ON the day after the last triad in the housekeeper's parlour, as Donal sat in the schoolroom with Davie -- about noon it was -- he became aware that for some time he had been hearing laborious blows apparently at a great distance: now that he attended, they seemed to be in the castle itself, deadened by mass, not distance. With a fear gradually becoming more definite, he sat listening for a few moments.
|Davie,| he said, |run and see what is going on.|
The boy came rushing back in great excitement.
|Oh, Mr. Grant, what do you think!| he cried. |I do believe my father is after the lost room! They are breaking down a wall!|
|Where?| asked Donal, half starting from his seat.
|In the little room behind the half-way room -- on the stair, you know!|
Donal was silent: what might not be the consequences!
|You may go and see them at work, Davie,| he said. |We shall have no more lessons this morning. -- Was your papa with them?|
|No, sir -- at least, I did not see him. Simmons told me he sent for the masons this morning, and set them to take the wall down. Oh, thank you, Mr. Grant! It is such fun! I do wonder what is behind it! It may be a place you know quite well, or a place you never saw before!|
Davie ran off, and Donal instantly sped to a corner where he had hidden some tools, thence to lady Arctura's deserted room, and so to the oak door. He remembered seeing another staple in the same post, a little lower down: if he could get that out, he would drive it in beside the remains of the other, so as to hold the bolt of the lock: if the earl knew the way in, as doubtless he did, he must not learn that another had found it -- not yet at least! As he went down, every blow of the masons pounding at the wall, seemed in his very ears.
He peeped through the press-door: they had not yet got through the wall: no light was visible! He made haste to restore things -- only a stool and a few papers -- to their exact positions when first he entered. Close to him on the other side of the partition, shaking the place, the huge blows were falling like those of a ram on the wall of a besieged city, of which he was the whole garrison. He stepped into the press and drew the door after him: with his last glance behind him he saw, in the faint gleam of light that came with it, a stone fall: he must make haste: the demolition would go on much faster now; but before they had the opening large enough to pass, he would have done what he wanted! With a strong piece of iron for a lever, he drew the staple from the post, then drove it in astride of the bolt, careful to time his blows to those of the masons. That done, he ran down to the chapel, gathered what dust he could sweep up from behind the altar and laid it on its top, restored on the bed, with its own dust, a little of the outline of what had lain there, dropped the slab to its place in the floor of the passage, closed the door of the chapel with some difficulty because of its broken hinge, and ascended.
The sounds of battering had ceased, and as he passed the oak door he laid his ear to it: some one was in the place! the lid of the bureau shut with a loud bang, and he heard a lock turned. The wall could not be half down yet: the earl must have entered the moment he could get through!
Donal hastened up, and out of the dreadful place, put the slab in the opening, secured it with a strut against the opposite side of the recess, and closed the shutters and drew the curtains of the room; if the earl came up the stair in the wall, found the stone immovable, and saw no light through any chink about its edges, he would not suspect it had been displaced!
He went then to lady Arctura.
|I have a great deal to tell you,| he said, |but at this moment I cannot: I am afraid of the earl finding me with you!|
|Why should you mind that?| said Arctura.
|Because I think he is suspicious about the lost room. He has had a wall taken down this morning. Please do not let him see you know anything about it. Davie thinks he is set on finding the lost room: I think he knew all about it long ago. You can ask him what he has been doing: you must have heard the masons!|
|I hope I shall not stumble into anything like a story, for if I do I must out with everything!|
In the afternoon, Davie was full of the curious little place his father had discovered behind the wall; but, if that was the lost room, he said, it was not at all worth making such a fuss about: it was nothing but a big closet, with an old desk-kind of thing in it!
In the afternoon also, the earl went to see his niece. It was the first time they met after his rude behaviour on her proposal to search for the lost room.
|What were you doing this morning, uncle?| she said. |There was such a thumping and banging somewhere in the castle! Davie said you were determined, he thought, to find the lost room.|
|Nothing of the kind, my love,| answered the earl. | -- I do hope they will not spoil the stair carrying the stones and mortar down!|
|What was it then, uncle?|
|Simply this, my dear: my late wife, your aunt, and I, had a plan for taking that closet behind my room on the stair into the room itself. In preparation, I had a wall built across the middle of the closet, so as to divide it and make two recesses of it, and act also as a buttress to the weakened wall. Then your aunt died, and I hadn't the heart to open the recesses or do anything more in the matter. So one half of the closet was cut off, and remained inaccessible. But there had been left in it an old bureau, containing papers of some consequence, for it was heavy, and intended to occupy the same position after the arches were opened. Now, as it happens, I want one of those papers, so the wall has had to come down again.|
|But, uncle, what a pity!| said Arctura. |Why did you not open the arches? The recesses would have been so pretty in that room!|
|I am sorry I did not think of asking you what you would like done about it, my child! The fact is I never thought of your taking any interest in the matter; I had naturally lost all mine. You will please to observe, however, I have only restored what I had myself disarranged -- not meddled with anything belonging to the castle!|
|But now you have the masons here, why not go on, and make a little search for the lost room?| said Arctura, venturing once more.
|We might pull down the castle and be none the wiser! Bah! the building up of half the closet may have given rise to the whole story!|
|Surely, uncle, the legend is older than that!|
|It may be; you cannot be sure. Once a going, it would immediately cry back to a remote age. Prove that any one ever spoke of it before the building of that foolish wall.|
|Surely some remember hearing it long before that!|
|Nothing is more treacherous than a memory confronted with a general belief,| said the earl, and took his leave.
The next morning Arctura went to see the alteration. She opened the door of the little room: it was twice its former size, and two bureaus were standing against the wall! She peeped into the cupboard at the end of it, but saw nothing there.
That same morning she made up her mind that she would go no farther at present in regard to the chapel: it would be to break with her uncle!
In the evening, she acquainted Donal with her resolve, and he could not say she was wrong. There was no necessity for opposing her uncle -- there might soon come one! He told her how he had entered the closet from behind, and of the noise he had made the night before, which had perhaps led to the opening of the place; but he did not tell her of what he had found on the bureau. The time might come when he must do so, but now he dared not render her relations with her uncle yet more uncomfortable; neither was it likely such a woman would consent to marry such a man as her cousin had shown himself; when that danger appeared, it would be time to interpose; for the mere succession to an empty title, he was not sure that he was bound to speak. The branch which could produce such scions, might well be itself a false graft on the true stem of the family! -- if not, what was the family worth? He must at all events be sure it was his business before he moved in the matter!