The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XXXVIII

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XXXVIII
by George MacDonald



Malcolm was overjoyed at the prospect of an escape to the country, and yet more to find that his mistress wanted to have him with her — more still to understand that the journey was to be kept a secret. Perhaps now, far from both Caley and Liftore, he might say something to open her eyes; yet how should he avoid the appearance of a tale-bearer?

It was a sweet fresh morning late in the spring — those loveliest of hours that unite the seasons, like the shimmering question of green or blue in the feathers of the peacock. He had set out an hour before the rest, and now, a little way within the park, was coaxing Kelpie to stand, that he might taste the morning in peace. The sun was but a few degrees above the horizon, shining with all his heart, and the earth was taking the shine with all hers. "I too am light," she was saying, "although I can but receive it." The trees were covered with baby leaves half wrapped in their swaddling-clothes, and their breath was a warm aromatic odor in the glittering air. The air and the light seemed one, and Malcolm felt as if his soul were breathing the light into its very depths, while his body was drinking the soft spicy wind. For Kelpie, she was as full of life as if she had been meant for a winged horse, but by some accident of nature the wing-cases had never opened, and the wing-life was forever trying to get out at her feet. The consequent restlessness, where there was plenty of space as here, caused Malcolm no more discomposure than, in his old fishing-days, a gale with plenty of sea-room. And the song of the larks was one with the light and the air. The budding of the trees was their way of singing, but the larks beat them at that. "What a power of joy," thought Malcolm, "there must be in God, to be able to keep so many larks so full of bliss!" He was going to say, "without getting tired;" but he saw that it was the eternal joy itself that bubbled from their little fountains: weariness there would be the silence of all song, would be death, utter vanishment to the gladness of the universe. The sun would go out like a spark upon burnt paper, and the heart of man would forget the sound of laughter. Then he said to himself, "The larks do not make their own singing: do mortals make their own sighing?" And he saw that at least they might open wider the doors of their hearts to the Perseus Joy that comes to slay the grief-monsters. Then he thought how his life had been widening out with the years. He could not say that it was now more pleasant than it had been; he had stoicism enough to doubt whether it would ever become so from any mere change of circumstances. Dangers and sufferings that one is able for are not misfortunes or even hardships; so far from such, that youth delights in them. Indeed, he sorely missed the adventure of the herring-fishing. Kelpie, however, was as good as a stiff gale. If only all were well with his sister! Then he would go back to Portlossie and have fishing enough. But he must be patient and follow as he was led. At three-and-twenty, he reflected, Milton was content to seem to himself but a poor creature, and was careful only to be ready for whatever work should hereafter be required of him: such contentment, with such hope and resolve at the back of it, he saw to be the right and the duty both of every man. He whose ambition is to be ready when he is wanted, whatever the work may be, may wait not the less watchful that he is content. His heart grew lighter, his head clearer, and by the time the two ladies with their attendant appeared he felt such a masterdom over Kelpie as he had never felt before. They rode twenty miles that day with ease, putting up at the first town. The next day they rode about the same distance. The next they rode nearly thirty miles. On the fourth, with an early start and a good rest in the middle, they accomplished a yet greater distance, and at night arrived at The Gloom, Wastbeach, after a journey of continuous delight to three at least of the party, Florimel and Malcolm having especially enjoyed that portion of it which led through Surrey, where England and Scotland meet and mingle in waste, heathery moor and rich valley. Much talk had passed between the ladies, and Florimel had been set thinking about many things, though certainly about none after the wisest fashion.

A young half-moon was still up when, after riding miles through pine woods, they at length drew near the house. Long before they reached it, however, a confused noise of dogs met them in the forest. Clementina had written to the house-keeper, and every dog about the place — and the dogs were multitudinous — had been expecting her all day, had heard the sound of their horses' hoofs miles off, and had at once begun to announce her approach. Nor were the dogs the only cognizant or expectant animals. Most of the creatures about the place understood that something was happening, and probably associated it with their mistress; for almost every live thing knew her, from the rheumatic cart-horse, forty years of age, and every whit as respectable in Clementina's eyes as her father's old butler, to the wild cats that haunted the lofts and garrets of the old Elizabethan hunting-lodge.

When they dismounted the ladies could hardly get into the house for dogs: those which could not reach their mistress turned to Florimel, and came swarming about her and leaping upon her, until, much as she liked animal favor, she would gladly have used her whip, but dared not, because of the presence of their mistress. If the theories of that mistress allowed them anything of a moral nature, she was certainly culpable in refusing them their right to a few cuts of the whip.

Mingled with all the noises of dogs and horses came a soft nestling murmur that filled up the interspaces of sound which even their tumult could not help leaving. Florimel was too tired to hear it, but Malcolm heard it, and it filled all the interspaces of his soul with a speechless delight. He knew it for the still small voice of the awful sea.

Florimel scarcely cast a glance around the dark old-fashioned room into which she was shown, but went at once to bed, and when the old housekeeper carried her something from the supper-table at which she had been expected, she found her already fast asleep. By the time Malcolm had put Kelpie to rest he also was a little tired, and lay awake no moment longer than his sister.