The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XXV

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The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XXV
by George MacDonald



It was a lovely day, but Florimel would not ride: Malcolm must go at once to Mr. Lenorme: she would not go out again until she could have a choice of horses to follow her. "Your Kelpie is all very well in Richmond Park — and I wish I were able to ride her myself, Malcolm — but she will never do in London."

His name sounded sweet on her lips, but somehow to-day, for the first time since he saw her first, he felt a strange sense of superiority in his protection of her: could it be because he had that morning looked unto a higher orb of creation? It mattered little to Malcolm's generous nature that the voice that issued therefrom had been one of unjust rebuke. "Who knows, my lady," he answered his mistress, "but you may ride her some day? Give her a bit of sugar every time you see her — on your hand, so that she may take it with her lips and not catch your fingers."

"You shall show me how," said Florimel, and gave him a note for Mr. Lenorme.

When he came in sight of the river, there, almost opposite the painter's house, lay his own little yacht. He thought of Kelpie in the stable, saw Psyche floating like a swan in the reach, made two or three long strides, then sought to exhale the pride of life in thanksgiving.

The moment his arrival was announced to Lenorme he came down and went with him, and in an hour or two they had found very much the sort of horse they wanted. Malcolm took him home for trial, and Florimel was pleased with him. The earl's opinion was not to be had, for he had hurt his shoulder when he fell from the rearing Kelpie the day before, and was confined to his room in Curzon Street.

In the evening Malcolm put on his yachter's uniform and set out again for Chelsea. There he took a boat and crossed the river to the yacht, which lay near the other side in charge of an old salt whose acquaintance Blue Peter had made when lying below the bridges. On board he found all tidy and shipshape. He dived into the cabin, lighted a candle and made some measurements; all the little luxuries of the nest — carpets, cushions, curtains and other things — were at Lossie House, having been removed when the Psyche was laid up for the winter: he was going to replace them. And he was anxious to see whether he could not fulfil a desire he had once heard Florimel express to her father — that she had a bed on board and could sleep there. He found it possible, and had soon contrived a berth: even a tiny stateroom was within the limits of construction.

Returning to the deck, he was consulting Travers about a carpenter when, to his astonishment, he saw young Davy, the boy he had brought from Duff Harbor, and whom he understood to have gone back with Blue Peter, gazing at him from before the mast. "Gien ye please, Maister MacPhail," said Davy, and said no more.

"How on earth do you come to be here, you rascal?" said Malcolm. "Peter was to take you home with him."

"I garred him think I was gauin'," answered the boy, scratching his red poll, which glowed in the dusk.

"I gave him your wages," said Malcolm.

"Ay, he tauld me that, but I loot them gang an' gae him the slip, an' wan ashore close ahint yersel', sir, jist as the smack set sail. I cudna gang ohn hed a word wi' yersel', sir, to see whether ye wadna lat me bide wi' ye, sir. I haena muckla wut, they tell me, sir, but gien I michtna aye be able to du what ye tell't me to du, I cud aye haud ohn dune what ye tell't me no to du."

The words of the boy pleased Malcolm more than he judged it wise to manifest. He looked hard at Davy. There was little to he seen in his face except the best and only thing — truth. It shone from his found pale-blue eyes; it conquered the self-assertion of his unhappy nose; it seemed to glow in every freckle of his sunburnt cheeks as earnestly he returned Malcolm's gaze.

"But," said Malcolm, almost satisfied, "how is this, Travers? I never gave you any instructions about the boy."

"There's where it is, sir," answered Travers. "I seed the boy aboard before, and when he come aboard again, jest arter you left, I never as much as said to myself, 'It's all right.' I axed him no questions, and he told me no lies."

"Gien ye please, sir," struck in Davy, "Maister Trahvers gied me my mait, an' I tuik it, 'cause I hed no sil'er to buy ony: I houp it wasna stealin', sir. An' gien ye wad keep me, ye cud tak it aff o' my wauges for three days."

"Look here, Davy," said Malcolm, turning sharp upon him: "can you swim?"

"Ay, can I, sir — weel that," answered Davy.

"Jump overboard, then, and swim ashore," said Malcolm, pointing to the Chelsea bank.

The boy made two strides to the larboard gunwale, and would have been over the next instant, but Malcolm caught him by the shoulder. "That'll do. Davy; I'll give you a chance, Davy," he said; "and if I get a good account of you from Travers, I'll rig you out like myself here."

"Thank you, sir," said Davy. "I s' du what I can to please ye, sir. An' gien' ye wad sen' my wauges hame to my mither, sir, ye wad ken 'at I cudna be gauin' stravaguin' an' drinkin' whan yer back was turn't."

"Well, I'll write to your mother and see what she says," said Malcolm. — "Now I want to tell you, both of you, that this yacht belongs to the Marchioness of Lossie, and I have the command of her, and I must have everything on board shipshape, and as clean, Travers, as if she was a seventy-four. If there's the head of a nail visible, it must be as bright as silver. And everything must be at the word. The least hesitation and I have done with that man. If Davy here had grumbled one mouthful, even on his way overboard, I wouldn't have kept him."

He then arranged that Travers was to go home that night, and bring with him the next morning an old carpenter friend of his. He would himself be down by seven o'clock to set him to work.

The result was, that before a fortnight was over he had the cabin thoroughly fitted up with all the luxuries it had formerly possessed, and as many more as he could think of to compensate for the loss of the space occupied by the daintiest little stateroom — a very jewel-box for softness and richness and comfort. In the cabin, amongst the rest of his additions, he had fixed in a corner a set of tiny bookshelves, and filled them with what books he knew his sister liked, and some that he liked for her. It was not probable she would read in them much, he said to himself, but they wouldn't make the boat heel, and who could tell when a drop of celestial nepenthe might ooze from one or another of them? So there they stood, in their lovely colors of morocco, russia, calf or vellum—types of the infinite rest in the midst of the ever restless — the types forever tossed, but the rest remaining.

By that time also he had arranged with Travers and Davy a code of signals.

The day after Malcolm had his new hack he rode him behind his mistress in the park, and nothing could be more decorous than the behavior of both horse and groom. It was early, and in Rotten Row, to his delight, they met the lady of rebuke. She and Florimel pulled up simultaneously, greeted, and had a little talk. When they parted, and the lady came to pass Malcolm, whom she had not suspected, sitting a civilized horse in all serenity behind his mistress, she cast a quick second glance at him, and her fair face flushed with the red reflex of yesterday's anger. He expected her to turn at once and complain of him to his mistress, but to his disappointment she rode on.

When they left the park, Florimel went down Constitution Hill, and, turning westward, rode to Chelsea. As they approached Mr. Lenorme's house she stopped and said to Malcolm, "I am going to run in and thank Mr. Lenorme for the trouble he has been at about the horse. Which is the house?"

She pulled up at the gate. Malcolm dismounted, but before he could get near to assist her she was already halfway up the walk, flying, and he was but in time to catch the rein of Abbot, already moving off, curious to know whether he was actually trusted alone. In about five minutes she came again, glancing about her all ways but behind — with a scared look, Malcolm thought. But she walked more slowly and statelily than usual down the path. In a moment Malcolm had her in the saddle, and she cantered away past the hospital into Sloane Street, and across the park home. He said to himself, "She knows the way."