The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XLVIII

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XLVIII
by George MacDonald



Though unable to eat any breakfast, Malcolm persuaded himself that he felt nearly as well as usual when he went to receive his mistress's orders. Florimel had had enough of horseback, indeed, for several days to come, and would not ride. So he saddled Kelpie, and rode to Chelsea to look after his boat. To get rid of the mare, he rang the stable-bell at Mr. Lenorme's and the gardener let him in. As he was putting her up, the man told him that the housekeeper had heard from his master. Malcolm went to the house to learn what he might, and found to his surprise, that if he had gone on the Continent he was there no longer, for the letter, which contained only directions concerning some of his pictures, was dated from Newcastle, and bore the Durham postmark of a week ago. Malcolm remembered that he had heard Lenorme speak of Durham Cathedral, and in the hope that he might be spending some time there, begged the housekeeper to allow him to go to the study to write to her master. When he entered, however, he saw something that made him change his plan, and having written, instead of sending the letter, as he had intended, enclosed to the postmaster at Durham, he left it upon an easel. It contained merely an earnest entreaty to be made and kept acquainted with his movements, that he might at once let him know if anything should occur that he ought to be informed concerning.

He found all on board the yacht in shipshape, only Davy was absent. Travers explained that he sent him on shore for a few hours every day. He was a sharp boy, he said, and the more he saw the more useful he would be, and as he never gave him any money, there was no risk of his mistaking his hours.

"When do you expect him?" asked Malcolm.

"At four o'clock," answered Travers.

"It is four now," said Malcolm.

A shrill whistle came from the Chelsea shore.

"And there's Davy," said Travers.

Malcolm got into the dinghy and rowed ashore.

"Davy," he said, "I don't want you to be all day on board, but I can't have you be longer away than an hour at a time."

"Ay, ay, sir," said Davy.

"Now attend to me."

"Ay, ay, sir."

"Do you know Lady Lossie's house?"

"No, sir, but I ken hersel'."

"How is that?"

"I hae seen her mair nor twa or three times ridin' wi' yersel' to yon hoose yonder."

"Would you know her again?"

"Ay wad I — fine that. What for no, sir?"

"It's a good way to see a lady across the Thames and know her again."

"Ow! but I tuik the spy-glass till her," answered Davy, reddening.

"You are sure of her, then?"

"I am that, sir."

"Then come with me, and I will show you where she lives. I will not ride faster than you can run. But mind you don't look as if you belonged to me."

"Na, na, sir. There's fowk takin' nottice.

"What do you mean by that?"

"There's a wee laddie been efter mysel' twise or thrice."

"Did you do anything?"

"He wasna big eneuch to lick, sae I jist got him the last time an' pu'd his niz, an' I dinna think he'll come efter me again."

To see what the boy could do, Malcolm let Kelpie go at a good trot, but Davy kept up without effort, now shooting ahead, now falling behind, now stopping to look in at a window, and now to cast a glance at a game of pitch-and-toss. No mere passer-by could have suspected that the sailor-boy belonged to the horseman. He dropped him not far from Portland Place, telling him to go and look at the number, but not stare at the house.

All the time he had had no return of the sickness, but, although thus actively occupied, had felt greatly depressed. One main cause of this was, however, that he had not found his religion stand him in such stead as he might have hoped. It was not yet what it must be to prove its reality. And now his eyes were afresh opened to see that in his nature and thoughts lay large spaces wherein God ruled not supreme — desert places where who could tell what might appear? For in such regions wild beasts range, evil herbs flourish, and demons go about. If in very deed he lived and moved and had his being in God, then assuredly there ought not to be one cranny in his nature, one realm of his consciousness, one wellspring of thought, where the will of God was a stranger. If all were as it should be, then surely there would be no moment, looking back on which he could not at least say, —

Yet, like some sweet beguiling melody —
So sweet, we know not we are listening to it —
Thou, the mean while, was blending with my thought,
Yea, with my life and life's own secret joy!

"In that agony o' sickness, as I sat upo' the stair," he said to himself — for still in his own thoughts he spoke his native tongue — "whaur was my God in a' my thouchts? I did cry till 'im, I min' weel, but it was my reelin' brain an' no my trustin' hert 'at cried. Aih me! I doobt gien the Lord war to come to me noo, he wadna fin' muckle faith i' my pairt o' the yerth. Aih! I wad like to lat him see something like lippenin'! I would fain trust him till his hert's content. But I doobt it's only speeritual ambeetion, or better wad hae come o' 't by this time. Gien that sickness come again, I maun see, noo 'at I'm forewarned o' my ain wakeness, what I can du. It maun be something better nor last time, or I'll tine hert a'thegither. Weel, maybe I need to be heumblet. The Lord help me!"

In the evening he went to the schoolmaster, and gave him a pretty full account of where he had been and what had taken place since last he saw him, dwelling chiefly on his endeavors with Lady Clementina.

From Mr. Graham's lodging to the north-eastern gate of the Regent's Park the nearest way led through a certain passage, which, although a thoroughfare to persons on foot, was little known. Malcolm had early discovered it, and always used it. Part of this short cut was the yard and back premises of a small public-house. It was between eleven and twelve as he entered it for the second time that night. Sunk in thought and suspecting no evil, he was struck down from behind and lost his consciousness. When he came to himself he was lying in the public-house, with his head bound up and a doctor standing over him, who asked him if he had been robbed. He searched his pockets and found that his old watch was gone, but his money left. One of the men standing about said he would see him home. He half thought he had seen him before, and did not like the look of him, but accepted the offer, hoping to get on the track of something thereby. As soon as they entered the comparative solitude of the park he begged his companion, who had scarcely spoken all the way, to give him his arm, and leaned upon it as if still suffering, but watched him closely. About the middle of the park, where not a creature was in sight, he felt him begin to fumble in his coat-pocket and draw something from it. But when, unresisted, he snatched away his other arm, Malcolm's fist followed it, and the man fell, nor made any resistance while he took from him a short stick loaded with lead, and his own watch, which he found in his waistcoat pocket. Then the fellow rose with apparent difficulty, but the moment he was on his legs ran like a hare, and Malcolm let him run, for he felt unable to follow him. As soon as he reached home he went to bed, for his head ached severely; but he slept pretty well, and in the morning flattered himself he felt much as usual. But it was as if all the night that horrible sickness had been lying in wait on the stair to spring upon him; for the moment he reached the same spot on his way down, he almost fainted. It was worse than before: his very soul seemed to turn sick. But although his heart died within him, somehow, in the confusion of thought and feeling occasioned by intense suffering, it seemed while he clung to the balusters as if with both hands he were clinging to the skirts of God's garment, and through the black smoke of his fainting his soul seemed to be struggling up toward the light of his being. Presently the horrible sense subsided as before, and again he sought to descend the stair and go to Kelpie. But immediately the sickness returned, and all he could do after a long and vain struggle was to crawl on hands and knees up the stairs and back to his room. There he crept upon his bed, and was feebly committing Kelpie to the care of her Maker, when consciousness forsook him.

It returned, heralded by frightful pains all over his body, which by-and-by subsiding, he sunk again to the bottom of the black Lethe.

Meantime, Kelpie had got so wildly uproarious that Merton tossed her half a truss of hay, which she attacked like an enemy, and ran to the house to get somebody to call Malcolm. After what seemed endless delay the door was opened by his admirer, the scullery-maid, who, as soon as she heard what was the matter, hastened to his room.