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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER LXXIII. IN THE NIGHT.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald

CHAPTER LXXIII. IN THE NIGHT.

WHEN he reached the town, he rode into the yard of the Morven Arms, and having found a sleepy ostler, gave up his mare: he would be better without her at the castle! -- whither he was setting out to walk when the landlord appeared.

|We didna luik to see you, sir, at this time!| he said.

|Why not?| returned Donal.

|We thoucht ye was awa' for the simmer, seein' ye tuik the yoong gentleman wi' ye, an' the yerl himsel' followt!|

|Where is he gone?| asked Donal.

|Oh! dinna ye ken, sir? hae na ye h'ard?|

|Not a word.|

|That's verra strange, sir! -- There's a clean clearance at the castel. First gaed my lord Forgue, an' syne my lord himsel' an' my lady, an' syne gaed the hoosekeeper -- her mither was deein', they said. I'm thinkin' there maun be a weddin' to the fore. There was some word o' fittin' up the auld hoose i' the toon, 'cause lord Forgue didna care aboot bein' at the castel ony langer. It's strange ye haena h'ard, sir!|

Donal stood absorbed in awful hearing. Surely some letter must have miscarried! The sure and firm-set earth seemed giving way under his feet.

|I will run up to the castle, and hear all about it,| he said. |Look after my mare, will you?|

|But I'm tellin' ye, sir, ye'll fin' naebody there!| said the man. |They're a' gane frae the hoose ony gait. There's no a sowl aboot that but deif Betty Lobban, wha wadna hear the angel wi' the last trump. Mair by token, she's that feart for robbers she gangs til her bed the minute it begins to grow dark, an' sticks her heid 'aneth the bed-claes -- no 'at that maks her ony deifer!|

|Then you think there is no use in going up?|

|Not the smallest,| answered the inn-keeper.

|Get me some supper then. I will take a look at my mare.|

He went and saw that she was attended to -- then set off for the castle as fast as his legs would carry him. There was foul play beyond a doubt! -- of what sort he could not tell! If the man's report was correct, he would go straight to the police! Then first he remembered, in addition to the other reported absences, that before he left with Davie, the factor and his sister had gone together for a holiday: had this been contrived?

He mounted the hill and drew near the castle. A terrible gloom fell upon him: there was not a light in the sullen pile! It was darksome even to terror! He went to the main entrance, and rang the great bell as loud as he could ring it, but there was no answer to the summons, which echoed and yelled horribly, as if the house were actually empty. He rang again, and again came the horrible yelling echo, but no more answer than if it had been a mausoleum. He had been told what to expect, yet his heart sank within him. Once more he rang and waited; but there was no sound of hearing. The place grew terrible to him. But his mother had sent him there, and into it he must go! He must at least learn whether it was indeed abandoned! There was false play! he kept repeating to himself; but what was it? where and how was it to be met?

As to getting into the house there was no difficulty. He had but to climb two walls to get to the door of Baliol's tower, and the key of that he always carried. If he had not had it, he would yet soon have got in; he knew the place better than any one else about it. Happily he had left the door locked when he went away, else probably they would have secured it otherwise. He entered softly, and, with a strange feeling of dread, went winding up the stair to his room -- slowly, because he did not yet know at all what he was to do. If there were no false play, surely at least Mrs. Brookes would have written to tell him they were going! If only he could learn where she was! Before he reached the top he found himself very weary. He staggered in, and fell on his bed in the dark.

But he could not rest. The air seemed stifling. The storm had lulled, but the atmosphere was full of thunder. He got up and opened the window. A little breath came in and revived him; then came a little wind, and in the wind the moan of its harp. It woke many memories. There again was the lightning! The thunder broke with a great bellowing roar among the roofs and chimneys. It was to his mind! He went out on the roof, and mechanically took his way toward the nest of the music. At the base of the chimneys he sat down, and stared into the darkness. The lightning came; he saw the sea lie watching like a perfect peace to take up drift souls, and the land bordering it like a waste of dread; then the darkness swallowed both; and the thunder came so loud that it not only deafened but seemed to blind him beyond the darkness, that his brain turned to a lump of clay. Then came a silence, and the silence was like a deeper deafness. But from the deafness burst and trickled a faint doubtful stream: could it be a voice, calling, calling, from a great distance? Was he the fool of weariness and excitement, or did he actually hear his own name? Whose voice could it be but lady Arctura's, calling to him from the spirit world! They had killed her, and she was calling to let him know she was in the land of liberty! With that came another flash and another roar of thunder -- and there was the voice again: |Mr. Grant! Mr. Grant! come, come! You promised!| Did he actually hear the words? They sounded so far away that it seemed as if he ought not to hear them. But could the voice be from the spirit-land? Would she claim his promise thence, tempting him thither? She would not! And she knew he would not go before his hour, if all the spirits on the other side were calling him. But he had heard of voices from far away, while those who called were yet in the body! If she would but say whither, he would follow her that moment! Once more it came, but very faint; he could not tell what it said. A wail of the ghost-music followed close. -- God in heaven! could she be down in the chapel? He sprang to his feet. With superhuman energy he leapt up and caught the edge of the cleft, drew himself up till his mouth reached it, and cried aloud, |Lady Arctura!|

There came no answer.

|I am stupid as death!| he said to himself: |I have let her call me in vain!|

|I am coming!| he cried again, revived with sudden joy. He dropped on the roof, and sped down the stair to the door that opened on the second floor. All was dark as underground, but he knew the way so well he needed but a little guidance from his hands. He hurried to lady Arctura's chamber, and the spot where the press stood, ready with one shove to send it yards out of his way. There was no press there! -- nothing but a smooth, cold, damp wall! His heart sank within him. Was he in a terrible dream? No, no! he had but made a mistake -- had trusted too much to his knowledge of the house, and was not where he thought he was! He struck a light. Alas! alas! he was where he had intended! It was her room! There was the wardrobe, but nearer the door! Where it had stood was no recess! -- nothing but a great patch of fresh plaster! It was no dream, but a true horror!

Instinctively clutching his skene dhu, he darted to the great stair. It must have been the voice of Arctura he had heard! She was walled up in the chapel!

Down the stair, with swift noiseless foot he sped, and stopped at the door of the half-way room. It was locked!

There was but one way left! To the foot of the stair he shot. Good heavens! if that way also should have been known to the earl! He crept through the little door underneath the stair, feeling with his hands ere his body was through: the arch was open! In an instant he was in the crypt.

But now to get up through the opening into the passage above -- stopped with a heavy slab! He sprang at the steep slope of the window-sill, but there was no hold, and as often as he sprang he slipped down again. He tried and tried until he was worn out and almost in despair. She might be dying! he was close to her! he could not reach her! He stood still for a moment to think. To his mind came the word, |He that believeth shall not make haste.| He thought with himself, |God cannot help men with wisdom when their minds are in too great a tumult to hear what he says!| He tried to lift up his heart and make a silence in his soul.

As he stood he seemed to see, through the dark, the gloomy place as it first appeared when he threw in the lighted letter. All at once he started from his quiescence, dropped on his hands and knees, and crawled until he found the flat stone like a gravestone. Out came his knife, and he dug away the earth at one end, until he could get both hands under it. Then he heaved it from the floor, and shifting it along, got it under the opening in the wall.

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