The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XXXI

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The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XXXI
by George MacDonald



Things had taken a turn that was not to Malcolm's satisfaction, and his thoughts were as busy all the way home as Kelpie would allow. He had ardently desired that his sister should be thoroughly in love with Lenorme, for that seemed to open a clear path out of his worst difficulties; now they had quarrelled, and besides were both angry with him. The main fear was that Liftore would now make some progress with her. Things looked dangerous. Even his warning against Caley had led to a result the very opposite of his intent and desire. And now it recurred to him that he had once come upon Liftore talking to Caley, and giving her something that shone like a sovereign.

Earlier on the same morning of her visit to the studio, Florimel had awaked and found herself in the presence of the spiritual Vehmgericht. Every member of the tribunal seemed against her. All her thoughts were busy accusing, none of them excusing one another. So hard were they upon her that she fancied she had nearly come to the conclusion that, if only she could do it pleasantly, without pain or fear, the best thing would be to swallow something and fall asleep; for, like most people, she was practically an atheist, and therefore always thought of death as the refuge from the ills of life. But although she was often very uncomfortable, Florimel knew nothing of such genuine downright misery as drives some people to what can be no more to their purpose than if a man should strip himself naked because he is cold. When she returned from her unhappy visit, and had sent her attendant to get her some tea, she threw herself upon her bed, and found herself yet again in the dark chambers of the spiritual police. But already even their company was preferable to that of Caley, whose officiousness began to enrage her. She was yet tossing in the Nessus-tunic of her own disharmony when Malcolm came for orders. To get rid of herself and Caley both he desired him to bring the horses round at once.

It was more than Malcolm had expected. He ran; he might yet have a chance of trying to turn her in the right direction. He knew that Liftore was neither in the house nor at the stable. With the help of the earl's groom he was round in ten minutes. Florimel was all but ready; like some other ladies she could dress quickly when she had good reason. She sprang from Malcolm's hand to the saddle, and led as straight northward as she could go, never looking behind her till she drew rein on the top of Hampstead Heath. When he rode up to her, "Malcolm," she said, looking at him half ashamed, "I don't think my father would have minded you wearing his clothes."

"Thank you, my lady," said Malcolm. " At least he would have forgiven anything meant for your pleasure."

"I was too hasty," she said. "But the fact was, Mr. Lenorme had irritated me, and I foolishly mixed you up with him."

"When I went into the studio after you left it this morning, my lady," Malcolm ventured, "he had his head between his hands, and would not even look at me."

Florimel turned her face aside, and Malcolm thought she was sorry, but she was only hiding a smile; she had not yet got beyond the kitten stage of love, and was pleased to find she gave pain.

"If your ladyship never had another true friend, Mr. Lenorme is one," added Malcolm.

"What opportunity can you have had for knowing?" said Florimel.

"I have been sitting to him every morning for a good many days," answered Malcolm. "He is something like a man!"

Florimel's face flushed with pleasure.

She liked to hear him praised, for he loved her.

"You should have seen, my lady, the pains he took with that portrait! He would stare at the little picture you lent him of my lord for minutes, as if he were looking through it at something behind it; then he would get up and go and gaze at your ladyship on the pedestal, as if you were the goddess herself, able to tell him everything about your father; and then he would hurry back to his easel and give a touch or two to the face, looking at it all the time as if he loved it. It must have been a cruel pain that drove him to smear it as he did."

Florimel began to feel a little motion of shame somewhere in the mystery of her being. But to show that to her servant would be to betray herself — the more that he seemed the painter's friend.

"I will ask Lord Liftore to go and see the portrait, and if he thinks it like I will buy it," she said. "Mr. Lenorme is certainly very clever with his brush."

Malcolm saw that she said this not to insult Lenorme, but to blind her groom, and made no answer.

"I will ride there with you to-morrow morning," she added in conclusion, and moved on.

Malcolm touched his hat and dropped behind. But the next moment he was by her side again: " I beg your pardon, my lady, but would you allow me to say one word more?"

She bowed her head.

"That woman Caley, I am certain, is not to be trusted. She does not love you, my lady."

"How do you know that?" asked Florimel, speaking steadily, but writhing inwardly with the knowledge that the warning was too late.

"I have tried her spirit," answered Malcolm, "and know that it is of the devil. She loves herself too much to be true."

After a little pause Florimel said, "I know you mean well, Malcolm, but it is nothing to me whether she loves me or not. We don't look for that nowadays from servants."

"It is because I love you, my lady," said Malcolm, "that I know Caley does not. If she should get hold of anything your ladyship would not wish talked about ——"

"That she cannot," said Florimel, but with an inward shudder. "She may tell the whole world all she can discover."

She would have cantered on as the words left her lips, but something in Malcolm's look held her. She turned pale, she trembled: her father was looking at her as only once had she seen him — in doubt whether his child lied. The illusion was terrible. She shook in her saddle. The next moment she was galloping along the grassy border of the heath in wild flight from her worst enemy, whom yet she could never by the wildest of flights escape; for when, coming a little to herself as she approached a sand-pit, she pulled up, there was her enemy — neither before nor behind, neither above nor beneath nor within her: it was the self which had just told a lie to the servant of whom she had so lately boasted that he never told one in his life. Then she grew angry. What had she done to be thus tormented? She, a marchioness, thus pestered by her own menials — pulled opposing directions by a groom and a maid! She would turn them both away, and have nobody about her either to trust or suspect.

She might have called them her good and her evil genius; for she knew — that is, she had it somewhere about her, but did not look it out — that it was her own cowardice and concealment, her own falseness to the traditional, never-failing courage of her house, her ignobility and unfitness to represent the Colonsays — her double-dealing, in short — that had made the marchioness in her own right the slave of her woman, the rebuked of her groom.

She turned and rode back, looking the other way as she passed Malcolm.

When they reached the top of the heath, riding along to meet them came Liftore — this time to Florimel's consolation and confort; she did not like riding unprotected with a good angel at her heels. So glad was she that she did not even take the trouble to wonder how he had discovered the road she went. She never suspected that Caley had sent his lordship's groom to follow her until the direction of her ride should be evident, but took his appearance without question as a lover-like attention, and rode home with him, talking the whole way, and cherishing a feeling of triumph over both Malcolm and Lenorme. Had she not a protector of her own kind? Could she not, when they troubled her, pass from their sphere into one beyond their ken? For the moment the poor weak lord who rode beside her seemed to her foolish heart a tower of refuge. She was particularly gracious and encouraging to her tower as they rode, and fancied again and again that perhaps the best way out of her troubles would be to encourage and at last accept him, so getting rid of honeyed delights and rankling stings together, of good and evil angels and low-bred lover at one sweep. Quiet would console for dulness, innocence for weariness. She would fain have a good conscience toward society — that image whose feet are of gold and its head a bag of chaff and sawdust.

Malcolm followed, sick at heart that she should prove herself so shallow. Riding Honor, he had plenty of leisure to brood.