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Donal Grant by George MacDonald


TENDER over lady Arctura, Donal would ask a question or two of the housekeeper before disclosing what further he had found. He sought her room, therefore, while Arctura and Davie, much together now, were reading in the library.

|Did you ever hear anything about that little room on the stair, mistress Brookes?| he asked.

|I canna say,| she answered -- but thoughtfully, | -- Bide a wee: auld auntie did mention something ance aboot -- bide a wee -- I hae a wullin' memory -- maybe I'll min' upo' 't i' the noo! -- It was something aboot biggin' up an' takin' doon -- something he was to do, an' something he never did! -- I'm sure I canna tell! But gie me time, an' I'll min' upo' 't! Ance is aye wi' me -- only I maun hae time!|

Donal waited, and said not a word.

|I min' this much,| she said at length, | -- that they used to be thegither i' that room. I min' too that there was something aboot buildin' up ae wa', an' pu'in' doon anither. -- It's comin' -- it's comin' back to me!|

She paused again awhile, and then said:

|All I can recollec', Mr. Grant, is this: that efter her death, he biggit up something no far frae that room! -- what was't noo? -- an' there was something aboot makin' o' the room bigger! Hoo that could be by buildin' up, I canna think! Yet I feel sure that was what he did!|

|Would you mind coming to the place?| said Donal. |To see it might help you to remember.|

|I wull, sir. Come ye here aboot half efter ten, an' we s' gang thegither.|

As soon as the house was quiet, they went. But Mistress Brookes could recall nothing, and Donal gazed about him to no purpose.

|What's that?| he said at last, pointing to the wall on the other side of which was the little chamber.

Two arches, in chalk, as it seemed, had attracted his gaze. Light surely was about to draw nigh through the darkness! Chaos surely was settling a little towards order!

The one arch was drawn opposite the hidden chamber; the other against the earl's closet, as it had come to be called in the house -- most of the domestics thinking he there said his prayers. It looked as if there had been an intention of piercing the wall with such arches, to throw the two small rooms on the other side as recesses into the larger. But if that had been the intent, what could the building of a wall, vaguely recollected by mistress Brookes, have been for? That a wall had been built he did not doubt, for he believed he knew the wall, but why?

|What's that?| said Donal.

|What?| returned Mrs. Brookes.

|Those two arches.|

The housekeeper looked at them thoughtfully for a few moments.

|I canna help fancyin',| she said slowly, | -- yes, I'm sure that's the varra thing my aunt told me aboot! That's the twa places whaur he was goin' to tak the wall doon, to mak the room lairger. But I'm sure she said something aboot buildin' a wall as weel!|

|Look here,| said Donal; |I will measure the distance from the door to the other side of this first arch. -- Now come into the closet behind. Look here! This same measurement takes us right up to the end of the place! So you see if we were to open the other arch, it would be into something behind this wall.|

|Then this may be the varra wa' he biggit?|

|I don't doubt it; but what could he have had it built for, if he was going to open the other wall? I must think it all over! -- It was after his wife's death, you say?|

|Yes, I believe so.|

|One might have thought he would not care about enlarging the room after she was gone!|

|But, sir, he wasna jist sic a pattren o' a guidman;| said the housekeeper. |An' what for mak this room less?|

|May it not have been for the sake of shutting out, or hiding something?| suggested Donal.

|I do remember a certain thing! -- Curious! -- But what then as to the openin' o' 't efter?|

|He has never done it!| said Donal significantly. |The thing takes shape to me in this way: -- that he wanted to build something out of sight -- to annihilate it; but in order to prevent speculation, he professed the intention of casting the one room into the other; then built the wall across, on the pretence that it was necessary for support when the other was broken through -- or perhaps that two recesses with arches would look better; but when he had got the wall built, he put off opening the arches on one pretext or another, till the thing should be forgotten altogether -- as you see it is already, almost entirely! -- I have been at the back of that wall, and heard the earl moaning and crying on this side of it!|

|God bless me!| cried the good woman. |I'm no easy scaret, but that's fearfu' to think o'!|

|You would not care to come there with me?|

|No the nicht, sir. Come to my room again, an' I s' mak ye a cup o' coffee, an' tell ye the story -- it's a' come back to me noo -- the thing 'at made my aunt tell me aboot the buildin' o' this wa'. 'Deed, sir, I hae hardly a doobt the thing was jist as ye say!|

They went to her room: there was lady Arctura sitting by the fire!

|My lady!| cried the housekeeper. |I thoucht I left ye soon' asleep!|

|So I was, I daresay,| answered Arctura; |but I woke again, and finding you had not come up, I thought I would go down to you. I was certain you and Mr. Grant would be somewhere together! Have you been discovering anything more?|

Mrs. Brookes gave Donal a look: he left her to tell as much or as little as she pleased.

|We hae been prowlin' aboot the hoose, but no doon yon'er, my lady. I think you an' me wad do weel to lea' that to Mr. Grant!|

|When your ladyship is quite ready to have everything set to rights,| said Donal, |and to have a resurrection of the chapel, then I shall be glad to go with you again. But I would rather not even talk more about it just at present.|

|As you please, Mr. Grant,| replied lady Arctura. |We will say nothing more till I have made up my mind. I don't want to vex my uncle, and I find the question rather a difficult one -- and the more difficult that he is worse than usual. -- Will you not come to bed now, mistress Brookes?|

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