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- The Marquis of Lossie - 40/95 -


something to open her eyes; yet how should he avoid the appearance of a tale bearer?

It was a sweet fresh morning, late in the spring--those loveliest of hours that unite the seasons, like the shimmering question of green or blue in the feathers of a peacock. He had set out an hour before the rest, and now, a little way within the park, was coaxing Kelpie to stand, that he might taste the morning in peace. The sun was but a few degrees above the horizon, shining with all his heart, and the earth was taking the shine with all hers. "I too am light," she was saying, "although I can but receive it." The trees were covered with baby leaves, half wrapped in their swaddling clothes, and their breath was a warm aromatic odour in the glittering air. The air and the light seemed one, and Malcolm felt as if his soul were breathing the light into its very depths, while his body was drinking the soft spicy wind. For Kelpie, she was as full of life as if she had been meant for a winged horse, but by some accident of nature the wing cases had never opened, and the wing life was for ever trying to get out at her feet. The consequent restlessness, where there was plenty of space as here, caused Malcolm no more discomposure than, in his old fishing days, a gale with plenty of sea room. And the song of the larks was one with the light and the air. The budding of the trees was their way of singing; but the larks beat them at that. "What a power of joy," thought Malcolm, "there must be in God, to be able to keep so many larks so full of bliss!" He was going to say--"without getting tired;" but he saw that it was the eternal joy itself that bubbled from their little fountains: weariness there would be the silence of all song, would be death, utter vanishment to the gladness of the universe. The sun would go out like a spark upon burnt paper, and the heart of man would forget the sound of laughter. Then he said to himself: "The larks do not make their own singing; do mortals make their own sighing?" And he saw that at least they might open wider the doors of their hearts to the Perseus Joy that comes to slay the grief monsters. Then he thought how his life had been widening out with the years. He could not say that it was now more pleasant than it had been; he had Stoicism enough to doubt whether it would ever become so from any mere change of circumstances. Dangers and sufferings that one is able for, are not misfortunes or even hardships--so far from such, that youth delights in them. Indeed he sorely missed the adventure of the herring fishing. Kelpie, however, was as good as a stiff gale. If only all were well with his sister! Then he would go back to Portlossie and have fishing enough. But he must be patient and follow as he was led. At three and twenty, he reflected, Milton was content to seem to himself but a poor creature, and was careful only to be ready for whatever work should hereafter be required of him: such contentment, with such hope and resolve at the back of it, he saw to be the right and the duty both of every man. He whose ambition is to be ready when he is wanted, whatever the work may be, may wait not the less watchful that he is content. His heart grew lighter, his head clearer, and by the time the two ladies with their attendant appeared, he felt such a masterdom over Kelpie as he had never felt before.

They rode twenty miles that day with ease, putting up at the first town. The next day they rode about the same distance. They next day they rode nearly thirty miles. On the fourth, with an early start, and a good rest in the middle, they accomplished a yet greater distance, and at night arrived at The Gloom, Wastbeach--after a journey of continuous delight to three at least of the party, Florimel and Malcolm having especially enjoyed that portion of it which led through Surrey, where England and Scotland meet and mingle in waste, heathery moor, and rich valley. Much talk had passed between the ladies, and Florimel had been set thinking about many things, though certainly about none after the wisest fashion.

A young half moon was still up when, after riding miles through pine woods, they at length drew near the house. Long before they reached it, however, a confused noise of dogs met them in the forest. Clementina had written to the housekeeper, and every dog about the place, and the dogs were multitudinous, had been expecting her all day, had heard the sound of their horses' hoofs miles off and had at once begun to announce her approach. Nor were the dogs the only cognisant or expectant animals. Most of the creatures about the place understood that something was happening, and probably associated it with their mistress; for almost every live thing knew her--from the rheumatic cart horse, forty years of age, and every whit as respectable in Clementina's eyes as her father's old butler, to the wild cats that haunted the lofts and garrets of the old Elizabethan hunting lodge.

When they dismounted, the ladies could hardly get into the house for dogs; those which could not reach their mistress, turned to Florimel, and came swarming about her and leaping upon her, until, much as she liked animal favour, she would gladly have used her whip--but dared not, because of the presence of their mistress. If the theories of that mistress allowed them anything of a moral nature, she was certainly culpable in refusing them their right to a few cuts of the whip.

Mingled with all the noises of dogs and horses, came a soft nestling murmur that filled up the interspaces of sound which even their tumult could not help leaving. Florimel was too tired to hear it, but Malcolm heard it, and it filled all the interspaces of his soul with a speechless delight. He knew it for the still small voice of the awful sea.

Florimel scarcely cast a glance around the dark old fashioned room into which she was shown, but went at once to bed, and when the old housekeeper carried her something from the supper table at which she had been expected, she found her already fast asleep. By the time Malcolm had put Kelpie to rest, he also was a little tired, and lay awake no moment longer than his sister.

CHAPTER XXXIX: DISCIPLINE

What with rats and mice, and cats and owls, and creaks and cracks, there was no quiet about the place from night to morning; and what with swallows and rooks, and cocks and kine, and horses and foals, and dogs and pigeons and peacocks, and guinea fowls and turkeys and geese, and every farm creature but pigs, which, with all her zootrophy, Clementina did not like, no quiet from morning to night. But if there was no quiet, there was plenty of calm, and the sleep of neither brother nor sister was disturbed.

Florimel awoke in the sweetest concert of pigeon murmuring, duck diplomacy, fowl foraging, foal whinnering--the word wants an r in it--and all the noises of rural life. The sun was shining into the room by a window far off at the further end, bringing with him strange sylvan shadows, not at once to be interpreted. He must have been shining for hours, so bright and steady did he shine. She sprang out of bed--with no lazy London resurrection of the old buried, half sodden corpse, sleepy and ashamed, but with the new birth of the new day, refreshed and strong, like a Hercules baby. A few aching remnants of stiffness was all that was left of the old fatigue. It was a heavenly joy to think that no Caley would come knocking at her door. She glided down the long room to the sunny window, drew aside the rich old faded curtain, and peeped out. Nothing but pines and pines--Scotch firs all about and everywhere! They came within a few yards of the window. She threw it open. The air was still, the morning sun shone hot upon them, and the resinous odour exhaled from their bark and their needles and their fresh buds, filled the room--sweet and clean. There was nothing, not even a fence, between this wing of the house and the wood.

All through his deep sleep, Malcolm heard the sound of the sea --whether of the phantom sea in his soul, or of the world sea to whose murmurs he had listened with such soft delight as he fell asleep, matters little the sea was with him in his dreams. But when he awoke it was to no musical crushing of water drops, no half articulated tones of animal speech, but to tumult and out cry from the stables. It was but too plain that he was wanted. Either Kelpie had waked too soon, or he had overslept himself: she was kicking furiously. Hurriedly induing a portion of his clothing, he rushed down and across the yard, shouting to her as he ran, like a nurse as she runs up the stair to a screaming child. She stopped once to give an eager whinny, and then fell to again. Griffiths, the groom, and the few other men about the place, were looking on appalled. He darted to the corn bin, got a great pottleful of oats, and shot into her stall. She buried her nose in them like the very demon of hunger, and he left her for the few moments of peace that would follow. He must finish his dressing as fast as he could: already, after four days of travel, which with her meant anything but a straight forward jog trot struggle with space, she needed a good gallop! When he returned, he found her just finishing her oats, and beginning to grow angry with her own nose for getting so near the bottom of the manger. While yet there was no worse sign, however, than the fidgetting of her hind quarters, and she was still busy, he made haste to saddle her. But her unusually obstinate refusal of the bit, and his difficulty in making her open her unwilling jaws, gave unmistakable indication of coming conflict. Anxiously he asked the bystanders after some open place where he might let her go--fields or tolerably smooth heath, or sandy beach. He dared not take her through the trees, he said, while she was in such a humour; she would dash herself to pieces. They told him there was a road straight from the stables to the shore, and there miles of pure sand without a pebble. Nothing could be better. He mounted and rode away.

Florimel was yet but half dressed, when the door of her room opened suddenly, and Lady Clementina darted in--the lovely chaos of her night not more than half as far reduced to order as that of Florimel's. Her moonlight hair, nearly as long as that of the fabled Godiva, was flung wildly about her in heavy masses. Her eyes were wild also; she looked like a holy Maenad. With a glide like the swoop of an avenging angel, she pounced upon Florimel, caught her by the wrist and pulled her towards the door. Florimel was startled, but made no resistance. She half led, half dragged her up a stair that rose from a corner of the hall gallery to the battlements of a little square tower, whence a few yards of the beach, through a chain of slight openings amongst the pines, was visible. Upon that spot of beach, a strange thing was going on--at which afresh Clementina gazed with indignant horror, but Florimel eagerly stared with the forward borne eyes of a spectator of the Roman arena. She saw Kelpie reared on end, striking out at Malcolm with her fore hoofs, and snapping with angry teeth--then upon those teeth receive such a blow from his fist that she swerved, and wheeling, flung her hind hoofs at his head. But Malcolm was too quick for her; she spent her heels in the air, and he had her by the bit. Again she reared, and would have struck at him, but he kept well by her side, and with the powerful bit forced her to rear to her full height. Just as she was falling backwards, he pushed her head from him, and bearing her down sideways, seated himself on it the moment it touched the ground. Then first the two women turned to each other. An arch of victory bowed Florimel's lip; her eyebrows were uplifted; the blood flushed her cheek, and darkened the blue


The Marquis of Lossie - 40/95

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