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- The Marquis of Lossie - 90/95 -
"I will go with you," said Florimel, crossing to Lady Bellair.
Malcolm took her by the arm. For one moment she struggled, but finding no one dared interfere, submitted, and was led from the room like a naughty child.
"Keep my lord there till I return," he said as he went.
He led her into the room which had been her mother's boudoir, and when he had shut the door,
"Florimel," he said, "I have striven to serve you the best way I knew. Your father, when he confessed me his heir, begged me to be good to you, and I promised him. Would I have given all these months of my life to the poor labour of a groom, allowed my people to be wronged and oppressed, my grandfather to be a wanderer, and my best friend to sit with his lips of wisdom sealed, but for your sake? I can hardly say it was for my father's sake, for I should have done the same had he never said a word about you. Florimel, I loved my sister, and longed for her goodness. But she has foiled all my endeavours. She has not loved or followed the truth. She has been proud and disdainful, and careless of right. Yourself young and pure, and naturally recoiling from evil, you have yet cast from you the devotion of a noble, gifted, large hearted, and great souled man, for the miserable preference of the smallest, meanest, vilest of men. Nor that only! for with him you have sided against the woman he most bitterly wrongs: and therein you wrong the nature and the God of women. Once more, I pray you to give up this man; to let your true self speak and send him away."
"Sir, I go with my Lady Bellair, driven from her father's house by one who calls himself my brother. My lawyer shall make inquiries."
She would have left the room, but he intercepted her.
"Florimel," he said, "you are casting the pearl of your womanhood before a swine. He will trample it under his feet and turn again and rend you. He will treat you worse still than poor Lizzy, whom he troubles no more with his presence."
He had again taken her arm in his great grasp.
"Let me go. You are brutal. I shall scream."
"You shall not go until you have heard all the truth."
"What! more truth still? Your truth is anything but pleasant."
"It is more unpleasant yet than you surmise. Florimel, you have driven me to it. I would have prepared you a shield against the shock which must come, but you compel me to wound you to the quick. I would have had you receive the bitter truth from lips you loved, but you drove those lips of honour from you, and now there are left to utter it only the lips you hate, yet the truth you shall receive: it may help to save you from weakness, arrogance, and falsehood.--Sister, your mother was never Lady Lossie."
"You lie. I know you lie. Because you wrong me, you would brand me with dishonour, to take from me as well the sympathy of the world. But I defy you."
"Alas! there is no help, sister. Your mother indeed passed as Lady Lossie, but my mother, the true Lady Lossie, was alive all the time, and in truth, died only last year. For twenty years my mother suffered for yours in the eye of the law. You are no better than the little child his father denied in your presence. Give that man his dismissal, or he will give you yours. Never doubt it. Refuse again, and I go from this room to publish in the next the fact that you are neither Lady Lossie nor Lady Florimel Colonsay. You have no right to any name but your mother's. You are Miss Gordon."
She gave a great gasp at the word, but bravely fought the horror that was taking possession of her. She stood with one hand on the back of a chair, her face white, her eyes starting, her mouth a little open and rigid--her whole appearance, except for the breath that came short and quick, that of one who had died in sore pain.
"All that is now left you," concluded Malcolm, "is the choice between sending Liftore away, and being abandoned by him. That choice you must now make."
The poor girl tried to speak, but could not. Her fire was burning out, her forced strength fast failing her.
"Florimel," said Malcolm, and knelt on one knee and took her hand. It gave a flutter as if it would fly like a bird; but the net of his love held it, and it lay passive and cold. "Florimel, I will be your true brother. I am your brother, your very own brother, to live for you, love you, fight for you, watch and ward you, till a true man takes you for his wife." Her hand quivered like a leaf. "Sister, when you and I appear before our father, I shall hold up my face before him: will you?"
"Send him away," she breathed rather than said, and sank on the floor. He lifted her, laid her on a couch, and returned to the drawing room.
"My lady Clementina," he said, "will you oblige me by going to my sister in the room at the top of the stair?"
"I will, my lord," she answered, and went.
Malcolm walked up to Liftore.
"My lord," he said, "my sister takes leave of you."
"I must have my dismissal from her own lips."
"You shall have it from the hands of my fishermen. Take him away."
"You shall hear from me, my lord marquis, if such you be," said Liftore.
"Let it be of your repentance, then, my lord," said Malcolm. "That I shall be glad to hear of."
As he turned from him, he saw Caley gliding through the little group of servants towards the door. He walked after her, laid his hand on her shoulder, and whispered a word in her ear, she grew gray rather than white, and stood still.
Turning again to go to Florimel, he saw the fishermen stopped with their charge in the doorway by Mr Morrison and Mr Soutar, entering together.
"My lord! my lord!" said the lawyer, coming hastily up to him, "there can be surely no occasion for such--such--measures!"
Catching sight of Malcolm's wounded forehead, however, he supplemented the remark with a low exclamation of astonishment and dismay-- the tone saying almost as clearly as words, "How ill and foolishly everything is managed without a lawyer!"
Malcolm only smiled, and went up to the magistrate, whom he led into the middle of the room, saying,
"Mr Morrison, every one here knows you: tell them who I am."
"The Marquis of Lossie, my lord," answered Mr Morrison; "and from my heart I congratulate your people that at length you assume the rights and honours of your position."
A murmur of pleasure arose in response. Ere it ceased, Malcolm started and sprung to the door. There stood Lenorme! He seized him by the arm, and, without a word of explanation, hurried him to the room where his sister was. He called Clementina, drew her from the room, half pushed Lenorme in, and closed the door.
"Will you meet me on the sand hill at sunset, my lady?" he said.
She smiled assent. He gave her the key of the tunnel, hinted that she might leave the two to themselves for awhile, and returned to his friends in the drawing room.
Having begged them to excuse him for a little while, and desired Mrs Courthope to serve luncheon for them, he ran to his grandfather, dreading lest any other tongue than his own should yield him the opened secret. He was but just in time, for already the town was in a tumult, and the spreading ripples of the news were fast approaching Duncan's ears.
Malcolm found him, expectant and restless. When he disclosed himself he manifested little astonishment, only took him in his arms and pressed him to his bosom, saying, "Ta Lort pe praised, my son! and she wouldn't pe at aal surprised." Then he broke out in a fervent ejaculation of Gaelic, during which he turned instinctively to his pipes, for through them lay the final and only sure escape for the prisoned waters of the overcharged reservoir of his feelings. While he played, Malcolm slipped out, and hurried to Miss Horn.
One word to her was enough. The stern old woman burst into tears, crying,
"Oh, my Grisel! my Grisel! Luik doon frae yer bonny hoose amo' the stars, an' see the braw laad left ahint ye, an' praise the lord 'at ye ha'e sic a son o' yer boady to come hame to ye whan a' 's ower."
She sobbed and wept for a while without restraint. Then suddenly she rose, dabbed her eyes indignantly, and cried,
"Hoot! I'm an auld fule. A body wad think I hed feelin's efter a'!"
Malcolm laughed, and she could not help joining him.
"Ye maun come the morn an' chise yer ain room i' the Hoose," he said.
"What mean ye by that, laddie?"
"At ye'll ha'e to come an' bide wi' me noo."
"'Deed an' I s' du naething o' the kin', Ma'colm! H'ard ever onybody sic nonsense! What wad I du wi' Jean? An' I cudna thole men fowk to wait upo' me. I wad be clean affrontit."
"Weel, weel! we'll see," said Malcolm.
On his way back to the House, he knocked at Mrs Catanach's door,
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