Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1718/The Marquis of Lossie - Part XVII
THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.
BY GEORGE MACDONALD, AUTHOR OF "MALCOLM," ETC.
THE FEY FACTOR.
When Mr. Crathie heard of the outrage the people of Scaurnose had committed upon the surveyors, he vowed he would empty every house in the place at Michaelmas. His wife warned him that such a wholesale proceeding must put him in the wrong with the country, seeing they could not all have been guilty. He replied it would be impossible, the rascals hung so together, to find out the ringleaders even. She returned that they all deserved it, and that a correct discrimination was of no consequence: it would be enough to the purpose if he made a difference. People would then say he had done his best to distinguish. The factor was persuaded, and made out a list of those who were to leave, in which he took care to include all the principal men, to whom he gave warning forthwith to quit their houses at Michaelmas. I do not know whether the notice was in law sufficient, but exception was not taken on that score.
Scaurnose, on the receipt of the papers, all at the same time, by the hand of the bellman of Portlossie, was like a hive about to swarm. Endless and complicated were the comings and goings between the houses, the dialogues, confabulations and consultations, in the one street and its many closes. In the middle of it, in front of the little public-house, stood, all that day and the next, a group of men and women, for no five minutes in its component parts the same, but, like a cloud, ever slow-dissolving and as continuously re-forming, some dropping away, others falling to. Such nid-nodding, such uplifting and fanning of palms among the women, such semi-revolving side-shakes of the head, such demonstration of fists and such cursing among the men, had never before been seen and heard in Scaurnose. The result was a conclusion to make common cause with the first victim of the factor's tyranny — namely, Blue Peter — whose expulsion would arrive three months before theirs, and was unquestionably head and front of the same cruel scheme for putting down the fisher-folk altogether.
Three of them, therefore, repaired to Joseph's house, commissioned with the following proposal and condition of compact: that Joseph should defy the notice given him to quit, they pledging themselves that he should not be expelled. Whether he agreed or not, they were equally determined, they said, when their turn came, to defend the village; but if he would cast in his lot with them, they would, in defending him, gain the advantage of having the question settled three months sooner for themselves. Blue Peter sought to dissuade them, specially insisting on the danger of bloodshed. They laughed. They had anticipated objection, but being of the youngest and roughest in the place, the idea of a scrimmage was, neither in itself nor in its probable consequences, at all repulsive to them. They answered that a little bloodletting would do nobody any harm; neither would there be much of that, for they scorned to use any weapon sharper than their fists or a good thick rung: the women and children would take stones of course. Nobody would be killed, but every meddlesome authority taught to let Scaurnose and fishers alone. Peter objected that their enemies could easily starve them out. Dubs rejoined that if they took care to keep the sea-door open, their friends at Portlossie would not let them starve. Grosert said he made no doubt the factor would have the Seaton to fight as well as Scaurnose, for they must see plainly enough that their turn would come next. Joseph said the factor would apply to the magistrates, and they would call out the militia.
"An' we'll call out Buckie," answered Dubs.
"Man," said Fite Folp, the eldest of the three, "the haill shore, frae the Brough to Fort George, 'ill be up in a jiffie, an' a' the cuintray, frae John o' Groats to Berwick, 'ill hear hoo the fisherfowk 's misguidit; an' at last it 'll come to the king, an' syne we'll get oor richts, for he'll no stan' to see't, an' maitters 'll sune be set upon a better futtin' for puir fowk 'at has no freen' but God an' the sea."
The greatness of the result represented laid hold of Peter's imagination, and the resistance to injustice necessary to reach it stirred the old tar in him. When they took their leave he walked halfway up the street with them, and then returned to tell his wife what they had been saying, all the way murmuring to himself as he went, "The Lord is a man of war." And ever as he said the words he saw as in a vision the great man-of-war in which he had served sweeping across the bows of a Frenchman, and raking him, gun after gun, from stem to stem. Nor did the warlike mood abate until he reached home and looked his wife in the eyes. He told her all, ending with the half-repudiatory, half-tentative words, "That's what they say, ye see, Annie."
"And what say ye, Joseph?" returned his wife.
"Ow! I'm no sayin'," "he answered.
"What are ye thinkin' than, Joseph?" she pursued. "Ye canna say ye're no thinkin'."
"Na, I'll no say that, lass," he replied, but said so more.
"Weel, gien ye winna say," resumed Annie, "I wull; an' my say is, 'at it luiks to me unco like takin' things intil yer ain han'."
"An' whase han' sud we tak them intil but oor ain?" said Peter, with a falseness which in another would, have roused his righteous indignation.
"That's no the p'int. It's whase han' ye're takin' them oot o'," returned she, and spoke with solemnity and significance.
Peter made no answer, but the words Vengeance is mine began to ring in his mental ears instead of The Lord is a man of war.
Before Mr. Graham left them, and while Peter's soul was flourishing, he would have simply said that it was their part to endure, and leave the rest to the God of the sparrows. But now the words of men whose judgment had no weight with him threw him back upon the instinct of self-defence — driven from which by the words of his wife, he betook himself, not, alas! to the protection, but to the vengeance, of the Lord.
The next day he told the three commissioners that he was sorry to disappoint them, but he could not make common cause with them, for he could not see it his duty to resist, much as it would gratify the natural man. They must therefore excuse him if he left Scaurnose at the time appointed. He hoped he should leave friends behind him.
They listened respectfully, showed no offence, and did not even attempt to argue the matter with him. But certain looks passed between them.
After this Blue Peter was a little happier in his mind and went more briskly about his affairs.
It was a lovely summer evening, and the sun, going down just beyond the point of the Scaurnose, shone straight upon the Partan's door. That it was closed in such weather had a significance — general as well as individual. Doors were oftener closed in the Seaton now. The spiritual atmosphere of the place was less clear and open than hitherto. The behavior of the factor, the trouble of their neighbors, the conviction that the man who depopulated Scaurnose would at least raise the rents upon them, had brought a cloud over the feelings and prospects of its inhabitants which their special quarrel with the oppressor for Malcolm's sake had drawn deeper around the Findlays; and hence it was that the setting sun shone upon the closed door of their cottage.
But a shadow darkened it, cutting off the level stream of rosy red. An aged man in Highland garments stood and knocked. His overworn dress looked fresher and brighter in the friendly rays, but they shone very yellow on the bare hollows of his old knees. It was Duncan MacPhail, the supposed grandfather of Malcolm. He was older and feebler — I had almost said blinder, but that could not be — certainly shabbier than ever. The glitter of dirk and broadsword at his sides, and the many-colored ribbons adorning the old bagpipes under his arm, somehow enhanced the look of more than autumnal, of wintry, desolation in his appearance. Before he left the Seaton the staff he carried was for show rather than use, but now he was bent over it, as it: but for it he would fall into his grave. His knock was feeble and doubtful, as if unsure of a welcoming response. He was broken, sad, and uncomforted.
A moment passed. The door was unlatched, and within stood the Partaness, wiping her hands in her apron and looking thunderous. But when she saw who it. was her countenance and manner changed utterly. "Preserve 's a'! Ye're a sicht for sair e'en, Maister MacPhail!" she cried, holding out her hand, which the blind man took as if he saw as well as she. "Come awa' but the hoose. Wow! but ye're walcome!"
"She thanks your own self, Mistress Partan," said Duncan, as he followed her in; "and her heart will pe thanking you for ta coot welcome; and it will pe a long time since she 'll saw you howefer."
"Noo, noo," exclaimed Meg, stopping in the middle of her little kitchen as she was getting a chair for the old man, and turning upon him to revive on the first possible chance what had been a standing quarrel between them, "what can be the rizzon 'at gars ane like you, 'at never saw man or wuman i' yer lang life, the verra meenute ye open your mou' say its lang sin' ye saw me? A mensefu' body like you, Maister MacPhail, sud speyk mair to the p'int."
"Ton't you'll pe preaking her heart with ta one hand while you'll pe clapping her head with ta other," said the piper. "Ton't pe taking her into your house to pe telling her she can't see. Is it that old Tuncan is not a man as much as any woman in ta world, tat you'll pe telling her she can't see? I tell you she can see, and more tan you'll pe think. And I will tell it to you, tere iss a pape in this house, and tere wass pe none when Tuncan she'll co away."
"We a' ken ye hae the second sicht," said Mrs. Findlay, who had not expected such a reply; "an' it was only o' the first I spak. Haith! it wad be 'ill set o' me to anger ye the moment ye come back to yer ain. Sit ye doon there by the chimla-neuk till I mak ye a dish o' tay. Or maybe ye wad prefar a drap o' parritch an' milk? It's no muckle I hae to offer ye, but ye cudna be mair walcome."
As easily appeased as irritated, the old man sat down with a grateful, placid look, and while the tea was drawing, Mrs. Findlay, by judicious questions, gathered from him the story of his adventures.
Unable to rise above the disappointment and chagrin of finding that the boy he loved as his own soul, and had brought up as his own son, was actually the child of a Campbell woman, one of the race to which belonged the murderer of his people in Glenco, and which therefore he hated with an absolute passion of hatred — unable also to endure the terrible schism in his being occasioned by the conflict between horror at the Campbell blood and ineffaceable affection for the youth in whose veins it ran, and who so fully deserved all the love he had lavished upon him — he had concluded to rid himself of all the associations of place and people and event now grown so painful, to make his way back to his native Glenco, and there endure his humiliation as best he might, beheld of the mountains which had beheld the ruin of his race. He would end the few and miserable days of his pilgrimage amid the rushing of the old torrents and the calling of the old winds about the crags and precipices that had hung over his darksome yet blessed childhood. These were still his friends. But he had not gone many days' journey before a farmer found him on the road insensible and took him home. As he recovered, his longing after his boy Malcolm grew until it rose to agony, but he fought with his heart, and believed he had overcome it. The boy was a good boy, he said to himself; the boy had been to him as the son of his own heart; there was no fault to find with him or in him; he was as brave as he was kind, as sincere as he was clever, as strong as he was gentle; he could play on the bagpipes and very nearly talk Gaelic; but his mother was a Campbell, and for that there was no help. To be on loving terms with one in whose veins ran a single drop of the black pollution was a thing no MacDhonuill must dream of. He had lived a man of honor, and he would die a man of honor, hating the Campbells to their last generation. How should the bard of his clan ever talk to his own soul if he knew himself false to the name of his fathers? Hard fate for him. As if it were not enough that he had been doomed to save and rear a child of the brood abominable, he was yet further doomed, worst fate of all, to love the evil thing: he could not tear the lovely youth from his heart. But he could go farther and farther from him.
As soon as he was able he resumed his journey westward, and at length reached his native glen, the wildest spot in all the island. There he found indeed the rush of the torrents and the call of the winds unchanged, but when his soul cried out in its agonies, they went on with the same song that had soothed his childhood: for the heart of the suffering man they had no response. Days passed before he came upon a creature who remembered him, for more than twenty years were gone, and a new generation had come up since he forsook the glen. Worst of all, the clan spirit was dying out, the family type of government all but extinct, the patriarchal vanishing in a low form of the feudal, itself already in abject decay. The hour of the Celt was gone by, and the long-wandering raven, returning at last, found the ark it had left afloat on the waters dry and deserted and rotting to dust. There was not even a cottage in which he could hide his head. The one he had forsaken when cruelty and crime drove him out had fallen to ruins, and now there was nothing of it left but its foundations. The people of the inn at the mouth of the valley did their best for him, but he learned by accident that they had Campbell connections, and, rising that instant, walked from it forever. He wandered about for a time, playing his pipes, and everywhere hospitably treated, but at length his heart could endure its hunger no more: he must see his boy, or die. He walked, therefore, straight to the cottage of his quarrelsome but true friend, Mistress Partan, to learn that his benefactor, the marquis, was dead, and Malcolm gone. But here alone could he hope ever to see him again, and the same night he sought his cottage in the grounds of Lossie House, never doubting his right to reoccupy it. But the door was locked, and he could find no entrance. He went to the house, and there was referred to the factor. But when he knocked at his door and requested the key of the cottage, Mr. Crathie, who was in the middle of his third tumbler, came raging out of his dining-room, cursed him for an old Highland goat, and heaped insults on him and his grandson indiscriminately. It was well he kept the door between him and the old man, for otherwise he would never have finished the said third tumbler. That door carried in it thenceforth the marks of every weapon that Duncan bore, and indeed the half of his sgian dhu was the next morning found sticking in it, like the sting which the bee is doomed to leave behind her. He returned to Mistress Partan white and trembling, in a mountainous rage with "ta low-pred hount of a factor." Her sympathy was enthusiastic, for they shared a common wrath. And now came the tale of the factor's cruelty to the fishers, his hatred of Malcolm and his general wildness of behavior. The piper vowed to shed the last drop of his blood in defence of his Mistress Partan. But when, to strengthen the force of his asseveration, he drew the dangerous-looking dirk from its sheath, she threw herself upon him, wrenched it from his hand, and testified that "fules sudna hae chappin'-sticks, nor yet teylors guns." It was days before Duncan discovered where she had hidden it. But not the less heartily did she insist on his taking up his abode with her; and the very next day he resumed his old profession of lamp-cleaner to the community.
When Miss Horn heard that he had come, and where he was, old feud with Meg Partan rendering it imprudent to call upon him, she watched for him in the street and welcomed him home, assuring him that if ever he should wish to change his quarters her house was at his service.
"I'm nae Cam'ell, ye ken, Duncan," she concluded, "an' what an auld wuman like mysel' can du to mak ye coamfortable sail no fail, an' that I promise ye."
The old man thanked her with the perfect courtesy of the Celt, confessed that he was not altogether at ease where he was, but said he must not hurt the feelings of Mistress Partan, "for she'll not pe a paad womans," he added, "but her house will pe aalways in ta flames, howefer."
So he remained where he was, and the general heart of the Seaton was not a little revived by the return of one whose presence reminded them of a better time, when no such cloud as now threatened them heaved its ragged sides above their horizon.
The factor was foolish enough to attempt inducing Meg to send her guest away.
"We want no landloupin' knaves, old or young, about Lossie," he said. "If the place is no keepit dacent, we'll never get the young marchioness to come near 's again."
"'Deed, factor," returned Meg, enhancing the force of her utterance by a composure marvelous from its rarity, "the first thing to mak' the place — I'll no say dacent, sae lang there's sae mony claverin' wives in't, but — mair dacent nor it has been for the last ten year, wad be to sen' factors back whaur they cam' frae."
"And whaur may that be? "asked Mr. Crathie.
"That's mair nor I richtly can say," answered Meg Partan, "but auld-farand fouk threepit it was somewhaur 'ithin the swing o' Sawtan's tail."The reply on the factor's lips as he left the house tended to justify the rude sarcasm.
There came a breath of something in the east. It was neither wind nor warmth. It was light before it is light to the eyes of men. Slowly and softly it grew, until, like the dawning soul in the face of one who lies in a faint, the life of light came back to the world, and at last the whole huge hollow hemisphere of rushing sea and cloud-flecked sky lay like a great empty heart, waiting, in conscious glory of the light, for the central glory, the coming lord of day. And in the whole crystalline hollow, gleaming and flowing with delight, yet waiting for more, the Psyche was the one only lonely life-bearing thing — the one cloudy germ-spot afloat in the bosom of the great roc-egg of sea and sky, whose sheltering nest was the universe with its walls of flame.
Florimel woke, rose, went on deck, and for a moment was fresh born. It was a fore-scent — even this could not be called a fore-taste — of the kingdom of heaven; but Florimel never thought of the kingdom of heaven, the ideal of her own existence. She could, however, half appreciate this earthly outbreak of its glory, this incarnation of truth invisible. Round her, like a thousand doves, clamored with greeting wings the joyous sea-wind. Up came a thousand dancing billows to shout their good-morning. Like a petted animal importunate for play, the breeze tossed her hair and dragged at her fluttering garments, then rushed into the Psyche's sails, swelled them yet deeper, and sent her dancing over the dancers. The sun peered up like a mother waking and looking out on her frolicking children. Black shadows fell from sail to sail, slipping and shifting, and one long shadow of the Psyche herself shot over the world to the very gates of the west, but held her not, for she danced and leaned and flew as if she had but just begun her coranto-lavolta fresh with the morning, and had not been dancing all the livelong night over the same floor. Lively as any new-born butterfly — not like a butterfly's flitting and hovering — was her flight, for still, like one that longed, she sped and strained and flew. The joy of bare life swelled in Florimel's bosom. She looked up, she looked around, she breathed deep. The cloudy anger that had rushed upon her like a watching tiger the moment she waked fell back, and left her soul a clear mirror to reflect God's dream of a world. She turned and saw Malcolm at the tiller, and the cloudy wrath sprung upon her. He stood composed and clear and cool as the morning, without sign of doubt or conscience of wrong, now peeping into the binnacle, now glancing at the sunny sails, where swayed across and back the dark shadows of the rigging as the cutter leaned and rose like a child running and staggering over the multitudinous and unstable hillocks. She turned from him.
"Good-morning, my lady! What a good morning it is!" As in all his address to his mistress, the freedom of the words did not infect the tone: that was resonant of essential honor. "Strange to think," he went on, "that the sun himself there is only a great fire, and knows nothing about 'it! There must be a sun to that sun, or the whole thing is a vain show. There must be One to whom each is itself, yet the all makes a whole — One who is at once both centre and circumference to all."
Florimel cast on him a scornful look. For not merely was he talking his usual unintelligible rubbish of poetry, but he had the impertinence to speak as if he had done nothing amiss and she had no ground for being offended with him. She made him no answer. A cloud came over Malcolm's face, and until she went again below he gave his attention to his steering.
In the mean time, Rose, who happily had turned out as good a sailor as her new mistress, had tidied the little cabin, and Florimel found, if not quite such a sumptuous breakfast laid as at Portland Place, yet a far better appetite than usual to meet what there was; and when she had finished her temper was better, and she was inclined to think less indignantly of Malcolm's share in causing her so great a pleasure. She was not yet quite spoilsed. She was still such a lover of the visible world and of personal freedom that the thought of returning to London and its leaden footed hours would now have been unendurable. At this moment she could have imagined no better thing than thus to go tearing through the water — home to her home. For although she had spent little of her life at Lossie House, she could not but prefer it unspeakably to the schools in which she had passed almost the whole of the preceding portion of it. There was little or nothing in the affair she could have wished otherwise except its origin. She was mischievous enough to enjoy even the thought of the consternation it would cause at Portland Place. She did not realize all its awkwardness. A letter to Lady Bellair when she reached home would, she said to herself, set everything right: and if Malcolm had now repented and put about, she would instantly have ordered him to hold on for Lossie. But it was mortifying that she should have come at the will of Malcolm, and not by her own — worse than mortifying that perhaps she would have to say so. If she were going to say so she must turn him away as soon as she arrived. There was no help for it. She dared not keep him after that in the face of society. But she might take the bold, and perhaps a little dangerous, measure of adopting the flight as altogether her own madcap idea. Her thoughts went floundering in the bog of expediency until she was tired, and declined from thought to reverie. Then, dawning out of the dreamland of her past, appeared the image of Lenorme. Pure pleasure, glorious delight, such as she now felt, could not long possess her mind without raising in its charmed circle the vision of the only man except her father whom she had ever something like loved. Her behavior to him had not yet roused in her shame or sorrow or sense of wrong. She had driven him from her; she was ashamed of her relation to him; she had caused him bitter suffering; she had all but promised to marry another man; yet she had not the slightest wish for that man's company there and then: with no one of her acquaintance but Lenorme could she have shared this conscious splendor of life. "Would to God he had been born a gentleman instead of a painter!" she said to herself when her imagination had brought him from the past and set him in the midst of the present. "Rank," she said, "I am above caring about. In that he might be ever so far my inferior and welcome, if only he had been o£ a good family, a gentleman born." She was generosity, magnanimity itself, in her own eyes. Yet he was of far better family than she knew, for she had never taken the trouble to inquire into his history. And now she was so much easier in her mind since she had so cruelly broken with him that she felt positively virtuous because she had done it and he was not at that moment by her side. And yet if he had that moment stepped from behind the mainsail she would in all probability have thrown herself into his arms.
The day passed on. Florimel grew tired and went to sleep; woke and had her dinner; took a volume of the "Arabian Nights" and read herself again to sleep; woke again; went on deck; saw the sun growing weary in the west. And still the unwearied wind blew, and still the Psyche danced on, as unwearied as the wind.
The sunset was rather an assumption than a decease, a reception of him out of their sight into an eternity of gold and crimson; and when he was gone, and the gorgeous bliss had withered into a dove-hued grief, then the cool, soft twilight, thoughtful of the past and its love, crept out of the western caves over the breast of the water, and filled the dome, and made of itself a great lens royal, through which the stars and their motions were visible; and the ghost of Aurora with both hands lifted her shroud above her head, and made a dawn for the moon on the verge of the watery horizon — a dawn as of the past, the hour of inverted hope. Not a word all day had been uttered between Malcolm and his mistress: when the moon appeared, with the waves sweeping up against her face, he approached Florimel where she sat in the stern. Davy was steering. "Will your ladyship come forward and see how the Psyche goes?" he said. "At the stern you can see only the passive part of her motion. It is quite another thing to see the will of her at work in the bows."
At first she was going to refuse, but she changed her mind, or her mind changed her: she was not much more of a living and acting creature yet than the Psyche herself. She said nothing, but rose and permitted Malcolm to help her forward.
It was the moon's turn now to be level with the water, and as Florimel stood on the larboard side, leaning over and gazing down, she saw her shine through the little feather of spray the cutwater sent curling up before it and turn it into pearls and semi-opals.
"She's got a bone in her mouth, you see, my lady," said old Travers.
"Go' aft till I call you, Travers," said Malcolm.
Rose was in Florimel's cabin, and they were now quite alone.
"My lady," said Malcolm, "I can't bear to have you angry with me."
"Then you ought not to deserve it," returned Florimel.
"My lady, if you knew all, you would not say I deserved it."
"Tell me all, then, and let me judge."
"I cannot tell you all yet, but I will tell you something which may perhaps incline you to feel merciful. Did your ladyship ever think what could make me so much attached to your father?"
"No, indeed. I never saw anything peculiar in it. Even nowadays there are servants to be found who love their masters. It seems to me natural enough. Besides, he was very kind to you."
"It was natural indeed, my lady — more natural than you think. Kind to me he was, and that was natural too."
"Natural to him, no doubt, for he was kind to everybody."
"My grandfather told you something of my early history, did he not, my lady?"
"Yes: at least I think I remember his doing so."
"Will you recall it, and see whether it suggests nothing?"
But Florimel could remember nothing in particular, she said. She had, in truth, forasmuch as she was interested at the time, forgotten almost everything of the story. "I really cannot think what you mean," she added. "If you are going to be mysterious I shall resume my place by the tiller. Travers is deaf and Davy is dumb: I prefer either."
"My lady," said Malcolm, "your father knew my mother, and persuaded her that he loved her."
Florimel drew herself up, and would have looked him to ashes, if wrath could burn.
Malcolm saw he must come to the point at once or the parley would cease. "My lady," he said, "your father was my father too. I am the son of the marquis of Lossie, and your brother — your, ladyship's half-brother, that is."
She looked a little stunned. The gleam died out of her eyes and the glow out of her cheek. She turned and leaned over the bulwark. He said no more, but stood watching her. She raised herself suddenly, looked at him and said, "Do I understand you?"
"I am your brother," Malcolm repeated.
She made a step forward and held out her hand. He took the little thing in his great grasp tenderly. Her lip trembled. She gazed at him for an instant, full in the face, with a womanly, believing expression. "My poor Malcolm!" she said. "I am sorry for you."
She withdrew her hand, and again leaned over the bulwark. Her heart was softened towards her groom-brother, and for a moment it seemed to her that some wrong had been done. Why should the one be a marchioness and the other a groom? Then came the thought that now all was explained. Every peculiarity of the young man, every gift extraordinary of body, mind, or spirit, his strength, his beauty, his courage and honesty, his simplicity, nobleness, and affection — yes, even what in him was mere doggedness and presumption — all, everything, explained itself to Florimel in the fact that the incomprehensible fisherman-groom, that talked like a parson, was the son of her father. She never thought of the woman that was his mother, and what share she might happen to have in the phenomenon — thought only of her father, and a little pitifully of the half honor and more than half disgrace infolding the very existence of her attendant. As usual, her thoughts were confused. The one moment the poor fellow seemed to exist only on sufferance, having no right to be there at all, for as fine a fellow as he was: the next she thought how immeasurably he was indebted to the family of the Colonsays. Then arose the remembrance of his arrogance and presumption in assuming on such a ground something more than guardianship, absolute tyranny, over her, and with the thought pride and injury at once got the upper hand. Was she to be dictated to by a low-born, low-bred fellow like that — a fellow whose hands were harder than any leather, not with doing things for his amusement, but actually with earning his daily bread — one that used to smell so of fish — on the ground of a right too, and such a right as ought to exclude him forever from her presence?
She turned to him again. "How long have you known this — this — painful — in deed I must confess to finding it an awkward and embarrassing fact? I presume you do know it?" she said coldly and searchingly.
"My father confessed it on his deathbed."
"Confessed!" echoed Florimel's pride, but she restrained her tongue. "It explains much," she said with a sort of judicial relief. "There has been a great change upon you since then. Mind, I only say explains. It could never justify such behavior as yours — no, not if you had been my true brother. There is some excuse, I dare say, to be made for your ignorance and inexperience. No doubt the discovery turned your head. Still, I am at a loss to understand how you could imagine that sort of — of — that sort of thing gave you any right over me."
"Love has its rights, my lady," said Malcolm.
Again her eyes flashed and her cheek flushed: "I cannot permit you to talk so to me. You must not fancy such things are looked upon in our position with the same indifference as in yours. You must not flatter yourself that you can be allowed to cherish the same feeling towards me as if — as if — you were really my brother. I am sorry for you, Malcolm, as I said already, but you have altogether missed your mark if you think that can alter facts or shelter you from the consequences of presumption."
Again she turned away. Malcolm's heart was sore for her. How grievously she had sunk from the Lady Florimel of the old days! It was all from being so constantly with that wretched woman and her vile nephew. Had he been able to foresee such a rapid declension he would have taken her away long ago, and let come of her feelings what might. He had been too careful over them.
"Indeed," Florimel resumed, but this time without turning toward him, "I do not see how things can possibly, after what you have told me, remain as they are. I should not feel at all comfortable in having one about me who would be constantly supposing he had rights and reflecting on my father for fancied injustice, and whom I fear nothing could prevent from taking liberties. It is very awkward indeed, Malcolm — very awkward. But it is your own fault that you are so changed; and I must say I should not have expected it of you: I should have thought you had more good sense and regard for me. If I were to tell the world why I wanted to keep you, people would but shrug their shoulders and tell me to get rid of you; and if I said nothing, there would always be something coming up that required explanation. Besides, you would forever be trying to convert me to one or other of your foolish notions. I hardly know what to do. I will consult — my friends on the subject. And yet I would rather they knew nothing of it. My father, you see" — she paused. "If you had been my real brother it would have been different."
"I am your real brother, my lady, and I have tried to behave like one ever since I knew it."
"Yes, you have been troublesome: I have always understood that brothers were troublesome. I am told they are given to taking upon them the charge of their sisters' conduct. But I would not have even you think me heartless. If you had been a real brother, of course I should have treated you differently."
"I don't doubt it, my lady, for everything would have been different then. I should have been the Marquis of Lossie, and you would have been Lady Florimel Colonsay. But it would have made little difference in one thing: I could not have loved you better than I do now, if only you would believe it, my lady."
The emotion of Malcolm, evident in his voice as he said this, seemed to touch her a little. "I believe it, my poor Malcolm," she returned, "quite as much as I want or as it is pleasant to believe it. I think you would do a good deal for me, Malcolm. But then you are so rude! take things into your own hands, and do things for me I don't want done! You will judge, not only for yourself, but for me! How can a man of your training and position judge for a lady of mine? Don't you see the absurdity of it? At times it has been very awkward indeed. Perhaps when I am married it might be arranged; but I don't know." Here Malcolm ground his teeth, but was otherwise irresponsive as block of stone. "How would a gamekeeper's place suit you? That is a half-gentlemanly kind of post. I will speak to the factor, and see what can be done. But on the whole, I think, Malcolm, it will be better you should go. I am very sorry. I wish you had not told me. It is very painful to me. You should not have told me. These things are not intended to be talked of. Suppose you were to marry, say ——" She stopped abruptly, and it was well both for herself and Malcolm that she caught back the name that was on her lips.
The poor girl must not be judged as if she had been more than a girl, or other than one with every disadvantage of evil training. Had she been four or five years older, she might have been a good deal worse, and have seemed better, for she would have kept much of what she had now said to herself, and would perhaps have treated her brother more kindly while she cared even less for him.
"What will you do with Kelpie, my lady?" asked Malcolm quietly."There it is, you see!" she returned. "So awkward! If you had not told me, things could have gone on as before, and for your sake I could have pretended I came this voyage of my own will and pleasure. Now, I don't know what I can do, except indeed you —— Let me see: if you were to hold your tongue, and tell nobody what you have just told me, I don't know but you might stay till you got her so far trained that another man could manage her. I might even be able to ride her myself. Will you promise?"
"I will promise not to let the fact come out so long as I am in your service, my lady."
"After all that has passed, I think you might promise me a little more. But I will not press it."
"May I ask what it is, my lady?"
"I am not going to press it, for I do not choose to make a favor of it. Still I do not see that it would be such a mighty favor to ask of one who owes respect at least to the house of Lossie. But I will not ask. I will only suggest, Malcolm, that you should leave this part of the country — say this country altogether — and go to America or New South Wales or the Cape of Good Hope. If you will take the hint, and promise never to speak a word of this unfortunate — yes, I must be honest and allow there is a sort of relationship between us — but if you will keep it secret I will take care that something is done for you — something, I mean, more than you could have any right to expect. And mind, I am not asking you to conceal anything that could reflect honor upon you or dishonor upon us."
"I cannot, my lady."
"I scarcely thought you would. Only you hold such grand ideas about self-denial that I thought it might be agreeable to you to have an opportunity of exercising the virtue at a small expense and a great advantage."
Malcolm was miserable. Who could have dreamed to find in her such a woman of the world? He must break off the hopeless interview. "Then, my lady," he said, "I suppose I am to give my chief attention to Kelpie, and things are to be as they have been?"
"For the present. And as to this last piece of presumption, I will so far forgive you as to take the proceeding on myself — mainly because it would have been my very choice had you submitted it to me. There is nothing I should have preferred to a sea-voyage and returning to Lossie at this time of the year. But you also must be silent on your insufferable share in the business. And for the other matter, the least arrogance or assumption I shall consider to absolve me at once from all obligation toward you of any sort. Such relationships are never acknowledged."
"Thank you — sister," said Malcolm — a last forlorn experiment; and as he said the word he looked lovingly in her eyes.
She drew herself up like the princess Lucifera, "with loftie eyes, halfe loth to looke so lowe," and said, cold as ice, "If once I hear that word on your lips again, as between you and me, Malcolm, I shall that very moment discharge you from my service as for a misdemeanor. You have no claim upon me, and the world will not blame me."
"Certainly not, my lady. I beg your pardon. But there is one who perhaps will blame you a little."
"I know what you mean, but I don't pretend to any of your religious motives. When I do, then you may bring them to bear upon me."
"I was not so foolish as you think me, my lady. I merely imagined you might be as far on as a Chinaman," said Malcolm, with a poor attempt at a smile.
"What insolence do you intend now?"
"The Chinese, my lady, pay the highest respect to their departed parents. When I said there was one who would blame you a little, I meant your father." He touched his cap and withdrew.
"Send Rose to me," Florimel called after him, and presently with her went down to the cabin.
And still the Psyche soul-like flew. Her earthly birth held her to the earth, but the ocean upbore her and the breath of God drove her on. Little thought Florimel to what she hurried her. A queen in her own self-sufficiency and condescension, she could not suspect how little of real queendom, noble and self-sustaining, there was in her being; for not a soul of man or woman whose every atom leans not upon its father-fact in God can sustain itself when the outer wall of things begins to tumble toward the centre, crushing it in on every side.
During the voyage no further allusion was made by either to what had passed. By the next morning Florimel had yet again recovered her temper, and, nothing fresh occurring to irritate her, kept it and was kind.
Malcolm was only too glad to accept whatever parings of heart she might offer.
By the time their flight was over Florimel almost felt as if it had indeed been undertaken at her own desire and motion, and was quite prepared to assert that such was the fact.