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- The Marquis of Lossie - 20/95 -
"He wants to ride Kelpie, and I have told my groom to let him have her. Perhaps she'll break his neck."
Lenorme smiled grimly.
"You wouldn't mind, would you, Raoul?" added Florimel, with a roguish look.
"Would you mind telling me, Florimel, what you mean by the impropriety of having secrets with another gentleman? Am I the other gentleman?"
"Why, of course! You know Liftore imagined he has only to name the day."
"And you allow an idiot like that to cherish such a degrading idea of you."
"Why, Raoul! what does it matter what a fool like him thinks?"
"If you don't mind it, I do. I feel it an insult to me that he should dare think of you like that."
"I don't know. I suppose I shall have to marry him some day."
"Lady Lossie, do you want to make me hate you?"
"Don't be foolish, Raoul. It won't be tomorrow--nor the next day. Freuet euch des Lebens!"
"O Florimel! what is to come of this? Do you want to break my heart? --I hate to talk rubbish. You won't kill me--you will only ruin my work, and possibly drive me mad."
Florimel drew close to his side, laid her hand on his arm, and looked in his face with a witching entreaty.
"We have the present, Raoul," she said.
"So has the butterfly," answered Lenorme; "but I had rather be the caterpillar with a future.--Why don't you put a stop to the man's lovemaking? He can't love you or any woman. He does not know what love means. It makes me ill to hear him when he thinks he is paying you irresistible compliments. They are so silly! so mawkish! Good heavens, Florimel! can you imagine that smile every day and always? Like the rest of his class he seems to think himself perfectly justified in making fools of women. I want to help you to grow as beautiful as God meant you to be when he thought of you first. I want you to be my embodied vision of life, that I may for ever worship at your feet--live in you, die with you: such bliss, even were there nothing beyond, would be enough for the heart of a God to bestow."
"Stop, stop, Raoul; I'm not worthy of such love," said Florimel, again laying her hand on his arm. "I do wish for your sake I had been born a village girl."
"If you had been, then I might have wished for your sake that I had been born a marquis. As it is I would rather be a painter than any nobleman in Europe--that is, with you to love me. Your love is my patent of nobility. But I may glorify what you love--and tell you that I can confer something on you also--what none of your noble admirers can.--God forgive me! you will make me hate them all!"
"Raoul, this won't do at all," said Florimel, with the authority that should belong only to the one in the right. And indeed for the moment she felt the dignity of restraining a too impetuous passion. "You will spoil everything. I dare not come to your studio if you are going to behave like this. It would be very wrong of me. And if I am never to come and see you, I shall die--I know I shall."
The girl was so full of the delight of the secret love between them, that she cared only to live in the present as if there were no future beyond: Lenorme wanted to make that future like but better than the present. The word marriage put Florimel in a rage. She thought herself superior to Lenorme, because he, in the dread of losing her, would have her marry him at once, while she was more than content with the bliss of seeing him now and then. Often and often her foolish talk stung him with bitter pain--worst of all when it compelled him to doubt whether there was that in her to be loved as he was capable of loving. Yet always the conviction that there was a deep root of nobleness in her nature again got uppermost; and, had it not been so, I fear he would, nevertheless, have continued to prove her irresistible as often as she chose to exercise upon him the full might of her witcheries. At one moment she would reveal herself in such a sudden rush of tenderness as seemed possible only to one ready to become his altogether and for ever; the next she would start away as if she had never meant anything, and talk as if not a thought were in her mind beyond the cultivation of a pleasant acquaintance doomed to pass with the season, if not with the final touches to her portrait. Or she would fall to singing some song he had taught her, more likely a certain one he had written in a passionate mood of bitter tenderness, with the hope of stinging her love to some show of deeper life; but would, while she sang, look with merry defiance in his face, as if she adopted in seriousness what he had written in loving and sorrowful satire.
They rode in silence for some hundred yards. At length he spoke, replying to her last asseveration. "Then what can you gain, child," he said--
"Will you dare to call me child--a marchioness in my own right!" she cried, playfully threatening him with uplifted whip, in the handle of which the little jewels sparkled.
"What, then, can you gain, my lady marchioness," he resumed, with soft seriousness, and a sad smile, "by marrying one of your own rank?--I should lay new honour and consideration at your feet. I am young. I have done fairly well already. But I have done nothing to what I could do now, if only my heart lay safe in the port of peace:--you know where alone that is for me my--lady marchioness. And you know too that the names of great painters go down with honour from generation to generation, when my lord this or my lord that is remembered only as a label to the picture that makes the painter famous. I am not a great painter yet, but I will be one if you will be good to me. And men shall say, when they look on your portrait, in ages to come: No wonder he was such a painter when he had such a woman to paint."
He spoke the words with a certain tone of dignified playfulness.
"When shall the woman sit to you again, painter?" said Florimel-- sole reply to his rhapsody.
The painter thought a little. Then he said:
"I don't like that tire woman of yours. She has two evil eyes-- one for each of us. I have again and again caught their expression when they were upon us, and she thought none were upon her: I can see without lifting my head when I am painting, and my art has made me quick at catching expressions, and, I hope, at interpreting them."
"I don't altogether like her myself," said Florimel. "Of late I am not so sure of her as I used to be. But what can I do? I must have somebody with me, you know.--A thought strikes me. Yes. I won't say now what it is lest I should disappoint my--painter; but-- yes--you shall see what I will dare for you, faithless man!"
She set off at a canter, turned on to the grass, and rode to meet Liftore, whom she saw in the distance returning, followed by the two grooms.
"Come on, Raoul," she cried, looking back; "I must account for you. He sees I have not been alone."
Lenorme joined her, and they rode along side by side.
The earl and the painter knew each other: as they drew near, the painter lifted his hat, and the earl nodded.
"You owe Mr Lenorme some acknowledgment, my lord, for taking charge of me after your sudden desertion," said Florimel. "Why did you gallop off in such a mad fashion?"
"I am sorry," began Liftore a little embarrassed.
"Oh! don't trouble yourself to apologise," said Florimel. "I have always understood that great horsemen find a horse more interesting than a lady. It is a mark of their breed, I am told."
She knew that Liftore would not be ready to confess he could not hold his hack.
"If it hadn't been for Mr Lenorme," she added, "I should have been left without a squire, subject to any whim of my four footed servant here."
As she spoke she patted the neck of her horse. The earl, on his side, had been looking the painter's horse up and down with a would be humorous expression of criticism.
"I beg your pardon, marchioness," he replied; "but you pulled up so quickly that we shot past you. I thought you were close behind, and preferred following.--Seen his best days, eh, Lenorme?" he concluded, willing to change the subject.
"I fancy he doesn't think so," returned the painter. "I bought him out of a butterman's cart, three months ago. He's been coming to himself ever since. Look at his eye, my lord."
"Are you knowing in horses, then?"
"I can't say I am, beyond knowing how to treat them something like human beings."
"That's no ill," said Malcolm to himself. He was just near enough, on the pawing and foaming Kelpie, to catch what was passing.-- "The fallow 'll du. He's worth a score o' sic yerls as yon."
"Ha! ha!" said his lordship; "I don't know about that--He's not the best of tempers, I can see. But look at that demon of Lady Lossie's--that black mare there! I wish you could teach her some of your humanity.
"--By the way, Florimel, I think now we are upon the grass,"-- he said it loftily, as if submitting to an injustice--"I will presume to mount the reprobate."
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