Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1703/The Marquis of Lossie - Part VIII
THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.
BY GEORGE MACDONALD, AUTHOR OF "MALCOLM," ETC.
The sermon Mr. Graham heard at the chapel that Sunday morning in Kentish Town was not of an elevating, therefore not of a strengthening, description. The pulpit was at that time in offer to the highest bidder — in orthodoxy, that is, combined with popular talent. The first object of the chapel's existence — I do not say in the minds of those who built it, for it was an old place, but certainly in the minds of those who now directed its affairs — was not to save its present congregation, but to gather a larger — ultimately that they might be saved, let us hope, but primarily that the drain upon the purses of those who were responsible for its rent and other outlays might be lessened. Mr. Masquar, therefore, to whom the post was a desirable one, had been mainly anxious that morning to prove his orthodoxy, and so commend his services. Not that in those days one heard so much of the dangers of heterodoxy — that monster was as yet but growling far off in the jungles of Germany — but certain whispers had been abroad concerning the preacher which he thought it desirable to hush, especially as they were founded in truth. He had tested the power of heterodoxy to attract attention, but having found that the attention it did attract was not of a kind favorable to his wishes, had so skilfully remodelled his theories that, although to his former friends he declared them in substance unaltered, it was impossible any longer to distinguish them from the most uncompromising orthodoxy; and his sermon of that morning had tended neither to the love of God, the love of man, nor a hungering after righteousness — its aim being to disprove the reported heterodoxy of Jacob Masquar.
As they walked home, Mrs. Marshal, addressing her husband in a tone of conjugal disapproval, said, with more force than delicacy, "The pulpit is not the place to give a man to wash his dirty linen in."
"Well, you see, my love," answered her husband in a tone of apology, "people won't submit to be told their duty by mere students, and just at present there seems nobody else to be had. There's none in the market but old stagers and young colts — eh, Fred? — But Mr. Masquar is at least a man of experience."
"Of more than enough, perhaps," suggested his wife. "And the young ones must have their chance, else how are they to learn? You should have given the principal a hint. It is a most desirable thing that Frederick should preach a little oftener."
"They have it in turn, and it wouldn't do to favor one more than another,"
"He could hand his guinea, or whatever they gave him, to the one whose turn it ought to have been, and that would set it all right."
At this point the silk-mercer, fearing that the dominie, as he called him, was silently disapproving, and willing therefore to change the subject, turned to him and said, "Why shouldn't you give us a sermon, Graham?"
The schoolmaster laughed. "Did you never hear," he said, "how I fell like Dagon on the threshold of the Church, and have lain there ever since?"
"What has that to do with it?" returned his friend, sorry that his forgetfulness should have caused a painful recollection.
"That is ages ago, when you were little more than a boy. Seriously," he added, chiefly to cover his little indiscretion, "will you preach for us the Sunday after next?" Deacons generally ask a man to preach for them.
"No," said Mr. Graham.
But even as he said it a something began to move in his heart — a something half of jealousy for God, half of pity for poor souls buffeted by such winds as had that morning been roaring, chaff-laden about the church, while the grain fell all to the bottom of the pulpit. Something burned in him: was it the word that was as a fire in his bones, or was it a mere lust of talk? He thought for a moment. "Have you any gatherings between Sundays?" he asked.
"Yes, every Wednesday evening," replied Mr. Marshal. "And if you won't preach on Sunday, we shall announce tonight that next Wednesday a clergyman of the Church of Scotland will address the prayer-meeting."
He was glad to get out of it so, for he was uneasy about his friend, both as to his nerve which might fail him, and his Scotch oddities which would not.
"That would be hardly true," said Mr. Graham, "seeing I never got beyond a license."
Nobody here knows the difference between a licentiate and a placed minister; and if they did, they would not care a straw. So we'll just say clergyman."
"But I won't have it announced in any terms. Leave that alone, and I will try to speak at the prayer-meeting."
"It won't be in the least worth your while except we announce it. You won't have a soul to hear you but the pew-openers, the woman that cleans the chapel, Mrs. Marshal's washerwoman, and the old greengrocer we buy our vegetables from. We must really announce it."
"Then I won't do it. Just tell me: what would our Lord have said to Peter or John if they had told him that they had been to synagogue and had been asked to speak, but had declined because there were only the pew-owners, the chapel-cleaner, a washerwoman, and a greengrocer present?"
"I said it only for your sake, Graham: you needn't take me up so sharply."
"And ra-a-ther irreverently, don't you think? Excuse me, sir," said Mrs. Marshal very softly. But the very softness had a kind of jelly-fish sting in it.
"I think," rejoined the schoolmaster, indirectly replying, "we must be careful to show our reverence in a manner pleasing to our Lord. Now, I cannot discover that he cares for any reverences but the shaping of our ways after his; and if you will show me a single instance of respect of persons in our Lord, I will press my petition no further to be allowed to speak a word to your pew-openers, washerwoman and greengrocer."
His entertainers were silent — the gentleman in the consciousness of deserved rebuke, the lady in offence.
Just then the latter bethought herself that their guest, belonging to the Scotch Church, was, if no Episcopalian, yet no Dissenter, and that seemed to clear up to her the spirit of his disapproval.
"By all means, Mr. Marshal," she said, "let your friend speak on the Wednesday evening. It would not be to his disadvantage to have it said that he occupied a Dissenting pulpit. It will not be nearly such an exertion, either; and if he is unaccustomed to speak to large congregations, he will find himself more comfortable with our usual week-evening one."
"I have never attempted to speak in public but once," rejoined Mr. Graham, "and then I failed."
"Ah! that accounts for it," said his friend's wife; and the simplicity of his confession, while it proved him a simpleton, mollified her.
Thus it came that he spent the days between Sunday and Thursday in their house, and so made the acquaintance of young Marshal.
When his mother perceived their growing intimacy, she warned her son that their visitor belonged to an unscriptural and worldly community, and that notwithstanding his apparent guilelessness — deficiency indeed — he might yet use cunning arguments to draw him aside from the faith of his fathers. But the youth replied that, although, in the firmness of his own position as a Congregationalist, he had tried to get the Scotchman into a conversation upon Church government, he had failed: the man smiled queerly and said nothing. But when a question of New Testament criticism arose he came awake at once, and his little blue eyes gleamed like glowworms.
"Take care, Frederick!" said his mother. "The Scriptures are not to be treated like common books and subjected to human criticism."
"We must find out what they mean, I suppose, mother," said the youth.
"You're to take just the plain meaning that he that runneth may read," answered his mother. "More than that no one has any business with. You've got to save your own soul first, and then the souls of your neighbors if they will let you; and for that reason you must cultivate, not a spirit of criticism, but the talents that attract people to the hearing of the Word. You have got a fine voice, and it will improve with judicious use. Your father is now on the outlook for a teacher of elocution to instruct you how to make the best of it and speak with power on God's behalf."
When the afternoon of Wednesday began to draw toward the evening there came on a mist — not a London fog, but a low wet cloud — which kept slowly condensing into rain; and as the hour of meeting drew nigh with the darkness it grew worse. Mrs. Marshal had forgotten all about the meeting and the schoolmaster; her husband was late, and she wanted her dinner. At twenty minutes past six she came upon her guest in the hall, kneeling on the door-mat, first on one knee, then on the other, turning up the feet of his trousers. "Why, Mr. Graham," she said kindly as he rose and proceeded to look for his cotton umbrella, easily discernible in the stand among the silk ones of the house, "you're never going out in a night like this?"
"I am going to the prayer-meeting, ma'am," he said.
" Nonsense! You'll be wet to the skin before you get halfway."
"I promised, you may remember, ma'am, to talk a little to them."
"You only said so to my husband. You may be very glad, seeing it has turned out so wet, that I would not allow him to have it announced from the pulpit. There is not the slightest occasion for your going. Besides, you have not had your dinner."
"That's not of the slightest consequence, ma'am. A bit of bread and cheese before I go to bed is all I need to sustain nature and fit me for understanding my proposition in Euclid. I have been in the habit, for the last few years, of reading one every night before I go to bed."
"We Dissenters consider a chapter of the Bible the best thing to read before going to bed," said the lady with a sustained voice.
"I keep that for the noontide of my perceptions — for mental high water," said the schoolmaster. "Euclid is good enough after supper. Not that I deny myself a small portion of the Word," he added with a smile as he proceeded to open the door, when I feel very hungry for it."
"There is no one expecting you," persisted the lady, who could ill endure not to have her own way, even when she did not care for the matter concerned. "Who will be the wiser or the worse if you stay at home?"
"My dear lady," returned the schoolmaster, "when I have on good grounds made up my mind to a thing, I always feel as if I had promised God to do it; and indeed it amounts to the same thing very nearly. Such a resolve, then, is not to be unmade, except on equally good grounds with those upon which it was made. Having resolved to try whether I could not draw a little water of refreshment for souls which, if not thirsting, are but fainting the more, shall I allow a few drops of rain to prevent me?"
"Pray don't let me persuade you against your will," said his hostess, with a stately bend of her neck over her shoulder as she turned into the drawing-room.
Her guest went out into the rain, asking himself by what theory of the will his hostess could justify such a phrase — too simple to see that she had only thrown it out, as the cuttle-fish its ink, to cover her retreat.
But the weather had got a little into his brain: into his soul it was seldom allowed to intrude. He felt depressed and feeble and dull. But at the first corner he turned he met a little breath of wind. It blew the rain in his face and revived him a little, reminding him at the same time that he had not yet opened his umbrella. As he put it up he laughed. "Here I am," he said to himself, "lance in hand, spurring to meet my dragon!"
Once when he used a similar expression, Malcolm had asked him what he meant by his dragon. "I mean," replied the schoolmaster, "that huge slug, the commonplace. It is the wearifulest dragon to fight in the whole miscreation. Wound it as you may, the jelly mass of the monster closes, and the dull one is himself again — feeding all the time so cunningly that scarce one of the victims whom he has swallowed suspects that he is but pabulum slowly digesting in the belly of the monster."
If the schoolmaster's dragon, spread abroad as he lies, a vague dilution, everywhere throughout human haunts, has yet any head-quarters, where else can they be than in such places as that to which he was now making his way to fight him? What can be fuller of the wearisome, depressing, beauty-blasting commonplace than a Dissenting chapel in London on the night of the weekly prayer-meeting, and that night a drizzly one?" The few lights fill the lower part with a dull, yellow, steamy glare, while the vast galleries, possessed by an ugly twilight, yawn above like the dreary openings of a disconsolate eternity. The pulpit rises into the dim, damp air, covered with brown holland, reminding one of desertion and charwomen, if not of a chamber of death and spiritual undertakers who have shrouded and coffined the truth. Gaping, empty, unsightly, the place is the very skull of the monster himself — the fittest place of all wherein to encounter the great slug, and deal him one of those death-blows which every sunrise, every repentance, every childbirth, every true love, deals him. Every hour he receives the blow that kills, but he takes long to die, for every hour he is right carefully fed and cherished by a whole army of purveyors, including every trade and profession, but officered chiefly by divines and men of science.
When the dominie entered all was still, and every light had a nimbus of illuminated vapor. There were hardly more than three present beyond the number Mr. Marshal had given him to expect; and their faces, some grim, some grimy, most of them troubled, and none blissful, seemed the nervous ganglions of the monster whose faintly-gelatinous bulk filled the place. He seated himself in a pew near the pulpit, communed with his own heart, and was still. Presently the ministering deacon, a humbler one, in the worldly sense than Mr. Marshal, for he kept a small ironmongery shop in the next street to the chapel, entered, twirling the wet from his umbrella as he came along one of the passages intersecting the pews. Stepping up into the desk which cowered humbly at the foot of the pulpit, he stood erect and cast his eyes around the small assembly. Discovering there no one that could lead in the singing, he chose out and read one of the monster's favorite hymns, in which never a sparkle of thought or a glow of worship gave reason wherefore the holy words should have been carpentered together. Then he prayed aloud, and then first the monster found tongue, voice, articulation. If this was worship, surely it was the monster's own worship of itself. No God were better than one to whom such were fittng words of prayer. What passed in the man's soul God forbid I should judge: I speak but of the words that reached the ears of men.
And over all the vast of London lay the monster, filling it like the night — not in churches and chapels only — in almost all theatres and most houses — most of all in rich houses: everywhere he had a foot, a tail, a tentacle or two — everywhere suckers that drew the life-blood from the sickening and somnolent soul.
When the deacon — a little brown man, about five and thirty — had ended his prayer, he read another hymn of the same sort — one of such as form the bulk of most collections, and then looked meaningly at Mr. Graham, whom he had seen in the chapel on Sunday with his brother deacon, and therefore judged one of consequence, who had come to the meeting with an object, and ought to be propitiated: he had intended speaking himself. After having thus for a moment regarded him, "Would you favor us with a word of exhortation, sir?" he said in a stage-like whisper.
Now the monster had by this time insinuated a hair-like sucker into the heart of the schoolmaster, and was busy. But at the word, as the Red-cross Knight when he heard Orgoglio in the wood staggered to meet him, he rose at once, and, although his umbrella slipped and fell with a loud discomposing clatter, calmly approached the reading-desk. To look at his outer man, this knight of the truth might have been the very high priest of the monster, which, while he was sitting there, had been twisting his slimy, semi-electric, benumbing tendrils around his heart. His business was nevertheless to fight him, though to fight him in his own heart and that of other people at one and the same moment he might well find hard work. And the loathly worm had this advantage over the knight, that it was the first time he had stood up to speak in public since his failure thirty years ago. That hour again for a moment overshadowed his spirit. It was a wavy harvest morning in a village of the north. A golden wind was blowing, and little white clouds flying aloft in the sunny blue. The church was full of well-known faces, upturned, listening, expectant, critical. The hour vanished in a slow mist of abject misery and shame. But had he not learned to rejoice over all dead hopes and write Te Deums on their coffin-lids? And now he stood in dim light, in the vapor from damp garments, in dinginess and ugliness, with a sense of spiritual squalor and destitution in his very soul. He had tried to pray his own prayer while the deacon prayed his, but there had come to him no reviving, no message for this handful of dull souls — there were nine of them in all — and his own soul crouched hard and dull within his bosom. How to give them one deeper breath? How to make them know they were alive? Whence was his aid to come?
His aid was nearer than he knew. There were no hills to which he could lift his eyes, but help may hide in the valley as well as come down from the mountain, and he found his under the coal-scuttle bonnet of the woman that swept out and dusted the chapel. She was no interesting young widow. A life of labor and vanished children lay behind as well as before her. She was sixty years of age, seamed with the small-pox, and in every seam the dust and smoke of London had left a stain. She had a troubled eye, and a gafe that seemed to ask of the universe why it had given birth to her. But it was only her face that asked the question: her mind was too busy with the ever-recurring enigma, which, answered this week, was still an enigma for the next: — how she was to pay her rent — too busy to have any other question to ask. Or would she not rather, have gone to sleep altogether, under the dreary fascination of the slug monster, had she not had a severe landlady who would be paid punctually or turn her out? Anyhow, every time and all the time she sat in the chapel she was brooding over ways and means, calculating pence and shillings — the day's charing she had promised her, and the chances of more — mingling faint regrets over past indulgences — the extra half-pint of beer she drank on Saturday, the bit of cheese she bought on Monday. Of this face of care, revealing a spirit which Satan had bound, the schoolmaster caught sight — caught from its commonness, its grimness, its defeature, inspiration and uplifting, for there he beheld the oppressed, down-trodden, mire-fouled humanity which the Man in whom he believed had loved because it was his Father's humanity divided into brothers, and had died straining to lift back to the bosom of that Father. Oh tale of horror and dreary monstrosity, if it be such indeed the bulk of its priests on the one hand and its enemies on the other represent it! Oh story of splendrous fate, of infinite resurrection and uplifting, of sun and breeze, of organ-blasts and exultation, for the heart of every man and woman, whatsoever the bitterness of its cark or the weight of its care, if it be such as the Book itself has held it from age to age!
It was the mere humanity of the woman, I say, and nothing in her individuality of what is commonly called the interesting, that ministered to the breaking of the schoolmaster's trance. "O ye of little faith!" were the first words that flew from his lips — he knew not whether uttered concerning himself or the charwoman the more — and at once he fell to speaking of him who said the words, and of the people that came to him and heard him gladly — how this one, whom he described, must have felt, Oh, if that be true! how that one, whom also he described, must have said, Now he means me! and so laid bare the secrets of many hearts, until he had concluded all in the misery of being without a helper in the world, a prey to fear and selfishness and dismay. Then he told them how the Lord pledged himself for all their needs — meat and drink and clothes for the body, and God and love and truth for the soul — if only they would put them in the right order and seek the best first.
Next he spoke a parable to them — of a house and a father and his children. The children would not do what their father told them, and therefore began to keep out of his sight. After a while they began to say to each other that he must have gone out, it was so long since they had seen him; only they never went to look. And again after a time some of them began to say to each other that they did not believe they had ever had any father. But there were some who dared not say that — who thought they had a father somewhere in the house, and yet crept about in misery, sometimes hungry and often cold, fancying he was not friendly to them,, when all the time it was they who were not friendly to him, and said to themselves he would not give them anything. They never went to knock at his door, or call to know if he were inside and would speak to them. And all the time there he was sitting sorrowful, listening and listening for some little hand to come knocking, and some little voice to come gently calling through the keyhole; for sorely did he long to take them to his bosom and give them everything. Only if he did that without their coming to him, they would not care for his love or him — would only care for the things he gave them, and soon would come to hate their brothers and sisters, and turn their own souls into hells and the earth into a channel of murder.
Ere he ended he was pleading with the charwoman to seek her Father in his own room, tell him her troubles, do what he told her and fear nothing. And while he spoke, lo! the dragon-slug had vanished; the ugly chapel was no longer the den of the hideous monster: it was but the dusky bottom of a glory-shaft, adown which gazed the stars of the coming resurrection.
"The whole trouble is that we won't let God help us," said the preacher, and sat down.
A prayer from the greengrocer followed, in which he did seem to be feeling after God a little; and then the ironmonger pronounced the benediction, and all went — among the rest Frederick Marshal, who had followed the schoolmaster, and now walked back with him to his father's where he was to spend one night more.
Florimel had found her daring visit to Lenorme stranger and more fearful than she had expected: her courage was not quite so masterful as she had thought. The next day she got Mrs. Barnardiston to meet her at the studio. But she contrived to be there first by some minutes, and her friend found her seated and the painter looking as if he had fairly begun his morning's work. When she apologized for being late, Florimel said she supposed her groom had brought round the horses before his time: being ready she had not looked at her watch. She was sharp on other people for telling stories, but had of late ceased to see any great harm in telling one to protect herself. The fact, however, had begun to present itself in those awful morning hours that seem a mingling of time and eternity, and she did not like the discovery that since her intimacy with Lenorme, she had begun to tell lies: what would he say if he knew?
Malcolm found it dreary waiting in the street while she sat to the painter. He would not have minded it on Kelpie, for she was always occupation enough, but with only a couple of quiet horses to hold it was dreary. He took to scrutinizing the faces that passed him, trying to understand them. To his surprise, he found that almost every one reminded him of somebody he had known before, though he could not always identify the likeness.
It was a pleasure to see his yacht lying so near him, and Davy on the deck, and to hear the blows of the hammer and the swish of the plane as the carpenter went on with the alterations to which he had set him; but he got tired of sharing in activity only with his ears and eyes. One thing he had by it, however, and that was a good lesson in quiescent waiting — a grand thing for any man, and most of all for those in whom the active is strong.
The next day Florimel did not ride until after lunch, but took her maid with her to the studio, and Malcolm had a long morning with Kelpie. Once again he passed the beautiful lady in Rotten Row, but Kelpie was behaving in a most exemplary manner, and he could not tell whether she even saw him. I believe she thought her lecture had done him good. The day after that Lord Liftore was able to ride, and for some days Florimel and he rode in the park before dinner, when, as Malcolm followed on the new horse, he had to see his lordship make love to his sister without being able to find the least colorable pretext of involuntary interference.
At length the parcel he had sent for from Lossie House arrived. He had explained to Mrs. Courthope what he wanted the things for, and she had made no difficulty of sending them to the address he gave her. Lenorme had already begun the portrait, had indeed been working at it very busily, and was now quite ready for him to sit. The early morning being the only time a groom could contrive to spare — and that involved yet earlier attention to his horses — they arranged that Malcolm should be at the study every day by seven o'clock until the painter's object was gained. So he mounted Kelpie at half past six of a fine breezy spring morning, rode across Hyde Park and down Grosvenor Place, and so reached Chelsea, where he put up his mare in Lenorme's stable — fortunately, large enough to admit of an empty stall between her and the painter's grand screw, else a battle frightful to relate might have fallen to my lot.
Nothing could have been more to Malcolm's mind than such a surpassing opportunity of learning with assurance what sort of man Lenorme was; and the relation that arose between them extended the sittings far beyond the number necessary for the object proposed. How the first of them passed I must recount with some detail.
As soon as he arrived he was shown into the painter's bedroom, where lay the portmanteau he had carried thither himself the night before: out of it, with a strange mingling of pleasure and sadness, he now took the garments of his father's vanished state — the fillibeg of the dark tartan of his clan, in which green predominated; the French coat of black velvet of Genoa, with silver buttons; the bonnet, which ought to have had an eagle's feather, but had only an aigrette of diamonds; the black sporran of long goat's hair, with the silver clasp; the silver-mounted dirk, with its appendages, set all with pale cairngorms nearly as good as Oriental topazes; and the claymore of the renowned Andrew's forging, with its basket hilt of silver and its black, silver-mounted sheath. He handled each with the reverence of a son. Having dressed in them, he drew himself up with not a little of the Celt's pleasure in fine clothes, and walked into the painting-room. Lenorme started with admiration of his figure and wonder at the dignity of his carriage, while mingled with these feelings he was aware of an indescribable doubt — something to which he could give no name. He almost sprang at his palette and brushes; whether he succeeded with the likeness of the late marquis or not, it would be his own fault if he did not make a good picture. He painted eagerly and they talked little, and only about things indifferent.
At length the painter said, "Thank you! Now walk about the room while I spread a spadeful of paint: you must be tired standing."
Malcolm did as he was told, and walked straight up to the "Temple of Isis," in which the painter had now long been at work on the goddess. He recognized his sister at once, but a sudden pinch of prudence checked the exclamation that had almost burst from his lips. "What a beautiful picture!" he said. "What does it mean? Surely it is Hermione coming to life, and Leontes dying of joy. But no: that would not fit They are both too young — and —"
"You read Shakespeare, I see," said Lenorme, "as well as Epictetus."
"I do — a good deal," answered Malcolm. "But please tell me what you painted this for."
Then Lenorme told him the parable of Novalis, and Malcolm saw what the poet meant. He stood staring at the picture, and Lenorme sat working away, but a little anxious, he hardly knew why: had he bethought himself he would have put the picture out of sight before Malcolm came.
"You wouldn't be offended if I made a remark, would you, Mr. Lenorme?" said Malcolm at length.
"Certainly not," replied Lenorme, something afraid, nevertheless, of what might be coming.
"I don't know whether I can express what I mean," said Malcolm, "but I will try. I could do it better in Scotch; I believe, but then you wouldn't understand me."
"I think I should," said Lenorme. "I spent six months in Edinburgh once."
"Ow ay! but you see they dinna thraw the words there jist the same gait they du at Portlossie. Na, na! I maunna attemp' it."
"Hold! hold!" cried Lenorme. "I want to have your criticism. I don't understand a word you are saying. You must make the best you can of the English."
"I was only telling you in Scotch that I wouldn't try the Scotch," returned Malcolm. "Now I will try the English. In the first place, then — but really it's very presumptuous of me, Mr. Lenorme; and it may be that I am blind to something in the picture ——"
"Go on," said Lenorme, impatiently.
"Don't you think, then, that one of the first things you would look for in a goddess would be — what shall I call it? — an air of mystery?"
"That was so much involved in the very idea of Isis — in her especially — that they said she was always veiled, and no man had ever seen her face."
"That would greatly interfere with my notion of mystery," said Malcolm.
"There must be revelation before mystery. I take it that mystery is what lies behind revelation — that which as yet revelation has not reached. You must see something — a part of something — before you can feel any sense of mystery about it. The Isis forever veiled is the absolutely unknown, not the mysterious."
"But, you observe, the idea of the parable is different. According to that, Isis is forever unveiling; that is, revealing herself in her works, chiefly in the women she creates, and then chiefly in each of them to the man who loves her."
"I see what you mean well enough; but not the less she remains the goddess, does she not?"
"Surely she does."
"And can a goddess ever reveal all she is and has?"
"Then ought there not to be mystery in the face and form of your Isis on her pedestal?"
"Is it not there? Is there not mystery about the face and form of every woman that walks the earth?"
"Doubtless; but you desire — do you not? — to show that although this is the very lady the young man loved before ever he sought the shrine of the goddess, not the less is she the goddess Isis herself?"
"I do, or at least. I ought; only — by Jove! — you have already looked deeper into the whole thing than I."
"There may be things to account for that on both sides," said Malcolm. "But one word more to relieve my brain: if you would embody the full meaning of the parable, you must not be content that the mystery is there: you must show in your painting that you feel it there; you must paint the invisible veil that no hand can lift, for there it is, and there it ever will be, though Isis herself raise it from morning to morning."
"How am I to do that?" said Lenorme, not that he did not see what Malcolm meant, or agree with it: he wanted to make him talk.
"How can I, who never drew a stroke or painted anything but the gunwale of a boat, tell you that?" rejoined Malcolm. "It is your business. You must paint that veil, that mystery, in the forehead and in the eyes and the lips — yes, in the cheeks and the chin and the eyebrows, and everywhere. You must make her say without saying it that she knows oh, so much, if only she could make you understand it! — that she is all there for you, but the all is infinitely more than you can know. As she stands there now ——"
"I must interrupt you," cried Lenorme, "just to say that the picture is not finished yet."
"And yet I will finish my sentence if you will allow me," returned Malcolm. "As she stands there — the goddess — she looks only a beautiful young woman, with whom the young man spreading out his arms to her is very absolutely in love. There is the glow and the mystery of love in both their faces, and nothing more."
"And is not that enough?" said Lenorme.
"No," answered Malcolm. "And yet it may be too much," he added, "if you are going to hang it up where people will see it."
As he said this he looked hard at the painter for a moment. The dark hue of Lenorme's cheek deepened, his brows lowered a little farther over the black wells of his eyes, and he painted on without answer. "By Jove!" he said at length.
"Don't swear, Mr. Lenorme," said Malcolm. "Besides, that's my Lord Liftore's oath. If you do, you will teach my lady to swear."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Lenorme, with offence plain enough in his tone.
Thereupon Malcolm told him how on one occasion, himself being present, the marquis her father happening to utter an imprecation, Lady Florimel took the first possible opportunity of using the very same words on her own account, much to the marquis's amusement and Malcolm's astonishment. But upon reflection he had come to see that she only wanted to cure her father of the bad habit.
The painter laughed heartily, but stopped all at once and said, "It's enough to make any fellow swear, though, to hear a — groom talk as you do about art."
"Have I the impudence? I didn't know it," said Malcolm, with some dismay. "I seemed to myself merely saying the obvious thing, the common sense, about the picture, on the ground of your own statement of your meaning in it. I am annoyed with myself if I have been talking of things I know nothing about."
"On the contrary, MacPhail, you are so entirely right in what you say that I cannot for the life of me understand where or how you can have got at it."
"Mr. Graham used to talk to me about everything."
"Well, but he was only a country schoolmaster."
"A good deal more than that, sir," said Malcolm solemnly. "He is a disciple of Him that knows everything. And, now I think of it, I do believe that what I've been saying about your picture I must have got from hearing him talk about the revelation, in which is included Isis herself, with her brother and all their train."
Lenorme held his peace. Malcolm had taken his place again unconsciously, and the painter was working hard and looking very thoughtful. Malcolm went again to the picture.
"Hillo!", cried Lenorme, looking up and finding no object in the focus of his eyes.
Malcolm returned directly, "There was just one thing I wanted to see," he said — "whether the youth worshipping his goddess had come into her presence clean."
"And what is your impression of him?" half murmured Lenorme, without lifting his head.
"The one that's painted there? answered Malcolm, "does look as if he might know that the least a goddess may claim of a worshipper is that he should come into her presence pure enough to understand her purity. I came upon a fine phrase the other evening in your English Prayer-Book. I never looked into it before, but I found one lying on a book-stall, and it happened to open at the marriage-service. There, amongst other good things, the bridegroom says, 'With my body I thee worship.' 'That's grand!' I said to myself: 'that's as it should be. The man whose body does not worship the woman he weds should marry a harlot.' God bless Mr. William Shakespeare! — he knew that. I remember Mr. Graham telling me once, before I had read the play, that the critics condemn "Measure for Measure" as failing in poetic justice. I know little about the critics, and care less, for a man who has to earn his bread, and feed his soul as well, has enough to do with the books themselves without what people say about them; and Mr. Graham would not tell me whether he thought the critics right or wrong: he wanted me to judge for myself. But when I came to read the play, I found, to my mind, a most absolute and splendid justice in it. They think, I suppose, that my lord Angelo should have been put to death. It just reveals the low breed of them: they think death the worst thing, therefore the greatest punishment. But Angelo prays for death, that it may hide him from his shame: it is too good for him, and he shall not have it. He must live to remove the shame from Mariana. And then see how Lucio is served!"
While Malcolm talked, Lenorme went on painting diligently, listening and saying nothing. When he had thus ended a pause of some duration followed.
"A goddess has a right to claim that one thing — has she not, Mr. Lenorme?" said Malcolm at length, winding up a silent train of thought aloud."What thing?" asked Lenorme, still without lifting his head.
"Purity in the arms a man holds out to her," answered Malcolm.
"Certainly," replied Lenorme, with a sort of mechanical absoluteness.
"And according to your picture every woman whom a man loves is a goddess — the goddess of nature?"
"Certainly. But what are you driving at? I can't paint for you. There you stand," he went on, half angrily, "as if you were Socrates himself driving some poor Athenian nob into the corner of his deserts! I don't deserve any such insinuations, I would have you know."
"I am making none, sir. I dare never insinuate except I were prepared to charge. But I have told you I was bred up a fisher-lad, and partly among the fishers, to begin with, I half learned, half discovered, things that tended to give me what some would count severe notions: I count them common sense. Then, as you know, I went into service, and in that position it is easy enough to gather that many people hold very loose and very nasty notions about some things; so I just wanted to see how you felt about such. If I had a sister now, and saw a man coming to woo her all beclotted with puddle-filth, or if I knew that he had just left some woman as good as she crying eyes and heart out over his child, I don't know that I could keep my hands off him — at least if I feared she might take him. What do you think now? Mightn't it be a righteous thing to throttle the scum and be hanged for it?"
"Well," said Lenorme, "I don't know why I should justify myself, especially where no charge is made, MacPhail — and I don't know why to you any more than another man — but at this moment I am weak or egotistic or sympathetic enough to wish you to understand that, so far as the poor matter of one virtue goes, I might without remorse act Sir Galahad in a play."
"Now you are beyond me," said Malcolm. "I don't know what you mean."
So Lenorme had to tell him the old armoric tale which Tennyson has since rendered so lovelily, for, amongst artists at least, he was one of the earlier burrowers in the British legends. And as he told it, in a half-sullen kind of way, the heart of the young marquis glowed within him, and he vowed to himself that Lenorme and no other should marry his sister. But, lest he should reveal more emotion than the obvious occasion justified, he restrained speech, and again silence fell, during which Lenorme was painting furiously.
"Confound it!" he cried at last, and sprang to his feet, but without taking his eyes from his picture. "What have I been doing all this time but making a portrait of you, MacPhail, and forgetting what you were there for! And yet," he went on, hesitating and catching up the miniature, "I have got a certain likeness! Yes, it must be so, for I see in it also a certain look of Lady Lossie. Well, I suppose a man can't altogether help what he paints any more than what he dreams. — That will do for this morning, anyhow, I think, MacPhail. Make haste and put on your own clothes, and come into the next room to breakfast. You must be tired with standing so long."
"It is about the hardest work I ever tried," answered Malcolm, "but I doubt if I am as tired as Kelpie. I've been listening for the last half hour to hear the stalls flying.