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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER LXVII. THE BREAKFAST-ROOM.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald

CHAPTER LXVII. THE BREAKFAST-ROOM.

TWO years before, lady Arctura had been in the habit of riding a good deal, but after an accident to a favourite horse for which she blamed herself, she had scarcely ridden at all. It was quite as much, however, from the influence of Miss Carmichael upon her spirits, that she had forsaken the exercise. Partly because her uncle was neither much respected nor much liked, she had visited very little; and after mental trouble assailed her, growing under the false prescriptions of the soul-doctor she had called in, she withdrew more and more, avoiding even company she would have enjoyed, and which would before now have led her to resume it.

For a time she persisted in refusing to ride with Forgue. In vain he offered his horse, assuring her that Davie's pony was quite able to carry him; she had no inclination to ride, she said. But at last one day, lest she should be guilty of unkindness, she consented, and so enjoyed the ride -- felt, indeed, so much the better for it, that she did not thereafter so positively as before decline to allow her cousin to look out for a horse fit to carry her; and Forgue, taking her consent for granted, succeeded, with the help of the factor, in finding for her a beautiful creature, just of the sort to please her. Almost at sight of him she agreed to his purchase.

This put Forgue in great spirits, and much contentment with himself. He did not doubt that, gaining thus opportunity so excellent, he would quickly succeed in withdrawing her from the absurd influence which, to his dismay, he discovered his enemy had in his absence gained over her. He ought not to have been such a fool, he said to himself, as to leave the poor child to the temptations naturally arising in such a dreary solitude! He noted with satisfaction, however, that the parson's daughter seemed to have forsaken the house. And now at last, having got rid of the folly that a while possessed him, he was prepared to do his duty by the family, and, to that end, would make unfaltering use of the fascinations experience had taught him he was, in a most exceptional degree, gifted with! He would at once take Arctura's education in his own hands, and give his full energy to it! She should speedily learn the difference between the assistance of a gentleman and that of a clotpoll!

He had in England improved in his riding as well as his manners, and knew at least how a gentleman, if not how a man, ought to behave to the beast that carried him. Also, having ridden a good deal with ladies, he was now able to give Arctura not a few hints to the improvement of her seat, her hand, her courage; nor was there any nearer road, he judged from what he knew of his cousin, to her confidence and gratitude, than showing her a better way in a thing.

But thinking that in teaching her to ride he could make her forget the man who had been teaching her to live, he was not a little mistaken in the woman he desired to captivate.

He did not yet love her even in the way he called loving, else he might have been less confident; but he found her very pleasing. Invigorated by the bright frosty air, the life of the animal under her, and the exultation of rapid motion, she seemed better in health, more merry and full of life, than he had ever seen her: he put all down to his success with her. He was incapable of suspecting how little of it was owing to him; incapable of believing how much to the fact that she now turned to the father of spirits without fear, almost without doubt; thought of him as the root of every delight of the world -- at the heart of the horse she rode, in the wind that blew joy into hers as she swept through its yielding bosom; knew him as altogether loving and true, the father of Jesus Christ, as like him as like could be like -- more like him than any one else in the universe could be like another -- like him as only eternal son can be like eternal father.

It was no wonder that with such a well of living water in her heart she should be glad -- merry even, and ready for anything her horse could do! Flying across a field in the very wildness of pleasure, her hair streaming behind her, and her pale face glowing, she would now and then take a jump Forgue declared he could not face in cold blood: he did not know how far from cold her blood was! He began to wonder he had been such a fool as neglect her for -- well, never mind! -- and to feel something that was like love, and was indeed admiration. But for the searing brand of his past, he might have loved her truly -- as a man may, without being the most exalted of mortals; for in love we are beyond our ordinary selves; the deep thing in us peers up into the human air, and is of God -- therefore cannot live long in the mephitic air of a selfish and low nature, but sinks again out of sight.

He was not at his ease with Arctura; he was afraid of her. When a man is conscious of wrong, knows in his history what would draw a hideous smudge over the portrait he would present to the eyes of her he would please, he may well be afraid of her. He makes liberal allowance for himself, but is not sure she will! And before Forgue lay a social gulf which he could pass only on the narrow plank of her favour! The more he was with her, the more he admired her, the more he desired to marry her; the more satisfied he grew with his own improvement, the more determined he became that for no poor, unjust scruples would he forgo his happiness. There was but one trifle to be kept from the world; it might know everything else about him! and once in possession of the property, who would dispute the title? Then again he was not certain that his father had not merely invented a threat! Surely if the fact were such, he would, even in rage diabolic, have kept it to himself!

Impetuous, and accustomed to what he counted success, he soon began to make plainer advance toward the end on which his self-love and cupidity at least were set. But, knowing in a vague manner how he had carried himself before he went, Arctura, uninfluenced by the ways of the world, her judgment unwarped, her perception undimmed, her instincts nice, her personal delicacy exacting, had never imagined he could approach her on any ground but that of cousinship and a childhood of shared sports. She had seen that Donal was far from pleased with him, and believed Forgue knew that she knew he had been behaving badly. Her behaviour to him was indeed largely based on the fact that he was in disgrace: she was sorry for him.

By and by, however, she perceived that she had been allowing too much freedom where she was not prepared to allow more, and so one day declined to go with him. They had not had a ride for a fortnight, the weather having been unfavourable; and now when a morning broke into the season like a smile from an estranged friend, she would not go! He was annoyed -- then alarmed, fearing adverse influence. They were alone in the breakfast-room.

|Why will you not, Arctura?| he asked reproachfully: |do you not feel well?|

|I am quite well,| she answered.

|It is such a lovely day!| he pleaded.

|I am not in the mood. There are other things in the world besides riding, and I have been wasting my time -- riding too much. I have learnt next to nothing since Larkie came.|

|Oh, bother! what have you to do with learning! Health is the first thing.|

|I don't think so -- and learning is good for the health. Besides, I would not be a mere animal for perfect health!|

|Let me help you then with your studies.|

|Thank you,| she answered, laughing a little, |but I have a good master already! We, that is Davie and I, are reading Greek and mathematics with Mr. Grant.|

Forgue's face flushed.

|I ought to know as much of both as he does!| he said.

|Ought perhaps! But you know you do not.|

|I know enough to be your tutor.|

|Yes, but I know enough not to be your pupil!|

|What do you mean?|

|That you can't teach.|

|How do you know that?|

|Because you do not love either Greek or mathematics, and no one who does not love can teach.|

|That is nonsense! If I don't love Greek enough to teach it, I love you enough to teach you,| said Forgue.

|You are my riding-master,| said Arctura; |Mr. Grant is my master in Greek.|

Forgue strangled an imprecation on Mr. Grant, and tried to laugh, but there was not a laugh inside him.

|Then you won't ride to-day?| he said.

|I think not,| replied Arctura.

She ought to have said she would not. It is a pity to let doubt alight on decision. Her reply re-opened the whole question.

|I cannot see what should induce you to allow that fellow the honour of reading with you!| said Forgue. |He's a long-winded, pedantic, ill-bred lout!|

|Mr. Grant is my friend!| said Arctura, and raising her head looked him in the eyes.

|Take my word for it, you are mistaken in him,| he said.

|I neither value nor ask your opinion of him,| returned Arctura. |I merely acquaint you with the fact that he is my friend.|

|Here's the devil and all to pay!| thought Forgue.

|I beg your pardon,| he said: |you do not know him as I do!|

|Not? -- and with so much better opportunity of judging!|

|He has never played the dominie with you!| said Forgue foolishly.

|Indeed he has!|

|He has! Confound his insolence! How?|

|He won't let me study as I want. -- How has he interfered with you?|

|We won't quarrel about him,| rejoined Forgue, attempting a tone of gaiety, but instantly growing serious. |We who ought to be so much to each other -- |

Something told him he had already gone too far.

|I do not know what you mean -- or rather, I am not willing to think I know what you mean,| said Arctura. |After what took place -- |

In her turn she ceased: he had said nothing!

|Jealous!| concluded Forgue; | -- a good sign!|

|I see he has been talking against me!| he said.

|If you mean Mr. Grant, you mistake. He never, so far as I remember, once mentioned you to me.|

|I know better!|

|You are rude. He never spoke of it; but I have seen enough with my own eyes -- |

|If you mean that silly fancy -- why, Arctura! -- you know it was but a boyish folly!|

|And since then you have grown a man! -- How many months has it taken?|

|I assure you, on the word of a gentleman, there is nothing in it now. It is all over, and I am heartily ashamed of it.|

A pause of a few seconds followed: it seemed as many minutes, and unbearable.

|You will come out with me?| said Forgue: she might be relenting, though she did not look like it!

|No,| she said; |I will not.|

|Well,| he returned, with simulated coolness, |this is rather cavalier treatment, I must say! -- To throw a man over who has loved you so long -- and for the sake of a lesson in Greek!|

|How long, pray, have you loved me?| said Arctura, growing angry. |I was willing to be friendly with you, so much so that I am sorry it is no longer possible!|

|You punish me pretty sharply, my lady, for a trifle of which I told you I was ashamed!| said Forgue, biting his lip. |It was the merest -- |

|I do not wish to hear anything about it!| said Arctura sternly. Then, afraid she had been unkind, she added in altered tone: |You had better go and have a gallop. You may have Larkie if you like.|

He turned and left the room. She only meant to pique him, he said to himself. She had been cherishing her displeasure, and now she had had her revenge would feel better and be sorry next! It was a very good morning's work after all! It was absurd to think she preferred a Greek lesson from a clown to a ride with lord Forgue! Was not she too a Graeme!

Partly to make reconciliation the easier, partly because the horse was superior to his own, he would ride Larkie!

But his reasoning was not so satisfactory to him as to put him in a good temper, and poor Larkie had to suffer for his ill-humour. His least movement that displeased him put him in a rage, and he rode him so foolishly as well as tyrannically that he brought him home quite lame, thus putting an end for a time to all hope of riding again with Arctura.

Instead of going and telling her what he had done, he sent for the farrier, and gave orders that the mishap should not be mentioned.

A week passed, and then another; and as he could say nothing about riding, he was in a measure self-banished from Arctura's company. A furious jealousy began to master him. He scorned to give place to it because of the insult to himself if he allowed a true ground for it. But it gradually gained power. This country bumpkin, this cow-herd, this man of spelling-books and grammars, to come between his cousin and him! Of course he was not so silly as imagine for a moment she cared for him! -- that she would disgrace herself by falling in love with a fellow just loosed from the plough-tail! She was a Graeme, and could never be a traitor to her blood! If only he had not been such an infernal fool! A vulgar little thing without an idea in her head! So unpleasant -- so disgusting at last with her love-making! Nothing pleased her but hugging and kissing! -- That was how he spoke to himself of the girl he had been in love with!

Damn that schoolmaster! She would never fall in love with him, but he might prevent her from falling in love with another! No attractions could make way against certain prepossessions! The girl had a fancy for being a saint, and the lout burned incense to her! So much he gathered from Davie. His father must get rid of the fellow! If he thought he was doing so well with Davie, why not send the two away together till things were settled?

But the earl thought it would be better to win Donal. He counselled him that every Grant was lord Seafield's cousin, and every highlander an implacable enemy where his pride was hurt. His lordship did not reflect that, if what he said were true of Donal, he must have left the castle long ago. There was but one thing would have made it impossible for Donal to remain -- interference, namely, between him and his pupil.

Forgue did not argue with his father. He had given that up. At the same time, if he had told all that had passed between him and Donal, the earl would have confessed he had advised an impossibility.

Forgue took a step in a very different direction: he began to draw to himself the good graces of Miss Carmichael: he did not know how little she could serve him. Without being consciously insincere, she flattered him, and speedily gained his confidence. Well descended on the mother-side, she had grown up fit, her father said, to adorn any society: with a keen appreciation of the claims and dignities of the aristocracy, she was well able to flatter the prejudices she honoured and shared in. Careful not to say a word against his cousin, she made him feel more and more that his chief danger lay in the influence of Donal. She fanned thus his hatred of the man who first came between him and his wrath; next, between him and his |love;| and last, between him and his fortunes.

If only Davie would fall ill, and require change of air! But Davie was always in splendid health!

Now that he saw himself in such danger of failing, he fancied himself far more in love with Arctura than he was. And as he got familiarized with the idea of his illegitimacy, although he would not assent to it, he made less and less of it -- which would have been a proof to any other than himself that he believed it. In further sign of the same, he made no inquiry into the matter -- did not once even question his father about it. If it was true, he did not want to know it: he would treat his lack of proof as ignorance, and act as with the innocence of ignorance! A fellow must take for granted what was commonly believed! At last, and the last was not long in arriving, he almost ceased to trouble himself about it.

His father laughed at his fear of failure with Arctura, but at times contemplated the thing as an awful possibility -- not that he loved Forgue much. The only way fathers in sight of the grave can fancy themselves holding on to the things they must leave, is in their children; but lord Morven had a stronger and better reason for his unrighteousness: in a troubled, self-reproachful way, he loved the memory of their mother, and through her cared even for Forgue more than he knew. They were also his own as much as if he had been legally married to her! For the relation in which they stood to society, he cared little so long as it continued undiscovered. He enjoyed the idea of stealing a march on society, and seeing the sons he had left at such a disadvantage behind him, ruffling it, in spite of absurd law, with the foolish best. From the grave he would so have his foot on the neck of his enemy Law! -- he was one of the many who can rejoice in even a stolen victory. Nor would he ever have been the fool to let the truth fly, except under the reaction of evil drugs, and the rush of fierce wrath at the threatened ruin of his cherished scheme.

Arctura thenceforth avoided her cousin as much as she could -- only remembering that the house was hers, and she must not make him feel he was not welcome to use it. They met at meals, and she tried to behave as if nothing unpleasant had happened and things were as before he went away.

|You are very cruel, Arctura,| he said one morning he met her in the terrace avenue.

|Cruel?| returned Arctura coldly; |I am not cruel. I would not willingly hurt anyone.|

|You hurt me much; you give me not a morsel, not a crumb of your society!|

|Percy,| said Arctura, |if you will be content to be my cousin, we shall get on well enough; but if you are set on what cannot be -- once for all, believe me, it is of no use. You care for none of the things I live for! I feel as if we belonged to different worlds, so little have we in common. You may think me hard, but it is better we should understand each other. If you imagine that, because I have the property, you have a claim on me, be sure I will never acknowledge it. I would a thousand times rather you had the property and I were in my grave!|

|I will be anything, do anything, learn anything you please!| cried Forgue, his heart aching with disappointment.

|I know what such submission is worth!| said Arctura. |I should be everything till we were married, and then nothing! You dissemble, you hide even from yourself, but you are not hard to read.|

Perhaps she would not have spoken just so severely, had she not been that morning unusually annoyed with his behaviour to Donal, and at the same time specially pleased with the calm, unconsciously dignified way in which Donal took it, casting it from him as the rock throws aside the sea-wave: it did not concern him! The dull world has got the wrong phrase: it is he who resents an affront who pockets it! he who takes no notice, lets it lie in the dirt.

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