Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/88

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
82
THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.

ies of the European powers had not prevented the formation of that great confederation which he strove so earnestly to organize, and he had been able to carry on his victorious campaign after the relief of Vienna as he desired, the "Turkish difficulty" would not have been troubling Europe at the present moment. It is almost the only consolation in the conduct of the Conference that, though the Porte continues much as she was two hundred years ago, the great powers have certainly been acting a more Christian part. Such conduct as that of Louis XIV. and Leopold would at least be now impossible in the face of international public opinion; and we may therefore still entertain a faint hope that the honest efforts of the Christian nations combined may bring about a better result than has followed the campaigns of 1670-83, successful as they were. But the time for action is indeed short. F. P. Verney.




THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.

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

CHAPTER XLII.

ST. RONAN'S WELL.

The next day the reading was resumed, and for several days was regularly continued. Each day, as their interest grew, longer time was devoted to it. They were all simple enough to accept what the author gave them, nor, had a critic of the time been present to instruct them that in this last he had fallen off, would they have heeded him much: for Malcolm, it was the first story by the Great Unknown he had seen. A question however occurring, not of art but of morals, he was at once on the alert. It arose when they reached that portion of the tale in which the true heir to an earldom and its wealth offers to leave all in the possession of the usurper, on the one condition of his ceasing to annoy a certain lady, whom, by villainy of the worst, he had gained the power of rendering unspeakably miserable. Naturally enough, at this point Malcolm's personal interest was suddenly excited: here were elements strangely correspondent with the circumstances of his present position. Tyrrel's offer of acquiescence in things as they were, and abandonment of his rights, which in the story is so amazing to the man of the world to whom it is first propounded, drew an exclamation of delight from both ladies — from Clementina because of its unselfishness, from Florimel because of its devotion: neither of them was at any time ready to raise a moral question, and least of all where the heart approved. But Malcolm was interested after a different fashion from theirs. Often during the reading he had made remarks and given explanations — not so much to the annoyance of Lady Clementina as she had feared, for since his rescue of the swift she had been more favorably disposed toward him, and had judged him a little more justly; not that she understood him, but that the gulf between them had contracted. He paused a moment, then said, "Do you think it was right, my ladies? Ought Mr. Tyrrel to have made such an offer?"

"It was most generous of him," said Clementina, not without indignation, and with the tone of one whose answer should decide the question.

"Splendidly generous," replied Malcolm; "but I so well remember when Mr. Graham first made me see that the question of duty does not always lie between a good thing and a bad thing: there would be no room for casuistry then, he said. A man has very often to decide between one good thing and another. But indeed I can hardly tell, without more time to think, whether that comes in here. If a man wants to be generous, it must at least be at his own expense."

"But surely," said Florimel, not in the least aware that she was changing sides, "a man ought to hold by the rights that birth and inheritance give him."

"That is by no means so clear, my lady," returned Malcolm, "as you seem to think. A man may be bound to hold by things that are his rights, but certainly not because they are rights. One of the grandest things in having rights is that, being your rights, you may give them up; except, of course, they involve duties with the performance of which the abnegation would interfere."

"I have been trying to think," said Lady Clementina, "what can be the two good things here to choose between."

"That is the right question, and logically put, my lady," rejoined Malcolm, who from his early training could not help sometimes putting on the schoolmaster. "The two good things are — let me see — yes — on the one hand the protection of the lady to whom he owed all possible devotion of man to woman, and on the other what he owed to his tenants, and perhaps