The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter II

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The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter II
by George MacDonald

Chapter II.

THE LIBRARY.

When she had finished her oats Malcolm left her busy with her hay, for she was a huge eater, and went into the house, passing through the kitchen and ascending a spiral stone stair to the library, the only room not now dismantled. As he went along the narrow passage on the second floor leading to it from the head of the stair, the housekeeper, Mrs. Courthope, peeped after him from one of the many bedrooms opening upon it, and watched him as he went, nodding her head two or three times with decision: he reminded her so strongly, not of his father, the late marquis, but the brother who had preceded him, that she felt all but certain, whoever might be his mother, he had as much of the Colonsay blood in his veins as any marquis of them all. It was in consideration of this likeness that Mr. Crathie had permitted the youth, when his services were not required, to read in the library.

Malcolm went straight to a certain corner, and from amongst a dingy set of old classics took down a small Greek book in a large type. It was the manual of that slave among slaves, that noble among the free — Epictetus. He was no great Greek scholar, but, with the help of the Latin translation and the gloss of his own rathe experience, he could lay hold of the mind of that slave of a slave, whose very slavery was his slave to carry him to the heights of freedom. It was not Greek he cared for, but Epictetus. It was but little he read, however, for the occurrence of the morning demanded, compelled, thought. Mr. Crathie's behavior caused him neither anger nor uneasiness, but rendered necessary some decision with regard to the ordering of his future.

I can hardly say he recalled how on his deathbed the late marquis, about three months before, having, with all needful observances, acknowledged him his son, had committed to his trust the welfare of his sister, for the memory of this charge was never absent from his feeling, even when not immediately present to his thought. But, although a charge which he would have taken upon him all the same had his father not committed it to him, it was none the less the source of a perplexity upon which as yet all his thinking had let in but little light. For to appear as Marquis of Lossie was not merely to take from his sister the title she supposed her own, but to declare her illegitimate, seeing that, unknown to the marquis, the youth's mother, his first wife, was still alive when Florimel was born. How to act so that as little evil as possible might befall the favorite of his father, and one whom he had himself loved with the devotion almost of a dog before he knew she was his sister, was the main problem.

For himself, he had had a rough education, and had enjoyed it: his thoughts were not troubled about his own prospects. Mysteriously committed to the care of a poor blind Highland piper, a stranger from inland regions settled amongst a fishing-people, he had, as he grew up, naturally fallen into their ways of life and labor, and but lately abandoned the calling of a fisherman to take charge of the marquis's yacht, whence by degrees he had, in his helpfulness, become indispensable to him and his daughter, and had come to live in the house of Lossie as a privileged servant. His book-education, which he owed mainly to the friendship of the parish schoolmaster, although nothing marvellous, or in Scotland very peculiar, had opened for him in all directions doors of thought and inquiry. But the outlook after knowledge was in his case, again through the influences of Mr. Graham, subservient to an almost restless yearning after the truth of things — a passion so rare that the ordinary mind can hardly grasp even the fact of its existence. The Marchioness of Lossie, as she was now called — for the family was one of the two or three in Scotland in which the title descends to an heiress — had left Lossie House almost immediately upon her father's death, under the guardianship of a certain dowager countess. Lady Bellair had taken her first to Edinburgh, and then to London. Tidings of her Malcolm occasionally received through Mr. Soutar of Duff Harbor, the lawyer the marquis had employed to draw up the papers substantiating the youth's claim. The last amounted to this — that, as rapidly as the proprieties of mourning would permit, she was circling the vortex of the London season. As to her brother, he feared himself, and Malcolm was now almost in despair of ever being of the least service to her as a brother to whom as a servant he had seemed at one time of daily necessity. If he might but once more be her skipper, her groom, her attendant, he might then at least learn how to discover to her the bond between them without breaking it in the very act, and so ruining the hope of service to follow.