BUT the opening of the windows of heaven, and the unspeakable rush of life through channels too narrow and banks too weak to hold its tide, caused a terrible inundation: the red flood broke its banks, and weakened all the land.
Arctura sent for Mr. Graeme, and commissioned him to fetch the family lawyer from Edinburgh. Alone with him she gave instructions concerning her will. The man of business shrugged his shoulders, laden with so many petty weights, bowed down with so many falsest opinions, and would have expostulated with her.
|Sir!| she said.
|You have a cousin who inherits the title!| he suggested.
|Mr. Fortune,| she returned, |it may be I know as much of my family as you. I did not send for you to consult you, but to tell you how I would have my will drawn up!|
|I beg your pardon, my lady,| rejoined the lawyer, |but there are things which may make it one's duty to speak out.|
|Speak then; I will listen -- that you may ease your mind.|
He began a long, common-sense, worldly talk on the matter, nor once repeated himself. When he stopped, --
|Now have you eased your mind?| she asked.
|I have, my lady.|
|Then listen to me. There is no necessity you should hurt either your feelings or your prejudices. If it goes against your conscience to do as I wish, I will not trouble you.|
Mr. Fortune bowed, took his instructions, and rose.
|When will you bring it me?| she asked.
|In the course of a week or two, my lady.|
|If it is not in my hands by the day after to-morrow, I will send for a gentleman from the town to prepare it.|
|You shall have it, my lady,| said Mr. Fortune.
She did have it, and it was signed and witnessed.
Then she sank more rapidly. Donal said no word about the marriage: it should be as she pleased! He was much by her bedside, reading to her when she was able to listen, talking to her or sitting silent when she was not.
Arctura had at once told mistress Brookes the relation in which she and Donal stood to each other. It cost the good woman many tears, for she thought such a love one of the saddest things in a sad world. Neither Arctura nor Donal thought so.
The earl at this time was a little better, though without prospect of even temporary recovery. He had grown much gentler, and sadness had partially displaced his sullenness. He seemed to have become in a measure aware of the bruteness of the life he had hitherto led: he must have had a glimpse of something better. It is wonderful what the sickness which human stupidity regards as the one evil thing, can do towards redemption! He showed concern at his niece's illness, and had himself carried down every other day to see her for a few minutes. She received him always with the greatest gentleness, and he showed something that seemed like genuine affection for her.
It was a morning in the month of May --
The naked twigs were shivering all for cold --
when Donal, who had been with Arctura the greater part of the night, and now lay on the couch in a neighbouring room, heard Mrs. Brookes call him.
|My lady wants you, sir,| she said.
He started up, and went to her.
|Send for the minister,| she whispered, | -- not Mr. Carmichael; he does not know you. Send for Mr. Graeme too: he and mistress Brookes will be witnesses. I must call you husband once before I die!|
|I hope you will many a time after!| he returned.
She smiled on him with a look of love unutterable.
|Mind,| she said, holding out her arms feebly, but drawing him fast to her bosom, |that this is how I love you! When you see me dull and stupid, and I hardly look at you -- for though death makes bright, dying makes stupid -- then say to yourself, 'This is not how she loves me; it is only how she is dying! She loves me and knows it -- and by and by will be able to show it!'|
They were precious words both then and afterwards!
With some careful questioning, to satisfy himself that, so evidently at the gate of death she yet knew perfectly her own mind, -- and not without some shakes of the head revealing disapprobation, the minister did as he was requested, and wrote a certificate of the fact, which was duly signed and witnessed.
And if he showed his disapproval yet more in the prayer with which he concluded the ceremony, none but mistress Brookes showed responsive indignation.
The bridegroom gave his bride one gentle kiss, and withdrew with the clergyman.
|Pardon me if I characterize this as a strange proceeding!| said the latter.
|Not so strange perhaps as it looks, sir!| said Donal.
|On the very brink of the other world!|
|The other world and its brink too are his who ordained marriage!|
|For this world only,| said the minister.
|The gifts of God are without repentance,| said Donal.
|I have heard of you!| returned the clergyman. |You are one, they tell me, given to misusing scripture.|
He had conceived a painful doubt that he had been drawn into some plot!
|Sir!| said Donal sternly, |if you saw any impropriety in the ceremony, why did you perform it? I beg you will now reserve your remarks. You ought to have made them before or not at all. If you be silent, the thing will probably never be heard of, and I should greatly dislike having it the town-talk.|
|Except I see reason -- that is, if nothing follow to render disclosure necessary, I shall be silent,| said the minister.
He would have declined the fee offered by Donal; but he was poor, and its amount prevailed: he accepted it, and took his leave with a stiffness he intended for dignity: he had a high sense, if not of the dignity of his office, at least of the dignity his office conferred on him.
Donal had next a brief interview with Mr. Graeme. The factor was in a state of utter bewilderment, and readily yielded Donal a promise of silence: the mere whim of a dying girl, it had better be ignored and forgotten! As to Grant's part in it he did not know what to think. It could not affect the property, he thought: it could hardly be a marriage! And then there was the will -- of the contents of which he knew nothing! If it were a complete marriage, the will was worth nothing, being made before it!
I will not linger over the quiet, sad time that followed. Donal was to Arctura, she said, father, brother, husband, in one. Through him she had reaped the harvest of the world, in spite of falsehood, murder, fear, and distrust! She lay victorious on the battlefield!
In the heart of her bridegroom reigned a peace the world could not give or take away. He loved with a love that cast the love of former days into the shadow of a sweet but undesired remembrance. A long twilight life lay before him, but he would have plenty to do! and such was the love between him and Arctura, that every doing of the will of God was as the tying of a fresh bond between him and her: she was his because they were the Father's, whose will was the life and bond of the universe.
|I think,| said Donal, that same night by her bed, |when my mother dies, she will go near you: I will, if I can, send you a message by her. But it will not matter; it can only tell you what you will know well enough -- that I love you, and am waiting to come to you.|
The stupidity of calling oneself a Christian, and doubting if we shall know our friends hereafter! In those who do not believe such a doubt is more than natural, but in those who profess to believe, it shows what a ragged scarecrow is the thing they call their faith -- not worth that of many an old Jew, or that of here and there a pagan!
|I shall not be far from you, dear, I think -- sometimes at least,| she said, speaking very low. |If you dream anything nice about me, think I am thinking of you. If you should dream anything not nice, think something is lying to you about me. I do not know if I shall be allowed to come near you, but if I am -- and I think I shall be -- sometimes, I shall laugh to myself to think how near I am, and you fancying me a long way off! But any way all will be well, for the great life, our God, our father, is, and in him we cannot but be together.|
After that she fell into a deep sleep, and slept for hours. Then suddenly she sat up. Donal put his arm behind and supported her. She looked a little wild, shuddered, murmured something he could not understand, then threw herself back into his arms. Her expression changed to a look of divinest, loveliest content, and she was gone.