Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1706/The Marquis of Lossie - Part X
THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.
BY GEORGE MACDONALD, AUTHOR OF "MALCOLM," ETC.
When she went to her room, there was Caley taking from a portmanteau the Highland dress which had occasioned so much. A note fell, and she handed it to her mistress. Florimel opened it, grew pale as she read it, and asked Caley to bring her a glass of water. No sooner had her maid left the room than she sprang to the door and bolted it. Then the tears burst from her eyes, she sobbed despairingly, and but for the help, of her handkerchief would have wailed aloud. When Caley returned she answered to her knock that she was lying down and wanted to sleep. She was, however, trying to force further communication from the note. In it the painter told her that he was going to set out the next morning for Italy, and that her portrait was at the shop of certain carvers and gilders, being fitted with a frame for which he had made drawings. Three times she read it, searching for some hidden message to her heart: she held it up between her and the light, then before the fire till it crackled like a bit of old parchment; but all was in vain: by no device, intellectual or physical, could she coax the shadow of a meaning out of it beyond what lay plain on the surface. She must, she would see him again.
That night she was merrier than usual at dinner; after it sang ballad upon ballad to please Liftore; then went to her room and told Caley to arrange for yet a visit the next morning to Mr. Lenorme's studio. She positively must, she said, secure her fathers portrait ere the ill-tempered painter — all men of genius were hasty and unreasonable — should have destroyed it utterly, as he was certain to do before leaving; and with that she showed her Lenorme's letter. Caley was all service, only said that this time she thought they had better go openly. She would see Lady Bellair as soon as Lady Lossie was in bed and explain the thing to her.
The next morning, therefore, the two drove to Chelsea in the carriage. When the door opened Florimel walked straight up to the study. There she saw no one, and her heart, which had been fluttering strangely, sank and was painfully still, while her gaze went wandering about the room. It fell upon the pictured temple of Isis: a thick dark veil had fallen and shrouded the whole figure of the goddess, leaving only the outline: and the form of the worshipping youth had vanished utterly: where he had stood, the tessellated pavement, with the serpent of life twining through it, and the sculptured walls of the temple, shone out clear and bare, as if Hyacinth had walked out into the desert to return no more. Again the tears gushed from the heart of Florimel: she had sinned against her own fame — had blotted out a fair memorial record that might have outlasted the knight of stone under the Norman canopy in Lossie church. Again she sobbed, again she choked down a cry that had else become a scream.
Arms were around her. Never doubting whose the embrace, she leaned her head against his bosom, stayed her sobs with the one word "Cruel!" and slowly opening her tearful eyes, lifted them to the face that bent over hers. It was Liftore's. She was dumb with disappointment and dismay. It was a hateful moment. He kissed her forehead and eyes, and sought her mouth. She shrieked aloud. In her very agony at the loss of one to be kissed by another! and there! It was too degrading! too horrid!
At the sound of her cry some one started up at the other end of the room. An easel with a large canvas on it fell, and a man came forward with great strides. Liftore let her go, with a muttered curse on the intruder, and she darted from the room into the arms of Caley, who had had her ear against the other side of the door. The same instant Malcolm received from his lordship a well-planted blow between the eyes, which filled them with flashes and darkness. The next the earl was on the floor. The ancient fury of the Celt had burst up into the nineteenth century and mastered a noble spirit. All Malcolm could afterward remember was, that he came to himself dealing Liftore merciless blows, his foot on his back and his weapon the earl's whip. His lordship, struggling to rise, turned up a face white with hate and impotent fury. "You damned flunkie!" he panted. "I'll have you shot like a mangy dog."
"Meantime I will chastise you like an insolent nobleman," said Malcolm, who had already almost recovered his self-possession. "You dare to touch my mistress!" And with the words he gave him one more stinging cut with the whip. "Stand off, and let it be man to man!" cried Liftore, with a fierce oath, clenching his teeth in agony and rage.
"That it cannot be, my lord; but I have had enough, and so I hope has your lordship," said Malcolm; and as he spoke he threw the whip to the other end of the room and stood back. Liftore sprang to his feet and rushed at him. Malcolm caught him by the wrist with a fisherman's grasp. "My lord, I don't want to kill you. Take a warning, and let ill be, for fear of worse," he said, and threw his hand from him with a swing that nearly dislocated his shoulder.
The warning sufficed. His lordship cast him one scowl of concentrated hate and revenge, and leaving the room hurried also from the house.
At the usual morning hour Malcolm had ridden to Chelsea, hoping to find his friend in a less despairing and more companionable mood than when he left him. To his surprise and disappointment, he learned that Lenorme had sailed by the packet for Ostend the night before. He asked leave to go into the study. There on its easel stood the portrait of his father as he had last seen it disfigured with a great smear of brown paint across the face. He knew that the face was dry, and he saw that the snear was wet: he would see whether he could not, with turpentine and a soft brush, remove the insult. In this endeavor he was so absorbed, and by the picture itself was so divided from the rest of the room, that he neither saw nor heard anything until Florimel cried out.
Naturally, those events made him yet more dissatisfied with his sisters position. Evil influences and dangers were on all sides of her, the worst possible outcome being that, loving one man, she should marry another, and him such a man as Liftore! Whatever he heard in the servants' hall, both tone and substance, only confirmed the unfavorable impression he had had from the first of the bold-faced countess. The oldest of her servants had, he found, the least respect for their mistress, although all had a certain liking for her, which gave their disrespect the heavier import. He must get Florimel away somehow. While all was right between her and the painter he had been less anxious about her immediate surroundings, trusting that Lenorme would ere long deliver her. But now she had driven him from the very country, and he had left no clew to follow him up by. His housekeeper could tell nothing of his purposes. The gardener and she were left in charge as a matter of course. He might be back in a week or a year: she could not even conjecture.
Seeming possibilities, in varied mingling with rank absurdities, kept passing through Malcolm's mind as, after Liftore's punishment, he lifted the portrait, set it again upon its easel and went on trying to clean the face of it — with no small promise of success. But as he made progress he grew anxious lest, with the defilement, he should remove some of the color as well: the painter alone, he concluded at length, could be trusted to restore the work he had ruined.
He left the house, walked across the road to the river-bank and gave a short sharp whistle. In an instant Davy was in the dinghy, pulling for the shore. Malcolm went on board the yacht, saw that all was right, gave some orders, went ashore again and mounted Kelpie.
In pain, wrath, and mortification Liftore rode home. What would the men at his club say if they knew that he had been thrashed by a scoundrel of a groom for kissing his mistress? The fact would soon be out: he must do his best to have it taken for what it ought to be — namely, fiction. It was the harder upon him that he knew himself no coward. He must punish the rascal somehow — he owed it to society to punish him — but at present he did not see how, and the first thing was to have the first word with Florimel: he must see her before she saw the ruffian. He rode as hard as he dared to Curzon Street, sent his groom to the stables, telling him he should want the horses again before lunch, had a hot bath, of which he stood in dire need, and some brandy with his breakfast, and then, all unfit for exercise as he was, walked to Portland Place.
Mistress and maid rode home together in silence. The moment Florimel heard Malcolm's voice she had left the house. Caley, following, had heard enough to know that there was a scuffle at least going on in the study, and her eye witnessed against her heart that Liftore could have no chance with the detested groom if the respect of the latter gave way; would MacPhail thrash his lordship? If he did, it would be well she should know it. In the hoped event of his lordship's marrying her mistress, it was desirable not only that she should be in favor with both of them, but that she should have some hold upon each of a more certainly enduring nature: if she held secrets with husband and wife separately, she would be in clover for the period of her natural existence.
As to Florimel, she was enraged at the liberties Liftore had taken with her. But, alas! was she not in some degree in his power? He had found her there, and in tears! How did he come to be there? If Malcolm's judgment of her was correct, Caley might have told him. Was she already false? She pondered within herself, and cast no look upon her maid until she had concluded how best to carry herself toward the earl. Then glancing at the hooded cobra beside her, "What an awkward thing that Lord Liftore, of all moments, should appear just then!" she said. "How could it be?"
"I am sure I haven't an idea, my lady," returned Caley. "My lord has always been kind to Mr. Lenorme, and I suppose he had been in the way of going to see him at work. Who would have thought my lord was such an early riser? There are not many gentlemen like him nowadays, my lady. Did your ladyship hear the noise in the studio after you left it?"
"I heard high words," answered her mistress — "nothing more. How on earth did MacPhail come to be there as well? From you, Caley, I will not conceal that his lordship behaved indiscreetly; in fact, he was rude; and I can quite imagine that MacPhail thought it his duty to defend me. It is all very awkward for me. Who could have imagined him there, and sitting behind amongst the pictures! It almost makes me doubt whether Mr. Lenorme be really gone."
"It seems to me, my lady," returned Caley, "that the man is always just where he ought not to be, always meddling with something he has no business with. I beg your pardon, my lady," she went on, "but wouldn't it be better to get some staid elderly man for a groom — one who has been properly bred up to his duties and taught his manners in a gentleman's stable? It is so odd to have a groom from a rough seafaring set — one who behaves like the rude fisherman he is, never having had to obey orders of lord or lady! The worst of it is, your ladyship will soon be the town's talk if you have such a groom on such a horse after you everywhere."
Florimel's face flushed. Caley saw she was angry, and held her peace.
Breakfast was hardly over when Liftore walked in, looking pale, and, in spite of his faultless get-up, somewhat disreputable; for shame, secret pain, and anger do not favor a good carriage or honest mien. Florimel threw herself back in her chair — an action characteristic of the boldfaced countess — and held out her left hand to him in an expansive, benevolent sort of way. "How dare you come into my presence looking so well pleased with yourself, my lord, after giving me such a fright this morning?" she said. "You might at least have made sure that there was — that we were ——" She could not bring herself to complete the sentence.
"My dearest girl," said his lordship, not only delighted to get off so pleasantly, but profoundly flattered by the implied understanding, "I found you in tears, and how could I think of anything else? It may have been stupid, but I trust you will think it pardonable."
Caley had not fully betrayed her mistress to his lordship, and he had, entirely to his own satisfaction, explained the liking of Florimel for the society of the painter as the mere fancy of a girl for the admiration of one whose employment, although nothing above the servile, yet gave him a claim something beyond that of a milliner or hairdresser to be considered a judge in matters of appearance. As to anything more in the affair — and with him in the field — of such a notion he was simply incapable: he could not have wronged the lady he meant to honor with his hand by regarding it as within the bounds of the possible.
"It was no wonder I was crying," said Florimel. "A seraph would have cried to see the state my father's portrait was in."
"Your father's portrait?"
"Yes. Did not you know? Mr. Lenorme has been painting one from a miniature I lent him — under my supervision of course; and just because I let fall a word that showed I was not altogether satisfied with the likeness, what should the wretched man do but catch up a brush full of filthy black paint, and smudge the face all over!"
"Oh, Lenorme will soon set it to rights again. He's not a bad fellow, though he does belong to the genus irritabile. I will go about it this very day."
"You'll not find him, I'm sorry to say. There's a note I had from him yesterday. And the picture's quite unfit to be seen — utterly ruined. But I can't think how you could miss seeing it."
"To tell the truth, Florimel, I had a bit of a scrimmage after you left me in the studio." Here his lordship did his best to imitate a laugh. "Who should come rushing upon me out of the back regions of paint and canvas but that mad groom of yours! I don't suppose you knew he was there?"
"Not I. I saw a man's feet: that was all."
"Well, there he was, for what reason the devil knows, perdu amongst the painter's litter; and when he heard your little startled cry — most musical, most melancholy — what should he fancy but that you were frightened, and he must rush to the rescue! And so he did with a vengeance: I don't know when I shall quite forget the blow he gave me." And again Liftore laughed, or thought he did.
"He struck you!" exclaimed Florimel, rather astonished, but hardly able for inward satisfaction to put enough of indignation into her tone.
"He did, the fellow! But don't say a word about it, for I thrashed him so unmercifully that, to tell the truth, I had to stop because I grew sorry for him; I am sorry now. So I hope you will take no notice of it. In fact, I begin to like the rascal; you know I was never favorably impressed with him. By Jove! it is not every mistress that can have such a devoted attendant. I only hope his overzeal in your service may never get you into some compromising position. He is hardly, with all his virtues, the proper servant for a young lady to have about her; he has had no training — no proper training at all — you see. But you must let the villain nurse himself for a day or two anyhow. It would be torture to make him ride after what I gave him."
His lordship spoke feelingly, with heroic endurance indeed; and if Malcolm should dare give his account of the fracas, he trusted to the word of a gentleman to outweigh that of a groom.
Not all to whom it may seem incredible that a nobleman should thus lie are themselves incapable of doing likewise. Any man may put himself in training for a liar by doing things he would be ashamed to have known. The art is easily learned, and to practise it well is a great advantage to people with designs. Men of ability, indeed, if they take care not to try hard to speak the truth, will soon become able to lie as truthfully as any sneak that sells grease for butter to the poverty of the New Cut.
It is worth remarking to him who can, from the lie actual, carry his thought deeper to the lie essential, that all the power of a lie comes from the truth: it has none in itself. So strong is the truth that a mere resemblance to it is the source of strength to its opposite, until it be found that like is not the same.
Florimel had already made considerable progress in the art, but proficiency in lying does not always develop the power of detecting it. She knew that her father had on one occasion struck Malcolm, and that he had taken it with the utmost gentleness, confessing himself in the wrong. Also, she had the impression that for a menial to lift his hand against a gentleman, even in self-defence, was a thing unheard of. The blow Malcolm had struck Liftore was for her, not himself. Therefore, while her confidence in Malcolm's courage and prowess remained unshaken, she was yet able to believe that Liftore had done as he said, and supposed that Malcolm had submitted. In her heart she pitied without despising him.
Caley herself took him the message that he would not be wanted. As she delivered it she smiled an evil smile and dropped a mocking curtsey, with her gaze well fixed on his two black eyes and the great bruise between them.
When Liftore mounted to accompany Lady Lossie, it took all the pluck that belonged to his high breed to enable him to smile and smile with twenty counsellors in different parts of his body feelingly persuading him that he was at least a liar. As they rode Florimel asked him how he came to be at the studio that morning. He told her that he had wanted very much to see her portrait before the final touches were given it. He could have made certain suggestions, he believed, that no one else could. He had indeed, he confessed — and felt absolutely virtuous in doing so, because here he spoke a fact — heard from his aunt that Florimel was to be there that morning for the last time: it was therefore his only chance; but he had expected to be there hours before she was out of bed. For the rest, he hoped he had been punished enough, seeing her rascally groom — and once more his lordship laughed peculiarly — had but just failed of breaking his arm: it was all he could do to hold the reins.
AN OLD ENEMY.
One Sunday evening — it must have been just while Malcolm and Blue Peter stood in the Strand listening to a voluntary that filled and overflowed an otherwise empty church — a short, stout, elderly woman was walking lightly along the pavement of a street of small houses not far from a thoroughfare which, crowded like a market the night before, had now two lively borders only — of holiday-makers mingled with church-goers. The bells for evening prayers were ringing. The sun had vanished behind the smoke and steam of London; indeed, he might have set — it was hard to say without consulting the almanac — but it was not dark yet. The lamps in the street were lighted however, and also in the church she passed. She carried a small Bible in her hand, folded in a pocket handkerchief, and looked a decent woman from the country. Her quest was a place where the minister said his prayers, and did not read them out of a book: she had been brought up a Presbyterian, and had prejudices in favor of what she took for the simpler form of worship. Nor had she gone much farther before she came upon a chapel which seemed to promise all she wanted. She entered, and a sad-looking woman showed her to a seat. She sat down square, fixing her eyes at once on the pulpit, rather dimly visible over many pews, as if it were one of the mountains that surrounded her Jerusalem. The place was but scantily lighted, for the community at present could ill afford to burn daylight. When the worship commenced and the congregation rose to sing, she got up with a jerk that showed the duty as unwelcome as unexpected, but seemed by the way she settled herself in her seat for the prayer already thereby reconciled to the differences between Scotch church-customs and English chapel-customs. She went to sleep softly, and woke warily as the prayer came to a close.
While the congregation again sang the minister who had officiated hitherto left the pulpit, and another ascended to preach. When he began to read the text the woman gave a little start, and, leaning forward, peered very hard to gain a satisfactory sight of his face between the candles on each side of it, but without success: she soon gave up her attempted scrutiny, and thenceforward seemed to listen with marked attention. The sermon was a simple, earnest, at times impassioned, appeal to the hearts and consciences of the congregation. There was little attempt in it at the communication of knowledge of any kind, but the most indifferent hearer must have been aware that the speaker was earnestly straining after something. To those who understood it was as if he would force his way through every stockade of prejudice, ditch of habit, rampart of indifference, moat of sin, wall of stupidity and curtain of ignorance until he stood face to face with the conscience of his hearer.
"Rank Arminianism!" murmured the woman. "Whaur's the gospel o' that?" But still she listened with seeming intentness, while something of wonder mingled with the something else that set in motion every live wrinkle in her forehead and made her eyebrows undulate like writhing snakes.
At length the preacher rose to eloquence — an eloquence inspired by the hunger of his soul after truth eternal and the love he bore to his brethren who fed on husks — an eloquence innocent of the tricks of elocution or the art of rhetoric; to have discovered himself using one of them would have sent him home to his knees in shame and fear — an eloquence not devoid of discords, the strings of his instrument being now slack with emotion, now tense with vision, yet even in those discords shrouding the essence of all harmony. When he ceased the silence that followed seemed instinct with thought, with that speech of the spirit which no longer needs the articulating voice.
"It canna be the stickit minister!" said the woman to herself.
The congregation slowly dispersed, but she sat motionless until all were gone and the sad-faced woman was putting out the lights. Then she rose, drew near through the gloom, and asked her the name of the gentleman who had given them such a grand sermon. The woman told her, adding that although he had two or three times spoken to them at the prayer-meeting — such words of comfort, the poor soul added, as she had never in her life heard before — this was the first time he had occupied the pulpit. The woman thanked her and went out into the street. "God bless me!" she said to herself as she walked away: "it is the stickit minister! Weel, won'ers 'ill never cease. The age o' mirracles 'ill be come back, I'm thinkin'." And she laughed an oily, contemptuous laugh in the depths of her profuse person.
What caused her astonishment need cause none to the thoughtful mind. The man was no longer burdened with any anxiety as to his reception by his hearers; he was hampered by no necromantic agony to raise the dead letter of the sermon buried in the tail-pocket of his coat; he had thirty years more of life, and a whole granary filled with such truths as grow for him who is ever breaking up the clods of his being to the spiritual sun and wind and dew; and, above all, he had an absolute yet expanding confidence in his Father in heaven, and a tender love for everything human. The tongue of the dumb had been in training for song. And, first of all, he had learned to be silent while he had naught to reveal. He had been trained to babble about religion, but through God's grace had failed in his babble, and that was in itself a success. He would have made one of the swarm that year after year cast themselves like flies on the burning sacrifice that they may live on its flesh, with evil odors extinguishing the fire that should have gone up in flame; but a burning coal from off the altar had been laid on his lips, and had silenced them in torture. For thirty years he had held his peace, until the word of God had become as a fire in his bones: it was now breaking forth in flashes.
On the Monday, Mrs. Catanach sought the shop of the deacon that was an ironmonger, secured for herself a sitting in the chapel for the next half-year, and prepaid the sitting.
"Wha kens," she said to herself, "what birds may come to gether worms an' golachs (beetles) aboot the boody-craw (scarecrow). Sanny Grame?"
She was one to whom intrigue, founded on the knowledge of private history, was as the very breath of her being: she could not exist in composure without it. Wherever she went, therefore — and her changes of residence had not been few — it was one of her first cares to enter into connection with some religious community; first, that she might have scope for her calling — that of a midwife, which in London would probably be straitened toward that of mere monthly nurse — and next, that thereby she might have good chances for the finding of certain weeds of occult power that spring mostly in walled gardens and are rare on the roadside — poisonous things mostly, called generically secrets.
At this time she had been for some painful months in possession of a most important one — painful I say, because all those months she had discovered no possibility of making use of it. The trial had been hard. Her one passion was to drive the dark horses of society, and here she had been sitting week after week on the coach-box over the finest team she had ever handled, ramping and "foming tarre," unable to give them their heads because the demon-grooms had disappeared and left the looped traces dangling from their collars. She had followed Florimel from Portlossie to Edinburgh, and then to London, but not yet had seen how to approach her with probable advantage. In the meantime she had renewed old relations with a certain herb-doctor in Kentish Town, at whose house she was now accommodated. There she had already begun to entice the confidences of maidservants by use of what evil knowledge she had and pretence to more, giving herself out as a wise-woman. Her faith never failed her that, if she but kept handling the fowls of circumstances, one or other of them must at length drop an egg of opportunity in her lap. When she stumbled upon the schoolmaster preaching in a chapel near her own haunts, she felt something more like a gust of gratitude to the dark power that sat behind and pulled the strings of events — for thus she saw through her own projected phantom the heart of the universe — than she had ever yet experienced. If there were such things as special providences, here, she said, was one: if not, then it was better luck than she had looked for. The main point in it was that the dominie seemed likely, after all, to turn out a popular preacher: then beyond a doubt other Scotch people would gather to him: this or that person might turn up, and any one' might turn out useful. One thread might be knotted to another, until all together made a clew to guide her straight through the labyrinth to the centre, to lay her hand on the collar of the demon of the house of Lossie. It was the biggest game of her life, and had been its game long before the opening of my narrative.
THE EVIL GENIUS.
When Malcolm first visited Mr. Graham the schoolmaster had already preached two or three times in the pulpit of Hope Chapel. His ministrations at the prayer-meetings had led to this; for every night on which he was expected to speak there were more people present than on the last; and when the deacons saw this they asked him to preach on the Sundays. After two Sundays they came to him in a body and besought him to become a candidate for the vacant pulpit, assuring him of success if he did so. He gave a decided refusal, however, nor mentioned his reasons. His friend Marshal urged him, pledging himself for his income to an amount which would have been riches to the dominie, but in vain. Thereupon the silk-mercer concluded that he must have money, and, kind man as he was, grew kinder in consequence, and congratulated him on his independence.
"I depend more on the fewness of my wants than on any earthly store for supplying them," said the dominie.
Marshal's thermometer fell a little, but not his anxiety to secure services which, he insisted, would be for the glory of God and the everlasting good of perishing souls. The schoolmaster only smiled queerly and held his peace. He consented, however, to preach the next Sunday, and on the Monday consented to preach the next again. For several weeks the same thing recurred. But he would never promise on a Sunday, or allow the briefest advertisement to be given concerning him. All said he was feeling his way.
Neither had he, up to this time, said a word to Malcolm about the manner in which his Sundays were employed, while yet he talked much about a school he had opened in a room occupied in the evenings by a debating club, where he was teaching such children of small shopkeepers and artisans as found their way to him — in part through his connection with the chapel-folk. When Malcolm had called on a Sunday his landlady had been able to tell him nothing more than that Mr. Graham had gone out at such and such an hour — she presumed to church; and when he had once or twice expressed a wish to accompany him wherever he went to worship, Mr. Graham had managed somehow to let him go without having made any arrangement for his doing so.
On the evening after his encounter with Liftore, Malcolm visited the schoolmaster and told him everything about the affair. He concluded by saying that Lizzy's wrongs had loaded the whip far more than his sister's insult, but that he was very doubtful whether he had had any right to constitute himself the avenger of either after such a fashion. Mr. Graham replied that a man ought never to be carried away by wrath, as he had so often sought to impress upon him, and not without success; but that in the present case, as the rascal deserved it so well, he did not think he need trouble himself much. At the same time, he ought to remind himself that the rightness or wrongness, of any particular act was of far less consequence than the rightness or wrongness of the will whence sprang the act; and that while no man could be too anxious as to whether a contemplated action ought or ought not to be done, at the same time no man could do anything absolutely right until he was one with Him whose was the only absolute self-generated purity — that is, until God dwelt in him and he in God.
Before he left, the schoolmaster had acquainted him with all that portion of his London history which he had hitherto kept from him, and told him where he was preaching.
When Caley returned to her mistress after giving Malcolm the message that she did not require his services, and reported the condition of his face, Florimel informed her of the chastisement he had received from Liftore, and desired her to find out for her how he was, for she was anxious about him. Somehow, Florimel felt sorrier for him than she could well understand, seeing he was but a groom — a great lumbering fellow, all his life used to hard knocks, which probably never hurt him. That her mistress should care so much about him added yet an acrid touch to Caley's spite; but she put on her bonnet and went to the mews to confer with the wife of his lordship's groom, who, although an honest woman, had not yet come within her dislike. She went to make her inquiries, however, full of grave doubt as to his lordship's statement to her mistress; and the result of them was a conviction that beyond his facial bruises, of which Mrs. Merton had heard no explanation, Malcolm had had no hurt. This confirmed her suspicion that his lordship had received what he professed to have given; from a window she had seen him mount his horse, and her woman's fancy for him, while it added to her hate of Malcolm, did not prevent her from thinking of the advantage the discovery might bring in the prosecution of her own schemes. But now she began to fear Malcolm a little as well as hate him. And indeed he was rather a dangerous person to have about, where all but himself had secrets more or less bad, and one at least had dangerous ones, as Caley's conscience, or what poor monkey rudiment in her did duty for one, in private asserted. Notwithstanding her hold upon her mistress, she would not have felt it quite safe to let her know all her secrets. She would not have liked to say, for instance, how often she woke suddenly with a little feeble wail sounding in the ears that fingers cannot stop, or to confess that it cried out against a double injustice, that of life and that of death; she had crossed the border of the region of horror, and went about with a worm coiled in her heart, like a centipede in the stone of a peach.
"Merton's wife knows nothing, my lady," she said on her return. "I saw the fellow in the yard going about much as usual. He will stand a good deal of punishing, I fancy, my lady — like that brute of a horse he makes such a fuss with. I can't help wishing, for your ladyship's sake, we had never set eyes on him. He'll do us all a mischief yet before we get rid of him. I've had a hinstinc' of it, my lady, from the first moment I set eyes on him" — Caley's speech was never classic; when she was excited it was low — "and when I have a hinstinc' of anythink, he's not a dog as barks for nothink. Mark my words — and I'm sure I beg your pardon, my lady — but that man will bring shame on the house. He's that arregant an' interferin' as is certain sure to bring your ladyship into public speech an' a scandal; things will come to be spoke, my lady, that hadn't ought to be mentioned. Why, my lady, he must ha' struck his lordship afore he'd ha' give him two such black eyes as them. And him that good-natured an' condescendin'! I'm sure I don't know what's to come on it, but your ladyship might cast a thought on the rest of us females as can't take the liberties of born ladies without sufferin' for it. Think what the world will say of us! It's hard, my lady, on the likes of us."
But Florimel was not one to be talked into doing what she did not choose. Neither would she to her maid render her reasons for not choosing. She had repaired her fortifications, strengthened herself with Liftore, and was confident. "The fact is, Caley," she said, "I have fallen in love with Kelpie, and never mean to part with her — at least till I can ride her or she kills me. So I can't do without MacPhail. And I hope she won't kill him before he has persuaded her to let me mount her. The man must go with the mare. Besides, he is such a strange fellow, if I turned him away I should quite expect him to poison her before he left."
The maid's face grew darker. That her mistress had the slightest intention of ever mounting that mare she did not find herself fool enough to believe, but of other reasons she could spy plenty behind. And such there truly were, though none of the sort which Caley's imagination, swift to evil, now supplied. The kind of confidence she was yet capable of reposing in her groom Caley had no faculty for understanding, and she was the last person to whom her mistress could impart the fact of her fathers leaving her in charge of his young henchman. To the memory of her father she clung, and so far faithfully that even now, when Malcolm had begun to occasion her a feeling of awe and rebuke, she did not the less confidently regard him as her good genius that he was in danger of becoming an unpleasant one.