Donal Grant

Author: George MacDonald

Chapter LXXIX. A Slow Transition

A dreary time followed. Sometimes the patient would lie awake half the night, howling with misery, and accusing Donal of heartless cruelty. He knew as well as he what would ease his pain and give him sleep, but not a finger would he move to save him! He was taking the meanest of revenges! What did it matter to him what became of his soul! Surely it was worse to hate as he made him hate than to swallow any amount of narcotics!

"I tell you, Grant," he said once, "I was never so cruel to those I treated worst. There’s nothing in the Persian hells, which beat all the rest, to come up to what I go through for want of my comfort. Promise to give it me, and I will tell you where to find some."

As often as Donal refused he would break out in a torrent of curses, then lie still for a space.

"How do you think you will do without it," Donal once rejoined, "when you find yourself bodiless in the other world?"

"I’m not there yet! When that comes, it will be under new conditions, if not unconditioned altogether. We’ll take the world we have. So, my dear boy, just go and get me what I want. There are the keys!"

"I dare not."

"You wish to kill me!"

"I wouldn’t keep you alive to eat opium. I have other work than that. Not a finger would I move to save a life for such a life. But I would willingly risk my own to make you able to do without it. There would be some good in that!"

"Oh, damn your preaching!"

But the force of the habit abated a little. Now and then it seemed to return as strong as ever, but the fit went off again. His sufferings plainly decreased.

The doctor, having little yet of a practice, was able to be with him several hours every day, so that Donal could lie down. As he grew better, Davie, or mistress Brookes, or lady Arctura would sit with him. But Donal was never farther off than the next room. The earl’s madness was the worst of any, a moral madness: it could not fail to affect the brain, but had not yet put him beyond his own control. Repeatedly had Donal been on the verge of using force to restrain him, but had not yet found himself absolutely compelled to do so: fearless of him, he postponed it always to the very last, and the last had not yet arrived.

The gentle ministrations of his niece by and by seemed to touch him. He was growing to love her a little, He would smile when she came into the room, and ask her how she did. Once he sat looking at her for some time—then said,

"I hope I did not hurt you much."

"When?" she asked.

"Then," he answered.

"Oh, no; you did not hurt me—much!"

"Another time, I was very cruel to your aunt: do you think she will forgive me!"

"Yes, I do."

"Then you have forgiven me?"

"Of course I have."

"Then of course God will forgive me too!"

"He will—if you leave off, you know, uncle."

"That’s more than I can promise."

"If you try, he will help you."

"How can he? It is a second nature now!"

"He is your first nature. He can help you too by taking away the body and its nature together."

"You’re a fine comforter! God will help me to be good by taking away my life! A nice encouragement to try! Hadn’t I better kill myself and save him the trouble!"

"It’s not the dying, uncle! no amount of dying would ever make one good. It might only make it less difficult to be good."

"But I might after all refuse to be good! I feel sure I should! He had better let me alone!"

"God can do more than that to compel us to be good—a great deal more than that! Indeed, uncle, we must repent."

He said no more for some minutes; then suddenly spoke again.

"I suppose you mean to marry that rascal of a tutor!" he said.

She started up, and called Donal. But to her relief he did not answer: he was fast asleep.

"He would not thank you for the suggestion, I fear," she said, sitting down again. "He is far above me!"

"Is there no chance for Forgue then?"

"Not the smallest. I would rather have died where you left me than—"

"If you love me, don’t mention that!" he cried. "I was not myself—indeed I was not! I don’t know now—that is, I can’t believe sometimes I ever did it."

"Uncle, have you asked God to forgive you!"

"I have—a thousand times."

"Then I will never speak of it again."

In general, however, he was sullen, cantankerous, abusive. They were all compassionate to him, treating him like a spoiled, but not the less in reality a sickly child. Arctura thought her grandmother could not have brought him up well; more might surely have been made of him. But Arctura had him after a lifetime fertile in cause of self-reproach, had him in the net of sore sickness, at the mercy of the spirit of God. He was a bad old child—this much only the wiser for being old, that he had found the ways of transgressors hard.

One night Donal, hearing him restless, got up from the chair where he watched by him most nights, and saw him staring, but not seeing: his eyes showed that they regarded nothing material. After a moment he gave a great sigh, and his jaw fell. Donal thought he was dead. But presently he came to himself like one escaping from torture: a terrible dream was behind him, pulling at the skirts of his consciousness.

"I’ve seen her!" he said. "She’s waiting for me to take me—but where I do not know. She did not look angry, but then she seldom looked angry when I was worst to her!—Grant, I beg of you, don’t lose sight of Davie. Make a man of him, and his mother will thank you. She was a good woman, his mother, though I did what I could to spoil her! It was no use! I never could!—and that was how she kept her hold of me. If I had succeeded, there would have been an end of her power, and a genuine heir to the earldom! What a damned fool I was to let it out! Who would have been the worse!"

"He’s a heartless, unnatural rascal, though," he resumed, "and has made of me the fool I deserved to be made! His mother must see it was not my fault! I would have set things right if I could! But it was too late! And you tell me she has had a hand in letting the truth out—leaving her letters about!—That’s some comfort! She was always fair, and will be the less hard on me. If I could see a chance of God being half as good to me as my poor wife. She was my wife! I will say it in spite of all the priests in the stupid universe! She was my wife, and deserved to be my wife; and if I had her now, I would marry her, because she would be foolish enough to like it, though I would not do it all the time she was alive, let her beg ever so! Where was the use of giving in, when I kept her in hand so easily that way? That was it! It was not that I wanted to do her any wrong. But you should keep the lead. A man mustn’t play out his last trump and lose the lead. But then you never know about dying! If I had known my poor wife was going to die, I would have done whatever she wanted. We had merry times together! It was those cursed drugs that wiled the soul out of me, and then the devil went in and took its place!—There was curara in that last medicine, I’ll swear!—Look you here now, Grant:—if there were any way of persuading God to give me a fresh lease of life! You say he hears prayer: why shouldn’t you ask him? I would make you any promise you pleased—give you any security you wanted, hereafter to live a godly, righteous, and sober life."

"But," said Donal, "suppose God, reading your heart, saw that you would go on as bad as ever, and that to leave you any longer would only be to make it the more difficult for him to do anything with you afterwards?"

"He might give me a chance! It is hard to expect a poor fellow to be as good as he is himself!"

"The poor fellow was made in his image!" suggested Donal.

"Very poorly made then!" said the earl with a sneer. "We might as well have been made in some other body’s image!"

Donal thought with himself.

Did you ever know a good woman, my lord?" he asked.

"Know a good woman?—Hundreds of them!—The other sort was more to my taste! but there was my own mother! She was rather hard on my father now and then, but she was a good woman."

"Suppose you had been in her image, what then?"

"You would have had some respect for me!"

"Then she was nearer the image of God than you?"

"Thousands of miles!"

"Did you ever know a bad woman?"

"Know a bad woman? Hundreds that would take your heart’s blood as you slept to make a philtre with!"

"Then you saw a difference between such a woman and your mother?"

"The one was of heaven, the other of hell—that was all the little difference!"

"Did you ever know a bad woman grow better?"

"No, never.—Stop! let me see" I did once know a woman—she was a married woman too—that made it all the worse—all the better I mean: she took poison—in good earnest, and died—died, sir—died, I say—when she came to herself, and knew what she had done! That was the only woman I ever knew that grew better. How long she might have gone on better if she hadn’t taken the poison, I can’t tell. That fixed her good, you see!"

"If she had gone on, she might have got as good as your mother?"

"Oh, hang it! no; I did not say that!"

"I mean, with God teaching her all the time—for ten thousand years, say—and she always doing what he told her!"

"Oh, well! I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know what God had to do with my mother being so good! She was none of your canting sort!"

"There is an old story," said Donal, "of a man who was the very image of God, and ever so much better than the best of women."

"He couldn’t have been much of a man then!"

"Were you ever afraid, my lord?"

"Yes, several times—many a time."

"That man never knew what fear was."

"By Jove!"

"His mother was good, and he was better: your mother was good, and you are worse! Whose fault is that?"

"My own; I’m not ashamed to confess it!"

"Would to God you were!" said Donal: "you shame your mother in being worse than she was. You were made in the image of God, but you don’t look like him now any more than you look like your mother. I have a father and mother, my lord, as like God as they can look!"

"Of course! of course! In their position there are no such temptations as in ours!"

"I am sure of one thing, my lord—that you will never be at any peace until you begin to show the image in which you were made. By that time you will care for nothing so much as that he should have his way with you and the whole world."

"It will be long before I come to that!"

"Probably; but you will never have a moment’s peace till you begin. It is no use talking though. God has not made you miserable enough yet."

"I am more miserable than you can think."

"Why don’t you cry to him to deliver you?"

"I would kill myself if it weren’t for one thing."

"It is from yourself he would deliver you."

"I would, but that I want to put off seeing my wife as long as I can."

"I thought you wanted to see her!"

"I long for her sometimes more than tongue can tell."

"And you don’t want to see her?"

"Not yet; not just yet. I should like to be a little better—to do something or other—I don’t know what—first. I doubt if she would touch me now—with that small, firm hand she would catch hold of me with when I hurt her. By Jove, if she had been a man, she would have made her mark in the world! She had a will and a way with her! If it hadn’t been that she loved me—me, do you hear, you dog!—though there’s nobody left to care a worm-eaten nut about me, it makes me proud as Lucifer merely to think of it! I don’t care if there’s never another to love me to all eternity! I have been loved as never man was loved! All for my own sake, mind you! In the way of money I was no great catch; and for the rank, she never got any good of that, nor would if she had lived till I was earl; she had a conscience—which I never had—and would never have consented to be called countess. ’It will be no worse than passing for my wife now,’ I would say. ’What’s either but an appearance? What’s any thing of all the damned humbug but appearance? One appearance is as good as another appearance!’ She would only smile—smile fit to make a mule sad! And then when her baby was dying, and she wanted me to take her for a minute, and I wouldn’t! She laid her down, and got what she wanted herself, and when she went to take the child again, the absurd little thing was—was—gone—dead, I mean gone dead, never to cry any more! There it lay motionless, like a lump of white clay. She looked at me—and never—in this world—smiled again!—nor cried either—all I could do to make her!"

The wretched man burst into tears, and the heart of Donal gave a leap for joy. Common as tears are, fall as they may for the foolishest things, they may yet be such as to cause joy in paradise. The man himself may not know why he weeps, and his tears yet indicate his turning on his road. The earl was as far from a good man as man well could be; there were millions of spiritual miles betwixt him and the image of God; he had wept it was hard to say at what—not at his own cruelty, not at his wife’s suffering, not in pity of the little soul that went away at last out of no human embrace; himself least of all could have told why he wept; yet was that weeping some sign of contact between his human soul and the great human soul of God; it was the beginning of a possible communion with the Father of all! Surely God saw this, and knew the heart he had made—saw the flax smoking yet! He who will not let us out until we have paid the uttermost farthing, rejoices over the offer of the first golden grain.

Donal dropped on his knees and prayed:—

"O Father of us all!" he said, "in whose hands are these unruly hearts of ours, we cannot manage ourselves; we ruin our own selves; but in thee is our help found!"

Prayer went from him; he rose from his knees.

"Go on; go on; don’t stop!" cried the earl. "He may hear you—who can tell!"

Donal went down on his knees again.

"O God!" he said, "thou knowest us, whether we speak to thee or not; take from this man his hardness of heart. Make him love thee."

There he stopped again. He could say no more.

"I can’t pray, my lord," he said, rising. "I don’t know why. It seems as if nothing I said meant anything. I will pray for you when I am alone."

"Are there so many devils about me that an honest fellow can’t pray in my company?" cried the earl. "I will pray myself, in spite of the whole swarm of them, big and little!—O God, save me! I don’t want to be damned. I will be good if thou wilt make me. I don’t care about it myself, but thou canst do as thou pleasest. It would be a fine thing if a rascal like me were to escape the devil through thy goodness after all. I’m worth nothing, but there’s my wife! Pray, pray, Lord God, let me one day see my wife again!—For Christ’s sake—ain’t that the way, Grant?—Amen."

Donal had dropped on his knees once more when the earl began to pray. He uttered a hearty Amen. The earl turned sharply towards him, and saw he was weeping. He put out his hand to him, and said,

"You’ll stand my friend, Grant?"


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Chicago: George MacDonald, "Chapter LXXIX. A Slow Transition," Donal Grant, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in Donal Grant, by George MacDonald Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022,

MLA: MacDonald, George. "Chapter LXXIX. A Slow Transition." Donal Grant, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in Donal Grant, by George MacDonald, Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: MacDonald, G, 'Chapter LXXIX. A Slow Transition' in Donal Grant, ed. and trans. . cited in , Donal Grant, by George MacDonald. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from