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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER L. A SOUTH-EASTERLY WIND.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald

CHAPTER L. A SOUTH-EASTERLY WIND.

ONE morning, Donal in the schoolroom with Davie, a knock came to the door, and lady Arctura entered.

|The wind is blowing from the south-east,| she said.

|Listen then, my lady, whether you can hear anything,| said Donal. |I fancy it is a very precise wind that is wanted.|

|I will listen,| she answered, and went.

The day passed, and he heard nothing more. He was at work in his room in the warm evening twilight, when Davie came running to his door, and said Arkie was coming up after him. He rose and stood at the top of the stair to receive her. She had heard the music, she said -- very soft: would he go on the roof?

|Where were you, my lady,| asked Donal, |when you heard it? I have heard nothing up here!|

|In my own little parlour,| she replied. |It was very faint, but I could not mistake it.|

They went upon the roof. The wind was soft and low, an excellent thing in winds. They knew the paths of the roof better now, and had plenty of light, although the moon, rising large and round, gave them little of hers yet, and were soon at the foot of the great chimney-stack, which grew like a tree out of the house. There they sat down to wait and hearken.

|I am almost sorry to have made this discovery!| said Donal.

|Why?| asked lady Arctura. |Should not the truth be found, whatever it may be? You at least think so!|

|Most certainly,| answered Donal. |And if this be the truth, as I fully expect it will prove, then it is well it should be found to be. But I should have liked better it had been something we could not explain.|

|I doubt if I understand you.|

|Things that cannot be explained so widen the horizon around us! open to us fresh regions for question and answer, for possibility and delight! They are so many kernels of knowledge closed in the hard nuts of seeming contradiction. -- You know, my lady, there are stories of certain houses being haunted by a mysterious music presaging evil to the family?|

|I have heard of such music. But what can be the use of it?|

|I do not know. I see not the smallest use in it. If it were of use it would surely be more common! If it were of use, why should those who have it be of the class less favoured, so to speak, of the Lord of the universe, and the families of his poor never have it?|

|Perhaps for the same reason that they have their other good things in this life!| said Arctura.

|I am answered,| confessed Donal, |and have no more to say. These tales, if they require of us a belief in any special care over such houses, as if they were more precious in the eyes of God than the poorest cottage in the land, I cast them from me.|

|But,| said Arctura, in a deprecating tone, |are not those houses which have more influence more important than the others?|

|Surely -- those which have more good influence. But such are rarely the great houses of a country. Our Lord was not an Asmonaean prince, but the son of a humble maiden, his reputed father a working man.|

|I do not see -- I should like to understand how that has to do with it.|

|You may be sure the Lord took the position in life in which it was most possible to do the highest good; and without driving the argument -- for every work has its own specialty -- it seems probable that the true ends of his coming will still be better furthered from the standpoint of humble circumstances, than from that of rank and position.|

|You always speak,| said Arctura, |as if there were only the things Jesus Christ came for to be cared about: -- is there nothing but salvation worthy a human being's regard?|

|If you give a true and large enough meaning to the word salvation, I answer you at once, Nothing. Only in proportion as a man is saved, will he do the work of the world aright -- the whole design of which is to rear a beautiful blessed family. The world is God's nursery for his upper rooms. Oneness with God is the end of the order of things. When that is attained, we shall do greater things than the Lord himself did on the earth! -- But was not that Æolus? -- Listen!|

There came a low prolonged wail.

The ladder was in readiness; Donal set it up in haste, climbed to the cleft, and with a sheet of brown paper in his hands, waited the next cry of the prisoned chords. He was beginning to get tired of his position, when suddenly came a stronger puff, and he heard the music distinctly in the shaft beside him. It swelled and grew. He spread the sheet of paper over the opening, the wind blew it flat against the chimney, and the sound instantly ceased. He removed it, and again came the sound. The wind continued, and grew stronger, so that they were able to make the simple experiment until no shadow of a doubt was left: they had discovered the source of the music! By certain dispositions of the paper they were even able to modify it.

Donal descended, and said to Davie,

|I wish you not to say a word about this to any one, Davie, before lady Arctura or I give you leave. You have a secret with us now. The castle belongs to lady Arctura, and she has a right to ask you not to speak of it to any one without her permission. -- I have a reason, my lady,| he went on, turning to Arctura: |will you, please, desire Davie to attend to what I say. I will immediately explain to you, but I do not want Davie to know my reason until you do. You can on the instant withdraw your prohibition, should you not think my reason a good one.|

|Davie,| said Arctura, |I too have faith in Mr. Grant: I beg you will keep all this a secret for the present.|

|Oh surely, cousin Arkie!| said Davie. | -- But, Mr. Grant, why should you make Arkie speak to me too?|

|Because the thing is her business, not mine. Run down and wait for me in my room. Go steadily over the bartizan, mind.|

Donal turned again to Arctura.

|You know they say there is a hidden room in the castle, my lady?|

|Do you believe it?| she returned.

|I think there may be such a place.|

|Surely if there had been, it would have been found long ago.|

|They might have said that on the first report of the discovery of America!|

|That was far off, and across a great ocean!|

|And here are thick walls, and hearts careless an timid! -- Has any one ever set in earnest about finding it?|

|Not that I know of.|

|Then your objection falls to the ground. If you could have told me that one had tried to find the place, but without success, I would have admitted some force in it, though it would not have satisfied me without knowing the plans he had taken, and how they were carried out. On the other hand it may have been known to many who held their peace about it. -- Would you not like to know the truth concerning that too?|

|I should indeed. But would not you be sorry to lose another mystery?|

|On the contrary, there is only the rumour of a mystery now, and we do not quite believe it. We are not at liberty, in the name of good sense, to believe it yet. But if we find the room, or the space even where it may be, we shall probably find also a mystery -- something never in this world to be accounted for, but suggesting a hundred unsatisfactory explanations. But, pardon me, I do not in the least presume to press it.|

Lady Arctura smiled.

|You may do what you please,| she said. |If I seemed for a moment to hesitate, it was only that I wondered what my uncle would say to it. I should not like to vex him.|

|Certainly not; but would he not be pleased?|

|I will speak to him, and find out. He hates what he calls superstition, and I fancy has curiosity enough not to object to a search. I do not think he would consent to pulling down, but short of that, I don't think he will mind. I should not wonder if he even joined in the search.|

Donal thought with himself it was strange then he had never undertaken one. Something told him the earl would not like the proposal.

|But tell me, Mr. Grant -- how would you set about it?| said Arctura, as they went towards the tower.

|If the question were merely whether or not there was such a room, and not the finding of it, -- |

|Excuse me -- but how could you tell whether there was or was not such a room except by searching for it?|

|By determining whether there was or was not some space in the castle unaccounted for.|

|I do not see.|

|Would you mind coming to my room? It will be a lesson for Davie too!|

She assented, and Donal gave them a lesson in cubic measure and content. He showed them how to reckon the space that must lie within given boundaries: if then within those boundaries they could not find so much, part of it must he hidden. If they measured the walls of the castle, allowing of course for their thickness and every irregularity, and from that calculated the space they must hold; then measured all the rooms and open places within the walls, allowing for all partitions; and having again calculated, found the space fall short of what they had from the outside measurements to expect; they must conclude either that they had measured or calculated wrong, or that there was space in the castle to which they had no access.

|But,| continued Donal, when they had in a degree mastered the idea, |if the thing was, to discover the room itself, I should set about it in a different way; I should not care about the measuring. I would begin and go all over the castle, first getting the outside shape right in my head, and then fitting everything inside it into that shape of it in my brain. If I came to a part I could not so fit at once, I would examine that according to the rules I have given you, take exact measurements of the angles and sides of the different rooms and passages, and find whether these enclosed more space than I could at once discover inside them. -- But I need not follow the process farther: pulling down might be the next thing, and we must not talk of that!|

|But the thing is worth doing, is it not, even if we do not go so far as to pull down?|

|I think so.|

|And I think my uncle will not object. -- Say nothing about it though, Davie, till we give you leave.|

That we was pleasant in Donal's ears.

Lady Arctura rose, and they all went down together. When they reached the hall, Davie ran to get his kite.

|But you have not told me why you would not have him speak of the music,| said Arctura, stopping at the foot of the great stair.

|Partly because, if we were to go on to make search for the room, it ought to be kept as quiet as possible, and the talk about the one would draw notice to the other; and partly because I have a hope that the one may even guide us to the other.|

|You will tell me about that afterwards,| said Arctura, and went up the stair.

That night the earl had another of his wandering fits; also all night the wind blew from the south-east.

In the morning Arctura went to him with her proposal. The instant he understood what she wished, his countenance grew black as thunder.

|What!| he cried, |you would go pulling the grand old bulk to pieces for the sake of a foolish tale about the devil and a set of cardplayers! By my soul, I'll be damned if you do! -- Not while I'm above ground at least! That's what comes of putting such a place in the power of a woman! It's sacrilege! By heaven, I'll throw my brother's will into chancery rather!|

His rage was such as to compel her to think there must be more in it than appeared. The wilderness of the temper she had roused made her tremble, but it also woke the spirit of her race, and she repented of the courtesy she had shown him: she had the right to make what investigations she pleased! Her father would not have left her the property without good reasons for doing so; and of those reasons some might well have lain in the character of the man before her!

Through all this rage the earl read something of what had sent the blood of the Graemes to her cheek and brow.

|I beg your pardon, my love,| he said, |but if he was your father, he was my brother!|

|He is my father!| said Arctura coldly.

|Dead and gone and all but forgotten!|

|No, my lord; not for one day forgotten! not for one moment unloved!|

|Ah, well, as you please! but because you love his memory must I regard him as a Solon? 'T is surely no great treason to reflect upon the wisdom of a dead man!|

|I wish you good day, my lord!| said Arctura, very angry, and left him.

But when presently she found that she could not lift up her heart to her father in heaven, gladly would she have sent her anger from her. Was it not plainly other than good, when it came thus between her and the living God! All day at intervals she had to struggle and pray against it; a great part of the night she lay awake because of it; but at length she pitied her uncle too much to be very angry with him any more, and so fell asleep.

In the morning she found that all sense of his having authority over her had vanished, and with it her anger. She saw also that it was quite time she took upon herself the duties of a landowner. What could Mr. Grant think of her -- doing nothing for her people! But she could do little while her uncle received the rents and gave orders to Mr. Graeme! She would take the thing into her own hands! In the meantime, Mr. Grant should, if he pleased, go on quietly with his examination of the house.

But she could not get her interview with her uncle out of her head, and was haunted with vague suspicions of some dreadful secret about the house belonging to the present as well as the past. Her uncle seemed to have receded to a distance incalculable, and to have grown awful as he receded. She was of a nature almost too delicately impressionable; she not only felt things keenly, but retained the sting of them after the things were nearly forgotten. But then the swift and rare response of her faculties arose in no small measure from this impressionableness. At the same time, but for instincts and impulses derived from her race, her sensitiveness might have degenerated into weakness.

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