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Donal Grant by George MacDonald


WHEN Arctura woke from her unnatural sleep, she lay a while without thought, then began to localize herself. The last place she recalled was the inn where they had tea: she must have been there taken ill, she thought, and was now in a room of the same. It was quite dark: they might have left a light by her! She lay comfortably enough, but had a suspicion that the place was not over clean, and was glad to find herself not undrest. She turned on her side: something pulled her by the wrist. She must have a bracelet on, and it was entangled in the coverlet! She tried to unclasp it, but could not: which of her bracelets could it be? There was something attached to it! -- a chain -- a thick chain! How odd! What could it mean? She lay quiet, slowly waking to fuller consciousness. -- Was there not a strange air, a dull odour in the room? Undefined as it was, she had smelt it before, and not long since! -- It was the smell of the lost chapel! -- But that was at home in the castle! she had left it two days before! Was she going out of her mind?

The dew of agony burst from her forehead. She would have started up, but was pulled hard by the wrist! She cried on God. -- Yes, she was lying on the very spot where that heap of woman-dust had lain! she was manacled with the same ring from which that woman's arm had wasted -- the decay of centuries her slow redeemer! Her being recoiled so wildly from the horror, that for a moment she seemed on the edge of madness. But madness is not the sole refuge from terror! Where the door of the spirit has once been opened wide to God, there is he, the present help in time of trouble! With him in the house, it is not only that we need fear nothing, but that is there which in its own being and nature casts out fear. God and fear cannot be together. It is a God far off that causes fear. |In thy presence is fulness of joy.| Such a sense of absolute helplessness overwhelmed Arctura that she felt awake in her an endless claim upon the protection of her original, the source of her being. And what sooner would any father have of his children than action on such claim! God is always calling us as his children, and when we call him as our father, then, and not till then, does he begin to be satisfied. And with that there fell upon Arctura a kind of sleep, which yet was not sleep; it was a repose such as perhaps is the sleep of a spirit.

Again the external began to intrude. She pictured to herself what the darkness was hiding. Her feelings when first she came down into the place returned on her memory. The tide of terror began again to rise. It rose and rose, and threatened to become monstrous. She reasoned with herself: had she not been brought in safety through its first and most dangerous inroad? -- but reason could not outface terror. It was fear, the most terrible of all terrors, that she feared. Then again woke her faith: if the night hideth not from him, neither does the darkness of fear!

It began to thunder, first with a low distant muttering roll, then with a loud and near bellowing. Was it God coming to her? Some are strangely terrified at thunder; Arctura had the child's feeling that it was God that thundered: it comforted her as with the assurance that God was near. As she lay and heard the great organ of the heavens, its voice seemed to grow articulate; God was calling to her, and saying, |Here I am, my child! be not afraid!|

Then she began to reason with herself that the worst that could happen to her was to lie there till she died of hunger, and that could not be so very bad! And therewith across the muttering thunder came a wail of the ghost-music. She started: had she not heard it a hundred times before, as she lay there in the dark alone? Was she only now for the first time waking up to it -- she, the lady they had shut up there to die -- where she had lain for ages, with every now and then that sound of the angels singing, far above her in the blue sky?

She was beginning to wander. She reasoned with herself, and dismissed the fancy; but it came and came again, mingled with real memories, mostly of the roof, and Donal.

By and by she fell asleep, and woke in a terror which seemed to have been growing in her sleep. She sat up, and stared into the dark. From where stood the altar, seemed to rise and approach her a form of deeper darkness. She heard nothing, saw nothing, but something was there. It came nearer. It was but a fancy; she knew it; but the fancy assumed to be: the moment she gave way, and acknowledged it, that moment it would have the reality it had been waiting for, and clasp her in its skeleton-arms! She cried aloud, but it only came nearer; it was about to seize her!

A sudden, divine change! -- her fear was gone, and in its place a sense of absolute safety: there was nothing in all the universe to be afraid of! It was a night of June, with roses, roses everywhere! Glory be to the Father! But how was it? Had he sent her mother to think her full of roses? Why her mother? God himself is the heart of every rose that ever bloomed! She would have sung aloud for joy, but no voice came; she could not utter a sound. What a thing this would be to tell Donal Grant! This poor woman cried, and God heard her, and saved her out of all her distresses! The father had come to his child! The cry had gone from her heart into his!

If she died there, would Donal come one day and find her? No! No! She would speak to him in a dream, and beg him not to go near the place! She would not have him see her lie like that he and she standing together had there looked upon!

With that came Donal's voice, floated and rolled in music and thunder. It came from far away; she did not know whether she fancied or really heard it. She would have responded with a great cry, but her voice vanished in her throat. Her joy was such that she remembered nothing more.

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