Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1701/The Marquis of Lossie - Part VII
THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.
BY GEORGE MACDONALD, AUTHOR OF "MALCOLM," ETC.
PAINTER AND GROOM.
The address upon the note Malcolm had to deliver took him to a house in Chelsea — one of a row of beautiful old houses fronting the Thames, with little gardens between them and the road. The one he sought was overgrown with creepers, most of them now covered with fresh spring buds. The afternoon had turned cloudy, and a cold east wind came up the river, which, as the tide was falling, raised little waves on its surface and made Malcolm think of the herring. Somehow, as he went up to the door, a new chapter of his life seemed about to commence. The servant who took the note returned immediately and showed him up to the study, a large back room looking over a good-sized garden, with stables on one side. There Lenorme sat at his easel. "Ah!" he said, "I'm glad to see that wild animal has not quite torn you to pieces. Take a chair. What on earth made you bring such an incarnate fury to London?"
"I see well enough now, sir, she's not exactly the one for London use, but if you had once ridden her, you would never quite enjoy another between your knees."
"She's such an infernal brute!"
"You can't say too ill of her. But I fancy a jail-chaplain sometimes takes the most interest in the worst villain under his charge. I should be a proud man to make her fit to live with decent people."
"I'm afraid she'll be too much for you. At last you'll have to part with her, I fear."
"If she had bitten you as often she has me, sir, you wouldn't part with her. Besides, it would be wrong to sell her. She would only be worse with any one else. But, indeed, though you will hardly believe it, she is better than she was."
"Then what must she have been?"
"You may well say that, sir."
"Here your mistress tells me you want my assistance in choosing another horse."
"Yes, sir — to attend upon her in London."
"I don't profess to be knowing in horses: what made you think of me?"
"I saw how you sat your own horse, sir, and I heard you say you bought him out of a butterman's cart and treated him like a human being: that was enough for me, sir. I've long had the notion that the beasts, poor things! have a half-sleeping, half-waking human soul in them, and it was a great pleasure to hear you say something of the same sort. 'That gentleman,' I said to myself — 'he and I would understand one another.'"
"I am glad you think so," said Lenorme, with entire courtesy. It was not merely that the very doubtful recognition of his profession by society had tended to keep him clear of its prejudices, but both as a painter and a man he found the young fellow exceedingly attractive; — as a painter from the rare combination of such strength with such beauty, and as a man from a certain yet rarer clarity of nature which to the vulgar observer seems fatuity until he has to encounter it inaction, when the contrast is like meeting a thunderbolt. Naturally, the dishonest takes the honest for a fool. Beyond his understanding, he imagines him beneath it. But Lenorme, although so much more a man of the world, was able in a measure to look into Malcolm and appreciate him. His nature and his art combined in enabling him to do this.
"You see, sir," Malcolm went on, encouraged by the simplicity of Lenorme's manner, "if they were nothing like us, how should we be able to get on with them at all, teach them anything, or come a hair nearer them, do what we might? For all her wickedness, I firmly believe Kelpie has a sort of regard for me: I won't call it affection, but perhaps it comes as near that as may be possible in the time to one of her temper."
"Now I hope you will permit me, Mr. MacPhail," said Lenorme, who had been paying more attention to Malcolm than to his words, "to give a violent wrench to the conversation, and turn it upon yourself. You can't be surprised, and I hope you will not be annoyed, if I say you strike one as not altogether like your calling. No London groom I have ever spoken to in the least resembles you. How is it?"
"I hope you don't mean to imply, sir, that I don't know my business?" returned Malcolm, laughing.
"Anything but that. It were nearer the thing to say that, for all I know, you may understand mine as well."
"I wish I did, sir. Except the pictures at Lossie House and those in Portland Place, I've never seen one in my life. About most of them I must say I find it hard to imagine what better the world is for them. Mr. Graham says that no work that doesn't tend to make the world better makes it richer. If he were a heathen, he says, he would build a temple to Ses, the sister of Psyche."
"Ses? — I don't remember her," said Lenorme.
"The moth, sir — 'the moth and the rust,' you know."
"Yes, yes — now I know. Capital! Only more things may tend to make the world better than some people think. Who is this Mr. Graham of yours? He must be no common man."
"You are right there, sir: there is not another like him in the whole world, I believe." And thereupon Malcolm set himself to give the painter an idea of the schoolmaster.
When they had talked about him for a little while, "Well, all this accounts for your being a scholar," said Lenorme; "but ——"
"I am little enough of that, sir," interrupted Malcolm. "Any Scotch boy that likes to learn finds the way open to him."
"I am aware of that. But were you really reading Epictetus when we left you in the park this morning?"
"Yes, sir; why not?"
"In the original?"
"Yes, sir, but not very readily. I am a poor Greek scholar. But my copy has a rough Latin translation on the opposite page, and that helps me out. It's not difficult. You would think nothing of it if it had been Cornelius Nepos or Cordery's 'Colloquies.' It's only a better, not a more difficult book."
"I don't know about that. It's not every one who can read Greek that can understand Epictetus. Tell me what you have learned from him?"
"That would be hard to do. A man is very ready to forget how he came first to think of the things he loves best. You see, they are as much a necessity of your being as they are of the man's who thought them first. I can no more do without the truth than Plato. It is as much my needful food, and as fully mine to possess, as his. His having it, Mr. Graham says, was for my sake as well as his own. It's just like what Sir Thomas Browne says about the faces of those we love — that we cannot retain the idea of them, because they are ourselves. Those that help the world must be served like their Master and a good deal forgotten, I fancy. Of course they don't mind it. I remember another passage I think say's something to the same purpose — one in Epictetus himself," continued Malcolm, drawing the little book from his pocket and turning over the leaves, while Lenorme sat waiting, wondering, and careful not to interrupt him. He turned to the forty-second chapter and began to read from the Greek. I've forgotten all the Greek I ever had," said Lenorme.
Then Malcolm turned to the opposite page and began to read the Latin.
"Tut! tut!" said Lenorme, "I can't follow your Scotch pronunciation."
"That's a pity," said Malcolm: "it's the right way."
"I don't doubt it: you Scotch are always in the right. But just read it off in English, will you?"
Thus adjured, Malcolm read slowly and with choice of word and phrase: "'And if any one shall say unto thee that thou knowest nothing, notwithstanding thou must not be vexed: then know thou that thou hast begun thy work.' — That is," explained Malcolm, "when you keep silence about principles in the presence of those that are incapable of understanding them. — 'For the sheep also do not manifest to the shepherds how much they have eaten by producing fodder; but, inwardly digesting their food, they produce outwardly wool and milk. And thou therefore set not forth principles before the unthinking, but the actions that result from the digestion of them.' — That last is not quite literal, but I think it's about right," concluded Malcolm, putting the book again in the breast pocket of his silver-buttoned coat. "That's the passage I thought of, but I see now it won't apply. He speaks of not saying what you know: I spoke of forgetting where you got it."
"Come, now," said Lenorme, growing more and more interested in his new acquaintance, "tell me something about your life. Account for yourself. If you will make a friendship of it, you must do that."
"I will, sir," said Malcolm, and with the word began to tell him most things he could think of as bearing upon his mental history up to and after the time also when his birth was disclosed to him. In omitting that disclosure he believed he had without it quite accounted for himself. Through the whole recital he dwelt chiefly on the lessons and influences of the schoolmaster.
"Well, I must admit," said Lenorme when he had ended, "that you are no longer unintelligible, not to say incredible. You have had a splendid education, in which I hope you give the herring and Kelpie their due share." He sat silently regarding him for a few moments. Then he said, "I'll tell you what, now: if I help you to buy a horse, you must help me to paint a picture."
"I don't know how I'm to do that," said Malcolm, "but if you do, that's enough. I shall only be too happy to do what I can."
"Then I'll tell you. But you're not to tell anybody: it's a secret. I have discovered that there is no suitable portrait of Lady Lossie's father. It is a great pity. His brother and his father and grandfather are all in Portland Place, in Highland costume, as chiefs of their clan: his place only is vacant. Lady Lossie, however, has in her possession one or two miniatures of him, which, although badly painted, I should think may give the outlines of his face and head with tolerable correctness. From the portraits of his predecessors, and from Lady Lossie herself, I gain some knowledge of what is common to the family; and from all together I hope to gather and paint what will be recognizable by her as a likeness of her father; which afterward I hope to better by her remarks. These remarks I hope to get first from her feelings unadulterated by criticism, through the surprise of coming upon the picture suddenly: afterward from her judgment at its leisure. Now, I remember seeing you wait at table — the first time I saw you — in the Highland dress: will you come to me so dressed, and let me paint from you?"
"I'll do better than that, sir," cried Malcolm, eagerly. "I'll get up from Lossie House my lord's very dress that he wore when he went to court — his jewelled dirk, and Andrew Ferrara broadsword with the hilt of real silver. That'll greatly help your design upon my lady, for he dressed up in them all more than once just to please her."
"Thank you!" said Lenorme very heartily: "that will be of immense advantage. Write at once."
"I will, sir. Only I'm a bigger man than my — late master; and you must mind that."
"I'll see to it. You get the clothes and all the rest of the accoutrements — rich with barbaric gems and gold, and ——"
"Neither gems nor gold, sir — honest Scotch cairngorms and plain silver," said Malcolm.
"I only quoted Milton," returned Lenorme.
"Then you should have quoted correctly, sir. 'Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold' — that's the line, and you can't better it. Mr. Graham always pulled me up if I didn't quote correctly. By-the-bye, sir, some say it's kings barbaric, but there's barbaric gold in Virgil."
"I dare say you are right," said Lenorme. "But you are far too learned for me."
"Don't make game of me, sir. I know two or three books pretty well, and when I get a chance I can't help talking about them. It's so seldom now I can get a mouthful of Milton. There's no cave here to go into and roll the mimic thunder in your mouth. If the people here heard me reading loud out, they would call me mad. It's a mercy in this London if a workingman get loneliness enough to say his prayers in."
"You do say your prayers, then?" asked Lenorme, looking at him curiously.
"Yes: don't you, sir? You had so much sense about the beasts, I thought you must be a man that said his prayers."
Lenorme was silent. He was not altogether innocent of saying prayers, but of late years it had grown a more formal and gradually a rarer thing. One reason of this was that it had never come into his head that God cared about pictures, or had the slightest interest whether he painted well or ill. If a man's earnest calling, to which of necessity the greater part of his thought is given, is altogether dissociated in his mind from his religion, it is not wonderful that his prayers should by degrees wither and die. The question is, whether they ever had much vitality. But one mighty negative was yet true of Lenorme: he had not got in his head, still less had he ever cherished in his heart, the thought that there was anything fine in disbelieving in a God, or anything
contemptible in imagining communication with a being of grander essence than himself. That in which Socrates rejoiced with exultant humility many a youth nowadays thinks himself a fine fellow for casting from him with ignorant scorn.
A true conception of the conversation above recorded can hardly be had except my reader will take the trouble to imagine the contrast between the Scotch accent and inflection, the largeness and prolongation of vowel-sounds, and, above all, the Scotch tone of Malcolm, and the pure, clear articulation and decided utterance of the perfect London speech of Lenorme. It was something like the difference between the blank verse of Young and the prose of Burke.
The silence endured so long that Malcolm began to fear he had hurt his new friend, and thought it better to take his leave. "I'll go and write to Mrs. Courthope — that's the housekeeper — to-night, to send up the things at once. When would it be convenient for you to go and look at some horses with me, Mr. Lenorme?" he said.
"I shall be at home all to-morrrow," answered the painter, "and ready to go with you any time you like to come for me."
As he spoke he held out his hand, and they parted like old friends.
The next morning Malcolm took Kelpie into the park and gave her a good breathing. He had thought to jump the rails and let her have her head, but he found there were too many park-keepers and police about: he saw he could do little for her that way. He was turning home with her again when one of her evil fits came upon her, this time taking its first form in a sudden stiffening of every muscle: she stood stock-still with flaming eyes. I suspect we human beings know but little of the fierceness with which the vortices of passion rage in the more purely animal natures. This beginning he well knew would end in a wild paroxysm of rearing and plunging. He had more than once tried the exorcism of patience, sitting sedate upon her back until she chose to move; but on these occasions the tempest that followed had been of the very worst description; so that he had concluded it better to bring on the crisis, thereby sure at least to save time; and after he had adopted this mode with her, attacks of the sort, if no less violent, had certainly become fewer. The moment, therefore, that symptoms of an approaching fit showed themselves he used his spiked heels with vigor. Upon this occasion he had a stiff tussle with her, but as usual gained the victory, and was riding slowly along the Row, Kelpie tossing up now her head, now her heels, in indignant protest against obedience in general, and enforced obedience in particular, when a lady on horseback, who had come galloping from the opposite direction with her groom behind her, pulled up and lifted her hand with imperative grace: she had seen something of what had been going on. Malcolm reined in. But Kelpie, after her nature, was now as unwilling to stop as she had been before to proceed, and the fight began again, with some difference of movement and aspect, but the spurs once more playing a free part.
"Man! man!" cried the lady in most musical reproof, "do you know what you are about?"
"It would be a bad job for her and me too if I did not, my lady," said Malcolm, whom her appearance and manner impressed with a conviction of rank; and as he spoke he smiled in the midst of the struggle: he seldom got angry with Kelpie.
But the smile, instead of taking from the apparent roughness of his speech, only made his conduct appear in the lady's eyes more cruel. "How is it possible you can treat the poor animal so unkindly — and in cold blood too?" she said, and an indescribable tone of pleading ran through the rebuke. "Why, her poor sides are actually ——" A shudder and look of personal distress completed the sentence.
"You don't know what she is, my lady, or you would not think it necessary to intercede for her."
"But if she is naughty, is that any reason why you should be cruel?"
"No, my lady; but it is the best reason why I should try to make her good."
"You will never make her good that way."
"Improvement gives ground for hope," said Malcolm.
"But you must not treat a poor dumb animal as you would a responsible human being."
"She's not so very poor, my lady. She has all she wants, and does nothing to earn it — nothing to speak of, and nothing at all with good-will. For her dumbness, that's a mercy. If she could speak she wouldn't be fit to live amongst decent people. But for that matter, if some one hadn't taken her in hand, dumb as she is, she would have been shot long ago."
"Better that than live with such usage."
"I don't think she would agree with you, my lady. My fear is that, for as cruel as it looks to your ladyship, take it all together, she enjoys the fight. In any case, I am certain she has more regard for me than any other being in the universe."
"Who can have any regard for you," said the lady very gently, in utter mistake of his meaning, "if you have no command of your temper? You must learn to rule yourself first."
"That's true, my lady; and so long as my mare is not able to be a law to herself, I must be a law to her too."
"But have you never heard of the law of kindness? You could do so much more without the severity."
"With some natures I grant you, my lady, but not with such as she. Horse or man — they never know kindness till they have learned fear. Kelpie would have torn me to pieces before now if I had taken your way with her. But except I can do a good deal more with her yet, she will be nothing better than a natural brute beast made to be taken and destroyed."
"The Bible again!" murmured the lady to herself. "Of how much cruelty has not that book to bear the blame!"
All this time Kelpie was trying hard to get at the lady's horse to bite him. But she did not see that. She was too much distressed, and was growing more and more so. "I wish you would let my groom try her," she said after a pitiful pause. "He's an older and more experienced man than you. He has children. He would show you what can be done by gentleness."
From Malcolm's words she had scarcely gathered even a false meaning — not a glimmer of his nature — not even a suspicion that he meant something. To her he was but a handsome, brutal young groom. From the world of thought and reasoning that lay behind his words not an echo had reached her.
"It would be a great satisfaction to my old Adam to let him try her," said Malcolm.
"The Bible again!" said the lady to herself.
"But it would be murder," he added, "not knowing myself what experience he has had."
"I see," said the lady to herself, but loud enough for Malcolm to hear, for her tenderheartedness had made her both angry and unjust, "his self-conceit is equal to his cruelty — just what I might have expected!"
With the words she turned her horse's head and rode away, leaving a lump in Malcolm's throat.
"I wuss fowk" — he still spoke Scotch in his own chamber — "wad du as they're tell't, an' no jeedge ane anither. I'm sure it's Kelpie's best chance o' salvation 'at I gang on wi' her. Stablemen wad hae had her brocken doon a'thegither by this time, an' life wad hae had little relish left."
It added hugely to the bitterness of being thus rebuked that he had never in his life seen such a radiance of beauty's softest light as shone from the face and form of the reproving angel, "Only she canna be an angel," he said to himself, "or she wad hae ken't better."
She was young — not more than twenty — tall and graceful, with a touch of the matronly, which she must have had even in childhood, for it belonged to her, so staid, so stately was she in all her grace. With her brown hair, her lily complexion, her blue-gray eyes, she was all of the moonlight and its shadows — even now in the early morning and angry. Her nose was so nearly perfect that one never thought of it. Her mouth was rather large, but had gained in value of shape, and in the expression of indwelling sweetness, with every line that carried it beyond the measure of smallness. Most little mouths are pretty, some even lovely, but not one have I seen beautiful. Her forehead was the sweetest of half-moons. Of those who knew her best, some absolutely believed that a radiance resembling moonlight shimmered from its precious expanse. "Be ye angry and sin not," had always been a puzzle to Malcolm, who had, as I have said, inherited a certain Celtic fierceness: but now, even while he knew himself the object of the anger, he understood the word. It tried him, sorely, however, that such gentleness and beauty should be unreasonable. Could it be that he should never have a chance of convincing her how mistaken she was concerning his treatment of Kelpie? What a celestial rosy red her face had glowed! and what summer lightnings had flashed up in her eyes, as if they had been the horizons of heavenly worlds up which flew the dreams that broke from the brain of a young sleeping goddess, to make the worlds glad also in the night of their slumber! Something like this Malcolm felt: whoever saw her must feel as he had never felt before. He gazed after her long and earnestly. "It's an awfu' thing to hae a women like that angert at ye," he said to himself when at length she had disappeared — "as bonny as she is angry. God be praised 'at he kens a' thing, an' 's no angert wi' ye for the luik o' a thing! But the wheel may come roon' again — wha kens? Ony gait, I s' mak the best o' Kelpie I can. — I won'er gien she kens Leddy Florimel? She's a heap mair boontifu'-like in her beauty nor her. The man micht haud 's ain wi' an archangel 'at had a wuman like that to the wife o' 'm. — Hoots! I'll be wussin' I had had anither upbringing 'at I micht ha' won a step nearer to the hem o' her garment; an' that wad be to deny him 'at made 'an ordeen't me. I wull not do that. But I maun hae a crack wi' Maister Graham anent things twa or three, jist to haud me straucht, for I'm jist girnin' at bein' sae regairdit by sic a revelation. Gien she had been an auld wife, I wad hae only lauchen: what for 's that? I doobt I'm no muckle mair rizzonable nor hersel'. The thing was this, I fancy: it was sae clear she spak frae no ill-natur', only frae pure humanity. She's a gran' ane, yon, only some saft, I doobt."
For the lady, she rode away sadly strengthened in her doubts whether there could be a God in the world — not because there were in it such men as she took Malcolm for, but because such a lovely animal had fallen into his hands.
"It's a sair thing, to be misjeedged," said Malcolm to himself as he put the demoness in her stall; "but it's no more than the Macker o' 's pits up wi' ilka hoor o' the day, an' says na a word. Eh, but God's unco quaiet! Sae lang as he kens till himsel' 'at he's a' richt, he latsfowk think 'at they like — till he has time to lat them ken better. Lord, mak clean my hert within me, an' syne I'll care little for ony jeedgment but thine!"
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 toseen 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."
Alexander Graham, the schoolmaster, was the son of a grieve, or farm-overseer, in the north of Scotland. By straining every nerve his parents had succeeded in giving him a university education, the narrowness of whose scope was possibly favorable to the development of what genius, rare and shy, might lurk among the students. He had labored well, and had gathered a good deal from books and lectures, but far more from the mines they guided him to discover in his own nature. In common with so many Scotch parents, his had cherished the most wretched as well as hopeless of all ambitions, seeing it presumes to work in a region into which no ambition can enter — I mean that of seeing their son a clergyman. In presbyter, curate, bishop, or cardinal ambition can fare but as that of the creeping thing to build its nest in the topmost boughs of the cedar. Worse than that: my simile is a poor one, for the moment a thought of ambition is cherished, that moment the man is out of the kingdom. Their son, with already a few glimmering insights which had not yet begun to interfere with his acceptance of the doctrines of his Church, made no opposition to their wish, but having qualified himself to the satisfaction of his superiors, at length ascended the pulpit to preach his first sermon.
The custom of the time as to preaching was a sort of compromise between reading a sermon and speaking extempore, a mode morally as well as artistically false; the preacher learned his sermon by rote, and repeated it — as much like the man he therein was not, and as little like the parrot he was, as he could. It is no wonder, in such an attempt, either that memory should fail a shy man or assurance an honest man. In Mr. Graham's case it was probably the former: the practice was universal, and he could hardly yet have begun to question it, so as to have had any conscience of evil. Blessedly, however, for his dawning truth and well-being, he failed — failed utterly, pitifully. His tongue clave to the roof of his mouth; his lips moved, but shaped no sound; a deathly dew bathed his forehead; his knees shook; and he sank at last to the bottom of the chamber of his torture, whence, while his mother wept below and his father clenched hands of despair beneath the tails of his Sunday coat, he was half led, half dragged down the steps by the bedral, shrunken together like one caught in a shameful deed, and with the ghastly look of him who has but just revived from the faint supervening on the agonies of the rack. Home they crept together, speechless and hopeless, all three, to be thenceforth the contempt, and not the envy, of their fellow-parishioners. For if the vulgar feeling toward the home-born prophet is superciliousness, what must the sentence upon failure be in ungenerous natures, to which every downfall of another is an uplifting of themselves! But Mr. Graham's worth had gained him friends in the presbytery, and he was that same week appointed to the vacant school of another parish.
There it was not long before he made the acquaintance of Griselda Campbell, who was governess in the great house of the neigborhood, and a love, not the less true that it was hopeless from the first, soon began to consume the chagrin of his failure, and substitute for it a more elevating sorrow; for how could an embodied failure, to offer whose miserable self would be an insult, dare speak of love to one before whom his whole being sank worshipping? Silence was the sole armor of his privilege. So long as he was silent the terrible arrow would never part from the bow of those sweet lips: he might love on, love ever, nor be grudged the bliss of such visions as, to him seated on its outer steps, might come from any chance opening of the heavenly gate. And Miss Campbell thought of him more kindly than he knew. But before long she accepted the offered situation of governess to Lady Annabel, the only child of the late marquis's elder brother, at that time himself marquis, and removed to Lossie House. There the late marquis fell in love with her and persuaded her to a secret marriage. There also she became, in the absence of her husband, the mother of Malcolm. But the marquis of the time, jealous for the succession of his daughter, and fearing his brother might yet marry the mother of his child, contrived, with the assistance of the midwife, to remove the infant and persuade the mother that he was dead, and also to persuade his brother of the death of both mother and child; after which, imagining herself wilfully deserted by her husband, yet determined to endure shame rather than break the promise of secrecy she had given him, the poor lady accepted the hospitality of her distant relative, Miss Horn, and continued with her till she died.
When he learned where she had gone, Mr. Graham seized a chance of change to Portlossie that occurred soon after, and when she became her cousin's guest went to see her, was kindly received, and for twenty years lived in friendly relations with the two. It was not until after her death that he came to know the strange fact that the object of his calm, unalterable devotion had been a wife all those years, and was the mother of his favorite pupil. About the same time he was dismissed from the school on the charge of heretical teaching, founded on certain religious conversations he had had with some of the fisher-people who sought his advice; and thereupon he had left the place and gone to London, knowing it would be next to impossible to find, or gather another school in Scotland after being thus branded. In London he hoped, one way or another, to avoid dying of cold or hunger or in debt: that was very nearly the limit of his earthly ambition.
He had just one acquaintance in the whole mighty city, and no more. Him he had known in the days of his sojourn at King's College, where he had grown with him from bejan to magistrand. He was the son of a linendraper in Aberdeen, and was a decent, good-humored fellow, who, if he had not distinguished, had never disgraced himself. His father, having somewhat influential business relations, and finding in him no leanings to a profession, bespoke the good offices of a certain large retail house in London, and sent him thither to learn the business. The result was, that he had married a daughter of one of the partners, and become a partner himself. His old friend wrote to him at his shop in Oxford Street, and then went to see him at his house on Haverstock Hill.
He was shown into the library, in which were, two mahogany cases with plate-glass doors, full of books, well cared for as to clothing and condition, and perfectly placid, as if never disturbed from one week's end to another. In a minute Mr. Marshal entered — so changed that he could never have recognized him; still, however, a kind-hearted, genial man. He received his class-fellow cordially and respectfully, referred merrily to old times, begged to know how he was getting on, asked whether he had come to London with any special object, and invited him to dine with them on Sunday. He accepted the invitation, met him, according to agreement, at a certain chapel in Kentish town, of which he was a deacon, and walked home with him and his wife.
They had but one of their family at home, the youngest son, whom his father was having educated for the Dissenting ministry in the full conviction that he was doing not a little for the truth, and justifying its cause before men, by devoting to its service the son of a man of standing and worldly means, whom he might have easily placed in a position to make money. The youth was of simple character and good inclination — ready to do what he saw to be right, but slow in putting to the question anything that interfered with his notions of laudable ambition or justifiable self-interest. He was attending lectures at a Dissenting college in the neighborhood, for his father feared Oxford or Cambridge — not for his morals, but his opinions in regard to Church and State.
The schoolmaster spent a few days in the house. His friend was generally in town, and his wife, regarding him as very primitive and hardly fit for what she counted society — the class, namely, that she herself represented — was patronizing and condescending; but the young fellow, finding, to his surprise, that he knew a great deal more about his studies than he did himself, was first somewhat attracted, and then somewhat influenced by him, so that at length an intimacy tending to friendship arose between them.
Mr. Graham was not a little shocked to discover that his ideas in respect of the preacher's calling were of a very worldly kind. The notions of this fledging of Dissent differed from those of a clergyman of the same stamp in this: the latter regards the church as a society with accumulated property for the use of its officers; the former regarded it as a community of communities, each possessing a preaching-house which ought to be made commercially successful. Saving influences must emanate from it of course, but Dissenting saving influences.
His mother was a partisan to a hideous extent. To hear her talk you would have thought she imagined the apostles the first Dissenters, and that the main duty of every Christian soul was to battle for the victory of Congregationalism over episcopacy, and voluntaryism over State endowment. Her every mode of thinking and acting was of a levelling commonplace. With her, love was liking, duty something unpleasant — generally to other people — and kindness patronage. But she was just in money matters, and her son too had every intention of being worthy of his hire, though wherein lay the value of the labor with which he thought to counterpoise that hire it were hard to say.