ONE thing then was clear to Donal, that for the present he had nothing to do with the affair. Supposing the earl's assertion true, there was at present no question as to the succession; before such question could arise, Forgue might be dead; before that, his father might himself have disclosed the secret; while, the longer Donal thought about it, the greater was his doubt whether he had spoken the truth. The man who could so make such a statement to his son concerning his mother, must indeed have been capable of the wickedness assumed! but also the man who could make such a statement was surely vile enough to lie! The thing remained uncertain, and he was assuredly not called upon to act!
But how would Forgue carry himself? His behaviour now would decide or at least determine his character. If he were indeed as honourable as he wished to be thought, he would tell Eppy what had occurred, and set himself at once to find some way of earning his and her bread, or at least to become capable of earning it. He did not seem to cherish any doubt of the truth of what had fallen in rage from his father's lips, for, to judge by his appearance, to the few and brief glances Donal had of him during the next week or so, the iron had sunk into his soul: he looked more wretched than Donal could have believed it possible for man to be -- abject quite. It manifested very plainly what a miserable thing, how weak and weakening, is the pride of this world. One who could be so cast down, was hardly one, alas, of whom to expect any greatness of action! He was not likely to have honesty or courage enough to decline a succession that was not his -- even though it would leave his way clear to marry Eppy. Whether any of Forgue's misery arose from the fact that Donal had been present at the exposure of his position, Donal could not tell; but he could hardly fail to regard him as a dangerous holder of his secret -- one who would be more than ready to take hostile action in the matter! At the same time, such had seemed the paralysing influence of the shock upon him, that Donal doubted if he had been, at any time during the interview, so much aware of his presence as not to have forgotten it entirely before he came to himself. Had he remembered the fact, would he not have come to him to attempt securing his complicity? If he meant to do right, why did he hesitate? -- there was but one way, and that plain before him!
But presently Donal began to see many things an equivocating demon might urge: the claims of his mother; the fact that there was no near heir -- he did not even know who would come in his place; that he would do as well with the property as another; that he had been already grievously wronged; that his mother's memory would be yet more grievously wronged; that the marriage had been a marriage in the sight of God, and as such he surely of all men was in heaven's right to regard it! and his mother had been the truest of wives to his father! These things and more Donal saw he might plead with himself; and if he was the man he had given him no small ground to think, he would in all probability listen to them. He would recall or assume the existence of many precedents in the history of noble families; he would say that, knowing the general character of their heads, no one would believe a single noble family without at least one unrecorded, undiscovered, or well concealed irregularity in its descent; and he would judge it the cruellest thing to have let him know the blighting fact, seeing that in ignorance he might have succeeded with a good conscience.
But what kind of a father was this, thought Donal, who would thus defile his son's conscience! he had not done it in mere revenge, but to gain his son's submission as well! Whether the poor fellow leaned to the noble or ignoble, it was no marvel he should wander about looking scarce worthy the name of man! If he would but come to him that he might help him! He could at least encourage him to refuse the evil and choose the good! But even if he would receive such help, the foregone passages between them rendered it sorely improbable it would ever fall to him to afford it!
That his visits to Eppy were intermitted, Donal judged from her countenance and bearing; and if he hesitated to sacrifice his own pride to the truth, it could not be without contemplating as possible the sacrifice of her happiness to a lie. In such delay he could hardly be praying |Lead me not into temptation:| if not actively tempting himself, he was submitting to be tempted; he was lingering on the evil shore.
Andrew Comin staid yet a week -- slowly, gently fading out into life -- darkening into eternal day -- forgetting into knowledge itself. Donal was by his side when he went, but little was done or said; he crept into the open air in his sleep, to wake from the dreams of life and the dreams of death and the dreams of sleep all at once, and see them mingling together behind him like a broken wave -- blending into one vanishing dream of a troubled, yet, oh, how precious night past and gone!
Once, about an hour before he went, Donal heard him murmur, |When I wake I am still with thee!|
Doory was perfectly calm. When he gave his last sigh, she sighed too, said, |I winna be lang, Anerew!| and said no more. Eppy wept bitterly.
Donal went every day to see them till the funeral was over. It was surprising how many of the town's folk attended it. Most of them had regarded the cobbler as a poor talkative enthusiast with far more tongue than brains! Because they were so far behind and beneath him, they saw him very small!
One cannot help reflecting what an indifferent trifle the funeral, whether plain to bareness, as in Scotland, or lovely with meaning as often in England, is to the spirit who has but dropt his hurting shoes on the weary road, dropt all the dust and heat, dropt the road itself, yea the world of his pilgrimage -- which never was, never could be, never was meant to be his country, only the place of his sojourning -- in which the stateliest house of marble can be but a tent -- cannot be a house, yet less a home. Man could never be made at home here, save by a mutilation, a depression, a lessening of his being; those who fancy it their home, will come, by growth, one day to feel that it is no more their home than its mother's egg is the home of the lark.
For some time Donal's savings continued to support the old woman and her grand-daughter. But ere long Doory got so much to do in the way of knitting stockings and other things, and was set to so many light jobs by kindly people who respected her more than her husband because they saw her less extraordinary, that she seldom troubled him. Miss Carmichael offered to do what she could to get Eppy a place, if she answered certain questions to her satisfaction. How she liked her catechizing I do not know, but she so far satisfied her interrogator that she did find her a place in Edinburgh. She wept sore at leaving Auchars, but there was no help: rumour had been more cruel than untrue, and besides there was no peace for her near the castle. Not once had lord Forgue sought her since he gave her up to Donal, and she thought he had then given her up altogether. Notwithstanding his kindness to her house, she all but hated Donal -- perhaps the more nearly that her conscience told he had done nothing but what was right.
Things returned into the old grooves at the castle, but the happy thought of his friend the cobbler, hammering and stitching in the town below, was gone from Donal. True, the craftsman was a nobleman now, but such he had always been!
Forgue mooned about, doing nothing, and recognizing no possible help save in what was utter defeat. If he had had any faith in Donal, he might have had help fit to make a man of him, which he would have found something more than an earl. Donal would have taught him to look things in the face, and call them by their own names. It would have been the redemption of his being. To let things be as they truly are, and act with truth in respect of them, is to be a man. But Forgue showed little sign of manhood, present or to come.
He was much on horseback, now riding furiously over everything, as if driven by the very fiend, now dawdling along with the reins on the neck of his weary animal. Donal once met him thus in a narrow lane. The moment Forgue saw him, he pulled up his horse's head, spurred him hard, and came on as if he did not see him. Donal shoved himself into the hedge, and escaped with a little mud.