The Marquis of Lossie

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The chief cause of Malcolm's anxiety had been, and perhaps still was, Lord Liftore. In his ignorance of Mr Lenorme there might lie equal cause with him, but he knew such evil of the other that his whole nature revolted against the thought of his marrying his sister. At Lossie he had made himself agreeable to her, and now, if not actually living in the same house, he was there at all hours of the day.

It took nothing from his anxiety to see that his lordship was greatly improved. Not only had the lanky youth passed into a well formed man, but in countenance, whether as regarded expression, complexion, or feature, he was not merely a handsomer but looked in every way a healthier and better man. Whether it was from some reviving sense of duty, or that, in his attachment to Florimel, he had begun to cherish a desire of being worthy of her, I cannot tell; but he looked altogether more of a man than the time that had elapsed would have given ground to expect, even had he then seemed on the mend, and indeed promised to become a really fine looking fellow. His features were far more regular if less informed than those of the painter and his carriage prouder if less graceful and energetic. His admiration of and consequent attachment to Florimel had been growing ever since his visit to Lossie House the preceding summer, and if he had said nothing quite definite, it was only because his aunt represented the impolicy of declaring himself just yet: she was too young. She judged thus, attributing her evident indifference to an incapacity as yet for falling in love. Hence, beyond paying her all sorts of attentions and what compliments he was capable of constructing, Lord Liftore had not gone far towards making himself understood--at least, not until just before Malcolm's arrival, when his behaviour had certainly grown warmer and more confidential.

All the time she had been under his aunt's care he had had abundant opportunity for recommending himself, and he had made use of the privilege. For one thing, credibly assured that he looked well in the saddle, he had constantly encouraged Florimel's love of riding and desire to become a thorough horse woman, and they had ridden a good deal together in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. This practice they continued as much as possible after they came to London early in the spring; but the weather of late had not been favourable, and Florimel had been very little out with him.

For a long time Lady Bellair had had her mind set on a match between the daughter of her old friend the Marquis of Lossie and her nephew, and it was with this in view that, when invited to Lossie House, she had begged leave to bring Lord Meikleham with her. The young man was from the first sufficiently taken with the beautiful girl to satisfy his aunt, and would even then have shown greater fervour in his attentions, had he not met Lizzy Findlay at the wedding of Joseph Mair's sister, and found her more than pleasing. I will not say that from the first he purposed wrong to her: he was too inexperienced in the ways of evil for that; but even when he saw plainly enough to what their mutual attraction was tending, he gave himself no trouble to resist it; and through the whole unhappy affair had not had one smallest struggle with himself for the girl's sake. To himself he was all in all as yet, and such was his opinion of his own precious being, that, had he thought about it, he would have considered the honour of his attentions far more than sufficient to make up to any girl in such a position for whatever mishap his acquaintance might bring upon her. What were the grief and mortification of parents to put in the balance against his condescension? what the shame and the humiliation of the girl herself compared with the honour of having been shone upon for a period, however brief, by his enamoured countenance? Must not even the sorrow attendant upon her loss be rendered more than endurable--be radiantly consoled by the memory that she had held such a demigod in her arms? When he left her at last, with many promises, not one of which he ever had the intention of fulfilling, he did purpose sending her a present. But at that time he was poor--dependent, indeed, for his pocket money upon his aunt; and, up to this hour, he had never since his departure from Lossie House taken the least notice of her either by gift or letter. He had taken care also that it should not be in her power to write to him, and now he did not even know that he was a father. Once or twice the possibility of such being the case occurred to him, and he thought within himself that if he were, and it should come to be talked of, it might, in respect of his present hopes, be awkward and disagreeable; for, although such a predicament was nowise unusual, in this instance the circumstances were. More than one of his bachelor friends had a small family even, but then it was in the regular way of an open and understood secret: the fox had his nest in some pleasant nook, adroitly masked, where lay his vixen and her brood; one day he would abandon them for ever, and, with such gathered store of experience, set up for a respectable family man. A few tears, a neat legal arrangement, and all would be as it had never been, only that the blood of the Montmorencies or Cliffords would meander unclaimed in this or that obscure channel, beautifying the race, and rousing England to noble deeds! But in his case it would be unpleasant--a little--that every one of his future tenantry should know the relation in which he stood to a woman of the fisher people. He did not fear any resentment--not that he would have cared a straw for it, on such trifling grounds, but people in their low condition never thought anything of such slips on the part of their women especially where a great man was concerned. What he did fear was that the immediate relations of the woman--that was how he spoke of Lizzy to himself --might presume upon the honour he had done them. Lizzy, however, was a good girl, and had promised to keep the matter secret until she heard from him, whatever might be the consequences; and surely there was fascination enough in the holding of a secret with such as he to enable her to keep her promise. She must be perfectly aware, however appearances might be against him, that he was not one to fail in appreciation of her conduct, however easy and natural all that he required of her might be. He would requite her royally when he was Lord of Lossie. Meantime, although it was even now in his power to make her rich amends, he would prudently leave things as they were, and not run the risk that must lie in opening communications.

And so the young earl held his head high, looked as innocent as may be desirable for a gentleman, had many a fair clean hand laid in his, and many a maiden waist yielded to his arm, while "the woman" flitted about half an alien amongst her own, with his child wound in her old shawl of Lossie tartan; wandering not seldom in the gloaming when her little one slept, along the top of the dune, with the wind blowing keen upon her from the regions of eternal ice, sometimes the snow settling softly on her hair, sometimes the hailstones nestling in its meshes; the skies growing blacker about her, and the sea stormier, while hope retreated so far into the heavenly regions, that hope and heaven both were lost to her view. Thus, alas! the things in which he was superior to her, most of all that he was a gentleman, while she was but a peasant girl-- the things whose witchery drew her to his will, he made the means of casting her down from the place of her excellency into the mire of shame and loss. The only love worthy of the name ever and always uplifts.

Of the people belonging to the upper town of Portlossie, which raised itself high above the sea town in other respects besides the topical, there were none who did not make poor Lizzy feel they were aware of her disgrace, and but one man who made her feel it by being kinder than before. That man, strange to say, was the factor. With all his faults he had some chivalry, and he showed it to the fisher girl. Nor did he alter his manner to her because of the rudeness with which her mother had taken Malcolm's part.

It was a sore proof to Mr Crathie that his discharged servant was in favour with the marchioness when the order came from Mr Soutar to send up Kelpie. She had written to himself when she wanted her own horse; now she sent for this brute through her lawyer. It was plain that Malcolm had been speaking against him; and he was the more embittered therefore against his friends.

Since his departure he had been twice on the point of poisoning the mare.

It was with difficulty he found two men to take her to Aberdeen. There they had an arduous job to get her on board and secure her. But it had been done, and all the Monday night Malcolm was waiting her arrival at the wharf--alone, for after what had passed between them, he would not ask Peter to go with him, and besides he was no use with horses. At length, in the grey of a gurly dawn, the smack came alongside. They had had a rough passage, and the mare was considerably subdued by sickness, so that there was less difficulty in getting her ashore, and she paced for a little while in tolerable quietness. But with every step on dry land, the evil spirit in her awoke, and soon Malcolm had to dismount and lead her. The morning was little advanced, and few vehicles were about, otherwise he could hardly have got her home uninjured, notwithstanding the sugar with which he had filled a pocket Before he reached the mews he was very near wishing he had never seen her. But when he led her into the stable, he was a little encouraged as well as surprised to find that she had not forgotten Florimel's horse. They had always been a little friendly, and now they greeted each other with an affectionate neigh; after which, with the help of all she could devour, the demoness was quieter.

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