Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald
Chapter LII. The Quarry.
Donal threw everything aside, careless of possible disgrace in the class the next morning, and, trembling with hope, accompanied Gibbie: she would be there--surely! It was one of those clear nights in which a gleam of straw-colour in the west, with light-thinned gray-green deepening into blue above it, is like the very edge of the axe of the cold--the edge that reaches the soul. But the youths were warm enough: they had health and hope. The hospitable crimson room, with its round table set out for a Scotch tea, and its fire blazing hugely, received them. And there sat Ginevra by the fire! with her pretty feet on a footstool before it: in those days ladies wore open shoes, and showed dainty stockings. Her face looked rosy, but it was from the firelight, for when she turned it towards them, it showed pale as usual. She received them, as always, with the same simple sincerity that had been hers on the bank of the Lorrie burn. But Gibbie read some trouble in her eyes, for his soul was all touch, and, like a delicate spiritual seismograph, responded at once to the least tremble of a neighbouring soul. The minister was not present, and Mrs. Sclater had both to be the blazing coal, and keep blowing herself, else, however hot it might be at the smouldering hearth, the little company would have sent up no flame of talk.
When tea was over, Gibbie went to the window, got within the red curtains, and peeped out. Returning presently, he spelled with fingers and signed with hands to Ginevra that it was a glorious night: would she not come for a walk? Ginevra looked to Mrs. Sclater.
"Gibbie wants me to go for a walk," she said.
"Certainly, my dear--if you are well enough to go with him," replied her friend.
"I am always well," answered Ginevra.
"I can't go with you," said Mrs. Sclater, "for I expect my husband every moment; but what occasion is there, with two such knights to protect you?"
She was straining hard on the bit of propriety; but she knew them all so well? she said to herself. Then first perceiving Gibbie's design, Donal cast him a grateful glance, while Ginevra rose hastily, and ran to put on her outer garments. Plainly to Donal, she was pleased to go.
When they stood on the pavement, there was the moon, the very cream of light, ladying it in a blue heaven. It was not all her own, but the clouds about her were white and attendant, and ever when they came near her took on her livery--the poor paled-rainbow colours, which are all her reflected light can divide into: that strange brown we see so often on her cloudy people must, I suppose, be what the red or the orange fades to. There was a majesty and peace about her airy domination, which Donal himself would have found difficult, had he known her state, to bring into harmony with her aeonian death. Strange that the light of lovers should be the coldest of all cold things within human ken--dead with cold, millions of years before our first father and mother appeared each to the other on the earth! The air was keen but dry. Nothing could fall but snow; and of anything like it there was nothing but those few frozen vapours that came softly out of the deeps to wait on the moon. Between them and behind them lay depth absolute, expressed in the perfection of nocturnal blues, deep as gentle, the very home of the dwelling stars. The steps of the youths rang on the pavements, and Donal's voice seemed to him so loud and clear that he muffled it all in gentler meaning. He spoke low, and Ginevra answered him softly. They walked close together, and Gibbie flitted to and fro, now on this side, now on that, now in front of them, now behind.
"Hoo likit ye the sermon, mem?" asked Donal.
"Papa thought it a grand sermon," answered Ginevra.
"An' yersel'?" persisted Donal.
"Papa tells me I am no judge," she replied.
"That's as muckle as to say ye didna like it sae weel as he did!" returned Donal, in a tone expressing some relief.
"Mr. Duff is very good to my father, Donal," she rejoined, "and I don't like to say anything against his sermon; but all the time I could not help thinking whether your mother would like this and that; for you know, Donal, any good there is in me I have got from her, and from Gibbie--and from you, Donal."
The youth's heart beat with a pleasure that rose to physical pain. Had he been a winged creature he would have flown straight up; but being a sober wingless animal, he stumped on with his two happy legs. Gladly would he have shown her the unreality of Fergus--that he was a poor shallow creature, with only substance enough to carry show and seeming, but he felt, just because he had reason to fear him, that it would be unmanly to speak the truth of him behind his back, except in the absolute necessity of rectitude. He felt also that, if Ginevra owed her father's friend such delicacy, he owed him at least a little silence; for was he not under more obligation to this same shallow-pated orator, than to all eternity he could wipe out, even if eternity carried in it the possibility of wiping out an obligation? Few men understand, but Donal did, that he who would cancel an obligation is a dishonest man. I cannot help it that many a good man--good, that is, because he is growing better--must then be reckoned in the list of the dishonest: he is in their number until he leaves it.
Donal remaining silent, Ginevra presently returned him his own question:
"How did you like the sermon, Donal?"
"Div ye want me to say, mem?" he asked.
"I do, Donal," she answered.
"Weel, I wad jist say, in a general w'y, 'at I canna think muckle o' ony sermon 'at micht gar a body think mair o' the precher nor o' him 'at he comes to prech aboot. I mean, 'at I dinna see hoo onybody was to lo'e God or his neebour ae jot the mair for hearin' yon sermon last nicht."
"But might not some be frightened by it, and brought to repentance, Donal?" suggested the girl.
"Ou ay; I daur say; I dinna ken. But I canna help thinkin' 'at what disna gie God onything like fair play, canna dee muckle guid to men, an' may, I doobt, dee a heap o' ill. It's a p‚gan kin' o' a thing yon."
"That's just what I was feeling--I don't say thinking, you know--for you say we must not say think when we have taken no trouble about it. I am sorry for Mr. Duff, if he has taken to teaching where he does not understand."
They had left the city behind them, and were walking a wide open road, with a great sky above it. On its borders were small fenced fields, and a house here and there with a garden. It was a plain-featured, slightly undulating country, with hardly any trees--not at all beautiful, except as every place under the heaven which man has not defiled is beautiful to him who can see what is there. But this night the earth was nothing: what was in them and over them was all. Donal felt--as so many will feel, before the earth, like a hen set to hatch the eggs of a soaring bird, shall have done rearing broods for heaven--that, with this essential love and wonder by his side, to be doomed to go on walking to all eternity would be a blissful fate, were the landscape turned to a brick-field, and the sky to persistent gray.
"Wad ye no tak my airm, mem?" he said at length, summoning courage. "I jist fin' mysel' like a horse wi' a reyn brocken, gaein' by mysel' throu' the air this gait."
Before he had finished the sentence Ginevra had accepted the offer. It was the first time. His arm trembled. He thought it was her hand.
"Ye're no cauld, are ye, mem?" he said.
"Not the least," she answered.
"Eh, mem! gien fowk was but a' made oot o' the same clay, like, 'at ane micht say till anither--'Ye hae me as ye hae yersel''!"
"Yes, Donal," rejoined Ginevra; "I wish we were all made of the poet-clay like you! What it would be to have a well inside, out of which to draw songs and ballads as I pleased! That's what you have, Donal--or, rather, you're just a draw-well of music yourself."
Donal laughed merrily. A moment more and he broke out singing:
"What's that, Donal?" cried Ginevra.
"Ow, naething," answered Donal. "It was only my hert lauchin'."
"Say the words," said Ginevra.
"I canna--I dinna ken them noo," replied Donal.
"Oh, Donal! are those lovely words gone--altogether--for ever? Shall I not hear them again?"
"I'll try to min' upo' them whan I gang hame," he said. "I canna the noo. I can think o' naething but ae thing."
"And what is that, Donal?"
"Yersel'," answered Donal.
Ginevra's hand lifted just a half of its weight from Donal's arm, like a bird that had thought of flying, then settled again.
"It is very pleasant to be together once more as in the old time, Donal--though there are no daisies and green fields.--But what place is that, Donal?"
Instinctively, almost unconsciously, she wanted to turn the conversation. The place she pointed to was an opening immediately on the roadside, through a high bank--narrow and dark, with one side half lighted by the moon. She had often passed it, walking with her school-fellows, but had never thought of asking what it was. In the shining dusk it looked strange and a little dreadful.
"It's the muckle quarry, mem," answered Donal: "div ye no ken that? That's whaur maist the haill toon cam oot o'. It's a some eerie kin' o' a place to luik at i' this licht. I won'er at ye never saw't."
"I have seen the opening there, but never took much notice of it before," said Ginevra.
"Come an' I'll lat ye see't," rejoined Donal. "It's weel worth luikin' intill. Ye hae nae notion sic a place as 'tis. It micht be amo' the grenite muntains o' Aigypt, though they takna freely sic fine blocks oot o' this ane as they tuik oot o' that at Syene. Ye wadna be fleyt to come an' see what the meen maks o' 't, wad ye, mem?"
"No, Donal. I would not be frightened to go anywhere with you. But--"
"Eh, mem! it maks me richt prood to hear ye say that. Come awa' than."
So saying, he turned aside, and led her into the narrow passage, cut through a friable sort of granite. Gibbie, thinking they had gone to have but a peep and return, stood in the road, looking at the clouds and the moon, and crooning to himself. By and by, when he found they did not return, he followed them.
When they reached the end of the cutting, Ginevra started at sight of the vast gulf, the moon showing the one wall a ghastly gray, and from the other throwing a shadow half across the bottom. But a winding road went down into it, and Donal led her on. She shrunk at first, drawing back from the profound, mysterious-looking abyss, so awfully still; but when Donal looked at her, she was ashamed to refuse to go farther, and indeed almost afraid to take her hand from his arm; so he led her down the terrace road. The side of the quarry was on one hand, and on the other she could see only into the gulf.
"Oh, Donal!" she said at length, almost in a whisper, "this is like a dream I once had, of going down and down a long roundabout road, inside the earth, down and down, to the heart of a place full of the dead--the ground black with death, and between horrible walls."
Donal looked at her; his face was in the light reflected from the opposite gray precipice: she thought it looked white and strange, and grew more frightened, but dared not speak. Presently Donal again began to sing, and this is something like what he sang:--
"Death! whaur do ye bide, auld Death?"
"Death! whaur do ye bide, auld Death?"
"Death! whaur do ye bide, auld Death?"
"What a terrible song, Donal!" said Ginevra.
He made no reply, but went on, leading her down into the pit: he had been afraid she was going to draw back, and sang the first words her words suggested, knowing she would not interrupt him. The aspect of the place grew frightful to her.
"Are you sure there are no holes--full of water, down there?" she faltered.
"Ay, there's ane or twa," replied Donal, "but we'll haud oot o' them."
Ginevra shuddered, but was determined to show no fear: Donal should not reproach her with lack of faith! They stepped at last on the level below, covered with granite chips and stones and great blocks. In the middle rose a confused heap of all sorts. To this, and round to the other side of it, Donal led her. There shone the moon on the corner of a pool, the rest of which crept away in blackness under an overhanging mass. She caught his arm with both hands. He told her to look up. Steep granite rock was above them all round, on one side dark, on the other mottled with the moon and the thousand shadows of its own roughness; over the gulf hung vaulted the blue, cloud-blotted sky, whence the moon seemed to look straight down upon her, asking what they were about, away from their kind, in such a place of terror.
Suddenly Donal caught her hand. She looked in his face. It was not the moon that could make it so white.
"Ginevra!" he said, with trembling voice.
"Yes, Donal," she answered.
"Ye're no angry at me for ca'in ye by yer name? I never did it afore."
"I always call you Donal," she answered.
"That's nait'ral. Ye're a gran' leddy, an' I'm naething abune a herd-laddie."
"You're a great poet, Donal, and that's much more than being a lady or a gentleman."
"Ay, maybe," answered Donal listlessly, as if he were thinking of something far away; "but it winna mak up for the tither; they're no upo' the same side o' the watter, like. A puir lad like me daurna lift an ee till a gran' leddy like you, mem. A' the warl' wad but scorn him, an' lauch at the verra notion. My time's near ower at the college, an' I see naething for 't but gang hame an' fee (hire myself). I'll be better workin' wi' my han's nor wi' my heid whan I hae nae houp left o' ever seein' yer face again. I winna lowse a day aboot it. Gien I lowse time I may lowse my rizon. Hae patience wi' me ae meenute, mem; I'm jist driven to tell ye the trowth. It's mony a lang sin' I hae kent mysel' wantin' you. Ye're the boady, an' I'm the shaidow. I dinna mean nae hyperbolics--that's the w'y the thing luiks to me i' my ain thouchts. Eh, mem, but ye're bonnie! Ye dinna ken yersel' hoo bonnie ye are, nor what a subversion you mak i' my hert an' my heid. I cud jist cut my heid aff, an' lay 't aneth yer feet to haud them aff o' the cauld flure."
Still she looked him in the eyes, like one bewildered, unable to withdraw her eyes from his. Her face too had grown white.
"Tell me to haud my tongue, mem, an' I'll haud it," he said.
Her lips moved, but no sound came.
"I ken weel," he went on, "ye can never luik upo' me as onything mair nor a kin' o' a human bird, 'at ye wad hing in a cage, an' gie seeds an' bits o' sugar till, an' hearken till whan he sang. I'll never trouble ye nae mair, an' whether ye grant me my prayer or no, ye'll never see me again. The only differ 'ill be 'at I'll aither hing my heid or haud it up for the rest o' my days. I wad fain ken 'at I wasna despised, an' 'at maybe gien things had been different,--but na, I dinna mean that; I mean naething 'at wad fricht ye frae what I wad hae. It sudna mean a hair mair nor lies in itsel'."
"What is it, Donal?" said Ginevra, half inaudibly, and with effort: she could scarcely speak for a fluttering in her throat.
"I cud beseech ye upo' my k-nees," he went on, as if she had not spoken, "to lat me kiss yer bonnie fut; but that ye micht grant for bare peety, an' that wad dee me little guid; sae for ance an' for a', till maybe efter we're a' ayont the muckle sea, I beseech at the fauvour o' yer sweet sowl, to lay upo' me, as upo' the lips o' the sowl 'at sang ye the sangs ye likit sae weel to hear whan ye was but a leddy-lassie--ae solitary kiss. It shall be holy to me as the licht; an' I sweir by the Trowth I'll think o' 't but as ye think, an' man nor wuman nor bairn, no even Gibbie himsel', sall ken--"
The last word broke the spell upon Ginevra.
"But, Donal," she said, as quietly as when years ago they talked by the Lorrie side, "would it be right?--a secret with you I could not tell to any one?--not even if afterwards--"
Donal's face grew so ghastly with utter despair that absolute terror seized her; she turned from him and fled, calling "Gibbie! Gibbie!"
He was not many yards off, approaching the mound as she came from behind it. He ran to meet her. She darted to him like a dove pursued by a hawk, threw herself into his arms, laid her head on his shoulder, and wept. Gibbie held her fast, and with all the ways in his poor power sought to comfort her. She raised her face at length. It was all wet with tears which glistened in the moonlight. Hurriedly Gibbie asked on his fingers:
"Was Donal not good to you?"
"He's beautiful," she sobbed; "but I couldn't, you know, Gibbie, I couldn't. I don't care a straw about position and all that--who would with a poet?--but I couldn't, you know, Gibbie. I couldn't let him think I might have married him--in any case: could I now, Gibbie?"
She laid her head again on his shoulder and sobbed. Gibbie did not well understand her. Donal, where he had thrown himself on a heap of granite chips, heard and understood, felt and knew and resolved all in one. The moon shone, and the clouds went flitting like ice-floe about the sky, now gray in distance, now near the moon and white, now in her very presence and adorned with her favour on their bosoms, now drifting again into the gray; and still the two, Ginevra and Gibbie, stood motionless--Gibbie with the tears in his eyes, and Ginevra weeping as if her heart would break; and behind the granite blocks lay Donal.
Again Ginevra raised her head.
"Gibbie, you must go and look after poor Donal," she said.
Gibbie went, but Donal was nowhere to be seen. To escape the two he loved so well, and be alone as he felt, he had crept away softly into one of the many recesses of the place. Again and again Gibbie made the noise with which he was accustomed to call him, but he gave back no answer, and they understood that wherever he was he wanted to be left to himself. They climbed again the winding way out of the gulf, and left him the heart of its desolation.
"Take me home, Gibbie," said Ginevra, when they reached the high road.
As they went, not a word more passed between them. Ginevra was as dumb as Gibbie, and Gibbie was sadder than he had ever been in his life--not only for Donal's sake, but because, in his inexperienced heart, he feared that Ginevra would not listen to Donal because she could not--because she had already promised herself to Fergus Duff; and with all his love to his kind, he could not think it well that Fergus should be made happy at such a price. He left her at her own door, and went home, hoping to find Donal there before him.
He was not there. Hour after hour passed, and he did not appear. At eleven o'clock, Gibbie set out to look for him, but with little hope of finding him. He went all the way back to the quarry, thinking it possible he might be waiting there, expecting him to return without Ginevra. The moon was now low, and her light reached but a little way into it, so that the look of the place was quite altered, and the bottom of it almost dark. But Gibbie had no fear. He went down to the spot, almost feeling his way, where they had stood, got upon the heap, and called and whistled many times. But no answer came. Donal was away, he did not himself know where, wandering wherever the feet in his spirit led him. Gibbie went home again, and sat up all night, keeping the kettle boiling, ready to make tea for him the moment he should come in. But even in the morning Donal did not appear. Gibbie was anxious--for Donal was unhappy.
He might hear of him at the college, he thought, and went at the usual hour. Sure enough, as he entered the quadrangle, there was Donal going in at the door leading to the moral philosophy class-room. For hours, neglecting his own class, he watched about the court, but Donal never showed himself. Gibbie concluded he had watched to avoid him, and had gone home by Crown-street, and himself returned the usual and shorter way, sure almost of now finding him in his room--although probably with the door locked. The room was empty, and Mistress Murkison had not seen him.
Donal's final examination, upon which alone his degree now depended, came on the next day: Gibbie watched at a certain corner, and unseen saw him pass--with a face pale but strong, eyes that seemed not to have slept, and lips that looked the inexorable warders of many sighs. After that he did not see him once till the last day of the session arrived. Then in the public room he saw him go up to receive his degree. Never before had he seen him look grand; and Gibbie knew that there was not any evil in the world, except wrong. But it had been the dreariest week he had ever passed. As they came from the public room, he lay in wait for him once more, but again in vain: he must have gone through the sacristan's garden behind.
When he reached his lodging, he found a note from Donal waiting him, in which he bade him good-bye, said he was gone to his mother, and asked him to pack up his things for him: he would write to Mistress Murkison and tell her what to do with the chest.