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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER XLI. THE MUSIC-NEST.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


THE hour came, and with the very stroke of the clock, lady Arctura and Davie were in the schoolroom. A moment more, and they set out to climb the spiral of Baliol's tower.

But what a different lady was Arctura this afternoon! She was cheerful, even merry -- with Davie, almost jolly. Her soul had many alternating lights and glooms, but it was seldom or never now so clouded as when first Donal saw her. In the solitude of her chamber, where most the simple soul should be conscious of life as a blessedness, she was yet often haunted by ghastly shapes of fear; but there also other forms had begun to draw nigh to her; sweetest rays of hope would ever and anon break through the clouds, and mock the darkness from her presence. Perhaps God might mean as thoroughly well by her as even her imagination could wish!

Does a dull reader remark that hers was a diseased state of mind? -- I answer, The more she needed to be saved from it with the only real deliverance from any ill! But her misery, however diseased, was infinitely more reasonable than the healthy joy of such as trouble themselves about nothing. Some sicknesses are better than any but the true health.

|I never thought you were like this, Arkie!| said Davie. |You are just as if you had come to school to Mr. Grant! You would soon know how much happier it is to have somebody you must mind!|

|If having me, Davie,| said Donal, |doesn't help you to be happy without me, there will not have been much good done. What I want most to teach you is, to leave the door always on the latch, for some one -- you know whom I mean -- to come in.|

|Race me up the stair, Arkie,| said Davie, when they came to the foot of the spiral.

|Very well,| assented his cousin.

|Which side will you have -- the broad or the narrow?|

|The broad.|

|Well then -- one, two, three, and away we go!|

Davie mounted like a clever goat, his hand and arm on the newel, and slipping lightly round it. Arctura's ascent was easier but slower: she found her garments in her way, therefore yielded the race, and waited for Donal. Davie, thinking he heard her footsteps behind him all the time, flew up shrieking with the sweet terror of love's pursuit.

|What a darling the boy has grown!| said Arctura when Donal overtook her.

|Yes,| answered Donal; |one would think such a child might run straight into the kingdom of heaven; but I suppose he must have his temptations and trials first: out of the storm alone comes the true peace.|

|Will peace come out of all storms?|

|I trust so. Every pain and every fear, every doubt is a cry after God. What mother refuses to go to her child because he is only crying -- not calling her by name!|

|Oh, if I could but believe so about God! For if it be all right with God -- I mean if God be such a God as to be loved with the heart and soul of loving, then all is well. Is it not, Mr. Grant?|

|Indeed it is! -- And you are not far from the kingdom of heaven,| he was on the point of saying, but did not -- because she was in it already, only unable yet to verify the things around her, like the man who had but half-way received his sight.

When they reached the top, he took them past his door, and higher up the stair to the next, opening on the bartizan. Here he said lady Arctura must come with him first, and Davie must wait till he came back for him. When he had them both safe on the roof, he told Davie to keep close to his cousin or himself all the time. He showed them first his stores of fuel -- his ammunition, he said, for fighting the winter. Next he pointed out where he stood when first he heard the music the night before, and set down his bucket to follow it; and where he found the bucket, blown thither by the wind, when he came back to feel for it in the dark. Then he began to lead them, as nearly as he could, the way he had then gone, but with some, for Arctura's sake, desirable detours: over one steep-sloping roof they had to cross, he found a little stair up the middle, and down the other side.

They came to a part where he was not quite sure about the way. As he stopped to bethink himself, they turned and looked eastward. The sea was shining in the sun, and the flat wet country between was so bright that they could not tell where the land ended and the sea began. But as they gazed a great cloud came over the sun, the sea turned cold and gray as death -- a true March sea, and the land lay low and desolate between. The spring was gone and the winter was there. A gust of wind, full of keen hail, drove sharp in their faces.

|Ah, that settles the question!| said Donal. |The music-bird must wait. We will call upon her another day. -- It is funny, isn't it, Davie, to go a bird's-nesting after music on the roof of a house?|

|Hark!| said Arctura; |I think I heard the music-bird! -- She wants us to find her nest! I really don't think we ought to go back for a little blast of wind, and a few pellets of hail! What do you think, Davie?|

|Oh, for me, I wouldn't turn for ever so big a storm!| said Davie; |but you know, Arkie, it's not you or me, Arkie! Mr. Grant is the captain of this expedition, and we must do as he bids us.|

|Oh, surely, Davie! I never meant to dispute that. Only Mr. Grant is not a tyrant; he will let a lady say what she thinks!|

|Oh, yes, or a boy either! He likes me to say what I think! He says we can't get at each other without. And do you know -- he obeys me sometimes!|

Arctura glanced a keen question at the boy.

|It is quite true!| said Davie, while Donal listened smiling. |Last winter, for days together -- not all day, you know: I had to obey him most of the time! but at certain times, I was as sure of Mr. Grant doing as I told him, as he is now of me doing as he tells me.|

|What times were those?| asked Arctura, thinking to hear of some odd pedagogic device.

|When I was teaching him to skate!| answered Davie, in a triumph of remembrance. |He said I knew better than he there, and so he would obey me. You wouldn't believe how splendidly he did it, Arkie -- out and out!| concluded Davie, in a tone almost of awe.

|Oh, yes, I would believe it -- perfectly!| said Arctura.

Donal suddenly threw an arm round each of them, and pulled them down sitting. The same instant a fierce blast burst upon the roof. He had seen the squall whitening the sea, and looking nearer home saw the tops of the trees between streaming level towards the castle. But seated they were in no danger.

|Hark!| said Arctura again; |there it is!|

They all heard the wailing cry of the ghost-music. But while the blast continued they dared not pursue their hunt. It kept on in fits and gusts till the squall ceased -- as suddenly almost as it had burst. The sky cleared, and the sun shone as a March sun can. But the blundering blasts and the swan-shot of the flying hail were all about still.

|When the storm is upon us,| remarked Donal, as they rose from their crouching position, |it seems as if there never could be sunshine more; but our hopelessness does not keep back the sun when his hour to shine is come.|

|I understand!| said Arctura: |when one is miserable, misery seems the law of being; and in the midst of it dwells some thought which nothing can ever set right! All at once it is gone, broken up and gone, like that hail-cloud. It just looks its own foolishness and vanishes.|

|Do you know why things so often come right?| said Donal. | -- I would say always come right, but that is matter of faith, not sight.|

Arctura did not answer at once.

|I think I know what you are thinking,| she said, |but I want to hear you answer your own question.|

|Why do things come right so often, do you think, Davie?| repeated Donal.

|Is it,| returned Davie, |because they were made right to begin with?|

|There is much in that, Davie; but there is a better reason than that. It is because things are alive, and the life at the heart of them, that which keeps them going, is the great, beautiful God. So the sun for ever returns after the clouds. A doubting man, like him who wrote the book of Ecclesiasties, puts the evil last, and says 'the clouds return after the rain;' but the Christian knows that

One has mastery

Who makes the joy the last in every song.|

|You speak like one who has suffered!| said Arctura, with a kind look in his face.

|Who has not that lives?|

|It is how you are able to help others!|

|Am I able to help others? I am very glad to hear it. My ambition would be to help, if I had any ambition. But if I am able, it is because I have been helped myself, not because I have suffered.|

|Will you tell me what you mean by saying you have no ambition?|

|Where your work is laid out for you, there is no room for ambition: you have got your work to do! -- But give me your hand, my lady; put your other hand on my shoulder. You stop there, Davie, and don't move till I come to you. Now, my lady -- a little jump! That's it! Now you are safe! -- You were not afraid, were you?|

|Not in the least. But did you come here in the dark?|

|Yes. There is this advantage in the dark: you do not see how dangerous the way is. We take the darkness about us for the source of our difficulties: it is a great mistake. Christian would hardly have dared go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, had he not had the shield of the darkness all about him.|

|Can the darkness be a shield? Is it not the evil thing?|

|Yes, the dark that is within us -- the dark of distrust and unwillingness, but not the outside dark of mere human ignorance. Where we do not see, we are protected. Where we are most ignorant and most in danger, is in those things that affect the life of God in us: there the Father is every moment watching his child. If he were not constantly pardoning and punishing our sins, what would become of us! We must learn to trust him about our faults as much as about everything else!|

In the earnestness of his talk he had stopped, but now turned and went on.

|There is my land-, or roof-mark rather!| he said, | -- that chimney-stack! Close by it I heard the music very near me indeed -- when all at once the darkness and the wind came together so thick that I could do nothing more. We shall do better now in the daylight -- and three of us instead of one!|

|What a huge block of chimneys!| said Arctura.

|Is it not!| returned Donal. |It indicates the hugeness of the building below us, of which we can see so little. Like the volcanoes of the world, it tells us how much fire is necessary to keep our dwelling warm.|

|I thought it was the sun that kept the earth warm,| said Davie.

|So it is, but not the sun alone. The earth is like a man: the great glowing fire is God in the heart of the earth, and the great sun is God in the sky, keeping it warm on the other side. Our gladness and pleasure, our trouble when we do wrong, our love for all about us, that is God inside us; and the beautiful things and lovable people, and all the lessons of life in history and poetry, in the Bible, and in whatever comes to us, is God outside of us. Every life is between two great fires of the love of God. So long as we do not give ourselves up heartily to him, we fear his fire will burn us. And burn us it does when we go against its flames and not with them, refusing to burn with the fire with which God is always burning. When we try to put it out, or oppose it, or get away from it, then indeed it burns!|

|I think I know,| said Davie.

Arctura held her peace.

|But now,| said Donal, |I must go round and have a peep at the other side of the chimney-stack.|

He disappeared, and Arctura and Davie stood waiting his return. They looked each in the other's face with the delight of consciously sharing a great adventure. Beyond their feet lay the wide country and the great sea; over them the sky with the sun in it going down towards the mountains; under their feet the mighty old pile that was their home; and under that the earth with its molten heart of fire.

But Davie's look soon changed to one of triumph in his tutor. |Is is not grand,| it said, |to be all day with a man like that -- talking to you and teaching you?| That at least was how Arctura interpreted it, reading in it almost an assertion of superiority, in as much as this man was his tutor and not hers. She replied to the look in words: --

|I am his pupil, too, Davie,| she said, |though Mr. Grant does not know it.|

|How can that be,| answered Davie, |when you are afraid of him? I am not a bit afraid of him!|

|How do you know I am afraid of him?| she asked.

|Oh, anybody could see that!|

She was afraid she had spoken foolishly, and Davie might repeat her words: she did not desire to hasten further intimacy with Donal; things were going in that direction fast enough! Her eyes, avoiding Davie's, kept reconnoitring the stack of chimneys.

|Aren't you glad to have such a castle all for your own -- to do what you like with, Arkie? You know you could pull it all to pieces if you liked!|

|Would it be less mine,| said Arctura, |if I was not at liberty to pull it all to pieces? And would it be more mine when I had pulled it to pieces, Davie?|

Donal was coming round the side of the stack, and heard what she said. It pleased him, for it was not a little in his own style.

|What makes a thing your own, do you think, Davie?| she went on.

|To be able to do with it what you like,| replied Davie.

|Whether that be good or bad?|

|Yes, I think so,| answered Davie, doubtfully.

|Then I think you are quite wrong,| she rejoined. |The moment you begin to use a thing wrong, that moment you make it less yours. I can't quite explain it, but that is how it looks to me.|

She ceased, and after a moment Donal took up the question.

|Lady Arctura is quite right, Davie,| he said. |The nature, that is the good of a thing, is that only by which it can be possessed. Any other possession is like slave-owning; it is not a righteous having. The right and the power to use it to its true purpose, and the using it so, are the conditions that make a thing ours. To have the right and the power, and not use it so, would be to make the thing less ours than anybody's. -- Suppose you had a very beautiful picture, but from some defect in your sight you could never see that picture as it really was, while a servant in your house not only saw it as it was meant to be seen, but had such delight in gazing on it, that even in his dreams it came to him, and made him think of things he would not have thought of but for it: -- which of you, you or the servant in your house, would have the more real possession of that picture? You could sell it away from yourself, and never know anything about it more; but you could not by all the power of a tyrant take it from your servant.|

|Ah, now I understand!| said Davie, with a look at lady Arctura which seemed to say, |You see how Mr. Grant can make me understand!|

|I wonder,| said lady Arctura, |what that curious opening in the side of the chimney-stack means! It can't be for smoke to come out at!|

|No,| said Donal; |there is not a mark of smoke about it. If it had been meant for that, it would hardly have been put half-way from the top! I can't make it out! A hole like that in any chimney must surely interfere with the draught! I must get a ladder!|

|Let me climb on your shoulders, Mr. Grant,| said Davie.

|Come then; up you go!| said Donal.

And up went Davie, and peeped into the horizontal slit.

|It looks very like a chimney,| he said, turning his head and thrusting it in sideways. |It goes right down to somewhere,| he added, bringing his head out again, |but there is something across it a little way down -- to prevent the jackdaws from tumbling in, I suppose.|

|What is it?| asked Donal.

|Something like a grating,| answered Davie; | -- no, not a grating exactly; it is what you might call a grating, but it seems made of wires. I don't think it would keep a strong bird out if he wanted to get in.|

|Aha!| said Donal to himself; |what if those wires be tuned! Did you ever see an aeolian harp, my lady?| he asked: |I never did.|

|Yes,| answered lady Arctura, | -- once, when I was a little girl. And now you suggest it, I think the sounds we hear are not unlike those of an aeolian harp! The strings are all the same length, if I remember. But I do not understand the principle. They seem all to play together, and make the strangest, wildest harmonies, when the wind blows across them in a particular way.|

|I fancy then we have found the nest of our music-bird!| said Donal. |The wires Davie speaks of may be the strings of an aeolian harp! I wonder if there could be a draught across them! I must get up and see! I must go and get a ladder!|

|But how could there be an aeolian harp up here?| said Arctura.

|It will be time enough to answer that question,| replied Donal, |when it changes to, 'How did an aeolian harp get up here?' Something is here that wants accounting for: it may be an aeolian harp!|

|But in a chimney! The soot would spoil the strings!|

|Then perhaps it is not a chimney: is there any sign of soot about, Davie?|

|No, sir; there is nothing but clean stone and lime.|

|You see, my lady! We do not even know that it is a chimney!|

|What else can it be, standing with the rest?|

|It may have been built for one; but if it had ever been used for one, the marks of smoke would remain, had it been disused ever so long. But to-morrow I will bring up a ladder.|

|Could you not do it now?| said Arctura, almost coaxingly. |I should so like to have the thing settled!|

|As you please, my lady! I will go at once. There is one leaning against the garden-wall, not far from the bottom of the tower.|

|If you do not mind the trouble!|

|I will come and help,| said Davie.

|You mustn't leave lady Arctura. I am not sure if I can get it up the stair; I am afraid it is too long. If I cannot, we will haul it up as we did the coal.|

He went, and the cousins sat down to wait his return. It was a cold evening, but Arctura was well wrapt up, and Davie was hardy. They sat at the foot of the chimney-stack, and began to talk.

|It is such a long time since you told me anything, Arkie!| said the boy.

|You do not need me now to tell you anything: you have Mr. Grant! You like him much better than ever you did me!|

|You see,| said Davie, thoughtfully, and making no defence against her half-reproach, |he began by making me afraid of him -- not that he meant to do it, I think! he only meant that I should do what he told me: I was never afraid of you, Arkie!|

|I was much crosser to you than Mr. Grant, I am sure!|

|Mr. Grant is never cross to me; and if ever you were, I've forgotten it, Arkie. I only remember that I was not good to you. I am sorry for it now when I lie awake in bed; but I say to myself you forgive me, and go to sleep.|

|What makes you think I forgive you, Davie?|

|Because I love you.|

This was not very logical, and set Arctura thinking. She did not forgive the boy because he loved her; but the boy's love to her might make him sure she forgave him! Love is its own justification, and sees itself in all its objects: forgiveness is an essential belonging of love, and must be seen where love is seen.

|Are you fond of my brother?| asked Davie, after a pause.

|Why do you ask me?|

|Because they say you and he are going to be married some day, yet you don't seem to care much to be together.|

|It is all nonsense!| replied Arctura, reddening. |I wish people would not talk foolishness!|

|Well, I do think he's not so fond of you as of Eppy!|

|Hush! hush! you must not speak of such thing.|

|I saw him once kiss Eppy, and I never saw him kiss you!|

|No, indeed!|

|Is it right of Forgue, if he's going to marry you, to kiss Eppy? -- That's what I want to know!|

|He is not going to marry me.|

|He would, if you told him you wished it. Papa wishes it.|

|How do you know that?|

|From many thing. Once I heard him say, 'Afterwards, when the house is our own,' and I asked him what he meant, and he said, 'When Forgue marries Arctura, then the castle will be Forgue's. That is how it ought to be, you know! Property and title ought never to be parted.'|

The hot blood rose to Arctura's temples: was she a mere wrappage to her property -- the paper of the parcel! But she called to mind how strange her uncle was: but for that could he have been so imprudent as to talk in such a way to a boy whose simplicity rendered the confidence dangerous?

|You would not like having to give away your castle -- would you, Arkie?| he went on.

|Not to any one I did not love.|

|If I were you, I would not marry, but keep my castle to myself. I don't see why Forgue should have your castle!|

|You think I should make my castle my husband?|

|He would be a good big husband anyhow, and a strong -- one to defend you from your enemies, and not talk to you when you wanted to be quiet.|

|That is all true; but one might get weary of a stupid husband, however big and strong he was.|

|There's another thing, though! -- he wouldn't be a cruel husband! I've heard papa often speak about some cruel husband! I fancied sometimes he meant himself; but that could not be, you know.|

Arctura made no reply. All but vanished memories of things she had heard, hints and signs here and there that all was not right between her uncle and aunt, vaguely returned: could it be that he now repented of harshness to his wife, that the thought of it was preying upon him, that it drove him to his drugs for forgetfulness? -- But in the presence of the boy she could not go on thinking in such a direction about his father. She felt relieved by the return of Donal.

He had found it rather difficult to get the ladder round the sharp curves of the stair; but at last they saw him with it on his shoulder coming over a distant roof.

|Now we shall see!| he said, as he leaned it up against the chimney, and stood panting.

|You have tired yourself!| said lady Arctura.

|Where's the harm, my lady? A man must get tired a few times before he lies down!| rejoined Donald lightly.

Said Davie,

|Must a woman, Mr. Grant, marry a man she does not love?|

|No, certainly, Davie.|

|Mr. Grant,| said Arctura, in dread of what Davie might say next, |what do you take to be the duty of one inheriting a property? Ought a woman to get rid of it, or attend to it herself?|

Donal thought a little.

|We must first settle the main duty of property,| he said; |and that I am hardly prepared to do.|

|Is there not a duty owing to your family?|

|There are a thousand duties owing to your family.|

|I don't mean those you are living with merely, but those also who transmitted the property to you. This property belongs to my family rather than to me, and if I had had a brother it would have gone to him: should I not do better for the family by giving it up to the next heir? I am not disinterested in starting the question; possession and power are of no great importance in my eyes; they are hindrances to me.|

|It seems to me,| said Donal, |that the fact that you would not have succeeded had there been a son, points to the fact of a disposer of events: you were sent into the world to take the property. If so, God expects you to perform the duties of it; they are not to be got rid of by throwing the thing aside, or giving them to another to do for you. If your family and not God were the real giver of the property, the question you put might arise; but I should hardly take interest enough in it to be capable of discussing it. I understand my duty to my sheep or cattle, to my master, to my father or mother, to my brother or sister, to my pupil Davie here; I owe my ancestors love and honour, and the keeping of their name unspotted, though that duty is forestalled by a higher; but as to the property they leave behind them, over which they have no more power, and which now I trust they never think about, I do not see what obligation I can be under to them with regard to it, other than is comprised in the duties of the property itself.|

|But a family is not merely those that are gone before; there are those that will come after!|

|The best thing for those to come after, is to receive the property with its duties performed, with the light of righteousness radiating from it.|

|But what then do you call the duties of property?|

|In what does the property consist?|

|In land, to begin with.|

|If the land were of no value, would the possession of it involve duties?|

|I suppose not.|

|In what does the value of the land consist?|

Lady Arctura did not attempt an answer to the question, and Donal, after a little pause, resumed.

|If you valued things as the world values them, I should not care to put the question; but I fear you may have some lingering notion that, though God's way is the true way, the world's way must not be disregarded. One thing, however, is certain -- that nothing that is against God's way can be true. The value of property consists only in its being means, ground, or material to work his will withal. There is no success in the universe but in his will being done.|

Arctura was silent. She had inherited prejudices which, while she hated selfishness, were yet thoroughly selfish. Such are of the evils in us hardest to get rid of. They are even cherished for a lifetime by some of the otherwise loveliest of souls. Knowing that herein much thought would be necessary for her, and that she would think, Donal went no farther: a house must have its foundation settled before it is built upon; argument where the grounds of it are at all in dispute is worse than useless.

He turned to his ladder, set it right, mounted, and peered into the opening. At the length of his arm he could reach the wires Davie had described: they were taut, and free of rust -- were therefore not iron or steel. He saw also that a little down the shaft a faint light came in from the opposite side: there was another opening somewhere! Next he saw that each following string -- for strings he already counted them -- was placed a little lower than that before it, so that their succession was inclined to the other side of the shaft -- apparently in a plane between the two openings, that a draught might pass along their plane: this must surely be the instrument whence the music flowed! He descended.

|Do you know, my lady,| he asked Arctura, |how the aeolian harp is placed for the wind to wake it?|

|The only one I have seen,| she answered, |was made to fit into a window; the lower sash was opened just wide enough to let it in, so that the wind entering must pass across the strings.|

Then Donal was all but certain.

|Of course,| he said, after describing what he had seen, |we cannot be absolutely sure without having been here with the music, and having experimented by covering and uncovering the opening; and for that we must wait a south-easterly wind.|

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