ON the Monday night Donal again went down into the hidden parts of the castle. Arctura had come to the schoolroom, but seemed ill able for her work, and he did not tell her what he was doing farther.
They were rather the ghosts of fears than fears themselves that had assailed him, and this time they hardly came near him as he wrought. With his new file he made better work than before, and soon finished cutting through the top of the staple. Trying it then with a poker as a lever, he broke the bottom part across; so there was nothing to hold the bolt, and with a creaking noise of rusty hinges the door slowly opened to his steady pull. Nothing appeared but a wall of plank! He gave it a push; it yielded: another door, close-fitting, and without any fastening, flew open, revealing a small closet or press, and on the opposite side of it a third door. This he could not at once open. It was secured, however, with a common lock, which cost him scarcely any trouble. It opened on a little room, of about nine feet by seven. He went in. It contained nothing but an old-fashioned secretary or bureau, and a seat like a low music-stool.
|It may have been a vestry for the priest!| thought Donal; |but it must have been used later than the chapel, for this desk is not older than the one at The Mains, which mistress Jean said was made for her grandmother!|
Then how did it get into the place? There was no other door! Above the bureau was a small window, or what seemed a window doubtful with dirt; but door there was not! It was not too large to enter by the oak door, but it could not have got to it along any of the passages he had come through! It followed that there must, and that not so very long ago, have been another entrance to the place in which he stood!
He turned to look at the way he had himself come: it was through a common press of painted deal, filling the end of the little room, there narrowed to about five feet. When the door in the back of it was shut, it looked merely a part of the back of the press.
He turned again to the bureau, with a strange feeling at his heart. The cover was down, and on it lay some sheets of paper, discoloured with dust and age. A pen lay with them, and beside was an ink-bottle of the commonest type, the ink in powder and flakes. He took up one of the sheets. It had a great stain on it. The bottle must have been overturned! But was it ink? No; it stood too thick on the paper. With a gruesome shiver Donal wetted his finger and tried the surface of it: a little came off, a tinge of suspicious brown. There was writing on the paper! What was it? He held the faded lines close to the candle. They were not difficult to decipher. He sat down on the stool, and read thus -- his reading broken by the stain: there was no date: --
|My husband for such I will -- blot -- are in the sight of God -- blot -- men why are you so cruel what -- blot -- deserve these terrors -- blot -- in thought have I -- blot -- hard upon me to think of another.|
Here the writing came below the blot, and went on unbroken.
|My little one is gone and I am left lonely oh so lonely. I cannot but think that if you had loved me as you once did I should yet be clasping my little one to my bosom and you would have a daughter to comfort you after I am gone. I feel sure I cannot long survive this -- ah there my hand has burst out bleeding again, but do not think I mind it, I know it was only an accident, you never meant to do it, though you teased me by refusing to say so -- besides it is nothing. You might draw ever drop of blood from my body and I would not care if only you would not make my heart bleed so. Oh, it is gone all over my paper and you will think I have done it to let you see how it bleeds -- but I cannot write it all over again it is too great a labour and too painful to write, so you must see it just as it is. I dare not think where my baby is, for if I should be doomed never to see her because of the love I have borne to you and consented to be as you wished if I am cast out from God because I loved you more than him I shall never see you again -- for to be where I could see you would never be punishment enough for my sins.|
Here the writing stopped: the bleeding of the hand had probably brought it to a close. The letter had never been folded, but lying there, had lain there. He looked if he could find a date; there was none. He held the sheet up to the light, and saw a paper mark; while close by lay another sheet with merely a date -- in the same hand, as if the writer had been about to commence another in lieu of the letter spoiled.
|Strange!| thought Donal with himself; |an old withered grief looks almost as pitiful as an old withered joy! -- But who is to say either is withered? Those who look upon death as an evil, yet regard it as the healer of sorrows! Is it such? No one can tell how long a grief may last unwithered! Surely till the life heals it! He is a coward who would be cured of his sorrow by mere lapse of time, by the mere forgetting of a brain that grows musty with age. It is God alone who can heal -- the God of the dead and of the living! and the dead must find him, or be miserable for evermore!|
He had not a doubt that the letter he had read was in the writing of the mother of the present earl's children.
What was he to do? He had thought he was looking into matters much older -- things over which the permission of lady Arctura extended; and in truth what he had discovered, or seen corroborated, was a thing she had a right to know! but whether he ought to tell her at once he did not yet see. He took up his candle, and with a feeling of helpless dismay, withdrew to his chamber. But when he reached the door of it, yielding to a sudden impulse, he turned away, and went farther up the stair, and out upon the bartizan.
It was a frosty night, and the stars were brilliant. He looked up and said,
|Oh Saviour of men, thy house is vaulted with light; thy secret places are secret from excess of light; in thee is no darkness at all; thou hast no terrible crypts and built-up places; thy light is the terror of those who love the darkness! Fill my heart with thy light; let me never hunger or thirst after anything but thy will -- that I may walk in the light, and light not darkness may go forth from me.|
As he turned to go in, came a faint chord from the aeolian harp.
|It sings, brooding over the very nest of evil deeds!| he thought. |The light eternal, with keen arrows of radiant victory, will yet at last rout from the souls of his creatures the demons that haunt them!
|But if there be creatures of God that have turned to demons, may not human souls themselves turn to demons? Would they then be victorious over God, too strong for him to overcome -- beyond the reach of repentance?
|How would they live? By their own power? Then were they Gods! -- But they did not make themselves, and could not live of themselves. If not, then they must live by God's power. How then should they be beyond his reach?
|If the demons can never be brought back, then the life of God, the all-pure, goes out to keep alive, in and for evil, that which is essentially bad; for that which is irredeemable is essentially bad.|
Thus reasoned Donal with himself, and his reasoning, instead of troubling his faith, caused him to cling the more to the only One, the sole hope and saviour of the hearts of his men and women, without whom the whole universe were but a charnel house in which the ghosts of the dead went about crying, not over the life that was gone from them, but its sorrows.
He stood and gazed out over the cold sea. And as he gazed, a shivering surge of doubt, a chill wave of negation, came rolling over him. He knew that in a moment he would strike out with the energy of a strong swimmer, and rise to the top of it; but now it was tumbling him about at its evil will. He stood and gazed -- with a dull sense that he was waiting for his will. Suddenly came the consciousness that he and his will were one; that he had not to wait for his will, but had to wake -- to will, that is, and do, and so be. And therewith he said to himself: --
|It is neither time, nor eternity, nor human consolation, nor everlasting sleep, nor the satisfied judgment, nor attained ambition, even in love itself, that is the cure for things; it is the heart, the will, the being of the Father. While that remains, the irremediable, the irredeemable cannot be. If there arose a grief in the heart of one of his creatures not otherwise to be destroyed, he would take it into himself, there consume it in his own creative fire -- himself bearing the grief, carrying the sorrow. Christ died -- and would die again rather than leave one heart-ache in the realms of his love -- that is, of his creation. 'Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed!'|
Over his head the sky was full of shining worlds -- mansions in the Father's house, built or building.
|We are not at the end of things,| he thought, |but in the beginnings and on the threshold of creation! The Father is as young as when first the stars of the morning sang -- the Ancient of Days who can never grow old! He who has ever filled the dull unbelieving nations with food and gladness, has a splendour of delight for the souls that believe, ever as by their obedience they become capable of receiving it.|