Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 132.djvu/405

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THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.

Christian Scriptures may be pronounced complete failures. On the contrary, we seem to discover an eagerness to avoid everything that might connect him in the smallest degree with the faith he had renounced. It might be interesting to compare further the style and expression of these letters with the contemporary correspondence of Libanius and Gregory Nazianzen, but this would exceed the limits of our sketch. We shall have sufficiently answered our purpose if by any additional touches imparted to the portrait of the great emperor from the perusal of his correspondence, we shall have called attention to a certain portion of his works that, in England at all events, has not hitherto met with the care and consideration it seems to us to deserve.




THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.

BY GEORGE MACDONALD, AUTHOR OF "MALCOLM," ETC.

CHAPTER XXIX.

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