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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER IV. THE TOWN.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


DONAL was queer, some of my readers will think, and I admit it; for the man who regards the affairs of life from any other point than his own greedy self, must be queer indeed in the eyes of all who are slaves to their imagined necessities and undisputed desires.

It was evening when he drew nigh the place whither he had directed his steps -- a little country town, not far from a famous seat of learning: there he would make inquiry before going further. The minister of his parish knew the minister of Auchars, and had given him a letter of introduction. The country around had not a few dwellings of distinction, and at one or another of these might be children in want of a tutor.

The sun was setting over the hills behind him as he entered the little town. At first it looked but a village, for on the outskirts, through which the king's highway led, were chiefly thatched cottages, with here and there a slated house of one story and an attic; but presently began to appear houses of larger size -- few of them, however, of more than two stories. Most of them looked as if they had a long and not very happy history. All at once he found himself in a street, partly of quaint gables with corbel steps; they called them here corbie-steps, in allusion, perhaps, to the raven sent out by Noah, for which lazy bird the children regarded these as places to rest. There were two or three curious gateways in it with some attempt at decoration, and one house with the pepperpot turrets which Scotish architecture has borrowed from the French chateau. The heart of the town was a yet narrower, close-built street, with several short closes and wynds opening out of it -- all of which had ancient looking houses. There were shops not a few, but their windows were those of dwellings, as the upper parts of their buildings mostly were. In those shops was as good a supply of the necessities of life as in a great town, and cheaper. You could not get a coat so well cut, nor a pair of shoes to fit you so tight without hurting, but you could get first-rate work. The streets were unevenly paved with round, water-worn stones: Donal was not sorry that he had not to walk far upon them.

The setting sun sent his shadow before him as he entered the place. He kept the middle of the street, looking on this side and that for the hostelry whither he had despatched his chest before leaving home. A gloomy building, apparently uninhabited, drew his attention, and sent a strange thrill through him as his eyes fell upon it. It was of three low stories, the windows defended by iron stanchions, the door studded with great knobs of iron. A little way beyond he caught sight of the sign he was in search of. It swung in front of an old-fashioned, dingy building, with much of the old-world look that pervaded the town. The last red rays of the sun were upon it, lighting up a sorely faded coat of arms. The supporters, two red horses on their hind legs, were all of it he could make out. The crest above suggested a skate, but could hardly have been intended for one. A greedy-eyed man stood in the doorway, his hands in his trouser-pockets. He looked with contemptuous scrutiny at the bare-footed lad approaching him. He had black hair and black eyes; his nose looked as if a heavy finger had settled upon its point, and pressed it downwards: its nostrils swelled wide beyond their base; underneath was a big mouth with a good set of teeth, and a strong upturning chin -- an ambitious and greedy face. But ambition is a form of greed.

|A fine day, landlord!| said Donal.

|Ay,| answered the man, without changing the posture of one taking his ease against his own door-post, or removing his hands from his pockets, but looking Donal up and down with conscious superiority, then resting his eyes on the bare feet and upturned trousers.

|This'll be the Morven Arms, I'm thinkin'?| said Donal.

|It taksna muckle thoucht to think that,| returned the inn-keeper, |whan there they hing!|

|Ay,| rejoined Donal, glancing up; |there is something there -- an' it's airms I doobtna; but it's no a'body has the preevilege o' a knowledge o' heraldry like yersel', lan'lord! I'm b'un' to confess, for what I ken they micht be the airms o' ony ane o' ten score Scots faimilies.|

There was one weapon with which John Glumm was assailable, and that was ridicule: with all his self-sufficiency he stood in terror of it -- and the more covert the ridicule, so long as he suspected it, the more he resented as well as dreaded it. He stepped into the street, and taking a hand from a pocket, pointed up to the sign.

|See til't!| he said. |Dinna ye see the twa reid horse?|

|Ay,| answered Donal; |I see them weel eneuch, but I'm nane the wiser nor gien they war twa reid whauls. -- Man,| he went on, turning sharp round upon the fellow, |ye're no cawpable o' conceivin' the extent o' my ignorance! It's as rampant as the reid horse upo' your sign! I'll yield to naebody i' the amoont o' things I dinna ken!|

The man stared at him for a moment.

|I s' warran',| he said, |ye ken mair nor ye care to lat on!|

|An' what may that be ower the heid o' them? -- A crest, ca' ye 't?| said Donal.

|It's a base pearl-beset,| answered the landlord.

He had not a notion of what a base meant, or pearl-beset, yet prided himself on his knowledge of the words.

|Eh,| returned Donal, |I took it for a skate!|

|A skate!| repeated the landlord with offended sneer, and turned towards the house.

|I was thinkin' to put up wi' ye the nicht, gien ye could accommodate me at a rizzonable rate,| said Donal.

|I dinna ken,| replied Glumm, hesitating, with his back to him, between unwillingness to lose a penny, and resentment at the supposed badinage, which was indeed nothing but humour; |what wad ye ca' rizzonable?|

|I wadna grudge a saxpence for my bed; a shillin' I wad,| answered Donal.

|Weel, ninepence than -- for ye seemna owercome wi' siller.|

|Na,| answered Donal, |I'm no that. Whatever my burden, yon's no hit. The loss o' what I hae wad hardly mak me lichter for my race.|

|Ye're a queer customer!| said the man.

|I'm no sae queer but I hae a kist comin' by the carrier,| rejoined Donal, |direckit to the Morven Airms. It'll be here in time doobtless.|

|We'll see whan it comes,| remarked the landlord, implying the chest was easier invented than believed in.

|The warst o' 't is,| continued Donal, |I canna weel shaw mysel' wantin' shune. I hae a pair i' my kist, an' anither upo' my back, -- but nane for my feet.|

|There's sutors enew,| said the innkeeper.

|Weel we'll see as we gang. I want a word wi' the minister. Wad ye direc' me to the manse?|

|He's frae hame. But it's o' sma' consequence; he disna care aboot tramps, honest man! He winna waur muckle upo' the likes o' you.|

The landlord was recovering himself -- therefore his insolence.

Donal gave a laugh. Those who are content with what they are, have the less concern about what they seem. The ambitious like to be taken for more than they are, and may well be annoyed when they are taken for less.

|I'm thinkin' ye wadna waur muckle on a tramp aither!| he said.

|I wad not,| answered Glumm. |It's the pairt o' the honest to discoontenance lawlessness.|

|Ye wadna hang the puir craturs, wad ye?| asked Donal.

|I wad hang a wheen mair o' them.|

|For no haein' a hoose ower their heads? That's some hard! What gien ye was ae day to be in want o' ane yersel'!|

|We'll bide till the day comes. -- But what are ye stan'in' there for? Are ye comin' in, or are ye no?|

|It's a some cauld welcome!| said Donal. |I s' jist tak a luik aboot afore I mak up my min'. A tramp, ye ken, needsna stan' upo' ceremony.|

He turned away and walked further along the street.

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