The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XXIV

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XXIV
by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XXIV.

A LADY.

The next morning Malcolm took Kelpie into the park and gave her a good breathing. He had thought to jump the rails and let her have her head, but he found there were too many park-keepers and police about: he saw he could do little for her that way. He was turning home with her again when one of her evil fits came upon her, this time taking its first form in a sudden stiffening of every muscle: she stood stock-still with flaming eyes. I suspect we human beings know but little of the fierceness with which the vortices of passion rage in the more purely animal natures. This beginning he well knew would end in a wild paroxysm of rearing and plunging. He had more than once tried the exorcism of patience, sitting sedate upon her back until she chose to move; but on these occasions the tempest that followed had been of the very worst description; so that he had concluded it better to bring on the crisis, thereby sure at least to save time; and after he had adopted this mode with her, attacks of the sort, if no less violent, had certainly become fewer. The moment, therefore, that symptoms of an approaching fit showed themselves he used his spiked heels with vigor. Upon this occasion he had a stiff tussle with her, but as usual gained the victory, and was riding slowly along the Row, Kelpie tossing up now her head, now her heels, in indignant protest against obedience in general, and enforced obedience in particular, when a lady on horseback, who had come galloping from the opposite direction with her groom behind her, pulled up and lifted her hand with imperative grace: she had seen something of what had been going on. Malcolm reined in. But Kelpie, after her nature, was now as unwilling to stop as she had been before to proceed, and the fight began again, with some difference of movement and aspect, but the spurs once more playing a free part.

"Man! man!" cried the lady in most musical reproof, "do you know what you are about?"

"It would be a bad job for her and me too if I did not, my lady," said Malcolm, whom her appearance and manner impressed with a conviction of rank; and as he spoke he smiled in the midst of the struggle: he seldom got angry with Kelpie.

But the smile, instead of taking from the apparent roughness of his speech, only made his conduct appear in the lady's eyes more cruel. "How is it possible you can treat the poor animal so unkindly — and in cold blood too?" she said, and an indescribable tone of pleading ran through the rebuke. "Why, her poor sides are actually ——" A shudder and look of personal distress completed the sentence.

"You don't know what she is, my lady, or you would not think it necessary to intercede for her."

"But if she is naughty, is that any reason why you should be cruel?"

"No, my lady; but it is the best reason why I should try to make her good."

"You will never make her good that way."

"Improvement gives ground for hope," said Malcolm.

"But you must not treat a poor dumb animal as you would a responsible human being."

"She's not so very poor, my lady. She has all she wants, and does nothing to earn it — nothing to speak of, and nothing at all with good-will. For her dumbness, that's a mercy. If she could speak she wouldn't be fit to live amongst decent people. But for that matter, if some one hadn't taken her in hand, dumb as she is, she would have been shot long ago."

"Better that than live with such usage."

"I don't think she would agree with you, my lady. My fear is that, for as cruel as it looks to your ladyship, take it all together, she enjoys the fight. In any case, I am certain she has more regard for me than any other being in the universe."

"Who can have any regard for you," said the lady very gently, in utter mistake of his meaning, "if you have no command of your temper? You must learn to rule yourself first."

"That's true, my lady; and so long as my mare is not able to be a law to herself, I must be a law to her too."

"But have you never heard of the law of kindness? You could do so much more without the severity."

"With some natures I grant you, my lady, but not with such as she. Horse or man — they never know kindness till they have learned fear. Kelpie would have torn me to pieces before now if I had taken your way with her. But except I can do a good deal more with her yet, she will be nothing better than a natural brute beast made to be taken and destroyed."

"The Bible again!" murmured the lady to herself. "Of how much cruelty has not that book to bear the blame!"

All this time Kelpie was trying hard to get at the lady's horse to bite him. But she did not see that. She was too much distressed, and was growing more and more so. "I wish you would let my groom try her," she said after a pitiful pause. "He's an older and more experienced man than you. He has children. He would show you what can be done by gentleness."

From Malcolm's words she had scarcely gathered even a false meaning — not a glimmer of his nature — not even a suspicion that he meant something. To her he was but a handsome, brutal young groom. From the world of thought and reasoning that lay behind his words not an echo had reached her.

"It would be a great satisfaction to my old Adam to let him try her," said Malcolm.

"The Bible again!" said the lady to herself.

"But it would be murder," he added, "not knowing myself what experience he has had."

"I see," said the lady to herself, but loud enough for Malcolm to hear, for her tenderheartedness had made her both angry and unjust, "his self-conceit is equal to his cruelty — just what I might have expected!"

With the words she turned her horse's head and rode away, leaving a lump in Malcolm's throat.

"I wuss fowk" — he still spoke Scotch in his own chamber — "wad du as they're tell't, an' no jeedge ane anither. I'm sure it's Kelpie's best chance o' salvation 'at I gang on wi' her. Stablemen wad hae had her brocken doon a'thegither by this time, an' life wad hae had little relish left."

It added hugely to the bitterness of being thus rebuked that he had never in his life seen such a radiance of beauty's softest light as shone from the face and form of the reproving angel, "Only she canna be an angel," he said to himself, "or she wad hae ken't better."

She was young — not more than twenty — tall and graceful, with a touch of the matronly, which she must have had even in childhood, for it belonged to her, so staid, so stately was she in all her grace. With her brown hair, her lily complexion, her blue-gray eyes, she was all of the moonlight and its shadows — even now in the early morning and angry. Her nose was so nearly perfect that one never thought of it. Her mouth was rather large, but had gained in value of shape, and in the expression of indwelling sweetness, with every line that carried it beyond the measure of smallness. Most little mouths are pretty, some even lovely, but not one have I seen beautiful. Her forehead was the sweetest of half-moons. Of those who knew her best, some absolutely believed that a radiance resembling moonlight shimmered from its precious expanse. "Be ye angry and sin not," had always been a puzzle to Malcolm, who had, as I have said, inherited a certain Celtic fierceness: but now, even while he knew himself the object of the anger, he understood the word. It tried him, sorely, however, that such gentleness and beauty should be unreasonable. Could it be that he should never have a chance of convincing her how mistaken she was concerning his treatment of Kelpie? What a celestial rosy red her face had glowed! and what summer lightnings had flashed up in her eyes, as if they had been the horizons of heavenly worlds up which flew the dreams that broke from the brain of a young sleeping goddess, to make the worlds glad also in the night of their slumber! Something like this Malcolm felt: whoever saw her must feel as he had never felt before. He gazed after her long and earnestly. "It's an awfu' thing to hae a women like that angert at ye," he said to himself when at length she had disappeared — "as bonny as she is angry. God be praised 'at he kens a' thing, an' 's no angert wi' ye for the luik o' a thing! But the wheel may come roon' again — wha kens? Ony gait, I s' mak the best o' Kelpie I can. — I won'er gien she kens Leddy Florimel? She's a heap mair boontifu'-like in her beauty nor her. The man micht haud 's ain wi' an archangel 'at had a wuman like that to the wife o' 'm. — Hoots! I'll be wussin' I had had anither upbringing 'at I micht ha' won a step nearer to the hem o' her garment; an' that wad be to deny him 'at made 'an ordeen't me. I wull not do that. But I maun hae a crack wi' Maister Graham anent things twa or three, jist to haud me straucht, for I'm jist girnin' at bein' sae regairdit by sic a revelation. Gien she had been an auld wife, I wad hae only lauchen: what for 's that? I doobt I'm no muckle mair rizzonable nor hersel'. The thing was this, I fancy: it was sae clear she spak frae no ill-natur', only frae pure humanity. She's a gran' ane, yon, only some saft, I doobt."

For the lady, she rode away sadly strengthened in her doubts whether there could be a God in the world — not because there were in it such men as she took Malcolm for, but because such a lovely animal had fallen into his hands.

"It's a sair thing, to be misjeedged," said Malcolm to himself as he put the demoness in her stall; "but it's no more than the Macker o' 's pits up wi' ilka hoor o' the day, an' says na a word. Eh, but God's unco quaiet! Sae lang as he kens till himsel' 'at he's a' richt, he latsfowk think 'at they like — till he has time to lat them ken better. Lord, mak clean my hert within me, an' syne I'll care little for ony jeedgment but thine!"