CHAPTER XII: A NEW LIVERY
Scarcely had the ladies gone to the drawing room, when Florimel's
maid, who knew Malcolm, came in quest of him. Lady Lossie desired
to see him.
"What is the meaning of this, MacPhail?" she said, when he entered
the room where she sat alone. "I did not send for you. Indeed, I
thought you had been dismissed with the rest of the servants."
How differently she spoke! And she used to call him Malcolm! The
girl Florimel was gone, and there sat--the marchioness, was it?
--or some phase of riper womanhood only? It mattered little to
Malcolm. He was no curious student of man or woman. He loved his
kind too well to study it. But one thing seemed plain: she had
forgotten the half friendship and whole service that had had place
betwixt them, and it made him feel as if the soul of man no less
than his life were but as a vapour that appeareth for a little and
then vanisheth away.
But Florimel had not so entirely forgotten the past as Malcolm
thought--not so entirely at least but that his appearance, and
certain difficulties in which she had begun to find herself, brought
something of it again to her mind.
"I thought," said Malcolm, assuming his best English, "your
ladyship might not choose to part with an old servant at the will
of a factor, and so took upon me to appeal to your ladyship to
decide the question."
"But how is that? Did you not return to your fishing when the
household was broken up?"
"No, my lady. Mr Crathie kept me to help Stoat, and do odd jobs
about the place."
"And now he wants to discharge you?"
Then Malcolm told her the whole story, in which he gave such
a description of Kelpie, that her owner, as she imagined herself,
expressed a strong wish to see her; for Florimel was almost
passionately fond of horses.
"You may soon do that, my lady," said Malcolm. "Mr Soutar, not
being of the same mind as Mr Crathie, is going to send her up. It
will be but the cost of the passage from Aberdeen, and she will
fetch a better price here if your ladyship should resolve to part
with her. She won't fetch the third of her value anywhere, though,
on account of her bad temper and ugly tricks."
"But as to yourself, MacPhail--where are you going to go?" said
Florimel. "I don't like to send you away, but, if I keep you,
I don't know what to do with you. No doubt you could serve in the
house, but that would not be suitable at all to your education and
"A body wad tak' you for a granny grown!" said Malcolm to himself.
But to Florimel he replied--"If your ladyship should wish to keep
Kelpie, you will have to keep me too, for not a creature else will
she let near her."
"And pray tell me what use then can I make of such an animal," said
"Your ladyship, I should imagine, will want a groom to attend you
when you are out on horseback, and the groom will want a horse--
and here am I and Kelpie!" answered Malcolm.
"I see," she said. "You contrive I shall have a horse nobody can
manage but yourself."
She rather liked the idea of a groom so mounted, and had too much
well justified faith in Malcolm to anticipate dangerous results.
"My lady," said Malcolm, appealing to her knowledge of his
character to secure credit, for he was about to use his last means
of persuasion, and as he spoke, in his eagerness he relapsed into
his mother tongue,--"My lady, did I ever tell ye a lee?"
"Certainly not, Malcolm, so far as I know. Indeed I am sure you
never did," answered Florimel, looking up at him in a dominant yet
"Then," continued Malcolm, "I'll tell your ladyship something you
may find hard to believe, and yet is as true as that I loved your
ladyship's father.--Your ladyship knows he had a kindness for
"I do know it," answered Florimel gently, moved by the tone of
Malcolm's voice, and the expression of his countenance.
"Then I make bold to tell your ladyship that on his deathbed your
father desired me to do my best for you--took my word that I
would be your ladyship's true servant."
"Is it so, indeed, Malcolm?" returned Florimel, with a serious wonder
in her tone, and looked him in the face with an earnest gaze. She
had loved her father, and it sounded in her ears almost like a
message from the tomb.
"It's as true as I stan' here, my leddy," said Malcolm.
Florimel was silent for a moment. Then she said, "How is it that
only now you come to tell me?"
"Your father never desired me to tell you, my lady--only he never
imagined you would want to part with me, I suppose. But when you
did not care to keep me, and never said a word to me when you went
away, I could not tell how to do as I had promised him. It wasn't
that one hour I forgot his wish, but that I feared to presume; for
if I should displease your ladyship my chance was gone. So I kept
about Lossie House as long as I could, hoping to see my way to some
plan or other. But when at length Mr Crathie turned me away, what
was I to do but come to your ladyship? And if your ladyship will
let things be as before in the way of service, I mean--I canna
doot, my leddy, but it'll be pleesant i' the sicht o' yer father,
whanever he may come to ken o' 't, my lady."
Florimel gave him a strange, half startled look. Hardly more than
once since her father's funeral had she heard him alluded to, and
now this fisher lad spoke of him as if he were still at Lossie
Malcolm understood the look.
"Ye mean, my leddy--I ken what ye mean," he said. "I canna help
it. For to lo'e onything is to ken't immortal. He's livin' to me,
Florimel continued staring, and still said nothing.
I sometimes think that the present belief in mortality is nothing
but the almost universal although unsuspected unbelief in immortality
grown vocal and articulate.
But Malcolm gathered courage and went on,
"An' what for no, my leddy?" he said, floundering no more in
attempted English, but soaring on the clumsy wings of his mother
dialect. "Didna he turn his face to the licht afore he dee'd? an'
him 'at rase frae the deid said 'at whaever believed in him sud
never dee. Sae we maun believe 'at he's livin', for gien we dinna
believe what he says, what are we to believe, my leddy?"
Florimel continued yet a moment looking him fixedly in the face.
The thought did arise that perhaps he had lost his reason, but she
could not look at him thus and even imagine it. She remembered how
strange he had always been, and for a moment had a glimmering idea
that in this young man's friendship she possessed an incorruptible
treasure. The calm, truthful, believing, almost for the moment
enthusiastic, expression of the young fisherman's face wrought upon
her with a strangely quieting influence. It was as if one spoke to
her out of a region of existence of which she had never even heard,
but in whose reality she was compelled to believe because of the
sound of the voice that came from it.
Malcolm seldom made the mistake of stamping into the earth any
seeds of truth he might cast on it: he knew when to say no more,
and for a time neither spoke. But now for all the coolness of her
upper crust, Lady Florimel's heart glowed--not indeed with the
power of the shining truth Malcolm had uttered, but with the light
of gladness in the possession of such a strong, devoted, disinterested
"I wish you to understand," she said at length, "that I am not at
present mistress of this house, although it belongs to me. I am
but the guest of Lady Bellair who has rented it of my guardians.
I cannot therefore arrange for you to be here. But you can find
accommodation in the neighbourhood, and come to me every day for
orders. Let me know when your mare arrives: I shall not want you
till then. You will find room for her in the stables. You had better
consult the butler about your groom's livery."
Malcolm was astonished at the womanly sufficiency with which she
gave her orders. He left her with the gladness of one who has had
his righteous desire, held consultation with the butler on the
matter of the livery, and went home to his lodging. There he sat
down and meditated.
A strange new yearning pity rose in his heart as he thought about
his sister and the sad facts of her lonely condition. He feared
much that her stately composure was built mainly on her imagined
position in society, and was not the outcome of her character. Would
it be cruelty to destroy that false foundation, hardly the more
false as a foundation for composure that beneath it lay a mistake?
--or was it not rather a justice which her deeper and truer self
had a right to demand of him? At present, however, he need not
attempt to answer the question. Communication even such as a trusted
groom might have with her, and familiarity with her surroundings,
would probably reveal much. Meantime it was enough that he would
now be so near her that no important change of which others might
be aware, could well approach her without his knowledge, or anything
take place without his being able to interfere if necessary.