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Donal Grant by George MacDonald


MR. GRAEME was a good sort of man, and a gentleman; but he was not capable of meeting Donal on the ground on which he approached him: on that level he had never set foot. There is nothing more disappointing to the generous man than the way in which his absolute frankness is met by the man of the world -- always looking out for motives, and imagining them after what is in himself.

There was great confidence between the brother and sister, and as he walked homeward, Mr. Graeme was not so well pleased with himself as to think with satisfaction on the report of the interview he could give Kate. He did not accuse himself with regard to anything he had said, but he felt his behaviour influenced by jealousy of the low-born youth who had supplanted him. For, if Percy could not succeed to the title, neither could he have succeeded to the property; and but for the will or the marriage, perhaps but for the two together, he would himself have come in for that also! The will was worth nothing except the marriage was disputed: annul the marriage, and the will was of force!

He told his sister, as nearly as he could, all that had passed between them.

|If he wanted me to talk to him,| he said, |why did he tell me that about Forgue? It was infernally stupid of him! But what's bred in the bone -- ! A gentleman 's not made in a day!|

|Nor in a thousand years, Hector!| rejoined his sister. |Donal Grant is a gentleman in the best sense of the word! That you say he is not, lets me see you are vexed with yourself. He is a little awkward sometimes, I confess; but only when he is looking at a thing from some other point of view, and does not like to say you ought to have been looking at it from the same. And you can't say he shuffles, for he never stops till he has done his best to make you! -- What have you been saying to him, Hector?|

|Nothing but what I have told you; it's rather what I have not been saying!| answered her brother. |He would have had me open out to him, and I wouldn't. How could I! Whatever I said that pleased him, would have looked as if I wanted to secure my situation! Hang it all! I have a good mind to throw it up. How is a Graeme to serve under a bumpkin?|

|The man is not a bumpkin; he is a scholar and a poet!| said the lady.

|Pooh! pooh! What's a poet?|

|One that may or may not be as good a man of business as yourself when it is required of him.|

|Come, come! don't you turn against me, Kate! It's hard enough to bear as it is!|

Miss Graeme made no reply. She was meditating all she knew of Donal, to guide her to the something to which she was sure her brother had not let him come; and presently she made him recount again all they had said to each other.

|I tell you, Hector,| she exclaimed, |you never made such a fool of yourself in your life! If I know human nature, that man is different from any other you have had to do with. It will take a woman, a better woman than your sister, I confess, to understand him; but I see a little farther into him than you do. He is a man who, never having had money enough to learn the bad uses of it, and never having formed habits it takes money to supply, having no ambition, living in books not in places, and for pleasure having more at his command in himself than the richest -- he is a man who, I say, would find money an impediment to his happiness, for he must have a sense of duty with regard to it which would interfere with everything he liked best. Besides, though he does not care a straw for the judgment of the world where it differs from him, he would be sorry to seem to go against that judgment where he agrees with it: scorning to marry any woman for her money, he would not have the world think he had done so.|

|Ah, Katey, there I have you! The world would entirely approve of his doing that!|

|I will take a better position then: -- he would not willingly seem to have done a thing he himself despises. The man believes himself sent into the world to teach it something: he would not have it thrown in his teeth that, after all, he looks to the main chance as keenly as another! He would starve before he would have men say so -- yes, even say so falsely. I am as sure he did not marry lady Arctura for her money, as I am sure lord Forgue, or you, Hector, would have done it if you had had a chance. -- There! -- My conviction is that the bumpkin sought a fit opening to tell you that the will was to go for nothing, and that no word need be said about the marriage. You know he made you promise not to mention it -- only I wormed it out of you!|

|That's just like you women! The man you take a fancy to is always head and shoulders above other men!|

|As you take it so, I will tell you more: that man will never marry again!|

|Wait a bit. Admiration is sometimes mutual: who knows but he may ask you next!|

|If he did ask me, I might take him, but I should never think so much of him!|

|Heroic Kate!|

|If you had been a little more heroic, Hector, you would have responded to him -- and found it considerably to your advantage.|

|You don't imagine I would be indebted -- |

|Hush! Hush! Don't pledge yourself in a hurry -- even to me!| said Kate. |Leave as wide a sea-margin about your boat as you may. You don't know what you would or would not. Mr. Grant knows, but you do not.|

|Mr. Grant again! -- Well!|

|Well! -- we shall see!|

And they soon did. For that same evening Donal called, and asked to see Miss Graeme.

|I am sorry my brother is gone down to the town,| she said.

|It was you I wanted to see,| he answered. |I wish to speak openly to you, for I imagine you will understand me better than your brother. Perhaps I ought rather to say -- I shall be better able to explain myself to you.|

There was that in his countenance which seemed to seize and hold her -- a calm exaltation, as of a man who had outlived weakness and was facing the eternal. The spirit of a smile hovered about his mouth and eyes, embodying itself now and then in a grave, sweet, satisfied smile: the man seemed full of content, not with himself, but with something he would gladly share.

|I have been talking with your brother,| he said, after a brief pause.

|I know,| she answered. |I am afraid he did not meet you as he ought. He is a good and honourable man; but like most men he needs a moment to pull himself together. Few men, Mr. Grant, when suddenly called upon, answer from the best that is in them.|

|The fact is simply this,| resumed Donal: |I do not want the Morven property. I thank God for lady Arctura: what was hers I do not desire.|

|But may it not be your duty to take it, Mr. Grant? -- Pardon me for suggesting duty to one who always acts from it.|

|I have reflected, and do not think God wants me to take it. Because she is mine, ought I of necessity to be enslaved to all her accidents? Must I, because I love her, hoard her gowns and shoes?|

Then first Miss Graeme noted that he never spoke of his wife as in the past.

|But there are others to be considered,| she replied. |You have made me think about many things, Mr. Grant! My brother and I have had many talks as to what we would do if the land were ours.|

|And yours it shall be,| said Donal, |if you will take it as a trust for the good of all whom it supports. I have other work to do.|

|I will tell my brother what you say,| answered Miss Graeme, with victory in her heart -- for was it not as she had divined?

|It is better,| continued Donal, |to help make good men than happy tenants. Besides, I know how to do the one, and I do not know how to do the other. There would always be a prejudice against me too, as not to the manner born. But if your brother should accept my offer, I hope he will not think me interfering if I talk sometimes of the principles of the relation. Things go wrong, generally, because men have such absurd and impossible notions about possession. They call things their own which it is impossible, from their very nature, ever to possess or make their own. Power was never given to man over men for his own sake, and the nearer he that so uses it comes to success, the more utter will prove his discomfiture. Talk to your brother about it, Miss Graeme. Tell him that, as heir to the title, and as head of the family, he can do more than any other with the property, and I will gladly make it over to him without reserve. I would not be even partially turned aside from my own calling.|

|I will tell him what you say. I told him he had misunderstood you. I saw into your generous thought.|

|It is not generous at all. My dear Miss Graeme, you do not know how little of a temptation such things are to me! There are some who only care to inherit straight from the first Father. You may say the earth is the Lord's, and therefore a part of that first inheritance: I admit it; but such possession as this in question would not satisfy me in the least. I must inherit the earth in a far deeper, grander, truer way than calling the land mine, before I shall count myself to have come into my own. I want to have all things just as the maker of me wants me to have them. -- I will call on you again to-morrow; I must now go back to the earl. Poor man, he is sinking fast! but I believe he is more at peace than he has ever been before!|

Donal took his leave, and Miss Graeme had plenty to think of till her brother's return: if she felt a little triumphant, it may be pardoned her.

He was ashamed, and not a little humbled by what she told him. He did not wait for Donal to come to him, but went to the castle early the next morning. Nor was he mistaken in trusting Donal to believe that it was not from eagerness to retrace in his own interest the false step he had taken, but from desire to show his shame of having behaved so ungenerously: Donal received him so as to make it plain he did not misunderstand him, and they had a long talk. Graeme was all the readier for his blunder to hear what Donal had to say, and Donal's unquestionable disinterestedness was endlessly potent with Graeme. Their interview resulted in Donal's thinking still better of him than before, and being satisfied that, up to his light, the man was honest -- which is saying much -- and thence open to conviction, and both sides of a question. But ere it was naturally over, Donal was summoned to the earl.

After his niece's death, no one would do for him but Donal; nobody could please him but Donal. His mind as well as his body was much weaker. But the intellect, great thing though it be, is yet but the soil out of which, or rather in which, higher things must grow, and it is well when that soil is not too strong, so to speak, for the most gracious and lovely of plants to root themselves in it. When the said soil is proud and unwilling to serve, it must be thinned and pulverized with sickness, failure, poverty, fear -- that the good seeds of God's garden may be able to root themselves in it; when they get up a little, they will use all the riches and all the strength of the stiffest soil.

|Who will have the property now?| he asked one day. |Is the factor anywhere in the running?|

|Title and property both will be his,| answered Donal.

|And my poor Davie?| said the earl, with wistful question in the eyes that gazed up in Donal's face. |Forgue, the rascal, has all my money in his power already.|

|I will see to Davie,| replied Donal. |When you and I meet, my lord -- by and by, I shall not be ashamed.|

The poor man was satisfied. He sent for Davie, and told him he was always to do as Mr. Grant wished, that he left him in his charge, and that he must behave to him like a son.

Davie was fast making acquaintance with death -- but it was not to him dreadful as to most children, for he saw it through the face and words of the man whom he most honoured.

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