ONE evening, as Donal was walking in the little avenue below the terraces, Davie, who was now advanced to doing a little work without his master's immediate supervision, came running to him to say that Arkie was in the schoolroom and wanted to see him.
He hastened to her.
|A word with you, please, Mr. Grant,| she said.
Donal sent the boy away.
|I have debated with myself all day whether I should tell you,| she began -- and her voice trembled not a little; |but I think I shall not be so much afraid to go to bed if I do tell you what I dreamt last night.|
Her face was very pale, and there was a quiver about her mouth: she seemed ready to burst into tears.
|Do tell me,| said Donal sympathetically.
|Do you think it very silly to mind one's dreams?| she asked.
|Silly or not,| answered Donal, |as regards the general run of dreams, it is plain you have had one that must be minded. What we must mind, it cannot be silly to mind.|
|I am in no mood, I fear, for philosophy,| she rejoined, trying to smile. |It has taken such a hold of me that I cannot get rid of it, and there is no one I could tell it to but you; any one else would laugh at me; but you never laugh at anybody!
|I went to bed as well as usual, only a little troubled about my uncle's strangeness, and soon fell asleep, to find myself presently in a most miserable place. It was like a brick-field -- but a deserted brick-field. Heaps of broken and half-burnt bricks were all about. For miles and miles they stretched around me. I walked fast to get out of it. Nobody was near or in sight; there was not a sign of human habitation from horizon to horizon.
|All at once I saw before me a dreary church. It was old, tumble-down, and dirty -- not in the least venerable -- very ugly -- a huge building without shape, like most of our churches. I shrank from the look of it: it was more horrible to me than I could account for; I feared it. But I must go in -- why, I did not know, but I must: the dream itself compelled me.
|I went in. It looked as if nobody had crossed its threshold for a hundred years. The pews were mouldering away; the canopy over the pulpit had half fallen, and rested its edge on the book-board; the great galleries had in parts tumbled into the body of the church, in other parts they hung sloping from the walls. The centre of the floor had fallen in, and there was a great, descending slope of earth, soft-looking, mixed with bits of broken and decayed wood, from the pews above and the coffins below. I stood gazing down in horror unutterable. How far the gulf went I could not see. I was fascinated by its slow depth, and the thought of its possible contents -- when suddenly I knew rather than perceived that something was moving in its darkness: it was something dead -- something yellow-white. It came nearer; it was slowly climbing; like one dead and stiff it was labouring up the slope. I could neither cry out nor move. It was about three yards below me, when it raised its head: it was my uncle, dead, and dressed for the grave. He beckoned me -- and I knew I must go; I had to go, nor once thought of resisting. My heart became like lead, but immediately I began the descent. My feet sank in the mould of the ancient dead, soft as if thousands of graveyard moles were for ever burrowing in it, as down and down I went, settling and sliding with the black plane. Then I began to see the sides and ends of coffins in the walls of the gulf; and the walls came closer and closer as I descended, until they scarcely left me room to get through. I comforted myself with the thought that those in these coffins had long been dead, and must by this time be at rest, nor was there any danger of seeing mouldy hands come out to seize me. At last I saw that my uncle had stopped, and I stood still, a few yards above him, more composed than I can understand.|
|The wonder is we are so believing, yet not more terrified, in our dreams,| said Donal.
|He began to heave and pull at a coffin that seemed to stop the way. Just as he got it dragged on one side, I saw on the bright silver handle of it the Morven crest. The same instant the lid rose, and my father came out of the coffin, looking alive and bright; my uncle stood beside him like a corpse beside a soul. 'What do you want with my child?' he said; and my uncle cowered before him. He took my hand and said, 'Come with me, my child.' And I went with him -- oh, so gladly! My fear was gone, and so was my uncle. He led me up the way we had come down, but when we came out of the hole, instead of finding myself in the horrible church, I was in my own room. I looked round -- no one was near! I was sorry my father was gone, but glad to be in my own room. Then I woke -- and here was the terrible thing -- not in my bed -- but standing in the middle of the floor, just where my dream had left me! I cannot get rid of the thought that I really went somewhere. I have been haunted with it the whole day. It is a terror to me -- for if I did, where is my help against going again!|
|In God our saviour,| said Donal. | -- But had your uncle given you anything?|
|I wish I could think so; but I do not see how he could.|
|You must change your room, and get mistress Brookes to sleep near you.|
Gladly would Donal have offered to sleep, like one of his colleys, outside her door, but Mrs. Brookes was the only one to help her.
He began at once to make observations towards determining the existence or non-existence of a hidden room, but in the quietest way, so as to attract no attention, and had soon satisfied himself concerning some parts that it could not be there. Without free scope and some one to help him, the thing was difficult. To guage a building which had grown through centuries, to fit the varying tastes and changing needs of the generations, was in itself not easy, and he judged it all but impossible without drawing observation and rousing speculation. Great was the chaotic element in the congeries of erections and additions, brought together by various contrivances, and with daringly enforced communication. Open spaces within the walls, different heights in the stories of contiguous buildings, breaks in the continuity of floors, and various other irregularities, he found confusingly obstructive.