The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XLV

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XLV
by George MacDonald



Florimel was offended with Malcolm: he had put her confidence in him to shame, speaking of things to which he ought not once to have even alluded. But Clementina was not only older than Florimel, but in her loving endeavors for her kind had heard many a pitiful story, and was now saddened by the tale, not shocked at the teller. Indeed, Malcolm's mode of acquainting her with the grounds of the feeling she had challenged pleased both her heart and her sense of what was becoming; while as a partisan of women, finding a man also of their part, she was ready to offer him the gratitude of all womankind in her one typical self. "What a rough diamond is here!" she thought. "Rough!" echoed her heart: "how is he rough? What fault could the most fastidious find with his manners? True, he speaks as a servant; and where would be his manners if he did not? But neither in tone, expression nor way of thinking is he in the smallest degree servile. He is like a great pearl, clean out of the sea — bred, it is true, in the midst of strange surroundings, but pure as the moonlight; and if a man, so environed, yet has grown so grand, what might he not become with such privileges as ——"

Good Clementina! what did she mean? Did she imagine that such mere gifts as she might give him could do for him more than the great sea, with the torment and conquest of its winds and tempests? more than his own ministrations of love and victories over passion and pride? What the final touches of the shark-skin are to the marble that stands lord of the flaming bow, that only can wealth and position be to the man who has yielded neither to the judgments of the world nor the drawing of his own inclinations, and so has submitted himself to the chisel and mallet of his Maker. Society is the barber who trims a man's hair, often very badly too, and pretends he made it grow. If her owner should take her, body and soul, and make of her being a gift to his — ah, then indeed! But Clementina was not yet capable of perceiving that, while what she had in her thought to offer might hurt him, it could do him little good. Her feeling concerning him, however, was all the time far indeed from folly. Not for a moment did she imagine him in love with her. Possibly she admired him too much to attribute to him such an intolerable and insolent presumption as that would have appeared to her own inferior self. Still, she was far indeed from certain, were she, as befits the woman so immeasurably beyond even the aspiration of the man, to make him offer implicit of hand and havings, that he would reach out his hand to take them. And certainly that she was not going to do; in which determination, whether she knew it or not, there was as much modesty and gracious doubt of her own worth as there was pride and maidenly recoil. In one resolve she was confident, that her behavior toward him should be such as to keep him just where he was, affording him no smallest excuse for taking one step nearer, and they would soon be in London, where she would see nothing — or next to nothing — more of him. But should she ever cease to thank God — that was, if ever she came to find him — that in this room he had shown her what he could do in the way of making a man? Heartily she wished she knew a nobleman or two like him. In the mean time she meant to enjoy with carefulness the ride to London, after which things should be as before they left.

The morning arrived; they finished breakfast; the horses came round and stood at the door, all but Kelpie. The ladies mounted. Ah, what a morning to leave the country and go back to London! The sun shone clear on the dark pine woods; the birds were radiant in song; all under the trees the ferns were unrolling each its mystery of ever-generating life; the soul of the summer was there, whose mere idea sends the heart into the eyes, while itself flits mocking from the cage of words. A gracious mystery it was — in the air, in the sun, in the earth, in their own hearts. The lights of heaven mingled and played with the shadows of the earth, which looked like the souls of the trees, that had been out wandering all night, and had been overtaken by the sun ere they could re-enter their dark cells. Every motion of the horses under them was like a throb of the heart of the earth, every bound like a sigh of her bliss. Florimel shouted almost like a boy with ecstasy, and Clementina's moonlight went very near changing into sunlight as she gazed and breathed and knew that she was alive.

They started without Malcolm, for he must always put his mistress up and then go back to the stable for Kelpie. In a moment they were in the wood, crossing its shadows. It was like swimming their horses through a sea of shadows. Then came a little stream, and the horses splashed it about like children from very gamesomeness. Half a mile more, and there was a saw-mill with a mossy wheel, a pond behind dappled with sun and shade, a dark rush of water along a brown trough, and the air full of the sweet smell of sawn wood. Clementina had not once looked behind, and did not know whether Malcolm had yet joined them or not. All at once the wild vitality of Kelpie filled the space beside her, and the voice of Malcolm was in her ears. She turned her head. He was looking very solemn.

"Will you let me tell you, my lady, what this always makes me think of?" he said.

"What in particular do you mean?" returned Clementina coldly.

"This smell of new-sawn wood that fills the air, my lady."

She bowed her head.

"It makes me think of Jesus in his father's workshop," said Malcolm — "how he must have smelled the same sweet scent of the trees of the world, broken for the uses of men, that is now so sweet to me. Oh, my lady, it makes the earth very holy and very lovely to think that as we are in the world, so was he in the world. Oh, my lady, think! If God should be so nearly one with us that it was nothing strange to him thus to visit his people! that we are not the offspring of the soulless tyranny of law that knows not even its own self, but the children of an unfathomable wonder, of which science gathers only the foam-bells on the shore — children in the house of a living Father — so entirely our Father that he cares even to death that we should understand and love him!"

He reined Kelpie back, and as she passed on his eyes caught a glimmer of emotion in Clementina's. He fell behind, and all that day did not come near her again.

Florimel asked her what he had been saying, and she compelled herself to repeat a part of it.

"He is always saying such odd, out-of-the-way things," remarked Florimel. "I used sometimes, like you, to fancy him a little astray, but I soon found I was wrong. I wish you could have heard him tell a story he once told my father and me. It was one of the wildest you ever heard. I can't tell to this day whether he believed it himself or not. He told it quite as if he did."

"Could you not make him tell it again as we ride along? It would shorten the way."

"Do you want the way shortened? I don't. But indeed it would not do to tell it so. It ought to be heard just where I heard it — at the foot of the ruined castle where the dreadful things in it took place. You must come and see me at Lossie House in the autumn, and then he shall tell it you. Besides, it ought to be told in Scotch, and there you will soon learn enough to follow it: half the charm depends on that."

Although Malcolm did not again approach Clementina that day, he watched almost her every motion as she rode. Her lithe graceful back and shoulders — for she was a rebel against the fashion of the day in dress as well as in morals, and believing in the natural stay of the muscles, had found them responsive to her trust — the noble poise of her head, and the motions of her arms, easy yet decided, were ever present to him, though sometimes he could hardly have told whether to his sight or his mind — now in the radiance of the sun, now in the shadow of the wood, now against the green of the meadow, now against the blue of the sky, and now in the faint moonlight, through which he followed, as a ghost in the realms of Hades might follow the ever-fitting phantom of his love. Day glided after day. Adventure came not near them. Soft and lovely as a dream the morning dawned, the noon flowed past, the evening came; and the death that followed was yet sweeter than the life that had gone before. Through it all, day-dream and nightly trance, radiant air and moony mist, before him glode the shape of Clementina, its every motion a charm. After that shape he could have been content — oh, how content! — to ride on and on through the ever-unfolding vistas of an eternal succession. Occasionally his mistress would call him to her, and then he would have one glance at the dayside of the wondrous world he had been following. Somewhere within it must be the word of the living One. Little he thought that all the time she was thinking more of him who had spoken that word in her hearing. That he was the object of her thoughts not a suspicion crossed the mind of the simple youth. How could he imagine a lady like her taking a fancy to what, for all his marquisate, he still was in his own eyes, a raw young fisherman, only just learning how to behave himself decently? No doubt, ever since she began to listen to reason, the idea of her had been spreading like a sweet odor in his heart, but not because she had listened to him. The very fullness of his admiration had made him wrathful with the intellectual dishonesty — for in her it could not be stupidity — that quenched his worship, and the first dawning sign of a reasonable soul drew him to her feet, where, like Pygmalion before his statue, he could have poured out his heart in thanks that she consented to be a woman. But even the intellectual phantom, nay even the very phrase of being in love with her, had never risen upon the dimmest verge of his consciousness; and that although her being had now become to him of all but absorbing interest. I say all but, because Malcolm knew something of One whose idea she was, who had uttered her from the immortal depths of his imagination. The man to whom no window into the treasures of the Godhead has yet been opened may well scoff at the notion of such a love, for he has this advantage, that, while one like Malcolm can never cease to love, he, gifted being, can love to day and forget tomorrow — or next year — where is the difference? Malcolm's main thought was, What a grand thing it would be to rouse a woman like Clementina to lift her head into the

regions mild of calm and serene air,
Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot
Which men call earth!

If any one think that love has no right to talk religion, I answer for Malcolm at least, asking, Whereof shall a man speak if not out of the abundance of his heart? That man knows little either of love or of religion who imagines they ought to be kept apart. Of what sort, I ask, is either if unfit to approach the other? Has God decreed, created a love that must separate from himself? Is Love then divided? Or shall not love to the heart created lift up the heart to the Heart creating? Alas for the love that is not treasured in heaven! for the moth and the rust will devour it. Ab, these pitiful old moth-eaten loves!

All the journey, then, Malcolm was thinking how to urge the beautiful lady into finding for herself whether she had a Father in heaven or no. A pupil of Mr. Graham, he placed little value in argument that ran in any groove but that of persuasion, or any value in persuasion that had any end but action.

On the second day of the journey he rode up to his mistress, and told her, taking care that Lady Clementina should hear, that Mr. Graham was now preaching in London, adding that for his part he had never before heard anything fit to call preaching. Florimel did not show much interest, but asked where, and Malcolm fancied he could see Lady Clementina make a mental note of the place.

"If only," he thought, "she would let the power of that man's faith have a chance of influencing her, all would be well."

The ladies talked a good deal, but Florimel was not in earnest about anything, and for Clementina to have turned the conversation upon those possibilities, dim-dawning through the chaos of her world, which had begun to interest her, would have been absurd, especially since such was her confusion and uncertainty that she could not tell whether they were clouds or mountains, shadows or continents. Besides, why give a child sovereigns to play with when counters or dominos would do as well? Clementina's thoughts could not have passed into Florimel and become her thoughts. Their hearts, their natures, must come nearer first. Advise Florimel to disregard rank, and marry the man she loved! As well counsel the child to give away the cake he would cry for with intensified selfishness the moment he had parted with it! Still, there was that in her feeling for Malcolm which rendered her doubtful in Florimel's presence.

Between the grooms little passed. Griffith's contempt for Malcolm found its least offensive expression in silence, its most offensive in the shape of his countenance. He could not make him the simplest reply without a sneer. Malcolm was driven to keep mostly behind. If by any chance he got in front of his fellow-groom, Griffith would instantly cross his direction and ride between him and the ladies. His look seemed to say he had to protect them.