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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER XII. THE CASTLE.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


THE next morning came a cart from the castle to fetch his box; and after breakfast he set out for his new abode.

He took the path by the river-side. The morning was glorious. The sun and the river and the birds were jubilant, and the wind gave life to everything. It rippled the stream, and fluttered the long webs bleaching in the sun: they rose and fell like white waves on the bright green lake; and women, homely Nereids of the grassy sea, were besprinkling them with spray. There were dull sounds of wooden machinery near, but they made no discord with the sweetness of the hour, speaking only of activity, not labour. From the long bleaching meadows by the river-side rose the wooded base of the castle. Donal's bosom swelled with delight; then came a sting: was he already forgetting his inextinguishable grief? |But,| he answered himself, |God is more to me than any woman! When he puts joy in my heart, shall I not be glad? When he calls my name shall I not answer?|

He stepped out joyfully, and was soon climbing the hill. He was again admitted by the old butler.

|I will show you at once,| he said, |how to go and come at your own will.|

He led him through doors and along passages to a postern opening on a little walled garden at the east end of the castle.

|This door,| he said, |is, you observe, at the foot of Baliol's tower, and in that tower is your room; I will show it you.|

He led the way up a spiral stair that might almost have gone inside the newel of the great staircase. Up and up they went, until Donal began to wonder, and still they went up.

|You're young, sir,| said the butler, |and sound of wind and limb; so you'll soon think nothing of it.|

|I never was up so high before, except on a hill-side,| returned Donal. |The college-tower is nothing to this!|

|In a day or two you'll be shooting up and down it like a bird. I used to do so myself. I got into the way of keeping a shoulder foremost, and screwing up as if I was a blob of air! Old age does make fools of us!|

|You don't like it then?|

|No, I do not: who does?|

|It's only that you get spent as you go up. The fresh air at the top of the stair will soon revive you,| said Donal.

But his conductor did not understand him.

|That's all very well so long as you're young; but when it has got you, you'll pant and grumble like the rest of us.|

In the distance Donal saw Age coming slowly after him, to claw him in his clutch, as the old song says. |Please God,| he thought, |by the time he comes up, I'll be ready to try a fall with him! O Thou eternally young, the years have no hold on thee; let them have none on thy child. I too shall have life eternal.|

Ere they reached the top of the stair, the man halted and opened a door. Donal entering saw a small room, nearly round, a portion of the circle taken off by the stair. On the opposite side was a window projecting from the wall, whence he could look in three different directions. The wide country lay at his feet. He saw the winding road by which he had ascended, the gate by which he had entered, the meadow with its white stripes through which he had come, and the river flowing down. He followed it with his eyes: -- lo, there was the sea, shining in the sun like a diamond shield! It was but the little German Ocean, yet one with the great world-ocean. He turned to his conductor.

|Yes,| said the old man, answering his look, |it's a glorious sight! When first I looked out there I thought I was in eternity.|

The walls were bare even of plaster; he could have counted the stones in them; but they were dry as a bone.

|You are wondering,| said the old man, |how you are to keep warm in the winter! Look here: you shut this door over the window! See how thick and strong it is! There is your fireplace; and for fuel, there's plenty below! It is a labour to carry it up, I grant; but if I was you, I would set to o' nights when nobody was about, and carry till I had a stock laid in!|

|But,| said Donal, |I should fill up my room. I like to be able to move about a little!|

|Ah,| replied the old man, |you don't know what a space you have up here all to yourself! Come this way.|

Two turns more up the stair, and they came to another door. It opened into wide space: from it Donal stepped on a ledge or bartizan, without any parapet, that ran round the tower, passing above the window of his room. It was well he had a steady brain, for he found the height affect him more than that of a precipice on Glashgar: doubtless he would get used to it, for the old man had stepped out without the smallest hesitation! Round the tower he followed him.

On the other side a few steps rose to a watch-tower -- a sort of ornate sentry-box in stone, where one might sit and regard with wide vision the whole country. Avoiding this, another step or two led them to the roof of the castle -- of great stone slabs. A broad passage ran between the rise of the roof and a battlemented parapet. By this time they came to a flat roof, on to which they descended by a few steps. Here stood two rough sheds, with nothing in them.

|There's stowage!| said the old man.

|Yes, indeed!| answered Donal, to whom the idea of his aerie was growing more and more agreeable. |But would there be no objection to my using the place for such a purpose?|

|What objection?| returned his guide. |I doubt if a single person but myself knows it.|

|And shall I be allowed to carry up as much as I please?|

|I allow you,| said the butler, with importance. |Of course you will not waste -- I am dead against waste! But as to what is needful, use your freedom. -- Dinner will be ready for you in the schoolroom at seven.|

At the door of his room the old man left him, and after listening for a moment to his descending steps, Donal re-entered his chamber.

Why they put him so apart, Donal never asked himself; that he should have such command of his leisure as this isolation promised him was a consequence very satisfactory. He proceeded at once to settle himself in his new quarters. Finding some shelves in a recess of the wall, he arranged his books upon them, and laid his few clothes in the chest of drawers beneath. He then got out his writing material, and sat down.

Though his window was so high, the warm pure air came in full of the aromatic odours rising in the hot sunshine from the young pine trees far below, and from a lark far above descended news of heaven-gate. The scent came up and the song came down all the time he was writing to his mother -- a long letter. When he had closed and addressed it, he fell into a reverie. Apparently he was to have his meals by himself: he was glad of it: he would be able to read all the time! But how was he to find the schoolroom! Some one would surely fetch him! They would remember he did not know his way about the place! It wanted yet an hour to dinner-time when, finding himself drowsy, he threw himself on his bed, where presently he fell fast asleep.

The night descended, and when he came to himself, its silences were deep around him. It was not dark: there was no moon, but the twilight was clear. He could read the face of his watch: it was twelve o'clock! No one had missed him! He was very hungry! But he had been hungrier before and survived it! In his wallet were still some remnants of oat-cake! He took it in his hand, and stepping out on the bartizan, crept with careful steps round to the watch-tower. There he seated himself in the stone chair, and ate his dry morsels in the starry presences. Sleep had refreshed him, and he was wide awake, yet there was on him the sense of a strange existence. Never before had he so known himself! Often had he passed the night in the open air, but never before had his night-consciousness been such! Never had he felt the same way alone. He was parted from the whole earth, like the ship-boy on the giddy mast! Nothing was below but a dimness; the earth and all that was in it was massed into a vague shadow. It was as if he had died and gone where existence was independent of solidity and sense. Above him was domed the vast of the starry heavens; he could neither flee from it nor ascend to it! For a moment he felt it the symbol of life, yet an unattainable hopeless thing. He hung suspended between heaven and earth, an outcast of both, a denizen of neither! The true life seemed ever to retreat, never to await his grasp. Nothing but the beholding of the face of the Son of Man could set him at rest as to its reality; nothing less than the assurance from his own mouth could satisfy him that all was true, all well: life was a thing so essentially divine, that he could not know it in itself till his own essence was pure! But alas, how dream-like was the old story! Was God indeed to be reached by the prayers, affected by the needs of men? How was he to feel sure of it? Once more, as often heretofore, he found himself crying into the great world to know whether there was an ear to hear. What if there should come to him no answer? How frightful then would be his loneliness! But to seem not to be heard might be part of the discipline of his darkness! It might be for the perfecting of his faith that he must not yet know how near God was to him!

|Lord,| he cried, |eternal life is to know thee and thy Father; I do not know thee and thy Father; I have not eternal life; I have but life enough to hunger for more: show me plainly of the Father whom thou alone knowest.|

And as he prayed, something like a touch of God seemed to begin and grow in him till it was more than his heart could hold, and the universe about him was not large enough to hold in its hollow the heart that swelled with it.

|God is enough,| he said, and sat in peace.

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