The Marquis of Lossie

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It was Sunday, during which Malcolm lay at the point of death some three stories above his sister's room. There, in the morning, while he was at the worst, she was talking with Clementina, who had called to see whether she would not go and hear the preacher of whom he had spoken with such fervour. Florimel laughed.

"You seem to take everything for gospel Malcolm says, Clementina!"

"Certainly not," returned Clementina, rather annoyed. "Gospel nowadays is what nobody disputes and nobody heeds; but I do heed what Malcolm says, and intend to find out, if I can, whether there is any reality in it. I thought you had a high opinion of your groom!"

"I would take his word for anything a man's word can be taken for," said Florimel.

"But you don't set much store by his judgment?"

"Oh, I daresay he's right. But I don't care for the things you like so much to talk with him about. He's a sort of poet, anyhow, and poets must be absurd. They are always either dreaming or talking about their dreams. They care nothing for the realities of life. No--if you want advice, you must go to your lawyer or clergyman, or some man of common sense, neither groom nor poet."

"Then, Florimel, it comes to this--that this groom of yours is one of the truest of men, and one who possessed your father's confidence, but you are so much his superior that you are capable of judging him, and justified in despising his judgment."

"Only in practical matters, Clementina."

"And duty towards God is with you such a practical matter that you cannot listen to anything he has got to say about it."

Florimel shrugged her shoulders.

"For my part, I would give all I have to know there was a God worth believing in."



"Of course there is a God. It is very horrible to deny it."

"Which is worse--to deny it, or to deny him? Now, I confess to doubting it--that is, the fact of a God; but you seem to me to deny God himself, for you admit there is a God--think it very wicked to deny that, and yet you don't take interest enough in him to wish to learn anything about him. You won't think, Florimel. I don't fancy you ever really think."

Florimel again laughed.

"I am glad," she said, "that you don't judge me incapable of that high art. But it is not so very long since Malcolm used to hint something much the same about yourself, my lady!"

"Then he was quite right," returned Clementina. "I am only just beginning to think, and if I can find a teacher, here I am, his pupil."

"Well, I suppose I can spare my groom quite enough to teach you all he knows," Florimel said, with what Clementina took for a marked absence of expression. She reddened. But she was not one to defend herself before her principles.

"If he can, why should he not?" she said. "But it was of his friend Mr Graham I was thinking---not himself."

"You cannot tell whether he has got anything to teach you."

"Your groom's testimony gives likelihood enough to make it my duty to go and see. I intend to find the place this evening."

"It must be some little ranting methodist conventicle. He would not be allowed to preach in a church, you know."

"Of course not! The church of England is like the apostle that forbade the man casting out devils, and got forbid himself for it --with this difference that she won't be forbid. Well, she chooses her portion with Dives and not Lazarus. She is the most arrant respecter of persons I know, and her Christianity is worse than a farce. It was that first of all that drove me to doubt. If I could find a place where everything was just the opposite, the poorer it was the better I should like it. It makes me feel quite wicked to hear a smug parson reading the gold ring and the goodly apparel, while the pew openers beneath are illustrating in dumb show the very thing the apostle is pouring out the vial of his indignation upon over their heads;--doing it calmly and without a suspicion, for the parson, while he reads, is rejoicing in his heart over the increasing aristocracy of his congregation. The farce is fit to make a devil in torment laugh."

Once more, Florimel laughed aloud.

"Another revolution, Clementina, and we shall have you heading the canaille to destroy Westminster Abbey."

"I would follow any leader to destroy falsehood," said Clementina. "No canaille will take that up until it meddles with their stomachs or their pew rents."

"Really, Clementina, you are the worst Jacobin I ever heard talk. My groom is quite an aristocrat beside you."

"Not an atom more than I am. I do acknowledge an aristocracy-- but it is one neither of birth nor of intellect nor of wealth."

"What is there besides to make one?"

"Something I hope to find before long. What if there be indeed a kingdom and an aristocracy of life and truth!--Will you or will you not go with me to hear this schoolmaster?"

"I will go anywhere with you, if it were only to be seen with such a beauty," said Florimel, throwing her arms round her neck and kissing her.

Clementina gently returned the embrace, and the thing was settled.

The sound of their wheels, pausing in swift revolution with the clangor of iron hoofs on rough stones at the door of the chapel, refreshed the diaconal heart like the sound of water in the desert. For the first time in the memory of the oldest, the dayspring of success seemed on the point of breaking over Hope Chapel. The ladies were ushered in by Mr Marshal himself, to Clementina's disgust and Florimel's amusement, with much the same attention as his own shop walker would have shown to carriage customers--How could a man who taught light and truth be found in such a mean entourage? But the setting was not the jewel. A real stone might be found in a copper ring. So said Clementina to herself as she sat waiting her hoped for instructor.

Mrs Catanach settled her broad back into its corner, chuckling over her own wisdom and foresight. Her seat was at the pulpit end of the chapel, at right angles to almost all the rest of the pews --chosen because thence, if indeed she could not well see the preacher, she could get a good glimpse of nearly everyone that entered. Keen sighted both physically and intellectually, she recognized Florimel the moment she saw her.

"Twa doos mair to the boody craw!" she laughed to herself. "Ae man thrashin', an' twa birdies pickin'!" she went on, quoting the old nursery nonsense. Then she stooped, and let down her veil. Florimel hated her, and therefore might know her.

"It's the day o' the Lord wi' auld Sanny Grame!" she resumed to herself, as she lifted her head. "He's stickit nae mair, but a chosen trumpet at last! Foul fa' 'im for a wearifu' cratur for a' that! He has nowther balm o' grace nor pith o' damnation.

"Yon laad Flemin', 'at preached i' the Baillies' Barn aboot the dowgs gaein' roon' an' roon' the wa's o' the New Jeroozlem, gien he had but hauden thegither an' no gean to the worms sae sune, wad hae dung a score o' 'im. But Sanny angers me to that degree 'at but for rizons--like yon twa--I wad gang oot i' the mids o' ane o' 's palahvers, an' never come back, though I ha'e a haill quarter o' my sittin' to sit oot yet, an' it cost me dear, an' fits the auld back o' me no that ill."

When Mr Graham rose to read the psalm, great was Clementina's disappointment: he looked altogether, as she thought, of a sort with the place--mean and dreary--of the chapel very chapelly, and she did not believe it could be the man of whom Malcolm had spoken. By a strange coincidence however, a kind of occurrence as frequent as strange, he read for his text that same passage about the gold ring and the vile raiment, in which we learn how exactly the behaviour of the early Jewish churches corresponded to that of the later English ones, and Clementina soon began to alter her involuntary judgment of him when she found herself listening to an utterance beside which her most voluble indignation would have been but as the babble of a child.

Sweeping, incisive, withering, blasting denunciation, logic and poetry combining in one torrent of genuine eloquence, poured confusion and dismay upon head and heart of all who set themselves up for pillars of the church without practising the first principles of the doctrine of Christ--men who, professing to gather their fellows together in the name of Christ, conducted the affairs of the church on the principles of hell--men so blind and dull and slow of heart, that they would never know what the outer darkness meant until it had closed around them--men who paid court to the rich for their money, and to the poor for their numbers--men who sought gain first, safety next, and the will of God not at all --men whose presentation of Christianity was enough to drive the world to a preferable infidelity.

Clementina listened with her very soul. All doubt as to whether this was Malcolm's friend, vanished within two minutes of his commencement. If she rejoiced a little more than was humble or healthful in finding that such a man thought as she thought, she gained this good notwithstanding--the presence and power of a man who believed in righteousness the doctrine he taught. Also she perceived that the principles of equality he held, were founded on the infinite possibilities of the individual--and of the race only through the individual; and that he held these principles with an absoluteness, an earnestness, a simplicity, that dwarfed her loudest objurgation to the uneasy murmuring of a sleeper. She could not but trust him, and her hope grew great that perhaps for her he held the key of the kingdom of heaven. She saw that if what this man said was true, then the gospel was represented by men who knew nothing of its real nature, and by such she bad been led into a false judgment of it.

"If such a man," said the schoolmaster in conclusion, "would but once represent to himself that the man whom he regards as beneath him, may nevertheless be immeasurably above him--and that after no arbitrary judgment, but according to the absolute facts of creation, the scale of the kingdom of God, in which being is rank; if he could persuade himself of the possibility that he may yet have to worship before the feet of those on whom he looks down as on the creatures of another and meaner order of creation, would it not sting him to rise, and, lest this should be one of such, make offer of his chair to the poor man in the vile raiment? Would he ever more, all his life long, dare to say, 'Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool?'"

During the week that followed, Clementina reflected with growing delight on what she had heard, and looked forward to hearing more of a kind correspondent on the approaching Sunday. Nor did the shock of the disappearance of Florimel with Malcolm abate her desire to be taught by Malcolm's friend.

Lady Bellair was astounded, mortified, enraged. Liftore turned grey with passion, then livid with mortification, at the news. Not one of all their circle, as Florimel had herself foreseen, doubted for a moment that she had run away with that groom of hers. Indeed, upon examination, it became evident that the scheme had been for some time in hand: the yacht they had gone on board had been lying there for months; and although she was her own mistress, and might marry whom she pleased, it was no wonder she had run away, for how could she have held her face to it, or up after it?

Lady Clementina accepted the general conclusion, but judged it individually. She had more reason to be distressed at what seemed to have taken place than anyone else; indeed it stung her to the heart, wounding her worse than in its first stunning effects she was able to know; yet she thought better rather than worse of Florimel because of it. What she did not like in her with reference to the affair was the depreciatory manner in which she had always spoken of Malcolm. If genuine, it was quite inconsistent with due regard for the man for whom she was yet prepared to sacrifice so much; if, on the other hand, her slight opinion of his judgment was a pretence, then she had been disloyal to the just prerogatives of friendship.

The latter part of that week was the sorest time Clementina had ever passed. But, like a true woman, she fought her own misery and sense of loss, as well as her annoyance and anxiety,--constantly saying to herself that, be the thing as it might, she could never cease to be glad that she had known Malcolm MacPhail.

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