Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 132.djvu/700

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As the days passed on and Florimel heard nothing of Lenorme, the uneasiness that came with the thought of him gradually diminished, and all the associations of opposite complexion returned. Untrammelled by fear, the path into a scaring future seeming to be cut off, her imagination began to work in the quarry of her late experience, shaping its dazzling material into gorgeous castles, with foundations deep dug in the air, wherein lorded the person and gifts and devotion of the painter. When lost in such blissful reveries not seldom moments arrived in which she imagined herself — even felt as if she were capable, if not of marrying Lenorme in the flushed face of outraged society, yet of fleeing with him from the judgment of the all but all-potent divinity to the friendly bosom of some blessed isle of the southern seas, whose empty luxuriance they might change into luxury, and there living a long harmonious idyll of wedded love, in which old age and death should be provided against by never taking them into account. This mere fancy — which, poor in courage as it was in invention, she was far from capable of carrying into effect — yet seemed to herself the outcome and sign of a whole world of devotion in her bosom. If one of the meanest of human conditions is conscious heroism, paltrier yet is heroism before the fact, incapable of self-realization. But even the poorest dreaming has its influences, and the result of hers was that the attentions of Liftore became again distasteful to her. And no wonder, for indeed his lordship's presence in the actual world made a poor show beside that of the painter in the ideal world of the woman who, if she could not with truth be said to love him, yet certainly had a powerful fancy for him: the mean phrase is good enough, even although the phantom of Lenorme roused in her all the twilight poetry of her nature, and the presence of Liftore set her whole consciousness in the perpendicular shadowless gaslight of prudence and self-protection.

The pleasure of her castle-building was but seldom interrupted by any thought of the shamefulness of her behavior to him. That did not matter much. She could so easily make up for all he had suffered! Her selfishness closed her eyes to her own falsehood. Had she meant it truly, she would have been right both for him and for herself. To have repented and become as noble a creature as Lenorme was capable of imagining her — not to say as God had designed her — would indeed have been to make up for all he had suffered. But the poor blandishment she contemplated as amends could render him blessed only while its intoxication blinded him to the fact that it meant nothing of what it ought to mean — that behind it was no entire heart-filled woman. Meantime, as the past, with its delightful imprudences, its trembling joys glided away, swiftly widening the space between her and her false fears and shames, and seeming to draw with it the very facts themselves, promising to obliterate at length all traces of them, she gathered courage; and as the feeling of exposure that had made the covert of Liftore's attentions acceptable began to yield, her variableness began to reappear and his lordship to find her uncertain as ever. Assuredly, as his aunt said, she was yet but a girl incapable of knowing her own mind, and he must not press his suit. Nor had he the spur of jealousy or fear to urge him; society regarded her as his, and the shadowy repute of the boldfaced countess intercepted some favorable rays which would otherwise have fallen upon the young and beautiful marchioness from fairer luminaries even than Liftore.

But there was one good process, by herself little regarded, going on in Florimel: notwithstanding the moral discomfort oftener than once occasioned her by Malcolm, her confidence in him was increasing; and now that the kind of danger threatening her seemed altered, she leaned her mind upon him not a little, and more than she could well have accounted for to herself on the only grounds she could have adduced — namely, that he was an attendant authorized by her father, and, like herself, loyal to his memory and will; and that, faithful as a dog, he would fly at the throat of any one who dared touch her; of which she had had late proof, supplemented by his silent endurance of consequent suffering. Demon sometimes looked angry when she teased him — had even gone so far as to bare his teeth — but Malcolm had never shown temper. In a matter of imagined duty, he might presume, but that was a small thing beside the sense of safety his very presence brought with it. She shuddered, indeed, at the remembrance of one look he had given her, but that had been for no be-