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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER XLIV. HIGH AND LOW.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


WHEN lord Morven heard of his son's return, he sent for Donal, received him in a friendly way, gave him to understand that, however he might fail to fall in with his views, he depended thoroughly on his honesty, and begged he would keep him informed of his son's proceedings.

Donal replied that, while he fully acknowledged his lordship's right to know what his son was doing, he could not take the office of a spy.

|But I will warn lord Forgue,| he concluded, |that I may see it right to let his father know what he is about. I fancy, however, he understands as much already.|

|Pooh! that would be only to teach him cunning,| said the earl.

|I can do nothing underhand,| replied Donal. |I will help no man to keep an unrighteous secret, but neither will I secretly disclose it.|

Meeting him a few days after, Forgue would have passed him without recognition, but Donal stopped him, and said --

|I believe, my lord, you have seen Eppy since your return.|

|What the deuce is that to you?|

|I wish your lordship to understand that whatever comes to my knowledge concerning your proceedings in regard to her, I will report to your father if I see fit.|

|The warning is unnecessary. Few informers, however, would have given me the advantage, and I thank you: so far I am indebted to you. None the less the shame of the informer remains!|

|Your lordship's judgment of me is no more to me than that of yon rook up there.|

|You doubt my honour?| said Forgue with a sneer.

|I do. I doubt you. You do not know yourself. Time will show. For God's sake, my lord, look to yourself! You are in terrible danger.|

|I would rather do wrong for love than right for fear. I scorn such threats.|

|Threats, my lord!| echoed Donal. |Is it a threat to warn you that your very consciousness may become a curse to you? that to know yourself may be your hell? that you may come to make it your first care to forget what you are? Do you know what Shakspere says of Tarquin --

Besides, his soul's fair temple is defaced;

To whose weak ruins muster troops of cares,

To ask the spotted princess how she fares -- ?|

|Oh, hang your preaching!| cried Forgue, and turned away.

|My lord,| said Donal, |if you will not hear me, there are preachers you must.|

|They will not be quite so long-winded then!| Forgue answered.

|You are right,| said Donal; |they will not.|

All Forgue's thoughts were now occupied with the question how with least danger Eppy and he were to meet. He did not contemplate treachery. At this time of his life he could not have respected himself, little as was required for that, had he been consciously treacherous; but no man who in love yet loves himself more, is safe from becoming a traitor: potentially he is one already. Treachery to him who is guilty of it seems only natural self-preservation; the man who can do a vile thing is incapable of seeing it as it is; and that ought to make us doubtful of our judgments of ourselves, especially defensive judgments. Forgue did not suspect himself -- not although he knew that his passion had but just regained a lost energy, revived at the idea of another man having the girl! It did not shame him that he had begun to forget her, or that he had been so roused to fresh desire. If he had stayed away six months, he would practically have forgotten her altogether. Some may think that, if he had devotion enough to surmount the vulgarities of her position and manners and ways of thought, his love could hardly be such as to yield so soon; but Eppy was not in herself vulgar. Many of even humbler education than she are far less really vulgar than some in the forefront of society. No doubt the conventionalities of a man like Forgue must have been sometimes shocked in familiar intercourse with one like Eppy; but while he was merely flirting with her, the very things that shocked would also amuse him -- for I need hardly say he was not genuinely refined; and by and by the growing passion obscured them. There is no doubt that, had she been confronted as his wife with the common people of society, he would have become aware of many things as vulgarities which were only simplicities; but in the meantime she was no more vulgar to him than a lamb or a baby is vulgar, however unfit either for a Belgravian drawing-room. Vulgar, at the same time, he would have thought and felt her, but for the love that made him do her justice. Love is the opener as well as closer of eyes. But men who, having seen, become blind again, think they have had their eyes finally opened.

For some time there was no change in Eppy's behaviour but that she was not tearful as before. She continued diligent, never grumbled at the hardest work, and seemed desirous of making up for remissness in the past, when in truth she was trying to make up for something else in the present: she would atone for what she would not tell, by doing immediate duty with the greater devotion. But by and by she began occasionally to show, both in manner and countenance, a little of the old pertness, mingled with uneasiness. The phenomenon, however, was so intermittent and unpronounced, as to be manifest only to eyes familiar with her looks and ways: to Donal it was clear that the relation between her and Forgue was resumed. Yet she never went out in the evening except sent by her grandmother, and then she always came home even with haste -- anxious, it might have seemed, to avoid suspicion.

It was the custom with Donal and Davie to go often into the fields and woods in the fine weather -- they called this their observation class -- to learn what they might of the multitudinous goings on in this or that of Nature's workshops: there each for himself and the other exercised his individual powers of seeing and noting and putting together. Donal knew little of woodland matters, having been chiefly accustomed to meadows and bare hill-sides; yet in the woods he was the keener of the two to observe, and could the better teach that he was but a better learner.

One day, as they were walking together under the thin shade of a fir-thicket, Davie said, with a sudden change of subject --

|I wonder if we shall meet Forgue to-day! he gets up early now, and goes out. It is neither to fish nor shoot, for he doesn't take his rod or gun; he must be watching or looking for something! -- Shouldn't you say so, Mr. Grant?|

This set Donal thinking. Eppy was never out at night, or only for a few minutes; and Forgue went out early in the morning! But if Eppy would meet him, how could he or anyone help it?

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