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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXVII. THE SOUL OF THE OLD GARDEN.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XXVII. THE SOUL OF THE OLD GARDEN.

THE days went on and on, and still Donal saw nothing, or next to nothing of the earl. Thrice he met him on the way to the walled garden in which he was wont to take his unfrequent exercise; on one of these occasions his lordship spoke to him courteously, the next scarcely noticed him, the third passed him without recognition. Donal, who with equal mind took everything as it came, troubled himself not at all about the matter. He was doing his work as well as he knew how, and that was enough.

Now also he saw scarcely anything of lord Forgue either; he no longer sought his superior scholarship. Lady Arctura he saw generally once a week at the religion-lesson; of Miss Carmichael happily nothing at all. But as he grew more familiar with the countenance of lady Arctura, it pained him more and more to see it so sad, so far from peaceful. What might be the cause of it?

Most well-meaning young women are in general tolerably happy -- partly perhaps because they have few or no aspirations, not troubling themselves about what alone is the end of thought -- and partly perhaps because they despise the sadness ever ready to assail them, as something unworthy. But if condemned to the round of a tormenting theological mill, and at the same time consumed with strenuous endeavour to order thoughts and feelings according to supposed requirements of the gospel, with little to employ them and no companions to make them forget themselves, such would be at once more sad and more worthy. The narrow ways trodden of men are miserable; they have high walls on each side, and but an occasional glimpse of the sky above; and in such paths lady Arctura was trying to walk. The true way, though narrow, is not unlovely: most footpaths are lovelier than high roads. It may be full of toil, but it cannot be miserable. It has not walls, but fields and forests and gardens around it, and limitless sky overhead. It has its sorrows, but many of them lie only on its borders, and they that leave the path gather them. Lady Arctura was devouring her soul in silence, with such effectual help thereto as the self-sufficient friend, who had never encountered a real difficulty in her life, plenteously gave her. Miss Carmichael dealt with her honestly according to her wisdom, but that wisdom was foolishness; she said what she thought right, but was wrong in what she counted right; nay, she did what she thought right -- but no amount of doing wrong right can set the soul on the high table-land of freedom, or endow it with liberating help.

The autumn passed, and the winter was at hand -- a terrible time to the old and ailing even in tracts nearer the sun -- to the young and healthy a merry time even in the snows and bitter frosts of eastern Scotland. Davie looked chiefly to the skating, and in particular to the pleasure he was going to have in teaching Mr. Grant, who had never done any sliding except on the soles of his nailed shoes: when the time came, he acquired the art the more rapidly that he never minded what blunders he made in learning a thing. The dread of blundering is a great bar to success.

He visited the Comins often, and found continual comfort and help in their friendship. The letters he received from home, especially those of his friend sir Gibbie, who not unfrequently wrote also for Donal's father and mother, were a great nourishment to him.

As the cold and the nights grew, the water-level rose in Donal's well, and the poetry began to flow. When we have no summer without, we must supply it from within. Those must have comfort in themselves who are sent to help others. Up in his aerie, like an eagle above the low affairs of the earth, he led a keener life, breathed the breath of a more genuine existence than the rest of the house. No doubt the old cobbler, seated at his last over a mouldy shoe, breathed a yet higher air than Donal weaving his verse, or reading grand old Greek, in his tower; but Donal was on the same path, the only path with an infinite end -- the divine destiny.

He had often thought of trying the old man with some of the best poetry he knew, desirous of knowing what receptivity he might have for it; but always when with him had hitherto forgot his proposed inquiry, and thought of it again only after he had left him: the original flow of the cobbler's life put the thought of testing it out of his mind.

One afternoon, when the last of the leaves had fallen, and the country was bare as the heart of an old man who has lived to himself, Donal, seated before a great fire of coal and boat-logs, fell a thinking of the old garden, vanished with the summer, but living in the memory of its delight. All that was left of it at the foot of the hill was its corpse, but its soul was in the heaven of Donal's spirit, and there this night gathered to itself a new form. It grew and grew in him, till it filled with its thoughts the mind of the poet. He turned to his table, and began to write: with many emendations afterwards, the result was this: --

THE OLD GARDEN.

I.

I stood in an ancient garden

With high red walls around;

Over them gray and green lichens

In shadowy arabesque wound.

The topmost climbing blossoms

On fields kine-haunted looked out;

But within were shelter and shadow,

And daintiest odours about.

There were alleys and lurking arbours --

Deep glooms into which to dive;

The lawns were as soft as fleeces --

Of daisies I counted but five.

The sun-dial was so aged

It had gathered a thoughtful grace;

And the round-about of the shadow

Seemed to have furrowed its face.

The flowers were all of the oldest

That ever in garden sprung;

Red, and blood-red, and dark purple,

The rose-lamps flaming hung.

Along the borders fringéd

With broad thick edges of box,

Stood fox-gloves and gorgeous poppies,

And great-eyed hollyhocks.

There were junipers trimmed into castles,

And ash-trees bowed into tents;

For the garden, though ancient and pensive,

Still wore quaint ornaments.

It was all so stately fantastic,

Its old wind hardly would stir:

Young Spring, when she merrily entered,

Must feel it no place for her!

II.

I stood in the summer morning

Under a cavernous yew;

The sun was gently climbing,

And the scents rose after the dew.

I saw the wise old mansion,

Like a cow in the noonday-heat,

Stand in a pool of shadows

That rippled about its feet.

Its windows were oriel and latticed,

Lowly and wide and fair;

And its chimneys like clustered pillars

Stood up in the thin blue air.

White doves, like the thoughts of a lady,

Haunted it in and out;

With a train of green and blue comets,

The peacock went marching about.

The birds in the trees were singing

A song as old as the world,

Of love and green leaves and sunshine,

And winter folded and furled.

They sang that never was sadness

But it melted and passed away;

They sang that never was darkness

But in came the conquering day.

And I knew that a maiden somewhere,

In a sober sunlit gloom,

In a nimbus of shining garments,

An aureole of white-browed bloom,

Looked out on the garden dreamy,

And knew not that it was old;

Looked past the gray and the sombre,

And saw but the green and the gold.

III.

I stood in the gathering twilight,

In a gently blowing wind;

And the house looked half uneasy,

Like one that was left behind.

The roses had lost their redness,

And cold the grass had grown;

At roost were the pigeons and peacock,

And the dial was dead gray stone.

The world by the gathering twilight

In a gauzy dusk was clad;

It went in through my eyes to my spirit,

And made me a little sad.

Grew and gathered the twilight,

And filled my heart and brain;

The sadness grew more than sadness,

And turned to a gentle pain.

Browned and brooded the twilight,

And sank down through the calm,

Till it seemed for some human sorrows

There could not be any balm.

IV.

Then I knew that, up a staircase,

Which untrod will yet creak and shake,

Deep in a distant chamber,

A ghost was coming awake.

In the growing darkness growing --

Growing till her eyes appear,

Like spots of a deeper twilight,

But more transparent clear --

Thin as hot air up-trembling,

Thin as a sun-molten crape,

The deepening shadow of something

Taketh a certain shape;

A shape whose hands are uplifted

To throw back her blinding hair;

A shape whose bosom is heaving,

But draws not in the air.

And I know, by what time the moonlight

On her nest of shadows will sit,

Out on the dim lawn gliding

That shadow of shadows will flit.

V.

The moon is dreaming upward

From a sea of cloud and gleam;

She looks as if she had seen us

Never but in a dream.

Down that stair I know she is coming,

Bare-footed, lifting her train;

It creaks not -- she hears it creaking,

For the sound is in her brain.

Out at the side-door she's coming,

With a timid glance right and left!

Her look is hopeless yet eager,

The look of a heart bereft.

Across the lawn she is flitting,

Her eddying robe in the wind!

Are her fair feet bending the grasses?

Her hair is half lifted behind!

VI.

Shall I stay to look on her nearer?

Would she start and vanish away?

No, no; she will never see me,

If I stand as near as I may!

It is not this wind she is feeling,

Not this cool grass below;

'Tis the wind and the grass of an evening

A hundred years ago.

She sees no roses darkling,

No stately hollyhocks dim;

She is only thinking and dreaming

Of the garden, the night, and him;

Of the unlit windows behind her,

Of the timeless dial-stone,

Of the trees, and the moon, and the shadows,

A hundred years agone.

'Tis a night for all ghostly lovers

To haunt the best-loved spot:

Is he come in his dreams to this garden?

I gaze, but I see him not.

VII.

I will not look on her nearer --

My heart would be torn in twain;

From mine eyes the garden would vanish

In the falling of their rain!

I will not look on a sorrow

That darkens into despair;

On the surge of a heart that cannot --

Yet cannot cease to bear!

My soul to hers would be calling --

She would hear no word it said;

If I cried aloud in the stillness,

She would never turn her head!

She is dreaming the sky above her,

She is dreaming the earth below: --

This night she lost her lover,

A hundred years ago.

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