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Donal Grant by George MacDonald


THE next day, after breakfast, Donal said to his host --

|Noo I maun pey ye for my shune, for gien I dinna pey at ance, I canna tell hoo muckle to ca' my ain, an' what I hae to gang by till I get mair.|

|Na, na,| returned the cobbler. |There's jist ae preejudice I hae left concernin' the Sawbath-day; I firmly believe it a preejudice, for siller 's the Lord's tu, but I canna win ower 't: I canna bring mysel' to tak siller for ony wark dune upo' 't! Sae ye maun jist be content to lat that flee stick to the Lord's wa'. Ye'll du as muckle for me some day!|

|There's naething left me but to thank ye,| said Donal. |There's the ludgin' an' the boord, though! -- I maun ken aboot them 'afore we gang farther.|

|They're nane o' my business,| replied Andrew. |I lea' a' that to the gudewife, an' I coonsel ye to du the same. She's a capital manager, an' winna chairge ye ower muckle.|

Donal could but yield, and presently went out for a stroll.

He wandered along the bank of the river till he came to the foot of the hill on which stood the castle. Seeing a gate, he approached it, and finding it open went in. A slow-ascending drive went through the trees, round and round the hill. He followed it a little way. An aromatic air now blew and now paused as he went. The trees seemed climbing up to attack the fortress above, which he could not see. When he had gone a few yards out of sight of the gate, he threw himself down among them, and fell into a reverie. The ancient time arose before him, when, without a tree to cover the approach of an enemy, the castle rose defiant and bare in its strength, like an athlete stripped for the fight, and the little town huddled close under its protection. What wars had there blustered, what rumours blown, what fears whispered, what sorrows moaned! But were there not now just as many evils as then? Let the world improve as it may, the deeper ill only breaks out afresh in new forms. Time itself, the staring, vacant, unlovely time, is to many the one dread foe. Others have a house empty and garnished, in which neither Love nor Hope dwells. A self, with no God to protect from it, a self unrulable, insatiable, makes of existence to some the hell called madness. Godless man is a horror of the unfinished -- a hopeless necessity for the unattainable! The most discontented are those who have all the truthless heart desires.

Thoughts like these were coming and going in Donal's brain, when he heard a slight sound somewhere near him -- the lightest of sounds indeed -- the turning of the leaf of a book. He raised his head and looked, but could see no one. At last, up through the tree-boles on the slope of the hill, he caught the shine of something white: it was the hand that held an open book. He took it for the hand of a lady. The trunk of a large tree hid the reclining form. He would go back! There was the lovely cloth-striped meadow to lie in!

He rose quietly, but not quietly enough to steal away. From behind the tree, a young man, rather tall and slender, rose and came towards him. Donal stood to receive him.

|I presume you are unaware that these grounds are not open to the public!| he said, not without a touch of haughtiness.

|I beg your pardon, sir,| said Donal. |I found the gate open, and the shade of the trees was enticing.|

|It is of no consequence,| returned the youth, now with some condescension; |only my father is apt to be annoyed if he sees any one -- |

He was interrupted by a cry from farther up the hill --

|Oh, there you are, Percy!|

|And there you are, Davie!| returned the youth kindly.

A boy of about ten came towards them precipitately, jumping stumps, and darting between stems.

|Take care, take care, Davie!| cried the other: |you may slip on a root and fall!|

|Oh, I know better than that! -- But you are engaged!|

|Not in the least. Come along.|

Donal lingered: the youth had not finish his speech!

|I went to Arkie,| said the boy, |but she couldn't help me. I can't make sense of this! I wouldn't care if it wasn't a story.|

He had an old folio under one arm, with a finger of the other hand in its leaves.

|It is a curious taste for a child!| said the youth, turning to Donal, in whom he had recognized the peasant-scholar: |this little brother of mine reads all the dull old romances he can lay his hands on.|

|Perhaps,| suggested Donal, |they are the only fictions within his reach! Could you not turn him loose upon sir Walter Scott?|

|A good suggestion!| he answered, casting a keen glance at Donal.

|Will you let me look at the passage?| said Donal to the boy, holding out his hand.

The boy opened the book, and gave it him. On the top of the page Donal read, |The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.| He had read of the book, but had never seen it.

|That's a grand book!| he said.

|Horribly dreary,| remarked the elder brother.

The younger reached up, and laid his finger on the page next him.

|There, sir!| he said; |that is the place: do tell me what it means.|

|I will try,| answered Donal; |I may not he able.|

He began to read at the top of the page.

|That's not the place, sir!| said the boy. |It is there.|

|I must know something of what goes before it first,| returned Donal.

|Oh, yes, sir; I see!| he answered, and stood silent.

He was a fair-haired boy, with ruddy cheeks and a healthy look -- sweet-tempered evidently.

Donal presently saw both what the sentence meant and the cause of his difficulty. He explained the thing to him.

|Thank you! thank you! Now I shall get on!| he cried, and ran up the hill.

|You seem to understand boys!| said the brother.

|I have always had a sort of ambition to understand ignorance.|

|Understand ignorance?|

|You know what queer shapes the shadows of the plainest things take: I never seem to understand any thing till I understand its shadow.|

The youth glanced keenly at Donal.

|I wish I had had a tutor like you!| he said.

|Why?| asked Donal.

|I should done better. -- Where do you live?|

Donal told him he was lodging with Andrew Comin, the cobbler. A silence followed.

|Good morning!| said the youth.

|Good morning, sir!| returned Donal, and went away.

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