The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XXII

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The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XXII
by George MacDonald



The next day at noon, mounted on Kelpie, Malcolm was in attendance upon his mistress, who was eager after a gallop in Richmond Park. Lord Liftore, who had intended to accompany her, had not made his appearance yet, but Florimel did not seem the less desirous of setting out at the time she had appointed Malcolm. The fact was, that she had said one o'clock to Liftore, intending twelve, that she might get away without him. Kelpie seemed on her good behavior, and they started quietly enough. By the time they got out of the park upon the Kensington road, however, the evil spirit had begun to wake in her. But even when she was quietest she was nothing to be trusted, and about London, Malcolm found he dared never let his thoughts go, or take his attention quite off her ears. They got to Kew bridge in safety, nevertheless, though whether they were to get safely across was doubtful all the time they were upon it, for again and again she seemed on the very point of clearing the stone balustrade but for the terrible bit and chain without which Malcolm never dared ride her. Still, whatever her caracoles or escapades, they caused Florimel nothing but amusement, for her confidence in Malcolm — that he could do whatever he believed he could — was unbounded. They got through Richmond with some trouble, but hardly were they well into the park when Lord Liftore, followed by his groom, came suddenly up behind them at such a rate as quite destroyed the small stock of equanimity Kelpie had to go upon. She bolted.

Florimel was a good rider, and knew herself quite mistress of her horse; and if she now followed, it was at her own will, and with a design: she wanted to make the horses behind her bolt also if she could. His lordship came flying after her, and his groom after him, but she kept increasing her pace until they were all at full stretch, thundering over the grass, upon which Malcolm had at once turned Kelpie, giving her little rein and plenty of spur. Gradually, Florimel slackened speed, and at last pulled up suddenly. Liftore and his groom went past her like the wind. She turned at right angles and galloped back to the road. There, on a gaunt thoroughbred, with a furnace of old life in him yet, sat Lenorme, whom she had already passed and signalled to remain thereabout. They drew alongside of each other, but they did not shake hands: they only looked, each in the other's eyes, and for a few moments neither spoke. The three riders were now far away over the park, and still Kelpie held on and the other horses after her.

"I little expected such a pleasure," said Lenorme.

"I meant to give it you, though," said Florimel with a merry laugh. — "Bravo, Kelpie! take them with you," she cried, looking after the still retreating horsemen. — "I have got a familiar since I saw you last, Raoul," she went on. "See if I don't get some good for us out of him. We'll move gently along the road here, and by the time Liftore's horse is spent we shall be ready for a good gallop. I want to tell you all about it. I did not mean Liftore to be here when I sent you word, but he has been too much for me."

Lenorme replied with a look of gratitude, and as they walked their horses along she told him all concerning Malcolm and Kelpie.

"Liftore hates him already," she said, "and I can hardly wonder; but you must not, for you will find him useful. He is one I can depend upon. You should have seen the look Liftore gave him when he told him he could not sit his mare! It would have been worth gold to you."

Lenorme winced a little.

"He thinks no end of his riding," Florimel continued; "but if it were not so improper to have secrets with another gentleman, I would tell you that he rides — just pretty well."

Lenorme's great brow gloomed over his eyes like the Eiger in a mist, but he said nothing yet.

"He wants to ride Kelpie, and I have told my groom to let him have her. Perhaps she'll break his neck."

Lenorme smiled grimly.

"You wouldn't mind, would you, Raoul?" added Florimel, with a roguish look.

"Would you mind telling me, Florimel, what you mean by the impropriety of having secrets with another gentleman? Am I the other gentleman?"

"Why, of course. You know Liftore imagines he has only to name the day."

"And you allow an idiot like that to cherish such a degrading idea of you?"

"Why, Raoul! what does it matter what a fool like him thinks?"

"If you don't mind it, I do. I feel it an insult to me that he should dare think of you like that."

"I don't know. I suppose I shall have to marry him some day."

"Lady Lossie, do you want to make me hate you?"

"Don't be foolish, Raoul. It won't be to-morrow nor the next day. Freuet euch des Lebens!"

"Oh, Florimel! what is to come of this? Do you want to break my heart? I hate to talk rubbish. You won't kill me: you will only ruin my work and possibly drive me mad."

Florimel drew close to his side, laid her hand on his arm and looked in his face with a witching entreaty. "We have the present, Raoul," she said.

"So has the butterfly," answered Lenorme; "but I had rather be the caterpillar with a future. Why don't you put a stop to the man's lovemaking? He can't love you or any woman. He does not know what love means. It makes me ill to hear him when he thinks he is paying you irresistible compliments. They are so silly! so mawkish! Good heavens, Florimel! can you imagine that smile every day and always? Like the rest of his class, he seems to think himself perfectly justified in making fools of women. I want to help you to grow as beautiful as God meant you to be when he thought of you first. I want you to be my embodied vision of life, that I may forever worship at your feet — live in you, die with you: such bliss, even were there nothing beyond, would be enough for the heart of a God to bestow."

"Stop, stop, Raoul! I'm not worthy of such love," said Florimel, again laying her hand on his arm. "I do wish for your sake I had been born a village girl."

"If you had been, then I might have wished for your sake that I had been born a marquis. As it is, I would rather be a painter than any nobleman in Europe; that is, with you to love me. Your love is my patent of nobility. But I may glorify what you love, and tell you that I can confer something on you also — what none of your noble admirers can. God forgive me! you will make me hate them all."

"Raoul, this won't do at all," said Florimel with the authority that should belong only to the one in the right. And indeed for the moment she felt the dignity of restraining a too impetuous passion. "You will spoil everything. I dare not come to your studio if you are going to behave like this. It would be very wrong of me. And if I am never to come and see you, I shall die: I know I shall."

The girl was so full of the delight of the secret love between them that she cared only to live in the present as if there were no future beyond: Lenorme wanted to make that future like, but better than, the present. The word "marriage" put Florimel in a rage. She thought herself superior to Lenorme, because he, in the dread of losing her, would have her marry him at once, while she was more than content with the bliss of seeing him now and then. Often and often her foolish talk stung him with bitter pain — worst of all when it compelled him to doubt whether there was that in her to be loved as he was capable of loving. Yet always the conviction that there was a deep root of nobleness in her nature again got uppermost: and, had it not been so, I fear he would nevertheless have continued to prove her irresistible as often as she chose to exercise upon him the full might of her witcheries. At one moment she would, reveal herself in such a sudden rush of tenderness as seemed possible only to one ready to become his altogether and forever: the next she would start away as if she had never meant anything, and talk as if not a thought were in her mind beyond the cultivation of a pleasant acquaintance doomed to pass with the season, if not with the final touches to her portrait. Or she would fall to singing some song he had taught her, more likely a certain one he had written in a passionate mood of bitter tenderness with the hope of stinging her love to some show of deeper life, but would, while she sang, look with merry defiance in his face, as if she adopted in seriousness what he had written in loving and sorrowful satire.

They rode in silence for some hundred yards. At length he spoke, replying to her last asseveration. "Then what can you gain, child ——" he said.

"Will you dare to call me child? — a marchioness in my own right! " she cried, playfully threatening him with uplifted whip, in the handle of which the little jewels sparkled.

"What, then, can you gain, my lady marchioness," he resumed, with soft seriousness and a sad smile, "by marrying one of your own rank? I should lay new honor and consideration at your feet. I am young: I have done fairly well already. But I have done nothing to what I could do now if only my heart lay safe in the port of peace. You know where alone that is for me, my lady marchioness. And you know, too, that the names of great painters go down with honor from generation to generation, when my Lord This or my Lord That is remembered only as a label to the picture that makes the painter famous. I am not a great painter yet, but I will be one if you will be good to me. And men shall say, when they look on your portrait in ages to come, 'No wonder he was such a painter when he had such a woman to paint!'"

He spoke the words with a certain tone of dignified playfulness.

"When shall the woman sit to you again, painter?" said Florimel — sole reply to his rhapsody.

The painter thought a little. Then he said, "I don't like that tirewoman of yours. She has two evil eyes — one for each of us. I have again and again caught their expression when they were upon us and she thought none were upon her: I can see without lifting my head when I am painting, and my art has made me quick at catching expressions, and, I hope, at interpreting them."

"I don't altogether like her myself," said Florimel. "Of late I am not so sure of her as I used to be. But what can I do? I must have somebody with me, you know. A thought strikes me. Yes, I won't say now what it is lest I should disappoint my — painter; but — yes — you shall see what I will dare for you, faithless man!"

She set off at a canter, turned on to the grass and rode to meet Liftore, whom she saw in the distance returning, followed by the two grooms. "Come on, Raoul!" she cried, looking back: "I must account for you. He sees I have not been alone."

Lenorme' joined her, and they rode along side by side.

The earl and the painter knew each other: as they drew near the painter lifted his hat and the earl nodded.

"You owe Mr. Lenorme some acknowledgment, my lord, for taking charge of me after your sudden desertion," said Florimel. "Why did you gallop off in such a mad fashion?"

"I am sorry," began Liftore, a little embarrassed.

"Oh, don't trouble yourself to apologize," said Florimel. "I have always understood that great horsemen find a horse more interesting than a lady. It is a mark of their breed, I am told."

She knew that Liftore would not be ready to confess he could not hold his hack.

"If it hadn't been for Mr. Lenorme," she added, "I should have been left without a squire, subject to any whim of my four-footed servant here."

As she spoke she patted the neck of her horse. The earl, on his side, had been looking the painter's horse up and down with a would-be humorous expression of criticism. "I beg your pardon, marchioness," he replied; "but you pulled up so quickly that we shot past you. I thought you were close behind; and preferred following. — Seen his best days, eh, Lenorme?" he concluded, willing to change the subject.

"I fancy he doesn't think so," returned the painter. "I bought him out of a butterman's cart three months ago. He's been coming to himself ever since. Look at his eye, my lord."

"Are you knowing in horses, then?"

"I can't say I am, beyond knowing how to treat them something like human beings."

"That's no ill," said Malcolm to himself. He was just near enough, on the pawing and foaming Kelpie, to catch what was passing. "The fellow 'ill du. He's worth a score o' sic yerls as yon."

"Ha! ha!" said his lordship: "I don't know about that. He's not the best of tempers, I can see. But look at that demon of Lady Lossie's — that black mare there! I wish you could teach her some of your humanity. — By the way, Florimel, I think now we are upon the grass" — he said it loftily, as if submitting to injustice — "I will presume to mount the reprobate."

The gallop had communicated itself to Liftore's blood, and, besides, he thought after such a run Kelpie would be less extravagant in her behavior.

"She is at your service," said Florimel.

He dismounted, his groom rode up, he threw him the reins and galled Malcolm.

"Bring your mare here, my man," he said.

Malcolm rode her up halfway, and dismounted. "If your lordship is going to ride her," he said, "will you please get on here. I would rather not take her nearer the other horses."

"Well, you know her better than I do. You and I must ride about the same length, I think."

So saying, his lordship carelessly measured the stirrup-leather against his arm and took the reins.

"Stand well forward, my lord. Don't mind turning your back to her head. I'll look after her teeth: you mind her hind hoof," said Malcolm, with her head in one hand and the stirrup in the other.

Kelpie stood rigid as a rock, and the earl swung himself up cleverly enough. But hardly was he in the saddle, and Malcolm had just let her go, when she plunged and lashed out: then, having failed to unseat her rider, stood straight up on her hind legs.

"Give her her head, my lord," cried Malcolm.

She stood swaying in the air, Liftore's now frightened face half hid in her mane and his spurs stuck in her flanks.

"Come off her, my lord, for God's sake! Off with you!" cried Malcolm as he leaped at her head. "She'll be on her back in a moment."

Liftore only clung the harder. Malcolm caught her head just in time: she was already falling backward.

"Let all go, my lord. Throw yourself off."

He swung her toward him with all his strength, and just as his lordship fell off behind her she fell sideways to Malcolm and clear of Liftore.

As Malcolm was on the side away from the little group, and their own horses were excited, those who had looked breathless on at the struggle could not tell how he had managed it, but when they expected to see the groom writhing under the weight of the demoness, there he was with his knee upon her head while Liftore was gathering himself up from the ground, only just beyond the reach of her iron-shod hoofs.

"Thank God," said Florimel, "there is no harm done! — Well, have you had enough of her yet, Liftore?"

"Pretty nearly, I think," said his lordship, with an attempt at a laugh as he walked rather feebly and foolishly toward his horse. He mounted with some difficulty and looked very pale.

"I hope you're not much hurt," said Florimel kindly as she moved alongside of him.

"Not in the least — only disgraced," he answered almost angrily. "The brute's a perfect Satan. You must part with her. With such a horse and such a groom you'll get yourself talked of all over London. I believe the fellow himself was at the bottom of it. You really must sell her."

"I would, my lord, if you were my groom," answered Florimel, whom his accusation of Malcolm had filled with angry contempt; and she moved away toward the still prostrate mare.

Malcolm was quietly seated on her head. She had ceased sprawling, and lay nearly motionless, but for the heaving of her sides with her huge inhalations. She knew from experience that struggling was useless.

"I beg your pardon, my lady," said Malcolm, "but I daren't get up."

"How long do you mean to sit there, then?" she asked.

"If your ladyship wouldn't mind riding home without me, I would give her a good half hour of it. I always do when she throws herself over like that. — I've got my Epictetus?" he asked himself, feeling in his coat-pocket."

"Do as you please," answered his mistress. "Let me see you when you get home. I should like to know you are safe."

"Thank you, my lady: there's little fear of that," said Malcolm.

Florimel returned to the gentlemen, and they rode homeward. On the way she said suddenly to the earl, "Can you tell me, Liftore, who Epictetus was?"

"I'm sure I don't know," answered his lordship. "One of the old fellows."

She turned to Lenorme. Happily, the Christian heathen was not altogether unknown to the painter.

"May I inquire why your ladyship asks?" he said when he had told all he could at the moment recollect.

"Because," she answered, "I left my groom sitting on his horse's head reading Epictetus."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Liftore. "Ha! ha! ha! In the original, I suppose!"

"I don't doubt it," said Florimel.

In about two hours Malcolm reported himself. Lord Liftore had gone home, they told him. The painter-fellow, as Wallis called him, had stayed to lunch, but was now gone also, and Lady Lossie was alone in the drawing-room.

She sent for him. "I am glad to see you safe, MacPhail," she said. "It is clear your Kelpie — don't be alarmed: I am not going to make you part with her — but it is clear she won't always do for you to attend me upon. Suppose now I wanted to dismount and make a call or go into a shop?"

"There is a sort of friendship between your Abbot and her, my lady: she would stand all the better if I had him to hold."

"Well, but how would you put me up again?"

"I never thought of that, my lady. Of course I daren't let you come near Kelpie."

"Could you trust yourself to buy another horse to ride after me about town?"

"No, my lady, not without a ten days' trial. If lies stuck like London mud, there's many a horse would never be seen again. But there's Mr. Lenorme. If he would go with me, I fancy between us we could do pretty well."

"Ah! a good idea!" returned his mistress. "But what makes you think of him?" she added, willing enough to talk about him.

"The look of the gentleman and his horse together, and what I heard him say," answered Malcolm.

"What did you hear him say?"

"That he knew he had to treat horses something like human beings. I've often fancied, within the last few months, that God does with some people something like as I do with Kelpie."

"I know nothing about theology."

"I don't fancy you do, my lady, but this concerns biography rather than theology. No one could tell what I meant except he had watched his own history and that of people he knew."

"And horses too?"

"It's hard to get at their insides, my lady, but I suspect it must be so. I'll ask Mr. Graham."

"What Mr. Graham?"

"The schoolmaster of Portlossie."

"Is he in London, then?"

"Yes, my lady. He believed too much to please the presbytery, and they turned him out."

"I should like to see him. He was very attentive to my father on his deathbed."

"Your ladyship will never know till you are dead yourself what Mr. Graham did for my lord."

"What do you mean? What could he do for him?"

"He helped him through sore trouble of mind, my lady."

Florimel was silent for a little, then repeated, "I should like to see him. I ought to pay him some attention. Couldn't I make them give him his school again?"

"I don't know about that, my lady, but I am sure he would not take it against the will of the presbytery."

"I should like to do something for him. Ask him to call."

"If your ladyship lays your commands upon me," answered Malcolm: "otherwise I would rather not."

"Why so, pray?"

"Because except he can be of any use to you he will not come."

"But I want to be of use to him."

"How, if I may ask, my lady?"

"That I can't exactly say on the spur of the moment. I must know the man first, especially if you are right in supposing he would not enjoy a victory over the presbytery. I should. He wouldn't take money, I fear."

"Except it came of love or work, he would put it from him as he would brush the dust from his coat."

"I could introduce him to good society. That is no small privilege to one of his station."

"He has more of that and better than your ladyship could give him. He holds company with Socrates and Saint Paul, and greater still."

"But they're not like living people."

"Very like them, my lady; only far better company in general. But Mr. Graham would leave Plato himself — yes, or Saint Paul either, though he were sitting beside him in the flesh — to go and help any old washerwoman that wanted him."

"Then I want him."

"No, my lady, you don't want him."

"How dare you say so?"

"If you did you would go to him."

Florimel's eyes flashed and her pretty lip curled. She turned to her writing-table, annoyed with herself that she could not find a fitting word wherewith to rebuke his presumption — rudeness, was it not? — and a feeling of angry shame arose in her that she, the Marchioness of Lossie, had not dignity enough to prevent her own groom from treating her like a child. But he was far too valuable to quarrel with. She sat down and wrote a note. "There," she said, "take that note to Mr. Lenorme. I have asked him to help you in the choice of a horse."

"What price would you be willing to go to, my lady?"

"I leave that to Mr. Lenorme's judgment — and your own," she added.

"Thank you, my lady," said Malcolm, and was leaving the room when Florimel called him back.

"Next time you see Mr. Graham," she said, "give him my compliments, and ask him if I can be of any service to him."

"I'll do that, my lady: I am sure he will take it very kindly."

Florimel made no answer, and Malcolm went to find the painter.