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The great comforts of Donal's life, next to those of the world in which his soul lived--the eternal world, whose doors are ever open to him who prays--were the society of his favourite books, the fashioning of his thoughts into sweetly ordered sounds in the lofty solitude of his chamber, and not infrequent communion with the cobbler and his wife. To these he had as yet said nothing of what went on at the castle: he had learned the lesson the cobbler himself gave him. But many a lesson of greater value did he learn from the philosopher of the lapstone. He who understands because he endeavours, is a freed man of the realm of human effort. He who has no experience of his own, to him the experience of others is a sealed book. The convictions that in Donal rose vaporous were rapidly condensed and shaped when he found his new friend thought likewise.
By degrees he made more and more of a companion of Davie, and such was the sweet relation between them that he would sometimes have him in his room even when he was writing. When it was time to lay in his winter-fuel, he said to him--
"Up here, Davie, we must have a good fire when the nights are long; the darkness will be like solid cold. Simmons tells me I may have as much coal and wood as I like: will you help me to get them up?"
Davie sprang to his feet: he was ready that very minute.
"I shall never learn my lessons if I am cold," added Donal, who could not bear a low temperature so well as when he was always in the open air.
"Do you learn lessons, Mr. Grant?"
"Yes indeed I do," replied Donal. "One great help to the understanding of things is to brood over them as a hen broods over her eggs: words are thought-eggs, and their chickens are truths; and in order to brood I sometimes learn by heart. I have set myself to learn, before the winter is over if I can, the gospel of John in the Greek."
"What a big lesson!" exclaimed Davie.
"Ah, but how rich it will make me!" said Donal, and that set Davie pondering.
They began to carry up the fuel, Donal taking the coals, and Davie the wood. But Donal got weary of the time it took, and set himself to find a quicker way. So next Saturday afternoon, the rudimentary remnant of the Jewish Sabbath, and the schoolboy's weekly carnival before Lent, he directed his walk to a certain fishing village, the nearest on the coast, about three miles off, and there succeeded in hiring a spare boat-spar with a block and tackle. The spar he ran out, through a notch of the battlement, near the sheds, and having stayed it well back, rove the rope through the block at the peak of it, and lowered it with a hook at the end. A moment of Davie's help below, and a bucket filled with coals was on its way up: this part of the roof was over a yard belonging to the household offices, and Davie filled the bucket from a heap they had there made. "Stand back, Davie," Donal would cry, and up would go the bucket, to the ever renewed delight of the boy. When it reached the block, Donal, by means of a guy, swung the spar on its but-end, and the bucket came to the roof through the next notch of the battlement. There he would empty it, and in a moment it would be down again to be re-filled. When he thought he had enough of coal, he turned to the wood; and thus they spent an hour of a good many of the cool evenings of autumn. Davie enjoyed it immensely; and it was no small thing for a boy delicately nurtured to be helped out of the feeling that he must have every thing done for him. When after a time he saw the heap on the roof, he was greatly impressed with the amount that could be done by little and little. In return Donal told him that if he worked well through the week, he should every Saturday evening spend an hour with him by the fire he had thus helped to provide, and they would then do something together.
After his first visit Donal went again and again to the village: he had made acquaintance with some of the people, and liked them. There was one man, however, who, although, attracted by his look despite its apparent sullenness, he had tried to draw him into conversation, seemed to avoid, almost to resent his advances. But one day as he was walking home, Stephen Kennedy overtook him, and saying he was going in his direction, walked alongside of him--to the pleasure of Donal, who loved all humanity, and especially the portion of it acquainted with hard work. He was a middle-sized young fellow, with a slouching walk, but a well shaped and well set head, and a not uncomely countenance. He was brown as sun and salt sea-winds could make him, and had very blue eyes and dark hair, telling of Norwegian ancestry. He lounged along with his hands in his pockets, as if he did not care to walk, yet got over the ground as fast as Donal, who, with yet some remnant of the peasant's stride, covered the ground as if he meant walking. After their greeting a great and enduring silence fell, which lasted till the journey was half-way over; then all at once the fisherman spoke.
"There's a lass at the castel, sir," he said, "they ca' Eppy Comin."
"There is," answered Donal.
"Do ye ken the lass, sir--to speak til her, I mean?"
"Surely," replied Donal. "I know her grandfather and grandmother well."
"Dacent fowk!" said Stephen.
"They are that!" responded Donal, "--as good people as I know!"
"Wud ye du them a guid turn?" asked the fisherman.
"Indeed I would!"
"Weel, it's this, sir: I hae grit doobts gien a' be gaein' verra weel wi' the lass at the castel."
As he said the words he turned his head aside, and spoke so low and in such a muffled way that Donal could but just make out what he said.
"You must be a little plainer if you would have me do anything," he returned.
"I'll be richt plain wi' ye, sir," answered Stephen, and then fell silent as if he would never speak again.
Donal waited, nor uttered a sound. At last he spoke once more.
"Ye maun ken, sir," he said "I hae had a fancy to the lass this mony a day; for ye'll alloo she's baith bonny an' winsome!"
Donal did not reply, for although he was ready to grant her bonny, he had never felt her winsome.
"Weel," he went on, "her an' me 's been coortin' this twa year; an' guid freen's we aye was till this last spring, whan a' at ance she turnt highty-tighty like, nor, du what I micht, could I get her to say what it was 'at cheengt her: sae far as I kenned I had dune naething, nor wad she say I had gi'en her ony cause o' complaint. But though she couldna say I had ever gi'en mair nor a ceevil word to ony lass but hersel', she appeart unco wullin' to fix me wi' this ane an' that ane or ony ane! I couldna think what had come ower her! But at last--an' a sair last it is!--I hae come to the un'erstan'in o' 't: she wud fain hae a pretence for br'akin' wi' me! She wad hae 't 'at I was duin' as she was duin' hersel'--haudin' company wi' anither!"
"Are you quite sure of what you say?" asked Donal.
"Ower sure, sir, though I'm no at leeberty to tell ye hoo I cam to be.--Dinna think, sir, 'at I'm ane to haud a lass til her word whan her hert disna back it; I wud hae said naething aboot it, but jist borne the hert-brak wi' the becomin' silence, for greitin' nor ragin' men' no nets, nor tak the life o' nae dogfish. But it's God's trowth, sir, I'm terrible feart for the lassie hersel'. She's that ta'en up wi' him, they tell me, 'at she can think o' naething but him; an' he's a yoong lord, no a puir lad like me--an' that's what fears me!"
A great dread and a great compassion together laid hold of Donal, but he did not speak.
"Gien it cam to that," resumed Stephen, "I doobt the fisher-lad wud win her better breid nor my lord; for gien a' tales be true, he wud hae to work for his ain breid; the castel 's no his, nor canna be 'cep' he merry the leddy o' 't. But it's no merryin' Eppy he'll be efter, or ony the likes o' 'im!"
"You don't surely hint," said Donal, "that there's anything between her and lord Forgue? She must be an idle girl to take such a thing into her head!"
"I wuss weel she hae ta'en 't intil her heid! she'll get it the easier oot o' her hert? But 'deed, sir, I'm sair feart! I speakna o' 't for my ain sake; for gien there be trowth intil't, there can never be mair 'atween her and me! But, eh, sir, the peety o' 't wi' sic a bonny lass!--for he canna mean fair by her! Thae gran' fowk does fearsome things! It's sma' won'er 'at whiles the puir fowk rises wi' a roar, an' tears doon a', as they did i' France!"
"All you say is quite true; but the charge is such a serious one!"
"It is that, sir! But though it be true, I'm no gaein' to mak it 'afore the warl'."
"You are right there: it could do no good."
"I fear it may du as little whaur I am gaein' to mak it! I'm upo' my ro'd to gar my lord gie an accoont o' himsel'. Faith, gien it bena a guid ane, I'll thraw the neck o' 'im! It's better me to hang, nor her to gang disgraced, puir thing! She can be naething mair to me, as I say; but I wud like weel the wringin' o' a lord's neck! It wud be like killin' a shark!"
"Why do you tell me this?" asked Donal.
"'Cause I look to you to get me to word o' the man."
"That you may wring his neck?--You should not have told me that: I should be art and part in his murder!"
"Wud ye hae me lat the lassie tak her chance ohn dune onything?" said the fisherman with scorn.
"By no means. I would do something myself whoever the girl was--and she is the granddaughter of my best friends."
"Sir, ye winna surely fail me!"
"I will help you somehow, but I will not do what you want me. I will turn the thing over in my mind. I promise you I will do something--what, I cannot say offhand. You had better go home again, and I will come to you to-morrow."
"Na, na, that winna do!" said the man, half doggedly, half fiercely. "The hert ill be oot o' my body gien I dinna du something! This verra nicht it maun be dune! I canna bide in hell ony langer. The thoucht o' the rascal slaverin' his lees ower my Eppy 's killin' me! My brain 's like a fire: I see the verra billows o' the ocean as reid 's blude."
"If you come near the castle to-night, I will have you taken up. I am too much your friend to see you hanged! But if you go home and leave the matter to me, I will do my best, and let you know. She shall be saved if I can compass it. What, man! you would not have God against you?"
"He'll be upo' the side o' the richt, I'm thinkin'!"
"Doubtless; but he has said, 'Vengeance is mine!' He can't trust us with that. He won't have us interfering. It's more his concern than yours yet that the lassie have fair play. I will do my part."
They walked on in gloomy silence for some time. Suddenly the fisherman put out his hand, seized Donal's with a convulsive grasp, was possibly reassured by the strength with which Donal's responded, turned, and without a word went back.
Donal had to think. Here was a most untoward affair! What could he do? What ought he to attempt? From what he had seen of the young lord, he could not believe he intended wrong to the girl; but he might he selfishly amusing himself, and was hardly one to reflect that the least idle familiarity with her was a wrong! The thing, if there was the least truth in it, must be put a stop to at once! but it might be all a fancy of the justly jealous lover, to whom the girl had not of late been behaving as she ought! Or might there not be somebody else? At the same time there was nothing absurd in the idea that a youth, fresh from college and suddenly discompanioned at home, without society, possessed by no love of literature, and with almost no amusements, should, if only for very ennui, be attracted by the pretty face and figure of Eppy, and then enthralled by her coquetries of instinctive response. There was danger to the girl both in silence and in speech: if there was no ground for the apprehension, the very supposition was an injury--might even suggest the thing it was intended to frustrate! Still something must be risked! He had just been reading in sir Philip Sidney, that "whosoever in great things will think to prevent all objections, must lie still and do nothing." But what was he to do? The readiest and simplest thing was to go to the youth, tell him what he had heard, and ask him if there was any ground for it. But they must find the girl another situation! in either case distance must be put between them! He would tell her grandparents; but he feared, if there was any truth in it, they would have no great influence with her. If on the other hand, the thing was groundless, they might make it up between her and her fisherman, and have them married! She might only have been teasing him!--He would certainly speak to the young lord! Yet again, what if he should actually put the mischief into his thoughts! If there should be ever so slight a leaning in the direction, might he not so give a sudden and fatal impulse? He would take the housekeeper into his counsel! She must understand the girl! Things would at once show themselves to her on the one side or the other, which might reveal the path he ought to take. But did he know mistress Brookes well enough? Would she be prudent, or spoil everything by precipitation? She might ruin the girl if she acted without sympathy, caring only to get the appearance of evil out of the house!
The way the legally righteous act the policeman in the moral world would be amusing were it not so sad. They are always making the evil "move on," driving it to do its mischiefs to other people instead of them; dispersing nests of the degraded to crowd them the more, and with worse results, in other parts: why should such be shocked at the idea of sending out of the world those to whom they will not give a place in it to lay their heads? They treat them in this world as, according to the old theology, their God treats them in the next, keeping them alive for sin and suffering.
Some with the bright lamp of their intellect, others with the smoky lamp of their life, cast a shadow of God on the wall of the universe, and then believe or disbelieve in the shadow.
Donal was still in meditation when he reached home, and still undecided what he should do. Crossing a small court on his way to his aerie, he saw the housekeeper making signs to him from the window of her room. He turned and went to her. It was of Eppy she wanted to speak to him! How often is the discovery of a planet, of a truth, of a scientific fact, made at once in different places far apart! She asked him to sit down, and got him a glass of milk, which was his favourite refreshment, little imagining the expression she attributed to fatigue arose from the very thing occupying her own thoughts.
"It's a queer thing," she began, "for an auld wife like me to come til a yoong gentleman like yersel', sir, wi' sic a tale; but, as the sayin' is, 'needs maun whan the deil drives'; an' here's like to be an unco stramash aboot the place, gien we comena thegither upo' some gait oot o' 't. Dinna luik sae scaret like, sir; we may be in time yet er' the warst come to the warst, though it's some ill to say what may be the warst in sic an ill coopered kin' o' affair! There's thae twa fules o' bairns--troth, they're nae better; an' the tane 's jist as muckle to blame as the tither--only the lass is waur to blame nor the lad, bein' made sharper, an' kennin' better nor him what comes o' sic!--Eh, but she is a gowk!"
Here Mrs. Brookes paused, lost in contemplation of the gowkedness of Eppy.
She was a florid, plump, good-looking woman, over forty, with thick auburn hair, brushed smooth--one of those women comely in soul as well as body, who are always to the discomfiture of wrong and the healing of strife. Left a young widow, she had refused many offers: once was all that was required of her in the way of marriage! She had found her husband good enough not to be followed by another, and marriage hard enough to favour the same result. When she sat down, smoothing her apron on her lap, and looking him in the face with clear blue eyes, he must have been either a suspicious or an unfortunate man who would not trust her. She was a general softener of shocks, foiler of encounters, and soother of angers. She was not one of those housekeepers always in black silk and lace, but was mostly to be seen in a cotton gown--very clean, but by no means imposing. She would put her hands to anything--show a young servant how a thing ought to be done, or relieve cook or housemaid who was ill or had a holiday. Donal had taken to her, as like does to like.
He did not hurry her, but waited.
"I may as weel gie ye the haill story, sir!" she recommenced. "Syne ye'll be whaur I am mysel'.
"I was oot i' the yard to luik efter my hens--I never lat onybody but mysel' meddle wi' them, for they're jist as easy sp'ilt as ither fowk's bairns; an' the twa doors o' the barn stan'in open, I took the straucht ro'd throuw the same to win the easier at my feathert fowk, as my auld minnie used to ca' them. I'm but a saft kin' o' a bein', as my faither used to tell me, an' mak but little din whaur I gang, sae they couldna hae h'ard my fut as I gaed; but what sud I hear--but I maun tell ye it was i' the gloamin' last nicht, an' I wad hae tellt ye the same this mornin', sir, seekin' yer fair coonsel, but ye was awa' 'afore I kenned, an' I was resolvt no to lat anither gloamin' come ohn ta'en precautions--what sud I hear, I say, as I was sayin', but a laich tshe--tshe--tshe, somewhaur, I couldna tell whaur, as gien some had mair to say nor wud be spoken oot! Weel, ye see, bein' ane accoontable tae ithers for them 'at's accoontable to me, I stude still an' hearkent: gien a' was richt, nane wad be the waur for me; an' gien a' wasna richt, a' sud be wrang gien I could make it sae! Weel, as I say, I hearkent--but eh, sir! jist gie a keek oot at that door, an' see gein there bena somebody there hearkin', for that Eppy--I wudna lippen til her ae hair! she's as sly as an edder! Naebody there? Weel, steek ye the door, sir, an' I s' gang on wi' my tale. I stude an' hearkent, as I was sayin', an' what sud I hear but a twasome toot-moot, as my auld auntie frae Ebberdeen wud hae ca'd it--ae v'ice that o' a man, an' the ither that o' a wuman, for it's strange the differ even whan baith speyks their laichest! I was aye gleg i' the hearin', an' hae reason for the same to be thankfu,' but I couldna, for a' my sharpness, mak oot what they war sayin'. So, whan I saw 'at I wasna to hear, I jist set aboot seein', an' as quaietly as my saft fit--it's safter nor it's licht--wud carry me, I gaed aboot the barnflure, luikin' whaur onybody could be hidden awa'.
"There was a great heap o' strae in ae corner, no hard again' the wa'; an' 'atween the wa' an' that heap o' thrashen strae, sat the twa. Up gat my lord wi' a spang, as gien he had been ta'en stealin'. Eppy wud hae bidden, an' creepit oot like a moose ahint my back, but I was ower sharp for her: 'Come oot o' that, my lass,' says I. 'Oh, mistress Brookes!' says my lord, unco ceevil, 'for my sake don't be hard upon her.' Noo that angert me! For though I say the lass is mair to blame nor the lad, it's no for the lad, be he lord or labourer, to lea' himsel' oot whan the blame comes. An' says I, 'My lord,' says I, 'ye oucht to ken better! I s' say nae mair i' the noo, for I'm ower angry. Gang yer ways--but na! no thegither, my lord! I s' luik weel to that!--Gang up til yer ain room, Eppy!' I said, 'an' gien I dinna see ye there whan I come in, it's awa' to your grannie I gang this varra nicht!'
"Eppy she gaed; an' my lord he stude there, wi' a face 'at glowert white throuw the gloamin'. I turned upon him like a wild beast, an' says I, 'I winna speir what ye 're up til, my lord, but ye ken weel eneuch what it luiks like! an' I wud never hae expeckit it o' ye!' He began an' he stammert, an' he beggit me to believe there was naething 'atween them, an' he wudna harm the lassie to save his life, an' a' the lave o' 't, 'at I couldna i' my hert but pity them baith--twa sic bairns, doobtless drawn thegither wi' nae thoucht o' ill, ilk ane by the bonny face o' the ither, as is but nait'ral, though it canna be allooed! He beseekit me sae sair 'at I foolishly promised no to tell his faither gien he on his side wud promise no to hae mair to du wi' Eppy. An' that he did. Noo I never had reason to doobt my yoong lord's word, but in a case o' this kin' it's aye better no to lippen. Ony gait, the thing canna be left this wise, for gien ill cam o' 't, whaur wud we a' be! I didna promise no to tell onybody; I'm free to tell yersel,' maister Grant; an' ye maun contrive what's to be dune."
"I will speak to him," said Donal, "and see what humour he is in. That will help to clear the thing up. We will try to do right, and trust to be kept from doing wrong."
Donal left her to go to his room, but had not reached the top of the stair when he saw clearly that he must speak to lord Forgue at once: he turned and went down to a room that was called his.
When he reached it, only Davie was there, turning over the leaves of a folio worn by fingers that had been dust for centuries. He said Percy went out, and would not let him go with him.
Knowing mistress Brookes was looking after Eppy, Donal put off seeking farther for Forgue till the morrow.
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