CHAPTER XXXIII: LIES
In pain, wrath, and mortification, Liftore rode home. What would
the men at his club say if they knew that he had been thrashed by
a scoundrel of a groom for kissing his mistress? The fact would
soon be out: he must do his best to have it taken for what it ought
to be--namely, fiction. It was the harder upon him that he knew
himself no coward. He must punish the rascal somehow--he owed it
to society to punish him; but at present he did not see how, and
the first thing was to have the first word with Florimel; he must
see her before she saw the ruffian. He rode as hard as he dared to
Curzon Street, sent his groom to the stables, telling him he should
want the horses again before lunch, had a hot bath, of which he
stood in dire need, and some brandy with his breakfast, and then,
all unfit for exercise as he was, walked to Portland Place.
Mistress and maid rode home together in silence. The moment Florimel
heard Malcolm's voice she had left the house. Caley following had
heard enough to know that there was a scuffle at least going on
in the study, and her eye witnessed against her heart that Liftore
could have no chance with the detested groom if the respect of the
latter gave way: would MacPhail thrash his lordship? If he did,
it would be well she should know it. In the hoped event of his
lordship's marrying her mistress, it was desirable, not only that
she should be in favour with both of them, but that she should
have some hold upon each of a more certainly enduring nature: if
she held secrets with husband and wife separately, she would be
in clover for the period of her natural existence. As to Florimel,
she was enraged at the liberties Liftore had taken with her. But
alas! was she not in some degree in his power? He had found her
there, and in tears! How did he come to be there? If Malcolm's
judgment of her was correct, Caley might have told him. Was she
already false? She pondered within herself, and cast no look upon
her maid until she had concluded how best to carry herself towards
the earl. Then glancing at the hooded cobra beside her--"What
an awkward thing that Lord Liftore, of all moments, should appear
just then!" she said. "How could it be?"
"I'm sure I haven't an idea, my lady," returned Caley. "My lord
has been always kind to Mr Lenorme, and I suppose he has been in
the way of going to see him at work. Who would have thought my lord
had been such an early riser! There are not many gentlemen like him
nowadays, my lady! Did your ladyship hear the noise in the studio
after you left it?"
"I heard high words," answered her mistress, "--nothing more.
How on earth did MacPhail come to be there as well?--From you,
Caley, I will not conceal that his lordship behaved indiscreetly;
in fact he was rude; and I can quite imagine that MacPhail thought
it his duty to defend me. It is all very awkward for me. Who could
have imagined him there, and sitting behind amongst the pictures!
It almost makes me doubt whether Mr Lenorme be really gone."
"It seems to me, my lady," returned Caley, "that the man is always
just where he ought not to be, always meddling with something he
has no business with. I beg your pardon, my lady," she went on, "but
wouldn't it be better to get some staid elderly man for a groom,
one who has been properly bred up to his duties and taught his
manners in a gentleman's stable? It is so odd to have a groom from
a rough seafaring set--one who behaves like the rude fisherman
he is, never having had to obey orders of lord or lady! The worst
of it is, your ladyship will soon be the town's talk if you have
such a groom on such a horse after you everywhere."
Florimel's face flushed. Caley saw she was angry, and held her
Breakfast was hardly over, when Liftore walked in, looking pale,
and, in spite of his faultless get up, somewhat disreputable: for
shame, secret pain, and anger do not favour a good carriage or
honest mien. Florimel threw herself back in her chair--an action
characteristic of the bold faced countess, and held out her left
hand to him in an expansive, benevolent sort of way.
"How dare you come into my presence, looking so well pleased with
yourself, my lord, after giving me such a fright this morning?"
she said. "You might at least have made sure that there was--that
She could not bring herself to complete the sentence.
"My dearest girl!" said his lordship, not only delighted to get off
so pleasantly, but profoundly flattered by the implied understanding,
"I found you in tears, and how could I think of anything else? It
may have been stupid, but I trust you will think it pardonable."
Caley had not fully betrayed her mistress to his lordship, and
he had, entirely to his own satisfaction, explained the liking
of Florimel for the society of the painter as the mere fancy of a
girl for the admiration of one whose employment, although nothing
above the servile, yet gave him a claim something beyond that of
a milliner or hair dresser, to be considered a judge in matters of
appearance. As to anything more in the affair--and with him in
the field--of such a notion he was simply incapable: he could
not have wronged the lady he meant to honour with his hand, by
regarding it as within the bounds of the possible.
"It was no wonder I was crying," said Florimel. "A seraph would
have cried to see the state my father's portrait was in."
"Your father's portrait!"
"Yes. Did you not know? Mr Lenorme has been painting one from a
miniature I lent him--under my supervision, of course; and just
because I let fall a word that showed I was not altogether satisfied
with the likeness, what should the wretched man do but catch up a
brush full of filthy black paint, and smudge the face all over!"
"Oh, Lenorme will soon set it to rights again. He's not a bad fellow
though he does belong to the genus irritabile. I will go about it
this very day."
"You'll not find him, I'm sorry to say. There's a note I had from
him yesterday. And the picture's quite unfit to be seen--utterly
ruined. But I can't think how you could miss it!"
"To tell you the truth, Florimel, I had a bit of a scrimmage after
you left me in the studio." Here his lordship did his best to
imitate a laugh. "Who should come rushing upon me out of the back
regions of paint and canvas but that mad groom of yours! I don't
suppose you knew he was there?"
"Not I. I saw a man's feet--that was all."
"Well, there he was, for what reason the devil knows, perdu amongst
the painter's litter; and when he heard your little startled cry
--most musical, most melancholy--what should he fancy but that
you were frightened, and he must rush to the rescue! And so he did
with a vengeance: I don't know when I shall quite forget the blow
he gave me." And again Liftore laughed, or thought he did.
"He struck you!" exclaimed Florimel, rather astonished, but hardly
able for inward satisfaction to put enough of indignation into her
"He did, the fellow!--But don't say a word about it, for I thrashed
him so unmercifully that, to tell the truth, I had to stop because
I grew sorry for him. I am sorry now. So I hope you will take
no notice of it. In fact, I begin to like the rascal: you know I
was never favourably impressed with him. By Jove! it is not every
mistress that can have such a devoted attendant. I only hope his
over zeal in your service may never get you into some compromising
position. He is hardly, with all his virtues, the proper servant
for a young lady to have about her; he has had no training--no
proper training at all, you see. But you must let the villain nurse
himself for a day or two anyhow. It would be torture to make him
ride, after what I gave him."
His lordship spoke feelingly, with heroic endurance indeed; and if
Malcolm should dare give his account of the fracas, he trusted to
the word of a gentleman to outweigh that of a groom.
Not all to whom it may seem incredible that a nobleman should thus
lie, are themselves incapable of doing likewise. Any man may put
himself in training for a liar by doing things he would be ashamed
to have known. The art is easily learned, and to practise it well
is a great advantage to people with designs. Men of ability, indeed,
if they take care not to try hard to speak the truth, will soon
become able to lie as truthfully as any sneak that sells grease
for butter to the poverty of the New Cut.
It is worth remarking to him who can from the lie factual carry
his thought deeper to the lie essential, that all the power of a
lie comes from the truth; it has none in itself. So strong is the
truth that a mere resemblance to it is the source of strength to
its opposite--until it be found that like is not the same.
Florimel had already made considerable progress in the art, but
proficiency in lying does not always develop the power of detecting
it. She knew that her father had on one occasion struck Malcolm,
and that he had taken it with the utmost gentleness, confessing
himself in the wrong. Also she had the impression that for a menial
to lift his hand against a gentleman, even in self defence, was a
thing unheard of. The blow Malcolm had struck Liftore was for her,
not himself. Therefore, while her confidence in Malcolm's courage
and prowess remained unshaken, she was yet able to believe that
Liftore had done as he said, and supposed that Malcolm had submitted.
In her heart she pitied without despising him.
Caley herself took him the message that he would not be wanted. As
she delivered it, she smiled an evil smile and dropped a mocking
courtesy, with her gaze well fixed on his two black eyes and the
great bruise between them.
When Liftore mounted to accompany Lady Lossie, it took all the pluck
that belonged to his high breed to enable him to smile and smile,
with twenty counsellors in different parts of his body feelingly
persuading him that he was at least a liar. As they rode, Florimel
asked him how he came to be at the studio that morning. He told her
that he had wanted very much to see her portrait before the final
touches were given it. He could have made certain suggestions, he
believed, that no one else could. He had indeed, he confessed--
and felt absolutely virtuous in doing so, because here he spoke
a fact--heard from his aunt that Florimel was to be there that
morning for the last time: it was therefore his only chance; but
he had expected to be there hours before she was out of bed. For
the rest, be hoped he had been punished enough, seeing her rascally
groom--and once more his lordship laughed peculiarly--had but
just failed of breaking his arm; it was all he could do to hold