CHAPTER XLV: THE RIDE HOME
Florimel was offended with Malcolm: he had put her confidence in
him to shame, speaking of things to which he ought not once to have
even alluded. But Clementina was not only older than Florimel, but
in her loving endeavours for her kind, had heard many a pitiful
story, and was now saddened by the tale, not shocked at the teller.
Indeed, Malcolm's mode of acquainting her with the grounds of the
feeling she had challenged pleased both her heart and her sense
of what was becoming; while, as a partisan of women, finding a man
also of their part, she was ready to offer him the gratitude of
all womankind--in her one typical self.
"What a rough diamond is here!" she thought.
"Rough!" echoed her heart: "how is he rough? What fault could the
most fastidious find with his manners? True, he speaks as a servant
--and where would be his manners if he did not? But neither in
tone, expression, nor way of thinking, is he in the smallest degree
servile. He is like a great pearl, clean out of the sea--bred,
it is true, in the midst of strange surroundings, but pure as the
moonlight; and if a man, so environed, yet has grown so grand, what
might he not become with such privileges as--"
Good Clementina--what did she mean? Did she imagine that such
mere gifts as she might give him, could do more for him than the
great sea, with the torment and conquest of its winds and tempests?
more than his own ministrations of love, and victories over passion
and pride? What the final touches of the shark skin are to the
marble that stands lord of the flaming bow, that only can wealth
and position be to the man who has yielded neither to the judgments
of the world nor the drawing of his own inclinations, and so has
submitted himself to the chisel and mallet of his maker. Society
is the barber who trims a man's hair, often very badly too--and
pretends he made it grow. If her owner should take her, body and
soul, and make of her being a gift to his--ah, then, indeed! But
Clementina was not yet capable of perceiving that, while what she
had in her thought to offer might hurt him, it could do him little
good. Her feeling concerning him, however, was all the time far
indeed from folly. Not for a moment did she imagine him in love
with her. Possibly she admired him too much to attribute to him
such an intolerable and insolent presumption as that would have
appeared to her own inferior self. Still, she was far indeed from
certain, were she, as befits the woman so immeasurably beyond even
the aspiration of the man, to make him offer implicit of hand and
havings, that he would reach out his to take them. And certainly
that she was not going to do--in which determination, whether
she knew it or not, there was as much modesty and gracious doubt
of her own worth as there was pride and maidenly recoil. In one
resolve she was confident, that her behaviour towards him should
be such as to keep him just where he was, affording him no smallest
excuse for taking one step nearer: and they would soon be in London,
where she would see nothing, or next to nothing more of him. But
should she ever cease to thank God, that was, if ever she came to
find him, that in this groom he had shown her what he could do in
the way of making a man! Heartily she wished she knew a nobleman or
two like him. In the meantime she meant to enjoy--with carefulness
--the ride to London, after which things should be as before.
The morning arrived; they finished breakfast; the horses came round
and stood at the door--all but Kelpie. The ladies mounted. Ah,
what a morning to leave the country and go back to London! The
sun shone clear on the dark pine woods; the birds were radiant in
song; all under the trees the ferns were unrolling each its mystery
of ever generating life; the soul of the summer was there whose
mere idea sends the heart into the eyes, while itself flits mocking
from the cage of words. A gracious mystery it was--in the air,
in the sun, in the earth, in their own hearts. The lights of heaven
mingled and played with the shadows of the earth, which looked like
the souls of the trees, that had been out wandering all night, and
had been overtaken by the sun ere they could re-enter their dark
cells. Every motion of the horses under them was like a throb of the
heart of the earth, every bound like a sigh of her bliss. Florimel
shouted almost like a boy with ecstasy, and Clementina's moonlight
went very near changing into sunlight as she gazed, and breathed,
and knew that she was alive.
They started without Malcolm, for he must always put his mistress
up, and then go back to the stable for Kelpie. In a moment they
were in the wood, crossing its shadows. It was like swimming their
horses through a sea of shadows. Then came a little stream and the
horses splashed it about like children from very gamesomeness. Half
a mile more and there was a sawmill, with a mossy wheel, a pond
behind, dappled with sun and shade, a dark rush of water along
a brown trough, and the air full of the sweet smell of sawn wood.
Clementina had not once looked behind, and did not know whether
Malcolm had yet joined them or not. All at once the wild vitality
of Kelpie filled the space beside her, and the voice of Malcolm
was in her ears. She turned her head. He was looking very solemn.
"Will you let me tell you, my lady, what this always makes me think
of?" he said.
"What in particular do you mean?" returned Clementina coldly.
"This smell of new sawn wood that fills the air, my lady."
She bowed her head.
"It makes me think of Jesus in his father's workshop," said Malcolm
"--how he must have smelled the same sweet scent of the trees of
the world broken for the uses of men, that is now so sweet to me.
Oh, my lady! it makes the earth very holy and very lovely to think
that as we are in the world, so was he in the world. Oh, my lady
I think:--if God should be so nearly one with us that it was
nothing strange to him thus to visit his people! that we are not
the offspring of the soulless tyranny of law that knows not even
its own self, but the children of an unfathomable wonder, of which
science gathers only the foambells on the shore--children in the
house of a living Father, so entirely our Father that he cares even
to death that we should understand and love him!"
He reined Kelpie back, and as she passed on, his eyes caught a
glimmer of emotion in Clementina's. He fell behind, and all that
day did not come near her again.
Florimel asked her what he had been saying, and she compelled
herself to repeat a part of it.
"He is always saying such odd out of the way things!" remarked
Florimel. "I used sometimes, like you, to fancy him a little astray,
but I soon found I was wrong. I wish you could have heard him tell
a story he once told my father and me. It was one of the wildest
you ever heard. I can't tell to this day whether he believed it
himself or not. He told it quite as if he did."
"Could you not make him tell it again, as we ride along? It would
shorten the way."
"Do you want the way shortened?--I don't. But indeed it would not
do to tell it so. It ought to be heard just where I heard it--at
the foot of the ruined castle where the dreadful things in it took
place. You must come and see me at Lossie House in the autumn, and
then he shall tell it you. Besides, it ought to be told in Scotch,
and there you will soon learn enough to follow it: half the charm
depends on that."
Although Malcolm did not again approach Clementina that day, he
watched almost her every motion as she rode. Her lithe graceful
back and shoulders--for she was a rebel against the fashion of
the day in dress as well as in morals, and, believing in the natural
stay of the muscles, had found them responsive to her trust--
the noble poise of her head, and the motions of her arms, easy yet
decided, were ever present to him, though sometimes he could hardly
have told whether his sight or his mind--now in the radiance of
the sun, now in the shadow of the wood, now against the green of
the meadow, now against the blue of the sky, and now in the faint
moonlight, through which he followed, as a ghost in the realms
of Hades might follow the ever flitting phantom of his love. Day
glided after day. Adventure came not near them. Soft and lovely as
a dream the morning dawned, the noon flowed past, the evening came
and the death that followed was yet sweeter than the life that had
gone before. Through it all, daydream and nightly trance, radiant
air and moony mist, before him glode the shape of Clementina, its
every motion a charm. After that shape he could have been content,
oh, how content! to ride on and on through the ever unfolding vistas
of an eternal succession. Occasionally his mistress would call him
to her, and then he would have one glance of the day side of the
wondrous world he had been following. Somewhere within it must be
the word of the living One. Little he thought that all the time she
was thinking more of him who had spoken that word in her hearing.
That he was the object of her thoughts not a suspicion crossed
the mind of the simple youth. How could he imagine a lady like her
taking a fancy to what, for all his marquisate, he was still in his
own eyes, a raw young fisherman, only just learning how to behave
himself decently! No doubt, ever since she began to listen to
reason, the idea of her had been spreading like a sweet odour in
his heart, but not because she had listened to him. The very fulness
of his admiration had made him wrathful with the intellectual
dishonesty, for in her it could not be stupidity, that quenched
his worship, and the first dawning sign of a reasonable soul drew
him to her feet, where, like Pygmalion before his statue, he could
have poured out his heart in thanks, that she consented to be a
woman. But even the intellectual phantom, nay, even the very phrase
of being in love with her, had never risen upon the dimmest verge
of his consciousness--and that although her being had now become
to him of all but absorbing interest. I say all but, because Malcolm
knew something of One whose idea she was, who had uttered her from
the immortal depths of his imagination. The man to whom no window
into the treasures of the Godhead has yet been opened, may well
scoff at the notion of such a love, for he has this advantage, that,
while one like Malcolm can never cease to love, he, gifted being,
can love today and forget tomorrow--or next year--where is the
difference? Malcolm's main thought was--what a grand thing it
would be to rouse a woman like Clementina to lift her head into
the regions mild of
'calm and serene air,
Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot
Which men call Earth.'
If anyone think that love has no right to talk religion, I answer
for Malcolm at least, asking, Whereof shall a man speak, if not
out of the abundance of his heart? That man knows little either of
love or of religion who imagines they ought to be kept apart. Of
what sort, I ask, is either, if unfit to approach the other? Has
God decreed, created a love that must separate from himself? Is Love
then divided? Or shall not love to the heart created, lift up the
heart to the Heart creating? Alas for the love that is not treasured
in heaven! for the moth and the rust will devour it. Ah, these
pitiful old moth eaten loves!
All the journey then Malcolm was thinking how to urge the beautiful
lady into finding for herself whether she had a father in heaven
or not. A pupil of Mr Graham, he placed little value in argument
that ran in any groove but that of persuasion, or any value in
persuasion that had any end but action.
On the second day of the journey, he rode up to his mistress, and
told her, taking care that Lady Clementina should hear, that Mr
Graham was now preaching in London, adding that for his part he
had never before heard anything fit to call preaching. Florimel
did not show much interest, but asked where, and Malcolm fancied
he could see Lady Clementina make a mental note of the place.
"If only," he thought, "she would let the power of that man's faith
have a chance of influencing her, all would be well."
The ladies talked a good deal, but Florimel was not in earnest about
anything, and for Clementina to have turned the conversation upon
those possibilities, dim dawning through the chaos of her world,
which had begun to interest her, would have been absurd--especially
since such was her confusion and uncertainty, that she could not
tell whether they were clouds or mountains, shadows or continents.
Besides, why give a child sovereigns to play with when counters
or dominoes would do as well? Clementina's thoughts could not have
passed into Florimel, and become her thoughts. Their hearts, their
natures must come nearer first. Advise Florimel to disregard rank,
and marry the man she loved! As well counsel the child to give away
the cake he would cry for with intensified selfishness the moment
he had parted with it! Still, there was that in her feeling for
Malcolm which rendered her doubtful in Florimel's presence.
Between the grooms little passed. Griffith's contempt for Malcolm
found its least offensive expression in silence, its most offensive
in the shape of his countenance. He could not make him the simplest
reply without a sneer. Malcolm was driven to keep mostly behind. If
by any chance he got in front of his fellow groom, Griffith would
instantly cross his direction and ride between him and the ladies.
His look seemed to say he had to protect them.