The Marquis of Lossie

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When Malcolm took Kelpie to her stall the night of the arrival of Lady Bellair and her nephew, he was rushed upon by Demon, and nearly prostrated between his immoderate welcome and the startled rearing of the mare. The hound had arrived a couple of hours before, while Malcolm was out. He wondered he had not seen him with the carriage he had passed, never suspecting he had had another conductress, or dreaming what his presence there signified for him.

I have not said much concerning Malcolm's feelings with regard to Lady Clementina, but all this time the sense of her existence had been like an atmosphere surrounding and pervading his thought. He saw in her the promise of all he could desire to see in woman. His love was not of the blind little boy sort, but of a deeper, more exacting, keen eyed kind, that sees faults where even a true mother will not, so jealous is it of the perfection of the beloved.

But one thing was plain even to this seraphic dragon that dwelt sleepless in him, and there was eternal content in the thought, that such a woman, once started on the right way, would soon leave fault and weakness behind her, and become as one of the grand women of old, whose religion was simply what religion is--life --neither more nor less than life. She would be a saint without knowing it, the only grand kind of sainthood.

Whoever can think of religion as an addition to life, however glorious --a starry crown, say, set upon the head of humanity, is not yet the least in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever thinks of life as a something that could be without religion, is in deathly ignorance of both. Life and religion are one, or neither is anything: I will not say neither is growing to be anything. Religion is no way of life, no show of life, no observance of any sort. It is neither the food nor the medicine of being. It is life essential. To think otherwise is as if a man should pride himself on his honesty, or his parental kindness, or hold up his head amongst men because he never killed one: were he less than honest or kind or free from blood, he would yet think something of himself! The man to whom virtue is but the ornament of character, something over and above, not essential to it, is not yet a man.

If I say then, that Malcolm was always thinking about Lady Clementina when he was not thinking about something he had to think about, have I not said nearly enough on the matter? Should I ever dream of attempting to set forth what love is, in such a man for such a woman? There are comparatively few that have more than the glimmer of a notion of what love means. God only knows how grandly, how passionately yet how calmly, how divinely the man and the woman he has made, might, may, shall love each other. One thing only I will dare to say: that the love that belonged to Malcolm's nature was one through the very nerves of which the love of God must rise and flow and return, as its essential life. If any man think that such a love could no longer be the love of the man for the woman, he knows his own nature, and that of the woman he pretends or thinks he adores, but in the darkest of glasses.

Malcolm's lowly idea of himself did not at all interfere with his loving Clementina, for at first his love was entirely dissociated from any thought of hers. When the idea--the mere idea of her loving him presented itself, from whatever quarter suggested, he turned from it with shame and self reproof: the thought was in its own nature too unfit! That splendour regard him!

From a social point of view there was of course little presumption in it. The Marquis of Lossie bore a name that might pair itself with any in the land; but Malcolm did not yet feel that the title made much difference to the fisherman. He was what he was, and that was something very lowly indeed. Yet the thought would at times dawn up from somewhere in the infinite matrix of thought, that perhaps, if he went to college, and graduated, and dressed like a gentleman, and did everything as gentlemen do, in short, claimed his rank, and lived as a marquis should, as well as a fisherman might,--then --then--was it not--might it not be within the bounds of possibility--just within them--that the great hearted, generous, liberty loving Lady Clementina, groom as he had been, menial as he had heard himself called, and as, ere yet he knew his birth, he had laughed to hear, knowing that his service was true,--that she, who despised nothing human, would be neither disgusted nor contemptuous nor wrathful, if, from a great way off, at an awful remove of humility and worship, he were to wake in her a surmise that he dared feel towards her as he had never felt and never could feel towards any other?

For would it not be altogether counter to the principles he had so often heard her announce and defend, to despise him because he had earned his bread by doing honourable work--work hearty, and up to the worth of his wages? Was she one to say and not see--to opine and not believe? or was she one to hold and not practise-- to believe for the heart and not for the hand--to say I go, and not go--I love, and not help? If such she were, then there were for him no further searchings of the heart upon her account; he could but hold up her name in the common prayer for all men, only praying besides not to dream about her when he slept.

At length, such thoughts rising again and again, and ever accompanied by such reflections concerning the truth of her character, and by the growing certainty that her convictions were the souls of actions to .be born them, his daring of belief in her strengthened until he began to think that perhaps it would be neither his early history, nor his defective education, nor his clumsiness, that would prevent her from listening to such words wherewith he burned to throw open the gates of his world, and pray her to enter and sit upon its loftiest throne--its loftiest throne but one. And with the thought he felt as if he must run to her, calling aloud that he was the Marquis of Lossie, and throw himself at her feet.

But the wheels of his thought chariot, self moved, were rushing, and here was no goal at which to halt or turn!--for, feeling thus, where was his faith in her principles? How now was he treating the truth of her nature? where now were his convictions of the genuineness of her professions? Where were those principles, that truth, those professions, if after all she would listen to a marquis and would not listen to a groom? To suppose such a thing was to wrong her grievously. To herald his suit with his rank would be to insult her, declaring that he regarded her theories of humanity as wordy froth. And what a chance of proving her truth would he not deprive her of, if, as he approached her, he called on the marquis to supplement the man!--But what then was the man, fisherman or marquis, to dare even himself to such a glory as the Lady Clementina? --This much of a man at least, answered his waking dignity, that he could not condescend to be accepted as Malcolm, Marquis of Lossie, knowing he would have been rejected as Malcolm MacPhail, fisherman and groom.

Accepted as marquis, he would for ever be haunted with the channering question whether she would have accepted him as groom? And if in his pain he were one day to utter it, and she in her honesty were to confess she would not, must she not then fall prone from her pedestal in his imagination? Could he then, in love for the woman herself condescend as marquis to marry one who might not have married him as any something else he could honestly have been, under the all enlightening sun: but again! was that fair to her yet? Might she not see in the marquis the truth and worth which the blinding falsehoods of society prevented her from seeing in the groom? Might not a lady--he tried to think of a lady in the abstract-- might not a lady, in marrying a marquis, a lady to whom from her own position a marquis was just a man on the level, marry in him the man he was, and not the marquis he seemed? Most certainly, he answered: he must not be unfair.--Not the less however did he shrink from the thought of taking her prisoner under the shield of his marquisate, beclouding her nobility, and depriving her of the rare chance of shining forth as the sun in the splendour of womanly truth. No; he would choose the greater risk of losing her, for the chance of winning her greater.

So far Malcolm got with his theories; but the moment he began to think in the least practically, he recoiled altogether from the presumption. Under no circumstances could he ever have the courage to approach Lady Clementina with a thought of himself in his mind. How could he have dared even to raise her imagined eidolon for his thoughts to deal withal. She had never shown him personal favour. He could not tell whether she had listened to what he had tried to lay before her. He did not know that she had gone to hear his master; Florimel had never referred to their visit to Hope Chapel; his surprise would have equalled his delight at the news that she had already become as a daughter to the schoolmaster.

And what had been Clementina's thoughts since learning that Florimel had not run away with her groom? It were hard to say with completeness. Accuracy however may not be equally unattainable. Her first feeling was an utterly inarticulate, undefined pleasure that Malcolm was free to be thought about. She was clear next that it would be matter for honest rejoicing if the truest man she had ever met except his master, was not going to marry such an unreality as Florimel--one concerning whom, as things had been going of late, it was impossible to say that she was not more likely to turn to evil than to good.

Clementina with all her generosity could not help being doubtful of a woman who could make a companion of such a man as Liftore, a man to whom every individual particle of Clementina's nature seemed for itself to object. But she was not yet past befriending.

Then she began to grow more curious about Malcolm. She had already much real knowledge of him, gathered both from himself and from Mr Graham;--as to what went to make the man, she knew him indeed, not thoroughly, but well; and just therefore, she said to herself, there were some points in his history and condition concerning which she had curiosity. The principal of these was whether he might not be engaged to some young woman in his own station of life. It was not merely possible, but was it likely he could have escaped it? In the lower ranks of society, men married younger--they had no false aims to prevent them that implied earlier engagements. On the other hand, was it likely that in a fishing village there would be any choice of girls who could understand him when he talked about Plato and the New Testament? If there was one however, that might be--worse--Yes, worse; she accepted the word. Neither was it absolutely necessary in a wife that she should understand more of a husband than his heart. Many learned men had had mere housekeepers for wives, and been satisfied, at least never complained.

And what did she know about the fishers, men or women--there were none at Wastbeach? For anything she knew to the contrary, they might all be philosophers together, and a fitting match for Malcolm might be far more easy to find amongst them than in the society to which she herself belonged, where in truth the philosophical element was rare enough. Then arose in her mind, she could not have told how, the vision, half logical, half pictorial, of a whole family of brave, believing, daring, saving fisher folk, father, mother, boys and girls, each sacrificing to the rest, each sacrificed to by all, and all devoted to their neighbours.

Grand it was and blissful, and the borders of the great sea alone seemed fit place for such beings amphibious of time and eternity! Their very toils and dangers were but additional atmospheres to press their souls together! It was glorious! Why had she been born an earl's daughter,--never to look a danger in the face--never to have a chance of a true life--that is, a grand, simple, noble one?--Who then denied her the chance? Had she no power to order her own steps, to determine her own being? Was she nailed to her rank? Or who was there that could part her from it? Was she a prisoner in the dungeons of the House of Pride?

When the gates of paradise closed behind Adam and Eve, they had this consolation left, that "the world was all before them where to choose." Was she not a free woman--without even a guardian to trouble her with advice? She had no excuse to act ignobly!--But had she any for being unmaidenly?--Would it then be--would it be a very unmaidenly thing if? The rest of the sentence did not take even the shape of words. But she answered it nevertheless in the words: "Not so unmaidenly as presumptuous." And alas there was little hope that he would ever presume to? He was such a modest youth with all his directness and fearlessness! If he had no respect for rank,--and that was--yes, she would say the word, hopeful --he had, on the other hand, the profoundest respect for the human, and she could not tell how that might, in the individual matter, operate.

Then she fell a-thinking of the difference between Malcolm and any other servant she had ever known. She hated the servile. She knew that it was false as well as low: she had not got so far as to see that it was low through its being false. She knew that most servants, while they spoke with the appearance of respect in presence, altered their tone entirely when beyond the circle of the eye--theirs was eye service--they were men pleasers--they were servile. She had overheard her maid speak of her as Lady Clem, and that not without a streak of contempt in the tone.

But here was a man who touched no imaginary hat while he stood in the presence of his mistress, neither swore at her in the stable yard. He looked her straight in the face, and would upon occasion speak--not his mind--but the truth to her. Even his slight mistress had the conviction that if one dared in his presence but utter her name lightly, whoever he were he would have to answer to him for it. What a lovely thing was true service--Absolutely divine!

But, alas, such a youth would never, could never dare offer other than such service! Were she even to encourage him as a maiden might, he would but serve her the better--would but embody his recognition of her favour, in fervour of ministering devotion.-- Was it not a recognized law, however, in the relation of superiors and inferiors, that with regard to such matters as well as others of no moment, the lady?

Ah, but! for her to take the initiative, would provoke the conclusion --as revolting to her as unavoidable to him--that she judged herself his superior--so greatly his superior as to be absolved from the necessity of behaving to him on the ordinary footing of man and woman. What a ground to start from with a husband! The idea was hateful to her. She tried the argument that such a procedure arrogated merely a superiority in social standing; but it made her recoil from it the more. He was so immeasurably her superior, that the poor little advantage on her side vanished like a candle in the sunlight, and she laughed herself to scorn.

"Fancy," she laughed, "a midge, on the strength of having wings, condescending to offer marriage to a horse !" It would argue the assumption of equality in other and more important things than rank, or at least the confidence that her social superiority not only counterbalanced the difference, but left enough over to her credit to justify her initiative. And what a miserable fiction that money and position had a right to the first move before greatness of living fact! that having had the precedence of being! That Malcolm should imagine such her judgment--No--let all go-- let himself go rather! And then he might not choose to accept her munificent offer! Or worse--far worse!--what if he should be tempted by rank and wealth, and, accepting her, be shorn of his glory and proved of the ordinary human type after all! A thousand times rather would she see the bright particular star blazing unreachable above her! What! would she carry it about a cinder in her pocket?--And yet if he could be "turned to a coal," why should she go on worshipping him?--alas! the offer itself was the only test severe enough to try him withal, and if he proved a cinder, she would by the very use of the test be bound to love, honour, and obey her cinder.

She could not well reject him for accepting her--neither could she marry him if he rose grandly superior to her temptations. No; he could be nothing to her nearer than the bright particular star.

Thus went the thoughts to and fro in the minds of each. Neither could see the way. Both feared the risk of loss. Neither could hope greatly for gain.

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