neither of them could tell. The worst of it was, that their thoughts about it differed discordantly. Florimel not unfrequently regarded the rupture of their intimacy as a thing not undesirable — this chiefly after such a talk with Lady Bellair as had been illustrated by some tale of misalliance or scandal between high and low, of which kind of provision for age the bold-faced countess had a large store: her memory was little better than an ash-pit of scandal. Amongst other biographical scraps one day she produced the case of a certain earl's daughter, who, having disgraced herself by marrying a low fellow — an artist, she believed — was as a matter of course neglected by the man whom, in accepting him, she had taught to despise her, and before a twelvemonth was over — her family finding it impossible to hold communication with her — was actually seen by her late maid scrubbing her own floor.
"Why couldn't she leave it dirty?" said Florimel.
"Why, indeed," returned Lady Bellair, "but that people sink to their fortunes! Blue blood won't keep them out of the gutter."
The remark was true, but of more general application than she intended, seeing she herself was in the gutter, and did not know it. She only spoke of what followed on marriage beneath one's natal position, than which, she declared, there was nothing worse a woman of rank could do.
"She may get over anything but that," she would say, believing, but not saying, that she spoke from experience.
Was it part of the late marquis's purgatory to see now, as the natural result of the sins of his youth, the daughter whose innocence was dear to him exposed to all the undermining influences of this good-natured but low-moraled woman, whose ideas of the most mysterious relations of humanity were in no respect higher than those of a class which must not even be mentioned in my pages? At such tales the high-born heart would flutter in Florimel's bosom, beat itself against its bars, turn sick at the sight of its danger, imagine it had been cherishing a crime, and resolve — soon — before very long — at length — finally — to break so far at least with the painter as to limit their intercourse to the radiation of her power across a dinner-table, the rhythmic heaving of their two hearts at a dance, or the quiet occasional talk in a corner, when the looks of each would reveal to the other that they knew themselves the martyrs of a cruel and inexorable law. It must be remembered that she had had no mother since her childhood, that she was now but a girl, and that the passion of a girl to that of a woman is "as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine." Of genuine love she had little more than enough to serve as salt to the passion; and passion, however bewitching — yea, entrancing — a condition, may yet be of little more worth than that induced by opium or hashish, and a capacity for it may be conjoined with anything or everything contemptible and unmanly or unwomanly. In Florimel's case, however, there was chiefly much of the childish in it. Definitely separated from Lenorme, she would have been merry again in a fortnight; and yet, though she half knew this herself, and at the same time was more than half ashamed of the whole affair, she did not give it up — would not — only intended by-and-by to let it go, and meantime gave — occasionally — pretty free flutter to the half-grown wings of her fancy.
Her liking for the painter had therefore, not unnaturally, its fits. It was subject in a measure to the nature of the engagements she had — that is, to the degree of pleasure she expected from them: it was subject, as we have seen, to skilful battery from the guns of her chaperone's intrenchment; and more than to either was it subject to those delicate changes of condition which in the microcosm are as frequent and as varied both in kind and degree as in the macrocosm. The spirit has its risings and settings of sun and moon, its clouds and stars, its seasons, its solstices, its tides, its winds, its storms, its earthquakes — infinite vitality in endless fluctuation. To rule these changes Florimel had neither the power that comes of love nor the strength that comes of obedience. What of conscience she had was not yet conscience toward God, which is the guide to freedom, but conscience toward society, which is the slave of a fool. It was no wonder then that Lenorme, believing, hoping, she loved him, should find her hard to understand. He said hard, but sometimes he meant impossible. He loved as a man loves who has thought seriously, speculated, tried to understand — whose love, therefore, is consistent with itself, harmonious with his nature and history, changing only in form and growth, never in substance and character. Hence, the idea of Florimel became in his mind the centre of perplexing thought; the unrest of her being, metamorphosed on the way, passed over into his, and troubled him sorely. Neither was his mind altogether free of the dread of reproach. For self-reproach he could find little or no ground, seeing that to pity her much for the loss of consideration her marriage with him would involve would be to undervalue the honesty of his love and the worth of his art; and indeed her position was so independently based that she could not lose it even by marrying one who had not the social standing of a brewer or a stockbroker; but his pride was uneasy under the foreseen criticism that his selfishness had taken advantage of her youth and inexperience to work on the mind of an ignorant girl — criticism not likely to be the less indignant that those who passed it would, without a shadow of compunction, have handed her over, body, soul and goods, to one of their own order had he belonged to the very canaille of the race.
The painter was not merely in love with Florimel: he loved her. I will not say that he was in no degree dazzled by her rank, or that he felt no triumph, as a social nomad camping on the no-man's-land of society, at the thought of the justification of the human against the conventional, in his scaling of the giddy heights of superiority, and, on one of its topmost peaks, taking from her nest that rare bird in the earth, a landed and titled marchioness. But such thoughts were only changing hues on the feathers of his love, which itself was a mighty bird with great and yet growing wings.
A day or two passed before Florimel went again to the studio, accompanied, notwithstanding Lenorme's warning and her own doubt, yet again by her maid, a woman, unhappily, of Lady Bellair's finding. At Lossie House, Malcolm had felt a repugnance to her, both moral and physical. When first he heard her name, one of the servants speaking of her as Miss Caley, he took it for Scaley, and if that was not her name, yet scaly was her nature.
This time Florimel rode to Chelsea with Malcolm, having directed Caley to meet her there; and, the one designing to be a little early, and the other to be a little late, two results naturally followed — first, that the lovers had a few minutes alone; and second, that when Caley crept in, noiseless and unannounced as a cat, she had her desire, and saw the painter's arm round Florimel's waist and her head on his bosom. Still more to her contentment, not hearing, they did not see her, and she crept out again quietly as she had entered; it would of course be to her advantage to let them know that she had seen, and that they were in her power, but it might be still more to her advantage to conceal the fact so long as there was a chance of additional discovery in the same direction. Through the success of her trick it came about that Malcolm, chancing to look up from Honor's back to the room where he always breakfasted with his new friend, saw in one of the windows, as in a picture, a face radiant with such an expression as that of the woman-headed snake might have worn when he saw Adam take the apple from the hand of Eve.
Caley was of the common class of servants in this, that she considered service servitude, and took her amends in selfishness; she was unlike them in this, that while false to her employers she made no common cause with her fellows against them — regarded and sought none but her own ends. Her one thought was to make the most of her position; for that, to gain influence with, and, if it might be, power over, her mistress; and thereto, first of all, to find out whether she had a secret: she had now discovered not merely that she had one, but the secret itself. She was clever, greedy, cunning — equally capable according to the faculty with which she might be matched, of duping or of being duped. She rather liked her mistress, but watched her in the interests of Lady Bellair. She had a fancy for the earl, a natural dislike to Malcolm, which she concealed in distant politeness, and for all the rest of the house indifference. As to her person she had a neat oval face, thin and sallow, in expression subacid; a lithe, rather graceful figure, and hands too long, with fingers almost too tapering — of which hands and fingers she was very careful, contemplating them in secret with a regard amounting almost to reverence: they were her sole witnesses to a descent in which she believed, but of which she had no other shadow of proof.
Caley's face, then, with its unsaintly illumination, gave Malcolm something to think about as he sat there upon Honor, the new horse. Clearly, she had had a triumph; what could it be? The nature of the woman was not altogether unknown to him even from the first, and he could not for months go on meeting her occasionally in passages and on stairs without learning to understand his own instinctive dislike: it was plain the triumph was not in good. It was plain too that it was in something which had that very moment occurred, and could hardly have to do with any one but her mistress. Then her being in that room revealed more. They would never have sent her out of the study, and so put themselves in her power. She had gone into the house but a moment before, a minute or two behind her mistress, and he knew with what a cat-like step she went about: she had surprised them — discovered how matters stood between her mistress and the painter. He saw everything almost as it had taken place. She had seen without being seen, and had retreated with her prize! Florimel was then in the woman's power: what was he to do? He must at least let her gather what warning she could from the tale of what he had seen.
Once arrived at a resolve, Malcolm never lost time. They had turned but one corner on their way home when he rode up to her. "Please, my lady," he began. But the same instant Florimel was pulling up. " Malcolm," she said, "I have left my, pocket-handkerchief: I must go back for it."
As she spoke she turned her horse's head. But Malcolm, dreading lest Caley should yet be lingering, would not allow her to expose herself to a greater danger than she knew. "Before you go, my lady, I must tell you something I happened to see while I waited with the horses," he said.
The earnestness of his tone struck Florimel. She looked at him with eyes a little wider, and waited to hear.
"I happened to look up at the drawing-room windows, my lady, and Caley came to one of them with such a look on her face! I can't exactly describe it to you, my lady, but ——"
"Why do you tell me?" interrupted his mistress with absolute composure and hard, questioning eyes. But she had drawn herself up in the saddle. Then, before he could reply, a flash of thought seemed to cross her face with a quick single motion of her eyebrows, and it was instantly altered and thoughtful. She seemed to have suddenly perceived some cause for taking a mild interest in his communication. "But it cannot be, Malcolm," she said in quite a changed tone. "You must have taken some one else for her. She never left the studio all the time I was there."
"It was immediately after her arrival, my lady. She went in about two minutes after your ladyship, and could not have had much more than time to go up-stairs when I saw her come to the window. I felt bound to tell your ladyship."
"Thank you, Malcolm," returned Florimel kindly. " You did right to tell me, — but — it's of no consequence. Mr. Lenorme's housekeeper and she must have been talking about something."
But her eyebrows were now thoughtfully contracted over her eyes. "There had been no time for that, I think, my lady," said Malcolm.
Florimel turned again and rode on, saying no more about the handkerchief. Malcolm saw that he had succeeded in warning her, and was glad. But had he foreseen to what it would lead he would hardly have done it.
Florimel was indeed very uneasy. She could not help strongly suspecting that she had betrayed herself to one who, if not an intentional spy, would yet be ready enough to make a spy's use of anything she might have picked up. What was to be done? It was now too late to think of getting rid of her: that would be but her signal to disclose whatever she had seen, and so not merely enjoy a sweet revenge, but account with clear satisfactoriness for her dismissal. What would not Florimel now have given for some one who could sympathize with her and yet counsel her! She was afraid to venture another meeting with Lenorme, and besides was not a little shy of the advantage the discovery would give him in pressing her to marry him. And now first she began to feel as if her sins were going to find her out.
A day or two passed in alternating physical flaws and fogs, with poor glints of sunshine between. She watched her maid, but her maid knew it, and discovered no change in her manner or behavior. Weary of observation, she was gradually settling into her former security when Caley began to drop hints that alarmed her. Might it not be altogether the safest thing to take her into confidence? It would be such a relief, she thought, to have a woman she could talk to! The result was that she began to lift a corner of the veil that hid her trouble; the woman encouraged her, and at length the silly girl threw her arms round the scaly one's neck, much to that person's satisfaction, and told her that she loved Mr. Lenorme. She knew, of course, she said, that she could not marry him. She was only waiting a fit opportunity to free herself from a connection which, however delightful, she was unable to justify. How the maid interpreted her confession I do not care to inquire very closely, but anyhow it was in a manner that promised much to her after-influence. I hasten over this part of Florimel's history, for that confession to Caley was perhaps the one thing in her life she had most reason to be ashamed of, for she was therein false to the being she thought she loved best in the world. Could Lenorme have known her capable of unbosoming herself to such a woman, it would almost have slain the love he bore her. The notions of that odd-and-end sort of person, who made his livelihood by spreading paint, would have been too hideously shocked by the shadow of an intimacy between his love and such as she.
Caley first comforted the weeping girl, and then began to insinuate encouragement. She must indeed give him up — there was no help for that — but neither was there any necessity for doing so all at once. Mr. Lenorme was a beautiful man, and any woman might be proud to be loved by him. She must take her time to it. She might trust her. And soon and on, for she was as vulgar-minded as the worst of those whom ladies endure about their persons, handling their hair and having access to more of their lock-fast places than they would willingly imagine.
The first result was that, on the pretext of bidding him farewell, and convincing him that he and she must meet no more, fate and fortune, society and duty, being all alike against their happiness — I mean on that pretext to herself, the only one to be deceived by it — Florimel arranged with her woman one evening to go the next morning to the studio; she knew the painter to be an early riser, and always at his work before eight o'clock. But although she tried to imagine she had persuaded herself to say farewell, certainly she had not yet brought her mind to any ripeness of resolve in the matter. At seven o'clock in the morning, the marchioness habited like a housemaid, they slipped out by the front door, turned the corners of two streets, found a hackney-coach waiting for them, and arrived in due time at the painter's abode.
When the door opened and Florimel glided in the painter sprang to his feet to welcome her, and she flew softly, soundless as a moth, into his arms; for, the study being large and full of things, she was not aware of the presence of Malcolm. From behind a picture on an easel he saw them meet, but shrinking from being an open witness to their secret, and also from being discovered in his father's clothes by the sister who knew him only as a servant, he instantly sought escape. Nor was it hard to find, for near where he stood was a door opening into a small intermediate chamber, communicating with the drawing-room, and by it he fled, intending to pass through to Lenorme's bedroom and change his clothes. With noiseless stride he hurried away, but could not help hearing a few passionate words that escaped his sister's lips before Lenorme could warn her that they were not alone — words which, it seemed to him, could come only from a heart whose very pulse was devotion.
"How can I live without you, Raoul?" said the girl as she clung to him.
Lenorme gave an uneasy glance behind him, saw Malcolm disappear, and answered, "I hope you will never try, my darling."
"Oh, but you know this can't last," she returned with playfully affected authority. "It must come to an end. They will interfere."
"Who can? Who will dare?" said the painter with confidence.
"People will. We had better stop it ourselves — before it all comes out and we are shamed," said Florimel, now with perfect seriousness.
"Shamed!" cried Lenorme. "Well, if you can't help being ashamed of me — and perhaps, as you have been brought up, you can't — do you not then love me enough to encounter a little shame for my sake? I should welcome worlds of such for yours."
Florimel was silent. She kept her face hidden on his shoulder, but was already halfway to a quarrel.
"You don't love me, Florimel," he said after a pause, little thinking how nearly true were the words.
"Well, suppose I don't!" she cried, half defiantly, half merrily; drawing herself from him, she stepped back two paces, and looked at him with saucy eyes, in which burned two little flames of displeasure, that seemed to shoot up from the red spots glowing upon her cheeks. Lenorme looked at her. He had often seen her like this before, and knew that the shell was charged and the fuse lighted. But within lay a mixture even more explosive than he suspected; for not merely was there more of shame and fear and perplexity mingled with her love than he understood, but she was conscious of having now been false to him, and that rendered her temper dangerous. Lenorme had already suffered severely from the fluctuations of her moods. They had been almost too much for him. He could endure them, he thought, to all eternity if he had her to himself, safe and sure; but the confidence to which he rose every now and then that she would one day be his just as often failed him, rudely shaken by some new symptom of what almost seemed like cherished inconstancy. If, after all, she should forsake him! It was impossible, but she might. If even that should come, he was too much of a man to imagine anything but a stern encounter of the inevitable, and he knew he would survive it; but he knew also that life could never be the same again, that for a season work would be impossible — the kind of work he had hitherto believed his own rendered forever impossible perhaps, and his art degraded to the mere earning of a living. At best, he would have to die and be buried and rise again before existence could become endurable under the new squalid conditions of life without her. It was no wonder, then, if her behavior sometimes angered him, for even against a will-o'-the-wisp that has enticed us into a swamp a glow of foolish indignation will spring up. And now a black fire in his eyes answered the blue flash in hers; and the difference suggests the diversity of their loves: hers might vanish in fierce explosion, his would go on burning like a coal-mine. A word of indignant expostulation rose to his lips, but a thought came that repressed it. He took her hand, and led her — the wonder was that she yielded, for she had seen the glow in his eyes, and the fuse of her own anger burned faster; but she did yield, partly from curiosity, and followed where he pleased — her hand lying dead in his. It was but to the other end of the room he led her, to the picture of her father, now all but finished. Why he did so he would have found it hard to say. Perhaps the genius that lies under the consciousness forefelt a catastrophe, and urged him to give his gift ere giving should be impossible.
Malcolm stepped into the drawing-room, where the table was laid as usual for breakfast; there stood Caley, helping herself to a spoonful of honey from Hymettus. At his entrance she started violently, and her sallow face grew earthy. For some seconds she stood motionless, unable to take her eyes off the apparition, as it seemed to her, of the late marquis, in wrath at her encouragement of his daughter in disgraceful courses. Malcolm, supposing she was ashamed of herself, took no further notice of her, and walked deliberately toward the other door. Ere he reached it she knew him. Burning with the combined ires of fright and shame, conscious also that by the one little contemptible act of greed in which he had surprised her she had justified the aversion which her woman-instinct had from the first recognized in him, she darted to the door, stood with her back against it and faced him flaming. "So!" she cried: "this is how my lady's kindness is abused! The insolence! Her groom goes and sits for his portrait in her father's courtdress!"
As she ceased all the latent vulgarity of her nature broke loose, and with a protracted pff she seized her thin nose between her thumb and forefinger, to indicate that an evil odor of fish interpenetrated her atmosphere, and must at the moment be defiling the garments of the dead marquis. "My lady shall know this," she concluded, with a vicious clenching of her teeth and two or three small nods of her neat head.
Malcom stood regarding her with a coolness that yet inflamed her wrath. He could not help smiling at the reaction of shame in indignation. Had her anger been but a passing flame, that smile would have turned it into enduring hate. She hissed in his face.
"Go and have the first word," he said; "only leave the door and let me pass."
"Let you pass, indeed! What would you pass for? — the bastard of old Lord James and a married woman! I don't care that for you." And she snapped her fingers in his face.
Malcolm turned from her and went to the window, taking a newspaper from the breakfast-table as he passed, and there sat down to read until the way should be clear. Carried beyond herself by his utter indifference, Caley darted from the room, and went straight into the study.
Lenorme led Florimel in front of the picture. She gave a great start, and turned and stared pallid at the painter. The effect upon her was such as he had not foreseen, and the words she uttered were not such as he could have hoped to hear. "What would he think of me if he knew? "she cried, clasping her hands in agony.
That moment Caley burst into the room, her eyes lamping like a cat's. "My lady," she shrieked, "there's MacPhail the groom, my lady, dressed up in your honored father's bee-utiful clo'es as he always wore when he went to dine with the prince! And please, my lady, he's that rude I could 'ardly keep my 'ands off him."
Florimel flashed a dagger of question in Lenorme's eyes. The painter drew himself up. "It was at my request, Lady Lossie," he said.
"Indeed!" returned Florimel, in high scorn, and glanced again at the picture. "I see," she went on. "How could I be such an idiot! It was my groom's, not my father's likeness you meant to surprise me with!" Her eyes flashed as if she would annihilate him.
"I have worked hard in the hope of giving you pleasure, Lady Lossie," said the painter with wounded dignity.
"And you have failed," she adjoined cruelly.
The painter took the miniature after which he had been working from a table near, handed it to her with a proud obeisance, and the same moment dashed a brushful of dark paint across the face of the picture.
"Thank you, sir," said Florimel, and for a moment felt as if she hated him.
She turned away and walked from the study. The door of the drawing-room was open, and Caley stood by the side of it. Florimel, too angry to consider what she was about, walked in; there sat Malcolm in the window, in her father's clothes and his very attitude, reading the newspaper. He did not hear her enter. He had been waiting till he could reach the bedroom unseen by her, for he knew from the sound of the voices that the study-door was open. Her anger rose yet higher at the sight. "Leave the room," she said.
He started to his feet, and now perceived that his sister was in the dress of a servant. He took one step forward and stood — a little mazed — gorgeous in dress and arms of price, before his mistress in the cotton gown of a housemaid.
"Take those clothes off instantly," said Florimel slowly, replacing wrath with haughtiness as well as she might.
Malcolm turned to the door without a word. He saw that things had gone wrong where most he would have wished them go right.
"I'll see to them being well aired, my lady," said Caley, with sibilant indignation.
Malcolm went to the study. The painter sat before the picture of the marquis, with his elbows on his knees and his head between his hands. "Mr. Lenorme," said Malcolm, approaching him gently.
"Oh, go away," said Lenorme without raising his head; "I can't bear the sight of you yet."
Malcolm obeyed, a little smile playing about the corners of his mouth. Caley saw it as he passed, and hated him yet worse. He was in his own clothes, booted and belted, in two minutes. Three sufficed to replace his father's garments in the portmanteau, and in three more he and Kelpie went plunging past his mistress and her maid as they drove home in their lumbering vehicle."The insolence of the fellow!" said Caley, loud enough for her mistress to hear notwithstanding the noise of the rattling windows. "A pretty pass we are come to!"
But already Florimel's mood had begun to change. She felt that she had done her best to alienate men on whom she could depend, and that she had chosen for a confidante one whom she had no ground for trusting.
She got safe and unseen to her room; and Caley believed she had only to improve the advantage she had now gained.
THE TWO DAIMONS.
Things had taken a turn that was not to Malcolm's satisfaction, and his thoughts were as busy all the way home as Kelpie would allow. He had ardently desired that his sister should be thoroughly in love with Lenorme, for that seemed to open a clear path out of his worst difficulties; now they had quarrelled, and besides were both angry with him. The main fear was that Liftore would now make some progress with her. Things looked dangerous. Even his warning against Caley had led to a result the very opposite of his intent and desire. And now it recurred to him that he had once come upon Liftore talking to Caley, and giving her something that shone like a sovereign.
Earlier on the same morning of her visit to the studio, Florimel had awaked and found herself in the presence of the spiritual Vehmgericht. Every member of the tribunal seemed against her. All her thoughts were busy accusing, none of them excusing one another. So hard were they upon her that she fancied she had nearly come to the conclusion that, if only she could do it pleasantly, without pain or fear, the best thing would be to swallow something and fall asleep; for, like most people, she was practically an atheist, and therefore always thought of death as the refuge from the ills of life. But although she was often very uncomfortable, Florimel knew nothing of such genuine downright misery as drives some people to what can be no more to their purpose than if a man should strip himself naked because he is cold. When she returned from her unhappy visit, and had sent her attendant to get her some tea, she threw herself upon her bed, and found herself yet again in the dark chambers of the spiritual police. But already even their company was preferable to that of Caley, whose officiousness began to enrage her. She was yet tossing in the Nessus-tunic of her own disharmony when Malcolm came for orders. To get rid of herself and Caley both he desired him to bring the horses round at once.
It was more than Malcolm had expected. He ran; he might yet have a chance of trying to turn her in the right direction. He knew that Liftore was neither in the house nor at the stable. With the help of the earl's groom he was round in ten minutes. Florimel was all but ready; like some other ladies she could dress quickly when she had good reason. She sprang from Malcolm's hand to the saddle, and led as straight northward as she could go, never looking behind her till she drew rein on the top of Hampstead Heath. When he rode up to her, "Malcolm," she said, looking at him half ashamed, "I don't think my father would have minded you wearing his clothes."
"Thank you, my lady," said Malcolm. " At least he would have forgiven anything meant for your pleasure."
"I was too hasty," she said. "But the fact was, Mr. Lenorme had irritated me, and I foolishly mixed you up with him."
"When I went into the studio after you left it this morning, my lady," Malcolm ventured, "he had his head between his hands, and would not even look at me."
Florimel turned her face aside, and Malcolm thought she was sorry, but she was only hiding a smile; she had not yet got beyond the kitten stage of love, and was pleased to find she gave pain.
"If your ladyship never had another true friend, Mr. Lenorme is one," added Malcolm.
"What opportunity can you have had for knowing?" said Florimel.
"I have been sitting to him every morning for a good many days," answered Malcolm. "He is something like a man!"
Florimel's face flushed with pleasure.
She liked to hear him praised, for he loved her.
"You should have seen, my lady, the pains he took with that portrait! He would stare at the little picture you lent him of my lord for minutes, as if he were looking through it at something behind it; then he would get up and go and gaze at your ladyship on the pedestal, as if you were the goddess herself, able to tell him everything about your father; and then he would hurry back to his easel and give a touch or two to the face, looking at it all the time as if he loved it. It must have been a cruel pain that drove him to smear it as he did."
Florimel began to feel a little motion of shame somewhere in the mystery of her being. But to show that to her servant would be to betray herself — the more that he seemed the painter's friend.
"I will ask Lord Liftore to go and see the portrait, and if he thinks it like I will buy it," she said. "Mr. Lenorme is certainly very clever with his brush."
Malcolm saw that she said this not to insult Lenorme, but to blind her groom, and made no answer.
"I will ride there with you to-morrow morning," she added in conclusion, and moved on.
Malcolm touched his hat and dropped behind. But the next moment he was by her side again: " I beg your pardon, my lady, but would you allow me to say one word more?"
She bowed her head.
"That woman Caley, I am certain, is not to be trusted. She does not love you, my lady."
"How do you know that?" asked Florimel, speaking steadily, but writhing inwardly with the knowledge that the warning was too late.
"I have tried her spirit," answered Malcolm, "and know that it is of the devil. She loves herself too much to be true."
After a little pause Florimel said, "I know you mean well, Malcolm, but it is nothing to me whether she loves me or not. We don't look for that nowadays from servants."
"It is because I love you, my lady," said Malcolm, "that I know Caley does not. If she should get hold of anything your ladyship would not wish talked about ——"
"That she cannot," said Florimel, but with an inward shudder. "She may tell the whole world all she can discover."
She would have cantered on as the words left her lips, but something in Malcolm's look held her. She turned pale, she trembled: her father was looking at her as only once had she seen him — in doubt whether his child lied. The illusion was terrible. She shook in her saddle. The next moment she was galloping along the grassy border of the heath in wild flight from her worst enemy, whom yet she could never by the wildest of flights escape; for when, coming a little to herself as she approached a sand-pit, she pulled up, there was her enemy — neither before nor behind, neither above nor beneath nor within her: it was the self which had just told a lie to the servant of whom she had so lately boasted that he never told one in his life. Then she grew angry. What had she done to be thus tormented? She, a marchioness, thus pestered by her own menials — pulled opposing directions by a groom and a maid! She would turn them both away, and have nobody about her either to trust or suspect.
She might have called them her good and her evil genius; for she knew — that is, she had it somewhere about her, but did not look it out — that it was her own cowardice and concealment, her own falseness to the traditional, never-failing courage of her house, her ignobility and unfitness to represent the Colonsays — her double-dealing, in short — that had made the marchioness in her own right the slave of her woman, the rebuked of her groom.
She turned and rode back, looking the other way as she passed Malcolm.
When they reached the top of the heath, riding along to meet them came Liftore — this time to Florimel's consolation andMalcolm followed, sick at heart that she should prove herself so shallow. Riding Honor, he had plenty of leisure to brood. ; she did not like riding unprotected with a good angel at her heels. So glad was she that she did not even take the trouble to wonder how he had discovered the road she went. She never suspected that Caley had sent his lordship's groom to follow her until the direction of her ride should be evident, but took his appearance without question as a lover-like attention, and rode home with him, talking the whole way, and cherishing a feeling of triumph over both Malcolm and Lenorme. Had she not a protector of her own kind? Could she not, when they troubled her, pass from their sphere into one beyond their ken? For the moment the poor weak lord who rode beside her seemed to her foolish heart a tower of refuge. She was particularly gracious and encouraging to her tower as they rode, and fancied again and again that perhaps the best way out of her troubles would be to encourage and at last accept him, so getting rid of honeyed delights and rankling stings together, of good and evil angels and low-bred lover at one sweep. Quiet would console for dulness, innocence for weariness. She would fain have a good conscience toward society — that image whose feet are of gold and its head a bag of chaff and sawdust.