The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XLIV

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XLIV
by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XLIV.

THE MIND OF THE AUTHOR.

The next was the last day of the reading. They must finish the tale that morning, and on the following set out to return home, travelling as they had come. Clementina had not the strength of mind to deny herself that last indulgence — a long four days' ride in the company of this strangest of attendants. After that, if not the deluge, yet a few miles of Sahara.

"'It is the opinion of many that he has entered into a Moravian mission, for the use of which he had previously drawn considerable sums,' " read Malcolm, and paused with book half closed.

"Is that all?" asked Florimel.

"Not quite, my lady," he answered.

"There isn't much more, but I was just thinking whether we hadn't come upon something worth a little reflection — whether we haven't here a window into the mind of the author of 'Waverley,' whoever he may be, Mr. Scott or another."

"You mean?" said Clementina interrogatively, and looked up from her work, but not at the speaker.

"I mean, my lady, that perhaps we here get a glimpse of the author's own opinions, or feelings rather, perhaps."

"I do not see what of the sort you can find there," returned Clementina.

"Neither should I, my lady, if Mr. Graham had not taught me how to find Shakespeare in his plays. A man's own nature, he used to say, must lie at the heart of what he does, even though not another man should be sharp enough to find him there. Not a hypocrite, the most consummate, he would say, but has his hypocrisy written in every line of his countenance and motion of his fingers. The heavenly Lavaters can read it, though the earthly may not be able."

"And you think you can find him out?" said Clementina dryly.

"Not the hypocrite, my lady, but Mr. Scott here. He is only round a single corner. And one thing is — he believes in a God."

"How do you make that out?"

"He means this Mr. Tyrrel for a fine fellow, and on the whole approves of him — does he not, my lady?"

"Certainly."

"Of course all that duelling is wrong. But then Mr. Scott only half disapproves of it. — And it is almost a pity it is wrong," remarked Malcolm with a laugh, "it is such an easy way of settling some difficult things. Yet I hate it. It is so cowardly. I may be a better shot than the other, and know it all the time. He may know it too, and have twice my courage. And I may think him in the wrong, when he knows himself in the right. — There is one man I have felt as if I should like to kill. When I was a boy I killed the cats that ate my pigeons."

A look of horror almost distorted Lady Clementina's countenance.

"I don't know what to say next, my lady," he went on with a, smile, "because I have no way of telling whether you look shocked for the cats I killed or the pigeons they killed, or the man I would rather see killed than have him devour more of my — white doves," he concluded sadly, with a little shake of the head. "But, please God," he resumed, "I shall manage to keep them from him, and let him live to be as old as Methuselah if he can, even if he should grow in cunning and wickedness all the time. I wonder how he will feel when he comes to see what a sneaking cat he is? — But this is not what we set out for. It was that Mr. Tyrrel, the author's hero, joins the Moravians at last."

"What are they?" questioned Clementina.

"Simple, good, practical Christians, I believe," answered Malcolm.

"But he only does it when disappointed in love."

"No, my lady, he is not disappointed. The lady is only dead."

Clementina stared a moment — then dropped her head as if she understood. Presently she raised it again and said, "But, according to what you said the other day, in doing so he was forsaking altogether the duties of the station in which God had called him."

"That is true. It would have been a far grander thing to do his duty where he was, than to find another place and another duty. An earldom allotted is better than a mission preferred."

"And at least you must confess," interrupted Clementina, "that he only took to religion because he was unhappy."

"Certainly, my lady, it is the nobler thing to seek God in the days of gladness, to look up to him in trustful bliss when the sun is shining. But if a man be miserable, if the storm is coming down on him, what is he to do? There is nothing mean in seeking God then, though it would have been nobler to seek him before. But to return to the matter in hand: the author of 'Waverley' makes his noble-hearted hero, whom assuredly he had no intention of disgracing, turn Moravian; and my conclusion from it is, that in his judgment nobleness leads in the direction of religion — that he considers it natural for a noble mind to seek comfort there for its deepest sorrows."

"Well, it may be so; but what is religion without consistency in action?" said Clementina.

"Nothing," answered Malcolm.

"Then how can you, professing to believe as you do, cherish such feelings toward any man as you have just been confessing?"

"I don't cherish them, my lady. But I succeed in avoiding hate better than in suppressing contempt, which perhaps is the worse of the two. There may be some respect in hate."

Here he paused, for here was a chance that was not likely to recur. He might say before two ladies what he could not say before one. If he could but rouse Florimel's indignation! Then at any suitable time only a word more would be needful to direct it upon the villain. Clementina's eyes continued fixed upon him. At length he spoke: "I will try to make two pictures in your mind, my lady, if you will help me to paint them. In my mind they are not painted pictures. — A long seacoast, my lady, and a stormy night; the sea-horses rushing in from the northeast, and the snowflakes beginning to fall. On the margin of the sea a long dune or sandbank, and on the top of it, her head bare and her thin cotton dress nearly torn from her by the wind, a young woman, worn and white, with an old faded tartan shawl tight about her shoulders, and the shape of a baby inside it upon her arm."

"Oh, she doesn't mind the cold," said Florimel. "When I was there I didn't mind it a bit."

"She does not mind the cold," answered Malcolm: "she is far too miserable for that."

"But she has no business to take the baby out on such a night," continued Florimel, carelessly critical. "You ought to have painted her by the fireside. They have all of them firesides to sit at. I have seen them through the windows many a time."

"Shame or cruelty had driven her from it," said Malcolm, "and there she was."

"Do you mean you saw her yourself wandering about?" asked Clementina.

"Twenty times, my lady."

Clementina was silent.

"Well, what comes next?" said Florimel.

"Next comes a young gentleman — but this is a picture in another frame, although of the same night — a young gentleman in evening dress, sipping his madeira, warm and comfortable, in the bland temper that should follow the best of dinners, his face beaming with satisfaction after some boast concerning himself, or with silent success in the concoction of one or two compliments to have at hand when he joins the ladies in the drawing-room."

"Nobody can help such differences," said Florimel. "If there were nobody rich, who would there be to do anything for the poor? It's not the young gentleman's fault that he is better born and has more money than the poor girl."

"No," said Malcolm; "but what if the poor girl has the young gentleman's child to carry about from morning to night?"

"Oh, well, I suppose she's paid for it," said Florimel, whose innocence must surely have been supplemented by some stupidity born of her flippancy.

"Do be quiet, Florimel," said Clementina: "you don't know what you are talking about."

Her face was in a glow, and one glance at it set Florimel's in a flame. She rose without a word, but with a look of mingled confusion and offence, and walked away. Clementina gathered her work together. But ere she followed her she turned to Malcolm, looked him calmly in the face, and said, "No one can blame you for hating such a man."

"Indeed, my lady, but some one would — the only One for whose praise or blame we ought to care more than a straw or two. He tells us we are neither to judge nor to hate. But ——"

"I cannot stay and talk with you." said Clementina. "You must pardon me if I follow your mistress."

Another moment and he would have told her all, in the hope of her warning Florimel. But she was gone.