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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXXIII. THE HOUSEKEEPER'S ROOM.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


HE was not so late the next morning.

Ere he had finished his breakfast he had made up his mind that he must beware of the earl. He was satisfied that the experiences of the past night could not be the consequence of one glass of wine. If he asked him again, he would go to dinner with him, but would drink nothing but water.

School was just over when Simmons came from his lordship, to inquire after him, and invite him to dine with him that evening. Donald immediately consented.

This time lady Arctura was not with the earl.

After as during dinner Donal declined to drink. His lordship cast on him a keen, searching glance, but it was only a glance, and took no farther notice of his refusal. The conversation, however, which had not been brilliant from the first, now sank and sank till it was not; and after a cup of coffee, his lordship, remarking that he was not feeling himself, begged Donal to excuse him, and proceeded to retire. Donal rose, and with a hope that his lordship would have a good night and feel better in the morning, left the room.

The passage outside was lighted only by a rather dim lamp, and in the distance Donal saw what he could but distinguish as the form of a woman, standing by the door which opened upon the great staircase. He supposed it at first to be one of the maids; but the servants were so few compared with the size of the castle that one was seldom to be met on stair or in passage; and besides, the form stood as if waiting for some one! As he drew nearer, he saw it was lady Arctura, and would have passed with an obeisance. But ere he could lay his hand on the lock, hers was there to prevent him. He then saw that she was agitated, and that she had stopped him thus because her voice had at the moment failed her. The next moment, however, she recovered it, and her self-possession as well.

|Mr. Grant,| she said, in a low voice, |I wish to speak to you -- if you will allow me.|

|I am at your service, my lady,| answered Donal.

|But we cannot here! My uncle -- |

|Shall we go into the picture-gallery?| suggested Donal; |there is moonlight there.|

|No; that would be still nearer my uncle. His hearing is sometimes preternaturally keen; and besides, as you know, he often walks there after his evening meal. But -- excuse me, Mr. Grant -- you will understand me presently -- are you -- are you quite -- ?|

|You mean, my lady -- am I quite myself this evening!| said Donal, wishing to help her with the embarrassing question: | -- I have drunk nothing but water to-night.|

With that she opened the door, and descended the stair, he following; but as soon as the curve of the staircase hid the door they had left, she stopped, and turning to him said,

|I would not have you mistake me, Mr. Grant! I should be ashamed to speak to you if -- |

|Indeed I am very sorry!| said Donal, | -- though hardly so much to blame as I fear you think me.|

|You mistake me at once! You suppose I imagine you took too much wine last night! It would be absurd. I saw what you took! But we must not talk here. Come.|

She turned again, and going down, led the way to the housekeeper's room.

They found her at work with her needle.

|Mistress Brookes,| said lady Arctura, |I want to have a little talk with Mr. Grant, and there is no fire in the library: may we sit here?|

|By all means! Sit doon, my lady! Why, bairn! you look as cold as if you had been on the roof! There! sit close to the fire; you're all trem'lin'!|

Lady Arctura obeyed like the child Mrs. Brookes called her, and sat down in the chair she gave up to her.

|I've something to see efter i' the still-room,| said the housekeeper. |You sit here and hae yer crack. Sit doon, Mr. Grant. I'm glad to see you an' my lady come to word o' mooth at last. I began to think it wud never be!|

Had Donal been in the way of looking to faces for the interpretation of words and thoughts, he would have seen a shadow sweep over lady Arctura's, followed by a flush, which he would have attributed to displeasure at this utterance of the housekeeper. But, with all his experience of the world within, and all his unusually developed power of entering into the feelings of others, he had never come to pry into those feelings, or to study their phenomena for the sake of possessing himself of them. Man was by no means an open book to him -- |no, nor woman neither,| but he would have scorned to supplement by such investigation what a lady chose to tell him. He sat looking into the fire, with an occasional upward glance, waiting for what was to come, and saw neither shadow nor flush. Lady Arctura sat also gazing into the fire, and seemed in no haste to begin.

|You are so good to Davie!| she said at length, and stopped.

|No better than I have to be,| returned Donal. |Not to be good to Davie would be to be a wretch.|

|You know, Mr. Grant, I cannot agree with you!|

|There is no immediate necessity, my lady.|

|But I suppose one may be fair to another!| she went on, doubtingly, | -- and it is only fair to confess that he is much more manageable since you came. Only that is no good if it does not come from the right source.|

|Grapes do not come from thorns, my lady. We must not allow in evil a power of good.|

She did not reply.

|He minds everything I say to him now,| she resumed. |What is it makes him so good? -- I wish I had had such a tutor!|

She stopped again: she had spoken out of the simplicity of her thought, but the words when said looked to her as if they ought not to have been said.

|Something is working in her!| thought Donal. |She is so different! Her voice is different!|

|But that is not what I wanted to speak to you about, Mr. Grant,| she re-commenced, | -- though I did want you to know I was aware of the improvement in Davie. I wished to say something about my uncle.|

Here followed another pause.

|You may have remarked,| she said at length, |that, though we live together, and he is my guardian, and the head of the house, there is not much communication between us.|

|I have gathered as much: I ask no questions, but I cannot tell Davie not to talk to me!|

|Of course not. -- Lord Morven is a strange man. I do not understand him, and I do not want to judge him, or make you judge him. But I must speak of a fact, concerning yourself, which I have no right to keep from you.|

Once more a pause followed. There was nothing now of the grand dame about Arctura.

|Has nothing occurred to wake a doubt in you?| she said at last, abruptly. |Have you not suspected him of -- of using you in any way?|

|I have had an undefined ghost of a suspicion,| answered Donal. |Please tell me what you know.|

|I should know nothing -- although, my room being near his, I should have been the more perplexed about some things -- had he not made an experiment upon myself a year ago.|

|Is it possible?|

|I sometimes fancy I have not been so well since. It was a great shock to me when I came to myself: -- you see I am trusting you, Mr. Grant!|

|I thank you heartily, my lady,| said Donal.

|I believe,| continued lady Arctura, gathering courage, |that my uncle is in the habit of taking some horrible drug for the sake of its effect on his brain. There are people who do so! What it is I don't know, and I would rather not know. It is just as bad, surely, as taking too much wine! I have heard himself remark to Mr. Carmichael that opium was worse than wine, for it destroyed the moral sense more. Mind I don't say it is opium he takes!|

|There are other things,| said Donal, |even worse! -- But surely you do not mean he dared try anything of the sort on you!|

|I am sure he gave me something! For, once that I dined with him, -- but I cannot describe the effect it had upon me! I think he wanted to see its operation on one who did not even know she had taken anything. The influence of such things is a pleasant one, they say, at first, but I would not go through such agonies as I had for the world!|

She ceased, evidently troubled by the harassing remembrance. Donal hastened to speak.

|It was because of such a suspicion, my lady, that this evening I would not even taste his wine. I am safe to-night, I trust, from the insanity -- I can call it nothing else -- that possessed me the last two nights.|

|Was it very dreadful?| asked lady Arctura.

|On the contrary, I had a sense of life and power such as I could never of myself have imagined!|

|Oh, Mr. Grant, do take care! Do not be tempted to take it again. I don't know where it might not have led me if I had found it as pleasant as it was horrible; for I am sorely tried with painful thoughts, and feel sometimes as if I would do almost anything to get rid of them.|

|There must be a good way of getting rid of them! Think it of God's mercy,| said Donal, |that you cannot get rid of them the other way.|

|I do; I do!|

|The shield of his presence was over you.|

|How glad I should be to think so! But we have no right to think he cares for us till we believe in Christ -- and -- and -- I don't know that I do believe in him!|

|Wherever you learned that, it is a terrible lie,| said Donal. |Is not Christ the same always, and is he not of one mind with God? Was it not while we were yet sinners that he poured out his soul for us? It is a fearful thing to say of the perfect Love, that he is not doing all he can, with all the power of a maker over the creature he has made, to help and deliver him!|

|I know he makes his sun to shine and his rain to fall upon the evil and the good; but those good things are only of this world!|

|Are those the good things then that the Lord says the Father will give to those that ask him? How can you worship a God who gives you all the little things he does not care much about, but will not do his best for you?|

|But are there not things he cannot do for us till we believe in Christ?|

|Certainly there are. But what I want you to see is that he does all that can be done. He finds it very hard to teach us, but he is never tired of trying. Anyone who is willing to be taught of God, will by him be taught, and thoroughly taught.|

|I am afraid I am doing wrong in listening to you, Mr. Grant -- and the more that I cannot help wishing what you say might be true! But are you not in danger -- you will pardon me for saying it -- of presumption? -- How can all the good people be wrong?|

|Because the greater part of their teachers have set themselves to explain God rather than to obey and enforce his will. The gospel is given to convince, not our understandings, but our hearts; that done, and never till then, our understandings will be free. Our Lord said he had many things to tell his disciples, but they were not able to hear them. If the things be true which I have heard from Sunday to Sunday since I came here, the Lord has brought us no salvation at all, but only a change of shape to our miseries. They have not redeemed you, lady Arctura, and never will. Nothing but Christ himself, your lord and friend and brother, not all the doctrines about him, even if every one of them were true, can save you. Poor orphan children, we cannot find our God, and they would have us take instead a shocking caricature of him!|

|But how should sinners know what is or is not like the true God?|

|If a man desires God, he cannot help knowing enough of him to be capable of learning more -- else how should he desire him? Made in the image of God, his idea of him cannot be all wrong. That does not make him fit to teach others -- only fit to go on learning for himself. But in Jesus Christ I see the very God I want. I want a father like him. He reproaches some of those about him for not knowing him -- for, if they had known God, they would have known him: they were to blame for not knowing God. No other than the God exactly like Christ can be the true God. It is a doctrine of devils that Jesus died to save us from our father. There is no safety, no good, no gladness, no purity, but with the Father, his father and our father, his God and our God.|

|But God hates sin and punishes it!|

|It would be terrible if he did not. All hatred of sin is love to the sinner. Do you think Jesus came to deliver us from the punishment of our sins? He would not have moved a step for that. The horrible thing is being bad, and all punishment is help to deliver us from that, nor will punishment cease till we have ceased to be bad. God will have us good, and Jesus works out the will of his father. Where is the refuge of the child who fears his father? Is it in the farthest corner of the room? Is it down in the dungeon of the castle, my lady?|

|No, no!| cried lady Arctura, | -- in his father's arms!|

|There!| said Donal, and was silent.

|I hold by Jesus!| he added after a pause, and rose as he said it, but stood where he rose.

Lady Arctura sat motionless, divided between reverence for distorted and false forms of truth taught her from her earliest years, and desire after a God whose very being is the bliss of his creatures.

Some time passed in silence, and then she too rose to depart. She held out her hand to Donal with a kind of irresolute motion, but withdrawing it, smiled almost beseechingly, and said,

|I wish I might ask you something. I know it is a rude question, but if you could see all, you would answer me and let the offence go.|

|I will answer you anything you choose to ask.|

|That makes it the more difficult; but I will -- I cannot bear to remain longer in doubt: did you really write that poem you gave to Kate Graeme -- compose it, I mean, your own self?|

|I made no secret of that when I gave it her,| said Donal, not perceiving her drift.

|Then you did really write it?|

Donal looked at her in perplexity. Her face grew very red, and tears began to come in her eyes.

|You must pardon me!| she said: |I am so ignorant! And we live in such an out-of-the-way place that -- that it seems very unlikely a real poet -- ! And then I have been told there are people who have a passion for appearing to do the thing they are not able to do, and I was anxious to be quite sure! My mind would keep brooding over it, and wondering, and longing to know for certain! -- So I resolved at last that I would be rid of the doubt, even at the risk of offending you. I know I have been rude -- unpardonably rude, but -- |

|But,| supplemented Donal, with a most sympathetic smile, for he understood her as his own thought, |you do not feel quite sure yet! What a priori reason do you see why I should not be able to write verses? There is no rule as to where poetry grows: one place is as good as another for that!|

|I hope you will forgive me! I hope I have not offended you very much!|

|Nobody in such a world as this ought to be offended at being asked for proof. If there are in it rogues that look like honest men, how is any one, without a special gift of insight, to be always sure of the honest man? Even the man whom a woman loves best will sometimes tear her heart to pieces! I will give you all the proof you can desire. -- And lest the tempter should say I made up the proof itself between now and to-morrow morning, I will fetch it at once.|

|Oh, Mr. Grant, spare me! I am not, indeed I am not so bad as that!|

|Who can tell when or whence the doubt may wake again, or what may wake it!|

|At least let me explain a little before you go,| she said.

|Certainly,| he answered, reseating himself, in compliance with her example.

|Miss Graeme told me that you had never seen a garden like theirs before!|

|I never did. There are none such, I fancy, in our part of the country.|

|Nor in our neighbourhood either.|

|Then what is surprising in it?|

|Nothing in that. But is there not something in your being able to write a poem like that about a garden such as you had never seen? One would say you must have been familiar with it from childhood to be able so to enter into the spirit of the place!|

|Perhaps if I had been familiar with it from childhood, that might have disabled me from feeling the spirit of it, for then might it not have looked to me as it looked to those in whose time such gardens were the fashion? Two things are necessary -- first, that there should be a spirit in a place, and next that the place should be seen by one whose spirit is capable of giving house-room to its spirit. -- By the way, does the ghost-lady feel the place all right?|

|I am not sure that I know what you mean; but I felt the grass with her feet as I read, and the wind lifting my hair. I seemed to know exactly how she felt!|

|Now tell me, were you ever a ghost?|

|No,| she answered, looking in his face like a child -- without even a smile.

|Did you ever see a ghost?|

|No, never.|

|Then how should you know how a ghost would feel?|

|I see! I cannot answer you.|

Donal rose.

|I am indeed ashamed!| said lady Arctura.

|Ashamed of giving me the chance of proving myself a true man?|

|That, at least, is no longer necessary!|

|But I want my revenge. As a punishment for doubting one whom you had so little ground for believing, you shall be compelled to see the proof -- that is, if you will do me the favour to wait here till I come back. I shall not be long, though it is some distance to the top of Baliol's tower.|

|Davie told me your room was there: do you not find it cold? It must be very lonely! I wonder why mistress Brookes put you there!|

Donal assured her he could not have had a place more to his mind, and before she could well think he had reached the foot of his stair, was back with a roll of papers, which he laid on the table.

|There!| he said, opening it out; |if you will take the trouble to go over these, you may read the growth of the poem. Here first you see it blocked out rather roughly, and much blotted with erasures and substitutions. Here next you see the result copied -- clean to begin with, but afterwards scored and scored. You see the words I chose instead of the first, and afterwards in their turn rejected, until in the proofs I reached those which I have as yet let stand. I do not fancy Miss Graeme has any doubt the verses are mine, for it was plain she thought them rubbish. From your pains to know who wrote them, I believe you do not think so badly of them!|

She thought he was satirical, and gave a slight sigh as of pain. It went to his heart.

|I did not mean the smallest reflection, my lady, on your desire for satisfaction,| he said; |rather, indeed, it flatters me. But is it not strange the heart should be less ready to believe what seems worth believing? Something must be true: why not the worthy -- oftener at least than the unworthy? Why should it be easier to believe hard things of God, for instance, than lovely things? -- or that one man copied from another, than that he should have made the thing himself? Some would yet say I contrived all this semblance of composition in order to lay the surer claim to that to which I had none -- nor would take the trouble to follow the thing through its development! But it will be easy for you, my lady, and no bad exercise in logic and analysis, to determine whether the genuine growth of the poem be before you in these papers or not.|

|I shall find it most interesting,| said lady Arctura: |so much I can tell already! I never saw anything of the kind before, and had no idea how poetry was made. Does it always take so much labour?|

|Some verses take much more; some none at all. The labour is in getting the husks of expression cleared off, so that the thought may show itself plainly.|

At this point Mrs. Brookes, thinking probably the young people had had long enough conference, entered, and after a little talk with her, lady Arctura kissed her and bade her good night. Donal retired to his aerial chamber, wondering whether the lady of the house had indeed changed as much as she seemed to have changed.

From that time, whether it was that lady Arctura had previously avoided meeting him and now did not, or from other causes, Donal and she met much oftener as they went about the place, nor did they ever pass without a mutual smile and greeting.

The next day but one, she brought him his papers to the schoolroom. She had read every erasure and correction, she told him, and could no longer have had a doubt that the writer of the papers was the maker of the verses, even had she not previously learned thorough confidence in the man himself.

|They would possibly fail to convince a jury though!| he said, as he rose and went to throw them in the fire.

Divining his intent, Arctura darted after him, and caught them just in time.

|Let me keep them,| she pleaded, | -- for my humiliation!|

|Do with them what you like, my lady,| said Donal. |They are of no value to me -- except that you care for them.|

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