THE autumn brought terrible storms. Many fishing boats came to grief. Of some, the crews lost everything: of others, the loss of their lives delivered their crews from smaller losses. There were many bereaved in the village, and Donal went about among them, doing what he could, and getting help for them where his own ability would not reach their necessity. Lady Arctura wanted no persuasion to go with him in some of his visits; and the intercourse she thus gained with humanity in its simpler forms, of which she had not had enough for the health of her own nature, was of high service to her. Perhaps nothing helps so much to believe in the Father, as the active practical love of the brother. If he who loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, can ill love God whom he hath not seen, then he who loves his brother must surely find it the easier to love God! Arctura found that to visit the widow and the fatherless in their afflictions; to look on and know them as her kind; to enter into their sorrows, and share the elevating influence of grief genuine and simple, the same in every human soul, was to draw near to God. She met him in his children. For to honour, love, and be just to our neighbour, is religion; and he who does these things will soon find that he cannot live without the higher part of religion, the love of God. If that do not follow, the other will sooner or later die away, leaving the man the worse for having had it. She found her way to God easier through the crowd of her fellows; while their troubles took her off her own, set them at a little distance from her, and so put it in her power to understand them better.
One day after the fishing boats had gone out, rose a terrible storm. Some of them made for the harbour again -- such as it was; others kept out to sea; Stephen Kennedy's boat came ashore bottom upward. His body was cast on the sands close to the spot where Donal dragged the net from the waves. There was sorrow afresh through the village: Kennedy was a favourite; and his mother was left childless. No son would any more come sauntering in with his long slouch in the gloamin'; and whether she would ever see him again -- to know him -- who could tell! For the common belief does not go much farther than paganism in yielding comfort to those whose living loves have disappeared -- the fault not of Christianity, but of Christians.
The effect of the news upon Forgue I have some around for conjecturing: I believe it made him care a little less about marrying the girl, now that he knew no rival ready to take her; and feel also that he had one enemy the less, one danger the less, in the path he would like to take. Within a week after, he left the castle, and if his father knew where he went, he was the only one who did. He had been pressing him to show some appearance of interest in his cousin; Forgue had professed himself unequal to the task at present: if he might go away for a while, he said, he would doubtless find it easier when he returned.
The storms were over, the edges and hidden roots had begun to dream of spring, and Arctura had returned to her own room to sleep, when one afternoon she came to the schoolroom and told Donal she had had the terrible dream again.
|This time,| she said, |I came out, in my dream, on the great stair, and went up to my room, and into bed, before I waked. But I dare not ask mistress Brookes whether she saw me -- |
|You do not imagine you were out of the room?| said Donal.
|I cannot tell. I hope not. If I were to find I had been, it would drive me out of my senses! I was thinking all day about the lost room: I fancy it had something to do with that.|
|We must find the room, and have done with it!| said Donal.
|Are you so sure we can?| she asked, her face brightening.
|If there be one, and you will help me, I think we can,| he answered.
|I will help you.|
|Then first we will try the shaft of the music-chimney. That it has never smoked, at least since those wires were put there, makes it something to question -- though the draught across it might doubtless have prevented it from being used. It may be the chimney to the very room. But we will first try to find out whether it belongs to any room we know. I will get a weight and a cord: the wires will be a plague, but I think we can pass them. Then we shall see how far the weight goes down, and shall know on what floor it is arrested. That will be something gained: the plane of inquiry will be determined. Only there may be a turn in the chimney, preventing the weight from going to the bottom.|
|When shall we set about it?| said Arctura, almost eagerly.
|At once,| replied Donal.
She went to get a shawl.
Donal went to the gardener's tool-house, and found a suitable cord. There was a seven-pound weight, but that would not pass the wires! He remembered an old eight-day clock on a back stair, which was never going. He got out its heavier weight, and carried it, with the cord and the ladder, to his own stair -- at the foot of which was lady Arctura -- waiting for him.
There was that in being thus associated with the lovely lady; in knowing that peace had began to visit her through him, that she trusted him implicitly, looking to him for help and even protection; in knowing that nothing but wrong to her could be looked for from uncle or cousin, and that he held what might be a means of protecting her, should undue influence be brought to bear upon her -- there was that in all this, I say, that stirred to its depth the devotion of Donal's nature. With the help of God he would foil her enemies, and leave her a free woman -- a thing well worth a man's life! Many an angel has been sent on a smaller errand!
Such were his thoughts as he followed Arctura up the stair, she carrying the weight and the cord, he the ladder, which it was not easy to get round the screw of the stair. Arctura trembled with excitement as she ascended, grew frightened as often as she found she had outstripped him, waited till the end of the ladder came poking round, and started again before the bearer appeared.
Her dreams had disquieted her more than she had yet confessed: had she been taking a way of her own, and choosing a guide instead of receiving instruction in the way of understanding? Were these things sent for her warning, to show her into what an abyss of death her conduct was leading her? -- But the moment she found herself in the open air of Donal's company, her doubts and fears vanished for the time. Such a one as he must surely know better than those others the way of the Spirit! Was he not more childlike, more straightforward, more simple, and, she could not but think, more obedient than those? Mr. Carmichael was older, and might be more experienced; but did his light shine clearer than Donal's? He might be a priest in the temple; but was there not a Samuel in the temple as well as an Eli? It the young, strong, ruddy shepherd, the defender of his flock, who was sent by God to kill the giant! He was too little to wear Saul's armour; but he could kill a man too big to wear it! Thus meditated Arctura as she climbed the stair, and her hope and courage grew.
A delicate conscience, sensitive feelings, and keen faculties, subjected to the rough rasping of coarse, self-satisfied, unspiritual natures, had almost lost their equilibrium. As to natural condition no one was sounder than she; yet even now when she had more than begun to see its falsehood, a headache would suffice to bring her afresh under the influence of the hideous system she had been taught, and wake in her all kinds of deranging doubts and consciousnesses. Subjugated so long to the untrue, she required to be for a time, until her spiritual being should be somewhat individualized, under the genial influences of one who was not afraid to believe, one who knew the master. Nor was there danger to either so long as he sought no end of his own, so long as he desired only His will, so long as he could say, |Whom is there in heaven but thee! and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee!|
By the time she reached the top she was radiantly joyous in the prospect of a quiet hour with him whose presence and words always gave her strength, who made the world look less mournful, and the will of God altogether beautiful; who taught her that the glory of the Father's love lay in the inexorability of its demands, that it is of his deep mercy that no one can get out until he has paid the uttermost farthing.
They stepped upon the roof and into the gorgeous afterglow of an autumn sunset. The whole country, like another sea, was flowing from that that well of colour, in tidal waves of an ever advancing creation. Its more etherial part, rushing on above, broke on the old roofs and chimneys and splashed its many tinted foam all over them; while through it and folded in it came a cold thin wind that told of coming death. Arctura breathed a deep breath, and her joy grew. It is wonderful how small a physical elevation, lifting us into a slightly thinner air, serves to raise the human spirits! We are like barometers, only work the other way; the higher we go, the higher goes our mercury.
They stood for a moment in deep enjoyment, then simultaneously turned to each other.
|My lady,| said Donal, |with such a sky as that out there, it hardly seems as if there could be such a thing as our search to-night! Hollow places, hidden away for evil cause, do not go with it at all! There is the story of gracious invention and glorious gift; here the story of greedy gathering and self-seeking, which all concealment involves!|
|But there may be nothing, you know, Mr. Grant!| said Arctura, troubled for the house.
|There may be nothing. But if there is such a room, you may be sure it has some relation with terrible wrong -- what, we may never find out, or even the traces of it.|
|I shall not be afraid,| she said, as if speaking with herself. |It is the terrible dreaming that makes me weak. In the morning I tremble as if I had been in the hands of some evil power.|
Donal turned his eyes upon her. How thin she looked in the last of the sunlight! A pang went through him at the thought that one day he might be alone with Davie in the huge castle, untended by the consciousness that a living light and loveliness flitted somewhere about its gloomy and ungenial walls. But he would not think the thought! How that dismal Miss Carmichael must have worried her! When the very hope of the creature in his creator is attacked in the name of religion; when his longing after a living God is met with the offer of a paltry escape from hell, how is the creature to live! It is God we want, not heaven; his righteousness, not an imputed one, for our own possession; remission, not letting off; love, not endurance for the sake of another, even if that other be the one loveliest of all.
They turned from the sunset and made their way to the chimney-stack. There once more Donal set up his ladder. He tied the clock-weight to the end of his cord, dropped it in, and with a little management got it through the wires. It went down and down, gently lowered, till the cord was all out, and still it would go.
|Do run and get some more,| said Arctura.
|You do not mind being left alone?|
|No -- if you will not be long.|
|I will run,| he said -- and run he did, for she had scarcely begun to feel the loneliness when he returned panting.
He took the end she had been holding, tied on the fresh cord he had brought, and again lowered away. As he was beginning to fear that after all he had not brought enough, the weight stopped, resting, and drew no more.
|If only we had eyes in that weight,| said Arctura, |like the snails at the end of their horns!|
|We might have greased the bottom of the weight,| said Donal, |as they do the lead when they want to know what kind of bottom there is to the sea: it might have brought up ashes. If it will not go any farther, I will mark the string at the mouth, and draw it up.|
He moved the weight up and down a little; it rested still, and he drew it up.
|Now we must mark off it the height of the chimney above the parapet wall,| he said; |and then I will lower the weight towards the court below, until this last knot comes to the wall: the weight will then show us on the outside how far down the house it went inside. -- Ah, I thought so!| he went on, looking over after the weight; | -- only to the first floor, or thereabouts! -- No, I think it is lower! -- But anyhow, my lady, as you can see, the place with which the chimney, if chimney it be, communicates, must be somewhere about the middle of the house, and perhaps is on the first floor; we can't judge very well looking down from here, and against a spot where are no windows. Can you imagine what place it might be?|
|I cannot,| answered Arctura; |but I could go into every room on that floor without anyone seeing me.|
|Then I will let the weight down the chimney again, and leave it for you to see, if you can, below. If you find it, we must do something else.|
It was done, and they descended together. Donal went back to the schoolroom, not expecting to see her again till the next day. But in half an hour she came to him, saying she had been into every room on that floor, both where she thought it might be, and where she knew it could not be, and had not seen the weight.
|The probability then is,| replied Donal, |that thereabout somewhere -- there, or farther down in that neighbourhood -- lies the secret; but we cannot be sure, for the weight may not have reached the bottom of the shaft. Let us think what we shall do next.
He placed a chair for her by the fire. They had the room to themselves.