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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDonal Grant - Chapter 22. A Talk About Ghosts
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Donal Grant - Chapter 22. A Talk About Ghosts Post by :Jantsch Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2505

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Donal Grant - Chapter 22. A Talk About Ghosts


But again he was the first.

They had turned and gone a good way down the long garden, and had again turned towards the house.

"This place makes me feel as I never felt before," he said. "There is such a wonderful sense of vanished life about it. The whole garden seems dreaming about things of long ago--when troops of ladies, now banished into pictures, wandered about the place, each full of her own thoughts and fancies of life, each looking at everything with ways of thinking as old-fashioned as her garments. I could not be here after nightfall without feeling as if every walk were answering to unseen feet, as if every tree might be hiding some lovely form, returned to dream over old memories."

"Where is the good of fancying what is not true? I can't care for what I know to be nonsense!"

She was glad to find a spot where she could put down the foot of contradiction, for she came of a family known for what the neighbours called common sense, and in the habit of casting contempt upon everything characterized as superstition: she had now something to say for herself!

"How do you know it is nonsense?" asked Donald, looking round in her face with a bright smile.

"Not nonsense to keep imagining what nobody can see?"

"I can only imagine what I do not see."

"Nobody ever saw such creatures as you suppose in any garden! Then why fancy the dead so uncomfortable, or so ill looked after, that they come back to plague us!"

"Plainly they have never plagued you much!" rejoined Donal laughing. "But how often have you gone up and down these walks at dead of night?"

"Never once," answered Miss Graeme, not without a spark of indignation. "I never was so absurd!"

"Then there may be a whole night-world that you know nothing about. You cannot tell that the place is not then thronged with ghosts: you have never given them a chance of appearing to you. I don't say it is so, for I know nothing, or at least little, about such things. I have had no experience of the sort any more than you--and I have been out whole nights on the mountains when I was a shepherd."

"Why then should you trouble your fancy about them?"

"Perhaps just for that reason."

"I do not understand you."

"I mean, because I can come into no communication with such a world as may be about me, I therefore imagine it. If, as often as I walked abroad at night, I met and held converse with the disembodied, I should use my imagination little, but make many notes of facts. When what may be makes no show, what more natural than to imagine about it? What is the imagination here for?"

"I do not know. The less one has to do with it the better."

"Then the thing, whatever it be, should not be called a faculty, but a weakness!"


"But the history of the world shows it could never have made progress without suggestions upon which to ground experiments: whence may these suggestions come if not from the weakness or impediment called the imagination?"

Again there was silence. Miss Graeme began to doubt whether it was possible to hold rational converse with a man who, the moment they began upon anything, went straight aloft into some high-flying region of which she knew and for which she cared nothing. But Donal's unconscious desire was in reality to meet her upon some common plane of thought. He always wanted to meet his fellow, and hence that abundance of speech, which, however poetic the things he said, not a few called prosiness.

"I should think," resumed Miss Graeme, "if you want to work your imagination, you will find more scope for it at the castle than here! This is a poor modern place compared to that."

"It is a poor imagination," returned Donal, "that requires age or any mere accessory to rouse it. The very absence of everything external, the bareness of the mere humanity involved, may in itself be an excitement greater than any accompaniment of the antique or the picturesque. But in this old-fashioned garden, in the midst of these old-fashioned flowers, with all the gentlenesses of old-fashioned life suggested by them, it is easier to imagine the people themselves than where all is so cold, hard, severe--so much on the defensive, as in that huge, sullen pile on the hilltop."

"I am afraid you find it dull up there!" said Miss Graeme.

"Not at all," replied Donal; "I have there a most interesting pupil. But indeed one who has been used to spend day after day alone, clouds and heather and sheep and dogs his companions, does not depend much for pastime. Give me a chair and a table, fire enough to keep me from shivering, the few books I like best and writing materials, and I am absolutely content. But beyond these things I have at the castle a fine library--useless no doubt for most purposes of modern study, but full of precious old books. There I can at any moment be in the best of company! There is more of the marvellous in an old library than ever any magic could work!"

"I do not quite understand you," said the lady.

But she would have spoken nearer the truth if she had said she had not a glimmer of what he meant.

"Let me explain!" said Donal: "what could necromancy, which is one of the branches of magic, do for one at the best?"

"Well!" exclaimed Miss Graeme; "--but I suppose if you believe in ghosts, you may as well believe in raising them!"

"I did not mean to start any question about belief; I only wanted to suppose necromancy for the moment a fact, and put it at its best: suppose the magician could do for you all he professed, what would it amount to?--Only this--to bring before your eyes a shadowy resemblance of the form of flesh and blood, itself but a passing shadow, in which the man moved on the earth, and was known to his fellow-men? At best the necromancer might succeed in drawing from him some obscure utterance concerning your future, far more likely to destroy your courage than enable you to face what was before you; so that you would depart from your peep into the unknown, merely less able to encounter the duties of life."

"Whoever has a desire for such information must be made very different from me!" said Miss Graeme.

"Are you sure of that? Did you never make yourself unhappy about what might be on its way to you, and wish you could know beforehand something to guide you how to meet it?"

"I should have to think before answering that question."

"Now tell me--what can the art of writing, and its expansion, or perhaps its development rather, in printing, do in the same direction as necromancy? May not a man well long after personal communication with this or that one of the greatest who have lived before him? I grant that in respect of some it can do nothing; but in respect of others, instead of mocking you with an airy semblance of their bodily forms, and the murmur of a few doubtful words from their lips, it places in your hands a key to their inmost thoughts. Some would say this is not personal communication; but it is far more personal than the other. A man's personality does not consist in the clothes he wears; it only appears in them; no more does it consist in his body, but in him who wears it."

As he spoke, Miss Graeme kept looking him gravely in the face, manifesting, however, more respect than interest. She had been accustomed to a very different tone in young men. She had found their main ambition to amuse; to talk sense about other matters than the immediate uses of this world, was an out-of-the-way thing! I do not say Miss Graeme, even on the subject last in hand, appreciated the matter of Donal's talk. She perceived he was in earnest, and happily was able to know a deep pond from a shallow one, but her best thought concerning him was--what a strange new specimen of humanity was here!

The appearance of her brother coming down the walk, put a stop to the conversation.

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