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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXXV. THE EARL'S BEDCHAMBER.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XXXV. THE EARL'S BEDCHAMBER.

HAVING washed the blood from his face, Donal sought Simmons.

|His lordship can't see you now, I am sure, sir,| answered the butler; |lord Forgue is with him.|

Donal turned and went straight up to lord Morven's apartment. As he passed the door of his bedroom opening on the corridor, he heard voices in debate. He entered the sitting-room. There was no one there. It was not a time for ceremony. He knocked at the door of the bedroom. The voices within were loud, and no answer came. He knocked again, and received an angry permission to enter. He entered, closed the door behind him, and stood in sight of his lordship, waiting what should follow.

Lord Morven was sitting up in bed, his face so pale and distorted that Donal thought elsewhere he should hardly have recognized it. The bed was a large four-post bed; its curtains were drawn close to the posts, admitting as much air as possible. At the foot of it stood lord Forgue, his handsome, shallow face flushed with anger, his right arm straight down by his side, and the hand of it clenched hard. He turned when Donal entered. A fiercer flush overspread his face, but almost immediately the look of rage yielded to one of determined insult. Possibly even the appearance of Donal was a relief to being alone with his father.

|Mr. Grant,| stammered his lordship, speaking with pain, |you are well come! -- just in time to hear a father curse his son!|

|Even such a threat shall not make me play a dishonourable part!| said Forgue, looking however anything but honourable, for the heart, not the brain, moulds the expression.

|Mr. Grant,| resumed the father, |I have found you a man of sense and refinement! If you had been tutor to this degenerate boy, the worst trouble of my life would not have overtaken me!|

Forgue's lip curled, but he did not speak, and his father went on.

|Here is this fellow come to tell me to my face that he intends the ruin and disgrace of the family by a low marriage!|

|It will not be the first time it has been so disgraced!| retorted the son, | -- if fresh peasant-blood be indeed a disgrace to any family!|

|Bah! the hussey is not even a wholesome peasant-girl!| cried the father. |Who do you think she is, Mr. Grant?|

|I do not need to guess, my lord,| replied Donal. |I came now to inform your lordship of what I had myself seen.|

|She must leave the house this instant!|

|Then I too leave it, my lord!| said Forgue.

|Where's your money?| returned the earl contemptuously.

Forgue shifted to an attack upon Donal.

|Your lordship hardly places confidence in me,| he said; |but it is not the less my duty to warn you against this man: months ago he knew what was going on, and comes to tell you now because this evening I chastised him for his rude interference.|

In cooler blood lord Forgue would not have shown such meanness; but passion brings to the front the thing that lurks.

|And it is no doubt to the necessity for forestalling his disclosure that I owe the present ingenuous confession!| said lord Morven. | -- But explain, Mr. Grant.|

|My lord,| said Donal calmly, |I became aware that there was something between lord Forgue and the girl, and was alarmed for the girl: she is the child of friends to whom I am much beholden. But on the promise of both that the thing should end, I concluded it better not to trouble your lordship. I may have blundered in this, but I did what seemed best. This night, however, I discovered that things were going as before, and it became imperative on my position in your house that I should make your lordship acquainted with the fact. He assevered there was nothing dishonest between them, but, having deceived me once, how was I to trust him again!|

|How indeed! the young blackguard!| said his lordship, casting a fierce glance at his son.

|Allow me to remark,| said Forgue, with comparative coolness, |that I deceived no one. What I promised was, that the affair should not go on: it did not; from that moment it assumed a different and serious aspect. I now intend to marry the girl.|

|I tell you, Forgue, if you do I will disown you.|

Forgue smiled an impertinent smile and held his peace: the threat had for him no terror.

|I shall be the better able,| continued his lordship, |to provide suitably for Davie; he is what a son ought to be! But hear me, Forgue: you must be aware that, if I left you all I had, it would be beggary for one handicapped with a title. You may think my anger unreasonable, but it comes solely of anxiety on your account. Nothing but a suitable marriage -- the most suitable of all is within your arm's length -- can save you from the life of a moneyless peer -- the most pitiable object on the face of the earth. Were it possible to ignore your rank, you have no profession, no trade even, in these trade-loving times, to fall back upon. Except you marry as I please, you will have nothing from me but the contempt of a title without a farthing to keep it decent. You threaten to leave the house -- can you pay for a railway-ticket?|

Forgue was silent for a moment.

|My lord,| he said, |I have given my word to the girl: would you have me disgrace your name by breaking it?|

|Tut! tut! there are words and words! What obligation can there be in the rash promises of an unworthy love! Still less are they binding where the man is not his own master! You are under a bond to your family, under a bond to society, under a bond to your country. Marry this girl, and you will be an outcast; marry as I would have you, and no one will think the worse of you for a foolish vow in your boyhood. Bah! the merest rumour of it will never rise into the serene air of your position.|

|And let the girl go and break her heart!| said Forgue, with look black as death.

|You need fear no such catastrophe! You are no such marvel among men that a kitchen-wench will break her heart for you. She will be sorry for herself, no doubt; but it will be nothing more than she expected, and will only confirm her opinion of you: she knows well enough the risk she runs!|

While he spoke, Donal, waiting his turn, stood as on hot iron. Such sayings were in his ears the foul talk of hell. The moment the earl ceased, he turned to Forgue, and said: --

|My lord, you have removed my harder thoughts of you! You have indeed broken your word, but in a way infinitely nobler than I believed you capable of!|

Lord Morven stared dumbfounded.

|Your comments are out of place, Mr. Grant!| said Forgue, with something like dignity. |The matter is between my father and myself. If you wanted to beg my pardon, you should have waited a fitting opportunity!|

Donal held his peace. He had felt bound to show sympathy with his enemy where he was right.

The earl was perplexed: his one poor ally had gone over to the enemy! He took a glass from the table beside him, and drank: then, after a moment's silence, apparently of exhaustion and suffering, said,

|Mr. Grant, I desire a word with you. -- Leave the room, Forgue.|

|My lord,| returned Forgue, |you order me from the room to confer with one whose presence with you is an insult to me!|

|He seems to me,| answered his father bitterly, |to be after your own mind in the affair! -- How indeed should it be otherwise! But so far I have found Mr. Grant a man of honour, and I desire to have some private conversation with him. I therefore request you will leave us alone together.|

This was said so politely, yet with such latent command, that the youth dared not refuse compliance.

The moment he closed the door behind him,

|I am glad he yielded,| said the earl, |for I should have had to ask you to put him out, and I hate rows. Would you have done it?|

|I would have tried.|

|Thank you. Yet a moment ago you took his part against me!|

|On the girl's part -- and for his honesty too, my lord!|

|Come now, Mr. Grant! I understand your prejudices, I cannot expect you to look on the affair as I do. I am glad to have a man of such sound general principles to form the character of my younger son; but it is plain as a mountain that what would be the duty of a young man in your rank of life toward a young woman in the same rank, would be simple ruin to one in lord Forgue's position. A capable man like you can make a living a hundred different ways; to one born with the burden of a title, and without the means of supporting it, marriage with such a girl means poverty, gambling, hunger, squabbling, dirt -- suicide!|

|My lord,| answered Donal, |the moment a man speaks of love to a woman, be she as lowly and ignorant as mother Eve, that moment rank and privilege vanish, and distinction is annihilated.|

The earl gave a small sharp smile.

|You would make a good pleader, Mr. Grant! But if you had seen the consequences of such marriage half as often as I, you would modify your ideas. Mark what I say: this marriage shall not take place -- by God! What! should I for a moment talk of it with coolness were there the smallest actual danger of its occurrence -- did I not know that it never could, never shall take place! The boy is a fool, and he shall know it! I have him in my power -- neck and heels in my power! He does not know it, and never could guess how; but it is true: one word from me, and the rascal is paralysed! Oblige me by telling him what I have just said. The absurd marriage shall not take place, I repeat. Invalid as I am, I am not yet reduced to the condition of an obedient father.|

He took up a small bottle, poured a little from it, added water, and drank -- then resumed.

|Now for the girl: who knows about it?|

|So far as I am aware, no one but her grandfather. He had come to the castle to inquire after her, and was with me when we came upon them in the fruit garden.|

|Then let no further notice be taken of it. Tell no one -- not even Mrs. Brookes. Let the young fools do as they please.|

|I cannot consent to that, my lord.|

|Why, what the devil have you to do with it?|

|I am the friend of her people.|

|Pooh! pooh! don't talk rubbish. What is it to them! I'll see to them. It will all come right. The affair will settle itself. By Jove, I'm sorry you interfered! The thing would have been much better left alone.|

|My lord,| said Donal, |I can listen to nothing in this strain.|

|All I ask is -- promise not to interfere.|

|I will not.|

|Thank you.|

|My lord, you mistake. I will not promise. Nay, I will interfere. What to do, I do not now know; but I will save the girl if I can.|

|And ruin an ancient family! You think nothing of that!|

|Its honour, my lord, will be best preserved in that of the girl.|

|Damn you? will you preach to me?|

Notwithstanding his fierce words, Donal could not help seeing or imagining an almost suppliant look in his eye.

|You must do as I tell you in my house,| he went on, |or you will soon see the outside of it. Come: marry the girl yourself -- she is deuced pretty -- and I will give you five hundred pounds for your wedding journey. -- Poor Davie!|

|Your lordship insults me.|

|Then, damn you! be off to your lessons, and take your insolent face out of my sight.|

|If I remain in your house, my lord, it is for Davie's sake.|

|Go away,| said the earl; and Donal went.

He had hardly closed the door behind him, when he heard a bell ring violently; and ere he reached the bottom of the stair, he met the butler panting up as fast as his short legs and red nose would permit. He would have stopped to question Donal, who hastened past him, and in the refuge of his own room, sat down to think. Had his conventional dignity been with him a matter of importance, he would have left the castle the moment he got his things together; but he thought much more of Davie, and much more of Eppy.

He had hardly seated himself when he jumped up again: he must see Andrew Comin!

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