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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER XX. THE OLD GARDEN.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


THE avenue seemed to Donal about to stop dead against a high wall, but ere they quite reached the end, they turned at right angles, skirted the wall for some distance, then turned again with it. It was a somewhat dreary wall -- of gray stone, with mortar as gray -- not like the rich-coloured walls of old red brick one meets in England. But its roof-like coping was crowned with tufts of wall-plants, and a few lichens did something to relieve the grayness. It guided them to a farm-yard. Mr. Graeme left his horse at the stable, and led the way to the house.

They entered it by a back door whose porch was covered with ivy, and going through several low passages, came to the other side of the house. There Mr. Graeme showed Donal into a large, low-ceiled, old-fashioned drawing-room, smelling of ancient rose-leaves, their odour of sad hearts rather than of withered flowers -- and leaving him went to find his sister.

Glancing about him Donal saw a window open to the ground, and went to it. Beyond lay a more fairy-like garden than he had ever dreamed of. But he had read of, though never looked on such, and seemed to know it from times of old. It was laid out in straight lines, with soft walks of old turf, and in it grew all kinds of straight aspiring things: their ambition seemed -- to get up, not to spread abroad. He stepped out of the window, drawn as by the enchantment of one of childhood's dreams, and went wandering down a broad walk, his foot sinking deep in the velvety grass, and the loveliness of the dream did not fade. Hollyhocks, gloriously impatient, whose flowers could not wait to reach the top ere they burst into the flame of life, making splendid blots of colour along their ascending stalks, received him like stately dames of faerie, and enticed him, gently eager for more, down the long walks between rows of them -- deep red and creamy white, primrose and yellow: sure they were leading him to some wonderful spot, some nest of lovely dreams and more lovely visions! The walk did lead to a bower of roses -- a bed surrounded with a trellis, on which they climbed and made a huge bonfire -- altar of incense rather, glowing with red and white flame. It seemed more glorious than his brain could receive. Seeing was hardly believing, but believing was more than seeing: though nothing is too good to be true, many things are too good to be grasped.

|Poor misbelieving birds of God,| he said to himself, |we hover about a whole wood of the trees of life, venturing only here and there a peck, as if their fruit might be poison, and the design of our creation was our ruin! we shake our wise, owl-feathered heads, and declare they cannot be the trees of life: that were too good to be true! Ten times more consistent are they who deny there is a God at all, than they who believe in a middling kind of God -- except indeed that they place in him a fitting faith!|

The thoughts rose gently in his full heart, as the flowers, one after the other, stole in at his eyes, looking up from the dark earth like the spirits of its hidden jewels, which themselves could not reach the sun, exhaled in longing. Over grass which fondled his feet like the lap of an old nurse, he walked slowly round the bed of the roses, turning again towards the house. But there, half-way between him and it, was the lady of the garden descending to meet him! -- not ancient like the garden, but young like its flowers, light-footed, and full of life.

Prepared by her brother to be friendly, she met him with a pleasant smile, and he saw that the light which shone in her dark eyes had in it rays of laughter. She had a dark, yet clear complexion, a good forehead, a nose after no recognized generation of noses, yet an attractive one, a mouth larger than to human judgment might have seemed necessary, yet a right pleasing mouth, with two rows of lovely teeth. All this Donal saw approach without dismay. He was no more shy with women than with men; while none the less his feeling towards them partook largely of the reverence of the ideal knight errant. He would not indeed have been shy in the presence of an angel of God; for his only courage came of truth, and clothed in the dignity of his reverence, he could look in the face of the lovely without perturbation. He would not have sought to hide from him whose voice was in the garden, but would have made haste to cast himself at his feet.

Bonnet in hand he advanced to meet Kate Graeme. She held out to him a well-shaped, good-sized hand, not ignorant of work -- capable indeed of milking a cow to the cow's satisfaction. Then he saw that her chin was strong, and her dark hair not too tidy; that she was rather tall, and slenderly conceived though plumply carried out. Her light approach pleased him. He liked the way her foot pressed the grass. If Donal loved anything in the green world, it was neither roses nor hollyhocks, nor even sweet peas, but the grass that is trodden under foot, that springs in all waste places, and has so often to be glad of the dews of heaven to heal the hot cut of the scythe. He had long abjured the notion of anything in the vegetable kingdom being without some sense of life, without pleasure and pain also, in mild form and degree.

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