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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER LXII. THE CRYPT.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


|WHEN are you going down again to the chapel, Mr. Grant?| said lady Arctura: she was better now, and able to work.

|I was down last night, and want to go again this evening by myself -- if you don't mind, my lady,| he answered. |I am sure it will be better for you not to go down till you are ready to give your orders to have everything cleared away for the light and air to enter. The damp and closeness of the place are too much for you.|

|I think it was rather the want of sleep that made me ill,| she answered; |but you can do just as you please.|

|I thank you for your confidence, my lady,| returned Donal. |I do not think you will repent it.|

|I know I shall not.|

Having some things to do first, it was late before Donal went down -- intent on learning the former main entrance, and verifying the position of the chapel in the castle.

He betook himself to the end of the passage under the little gallery, and there examined the signs he had observed: those must be the outer ends of two of the steps of the great staircase! they came through, resting on the wall. That end of the chapel, then, adjoined the main stair. Evidently, too, a door had been built up in the process of constructing the stair. The chapel then had not been entered from that level since the building of the stair. Originally there had, most likely, been an outside stair to this door, in an open court.

After a little more examination, partial of necessity, from lack of light, he was on his way out, and already near the top of the mural stair, thinking of the fresh observations he would take outside in the morning, when behind, overtaking him from the regions he had left, came a blast of air, and blew out his candle. He shivered -- not with the cold of it, though it did breathe of underground damps and doubtful growths, but from a feeling of its having been sent after him to make him go down again -- for did it not indicate some opening to the outer air? He relighted his candle and descended, carefully guarding it with one hand. The cold sigh seemed to linger about him as he went -- gruesome as from a closed depth, the secret bosom of the castle, into which the light never entered. But, wherever it came from last, however earthy and fearful, it came first from the open regions of life, and had but passed through a gloom that life itself must pass! Could it have been a draught down the pipe of the music-chords? No, for they would have loosed some light-winged messenger with it! He must search till he found its entrance below!

He crossed the little gallery, descended, and went again into the chapel: it lay as still as the tomb which it was no more. He seemed to miss the presence of the dead, and feel the place deserted. All round its walls, as far as he could reach or see, he searched carefully, but could perceive no sign of possible entrance for the messenger blast. It came again! -- plainly through the open door under the windows. He went again into the passage outside the wall, and the moment he turned into it, the draught seemed to come from beneath, blowing upwards. He stooped to examine; his candle was again extinguished. Once more he relighted it. Searching then along the floor and the foot of the walls, he presently found, in the wall of the chapel itself, close to the ground, a narrow horizontal opening: it must pass under the floor of the chapel! All he saw was a mere slit, but the opening might be larger, and partially covered by the flooring-slab, which went all the length of the slit! He would try to raise it! That would want a crowbar! but having got so far, he would not rest till he knew more! It must be very late and the domestics all in bed; but what hour it was he could not tell, for he had left his watch in his room. It might be midnight and he burrowing like a mole about the roots of the old house, or like an evil thing in the heart of a man! No matter! he would follow up his search -- after what, he did not know.

He crept up, and out of the castle by his own stair, so to the tool-house. It was locked. But lying near was a half-worn shovel: that might do! he would have a try with it! Like one in a dream of ancient ruins, creeping through mouldy and low-browed places, he went down once more into the entrails of the house.

Inserting the sharp edge of the worn shovel in the gap between the stone and that next it, he raised it more readily than he had hoped, and saw below it a small window, whose sill sloped steeply inward. How deep the place might be, and whether it would be possible to get out of it again, he must discover before entering. He took a letter from his pocket, lighted it, and threw it in. It revealed a descent of about seven feet, into what looked like a cellar. He blew his candle out, put it in his pocket, got into the window, slid down the slope, and reached his new level with ease. He then lighted his candle, and looked about him.

His eye first fell on a large flat stone in the floor, like a gravestone, but without any ornament or inscription. It was a roughly vaulted place, unpaved, its floor of damp hard-beaten earth. In the wall to the right of that through which he had entered, was another opening, low down, like the crown of an arch the rest of which was beneath the floor. As near as he could judge, it was right under the built-up door in the passage above. He crept through it, and found himself under the spiral of the great stair, in the small space at the bottom of its well. On the floor lay a dust-pan and a house-maid's-brush -- and there was the tiny door at which they were shoved in, after their morning's use upon the stair! It was open -- inwards; he crept through it: he was in the great hall of the house -- and there was one of its windows wide open! Afraid of being by any chance discovered, he put out his light, and proceeded up the stair in the dark.

He had gone but a few steps when he heard the sound of descending feet. He stopped and listened: they turned into the half-way room. When he reached it, he heard sounds which showed that the earl was in the closet behind it. Things rushed together in his mind. He hurried up to lady Arctura's room, thence descended, for the third time that night -- but no farther than the oak door, passed through it, entered the little chamber, and hastening to the farther end of it, laid his ear against the wall. Plainly enough he heard the sounds he had expected -- those of the dream-walking rather than sleep-walking earl, moaning, and calling in a low voice of entreaty after some one whose name did not grow audible to the listener.

|Ah!| thought Donal, |who would find it hard to believe in roaming and haunting ghosts, that had once seen this poor man roaming his own house, and haunting that chamber! How easily I could punish him now, with a lightning blast of terror!|

It was but a thought; it did not amount to a temptation; Donal knew he had no right. Vengeance belongs to the Lord, for he alone knows how to use it.

I do not believe that mere punishment exists anywhere in the economy of the highest; I think mere punishment a human idea, not a divine one. But the consuming fire is more terrible than any punishment invented by riotous and cruel imagination. Punishment indeed it is -- not mere punishment; a power of God for his creature. Love is God's being; love is his creative energy; they are one: God's punishments are for the casting out of the sin that uncreates, for the recreating of the things his love made and sin has unmade.

He heard the lean hands of the earl go slowly sweeping, at the ends of his long arms, over the wall: he had seen the thing, else he could hardly have interpreted the sounds; and he heard him muttering on and on, though much too low for his words to be distinguishable. Had they been, Donal by this time was so convinced that he had to do with an evil and dangerous man, that he would have had little scruple in listening. It is only righteousness that has a right to secrecy, and does not want it; evil has no right to secrecy, alone intensely desires it, and rages at being foiled of it; for when its deeds come to the light, even evil has righteousness enough left to be ashamed of them. But he could remain no longer; his very soul felt sick within him. He turned hastily away to leave the place. But carrying his light too much in front, and forgetting the stool, he came against it and knocked it over, not without noise. A loud cry from the other side of the wall revealed the dismay he had caused. It was followed by a stillness, and then a moaning.

He made haste to find Simmons, and send him to his master. He heard nothing afterwards of the affair.

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