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147
THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.

ing period of his life, with the strongest practical good sense, and with a profound insight, which has not been shamed by the results. It is not unnatural to suppose, that the knowledge of the lofty part he played may have been among the encouragements which brought into action the bold policy of Canning; nor to hope, that the contemplation of it may yet supply a guiding light to some British statesman called to open its capabilities, as well as to encounter its embarrassments,

in una selva oscura
Che la diritta via era smarrita.[1]

W. E. Gladstone.




THE MARQUIS OF LOSSIE.

BY GEORGE MACDONALD, AUTHOR OF "MALCOLM," ETC.

CHAPTER XXIII.

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

  1. Dante, Inf. i. 2.