SUDDENLY what strength lady Arctura had, gave way, and she began to sink. But it was spring with the summer at hand; they hoped she would recover sufficiently to be removed to a fitter climate. She did not herself think so. She had hardly a doubt that her time was come. She was calm, often cheerful, but her spirits were variable. Donal's heart was sorer than he had thought it could be again.
One day, having been reading a little to her, he sat looking at her. He did not know how sad was the expression of his countenance. She looked up, smiled, and said,
|You think I am unhappy! -- you could not look at me like that if you did not think so! I am only tired; I am not unhappy. I hardly know now what unhappiness is! If ever I look as if I were unhappy, it is only that I am waiting for more life. It is on the way; I feel it is, because I am so content with everything; I would have nothing other than it is. It is very hard for God that his children will not trust him to do with them what he pleases! I am sure, Mr. Grant, the world is all wrong, and on the way to be all wondrously right. It will cost God much labour yet: we will cost him as little as we can -- won't we? -- Oh, Mr. Grant, if it hadn't been for you, God would have been far away still! For a God I should have had something half an idol, half a commonplace tyrant! I should never have dreamed of the glory of God!|
|No, my lady!| returned Donal; |if God had not sent me, he would have sent somebody else; you were ready!|
|I am very glad he sent you! I should never have loved any other so much!|
Donal's eyes filled with tears. He was simple as a child. No male vanity, no self-exultation that a woman should love him, and tell him she loved him, sprang up in his heart. He knew she loved him; he loved her; all was so natural it could not be otherwise: he never presumed to imagine her once thinking of him as he had thought of Ginevra. He was her servant, willing and loving as any angel of God: that was all -- and enough!
|You are not vexed with your pupil -- are you?| she resumed, again looking up in his face, this time with a rosy flush on her own.
|Why?| said Donal, with wonder.
|For speaking so to my master.|
|Angry because you love me?|
|No, of course!| she responded, at once satisfied. |You knew that must be! How could I but love you -- better than any one else in the world! You have given me life! I was dead. -- You have been like another father to me!| she added, with a smile of heavenly tenderness. |But I could not have spoken to you like this, if I had not known I was dying.|
The word shot a sting as of fire through Donal's heart.
|You are always a child, Mr. Grant,| she went on; |death is making a child of me; it makes us all children: as if we were two little children together, I tell you I love you. -- Don't look like that,| she continued; |you must not forget what you have been teaching me all this time -- that the will of God, the perfect God, is all in all! He is not a God far off: to know that is enough to have lived for! You have taught me that, and I love you with a true heart fervently.|
Donal could not speak. He knew she was dying.
|Mr. Grant,| she began again, |my soul is open to his eyes, and is not ashamed. I know I am going to do what would by the world be counted unwomanly; but you and I stand before our Father, not before the world. I ask you in plain words, knowing that if you cannot do as I ask you willingly, you will not do it. And be sure I shall plainly be dying before I claim the fulfilment of your promise if you give it. I do not want your answer all at once: you must think about it.|
Here she paused a while, then said,
|I want you to marry me, if you will, before I go.|
Donal could not yet speak. His soul was in a tumult of emotion.
|I am tired,| she said. |Please go and think it over. If you say no, I shall only say, 'He knows best what is best!' I shall not be ashamed. Only you must not once think what the world would say: of all people we have nothing to do with the world! We have nothing to do but with God and love! If he be pleased with us, we can afford to smile at what his silly children think of us: they mind only what their vulgar nurses say, not what their perfect father says: we need not mind them -- need we? -- I wonder at myself,| she went on, for Donal did not utter a word, |for being able to speak like this; but then I have been thinking of it for a long time -- chiefly as I lie awake. I am never afraid now -- not though I lie awake all night: 'perfect love casteth out fear,' you know. I have God to love, and Jesus to love, and you to love, and my own father to love! When you know him, you will see how good a man can be without having been brought up like you! -- Oh, Donal, do say something, or I shall cry, and crying kills me!|
She was sitting on a low chair, with the sunlight across her lap -- for she was again in the sunny Garland-room -- and the firelight on her face. Donal knelt gently down, and laid his hands in the sunlight on her lap, just as if he were going to say his prayers at his mother's knee. She laid both her hands on his.
|I have something to tell you,| he said; |and then you must speak again.|
|Tell me,| said Arctura, with a little gasp.
|When I came here,| said Donal, |I thought my heart so broken that it would never love -- that way, I mean -- any more. But I loved God better than ever: and as one I would fain help, I loved you from the very first. But I should have scorned myself had I once fancied you loved me more than just to do anything for me I needed done. When I saw you troubled, I longed to take you up in my arms, and carry you like a lovely bird that had fallen from one of God's nests; but never once, my lady, did I think of your caring for my love: it was yours as a matter of course. I once asked a lady to kiss me -- just once, for a good-bye: she would not -- and she was quite right; but after that I never spoke to a lady but she seemed to stand far away on the top of a hill against a sky.|
He stopped. Her hands on his fluttered a little, as if they would fly.
|Is she still -- is she -- alive?| she asked.
|Oh yes, my lady.|
|Then she may -- change -- | said Arctura, and stopped, for there was a stone in her heart.
Donal laughed. It was an odd laugh, but it did Arctura good.
|No danger of that, my lady! She has the best husband in the world -- a much better than I should have made, much as I loved her.|
|That can't be!|
|Why, my lady, her husband's sir Gibbie! She's lady Galbraith! I would never have wished her mine if I had known she loved Gibbie. I love her next to him.|
|Then -- then -- |
|What, my lady?|
|Then -- then -- Oh, do say something!|
|What should I say? What God wills is fast as the roots of the universe, and lovely as its blossom.|
Arctura burst into tears.
|Then you do not -- care for me!|
Donal began to understand. In some things he went on so fast that he could not hear the cry behind him. She had spoken, and had been listening in vain for response! She thought herself unloved: he had shown her no sign that he loved her!
His heart was so full of love and the joy of love, that they had made him very still: now the delight of love awoke. He took her in his arms like a child, rose, and went walking about the room with her, petting and soothing her. He held her close to his heart; her head was on his shoulder, and his face was turned to hers.
|I love you,| he said, |and love you to all eternity! I have love enough now to live upon, if you should die to-night, and I should tarry till he come. O God, thou art too good to me! It is more than my heart can bear! To make men and women, and give them to each other, and not be one moment jealous of the love wherewith they love one another, is to be a God indeed!|
So said Donal -- and spoke the high truth. But alas for the love wherewith men and women love each other! There were small room for God to be jealous of that! It is the little love with which they love each other, the great love with which they love themselves, that hurts the heart of their father.
Arctura signed at length a prayer for release, and he set her gently down in her chair again. Then he saw her face more beautiful than ever before; and the rose that bloomed there was the rose of a health deeper than sickness. These children of God were of the blessed few who love the more that they know him present, whose souls are naked before him, and not ashamed. Let him that hears understand! if he understand not, let him hold his peace, and it will be his wisdom! He who has no place for this love in his religion, who thinks to be more holy without it, is not of God's mind when he said, |Let us make man!| He may be a saint, but he cannot be a man after God's own heart. The finished man is the saved man. The saint may have to be saved from more than sin.
|When shall we be married?| asked Donal.
|Soon, soon,| answered Arctura.
|No, not to-morrow: there is no such haste -- now that we understand each other,| she added with a rosy smile. |I want to be married to you before I die, that is all -- not just to-morrow, or the next day.|
|When you please, my love,| said Donal.
She laid her head on his bosom.
|We are as good as married now,| she said: |we know that each loves the other! How I shall wait for you! You will be mine, you know -- a little bit mine -- won't you? -- even if you should marry some beautiful lady after I am gone? -- I shall love her when she comes.|
|Arctura!| said Donal.