THE same afternoon, while Donal was reading to Arctura in the library, there came a loud ringing of the door-bell. Donal ran to see, and to his great delight, there was mistress Brookes, half wild with anxious terror.
|Is my leddy safe?| she cried -- then clasped Donal in her arms and embraced him as if he had been her son.
From the moment she discovered herself fooled, she had been imagining all manner of terrible things -- yet none so terrible as the truth. There was no end to her objurgations, exclamations, anathemas, and interjections.
|Now I can leave you in peace, my lady!| said Donal, who had not resumed his seat.
|Noo ye can bide whaur ye are, an' be thankfu'!| said mistress Brookes. |Wha daur meddle wi' ye, an' me i' the hoose! An' wha kens what the mad yerl, for mad I s' uphaud him, an' fit only to be lockit up -- wha kens what he may do neist! Maister Grant, I cannot lat ye oot o' the hoose.|
|I was only going as far as mistress Comin's,| replied Donal.
|Weel, ye can gang; but min' ye're hame i' gude time!|
|I thought of putting up there, but I will do as my lady pleases.|
|Come home,| said Arctura.
Donal went, and the first person he saw when he entered the house was Eppy. She turned instantly away, and left the room: he could not help seeing why.
The old woman welcomed him with her usual cordiality, but not her usual cheerfulness: he had scarcely noted since her husband's death any change on her manner till now: she looked weary of the world.
She sat down, smoothed her apron on her knees, gave him one glance in the face, then looked down at her hands, and said nothing.
|I ken what ails ye, Doory,| said Donal; |but i' the name o' him 'at's awa', hearken til me. -- The lass is no lost, naither is the Lord asleep. Yer lamb 's been sair misguidit, sair pluckit o' her bonny woo', but gien for that she haud the closer by the Lord's flock, she'll ken it wasna for want o' his care the tod got a grup o' her. It's a terrible pity for the bonny cratur, disgracin' them 'at aucht her! What for winna yoong fowk believe them 'at speyks true, but wull believe them 'at tells them little but lees! Still, it's no as gien she had been stealin'! She's wrangt her puir sel', an' she's wrangt us a', an' she's wrangt the Lord; but for a' that ye canna luik doon upon her as upo' the man 'at's grown rich at the cost o' his neebours. There's mony a gran' prood leddy 'ill hae to stan' aside to lat Eppy pass up, whan we're 'afore the richteous judge.|
|Eh, but ye speyk like my Anerew!| cried the poor woman, wiping her old eyes with her rough apron. |I s' do what I can for her; but there's no hidin' o' 't!|
|Hidin' o' 't!| cried Donal. |The Lord forbid! Sic things are no to be hidden! Sae lang 's she 's i' the warl', the thing has to be kenned o' a' 'at come nigh her. She maun beir her burden, puir lass! The Lord he'll lichten 't til her, but he'll hae naething smugglet up. That's no the w'y o' his kingdom! -- I suppose there's nae doobt wha?|
|Nane. The Lord forbid!|
Two days after, Mr. Graeme and his sister returned, and at lady Arctura's request took up their abode at the castle. She told them that of late she had become convinced her uncle was no longer capable of attending to her affairs; that he was gone to London; that she had gone away with him, and was supposed to be with him still, though she had returned, and he did not know where she was. She did not wish him to know, but desired for the present to remain concealed. She had her reasons; and requested therefore as a personal favour that they would not once or to any one allude to her being at the castle. Mr. Graeme would in the meantime be so good as make himself acquainted, so far as possible, with the state of affairs between her and her uncle.
In the course of the investigations thereupon following, it became clear that a large portion of the moneys of the estate received by his lordship were nowise accounted for. Lady Arctura directed that further inquiry should in the meantime be stayed, but that no more money should be handed over to him.
For some time the factor heard nothing from his lordship. At length came instructions as to the forwarding of money, Forgue writing and his father signing. Mr. Graeme replied, excusing himself as he could, but sending no money. They wrote again. Again he excused himself. The earl threatened. Mr. Graeme took no heed. His lordship continued to demand and threaten, but neither he nor his son appeared. The factor at length wrote that he would pay no money but to lady Arctura. The earl himself wrote in reply, saying -- had he been out of the country that he did not know she was dead and six weeks in her grave? Again the factor did not reply.
Donal rode back to Glashgar, and brought Davie home. Lessons were resumed, and Arctura took her full share in them.
Soon all about the castle was bustle and labour -- masons and carpenters busy from morning to night. The wall that masked the windows of the chapel was pulled down; the windows, of stained glass, with never a crack, were cleaned; the passage under them was opened to the great stair; lady Arctura had a small sweet-toned organ built in the little gallery, and the mural stair from her own room opened again, that she might go down when she pleased to play on it -- sometimes, in south-easterly winds, to listen to the aeolian harp dreaming out the music of the spheres.
In the process of removing the bed, much of it crumbled to dust. The carved tester and back were set up, the one over the great chimney-piece in the hall, the other over that in Arctura's room. The altar was replaced where the bed had been. The story of the finding of the lost chapel was written by Donal, and placed by Arctura among the records of the family.
But it soon became evident that what she had passed through had exercised a hurtful influence on lady Arctura's health. She was almost always happy, but her strength at times would suddenly desert her. Both Donal and mistress Brookes regarded her with some anxiety.
Her organ, to which she gave more labour than she was quite equal to, was now one of her main delights. Often would its chords be heard creeping through the long ducts and passages of the castle: either for a small instrument its tone was peculiarly penetrating, or the chapel was the centre of the system of the house. On the roof would Donal often sit listening to the sounds that rose through the shaft -- airs and harmonies freed by her worshipping fingers -- rejoicing to think how her spirit was following the sounds, guided by them in lovely search after her native country.
One day she went on playing till she forgot everything but her music, and almost unconsciously began to sing |The Lord is mindful of his own.| She was unaware that she had two listeners -- one on the roof above, one in the chapel below.
When twelve months were come and gone since his departure, the earl one bright morning approached the door of the castle, half doubting, half believing it his own: he was determined on dismissing the factor after rigorous examination of his accounts; and he wanted to see Davie. He had driven to the stables, and thence walked out on the uppermost terrace, passing the chapel without observing its unmasked windows. The great door was standing open: he went in, and up the stair, haunted by sounds of music he had been hearing ever since he stepped on the terrace.
But on the stair was a door he had never seen! Who dared make changes in his house? The thing was bewildering! But he was accustomed to be bewildered.
He opened the door -- plainly a new one -- and entered a gloomy little passage, lighted from a small aperture unfit to be called a window. The under side of the bare steps of a narrow stone stair were above his head. Had he or had he not ever seen the place before? On the right was a door. He went to it, opened it, and the hitherto muffled music burst loud on his ear. He started back in dismal apprehension: -- there was the chapel, wide open to the eye of day! -- clear and clean! -- gone the hideous bed! gone the damp and the dust! while the fresh air trembled with the organ-breath rushing and rippling through it, and setting it in sweetest turmoil! He had never had such a peculiar experience! He had often doubted whether things were or were not projections from his own brain; he moved and acted in a world of subdued fact and enhanced fiction; he knew that sometimes he could not tell the one from the other; but never had he had the apparently real and the actually unreal brought so much face to face with each other! Everything was as clear to his eyes as in their prime of vision, and yet there could be no reality in what he saw!
Ever since he left the castle he had been greatly uncertain whether the things that seemed to have taken place there, had really taken place. He got himself in doubt about them the moment he failed to find the key of the oak door. When he asked himself what then could have become of his niece, he would reply that doubtless she was all right: she did not want to marry Forgue, and had slipped out of the way: she had never cared about the property! To have their own will was all women cared about! Would his factor otherwise have dared such liberties with him, the lady's guardian? He had not yet rendered his accounts, or yielded his stewardship. When she died the property would be his! if she was dead, it was his! She would never have dreamed of willing it away from him! She did not know she could: how should she? girls never thought about such things! Besides she would not have the heart: he had loved her as his own flesh and blood!
At intervals, nevertheless, he was assailed, at times overwhelmed, by the partial conviction that he had starved her to death in the chapel. Then he was tormented as with all the furies of hell. In his night visions he would see her lie wasting, hear her moaning, and crying in vain for help: the hardest heart is yet at the mercy of a roused imagination. He saw her body in its progressive stages of decay as the weeks passed, and longed for the process to be over, that he might go back, and pretending to have just found the lost room, carry it away, and have it honourably buried! Should he take it for granted that it had lain there for centuries, or suggest it must be lady Arctura -- that she had got shut up there, like the bride in the chest? If he could but find an old spring lock to put on the door! But people were so plaguy sharp nowadays! They found out everything! -- he could not afford to have everything found out! -- God himself must not be allowed to know everything!
He stood staring. As he stood and stared, his mind began to change: perhaps, after all, what he saw, might be! The whole thing it had displaced must then be a fancy -- a creation of the dreaming brain! God in heaven! if it could but be proven that he had never done it! All the other wicked things he was -- or supposed himself guilty of -- some of them so heavy that it had never seemed of the smallest use to repent of them -- all the rest might be forgiven him! -- But what difference would that make to the fact that he had done them? He could never take his place as a gentleman where all was known! They made such a fuss about a sin or two, that a man went and did worse out of pure despair!
But if he had never murdered anybody! In that case he could almost consent there should be a God! he could almost even thank him! -- For what! That he was not to be damned for the thing he had not done -- a thing he had had the misfortune to dream he had done -- God never interfering to protect him from the horrible fancy? What was the good of a God that would not do that much for you -- that left his creatures to make fools of themselves, and only laughed at them! -- Bah! There was life in the old dog yet! If only he knew the thing for a fancy!
The music ceased, and the silence was a shock to him. Again he began to stare about him. He looked up. Before him in the air hovered the pale face of the girl he had -- or had not murdered! It was one of his visions -- but not therefore more unreal than any other appearance: she came from the world of his imagination -- so real to him that in expectant moods it was the world into which he was to step the moment he left the body. She looked sweetly at him! She was come to forgive his sins! Was it then true? Was there no sin of murder on his soul? Was she there to assure him that he might yet hope for the world to come? He stretched out his arms to her. She turned away. He thought she had vanished. The next moment she was in the chapel, but he did not hear her, and stood gazing up. She threw her arms around him. The contact of the material startled him with such a revulsion, that he uttered a cry, staggered back, and stood looking at her in worse perplexity still. He had done the awful thing, yet had not done it! He stood as one bound to know the thing that could not be.
|Don't be frightened, uncle,| said Arctura. |I am not dead. The sepulchre is the only resurrection-house! Uncle, uncle! thank God with me.|
The earl stood motionless. Strange thoughts passed through him at their will. Had her presence dispelled darkness and death, and restored the lost chapel to the light of day? Had she haunted it ever since, dead yet alive, watching for his return to pardon him? Would his wife so receive him at the last with forgiveness and endearment? His eyes were fixed upon her. His lips moved tremulously once or twice, but no word came. He turned from her, glanced round the place, and said,
|It is a great improvement!|
I wonder how it would be with souls if they waked up and found all their sins but hideous dreams! How many would loathe the sin? How many would remain capable of doing all again? But few, perhaps no burdened souls can have any idea of the power that lies in God's forgiveness to relieve their consciousness of defilement. Those who say, |Even God cannot destroy the fact!| care more about their own cursed shame than their Father's blessed truth! Such will rather excuse than confess. When a man heartily confesses, leaving excuse to God, the truth makes him free, he knows that the evil has gone from him, as a man knows that he is cured of his plague.
|I did the thing,| he says, |but I could not do it now. I am the same, yet not the same. I confess, I would not hide it, but I loathe it -- ten times the more that the evil thing was mine.|
Had the earl been able to say thus, he would have felt his soul a cleansed chapel, new-opened to the light and air; -- nay, better -- a fresh-watered garden, in which the fruits of the spirit had begun to grow! God's forgiveness is as the burst of a spring morning into the heart of winter. His autumn is the paying of the uttermost farthing. To let us go without that would be the pardon of a demon, not the forgiveness of the eternally loving God. But -- Not yet, alas, not yet! has to be said over so many souls!
Arctura was struck dumb. She turned and walked out upon the great stair, her uncle following her. All the way up to the second floor she felt as if he were about to stab her in the back, but she would not look behind her. She went straight to her room, and heard her uncle go on to his. She rang her bell, sent for Donal, and told him what had passed.
|I will go to him,| said Donal.
Arctura said nothing more, thus leaving the matter entirely in his hands.
Donal found him lying on the couch.
|My lord,| he said, |you must be aware of the reasons why you should not present yourself here!|
The earl started up in one of his ready rages: -- they were real enough! With epithets of contemptuous hatred, he ordered Donal from the room and the house. Donal answered nothing till the rush of his wrath had abated.
|My lord,| he said, |there is nothing I would not do to serve your lordship. But I have no choice but tell you that if you do not walk out, you shall be expelled!|
|Expelled, you dog!|
|Expelled, my lord. The would-be murderer of his hostess must at least be put out of the house.|
|Good heavens!| cried the earl, changing his tone with an attempted laugh, |has the poor, hysterical girl succeeded in persuading a man of your sense to believe her childish fancies?|
|I believe every word my lady says, my lord. I know that you had nearly murdered her.|
The earl caught up the poker and struck at his head. Donal avoided the blow. It fell on the marble chimney-piece. While his arm was yet jarred by the impact, Donal wrenched the poker from him.
|My lord,| he said, |with my own hands I drew the staple of the chain that fastened her to the bed on which you left her to die! You were yet in the house when I did so.|
|You damned rascal, you stole the key. If it had not been for that I should have gone to her again. I only wanted to bring her to reason!|
|But as you had lost the key, rather than expose your cruelty, you went away, and left her to perish! You wanted her to die unless you could compel her to marry your son, that the title and property might go together; and that when with my own ears I heard your lordship tell that son that he had no right to any title!|
|What a man may say in a rage goes for nothing,| answered the earl, sulkily rather than fiercely.
|But not what a woman writes in sorrow!| rejoined Donal. |I know the truth from the testimony of her you called your wife, as well as from your own mouth!|
|The testimony of the dead, and at second hand, will hardly be received in court!| returned the earl.
|If after your lordship's death, the man now called lord Forgue dares assume the title of Morven, I will publish what I know. In view of that, your lordship had better furnish him with the vouchers of his mother's marriage. My lord, I again beg you to leave the house.|
The earl cast his eyes round the walls as if looking for a weapon. Donal took him by the arm.
|There is no farther room for ceremony,| he said. |I am sorry to be rough with your lordship, but you compel me. Please remember I am the younger and the stronger man.|
As he spoke he let the earl feel the ploughman's grasp: it was useless to struggle. His lordship threw himself on the couch.
|I will not leave the house. I am come home to die,| he yelled. |I'm dying now, I tell you. I cannot leave the house! I have no money. Forgue has taken all.|
|You owe a large sum to the estate!| said Donal.
|It is lost -- all lost, I tell you! I have nowhere to go to! I am dying!|
He looked so utterly wretched that Donal's heart smote him. He stood back a little, and gave himself time.
|You would wish then to retire, my lord, I presume?| he said.
|Immediately -- to be rid of you!| the earl answered.
|I fear, my lord, if you stay, you will not soon be rid of me! Have you brought Simmons with you?|
|No, damn him! he is like all the rest of you: he has left me!|
|I will help you to bed, my lord.|
|Go about your business. I will get myself to bed.|
|I will not leave you except in bed,| rejoined Donal with decision; and ringing the bell, he desired the servant to ask mistress Brookes to come to him.
She came instantly. Before the earl had time even to look at her, Donal asked her to get his lordship's bed ready: -- if she would not mind doing it herself, he said, he would help her: he must see his lordship to bed.
She looked a whole book at him, but said nothing. Donal returned her gaze with one of quiet confidence, and she understood it. What it said was, |I know what I am doing, mistress Brookes. My lady must not turn him out. I will take care of him.|
|What are you two whispering at there?| cried the earl. |Here am I at the point of death, and you will not even let me go to bed!|
|Your room will be ready in a few minutes, my lord,| said Mrs. Brookes; and she and Donal went to work in earnest, but with the door open between the rooms.
When it was ready,
|Now, my lord,| said Donal, |will you come?|
|When you are gone. I will have none of your cursed help!|
|My lord, I am not going to leave you.|
With much grumbling, and a very ill grace, his lordship submitted, and Donal got him to bed.
|Now put that cabinet by me on the table,| he said.
The cabinet was that in which he kept his drugs, and had not been touched since he left it.
Donal opened the window, took up the cabinet, and threw it out.
With a bellow like that of a bull, the earl sprang out of bed, and just as the crash came from below, ran at Donal where he stood shutting the window, as if he would have sent him after the cabinet. Donal caught him and held him fast.
|My lord,| he said, |I will nurse you, serve you, do anything, everything for you; but for the devil I'll be damned if I move hand or foot! Not one drop of hellish stuff shall pass your lips while I am with you!|
|But I am dying! I shall die of the horrors!| shrieked the earl, struggling to get to the window, as if he might yet do something to save his precious extracts, tinctures, essences, and compounds.
|We will send for the doctor,| said Donal. |A very clever young fellow has come to the town since you left: perhaps he can help you. I will do what I can to make you give your life fair play.|
|Come, come! none of that damned rubbish! My life is of no end of value to me! Besides, it's too late. If I were young now, with a constitution like yours, and the world before me, there might be some good in a paring or two of self-denial; but you wouldn't stab your murderer for fear of the clasp knife closing on your hand! you would not fire your pistol at him for fear of its bursting and blowing your brains out!|
|I have no desire to keep you alive, my lord; but I would give my life to let you get some of the good of this world before you pass to the next. To lengthen your life infinitely, I would not give you a single drop of any one of those cursed drugs!|
He rang the bell again.
|You're a friendly fellow!| grunted his lordship, and went back to his bed to ponder how to gain the solace of his passion.
Mrs. Brookes came.
|Will you please send to Mr. Avory, the new surgeon,| said Donal, |and ask him, in my name, to come to the castle.|
The earl was so ill, however, as to be doubtful, much as he desired them, whether, while rendering him for the moment less sensible to them, any of his drugs would do no other than increase his sufferings. He lay with closed eyes, a strange expression of pain mingled with something like fear every now and then passing over his face. I doubt if his conscience troubled him. It is in general those, I think, who through comparatively small sins have come to see the true nature of them, whose consciences trouble them greatly. Those who have gone from bad to worse through many years of moral decay, are seldom troubled as other men, or have any bands in their death. His lordship, it is true, suffered terribly at times because of the things he had done; but it was through the medium of a roused imagination rather than a roused conscience: the former deals with consequences; the latter with the deeds themselves.
He declared he would see no doctor but his old attendant Dowster, yet all the time was longing for the young man to appear: he might -- who could tell? -- save him from the dreaded jaws of death!
He came. Donal went to him. He had summoned him, he said, without his lordship's consent, but believed he would see him; the earl had been long in the habit of using narcotics and stimulants, though not alcohol, he thought; he trusted Mr. Avory would give his sanction to the entire disuse of them, for they were killing him, body and soul.
|To give them up at once and entirely would cost him considerable suffering,| said the doctor.
|He knows that, and does not in the least desire to give them up. It is absolutely necessary he should be delivered from the passion.|
|If I am to undertake the case, it must be after my own judgment,| said the doctor.
|You must undertake two things, or give up the case,| persisted Donal.
|I may as well hear what they are.|
|One is, that you make his final deliverance from the habit your object; the other, that you will give no medicine into his own hands.|
|I agree to both; but all will depend on his nurse.|
|I will be his nurse.|
The doctor went to see his patient. The earl gave one glance at him, recognized firmness, and said not a word. But when he would have applied to his wrist an instrument recording in curves the motions of the pulse, he would not consent. He would have no liberties taken with him, he said.
|My lord, it is but to inquire into the action of your heart,| said Mr. Avory.
|I'll have no spying into my heart! It acts just like other people's!|
The doctor put his instrument aside, and laid his finger on the pulse instead: his business was to help, not to conquer, he said to himself: if he might not do what he would, he would do what he could.
While he was with the earl, Donal found lady Arctura, and told her all he had done. She thanked him for understanding her.