THE EVIL GENIUS.
When Malcolm first visited Mr. Graham the schoolmaster had already preached two or three times in the pulpit of Hope Chapel. His ministrations at the prayer-meetings had led to this; for every night on which he was expected to speak there were more people present than on the last; and when the deacons saw this they asked him to preach on the Sundays. After two Sundays they came to him in a body and besought him to become a candidate for the vacant pulpit, assuring him of success if he did so. He gave a decided refusal, however, nor mentioned his reasons. His friend Marshal urged him, pledging himself for his income to an amount which would have been riches to the dominie, but in vain. Thereupon the silk-mercer concluded that he must have money, and, kind man as he was, grew kinder in consequence, and congratulated him on his independence.
"I depend more on the fewness of my wants than on any earthly store for supplying them," said the dominie.
Marshal's thermometer fell a little, but not his anxiety to secure services which, he insisted, would be for the glory of God and the everlasting good of perishing souls. The schoolmaster only smiled queerly and held his peace. He consented, however, to preach the next Sunday, and on the Monday consented to preach the next again. For several weeks the same thing recurred. But he would never promise on a Sunday, or allow the briefest advertisement to be given concerning him. All said he was feeling his way.
Neither had he, up to this time, said a word to Malcolm about the manner in which his Sundays were employed, while yet he talked much about a school he had opened in a room occupied in the evenings by a debating club, where he was teaching such children of small shopkeepers and artisans as found their way to him — in part through his connection with the chapel-folk. When Malcolm had called on a Sunday his landlady had been able to tell him nothing more than that Mr. Graham had gone out at such and such an hour — she presumed to church; and when he had once or twice expressed a wish to accompany him wherever he went to worship, Mr. Graham had managed somehow to let him go without having made any arrangement for his doing so.
On the evening after his encounter with Liftore, Malcolm visited the schoolmaster and told him everything about the affair. He concluded by saying that Lizzy's wrongs had loaded the whip far more than his sister's insult, but that he was very doubtful whether he had had any right to constitute himself the avenger of either after such a fashion. Mr. Graham replied that a man ought never to be carried away by wrath, as he had so often sought to impress upon him, and not without success; but that in the present case, as the rascal deserved it so well, he did not think he need trouble himself much. At the same time, he ought to remind himself that the rightness or wrongness, of any particular act was of far less consequence than the rightness or wrongness of the will whence sprang the act; and that while no man could be too anxious as to whether a contemplated action ought or ought not to be done, at the same time no man could do anything absolutely right until he was one with Him whose was the only absolute self-generated purity — that is, until God dwelt in him and he in God.
Before he left, the schoolmaster had acquainted him with all that portion of his London history which he had hitherto kept from him, and told him where he was preaching.
When Caley returned to her mistress after giving Malcolm the message that she did not require his services, and reported the condition of his face, Florimel informed her of the chastisement he had received from Liftore, and desired her to find out for her how he was, for she was anxious about him. Somehow, Florimel felt sorrier for him than she could well understand, seeing he was but a groom — a great lumbering fellow, all his life used to hard knocks, which probably never hurt him. That her mistress should care so much about him added yet an acrid touch to Caley's spite; but she put on her bonnet and went to the mews to confer with the wife of his lordship's groom, who, although an honest woman, had not yet come within her dislike. She went to make her inquiries, however, full of grave doubt as to his lordship's statement to her mistress; and the result of them was a conviction that beyond his facial bruises, of which Mrs. Merton had heard no explanation, Malcolm had had no hurt. This confirmed her suspicion that his lordship had received what he professed to have given; from a window she had seen him mount his horse, and her woman's fancy for him, while it added to her hate of Malcolm, did not prevent her from thinking of the advantage the discovery might bring in the prosecution of her own schemes. But now she began to fear Malcolm a little as well as hate him. And indeed he was rather a dangerous person to have about, where all but himself had secrets more or less bad, and one at least had dangerous ones, as Caley's conscience, or what poor monkey rudiment in her did duty for one, in private asserted. Notwithstanding her hold upon her mistress, she would not have felt it quite safe to let her know all her secrets. She would not have liked to say, for instance, how often she woke suddenly with a little feeble wail sounding in the ears that fingers cannot stop, or to confess that it cried out against a double injustice, that of life and that of death; she had crossed the border of the region of horror, and went about with a worm coiled in her heart, like a centipede in the stone of a peach.
"Merton's wife knows nothing, my lady," she said on her return. "I saw the fellow in the yard going about much as usual. He will stand a good deal of punishing, I fancy, my lady — like that brute of a horse he makes such a fuss with. I can't help wishing, for your ladyship's sake, we had never set eyes on him. He'll do us all a mischief yet before we get rid of him. I've had a hinstinc' of it, my lady, from the first moment I set eyes on him" — Caley's speech was never classic; when she was excited it was low — "and when I have a hinstinc' of anythink, he's not a dog as barks for nothink. Mark my words — and I'm sure I beg your pardon, my lady — but that man will bring shame on the house. He's that arregant an' interferin' as is certain sure to bring your ladyship into public speech an' a scandal; things will come to be spoke, my lady, that hadn't ought to be mentioned. Why, my lady, he must ha' struck his lordship afore he'd ha' give him two such black eyes as them. And him that good-natured an' condescendin'! I'm sure I don't know what's to come on it, but your ladyship might cast a thought on the rest of us females as can't take the liberties of born ladies without sufferin' for it. Think what the world will say of us! It's hard, my lady, on the likes of us."
But Florimel was not one to be talked into doing what she did not choose. Neither would she to her maid render her reasons for not choosing. She had repaired her fortifications, strengthened herself with Liftore, and was confident. "The fact is, Caley," she said, "I have fallen in love with Kelpie, and never mean to part with her — at least till I can ride her or she kills me. So I can't do without MacPhail. And I hope she won't kill him before he has persuaded her to let me mount her. The man must go with the mare. Besides, he is such a strange fellow, if I turned him away I should quite expect him to poison her before he left."
The maid's face grew darker. That her mistress had the slightest intention of ever mounting that mare she did not find herself fool enough to believe, but of other reasons she could spy plenty behind. And such there truly were, though none of the sort which Caley's imagination, swift to evil, now supplied. The kind of confidence she was yet capable of reposing in her groom Caley had no faculty for understanding, and she was the last person to whom her mistress could impart the fact of her fathers leaving her in charge of his young henchman. To the memory of her father she clung, and so far faithfully that even now, when Malcolm had begun to occasion her a feeling of awe and rebuke, she did not the less confidently regard him as her good genius that he was in danger of becoming an unpleasant one.