The Marquis of Lossie

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And now followed a pleasant time. Wastbeach was the quietest of all quiet neighbourhoods; it was the loveliest of spring summer weather; and the variety of scenery on moor, in woodland, and on coast, within easy reach of such good horsewomen, was wonderful. The first day they rested the horses that would rest, but the next day were in the saddle immediately after an early breakfast. They took the forest way. In many directions were tolerably smooth rides cut, and along them they had good gallops, to the great delight of Florimel after the restraints of Rotten Row, where riding had seemed like dancing a minuet with a waltz in her heart. Malcolm, so far as human companionship went, found it dull, for Lady Clementina's groom regarded him with the contempt of superior age, the most contemptible contempt of all, seeing years are not the wisdom they ought to bring, and the first sign of that is modesty. Again and again his remarks tempted Malcolm to incite him to ride Kelpie, but conscience, the thought of the man's family, and the remembrance that it required all his youthful strength, and that it would therefore be the challenge of the strong to the weak, saved him from the sin, and he schooled himself to the endurance of middle aged arrogance. For the learning of the lesson he had practice enough: they rode every day, and Griffith did not thaw; but the one thundering gallop he had every morning along the sands with Kelpie, whom * no ordinary day's work was enough to save from the heart burning ferment of repressed activity, was both preparation and amends for the annoyance.

* [According to the grammars, I ought to have written which, but it will not do. I could, I think, tell why, but prefer leaving the question to the reader.]

When his mistress mentioned the proposal of her friend with regard to the new novel, he at once expressed his willingness to attempt compliance, fearing only, he said, that his English would prove offensive and his Scotch unintelligible. The task was nowise alarming to him, for he had read aloud much to the schoolmaster, who had also insisted that he should read aloud when alone, especially verse, in order that he might get all the good of its outside as well as inside--its sound as well as thought, the one being the ethereal body of the other. And he had the best primary qualifications for the art, namely, a delight in the sounds of human speech, a value for the true embodiment of thought, and a good ear, mental as well as vocal, for the assimilation of sound to sense. After these came the quite secondary, yet valuable gift of a pleasant voice, manageable for reflection; and with such an outfit, the peculiarities of his country's utterance, the long drawn vowels, and the outbreak of feeling in chant-like tones and modulations, might be forgiven, and certainly were forgiven by Lady Clementina, who, even in his presence, took his part against the objections of his mistress. On the whole, they were so much pleased with his first reading, which took place the very day the box arrived, that they concluded to restrain the curiosity of their interest in persons and events, for the sake of the pleasure of meeting them always in the final fulness of local colour afforded them by his utterance. While he read, they busied their fingers with their embroidery; for as yet that graceful work, so lovelily described by Cowper in his Task, had not begun to vanish before the crude colours and mechanical vulgarity of Berlin wool, now happily in its turn vanishing like a dry dust cloud into the limbo of the art universe:

The well depicted flower,
Wrought patiently into the snowy lawn Unfolds its bosom; buds, and leaves, and sprigs, And curling tendrils, gracefully disposed, Follow the nimble finger of the fair; A wreath, that cannot fade, of flowers that blow With most success when all besides decay. *

* ["The Winter Evening."]

There was not much of a garden about the place, but there was a little lawn amongst the pines, in the midst of which stood a huge old patriarch, with red stem and grotesquely contorted branches: beneath it was a bench, and there, after their return from their two hours' ride, the ladies sat, while the sun was at its warmest, on the mornings of their first and second readings: Malcolm sat on a wheelbarrow. After lunch on the second day, which they had agreed from the first, as ladies so often do, when free of the more devouring sex, should be their dinner, and after due visits paid to a multitude of animals, the desire awoke simultaneously in them for another portion of "St. Ronan's Well." They resolved therefore to send for their reader as soon as they had had tea. But when they sent he was nowhere to be found, and they concluded on a stroll.

Anticipating no further requirement of his service that day, Malcolm had gone out. Drawn by the sea, he took his way through the dim solemn boughless wood, as if to keep a moonlight tryst with his early love. But the sun was not yet down, and among the dark trees, shot through by the level radiance, he wandered, his heart swelling in his bosom with the glory and the mystery. Again the sun was in the wood, its burning centre, the marvel of the home which he left in the morning only to return thither at night, and it was now a temple of red light, more gorgeous, more dream woven than the morning. How he glowed on the red stems of the bare pines, fit pillars for that which seemed temple and rite, organ and anthem in one--the worship of the earth, uplifted to its Hyperion! It was a world of faery; anything might happen in it. Who, in that region of marvel, would start to see suddenly a knight on a great sober warhorse come slowly pacing down the torrent of carmine splendour, flashing it, like the Knight of the Sun himself in a flood from every hollow, a gleam from every flat, and a star from every round and knob of his armour? As the trees thinned away, and his feet sank deeper in the looser sand, and the sea broke blue out of the infinite, talking quietly to itself of its own solemn swell into being out of the infinite thought unseen, Malcolm felt as if the world with its loveliness and splendour were sinking behind him, and the cool entrancing sweetness of the eternal dreamland of the soul, where the dreams are more real than any sights of the world, were opening wide before his entering feet.

"Shall not death be like this?" he said, and threw himself upon the sand, and hid his face and his eyes from it all. For there is this strange thing about all glory embodied in the material, that, when the passion of it rises to its height, we hurry from its presence that its idea may perfect itself in silent and dark and deaf delight. Of its material self we want no more: its real self we have, and it sits at the fountain of our tears. Malcolm hid his face from the source of his gladness, and worshipped the source of that source.

Rare as they are at any given time, there have been, I think, such youths in all ages of the world--youths capable of glorying in the fountain whence issues the torrent of their youthful might. Nor is the reality of their early worship blasted for us by any mistral of doubt that may blow upon their spirit from the icy region of the understanding. The cold fevers, the vital agues that such winds breed, can but prove that not yet has the sun of the perfect arisen upon them; that the Eternal has not yet manifested himself in all regions of their being; that a grander, more obedient, therefore more blissful, more absorbing worship yet, is possible, nay, is essential to them. These chills are but the shivers of the divine nature, unsatisfied, half starved, banished from its home, divided from its origin, after which it calls in groanings it knows not how to shape into sounds articulate. They are the spirit wail of the holy infant after the bosom of its mother. Let no man long back to the bliss of his youth--but forward to a bliss that shall swallow even that, and contain it, and be more than it. Our history moves in cycles, it is true, ever returning toward the point whence it started; but it is in the imperfect circles of a spiral it moves; it returns--but ever to a point above the former: even the second childhood, at which the fool jeers, is the better, the truer, the fuller childhood, growing strong to cast off altogether, with the husk of its own enveloping age, that of its family, its country, its world as well. Age is not all decay: it is the ripening, the swelling of the fresh life within, that withers and bursts the husk.

When Malcolm lifted his head, the sun had gone down. He rose and wandered along the sand towards the moon--at length blooming out of the darkening sky, where she had hung all day like a washed out rag of light, to revive as the sunlight faded. He watched the banished life of her day swoon returning, until, gathering courage, she that had been no one, shone out fair and clear, in conscious queendom of the night. Then, in the friendly infolding of her dreamlight and the dreamland it created, Malcolm's soul revived as in the comfort of the lesser, the mitigated glory, and, as the moon into radiance from the darkened air, and the nightingale into music from the sleep stilled world of birds, blossomed from the speechlessness of thought and feeling into a strange kind of brooding song. If the words were half nonsense, the feeling was not the less real. Such as they were, they came almost of themselves, and the tune came with them.

Rose o' my hert,
Open yer leaves to the lampin' mune; Into the curls lat her keek an' dert; She'll tak' the colour but gi'e ye tune.

Buik o' my brain,
Open yer neuks to the starry signs; Lat the een o' the holy luik an' strain An' glimmer an' score atween the lines.

Cup o' my sowl,
Gowd an' diamond an' ruby cup,
Ye're noucht ava but a toom dry bowl, Till the wine o' the kingdom fill ye up,

Conscience glass,
Mirror the infinite all in thee;
Melt the bounded and make it pass
Into the tideless, shoreless sea.

World of my life,
Swing thee round thy sunny track;
Fire and wind and water and strife-- Carry them all to the glory back.

Ever as he halted for a word, the moonlight, and the low sweet waves on the sands, filled up the pauses to his ear; and there he lay, looking up to the sky and the moon and the rose diamond stars, his thoughts half dissolved in feeling, and his feeling half crystallised to thought.

Out of the dim wood came two lovely forms into the moonlight, and softly approached him--so softly that he knew nothing of their nearness until Florimel spoke.

"Is that MacPhail?" she said.

"Yes, my lady," answered Malcolm, and bounded to his feet

"What were you singing?"

"You could hardly call it singing, my lady. We should call it crooning in Scotland."

"Croon it again then."

"I couldn't, my lady. It's gone."

"You don't mean to pretend that you were extemporising?"

"I was crooning what came--like the birds, my lady. I couldn't have done it if I had thought anyone was near."

Then, half ashamed, and anxious to turn the talk from the threshold of his secret chamber, he said, "Did you ever see a lovelier night, ladies?"

"Not often, certainly," answered Clementina.

She was not quite pleased and not altogether offended at his addressing them dually. A curious sense of impropriety in the state of things bewildered her--she and her friend talking thus, in the moonlight, on the seashore, doing nothing, with her friend's groom--and such a groom, his mistress asking him to sing again, and he addressing them both with a remark on the beauty of the night! She had braved the world a good deal, but she did not choose to brave it where nothing was to be had, and she was too honest to say to herself that the world would never know--that there was nothing to brave: she was not one to do that in secret to which she would not hold her face. Yet all the time she had a doubt whether this young man, whom it would certainly be improper to encourage by addressing from any level but one of lofty superiority, did not belong to a higher sphere than theirs; while certainly no man could be more unpresuming, or less forward even when opposing his opinion to theirs. Still--if an angel were to come down and take charge of their horses, would ladies be justified in treating him as other than a servant?

"This is just the sort of night," Malcolm resumed, "when I could almost persuade myself I was not quite sure I wasn't dreaming. It makes a kind of border land betwixt waking and sleeping, knowing and dreaming, in our brain. In a night like this I fancy we feel something like the colour of what God feels when he is making the lovely chaos of a new world, a new kind of world, such as has never been before."

"I think we had better go in," said Clementina to Florimel, and turned away.

Florimel made no objection, and they walked towards the wood.

"You really must get rid of him as soon as you can," said Clementina, when again the moonless night of the pines had received them: "he is certainly more than half a lunatic. It is almost full moon now," she added, looking up. "I have never seen him so bad."

Florimel's clear laugh rang through the wood.

"Don't be alarmed, Clementina," she said. "He has talked like that ever since I knew him; and if he is mad, at least he is no worse than he has always been. It is nothing but poetry--yeast on the brain, my father used to say. We should have a fish poet of him-- a new thing in the world, he said. He would never be cured till he broke out in a book of poetry. I should be afraid my father would break the catechism and not rest in his grave till the resurrection, if I were to send Malcolm away."

For Malcolm, he was at first not a little mazed at the utter blankness of the wall against which his words had dashed themselves. Then he smiled queerly to himself, and said:

"I used to think ilka bonny lassie bude to be a poetess--for hoo sud she be bonnie but by the informin' hermony o' her bein'?--an' what's that but the poetry o' the Poet, the Makar, as they ca'd a poet i' the auld Scots tongue?--but haith! I ken better an' waur noo! There's gane the twa bonniest I ever saw, an' I s' lay my heid there's mair poetry in auld man faced Miss Horn nor in a dizzin like them. Ech! but it's some sair to bide. It's sair upon a man to see a bonny wuman 'at has nae poetry, nae inward lichtsome hermony in her. But it's dooms sairer yet to come upo' ane wantin' cowmon sense! Saw onybody ever sic a gran' sicht as my Leddy Clementina! --an' wha can say but she's weel named frae the hert oot?--as guid at the hert, I'll sweir, as at the een! but eh me! to hear the blether o' nonsense 'at comes oot atween thae twa bonny yetts o' music--an' a' cause she winna gi'e her hert rist an' time eneuch to grow bigger, but maun aye be settin' at things richt afore their time, an' her ain fitness for the job! It's sic a faithless kin' o' a w'y that! I could jist fancy I saw her gaein' a' roon' the trees o' a simmer nicht, pittin' hiney upo' the peers an' the peaches, 'cause she cudna lippen to natur' to ripe them sweet eneuch --only 'at she wad never tak the hiney frae the bees. She's jist the pictur' o' Natur' hersel' turnt some dementit. I cud jist fancy I saw her gaein' aboot amo' the ripe corn, on sic a nicht as this o' the mune, happin' 't frae the frost. An' I s' warran' no ae mesh in oor nets wad she lea' ohn clippit open gien the twine had a herrin' by the gills. She's e'en sae pitifu' owre the sinner 'at she winna gi'e him a chance o' growin' better. I won'er gien she believes 'at there's ae great thoucht abune a', an' aneth a', an' roon' a', an' in a'thing. She cudna be in sic a mist o' benevolence and parritch hertitness gien she cud lippen till a wiser. It's na'e won'er she kens naething aboot poetry but the meeserable sids an' sawdist an' leavin's the gran' leddies sing an' ca' sangs! Nae mair is 't ony won'er she sud tak' me for dementit, gien she h'ard what I was singin'! only I canna think she did that, for I was but croonin' till mysel'."--Malcolm was wrong there, for he was singing out loud and clear.--"That was but a kin' o' an unknown tongue atween Him an' me an' no anither."

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