CHAPTER LVI: MID OCEAN
There came a breath of something in the east. It was neither wind
nor warmth. It was light before it is light to the eyes of men.
Slowly and slowly it grew, until, like the dawning soul in the
face of one who lies in a faint, the life of light came back to
the world, and at last the whole huge hollow hemisphere of rushing
sea and cloud flecked sky lay like a great empty heart, waiting,
in conscious glory of the light, for the central glory, the coming
lord of day. And in the whole crystalline hollow, gleaming and
flowing with delight, yet waiting for more, the Psyche was the
only lonely life bearing thing--the one cloudy germ spot afloat
in the bosom of the great roc egg of sea and sky, whose sheltering
nest was the universe with its walls of flame.
Florimel woke, rose, went on deck, and for a moment was fresh born.
It was a forescent--even this could not be called a foretaste,
of the kingdom of heaven; but Florimel never thought of the kingdom
of heaven, the ideal of her own existence. She could however half
appreciate this earthly outbreak of its glory, this incarnation of
truth invisible. Round her, like a thousand doves, clamoured with
greeting wings the joyous sea wind. Up came a thousand dancing
billows, to shout their good morning. Like a petted animal, importunate
for play, the breeze tossed her hair and dragged at her fluttering
garments, then rushed in the Psyche's sails, swelled them yet
deeper, and sent her dancing over the dancers. The sun peered up
like a mother waking and looking out on her frolicking children.
Black shadows fell from sail to sail, slipping and shifting, and
one long shadow of the Psyche herself shot over the world to the
very gates of the west, but held her not, for she danced and leaned
and flew as if she had but just begun her corantolavolta fresh
with the morning, and had not been dancing all the livelong night
over the same floor. Lively as any newborn butterfly, not like a
butterfly's, flitting and hovering, was her flight, for still, like
one that longed, she sped and strained and flew. The joy of bare
life swelled in Florimel's bosom. She looked up, she looked around,
she breathed deep. The cloudy anger that had rushed upon her like a
watching tiger the moment she waked, fell back, and left her soul
a clear minor to reflect God's dream of a world. She turned, and
saw Malcolm at the tiller, and the cloudy wrath sprang upon her.
He stood composed and clear and cool as the morning, without sign
of doubt or conscience of wrong, now peeping into the binnacle,
now glancing at the sunny sails, where swayed across and back the
dark shadows of the rigging, as the cutter leaned and rose, like
a child running and staggering over the multitudinous and unstable
hillocks. She turned from him.
"Good morning, my lady! What a good morning it is!" As in all his
address to his mistress, the freedom of the words did not infect the
tone; that was resonant of essential honour. "Strange to think,"
he went on, "that the sun himself there is only a great fire,
and knows nothing about it! There must be a sun to that sun, or
the whole thing is a vain show. There must be one to whom each is
itself, yet the all makes a whole--one who is at once both centre
and circumference to all."
Florimel cast on him a scornful look. For not merely was he
talking his usual unintelligible rubbish of poetry, but he had the
impertinence to speak as if he had done nothing amiss, and she had
no ground for being offended with him. She made him no answer. A
cloud came over Malcolm's face; and until she went again below, he
gave his attention to his steering.
In the meantime Rose, who happily had turned out as good a sailor
as her new mistress, had tidied the little cabin; and Florimel
found, if not quite such a sumptuous breakfast laid as at Portland
Place, yet a far better appetite than usual to meet what there
was; and when she had finished, her temper was better, and she was
inclined to think less indignantly of Malcolm's share in causing
her so great a pleasure. She was not yet quite spoiled. She was
still such a lover of the visible world and of personal freedom,
that the thought of returning to London and its leaden footed
hours, would now have been unendurable. At this moment she could
have imagined no better thing than thus to go tearing through the
water--home to her home. For although she had spent little of
her life at Lossie House, she could not but prefer it unspeakably
to the schools in which she had passed almost the whole of the preceding
portion of it. There was little or nothing in the affair she could
have wished otherwise except its origin. She was mischievous enough
to enjoy even the thought of the consternation it would cause at
Portland Place. She did not realize all its awkwardness. A letter
to Lady Bellair when she reached home would, she said to herself,
set everything right; and if Malcolm had now repented and put about,
she would instantly have ordered him to hold on for Lossie. But it
was mortifying that she should have come at the will of Malcolm,
and not by her own--worse than mortifying that perhaps she would
have to say so. If she were going to say so, she must turn him away
as soon as she arrived. There was no help for it. She dared not
keep him after that in the face of society. But she might take the
bold, and perhaps a little dangerous measure of adopting the flight
as altogether her own madcap idea. Her thoughts went floundering
in the bog of expediency, until she was tired, and declined from
thought to reverie.
Then dawning out of the dreamland of her past, appeared the image
of Lenorme. Pure pleasure, glorious delight, such as she now felt,
could not long possess her mind, without raising in its charmed
circle the vision of the only man except her father whom she had
ever--something like loved. Her behaviour to him had not yet roused
in her shame or sorrow or sense of wrong. She had driven him from
her; she was ashamed of her relation to him; she had caused him
bitter suffering; she had all but promised to marry another man;
yet she had not the slightest wish for that man's company there and
then: with no one of her acquaintance but Lenorme could she have
shared this conscious splendour of life.
"Would to God he had been born a gentleman instead of a painter!"
she said to herself when her imagination had brought him from the
past, and set him in the midst of the present.
"Rank," she said, "I am above caring about. In that he might be
ever so far my inferior, and welcome, if only he had been of a good
family, a gentleman born!"
She was generosity, magnanimity itself in her own eyes! Yet he
was of far better family than she knew, for she had never taken
the trouble to inquire into his history. And now she was so much
easier in her mind since she had so cruelly broken with him, that
she felt positively virtuous because she had done it, and he was not
at that moment by her side. And yet if he had that moment stepped
from behind the mainsail, she would in all probability have thrown
herself into his arms.
The day passed on: Florimel grew tired and went to sleep; woke and
had her dinner; took a volume of the "Arabian Nights," and read
herself again to sleep; woke again; went on deck; saw the sun
growing weary in the west. And still the unwearied wind blew, and
still the Psyche danced on, as unwearied as the wind.
The sunset was rather an assumption than a decease, a reception of
him out of their sight into an eternity of gold and crimson; and
when he was gone, and the gorgeous bliss had withered into a dove
hued grief, then the cool, soft twilight, thoughtful of the past
and its love, crept out of the western caves over the breast of the
water, and filled the dome and made of itself a great lens royal,
through which the stars and their motions were visible; and the
ghost of Aurora with both hands lifted her shroud above her head
and made a dawn for the moon on the verge of the watery horizon--
a dawn as of the past, the hour of inverted hope.
Not a word all day had been uttered between Malcolm and his mistress:
when the moon appeared, with the waves sweeping up against her
face, he approached Florimel where she sat in the stern. Davy was
"Will your ladyship come forward and see how the Psyche goes?"
he said. "At the stern, you can see only the passive part of her
motion. It is quite another thing to see the will of her at work
in the bows."
At first she was going to refuse; but she changed her mind, or
her mind changed her: she was not much more of a living and acting
creature yet than the Psyche herself. She said nothing, but rose,
and permitted Malcolm to help her forward.
It was the moon's turn now to be level with the water, and as
Florimel stood on the larboard side, leaning over and gazing down,
she saw her shine through the little feather of spray the cutwater
sent curling up before it, and turn it into pearls and semiopals.
"She's got a bone in her mouth, you see, my lady," said old Travers.
"Go aft till I call you, Travers," said Malcolm.
Rose was in Florimel's cabin, and they were now quite alone.
"My lady," said Malcolm, "I can't bear to have you angry with me."
"Then you ought not to deserve it," returned Florimel.
"My lady, if you knew all, you would not say I deserved it."
"Tell me all then, and let me judge."
"I cannot tell you all yet, but I will tell you something which
may perhaps incline you to feel merciful. Did your ladyship ever
think what could make me so much attached to your father?"
"No indeed. I never saw anything peculiar in it. Even nowadays
there are servants to be found who love their masters. It seems to
me natural enough. Besides he was very kind to you."
"It was natural indeed, my lady--more natural than you think.
Kind to me he was, and that was natural too."
"Natural to him, no doubt, for he was kind to everybody."
"My grandfather told you something of my early history--did he
not, my lady?"
"Yes--at least I think I remember his doing so."
"Will you recall it, and see whether it suggests nothing?"
But Florimel could remember nothing in particular, she said. She had
in truth, for as much as she was interested at the time, forgotten
almost everything of the story.
"I really cannot think what you mean," she added. "If you are going
to be mysterious, I shall resume my place by the tiller. Travers
is deaf, and Davy is dumb: I prefer either."
"My lady," said Malcolm, "your father knew my mother, and persuaded
her that he loved her."
Florimel drew herself up, and would have looked him to ashes if
wrath could burn. Malcolm saw he must come to the point at once or
the parley would cease.
"My lady," he said, "your father was my father too. I am a son of
the Marquis of Lossie, and your brother--your ladyship's half
brother, that is."
She looked a little stunned. The gleam died out of her eyes, and
the glow out of her cheek. She turned and leaned over the bulwark.
He said no more, but stood watching her. She raised herself suddenly,
looked at him, and said,
"Do I understand you?"
"I am your brother," Malcolm. repeated.
She made a step forward, and held out her hand. He took the little
thing in his great grasp tenderly. Her lip trembled. She gazed at
him for an instant, full in the face, with a womanly, believing
"My poor Malcolm!" she said, "I am sorry for you."
She withdrew her hand, and again leaned over the bulwark. Her heart
was softened towards her groom brother, and for a moment it seemed
to her that some wrong had been done. Why should the one be a
marchioness and the other a groom? Then came the thought that now
all was explained. Every peculiarity of the young man, every gift
extraordinary of body, mind, or spirit, his strength, his beauty,
his courage, and honesty, his simplicity, nobleness, and affection,
yes, even what in him was mere doggedness and presumption,
all, everything explained itself to Florimel in the fact that the
incomprehensible fisherman groom, that talked like a parson, was
the son of her father. She never thought of the woman that was his
mother, and what share she might happen to have in the phenomenon
--thought only of her father, and a little pitifully of the half
honour and more than half disgrace infolding the very existence of
her attendant. As usual her thoughts were confused. The one moment
the poor fellow seemed to exist only on sufferance, having no
right to be there at all, for as fine a fellow as he was; the next
she thought how immeasurably he was indebted to the family of the
Then arose the remembrance of his arrogance and presumption
in assuming on such a ground something more than guardianship--
absolute tyranny over her, and with the thought pride and injury at
once got the upper hand. Was she to be dictated to by a low born,
low bred fellow like that--a fellow whose hands were harder than
any leather, not with doing things for his amusement but actually
with earning his daily bread--one that used to smell so of fish
--on the ground of right too--and such a right as ought to
exclude him for ever from her presence!--She turned to him again.
"How long have you known this--this--painful--indeed I must
confess to finding it an awkward and embarrassing fact? I presume
you do know it?" she said, coldly and searchingly.
"My father confessed it on his deathbed."
"Confessed!" echoed Florimel's pride, but she restrained her tongue.
"It explains much," she said, with a sort of judicial relief.
"There has been a great change upon you since then. Mind I only
say explains. It could never justify such behaviour as yours--
no, not if you had been my true brother. There is some excuse, I
daresay, to be made for your ignorance and inexperience. No doubt
the discovery turned your head. Still I am at a loss to understand
how you could imagine that sort of--of--that sort of thing gave
you any right over me!"
"Love has its rights, my lady," said Malcolm.
Again her eyes flashed and her cheek flushed. "I cannot permit you
to talk so to me. You must not fancy such things are looked upon
in our position with the same indifference as in yours. You must
not flatter yourself that you can be allowed to cherish the same
feelings towards me as if--as if--you were really my brother.
I am sorry for you, Malcolm, as I said already; but you have
altogether missed your mark if you think that can alter facts, or
shelter you from the consequences of presumption."
Again she turned away. Malcolm's heart was sore for her. How
grievously she had sunk from the Lady Florimel of the old days! It
was all from being so constantly with that wretched woman and her
vile nephew. Had he been able to foresee such a rapid declension,
he would have taken her away long ago, and let come of her feelings
what might. He had been too careful over them.
"Indeed," Florimel resumed, but this time without turning towards
him, "I do not see how things can possibly, after what you have
told me, remain as they are. I should not feel at all comfortable
in having one about me who would be constantly supposing he had
rights, and reflecting on my father for fancied injustice, and
whom I fear nothing could prevent from taking liberties. It is very
awkward indeed, Malcolm--very awkward! But it is your own fault
that you are so changed, and I must say I should not have expected
it of you. I should have thought you had more good sense and regard
for me. If I were to tell the world why I wanted to keep you, people
would but shrug their shoulders and tell me to get rid of you; and
if I said nothing, there would always be something coming up that
required explanation. Besides, you would for ever be trying to convert
me to one or other of your foolish notions. I hardly know what to
do. I will consult--my friends on the subject. And yet I would
rather they knew nothing of it, My father you see--" She paused.
"If you had been my real brother it would have been different."
"I am your real brother, my lady, and I have tried to behave like
one ever since I knew it."
"Yes; you have been troublesome. I have always understood that
brothers were troublesome. I am told they are given to taking upon
them the charge of their sisters conduct. But I would not have even
you think me heartless. If you had been a real brother, of course
I should have treated you differently."
"I don't doubt it, my lady, for everything would have been different
then. I should have been the Marquis of Lossie, and you would have
been Lady Florimel Colonsay. But it would have made little difference
in one thing: I could not have loved you better than I do now--
if only you would believe it, my lady!"
The emotion of Malcolm, evident in his voice as he said this, seemed
to touch her a little.
"I believe it, my poor Malcolm," she returned, "quite as much as
I want, or as it is pleasant to believe it. I think you would do a
great deal for me, Malcolm. But then you are so rude! take things
into your hands, and do things for me I don't want done! You will
judge, not only for yourself, but for me! How can a man of your
training and position judge for a lady of mine! Don't you see the
absurdity of it? At times it has been very awkward indeed. Perhaps
when I am married it might be arranged; but I don't know."
Here Malcolm ground his teeth, but was otherwise irresponsive as
block of stone.
"How would a gamekeeper's place suit you? That is a half gentlemanly
kind of post. I will speak to the factor, and see what can be
done.--But on the whole I think, Malcolm, it will be better you
should go. I am very sorry. I wish you had not told me. It is very
painful to me. You should not have told me. These things are not
intended to be talked of--Suppose you were to marry--say--"
She stopped abruptly, and it was well both for herself and Malcolm
that she caught back the name that was on her lips.
The poor girl must not be judged as if she had been more than a
girl, or other than one with every disadvantage of evil training.
Had she been four or five years older, she might have been a good
deal worse, and have seemed better, for she would have kept much
of what she had now said to herself, and would perhaps have treated
her brother more kindly while she cared even less for him.
"What will you do with Kelpie, my lady?" asked Malcolm quietly.
"There it is, you see!" she returned. "So awkward! If you had not
told me, things could have gone on as before, and for your sake I
could have pretended I came this voyage of my own will and pleasure.
Now, I don't know what I can do--except indeed you--let me see
--if you were to hold your tongue, and tell nobody what you have
just told me--I don't know but you might stay till you got her
so far trained that another man could manage her. I might even be
able to ride her myself.--Will you promise?"
"I will promise not to let the fact come out so long as I am in
your service, my lady."
"After all that has passed, I think you might promise me a little
more! But I will not press it."
"May I ask what it is, my lady?"
"I am not going to press it, for I do not choose to make a favour
of it. Still, I do not see that it would be such a mighty favour
to ask--of one who owes respect at least to the house of Lossie.
But I will not ask. I will only suggest; Malcolm, that you should
leave this part of the country--say this country altogether, and
go to America, or New South Wales, or the Cape of Good Hope. If
you will take the hint, and promise never to speak a word of this
unfortunate--yes, I must be honest, and allow there is a sort
of relationship between us; but if you will keep it secret, I will
take care that something is done for you--something, I mean, more
than you could have any right to expect. And mind, I am not asking
you to conceal anything that could reflect honour upon you or
dishonour upon us."
"I cannot, my lady."
"I scarcely thought you would. Only you hold such grand ideas about
self denial, that I thought it might be agreeable to you to have
an opportunity of exercising the virtue at a small expense and a
Malcolm was miserable. Who could have dreamed to find in her such
a woman of the world! He must break off the hopeless interview.
"Then, my lady," he said, "I suppose I am to give my chief attention
to Kelpie, and things are to be as they have been."
"For the present. And as to this last piece of presumption, I will
so far forgive you as to take the proceeding on myself--mainly
because it would have been my very choice had you submitted it to
me. There is nothing I should have preferred to a sea voyage and
returning to Lossie at this time of the year.
"But you also must be silent on your insufferable share in the
business. And for the other matter, the least arrogance or assumption
I shall consider to absolve me at once from all obligation towards
you of any sort. Such relationships are never acknowledged."
"Thank you--sister," said Malcolm--a last forlorn experiment;
and as he said the word he looked lovingly in her eyes.
She drew herself up like the princess Lucifera, "with loftie eyes,
halfe loth to looke so lowe," and said, cold as ice,
"If once I hear that word on your lips again, as between you and
me, Malcolm, I shall that very moment discharge you from my service,
as for a misdemeanour. You have no claim upon me, and the world
will not blame me."
"Certainly not, my lady. I beg your pardon. But there is one who
perhaps will blame you a little."
"I know what you mean; but I don't pretend to any of your religious
motives. When I do, then you may bring them to bear upon me."
"I was not so foolish as you think me, my lady. I merely imagined
you might be as far on as a Chinaman," said Malcolm, with a poor
attempt at a smile.
"What insolence do you intend now?"
"The Chinese, my lady, pay the highest respect to their departed
parents. When I said there was one who would blame you a little,
I meant your father."
He touched his cap, and withdrew.
"Send Rose to me," Florimel called after him, and presently with
her went down to the cabin.
And still the Psyche soul-like flew. Her earthly birth held her to
the earth, but the ocean upbore her, and the breath of God drove
her on. Little thought Florimel to what she hurried her! A queen in
her own self sufficiency and condescension, she could not suspect
how little of real queendom, noble and self sustaining, there was
in her being; for not a soul of man or woman whose every atom leans
not upon its father fact in God, can sustain itself when the outer
wall of things begins to tumble towards the centre, crushing it in
on every side.
During the voyage no further allusion was made by either to what
had passed. By the next morning Florimel had yet again recovered
her temper, and, nothing fresh occurring to irritate her, kept it
and was kind.
Malcolm was only too glad to accept whatever parings of heart she
might offer. By the time their flight was over, Florimel almost felt
as if it had indeed been undertaken at her own desire and motion,
and was quite prepared to assert that such was the fact.