The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XLVI

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XLVI
by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XLVI.

PORTLAND PLACE.

The latter part of the journey was not so pleasant: it rained. It was not cold, however, and the ladies did not mind it much. It accorded with Clementina's mood; and as to Florimel, but for the thought of meeting Caley, her fine spirits would have laughed the weather to scorn. Malcolm was merry. His spirits always rose at the appearance of bad weather, as indeed with every show of misfortune: a response antagonistic invariably awoke in him. On the present occasion he had even to repress the constantly recurring impulse to break out in song. His bosom's lord sat lightly on his throne. Griffith was the only miserable one of the party. He was tired, and did not relish the thought of the work to be done before getting home. They entered London in a wet fog, streaked with rain and dyed with smoke. Florimel went with Clementina for the night, and Malcolm carried a note from her to Lady Bellair, after which, having made Kelpie comfortable, he went to his lodgings.

When he entered the curiosity-shop the woman received him with evident surprise, and when he would have passed through to the stair, stopped him with the unwelcome information that, finding he did not return, and knowing nothing about himself or his occupation, she had, as soon as the week for, which he had paid in advance was out, let the room to an old lady from the country.

"It is no great matter to me," said Malcolm, thoughtful over the woman's want of confidence in him, for he had rather liked her, "only I am sorry you could not trust me a little."

"It's all you know, young man," she returned. "People as live in London must take care of theirselves, not wait for other people to do it. They'd soon find theirselves nowheres in partic'lar. I've took care on your things, an' laid 'em all together, an' the sooner you find another place for 'em the better, for they do take up a deal o' room."

His personal property was not so bulky, however, but that in ten minutes he had it all in his carpet-bag and a paper parcel, carrying which he re-entered the shop. "Would you oblige me by Allowing these to lie here till I come for them? " he said.

The woman was silent for a moment. "I'd rather see the last on 'em," she answered. "To tell the truth, I don't like the look on 'em. You acts a part, young man. I'm on the square myself. But you'll find plenty to take you in. No, I can't do it. Take 'em with you."

Malcolm turned from her, and with his bag in one hand and the parcel under the other arm stepped from the shop into the dreary night. There he stood in the drizzle. It was a by-street, into which gas had not yet penetrated, and the oil lamps shone red and dull through the fog. He concluded to leave the things with Merton while he went to find a lodging.

Merton was a decent sort of fellow — not in his master's confidence — and Malcolm found him quite as sympathetic as the small occasion demanded. "It ain't no sort o' night," he said, "to go lookin' for a bed. Let's go an' speak to my old woman: she's a oner at contrivin'."

He lived over the stable, and they had but to go up the stair. Mrs. Merton sat by the fire. A cradle with a baby was in front of it. On the other side sat Caley in suppressed exultation, for here came what she had been waiting for — the first fruits of certain arrangements between her and Mrs. Catanach. She greeted Malcolm distantly, but neither disdainfully nor spitefully.

"I trust you've brought me back my lady, MacPhail," she said: then added, thawing into something like jocularity, "I shouldn't have looked to you to go running away with her."

"I left my lady at Lady Clementina Thornicroft's an hour ago," answered Malcolm.

"Oh, of course! Lady Clem's everything now."

"I believe my lady's not coming home till to-morrow," said Malcolm.

"All the better for us," returned Caley. "Her room ain't ready for her. But I didn't know you lodged with Mrs. Merton, MacPhail," she said, with a look at the luggage he had placed on the floor.

"Lawks, miss!" cried the good woman, "where ever should we put him up as has but the next room?"

"You'll have to find that out, mother," said Merton. "Sure you've got enough to shake down for him. With a truss of straw to help, you'll manage it somehow — eh, old lady? — I'll be bound!" And with that he told Malcolm's condition.

"Well, I suppose we must manage it somehow," answered his wife, "but I'm afraid we can't make him over-comfortable."

"I don't see but we could take him in at the house," said Caley, reflectively. "There is a small room empty in the garret, I know. It ain't much more than a closet, to be sure, but if he could put up with it for a night or two, just till he found a better, I would run across and see what they say."

Malcolm wondered at the change in her, but could not hesitate. The least chance of getting settled in the house was a thing not to be thrown away. He thanked her heartily. She rose and went, and they sat and talked till her return. She had been delayed, she said, by the housekeeper: "the cross old patch" had objected to taking in any one from the stables.

"I'm sure," she went on, "there ain't the ghost of a reason why you shouldn't have the room, except that it ain't good enough. Nobody else wants it or is likely to. But it's all right now, and if you'll come across in about an hour, you'll find it ready for you. One of the girls in the kitchen — I forget her name — offered to make it tidy for you. Only take care — I give you warning: she's a great admirer of Mr. MacPhail."

Therewith she took her departure, and at the appointed time Malcolm followed her. The door was opened to him by one of the maids whom he knew by sight, and in her guidance he soon found himself in that part of a house he liked best, immediately under the roof. The room was indeed little more than a closet in the slope of the roof, with only a skylight. But just outside the door was a storm-window, from which, over the top of a lower range of houses, he had a glimpse of the mews-yard. The place smelt rather badly of mice, while, as the skylight was immediately above his bed, and he had no fancy for drenching that with an infusion of soot, he could not open it. These, however, were the sole faults he had to find with the place. Everything looked nice and clean, and his education had not tended to fastidiousness. He took a book from his bag and read a good while: then went to bed and fell fast asleep.

In the morning he woke early, as was his habit, sprung at once on the floor, dressed, and went quietly down. The household was yet motionless. He had begun to descend the last stair when all at once he turned deadly sick, and had to sit down, grasping the balusters. In a few minutes he recovered, and made the best speed he could to the stable, where Kelpie was now beginning to demand her breakfast.

But Malcolm had never in his life before felt sick, and it seemed awful to him. Something that had appeared his own, a portion — hardly a portion, rather an essential element of himself — had suddenly deserted him, left him a prey to the inroad of something that was not of himself, bringing with it faintness of heart, fear and dismay. He found himself for the first time in his life trembling; and it was to him a thing as appalling as strange. While he sat on the stair he could not think, but as he walked to the mews, he said to himself, "Am I then the slave of something that is not myself — something to which my fancied freedom and strength are a mockery? Was my courage, my peace, all the time dependent on something not me, which could be separated from me, and but a moment ago was separated from me and left me as helplessly dismayed as the veriest coward in creation? I wonder what Alexander would have thought if, as he swung himself on Bucephalus, he had been taken as I was on the stair?"

Afterward, talking the thing over with Mr. Graham, he said, "I saw that I had no hand in my own courage. If I had any courage, it was simply that I was born with it. If it left me, I could not help it: I could neither prevent nor recall it — I could only wait until it returned. Why, then, I asked myself, should I feel ashamed that for five minutes, as I sat on the stair, Kelpie was a terror to me, and I felt as if I dared not go near her? I had almost reached the stable before I saw into it a little. Then I did see that if I had had nothing to do with my own courage, it was quite time I had something to do with it. If a man had no hand in his own nature, character, being, what could he be better than a divine puppet — a happy creature, possibly — a heavenly animal, like the grand horses and lions of the book of the Revelation — but not one of the gods that, the sons of God, the partakers of the divine nature, are? For this end came the breach in my natural courage, that I might repair it from the will and power God had given me, that I might have a hand in the making of my own courage, in the creating of myself. Therefore I must see to it."

Nor had he to wait for his next lesson — namely, the opportunity of doing what he had been taught in the first. For just as he reached the stable, where he heard Kelpie clamoring with hoofs and teeth after her usual manner when she judged herself neglected, the sickness returned, and with it such a fear of the animal he heard thundering and clashing on the other side of the door as amounted to nothing less than horror. She was a man-eating horse! — a creature with bloody teeth, brain-spattered hoofs and eyes of hate! A flesh-loving devil had possessed her, and was now crying out for her groom that he might devour him. He gathered, with agonized effort, every power within him to an awful council, and thus he said to himself: "Better a thousand times my brains plastered the stable-wall than I should hold them in the head of a dastard. How can God look at me with any content if I quail in the face of his four-footed creature? Does he not demand of me action according to what I know, not what I may chance at any moment to feel? God is my strength, and I will lay hold of that strength and use it, or I have none, and Kelpie may take me and welcome."

Therewith the sickness abated so far that he was able to open the stable-door; and, having brought them once into the presence of their terror, his will arose and lorded it over his shrinking, quivering nerves, and like slaves they obeyed him. Surely the Father of his spirit was most in that will when most that will was Malcolm's own! It is when a man is most a man, that the cause of the man, the God of his life, the very life himself, the original life-creating life, is closest to him, is most within him. The individual, that his individuality may blossom, and not soon be "massed into the common clay," must have the vital indwelling of the primary individuality which is its origin. The fire that is the hidden life of the bush will not consume it.

Malcolm tottered to the corn-bin, staggered up to Kelpie, fell up against her hind-quarters as they dropped from a great kick, but got into the stall beside her. She turned eagerly, darted at her food, swallowed it greedily, and was quiet as a lamb while he dressed her.