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At length one evening Donal knocked at the door of Forgue's room, and went in. He was seated in an easy chair before a blazing fire, looking comfortable, and showing in his pale face no sign of a disturbed conscience.
"My lord," said Donal, "you will hardly be surprised to find I have something to talk to you about!"
His lordship was so much surprised that he made him no answer--only looked in his face. Donal went on:--
"I want to speak to you about Eppy Comin," he said.
Forgue's face flamed up. The devil of pride, and the devil of fear, and the devil of shame, all rushed to the outworks to defend the worthless self. But his temper did not at once break bounds.
"Allow me to remind you, Mr. Grant," he said, "that, although I have availed myself of your help, I am not your pupil, and you have no authority over me."
"The reminder is unnecessary, my lord," answered Donal. "I am not your tutor, but I am the friend of the Comins, and therefore of Eppy."
His lordship drew himself up yet more erect in his chair, and a sneer came over his handsome countenance. But Donal did not wait for him to speak.
"Don't imagine me, my lord," he said, "presuming on the fact that I had the good fortune to carry you home: that I should have done for the stable-boy in similar plight. But as I interfered for you then, I have to interfere for Eppie now."
"Damn your insolence! Do you think because you are going to be a parson, you may make a congregation of me!"
"I have not the slightest intention of being a parson," returned Donal quietly, "but I do hope to be an honest man, and your lordship is in great danger of ceasing to be one!"
"Get out of my room," cried Forgue.
Donal took a seat opposite him.
"If you do not, I will!" said the young lord, and rose.
But ere he reached the door, Donal was standing with his back against it. He locked it, and took out the key. The youth glared at him, unable to speak for fury, then turned, caught up a chair, and rushed at him. One twist of Donal's ploughman-hand wrenched it from him. He threw it over his head upon the bed, and stood motionless and silent, waiting till his rage should subside. In a few moments his eye began to quail, and he went back to his seat.
"Now, my lord," said Donal, following his example and sitting down, "will you hear me?"
"I'll be damned if I do!" he answered, flaring up again at the first sound of Donal's voice.
"I'm afraid you'll be damned if you don't," returned Donal.
His lordship took the undignified expedient of thrusting his fingers in his ears. Donal sat quiet until he removed them. But the moment he began to speak he thrust them in again. Donal rose, and seizing one of his hands by the wrist, said,
"Be careful, my lord; if you drive me to extremity, I will speak so that the house shall hear me; if that will not do, I go straight to your father."
"You are a spy and a sneak!"
"A man who behaves like you, should have no terms held with him."
The youth broke out in a fresh passion. Donal sat waiting till the futile outburst should be over. It was presently exhausted, the rage seeming to go out for want of fuel. Nor did he again stop his ears against the truth he saw he was doomed to hear.
"I am come," said Donal, "to ask your lordship whether the course you are pursuing is not a dishonourable one."
"I know what I am about."
"So much the worse--but I doubt it. For your mother's sake, if for no other, you should scorn to behave to a woman as you are doing now."
"What do you please to imagine I am doing now?"
"There is no imagination in this--that you are behaving to Eppy as no man ought except he meant to marry her."
"How do you know I do not mean to marry her?"
"Do you mean to marry her, my lord?"
"What right have you to ask?"
"At least I live under the same roof with you both."
"What if she knows I do not intend to marry her?"
"My duty is equally plain: I am the friend of her only relatives. If I did not do my best for the poor girl, I dared not look my Master in the face!--Where is your honour, my lord?"
"I never told her I would marry her."
"I never supposed you had."
"Well, what then?"
"I repeat, such attentions as yours must naturally be supposed by any innocent girl to mean marriage."
"Bah! she is not such a fool!"
"I fear she is fool enough not to know to what they must then point!"
"They point to nothing."
"Then you take advantage of her innocence to amuse yourself with her."
"What if she be not quite so innocent as you would have her."
"My lord, you are a scoundrel."
For one moment Forgue seemed to wrestle with an all but uncontrollable fury; the next he laughed--but it was not a nice laugh.
"Come now," he said, "I'm glad I've put you in a rage! I've got over mine. I'll tell you the whole truth: there is nothing between me and the girl--nothing whatever, I give you my word, except an innocent flirtation. Ask herself."
"My lord," said Donal, "I believe what you mean me to understand. I thought nothing worse of it myself."
"Then why the devil kick up such an infernal shindy about it?"
"For these reasons, my lord:--"
"Oh, come! don't be long-winded."
"You must hear me."
"I will suppose she does not imagine you mean to marry her."
"She's not a fool, and she can't imagine me such an idiot!"
"But may she not suppose you love her?"
He tried to laugh.
"You have never told her so?--never said or done anything to make her think so?"
"Oh, well! she may think so--after a sort of a fashion!"
"Would she speak to you again if she heard you talking so of the love you give her?"
"You know as well as I do the word has many meanings?"
"And which is she likely to take? That which is confessedly false and worth nothing?"
"She may take which she pleases, and drop it when she pleases."
"But now, does she not take your words of love for more than they are worth?"
"She says I will soon forget her."
"Will any saying keep her from being so in love with you as to reap misery? You don't know what the consequences may be! Her love wakened by yours, may be infinitely stronger than yours!"
"Oh, women don't now-a-days die for love!" said his lordship, feeling a little flattered.
"It would be well for some of them if they did! they never get over it. She mayn't die, true! but she may live to hate the man that led her to think he loved her, and taught her to believe in nobody. Her whole life may be darkened because you would amuse yourself."
"She has her share of the amusement, and I have my share, by Jove, of the danger! She's a very pretty, clever, engaging girl--though she is but a housemaid!" said Forgue, as if uttering a sentiment of quite communistic liberality.
"What you say shows the more danger to her! If you admire her so much you must have behaved to her so much the more like a genuine lover? But any suffering the affair may have caused you, will hardly, I fear, persuade you to the only honourable escape!"
"By Jupiter!" cried Forgue. "Would you have me marry the girl? That's coming it rather strong with your friendship for the cobbler!"
"No, my lord; if things are as you represent, I have no such desire. What I want is to put a stop to the whole affair. Every man has to be his brother's keeper; and if our western notions concerning women be true, a man is yet more bound to be his sister's keeper. He who does not recognize this, be he earl or prince, is viler than the murderous prowler after a battle. For a man to say 'she can take care of herself,' is to speak out of essential hell. The beauty of love is, that it does not take care of itself, but of the person loved. To approach a girl in any other fashion is a mean scoundrelly thing. I am glad it has already brought on you some of the chastisement it deserves."
His lordship started to his feet in a fresh access of rage.
"You dare say that to my face!"
"Assuredly, my lord. The fact stands just so."
"I gave the fellow as good as he gave me!"
"That is nothing to the point--though from the state I found you in, it is hard to imagine. Pardon me, I do not believe you behaved like what you call a coward."
Lord Forgue was almost crying with rage.
"I have not done with him yet!" he stammered. "If I only knew who the rascal is! If I don't pay him out, may--"
"Stop, stop, my lord. All that is mere waste! I know who the man is, but I will not tell you. He gave you no more than you deserved, and I will do nothing to get him punished for it."
"You are art and part with him!"
"I neither knew of his intent, saw him do it, nor have any proof against him."
"You will not tell me his name?"
"I will find it out, and kill him."
"He threatens to kill you. I will do what I can to prevent either."
"I will kill him," repeated Forgue through his clenched teeth.
"And I will do my best to have you hanged for it," said Donal.
"Leave the room, you insolent bumpkin."
"When you have given me your word that you will never again speak to Eppy Comin."
"I'll be damned first."
"She will be sent away."
"Where I shall see her the easier."
His lordship said this more from perversity than intent, for he had begun to wish himself clear of the affair--only how was he to give in to this unbearable clown!
"I will give you till to-morrow to think of it," said Donal, and opened the door.
His lordship made him no reply, but cast after him a look of uncertain anger. Donal, turning his head as he shut the door, saw it:
"I trust," he said, "you will one day be glad I spoke to you plainly."
"Oh, go along with your preaching!" cried Forgue, more testily than wrathfully; and Donal went.
In the meantime Eppy had been soundly taken to task by Mrs. Brookes, and told that if once again she spoke a word to lord Forgue, she should that very day have her dismissal. The housekeeper thought she had at least succeeded in impressing upon her that she was in danger of losing her situation in a way that must seriously affect her character. She assured Donal that she would not let the foolish girl out of her sight; and thereupon Donal thought it better to give lord Forgue a day to make up his mind.
On the second morning he came to the schoolroom when lessons were over, and said frankly,
"I've made a fool of myself, Mr. Grant! Make what excuse for me you can. I am sorry. Believe me, I meant no harm. I have made up my mind that all shall be over between us."
"Promise me you will not once speak to her again."
"I don't like to do that: it might happen to be awkward. But I promise to do my best to avoid her."
Donald was not quite satisfied, but thought it best to leave the thing so. The youth seemed entirely in earnest.
For a time he remained in doubt whether he should mention the thing to Eppy's grandparents. He reflected that their influence with her did not seem very great, and if she were vexed by anything they said, it might destroy what little they had. Then it would make them unhappy, and he could not bear to think of it. He made up his mind that he would not mention it, but, in the hope she would now change her way, leave the past to be forgotten. He had no sooner thus resolved, however, than he grew uncomfortable, and was unsatisfied with the decision. All would not be right between his friend and him! Andrew Comin would have something against him! He could no longer meet him as before, for he would be hiding something from him, and he would have a right to reproach him! Then his inward eyes grew clear. He said to himself, "What a man has a right to know, another has no right to conceal from him. If sorrow belong to him, I have as little right to keep that from him as joy. His sorrows and his joys are part of a man's inheritance. My wisdom to take care of this man!--his own is immeasurably before mine! The whole matter concerns him: I will let him know at once!"
The same night he went to see him. His wife was out, and Donal was glad of it. He told him all that had taken place.
He listened in silence, his eyes fixed on him, his work on his lap, his hand with the awl hanging by his side. When he heard how Eppy had tricked Donal that night, leaving him to watch in vain, tears gathered in his old eyes. He wiped them away with the backs of his horny hands, and there came no more. Donal told him he had first thought he would say nothing to him about it all, he was so loath to trouble them, but neither his heart nor his conscience would let him be silent.
"Ye did richt to tell me," said Andrew, after a pause. "It's true we haena that muckle weicht wi' her, for it seems a law o' natur 'at the yoong 's no to be hauden doon by the experrience o' the auld--which can be experrience only to themsel's; but whan we pray to God, it puts it mair in his pooer to mak use o' 's for the carryin' oot o' the thing we pray for. It's no aye by words he gies us to say; wi' some fowk words gang for unco little; it may be whiles by a luik o' whilk ye ken naething, or it may be by a motion o' yer han', or a turn o' yer heid. Wha kens but ye may haud a divine pooer ower the hert ye hae 'maist gi'en up the houp o' ever winnin' at! Ye hae h'ard o' the convic' broucht to sorrow by seein' a bit o' the same mattin' he had been used to see i' the aisle o' the kirk his mither tuik him til! That was a stroke o' God's magic! There's nae kennin' what God can do, nor yet what best o' rizzons he has for no doin' 't sooner! Whan we think he's lattin' the time gang, an' doin' naething, he may be jist doin' a' thing! No 'at I ever think like that noo; lat him do 'at he likes, what he does I'm sure o'. I'm o' his min' whether I ken his min' or no.--Eh, my lassie! my lassie! I could better win ower a hantle nor her giein' you the slip that gait, sir. It was sae dooble o' her! It's naething wrang in itsel' 'at a yoong lass sud be taen wi' the attentions o' a bonny lad like lord Forgue! That's na agen the natur 'at God made! But to preten' an' tak in!--to be cunnin' an' sly! that's evil. An' syne for the ither lad--eh, I doobt that's warst o' 'a! Only I kenna hoo far she had committit hersel' wi' him, for she was never open-hertit. Eh, sir! it's a fine thing to hae nae sacrets but sic as lie 'atween yersel' an' yer macker! I can but pray the Father o' a' to haud his e'e upon her, an' his airms aboot her, an' keep aff the hardenin' o' the hert 'at despises coonsel! I'm sair doobtin' we canna do muckle mair for her! She maun tak her ain gait, for we canna put a collar roon' her neck, an' lead her aboot whaurever we gang. She maun win her ain breid; an' gien she didna that, she wad be but the mair ta'en up wi' sic nonsense as the likes o' lord Forgue 's aye ready to say til ony bonny lass. An' I varily believe she's safer there wi' you an' the hoosekeeper nor whaur he could win at her easier, an' whaur they wud be readier to tak her character fra her upo' less offence, an' sen' her aboot her business. Fowk 's unco' jealous about their hoose 'at wad trouble themsel's little aboot a lass! Sae lang as it's no upo' their premises, she may do as she likes for them! Doory an' me, we'll jist lay oor cares i' the fine sicht an' 'afore the compassionate hert o' the Maister, an' see what he can do for 's! Sic things aiven we can lea' to him! I houp there'll be nae mair bludeshed! He's a fine lad, Steenie Kennedy--come o' a fine stock! His father was a God-fearin' man--some dour by natur, but wi' an unco clearin' up throuw grace. I wud wullin'ly hae seen oor Eppy his wife; he's an honest lad! I'm sorry he gied place to wrath, but he may hae repentit by the noo, an' troth, I canna blame him muckle at his time o' life! It's no as gien you or me did it, ye ken, sir!"
The chosen agonize after the light; stretch out their hands to God; stir up themselves to lay hold upon God! These are they who gather grace, as the mountain-tops the snow, to send down rivers of water to their fellows. The rest are the many called, of whom not a few have to be compelled. Alas for the one cast out!
As he was going home in the dark of a clouded moonlight, just as he reached the place where he found lord Forgue, Donal caught sight of the vague figure of a man apparently on the watch, and put himself a little on his guard as he went on. It was Kennedy. He came up to him in a hesitating way.
"Stephen," said Donal, for he seemed to wait for him to speak first, "you may thank God you are not now in hiding."
"I wad never hide, sir. Gien I had killed the man, I wad hae hauden my face til't. But it was a foolish thing to do, for it'll only gar the lass think the mair o' him: they aye side wi' the ane they tak to be ill-used!"
"I thought you said you would in any case have no more to do with her!" said Donal.
Kennedy was silent for a moment.
"A body may tear at their hert," he muttered, "but gien it winna come, what's the guid o' sweirin' oot it maun!"
"Well," returned Donal, "it may be some comfort to you to know that, for the present at least, and I hope for altogether, the thing is put a stop to. The housekeeper at the castle knows all about it, and she and I will do our best. Her grandparents know too. Eppie herself and lord Forgue have both of them promised there shall be no more of it. And I do believe, Kennedy, there has been nothing more than great silliness on either side. I hope you will not forget yourself again. You gave me a promise and broke it!"
"No i' the letter, sir--only i' the speerit!" rejoined Kennedy: "I gaedna near the castel!"
"'Only in the spirit!' did you say, Stephen? What matters the word but for the spirit? The Bible itself lets the word go any time for the spirit! Would it have been a breach of your promise if you had gone to the castle on some service to the man you almost murdered? If ever you lay your hand on the lad again, I'll do my best to give you over to justice. But keep quiet, and I'll do all I can for you."
Kennedy promised to govern himself, and they parted friends.
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