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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXXIV. COBBLER AND CASTLE.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


IN the bosom of the family in which the elements seem most kindly mixed, there may yet lie some root of discord and disruption, upon which the foreign influence necessary to its appearance above ground, has not yet come to operate. That things are quiet is no proof, only a hopeful sign of harmony. In a family of such poor accord as that at the castle, the peace might well at any moment be broken.

Lord Forgue had been for some time on a visit to Edinburgh, had doubtless there been made much of, and had returned with a considerable development of haughtiness, and of that freedom which means subjugation to self, and freedom from the law of liberty. It is often when a man is least satisfied -- not with himself but with his immediate doings -- that he is most ready to assert his superiority to the restraints he might formerly have grumbled against, but had not dared to dispute -- and to claim from others such consideration as accords with a false idea of his personal standing. But for a while Donal and he barely saw each other; Donal had no occasion to regard him; and lord Forgue kept so much to himself that Davie made lamentation: Percy was not half so jolly as he used to be!

For a fortnight Eppy had not been to see her grand-parents; and as the last week something had prevented Donal also from paying them his customary visit, the old people had naturally become uneasy; and one frosty twilight, when the last of the sunlight had turned to cold green in the west, Andrew Comin appeared in the castle kitchen, asking to see mistress Brookes. He was kindly received by the servants, among whom Eppy was not present; and Mrs. Brookes, who had a genuine respect for the cobbler, soon came to greet him. She told him she knew no reason why Eppy had not gone to inquire after them as usual: she would send for her, she said, and left the kitchen.

Eppy was not at the moment to be found, but Donal, whom mistress Brookes had gone herself to seek, went at once to the kitchen.

|Will you come out a bit, Andrew,| he said, | -- if you're not tired? It's a fine night, and it's easy to talk in the gloamin'!|

Andrew consented with alacrity.

On the side of the castle away from the town, the descent was at first by a succession of terraces with steps from the one to the other, the terraces themselves being little flower-gardens. At the bottom of the last of these terraces and parallel with them, was a double row of trees, forming a long narrow avenue between two little doors in two walls at opposite ends of the castle. One of these led to some of the offices; the other admitted to a fruit garden which turned the western shoulder of the hill, and found for the greater part a nearly southern exposure. At this time of the year it was a lonely enough place, and at this time of the day more than likely to be altogether deserted: thither Donal would lead his friend. Going out therefore by the kitchen-door, they went first into a stable-yard, from which descended steps to the castle-well, on the level of the second terrace. Thence they arrived, by more steps, at the mews where in old times the hawks were kept, now rather ruinous though not quite neglected. Here the one wall-door opened on the avenue which led to the other. It was one of the pleasantest walks in immediate proximity to the castle.

The first of the steely stars were shining through the naked rafters of leafless boughs overhead, as Donal and the cobbler stepped, gently talking, into the aisle of trees. The old man looked up, gazed for a moment in silence, and said: --

|'The heavens declare the glory o' God, an' the firmament showeth his handy-work.' I used, whan I was a lad, to study astronomy a wee, i' the houp o' better hearin' what the h'avens declared aboot the glory o' God: I wud fain un'erstan' the speech ae day cried across the nicht to the ither. But I was sair disapp'intit. The things the astronomer tellt semple fowk war verra won'erfu', but I couldna fin' i' my hert 'at they made me think ony mair o' God nor I did afore. I dinna mean to say they michtna be competent to work that in anither, but it wasna my experrience o' them. My hert was some sair at this, for ye see I was set upo' winnin' intil the presence o' him I couldna bide frae, an' at that time I hadna learnt to gang straucht to him wha's the express image o' 's person, but, aye soucht him throuw the philosophy -- eh, but it was bairnly philosophy! -- o' the guid buiks 'at dwall upo' the natur' o' God an' a' that, an' his hatred o' sin an' a' that -- pairt an' pairt true, nae doobt! but I wantit God great an' near, an' they made him oot sma', sma', an' unco' far awa'. Ae nicht I was oot by mysel' upo' the shore, jist as the stars war teetin' oot. An' it wasna as gien they war feart o' the sun, an' pleast 'at he was gane, but as gien they war a' teetin' oot to see what had come o' their Father o' Lichts. A' at ance I cam to mysel', like oot o' some blin' delusion. Up I cuist my e'en aboon -- an' eh, there was the h'aven as God made it -- awfu'! -- big an' deep, ay faddomless deep, an' fu' o' the wan'erin' yet steady lichts 'at naething can blaw oot, but the breath o' his mooth! Awa' up an' up it gaed, an' deeper an' deeper! an' my e'en gaed traivellin' awa' an' awa', till it seemed as though they never could win back to me. A' at ance they drappit frae the lift like a laverock, an' lichtit upo' the horizon, whaur the sea an' the sky met like richteousness an' peace kissin' ane anither, as the psalm says. Noo I canna tell what it was, but jist there whaur the earth an' the sky cam thegither, was the meetin' o' my earthly sowl wi' God's h'avenly sowl! There was bonny colours, an' bonny lichts, an' a bonny grit star hingin' ower 't a', but it was nane o' a' thae things; it was something deeper nor a', an' heicher nor a'! Frae that moment I saw -- no hoo the h'avens declare the glory o' God, but I saw them declarin' 't, an' I wantit nae mair. Astronomy for me micht sit an' wait for a better warl', whaur fowk didna weir oot their shune, an' ither fowk hadna to men' them. For what is the great glory o' God but that, though no man can comprehen' him, he comes doon, an' lays his cheek til his man's, an' says til him, 'Eh, my cratur!'|

While the cobbler was thus talking, they had gone the length of the avenue, and were within less than two trees of the door of the fruit-garden, when it opened, and was hurriedly shut again -- not, however, before Donal had caught sight, as he believed, of the form of Eppy. He called her by name, and ran to the door, followed by Andrew: the same suspicion had struck both of them at once! Donal lifted the latch, and would have opened the door, but some one held it against him, and he heard the noise of an attempt to push the rusty bolt into the staple. He set his strength to it, and forced the door open. Lord Forgue was on the other side of it, and a little way off stood Eppy trembling. Donal turned away from his lordship, and said to the girl,

|Eppy, here's your grandfather come to see you!|

The cobbler, however, went up to lord Forgue.

|You're a young man, my lord,| he said, |an' may regard it as folly in an auld man to interfere between you an' your wull; but I warn ye, my lord, excep' you cease to carry yourself thus towards my granddaughter, his lordship, your father, shall be informed of the matter. Eppy, you come home with me.|

|I will not,| said Eppy, her voice trembling with passion, though which passion it were hard to say; |I am a free woman. I make my own living. I will not be treated like a child!|

|I will speak to mistress Brookes,| said the old man, with sad dignity.

|And make her turn me away!| said Eppy.

She seemed quite changed -- bold and determined -- was probably relieved that she could no more play a false part. His lordship stood and said nothing.

|But don't you think, grandfather,| continued Eppy, |that whatever mistress Brookes says or does, I'll go home with you! I've saved money, and, as I can't get another place here when you've taken away my character, I'll leave the country.|

His lordship advanced, and with strained composure said,

|I confess, Mr. Comin, things do look against us. It is awkward you should have found us together, but you know| -- and here he attempted a laugh -- |we are told not to judge by appearances!|

|We may be forced to act by them, though, my lord!| said Andrew. |I should be sorry to judge aither of you by them. Eppy must come home with me, or it will be more awkward yet for both of you!|

|Oh, if you threaten us,| said Forgue contemptuously, |then of course we are very frightened! But you had better beware! You will only make it the more difficult for me to do your granddaughter the justice I always intended.|

|What your lordship's notion o' justice may be, I wull not trouble you to explain,| said the old man. |All I desire for the present is, that she come home with me.|

|Let us leave the matter to mistress Brookes!| said Forgue. |I shall easily satisfy her that there is no occasion for any hurry. Believe me, you will only bring trouble on the innocent!|

|Then it canna be on you, my lord! for in this thing you have not behaved as a gentleman ought!| said the cobbler.

|You dare tell me so!| cried Forgue, striding up to the little old man, as if he would sweep him away with the very wind of his approach.

|Yes; for else how should I say it to another, an' that may soon be necessar'!| answered the cobbler. |Didna yer lordship promise an en' to the haill meeserable affair?|

|I remember nothing of the sort.|

|You did to me!| said Donal.

|Do hold your tongue, Grant, and don't make things worse. To you I can easily explain it. Besides, you have nothing to do with it now this good fellow has taken it up. It is quite possible, besides, to break one's word to the ear and yet keep it to the sense.|

|The only thing to justify that suggestion,| said Donal, |would be that you had married Eppy, or were about to marry her!|

Eppy would have spoken; but she only gave a little cry, for Forgue put his hand over her mouth.

|You hold your tongue!| he said; |you will only complicate matters!|

|And there's another point, my lord,| resumed Donal: |you say I have nothing to do now with the affair: if not for my friend's sake, I have for my own.|

|What do you mean?|

|That I am in the house a paid servant, and must not allow anything mischievous to go on in it without acquainting my master.|

|You acknowledge, Mr. Grant, that you are neither more nor less than a paid servant, but you mistake your duty as such: I shall be happy to explain it to you. -- You have nothing whatever to do with what goes on in the house; you have but to mind your work. I told you before, you are my brother's tutor, not mine! To interfere with what I do, is nothing less than a piece of damned impertinence!|

|That impertinence, however, I intend to be guilty of the moment I can get audience of your father.|

|You will not, if I give you such explanation as satisfies you I have done the girl no harm, and mean honestly by her!| said Forgue in a confident, yet somewhat conciliatory tone.

|In any case,| returned Donal, |you having once promised, and then broken your promise, I shall without fail tell your father all I know.|

|And ruin her, and perhaps me too, for life?|

|The truth will ruin only those that ought to be ruined!| said Donal.

Forgue sprang upon him, and struck him a heavy blow between the eyes. He had been having lessons in boxing while in Edinburgh, and had confidence in himself. It was a well-planted blow, and Donal unprepared for it. He staggered against the wall, and for a moment could neither see nor think: all he knew was that there was something or other he had to attend to. His lordship, excusing himself perhaps on the ground of necessity, there being a girl in the case, would have struck him again; but Andrew threw himself between, and received the blow for him.

As Donal came to himself, he heard a groan from the ground, and looking, saw Andrew at his feet, and understood.

|Dear old man!| he said; |he dared to strike you!|

|He didna mean 't,| returned Andrew feebly. |Are ye winnin' ower 't, sir? He gae ye a terrible ane! Ye micht hae h'ard it across the street!|

|I shall be all right in a minute!| answered Donal, wiping the blood out of his eyes. |I've a good hard head, thank God! -- But what has become of them?|

|Ye didna think he wud be waitin' to see 's come to oorsel's!| said the cobbler.

With Donal's help, and great difficulty, he rose, and they stood looking at each other through the starlight, bewildered and uncertain. The cobbler was the first to recover his wits.

|It's o' no mainner of use,| he said, |to rouse the castel wi' hue an' cry! What hae we to say but 'at we faund the twa i' the gairden thegither! It wud but raise a clash -- the which, fable or fac', wud do naething for naebody! His lordship maun be loot ken, as ye say; but wull his lordship believe ye, sir? I'm some i' the min' the yoong man 's awa' til's faither a'ready, to prejudeese him again' onything ye may say.|

|That makes it the more necessary,| said Donal, |that I should go at once to his lordship. He will fall out upon me for not having told him at once; but I must not mind that: if I were not to tell him now, he would have a good case against me.|

They were already walking towards the house, the old man giving a groan now and then. He could not go in, he said; he would walk gently on, and Donal would overtake him.

It was an hour and a half before Andrew got home, and Donal had not overtaken him.

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