Donal Grant

Author: George MacDonald

Chapter XIX. The Factor

The old avenue of beeches, leading immediately nowhither any more, but closed at one end by a built-up gate, and at the other by a high wall, between which two points it stretched quite a mile, was a favourite resort of Donal’s, partly for its beauty, partly for its solitude. The arms of the great trees crossing made of it a long aisle—its roof a broken vault of leaves, upheld by irregular pointed arches—which affected one’s imagination like an ever shifting dream of architectural suggestion. Having ceased to be a way, it was now all but entirely deserted, and there was eeriness in the vanishing vista that showed nothing beyond. When the wind of the twilight sighed in gusts through its moanful crowd of fluttered leaves; or when the wind of the winter was tormenting the ancient haggard boughs, and the trees looked as if they were weary of the world, and longing after the garden of God; yet more when the snow lay heavy upon their branches, sorely trying their aged strength to support its oppression, and giving the onlooker a vague sense of what the world would be if God were gone from it—then the old avenue was a place from which one with more imagination than courage would be ready to haste away, and seek instead the abodes of men. But Donal, though he dearly loved his neighbour, and that in the fullest concrete sense, was capable of loving the loneliest spots, for in such he was never alone.

It was altogether a neglected place. Long grass grew over its floor from end to end—cut now and then for hay, or to feed such animals as had grass in their stalls. Along one border, outside the trees, went a footpath—so little used that, though not quite conquered by the turf, the long grass often met over the top of it. Finding it so lonely, Donal grew more and more fond of it. It was his outdoor study, his proseuche {Compilers note: pi, rho, omicron, sigma, epsilon upsilon, chi, eta with stress—[outdoor] place of prayer}—a little aisle of the great temple! Seldom indeed was his reading or meditation there interrupted by sight of human being.

About a month after he had taken up his abode at the castle, he was lying one day in the grass with a book-companion, under the shade of one of the largest of its beeches, when he felt through the ground ere he heard through the air the feet of an approaching horse. As they came near, he raised his head to see. His unexpected appearance startled the horse, his rider nearly lost his seat, and did lose his temper. Recovering the former, and holding the excited animal, which would have been off at full speed, he urged him towards Donal, whom he took for a tramp. He was rising—deliberately, that he might not do more mischief, and was yet hardly on his feet, when the horse, yielding to the spur, came straight at him, its rider with his whip lifted. Donal took off his bonnet, stepped a little aside, and stood. His bearing and countenance calmed the horseman’s rage; there was something in them to which no gentleman could fail of response.

The rider was plainly one who had more to do with affairs bucolic than with those of cities or courts, but withal a man of conscious dignity, socially afloat, and able to hold his own.

"What the devil—," he cried—for nothing is so irritating to a horseman as to come near losing his seat, except perhaps to lose it altogether, and indignation against the cause of an untoward accident is generally a mortal’s first consciousness thereupon: however foolishly, he feels himself injured. But there, having better taken in Donal’s look, he checked himself.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Donal. "It was foolish of me to show myself so suddenly; I might have thought it would startle most horses. I was too absorbed to have my wits about me."

The gentleman lifted his hat.

"I beg your pardon in return," he said with a smile which cleared every cloud from his face. "I took you for some one who had no business here; but I imagine you are the tutor at the castle, with as good a right as I have myself."

"You guess well, sir."

"Pardon me that I forget your name."

"My name is Donal Grant," returned Donal, with an accent on the my intending a wish to know in return that of the speaker.

"I am a Graeme," answered the other, "one of the clan, and factor to the earl. Come and see where I live. My sister will be glad to make your acquaintance. We lead rather a lonely life here, and don’t see too many agreeable people."

"You call this lonely, do you!" said Donal thoughtfully. "—It is a grand place, anyhow!"

"You are right—as you see it now. But wait till winter! Then perhaps you will change your impression a little."

"Pardon me if I doubt whether you know what winter can be so well as I do. This east coast is by all accounts a bitter place, but I fancy it is only upon a great hill-side you can know the heart and soul of a snow-blast."

"I yield that," returned Mr. Graeme. "—It is bitter enough here though, and a mercy we can keep warm in-doors."

"Which is often more than we shepherd-folk can do," said Donal.

Mr. Graeme used to say afterwards he was never so immediately taken with a man. It was one of the charms of Donal’s habit of being, that he never spoke as if he belonged to any other than the class in which he had been born and brought up. This came partly of pride in his father and mother, partly of inborn dignity, and partly of religion. To him the story of our Lord was the reality it is, and he rejoiced to know himself so nearly on the same social level of birth as the Master of his life and aspiration. It was Donal’s one ambition—to give the high passion a low name—to be free with the freedom which was his natural inheritance, and which is to be gained only by obedience to the words of the Master. From the face of this aspiration fled every kind of pretence as from the light flies the darkness. Hence he was entirely and thoroughly a gentleman. What if his clothes were not even of the next to the newest cut! What if he had not been used to what is called society! He was far above such things. If he might but attain to the manners of the "high countries," manners which appear because they exist—because they are all through the man! He did not think what he might seem in the eyes of men. Courteous, helpful, considerate, always seeking first how far he could honestly agree with any speaker, opposing never save sweetly and apologetically—except indeed some utterance flagrantly unjust were in his ears—there was no man of true breeding, in or out of society, who would not have granted that Donal was fit company for any man or woman. Mr. Graeme’s eye glanced down over the tall square-shouldered form, a little stooping from lack of drill and much meditation, but instantly straightening itself upon any inward stir, and he said to himself, "This is no common man!"

They were moving slowly along the avenue, Donal by the rider’s near knee, talking away like men not unlikely soon to know each other better.

"You don’t make much use of this avenue!" said Donal.

"No; its use is an old story. The castle was for a time deserted, and the family, then passing through a phase of comparative poverty, lived in the house we are in now—to my mind much the more comfortable."

"What a fine old place it must be, if such trees are a fit approach to it!"

"They were never planted for that; they are older far. Either there was a wood here, and the rest were cut down and these left, or there was once a house much older than the present. The look of the garden, and some of the offices, favour the latter idea."

"I have never seen the house," said Donal.

"You have not then been much about yet?" said Mr. Graeme.

"I have been so occupied with my pupil, and so delighted with all that lay immediately around me, that I have gone nowhere—except, indeed, to see Andrew Comin, the cobbler."

"Ah, you know him! I have heard of him as a remarkable man. There was a clergyman here from Glasgow—I forget his name—so struck with him he seemed actually to take him for a prophet. He said he was a survival of the old mystics. For my part I have no turn for extravagance."

"But," said Donal, in the tone of one merely suggesting a possibility, "a thing that from the outside may seem an extravagance, may look quite different when you get inside it."

"The more reason for keeping out of it! If acquaintance must make you in love with it, the more air between you and it the better!"

"Would not such precaution as that keep you from gaining a true knowledge of many things? Nothing almost can be known from what people say."

"True; but there are things so plainly nonsense!"

"Yes; but there are things that seem to be nonsense, because the man thinks he knows what they are when he does not. Who would know the shape of a chair who took his idea of it from its shadow on the floor? What idea can a man have of religion who knows nothing of it except from what he hears at church?"

Mr. Graeme was not fond of going to church yet went: he was the less displeased with the remark. But he made no reply, and the subject dropped.


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Chicago: George MacDonald, "Chapter XIX. The Factor," Donal Grant, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in Donal Grant, by George MacDonald Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023,

MLA: MacDonald, George. "Chapter XIX. The Factor." Donal Grant, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in Donal Grant, by George MacDonald, Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: MacDonald, G, 'Chapter XIX. The Factor' in Donal Grant, ed. and trans. . cited in , Donal Grant, by George MacDonald. Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from