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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER LXIX. THE SICK-CHAMBER.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald

CHAPTER LXIX. THE SICK-CHAMBER.

SHE was carried to her room and laid on her bed. The doctor requested Mrs. Brookes and Donal to remain, and dismissed the rest, then proceeded to examine her. There were no bones broken, he said, but she must be kept very quiet. The windows must be darkened, and she must if possible sleep. She gave Donal a faint smile, and a pitiful glance, but did not speak. As he was following the doctor from the room, she made a sign to Mrs. Brookes with her eyes that she wanted to speak to him.

He came, and bent over to hear, for she spoke very feebly.

|You will come and see me, Mr. Grant?|

|I will, indeed, my lady.|

|Every day?|

|Yes, most certainly,| he replied.

She smiled, and so dismissed him. He went with his heart full.

A little way from the door stood Forgue, waiting for him to come out. He had sent the doctor to his father. Donal passed him with a bend of the head. He followed him to the schoolroom.

|It is time this farce was over, Grant!| he said.

|Farce, my lord!| repeated Donal indignantly.

|These attentions to my lady.|

|I have paid her no more attention than I would your lordship, had you required it,| answered Donal sternly.

|That would have been convenient doubtless! But there has been enough of humbug, and now for an end to it! Ever since you came here, you have been at work on the mind of that inexperienced girl -- with your damned religion! -- for what end you know best! and now you've half killed her by persuading her to go out with you instead of me! The brute was lame and not fit to ride! Any fool might have seen that!|

|I had nothing to do with her going, my lord. She asked Davie to go with her, and he had a holiday on purpose.|

|All very fine, but -- |

|My lord, I have told you the truth, but not to justify myself: you must be aware your opinion is of no value in my eyes! But tell me one thing, my lord: if my lady's horse was lame, how was it she did not know? You did!|

Forgue thought Donal knew more than he did, and was taken aback.

|It is time the place was clear of you!| he said.

|I am your father's servant, not yours,| answered Donal, |and do not trouble myself as to your pleasure concerning me. But I think it is only fair to warn you that, though you cannot hurt me, nothing but honesty can take you out of my power.|

Forgue turned on his heel, went to his father, and told him he knew now that Donal was prejudicing the mind of lady Arctura against him; but not until it came in the course of the conversation, did he mention the accident she had had.

The earl professed himself greatly shocked, got up with something almost like alacrity from his sofa, and went down to inquire after his niece. He would have compelled Mrs. Brookes to admit him, but she was determined her lady should not be waked from a sleep invaluable to her, for the sake of receiving his condolements, and he had to return to his room without gaining anything.

If she were to go, the property would be his, and he could will it as he pleased -- that was, if she left no will. He sent for his son and cautioned him over and over to do nothing to offend her, but wait: what might come, who could tell! It might prove a serious affair!

Forgue tried to feel shocked at the coolness of his father's speculation, but allowed that, if she was determined not to receive him as her husband, the next best thing, in the exigence of affairs, would certainly be that she should leave a world for whose uses she was ill fitted, and go where she would be happier. The things she would then have no farther need of, would be welcome to those to whom by right they belonged more really than to her! She was a pleasant thing to look upon, and if she had loved him he would rather have had the property with than without her; but there was this advantage, he would be left free to choose!

Lady Arctura lay suffering, feverish, and restless. Mrs. Brookes would let no one sit up with her but herself. The earl would have sent for |a suitable nurse!| a friend of his in London would find one! but she would not hear of it. And before the night was over she had greater reason still for refusing to yield her post: it was evident her young mistress was more occupied with Donal Grant than with the pain she was suffering! In her delirium she was constantly desiring his presence. |I know he can help me,| she would say; |he is a shepherd, like the Lord himself!| And mistress Brookes, though by no means devoid of the prejudices of the rank with which her life had been so much associated, could not but allow that a nobler life must be possible with one like Donal Grant than with one like lord Forgue.

In the middle of the night Arctura became so unquiet, that her nurse, calling the maid she had in a room near, flew like a bird to Donal, and asked him to come down. He had but partially undressed, thinking his help might be wanted, and was down almost as soon as she. Ere he came, however, she had dismissed the maid.

Donal went to the bedside. Arctura was moaning and starting, sometimes opening her eyes, but distinguishing nothing. Her hand lay on the counterpane: he laid his upon it. She gave a sigh as of one relieved; a smile came flickering over her face, and she lay still for some time. Donal sat down beside her, and watched. The moment he saw her begin to be restless or look distressed, he laid his hand upon hers; she was immediately quiet, and lay for a time as if she knew herself safe. When she seemed about to wake, he withdrew.

So things went on for many nights. Donal slept instead of working when his duties with Davie were over, and lay at night in the corridor, wrapt in his plaid. For even after Arctura began to recover, her nights were sorely troubled, and her restoration would have been much retarded, had not Donal been near to make her feel she was not abandoned to the terrors she passed through.

One night the earl, wandering about in the anomalous condition of neither ghost nor genuine mortal, came suddenly upon what he took for a huge animal in wait to devour. He was not terrified, for he was accustomed to such things, and thought at first it was not of this world: he had no doubt of the reality of his visions, even when he knew they were invisible to others, and even in his waking moments had begun to believe in them as much as in the things then evident to him -- or rather, perhaps, to disbelieve equally in both. He approached to see what it was, and stood staring down upon the mass. Gently it rose and confronted him -- if confronting that may be called where the face remained so undefined -- for Donal took care to keep his plaid over his head: he had hope in the probable condition of the earl! He turned from him and walked away.

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