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Title: What's Mine's Mine — Volume 1
Author: MacDonald, George, 1824-1905
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "What's Mine's Mine — Volume 1" ***

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WHAT'S MINE'S MINE

By George MacDonald

IN THREE VOLUMES

VOL. I.



CONTENTS OF VOL. I.

CHAPTER

   I. HOW COME THEY THERE?
  II. A SHORT GLANCE OVER THE SHOULDER
 III. THE GIRLS' FIRST WALK
  IV. THE SHOP IN THE VILLAGE
   V. THE CHIEF
  VI. WORK AND WAGE
 VII. MOTHER AND SON
VIII. A MORNING CALL
  IX. MR. SERCOMBE
   X. THE PLOUGH-BULLS
  XI. THE FIR-GROVE
 XII. AMONG THE HILLS
XIII. THE LAKE
 XIV. THE WOLVES
  XV. THE GULF THAT DIVIDED
 XVI. THE CLAN CHRISTMAS
XVII. BETWEEN DANCING AND SUPPER



WHAT'S MINE'S MINE.

CHAPTER I.

HOW COME THEY THERE?


The room was handsomely furnished, but such as I would quarrel with
none for calling common, for it certainly was uninteresting. Not a
thing in it had to do with genuine individual choice, but merely
with the fashion and custom of the class to which its occupiers
belonged. It was a dining-room, of good size, appointed with all the
things a dining-room "ought" to have, mostly new, and entirely
expensive--mirrored sideboard in oak; heavy chairs, just the dozen,
in fawn-coloured morocco seats and backs--the dining-room, in short,
of a London-house inhabited by rich middle-class people. A big fire
blazed in the low round-backed grate, whose flashes were reflected
in the steel fender and the ugly fire-irons that were never used. A
snowy cloth of linen, finer than ordinary, for there was pride in
the housekeeping, covered the large dining-table, and a company,
evidently a family, was eating its breakfast. But how come these
people THERE?

For, supposing my reader one of the company, let him rise from the
well-appointed table--its silver, bright as the complex motions of
butler's elbows can make it; its china, ornate though not elegant;
its ham, huge, and neither too fat nor too lean; its game-pie, with
nothing to be desired in composition, or in flavour natural or
artificial;--let him rise from these and go to the left of the two
windows, for there are two opposite each other, the room having been
enlarged by being built out: if he be such a one as I would have for
a reader, might I choose--a reader whose heart, not merely his eye,
mirrors what he sees--one who not merely beholds the outward shows
of things, but catches a glimpse of the soul that looks out of them,
whose garment and revelation they are;--if he be such, I say, he
will stand, for more than a moment, speechless with something akin
to that which made the morning stars sing together.

He finds himself gazing far over western seas, while yet the sun is
in the east. They lie clear and cold, pale and cold, broken with
islands scattering thinner to the horizon, which is jagged here and
there with yet another. The ocean looks a wild, yet peaceful
mingling of lake and land. Some of the islands are green from shore
to shore, of low yet broken surface; others are mere rocks, with a
bold front to the sea, one or two of them strange both in form and
character. Over the pale blue sea hangs the pale blue sky, flecked
with a few cold white clouds that look as if they disowned the earth
they had got so high--though none the less her children, and doomed
to descend again to her bosom. A keen little wind is out, crisping
the surface of the sea in patches--a pretty large crisping to be
seen from that height, for the window looks over hill above hill to
the sea. Life, quiet yet eager, is all about; the solitude itself is
alive, content to be a solitude because it is alive. Its life needs
nothing from beyond--is independent even of the few sails of fishing
boats that here and there with their red brown break the blue of the
water.

If my reader, gently obedient to my thaumaturgy, will now turn and
cross to the other window, let him as he does so beware of casting a
glance on his right towards the place he has left at the table, for
the room will now look to him tenfold commonplace, so that he too
will be inclined to ask, "How come these and their belongings
HERE--just HERE?"--let him first look from the window. There he sees
hills of heather rolling away eastward, at middle distance beginning
to rise into mountains, and farther yet, on the horizon, showing
snow on their crests--though that may disappear and return several
times before settling down for the winter. It is a solemn and very
still region--not a PRETTY country at all, but great--beautiful with
the beauties of colour and variety of surface; while, far in the
distance, where the mountains and the clouds have business together,
its aspect rises to grandeur. To his first glance probably not a
tree will be discoverable; the second will fall upon a solitary
clump of firs, like a mole on the cheek of one of the hills not far
off, a hill steeper than most of them, and green to the top.

Is my reader seized with that form of divine longing which wonders
what lies over the nearest hill? Does he fancy, ascending the other
side to its crest, some sweet face of highland girl, singing songs
of the old centuries while yet there was a people in these wastes?
Why should he imagine in the presence of the actual? why dream when
the eyes can see? He has but to return to the table to reseat
himself by the side of one of the prettiest of girls!

She is fair, yet with a glowing tinge under her fairness which
flames out only in her eyes, and seldom reddens her skin. She has
brown hair with just a suspicion of red and no more, and a waviness
that turns to curl at the ends. She has a good forehead, arched a
little, not without a look of habitation, though whence that comes
it might be hard to say. There are no great clouds on that sky of
the face, but there is a soft dimness that might turn to rain. She
has a straight nose, not too large for the imperfect yet decidedly
Greek contour; a doubtful, rather straight, thin-lipped mouth, which
seems to dissolve into a bewitching smile, and reveals perfect
teeth--and a good deal more to the eyes that can read it. When the
mouth smiles, the eyes light up, which is a good sign. Their shape
is long oval--and their colour when unlighted, much that of an
unpeeled almond; when she smiles, they grow red. She has an object
in life which can hardly be called a mission. She is rather tall,
and quite graceful, though not altogether natural in her movements.
Her dress gives a feathery impression to one who rather receives
than notes the look of ladies. She has a good hand--not the doll
hand so much admired of those who can judge only of quantity and
know nothing of quality, but a fine sensible hand,--the best thing
about her: a hand may be too small just as well as too large.

Poor mother earth! what a load of disappointing women, made fit for
fine things, and running all to self and show, she carries on her
weary old back! From all such, good Lord deliver us!--except it be
for our discipline or their awaking.

Near her at the breakfast table sits one of aspect so different,
that you could ill believe they belonged to the same family. She is
younger and taller--tall indeed, but not ungraceful, though by no
means beautiful. She has all the features that belong to a
face--among them not a good one. Stay! I am wrong: there were in
truth, dominant over the rest, TWO good features--her two eyes,
dark as eyes well could be without being all pupil, large, and
rather long like her sister's until she looked at you, and then they
opened wide. They did not flash or glow, but were full of the light
that tries to see--questioning eyes. They were simple eyes--I will
not say without arriere pensee, for there was no end of thinking
faculty, if not yet thought, behind them,--but honest eyes that
looked at you from the root of eyes, with neither attack nor defence
in them. If she was not so graceful as her sister, she was hardly
more than a girl, and had a remnant of that curiously lovely
mingling of grace and clumsiness which we see in long-legged growing
girls. I will give her the advantage of not being further described,
except so far as this--that her hair was long and black, that her
complexion was dark, with something of a freckly unevenness, and
that her hands were larger and yet better than her sister's.

There is one truth about a plain face, that may not have occurred to
many: its ugliness accompanies a condition of larger undevelopment,
for all ugliness that is not evil, is undevelopment; and so implies
the larger material and possibility of development. The idea of no
countenance is yet carried out, and this kind will take more
developing for the completion of its idea, and may result in a
greater beauty. I would therefore advise any young man of aspiration
in the matter of beauty, to choose a plain woman for wife--IF
THROUGH HER PLAINNESS SHE IS YET LOVELY IN HIS EYES; for the
loveliness is herself, victorious over the plainness, and her face,
so far from complete and yet serving her loveliness, has in it room
for completion on a grander scale than possibly most handsome faces.
In a handsome face one sees the lines of its coming perfection, and
has a glimpse of what it must be when finished: few are prophets
enough for a plain face. A keen surprise of beauty waits many a man,
if he be pure enough to come near the transfiguration of the homely
face he loved.

This plain face was a solemn one, and the solemnity suited the
plainness. It was not specially expressive--did not look specially
intelligent; there was more of latent than operative power in
it--while her sister's had more expression than power. Both were
lady-like; whether they were ladies, my reader may determine. There
are common ladies and there are rare ladies; the former MAY be
countesses; the latter MAY be peasants.

There were two younger girls at the table, of whom I will say
nothing more than that one of them looked awkward, promised to be
handsome, and was apparently a good soul; the other was pretty, and
looked pert.

The family possessed two young men, but they were not here; one was
a partner in the business from which his father had practically
retired; the other was that day expected from Oxford.

The mother, a woman with many autumnal reminders of spring about
her, sat at the head of the table, and regarded her queendom with a
smile a little set, perhaps, but bright. She had the look of a woman
on good terms with her motherhood, with society, with the
universe--yet had scarce a shadow of assumption on her countenance.
For if she felt as one who had a claim upon things to go pleasantly
with her, had she not put in her claim, and had it acknowledged? Her
smile was a sweet white-toothed smile, true if shallow, and a more
than tolerably happy one--often irradiating THE GOVERNOR
opposite--for so was the head styled by the whole family from mother
to chit.

He was the only one at the table on whose countenance a shadow--as
of some end unattained--was visible. He had tried to get into
parliament, and had not succeeded; but I will not presume to say
that was the source of the shadow. He did not look discontented, or
even peevish; there was indeed a certain radiance of success about
him-only above the cloudy horizon of his thick, dark eyebrows,
seemed to hang a thundery atmosphere. His forehead was large, but
his features rather small; he had, however, grown a trifle fat,
which tended to make up. In his youth he must have been very
nice-looking, probably too pretty to be handsome. In good health and
when things went well, as they had mostly done with him, he was
sweet-tempered; what he might be in other conditions was seldom
conjectured. But was that a sleeping thunder-cloud, or only the
shadow of his eyebrows?

He had a good opinion of himself-on what grounds I do not know; but
he was rich, and I know no better ground; I doubt if there is any
more certain soil for growing a good opinion of oneself. Certainly,
the more you try to raise one by doing what is right and worth
doing, the less you succeed.

Mr. Peregrine Palmer had finished his breakfast, and sat for a while
looking at nothing in particular, plunged in deep thought about
nothing at all, while the girls went on with theirs. He was a little
above the middle height, and looked not much older than his wife;
his black hair had but begun to be touched with silver; he seemed a
man without an atom of care more than humanity counts reasonable;
his speech was not unlike that of an Englishman, for, although born
in Glasgow, he had been to Oxford. He spoke respectfully to his
wife, and with a pleasant playfulness to his daughters; his manner
was nowise made to order, but natural enough; his grammar was as
good as conversation requires; everything was respectable about
him-and yet-he was one remove at least from a gentleman. Something
hard to define was lacking to that idea of perfection.

Mr. Peregrine Palmer's grandfather had begun to make the family
fortune by developing a little secret still in a remote highland
glen, which had acquired a reputation for its whisky, into a great
superterrene distillery. Both he and his son made money by it, and
it had "done well" for Mr. Peregrine also. With all three of them
the making of money had been the great calling of life. They were
diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving Mammon, and
founding claim to consideration on the fact. Neither Jacob nor John
Palmer's worst enemy had ever called him a hypocrite: neither had
been suspected of thinking to serve Mammon and God. Both had gone
regularly to church, but neither had taught in a Sunday school, or
once gone to a week-day sermon. Peregrine had built a church and a
school. He did not now take any active part in the distillery, but
worked mainly in money itself.

Jacob, the son of a ship-chandler in Greenock, had never thought
about gentleman or no gentleman; but his son John had entertained
the difference, and done his best to make a gentleman of Peregrine;
and neither Peregrine nor any of his family ever doubted his
father's success; and if he had not quite succeeded, I would have
the blame laid on Peregrine and not on either father or grandfather.
For a man to GROW a gentleman, it is of great consequence that his
grandfather should have been an honest man; but if a man BE a
gentleman, it matters little what his grandfather or grandmother
either was. Nay--if a man be a gentleman, it is of the smallest
consequence, except for its own sake, whether the world counts him
one or not.

Mr. Peregrine Palmer rose from the table with a merry remark on the
prolongation of the meal by his girls, and went towards the door.

"Are you going to shoot?" asked his wife.

"Not to-day. But I am going to look after my guns. I daresay they've
got them all right, but there's nothing like seeing to a thing
yourself!"

Mr. Palmer had this virtue, and this very gentlemanlike way--that he
always gave his wife as full an answer as he would another lady. He
was not given to marital brevity.

He was there for the grouse-shooting--not exactly, only "as it
were." He did not care VERY much about the sport, and had he cared
nothing, would have been there all the same. Other people, in what
he counted his social position, shot grouse, and he liked to do what
other people did, for then he felt all right: if ever he tried the
gate of heaven, it would be because other people did. But the
primary cause of his being so far in the north was the simple fact
that he had had the chance of buying a property very cheap--a fine
property of mist and cloud, heather and rock, mountain and moor, and
with no such reputation for grouse as to enhance its price. "My
estate" sounded well, and after a time of good preserving he would
be able to let it well, he trusted. No sooner was it bought than his
wife and daughters were eager to visit it; and the man of business,
perceiving it would cost him much less if they passed their autumns
there instead of on the continent, proceeded at once to enlarge the
house and make it comfortable. If they should never go a second
time, it would, with its perfect appointments, make the shooting
there more attractive!

They had arrived the day before. The journey had been fatiguing, for
a great part of it was by road; but they were all in splendid
health, and not too tired to get up at a reasonable hour the next
day.



CHAPTER II.

A SHORT GLANCE OVER THE SHOULDER.


Mr. Peregrine was the first of the Palmer family to learn that there
was a Palmer coat of arms. He learned it at college, and on this
wise.

One day a fellow-student, who pleased himself with what he called
philology, remarked that his father must have been a hit of a
humorist to name him Peregrine:--"except indeed it be a family
name!" he added.

"I never thought about it," said Peregrine. "I don't quite know what
you mean."

The fact was he had no glimmer of what he meant.

"Nothing profound," returned the other. "Only don't you see
Peregrine means pilgrim? It is the same as the Italian pellegrino,
from the Latin, peregrinus, which means one that goes about the
fields,--what in Scotland you call a LANDLOUPER."

"Well, but," returned Peregrine, hesitatingly, "I don't find myself
much wiser. Peregrine means a pilgrim, you say, but what of that?
All names mean something, I suppose! It don't matter much."

"What is your coat of arms?"

"I don't know."

"Why did your father call you Peregrine?"

"I don't know that either. I suppose because he liked the name."

"Why should he have liked it?" continued the other, who was given to
the Socratic method.

"I know no more than the man in the moon."

"What does your surname mean?"

"Something to do with palms, I suppose."

"Doubtless."

"You see I don't go in for that kind of thing like you!"

"Any man who cares about the cut of his coat, might have a little
curiosity about the cut of his name: it sits to him a good deal
closer!"

"That is true--so close that you can't do anything with it. I can't
pull mine off however you criticize it!"

"You can change it any day. Would you like to change it?"

"No, thank you, Mr. Stokes!" returned Peregrine dryly.

"I didn't mean with mine," growled the other. "My name is an
historical one too--but that is not in question.--Do you know your
crest ought to be a hairy worm?"

"Why?"

"Don't you know the palmer-worm? It got its name where you got
yours!"

"Well, we all come from Adam!"

"What! worms and all?"

"Surely. We're all worms, the parson says. Come, put me through;
it's time for lunch. Or, if you prefer, let me burst in ignorance. I
don't mind."

"Well, then, I will explain. The palmer was a pilgrim: when he came
home, he carried a palm-branch to show he had been to the holy
land."

"Did the hairy worm go to the holy land too?"

"He is called a palmer-worm because he has feet enough to go any
number of pilgrimages. But you are such a land-louper, you ought to
blazon two hairy worms saltier-wise."

"I don't understand."

"Why, your name, interpreted to half an ear, is just PILGRIM
PILGRIM!"

"I wonder if my father meant it!"

"That I cannot even guess at, not having the pleasure of knowing
your father. But it does look like a paternal joke!"

His friend sought out for him the coat and crest of the Palmers; but
for the latter, strongly recommended a departure: the fresh
family-branch would suit the worm so well!--his crest ought to be
two worms crossed, tufted, the tufts ouched in gold. It was not
heraldic language, but with Peregrine passed well enough. Still he
did not take to the worms, but contented himself with the ordinary
crest. He was henceforth, however, better pleased with his name, for
he fancied in it something of the dignity of a doubled surname.

His first glance at his wife was because she crossed the field of
his vision; his second glance was because of her beauty; his third
because her name was SHELLEY. It is marvellous how whimsically
sentimental commonplace people can be where their own interesting
personality is concerned: her name he instantly associated with
SCALLOP-SHELL, and began to make inquiry about her. Learning that
her other name was Miriam, one also of the holy land--

"A most remarkable coincidence!--a mere coincidence of course!" he
said to himself. "Evidently that is the woman destined to be the
companion of my pilgrimage!"

When their first child was born, the father was greatly exercised as
to a fitting name for him. He turned up an old botany book, and
sought out the scientific names of different palms. CHAMAEROPS would
not do, for it was a dwarf-palm; BORASSUS might do, seeing it was a
boy--only it stood for a FAN-PALM; CORYPHA would not be bad for a
girl, only it was the name of a heathen goddess, and would not go
well with the idea of a holy palmer. COCOA, PHOENIX, and ARECA, one
after the other, went in at his eyes and through his head; none of
them pleased him. His wife, however, who in her smiling way had
fallen in with his whim, helped him out of his difficulty. She was
the daughter of nonconformist parents in Lancashire, and had been
encouraged when a child to read a certain old-fashioned book called
The Pilgrim's Progress, which her husband had never seen. He did not
read it now, but accepting her suggestion, named the boy Christian.
When a daughter came, he would have had her Christiana, but his wife
persuaded him to be content with Christina. They named their second
son Valentine, after Mr. Valiant-for-truth. Their second daughter
was Mercy; and for the third and fourth, Hope and Grace seemed near
enough. So the family had a cool glow of puritanism about it, while
nothing was farther from the thoughts of any of them than what their
names signified. All, except the mother, associated them with the
crusades for the rescue of the sepulchre of the Lord from the
pagans; not a thought did one of them spend on the rescue of a live
soul from the sepulchre of low desires, mean thoughts, and crawling
selfishness.



CHAPTER III.

THE GIRLS' FIRST WALK.


The Governor, Peregrine and Palmer as he was, did not care about
walking at any time, not even when he HAD to do it because other
people did; the mother, of whom there would have been little left
had the sweetness in her moral, and the house-keeping in her
practical nature, been subtracted, had things to see to within
doors: the young people must go out by themselves! They put on their
hats, and issued.

The temperature was keen, though it was now nearly the middle of
August, by which time in those northern regions the earth has begun
to get a little warm: the house stood high, and the atmosphere was
thin. There was a certain sense of sadness in the pale sky and its
cold brightness; but these young people felt no cold, and perceived
no sadness. The air was exhilarating, and they breathed deep breaths
of a pleasure more akin to the spiritual than they were capable of
knowing. For as they gazed around them, they thought, like Hamlet's
mother in the presence of her invisible husband, that they saw all
there was to be seen. They did not know nature: in the school to
which they had gone they patronized instead of revering her. She
wrought upon them nevertheless after her own fashion with her
children, unheedful whether they knew what she was about or not. The
mere space, the mere height from which they looked, the rarity of
the air, the soft aspiration of earth towards heaven, made them all
more of children.

But not one of them being capable of enjoying anything by herself,
together they were unable to enjoy much; and, like the miser who,
when he cannot much enjoy his money, desires more, began to desire
more company to share in the already withering satisfaction of their
new possession--to help them, that is, to get pleasure out of it, as
out of a new dress. It is a good thing to desire to share a good
thing, but it is not well to be unable alone to enjoy a good thing.
It is our enjoyment that should make us desirous to share. What is
there to share if the thing be of no value in itself? To enjoy alone
is to be able to share. No participation can make that of value
which in itself is of none. It is not love alone but pride also, and
often only pride, that leads to the desire for another to be present
with us in possession.

The girls grew weary of the show around them because it was so
quiet, so regardless of their presence, so moveless, so monotonous.
Endless change was going on, but it was too slow for them to see;
had it been rapid, its motions were not of a kind to interest them.
Ere half an hour they had begun to think with regret of Piccadilly
and Regent street--for they had passed the season in London. There
is a good deal counted social which is merely gregarious. Doubtless
humanity is better company than a bare hill-side; but not a little
depends on how near we come to the humanity, and how near we come to
the hill. I doubt if one who could not enjoy a bare hill-side alone,
would enjoy that hill-side in any company; if he thought he did, I
suspect it would be that the company enabled him, not to forget
himself in what he saw, but to be more pleasantly aware of himself
than the lone hill would permit him to be;--for the mere hill has
its relation to that true self which the common self is so anxious
to avoid and forget. The girls, however, went on and on, led mainly
by the animal delight of motion, the two younger making many a
diversion up the hill on the one side, and down the hill on the
other, shrieking at everything fresh that pleased them.

The house they had just left stood on the projecting shoulder of a
hill, here and there planted with firs. Of the hardy trees there was
a thicket at the back of the house, while toward the south, less
hardy ones grew in the shrubbery, though they would never, because
of the sea-breezes, come to any height. The carriage-drive to the
house joined two not very distant points on the same road, and there
was no lodge at either gate. It was a rough, country road, a good
deal rutted, and seldom repaired. Opposite the gates rose the steep
slope of a heathery hill, along the flank of which the girls were
now walking. On their right lay a piece of rough moorland, covered
with heather, patches of bracken, and coarse grass. A few yards to
the right, it sank in a steep descent. Such was the disposition of
the ground for some distance along the road--on one side the hill,
on the other a narrow level, and abrupt descent.

As they advanced they caught sight of a ruin rising above the brow
of the descent: the two younger darted across the heather toward it;
the two elder continued their walk along the road, gradually
descending towards a valley.

"I wonder what we shall see round the corner there!" said Mercy, the
younger of the two.

"The same over again, I suppose!" answered Christina. "What a rough
road it is! I've twice nearly sprained my ankle!"

"I was thinking of what I saw the other day in somebody's
travels--about his interest in every turn of the road, always
looking for what was to come next."

"Time enough when it comes, in my opinion!" rejoined Christina.

For she was like any other mirror--quite ready to receive what was
thrown upon her, but incapable of originating anything, almost
incapable of using anything.

As they descended, and the hill-side, here covered with bracken and
boulders, grew higher and higher above them, the valley, in front
and on the right, gradually opened, here and there showing a glimpse
of a small stream that cantered steadily toward the sea, now
tumbling over a rock, now sullen in a brown pool. Arriving at length
at a shoulder of the hill round which the road turned, a whole mile
of the brook lay before them. It came down a narrow valley, with
scraps of meadow in the bottom; but immediately below them the
valley was of some width, and was good land from side to side, where
green oats waved their feathery grace, and the yellow barley was
nearly ready for the sickle. No more than the barren hill, however,
had the fertile valley anything for them. Their talk was of the last
ball they were at.

The sisters were about as good friends as such negative creatures
could be; and they would be such friends all their lives, if on the
one hand neither of them grew to anything better, and on the other
no jealousy, or marked difference of social position through
marriage, intervened. They loved each other, if not tenderly, yet
with the genuineness of healthy family-habit--a thing not to be
despised, for it keeps the door open for something better. In itself
it is not at all to be reckoned upon, for habit is but the merest
shadow of reality. Still it is not a small thing, as families go, if
sisters and brothers do not dislike each other.

They were criticizing certain of the young men they had met at the
said ball. Being, in their development, if not in their nature,
commonplace, what should they talk about but clothes or young men?
And why, although an excellent type of its kind, should I take the
trouble to record their conversation? To read, it might have amused
me--or even interested, as may a carrot painted by a Dutchman; but
were I a painter, I should be sorry to paint carrots, and the girls'
talk is not for my pen. At the same time I confess myself incapable
of doing it justice. When one is annoyed at the sight of things
meant to be and not beautiful, there is danger of not giving them
even the poor fair-play they stand in so much the more need of that
it can do so little for them.

But now they changed the subject of their talk. They had come to a
point of the road not far from the ruin to which the children had
run across the heather.

"Look, Chrissy! It IS an old castle!" said Mercy. "I wonder whether
it is on our land!"

"Not much to be proud of!" replied the other. "It is nothing but the
walls of a square house!"

"Not just a common square house! Look at that pepper-pot on one of
the corners!--I wonder how it is all the old castles get deserted!"

"Because they are old. It's well to desert them before they tumble
down."

"But they wouldn't tumble down if they weren't neglected. Think of
Warwick castle! Stone doesn't rot like wood! Just see the thickness
of those walls!"

"Yes, they are thick! But stone too has its way of rotting.
Westminster palace is wearing through, flake by flake. The weather
will be at the lords before long."

"That's what Valentine would call a sign of the times. I say, what a
radical he is, Chrissy!--Look! the old place is just like an empty
egg-shell! I know, if it had been mine, I wouldn't have let it come
to that!"

"You say so because it never was yours: if it had been, you would
know how uncomfortable it was!"

"I should like to know," said Mercy, after a little pause, during
which they stood looking at the ruin, "whether the owners leave such
places because they get fastidious and want better, or because they
are too poor to keep them up! At all events a man must be poor to
SELL the house that belonged to his ancestors!--It must be miserable
to grow poor after being used to plenty!--I wonder whose is the old
place!"

"Oh, the governor's, I suppose! He has all hereabout for miles."

"I hope it is ours! I SHOULD like to build it up again! I would live
in it myself!"

"I'm afraid the governor won't advance your share for that purpose!"

"I love old things!" said Mercy.

"I believe you take your old doll to bed with you yet!" rejoined
Christina. "I am different to you!" she continued, with Frenchified
grammar; "I like things as new as ever I can have them!"

"I like new things well enough, Chrissy--you know I do! It is
natural. The earth herself has new clothes once a year. It is but
once a year, I grant!"

"Often enough for an old granny like her!"

"Look what a pretty cottage!--down there, half-way to the burn! It's
like an English cottage! Those we saw as we came along were either
like a piece of the earth, or so white as to look ghastly! This one
looks neat and comfortable, and has trees about it!"

The ruin, once a fortified house and called a castle, stood on a
sloping root or spur that ran from the hill down to the bank of the
stream, where it stopped abruptly with a steep scaur, at whose foot
lay a dark pool. On the same spur, half-way to the burn, stood a
low, stone-built, thatched cottage, with a little grove about it,
mostly of the hardy, contented, musical fir--a tree that would seem
to have less regard to earthly prosperity than most, and looks like
a pilgrim and a stranger: not caring much, it thrives where other
trees cannot. There might have been a hundred of them, mingled, in
strangest contrast, with a few delicate silver birches, about the
cottage. It stood toward the east side of the sinking ridge, which
had a steep descent, both east and west, to the fields below. The
slopes were green with sweet grass, and apparently smooth as a lawn.
Not far from where the cottage seemed to rest rather than rise or
stand, the burn rushed right against the side of the spur, as if to
go straight through it, but turned abruptly, and flowed along the
side to the end of it, where its way to the sea was open. On the
point of the ridge were a few more firs: except these, those about
the cottage, the mole on the hill-cheek, and the plantation about
the New House, up or down was not a tree to be seen. The girls stood
for a moment looking.

"It's really quite pretty!" said Christina with condescension. "It
has actually something of what one misses here so much--a certain
cosy look! Tidy it is too! As you say, Mercy, it might be in
England--only for the poverty of its trees.--And oh those wretched bare
hills!" she added, as she turned away and moved on.

"Wait till the heather is quite out: then you will have colour to
make up for the bareness."

"Tell true now, Mercy: that you are Scotch need not keep you from
speaking the truth:--don't you think heather just--well--just a
leetle magentaish?--not a colour to be altogether admired?--just a
little vulgar, don't you know? The fashion has changed so much
within the last few years!"

"No, I don't think so; and if I did I should be ashamed of it. I
suppose poor old mother Earth ought to go to the pre-Raphaelites to
be taught how to dress herself!"

Mercy spoke with some warmth, but Christina was not sufficiently
interested to be cross. She made no answer.

They were now at the part of the road which crossed the descending
spur as it left the hill-side. Here they stopped again, and looked
down the rocky slope. There was hardly anything green betwixt them
and the old ruin--little but stones on a mass of rock; but
immediately beyond the ruin the green began: there it seemed as if a
wave of the meadow had risen and overflowed the spur, leaving its
turf behind it. Catching sight of Hope and Grace as they ran about
the ruin, they went to join them, the one drawn by a vague interest
in the exuviae of vanished life, the other by mere curiosity to see
inside the care-worn, protesting walls. Through a gap that might
once have been a door, they entered the heart of the sad unhoping
thing dropt by the Past on its way to oblivion: nothing looks so
unlike life as a dead body, nothing so unfit for human dwelling as a
long-forsaken house.

Finding in one corner a broken stair, they clambered up to a gap in
the east wall; and as they reached it, heard the sound of a horse's
feet. Looking down the road, they saw a gig approaching with two
men. It had reached a part not so steep, and was coming at a trot.

"Why!" exclaimed Christina, "there's Val!--and some one with him!"

"I heard the governor say to mamma," returned Mercy, "that Val was
going to bring a college friend with him,--'for a pop at the
grouse,' he said. I wonder what he will be like!"

"He's a good-big-looking fellow," said Christina.

They drew nearer.

"You might have said a big, good-looking fellow!" rejoined Mercy.

"He really is handsome!--Now mind, Mercy, I was the first to
discover it!" said Christina.

"Indeed you were not!--At least I was the first to SAY it!" returned
Mercy. "But you will take him all to yourself anyhow, and I am sure
I don't care!"

Yet the girls were not vulgar--they were only common. They did and
said vulgar things because they had not the sensitive vitality to
shrink from them. They had not been well taught--that is roused to
LIVE: in the family was not a breath of aspiration. There was plenty
of ambition, that is, aspiration turned hell-ward. They thought
themselves as far from vulgar as any lady in any land, being in this
vulgar--that they despised the people they called vulgar, yet
thought much of themselves for not being vulgar. There was little in
them the world would call vulgar; but the world and its ways are
vulgar; its breeding will not pass with the ushers of the high
countries. The worst in that of these girls was a FAST, disagreeable
way of talking, which they owed to a certain governess they had had
for a while.

They hastened to the road. The gig came up. Valentine threw the
reins to his companion, jumped out, embraced his sisters, and seemed
glad to see them. Had he met them after a like interval at home, he
would have given them a cooler greeting; but he had travelled so
many miles that they seemed not to have met for quite a long time.

"My friend, Mr. Sercombe," he said, jerking his head toward the gig.

Mr. Sercombe raised his POT-LID--the last fashion in head-gear--and
acquaintance was made.

"We'll drive on, Sercombe," said Valentine, jumping up. "You see,
Chris, we're half dead with hunger! Do you think we shall find
anything to eat?"

"Judging by what we left at breakfast," replied Christina, "I should
say you will find enough for--one of you; but you had better go and
see."



CHAPTER IV.

THE SHOP IN THE VILLAGE.


Two or three days have passed. The sun had been set for an hour, and
the night is already rather dark notwithstanding the long twilight
of these northern regions, for a blanket of vapour has gathered over
the heaven, and a few stray drops have begun to fall from it. A thin
wind now and then wakes, and gives a feeble puff, but seems
immediately to change its mind and resolve not to blow, but let the
rain come down. A drearier-looking spot for human abode it would be
difficult to imagine, except it were as much of the sandy Sahara, or
of the ashy, sage-covered waste of western America. A muddy road
wound through huts of turf--among them one or two of clay, and one
or two of stone, which were more like cottages. Hardly one had a
window two feet square, and many of their windows had no glass. In
almost all of them the only chimney was little more than a hole in
the middle of the thatch. This rendered the absence of glass in the
windows not so objectionable; for, left without ordered path to its
outlet, the smoke preferred a circuitous route, and lingered by the
way, filling the air. Peat-smoke, however, is both wholesome and
pleasant, nor was there mingled with it any disagreeable smell of
cooking. Outside were no lamps; the road was unlighted save by the
few rays that here and there crept from a window, casting a doubtful
glimmer on the mire.

One of the better cottages sent out a little better light, though
only from a tallow candle, through the open upper half of a door
horizontally divided in two. Except by that same half-door, indeed,
little light could enter the place, for its one window was filled
with all sorts of little things for sale. Small and inconvenient for
the humblest commerce, this was not merely the best, it was the only
shop in the hamlet.

There were two persons in it, one before and one behind the counter.
The latter was a young woman, the former a man.

He was leaning over the counter--whether from weariness,
listlessness, or interest in his talk with the girl behind, it would
not have been easy, in the dim light and deep shadow, to say. He
seemed quite at home, yet the young woman treated him with a marked,
though unembarrassed respect. The candle stood to one side of them
upon the counter, making a ghastly halo in the damp air; and in the
light puff that occasionally came in at the door, casting the shadow
of one of a pair of scales, now on this now on that of the two
faces. The young woman was tall and dark, with a large forehead:--so
much could be seen; but the sweetness of her mouth, the blueness
of her eyes, the extreme darkness of her hair, were not to be
distinguished. The man also was dark. His coat was of some rough
brown material, probably dyed and woven in the village, and his kilt
of tartan. They were more than well worn--looked even in that poor
light a little shabby. On his head was the highland bonnet called a
glengarry. His profile was remarkable--hardly less than grand, with
a certain aquiline expression, although the nose was not roman. His
eyes appeared very dark, but in the daylight were greenish hazel.
Usually he talked with the girl in Gaelic, but was now speaking
English, a far purer English than that of most English people,
though with something of the character of book-English as
distinguished from conversation-English, and a very perceptible
accent.

"And when was it you heard from Lachlan, Annie?" he asked.

After a moment's pause, during which she had been putting away
things in a drawer of the counter--not so big as many a kitchen
dresser--

"Last Thursday it was, sir," answered the girl. "You know we hear
every month, sometimes oftener."

"Yes; I know that.--I hope the dear fellow is well?"

"He is quite well and of good hope. He says he will soon come and
see us now."

"And take you away, Annie?"

"Well, sir," returned Annie, after a moment's hesitation, "he does
not SAY so!"

"If he did not mean it, he would be a rascal, and I should have to
kill him. But my life on Lachlan's honesty!"

"Thank you, sir. He would lay down his for you."

"Not if you said to him, DON'T!-eh, Annie?"

"But he would, Macruadh!" returned the young woman, almost angrily.
"Are not you his chief?"

"Ah, that is all over now, my girl! There are no chiefs, and no
clans any more! The chiefs that need not, yet sell their land like
Esau for a mess of pottage--and their brothers with it! And the
Sasunnach who buys it, claims rights over them that never grew on
the land or were hid in its caves! Thank God, the poor man is not
their slave, but he is the worse off, for they will not let him eat,
and he has nowhere to go. My heart is like to break for my people.
Sometimes I feel as if I would gladly die."

"Oh, sir! don't say that!" expostulated the young woman, and her
voice trembled. "Every heart in Glenruadh is glad when it goes well
with the Macruadh."

"Yes, yes; I know you all love my father's son and my uncle's
nephew; but how can it go well with the Macruadh when it goes ill
with his clan? There is no way now for a chief to be the father of
his people; we are all poor together! My uncle--God rest his
soul!--they managed it so, I suppose, as to persuade him there was
no help for it! Well, a man must be an honest man, even if there be
no way but ruin! God knows, as we've all heard my father say a
hundred times from the pulpit, there's no ruin but dishonesty! For
poverty and hard work, he's a poor creature would crouch for those!"

"He who well goes down hill, holds his head up!" said Annie, and a
pause followed.

"There are strangers at the New House, we hear," she said.

"From a distance I saw some young ladies, and one or two men. I
don't desire to see more of them. God forbid I should wish them any
manner of harm! but--I hardly understand myself--I don't like to see
them there. I am afraid it is pride. They are rich, I hear, so we
shall not be troubled with attention from them; they will look down
upon us."

"Look down on the Macruadh!" exclaimed Annie, as if she could not
believe her ears.

"Not that I should heed that!" he went on. "A cock on the barn-ridge
looks down on you, and you don't feel offended! What I do dread is
looking down on them. There is something in me that can hate, Annie,
and I fear it. There is something about the land--I don't care about
money, but I feel like a miser about the land!--I don't mean ANY
land; I shouldn't care to buy land unless it had once been ours; but
what came down to me from my own people--with my own people upon
it--I would rather turn the spigot of the molten gold and let it run
down the abyss, than a rood of that slip from me! I feel it even a
disgrace to have lost what of it I never had!"

"Indeed, Macruadh," said Annie, "it's a hard time! There is no money
in the country! And fast the people are going after Lachlan!"

"I shall miss you, Annie!"

"You are very kind to us all, sir."

"Are you not all my own! And you have to take care of for Lachlan's
sake besides. He left you solemnly to my charge--as if that had been
necessary, the foolish fellow, when we are foster-brothers!"

Again came a pause.

"Not a gentleman-farmer left from one end of the strath to the
other!" said the chief at length. "When Ian is at home, we feel just
like two old turkey-cocks left alone in the yard!"

"Say two golden eagles, sir, on the cliff of the rock."

"Don't compare us to the eagle, Annie. I do not love the bird. He is
very proud and greedy and cruel, and never will know the hand that
tames him. He is the bird of the monarch or the earl, not the bird
of the father of his people. But he is beautiful, and I do not kill
him."

"They shot another, the female bird, last week! All the birds are
going! Soon there will be nothing but the great sheep and the little
grouse. The capercailzie's gone, and the ptarmigan's gone!--Well,
there's a world beyond!"

"Where the birds go, Annie?--Well, it may be! But the ptarmigan's not
gone yet, though there are not many; and for the capercailzie--only
who that loves them will be here to see!--But do you really think
there is a heaven for all God's creatures, Annie? Ian does."

"I don't know what I said to make you think so, sir! When the heart
aches the tongue mistakes. But how is my lady, your mother?"

"Pretty well, thank you--wonderfully cheerful. It is time I went
home to her. Lachlan would think I was playing him false, and making
love to you on my own account!"

"No fear! He would know better than that! He would know too, if she
was not belonging to Lachlan, her father's daughter would not let
her chief humble himself."

"You're one of the old sort, Annie! Good night. Mind you tell
Lachlan I never miss a chance of looking in to see how you are
getting on."

"I will. Good night, Macruadh."

They shook hands over the counter, and the young chief took his
departure.

As he stood up, he showed a fine-made, powerful frame, over six feet
in height, and perfectly poised. With a great easy stride he swept
silently out of the shop; nor from gait any more than look would one
have thought he had been all day at work on the remnant of property
he could call his own.

To a cit it would have seemed strange that one sprung from
innumerable patriarchal ancestors holding the land of the country,
should talk so familiarly with a girl in a miserable little shop in
a most miserable hamlet; it would have seemed stranger yet that such
a one should toil at the labour the soul of a cit despises; but
stranger than both it would seem to him, if he saw how such a man is
tempted to look down upon HIM.

If less CLEVERNESS is required for country affairs, they leave the
more room for thinking. There are great and small in every class;
here and there is a ploughman that understands Burns, here and there
a large-minded shopkeeper, here and there perhaps an unselfish
duke. Doubtless most of the youth's ancestors would likewise have
held such labour unworthy of a gentleman, and would have preferred
driving to their hills a herd of lowland cattle; but this, the last
Macruadh, had now and then a peep into the kingdom of heaven.



CHAPTER V.

THE CHIEF.


The Macruadh strode into the dark, and down the village, wasting no
time in picking his way--thence into the yet deeper dark of the
moorland hills. The rain was beginning to come down in earnest, but
he did not heed it; he was thoroughbred, and feared no element. An
umbrella was to him a ludicrous thing: how could a little rain--as
he would have called it had it come down in torrents--hurt any one!

The Macruadh, as the few who yet held by the sore-frayed,
fast-vanishing skirt of clanship, called him, was the son of the
last minister of the parish-a godly man, who lived that which he
could ill explain, and was immeasurably better than those parts of
his creed which, from a sense of duty, he pushed to the front. For
he held devoutly by the root of which he spoke too little, and it
supplied much sap to his life and teaching--out of the pulpit. He
was a genial, friendly, and by nature even merry man, always ready
to share what he had, and making no show of having what he had not,
either in wisdom, knowledge, or earthly goods. His father and
brother had been owners of the property and chiefs of the clan, much
beloved by the poor of it, and not a little misunderstood by most of
the more nourishing. For a great hunger after larger means, the
ambition of the mammon-ruled world, had arisen in the land, and with
it a rage for emigration. The uncle of the present Macruadh did all
he could to keep his people at home, lived on a couple of hundreds a
year himself, and let many of his farms to his gentlemen-tacksmen,
as they were called, at lower rents; but it was unavailing; one
after another departed, until his land lay in a measure waste, and
he grew very poor, mourning far more over his clan and his country
than his poverty. In more prosperous times he had scraped together a
little money, meaning it, if he could but avoid spending it in his
old age, for his brother, who must soon succeed him; for he was
himself a bachelor--the result of a romantic attachment and sorrow
in his youth; but he lent it to a company which failed, and so lost
it. At length he believed himself compelled, for the good of his
people, to part with all but a mere remnant of the property. From
the man to whom he sold it, Mr. Peregrine Palmer bought it for twice
the money, and had still a good bargain. But the hopes of the laird
were disappointed: in the sheep it fed, and the grouse it might be
brought to breed, lay all its value in the market; there was no
increase in the demand for labour; and more and more of the
peasantry emigrated, or were driven to other parts of the country.
Such was the present treatment of the land, causing human life to
ebb from it, and working directly counter to the creative God.

The laird retired to the humble cottage of his brother the pastor,
just married rather late in life--where every comfort love could
give waited for him; but the thought that he could have done better
for his people by retaining the land soon wore him out; and having
made a certain disposition of the purchase-money, he died.

What remained of the property came to the minister. As for the
chieftainship, that had almost died before the chief; but, reviving
by union with the reverence felt for the minister, it took
thereafter a higher form. When the minister died, the idea of it
transmitted to his son was of a peculiarly sacred character; while
in the eyes of the people, the authority of the chief and the
influence of the minister seemed to meet reborn in Alister
notwithstanding his youth. In himself he was much beloved, and in
love the blessed rule, blessed where understood, holds, that to him
that hath shall be given, he only who has being fit to receive. The
love the people bore to his father, both pastor and chief, crowned
head and heart of Alister. Scarce man or woman of the poor remnant
of the clan did not love the young Macruadh.

On his side was true response. With a renewed and renovating
conscience, and a vivid sense that all things had to be made new, he
possessed an old strong heart, clinging first to his father and
mother, and then to the shadow even of any good thing that had come
floating down the ages. Call it a dream, a wild ideal, a foolish
fancy--call it what you please, he was filled with the notion of
doing something in his own person and family, having the remnant of
the clan for the nucleus of his endeavour, to restore to a vital
reality, let it be of smallest extent, that most ancient of
governments, the patriarchal, which, all around, had rotted into the
feudal, in its turn rapidly disintegrating into the mere dust and
ashes of the kingdom of the dead, over which Mammon reigns supreme.
There may have been youthful presumption and some folly in the
notion, but it sprang neither from presumption nor folly, but from
simple humanity, and his sense of the responsibility he neither
could nor would avoid, as the person upon whom had devolved the
headship, however shadowy, of a house, ruinous indeed, but not yet
razed.

The castle on the ridge stood the symbol of the family condition. It
had, however, been a ruin much longer than any one alive could
remember. Alister's uncle had lived in a house on the spot where Mr.
Peregrine Palmer's now stood; the man who bought it had pulled it
down to build that which Mr. Palmer had since enlarged. It was but a
humble affair--a great cottage in stone, much in the style of that
in which the young chief now lived--only six times the size, with
the one feature indispensable to the notion of a chief's residence,
a large hall. Some would say it was but a huge kitchen; but it was
the sacred place of the house, in which served the angel of
hospitality. THERE was always plenty to eat and drink for any comer,
whether he had "claim" or not: the question of claim where was need,
was not thought of. When the old house had to make room for the new,
the staves of the last of its half-pipes of claret, one of which
used always to stand on tap amidst the peat-smoke, yielded its final
ministration to humanity by serving to cook a few meals for mason
and carpenter.

The property of Clanruadh, for it was regarded as clan-property
BECAUSE belonging to the chief, stretched in old time away out of
sight in all directions--nobody, in several, could tell exactly how
far, for the undrawn boundary lines lay in regions of mist and
cloud, in regions stony, rocky, desert, to which a red deer, not to
say a stray sheep, rarely ascended. At one time it took in a portion
at least of every hill to be seen from the spot where stood the
ruin. The chief had now but a small farm, consisting of some fair
soil on the slope of a hill, and some very good in the valley on
both sides of the burn; with a hill-pasture that was not worth
measuring in acres, for it abounded in rocks, and was prolific in
heather and ling, with patches of coarse grass here and there, and
some extent of good high-valley grass, to which the small black
cattle and black-faced sheep were driven in summer. Beyond
periodical burnings of the heather, this uplifted portion received
no attention save from the mist, the snow, the rain, the sun, and
the sweet air. A few grouse and black game bred on it, and many
mountain-hares, with martens, wild cats, and other VERMIN. But so
tender of life was the Macruadh that, though he did not spare these
last, he did not like killing even a fox or a hooded crow, and never
shot a bird for sport, or would let another shoot one, though the
poorest would now and then beg a bird or two from him, sure of
having their request. It seemed to him as if the creatures were
almost a part of his clan, of which also he had to take care against
a greedy world. But as the deer and the birds ranged where they
would, it was not much he could do for them--as little almost as for
the men and women that had gone over the sea, and were lost to their
country in Canada.

Regret, and not any murmur, stirred the mind of Alister Macruadh
when he thought of the change that had passed on all things around
him. He had been too well taught for grumbling--least of all at what
was plainly the will of the Supreme--inasmuch as, however man might
be to blame, the thing was there. Personal regrets he had none
beyond those of family feeling and transmitted SENTIMENT. He was
able to understand something of the signs of the times, and saw that
nothing could bring back the old way--saw that nothing comes
back--at least in the same form; saw that there had been much that
ought not to come back, and that, if patriarchal ways were ever to
return, they must rise out of, and be administered upon loftier
principles--must begin afresh, and be wrought out afresh from the
bosom of a new Abraham, capable of so bringing up his children that
a new development of the one natural system, of government should be
possible with and through them. Perhaps even now, in the new country
to which so many of his people were gone, some shadowy reappearance
of the old fashion might have begun to take shape on a higher level,
with loftier aims, and in circumstances holding out fewer
temptations to the evils of the past!

Alister could not, at his years, have generated such thoughts but
for the wisdom that had gone before him--first the large-minded
speculation of his father, who was capable even of discarding his
prejudices where he saw they might mislead him; and next, the
response of his mother to the same: she was the only one who
entirely understood her husband. Isobel Macruadh was a woman of real
thinking-power. Her sons being but boys when their father died, she
at once took the part of mediator between the mind of the father and
that of his sons; and besides guiding them on the same principles,
often told them things their father had said, and talked with them
of things they had heard him say.

One of the chief lessons he left them wrought well for the casting
out of all with which the feudal system had debased the patriarchal;
and the poverty shared with the clan had powerfully helped: it was
spoken against the growing talionic regard of human relations--that,
namely, the conditions of a bargain fulfilled on both sides, all is
fulfilled between the bargaining parties.

"In the possibility of any bargain," he had said, "are involved
eternal conditions: there is relationship--there is brotherhood.
Even to give with a denial of claim, to be kind under protest, is an
injury, is charity without the love, is salt without the saltness.
If we spent our lives in charity we should never overtake neglected
claims--claims neglected from the very beginning of the relations of
men. If a man say, 'I have not been unjust; I owed the man nothing;'
he sides with Death--says with the typical murderer, 'Am I my
brother's keeper?' builds the tombs of those his fathers slew."

In the bosom of young Alister Macruadh, the fatherly relation of the
strong to the weak survived the disappearance of most of the outward
signs of clan-kindred: the chieftainship was SUBLIMED in him. The
more the body of outer fact died, the stronger grew in him the
spirit of the relation. As some savage element of a race will
reappear in an individual of it after ages of civilization, so may
good old ways of thinking and feeling, modes long gone out of
fashion and practice, survive and revive modified by circumstance,
in an individual of a new age. Such a one will see the customs of
his ancestors glorified in the mists of the past; what is noble in
them will appeal to all that is best in his nature, spurring the
most generous of his impulses, and stirring up the conscience that
would be void of offence. When the operative force of such regards
has been fostered by the teaching of a revered parent; when the
influences he has left behind are nourished and tended, with
thorough belief and devoted care, by her who shared his authority in
life, and now bears alone the family sceptre, there can be no bound
set to their possible potency in a mind of high spiritual order. The
primary impulse became with Alister a large portion of his religion:
he was the shepherd of the much ravaged and dwindled Macruadh-fold;
it was his church, in which the love of the neighbour was
intensified in the love of the relation and dependent. To aid and
guard this his flock, was Alister's divine service. It was
associated with a great dislike of dogma, originating in the recoil
of the truth within him from much that was commonly held and taught
for true.

Call the thing enthusiasm or what you will, so you believe it there,
and genuine.

It was only towards the poor of a decayed clan he had opportunity of
exercising the cherished relation; almost all who were not poor had
emigrated before the lands were sold; and indeed it was only the
poor who set store by their unity with the old head. Not a few of
the clan, removed elsewhither, would have smiled degenerate, and
with scorn in their amusement, at the idea of Alister's clinging to
any supposed reality in the position he could claim. Among such
nevertheless were several who, having made money by trade, would
each have been glad enough to keep up old traditions, and been ready
even to revive older, had the headship fallen to him. But in the
hands of a man whom, from the top of their wealth, they regarded as
but a poor farmer, they forgot all about it--along with a few other
more important and older-world matters; for where Mammon gets in his
foot, he will soon be lord of the house, and turn not merely Rank,
his rival demon, out of doors, but God himself. Alister indeed lived
in a dream; he did not know how far the sea of hearts had ebbed,
leaving him alone on the mount of his vision; but he dreamed a dream
that was worth dreaming; comfort and help flowed from it to those
about him, nor did it fail to yield his own soul refreshment also.
All dreams are not false; some dreams are truer than the plainest
facts. Fact at best is but a garment of truth, which has ten
thousand changes of raiment woven in the same loom. Let the dreamer
only do the truth of his dream, and one day he will realize all that
was worth realizing in it--and a great deal more and better than it
contained. Alister had no far-reaching visions of anything to come
out of his; he had, like the true man he was, only the desire to
live up to his idea of what the people looked up to in him. The one
thing that troubled him was, that his uncle, whom he loved so
dearly, should have sold the land.

Doubtless there was pride mingled with his devotion, and pride is an
evil thing. Still it was a human and not a devilish pride. I would
not be misunderstood as defending pride, or even excusing it in any
shape; it is a thing that must be got rid of at all costs; but even
for evil we must speak the truth; and the pride of a good man, evil
as it is, and in him more evil than in an evil man, yet cannot be in
itself such a bad thing as the pride of a bad man. The good man
would at once recognize and reject the pride of a bad man. A pride
that loves cannot be so bad as a pride that hates. Yet if the good
man do not cast out his pride, it will sink him lower than the bad
man's, for it will degenerate into a worse pride than that of any
bad man. Each must bring its own divinely-ordained consequence.

There is one other point in the character of the Macruadh which I
must mention ere I pass on; in this region, and at this time, it was
a great peculiarity, one that yielded satisfaction to few of the
clan, and made him even despised in the strath: he hated whisky, and
all the drinking customs associated with it. In this he was not
original; he had not come to hate it from noting the degradation and
crime that attended it, or that as poverty grew, drunkenness grew,
men who had used it in moderation taking more and more as
circumstances became more adverse, turning sadness into slavery: he
had been brought up to hate it. His father, who, as a clergyman
doing his endeavour for the welfare of his flock, found himself
greatly thwarted by its deadening influences, rendering men callous
not only to the special vice itself, but to worse vices as well, had
banished it from his table and his house; while the mother had from
their very childhood instilled a loathing of the national weakness
and its physical means into the minds of her sons. In her childhood
she had seen its evils in her own father: by no means a drunkard, he
was the less of a father because he did as others did. Never an
evening passed without his drinking his stated portion of
whisky-toddy, growing more and more subject to attacks of had
temper, with consequent injustice and unkindness. The recollection
may have made her too sweeping in her condemnation of the habit, but
I doubt it; and anyhow a habit is not a man, and we need not much
condemn that kind of injustice. We need not be tender over a habit
which, though not all bad, yet leads to endless results that are all
bad. I would follow such to its grave without many tears!

Isobel Macruadh was one of those rare women who preserve in years
the influence gained in youth; and the thing that lay at the root of
the fact was her justice. For though her highland temper would
occasionally burst out in hot flame, everyone knew that if she were
in the wrong, she would see it and say it before any one else would
tell her of it. This justice it was, ready against herself as for
another, that fixed the influence which her goodness and her
teaching of righteousness gained.

Her eldest child, a girl, died in infancy. Alister and Ian were her
whole earthly family, and they worshipped her.



CHAPTER VI.

WORK AND WAGE.


Alister strode through the night, revolving no questions hard to
solve, though such were not strangers to him. He had not been to a
university like his brother, but he had had a good educational
beginning--who ever had more than a beginning?--chiefly from his
father, who for his time and opportunity was even a learned man--and
better, a man who knew what things were worth a man's human while,
and what were not: he could and did think about things that a man
must think about or perish; and his son Alister had made himself
able to think about what he did not know, by doing the thing he did
know. But now, as he walked, fighting with the wind, his bonnet of
little shelter pulled down on his forehead, he was thinking mostly
of Lachlan his foster-brother, whose devotion had done much to
nourish in him the sense that he was head of the clan. He had not
far to go to reach his home--about a couple of miles.

He had left the village a quarter of the way behind him, when
through the darkness he spied something darker yet by the roadside.
Going up to it, he found an old woman, half sitting, half standing,
with a load of peats in a creel upon her back, unable, apparently,
for the moment at least, to proceed. Alister knew at once by her
shape and posture who she was.

"Ah, mistress Conal!" he said, "I am sorry to see you resting on
such a night so near your own door. It means you have filled your
creel too full, and tired yourself too much."

"I am not too much tired, Macruadh!" returned the old woman, who was
proud and cross-tempered, and had a reputation for witchcraft, which
did her neither much good nor much harm.

"Well, whether you are tired or not, I believe I am the stronger of
the two!"

"Small doubt of that, Alister!" said mistress Conal with a sigh.

"Then I will take your creel, and you will soon be home. Come along!
It is going to be a wild night!"

So saying he took the rope from the neck of the old woman right
gently, and threw the creel with a strong swing over his shoulder.
This dislodged a few of the topmost of the peats which the poor old
thing had been a long way to fetch. She heard them fall, and one of
them struck her foot. She started up, almost in a rage.

"Sir! sir! my peats!" she cried. "What would you be throwing away
the good peats into the dark for, letting that swallow them they
should swallow!"

These words, as all that passed between them, were spoken neither in
Scotch nor English, but in Gaelic--which, were I able to write it
down, most of my readers would no more understand than they would
Phoenician: we must therefore content ourselves with what their
conversation comes to in English, which, if deficient compared with
Gaelic in vowel-sounds, yet serves to say most things capable of
being said.

"I am sorry, mistress Conal; but we'll not be losing them," returned
the laird gently, and began to feel about the road for the fallen
peats.

"How many were there, do you think, of them that fell?" he asked,
rising after a vain search.

"How should I be knowing! But I am sure there would be nigh six of
them!" answered the woman, in a tone of deep annoyance--nor was it
much wonder; they were precious to the cold, feeble age that had
gone so far to fetch so few.

The laird again stooped his long back, and searched and searched,
feeling on all sides around him. He picked up three. Not another,
after searching for several minutes, could he find.

"I'm thinking that must be all of them, but I find only three!" he
said. "Come, let us go home! You must not make your cough worse for
one or two peats, perhaps none!"

"Three, Macruadh, three!" insisted the old woman in wavering voice,
broken by coughing; for, having once guessed six, she was not
inclined to lower her idea of her having.

"Well, well! we'll count them when we get home!" said Alister, and
gave his hand to her to help her up.

She yielded grumbling, and, bowed still though relieved from her burden,
tottered by his side along the dark, muddy, wind-and-rain-haunted road.

"Did you see my niece to-night at the shop?" she asked; for she was
proud of being so nearly related to those who kept the shop of the
hamlet.

"That I did," answered the chief; and a little talk followed about
Lachlan in Canada.

No one could have perceived from the way in which the old woman
accepted his service, and the tone in which she spoke to him while
he bent under her burden, that she no less than loved her chief; but
everybody only smiled at mistress Conal's rough speech. That night,
ere she went to bed, she prayed for the Macruadh as she never prayed
for one of her immediate family. And if there was a good deal of
superstition mingled with her prayer, the main thing in it was
genuine, that is, the love that prompted it; and if God heard only
perfect prayers, how could he be the prayer-hearing God?

Her dwelling stood but a stone's-throw from the road, and presently
they turned up to it by a short steep ascent. It was a poor hut,
mostly built of turf; but turf makes warm walls, impervious to the
wind, and it was a place of her own!--that is, she had it to
herself, a luxury many cannot even imagine, while to others to be
able to be alone at will seems one of the original necessities of
life. Even the Lord, who probably had not always a room to himself
in the poor houses he staid at, could not do without solitude;
therefore not unfrequently spent the night in the open air, on the
quiet, star-served hill: there even for him it would seem to have
been easier to find an entrance into that deeper solitude which, it
is true, he did not need in order to find his Father and his God,
but which apparently he did need in order to come into closest
contact with him who was the one joy of his life, whether his hard
life on earth, or his blessed life in heaven.

The Macruadh set down the creel, and taking out peat after peat,
piled them up against the wall, where already a good many waited
their turn to be laid on the fire; for, as the old woman said, she
must carry a few when she could, and get ahead with her store ere
the winter came, or she would soon be devoured: there was a death
that always prowled about old people, she said, watching for the
fire to go out. Many of the Celts are by nature poets, and mistress
Conal often spoke in a manner seldom heard from the lips of a
lowland woman. The common forms of Gaelic are more poetic than those
of most languages, and could have originated only with a poetic
people, while mistress Conal was by no means an ordinary type of her
people; maugre her ill temper and gruffness, she thought as well as
spoke like a poetess. This, conjoined with the gift of the second
sight, had helped to her reputation as a witch.

As the chief piled the peats, he counted them. She sat watching him
and them from a stone that made part of a rude rampart to the
hearth.

"I told you so, Macruadh!" she said, the moment she saw his hand
return empty from the bottom of the creel. "I was positive there
should be three more!--But what's on the road is not with the
devil."

"I am very sorry!" said the chief, who thought it wiser not to
contradict her.

He would have searched his sporan for a coin to make up to her for
the supposed loss of her peats; but he knew well enough there was
not a coin in it. He shook hands with her, bade her good night, and
went, closing the door carefully behind him against a great gust of
wind that struggled to enter, threatening to sweep the fire she was
now blowing at with her wrinkled, leather-like lips, off the hearth
altogether--a thing that had happened before, to the danger of the
whole building, itself of the substance burning in the middle of its
floor.

The Macruadh ran down the last few steep steps of the path, and
jumped into the road. Through the darkness came the sound of one
springing aside with a great start, and the click of a gun-lock.

"Who goes there?" cried a rather tremulous voice.

"The Macruadh," answered the chief.

The utterance apparently conveyed nothing.

"Do you belong to these parts?" said the voice.

A former Macruadh might have answered, "No; these parts belong to
me;" Alister curtly replied,

"I do."

"Here then, my good fellow! take my game-bag, and carry it as far as
the New House--if you know where I mean. I will give you a
shilling."

One moment the chief spent in repressing a foolish indignation; the
next he spent in reflection.

Had he seen how pale and tired was the youth with the gun, he would
have offered to carry his bag for him; to offer and to be asked,
however, most people find different; and here the offer of payment
added to the difficulty. But the word SHILLING had raised the vision
of the old woman in her lonely cottage, brooding over the loss, real
or imaginary mattered nothing, of her three far-borne peats. What a
happy night, through all the wind and the rain, would a silver
shilling under her chaff pillow give her! The thought froze the
chief's pride, and warmed his heart. What right had he to deny her
such a pleasure! It would cost him nothing! It would even bring him
a little amusement! The chief of Clanruadh carrying his game-bag for
a Sasunnach fellow to earn a shilling! the idea had a touch of
humorous consolation in it. I will not assert the consolation strong
enough to cast quite out a certain feeling of shame that mingled
with his amusement--a shame which--is it not odd!--he would not have
felt had his sporan been full of sovereigns. But the shame was not
altogether a shameful one; a fanciful fear of degrading the
chieftainship, and a vague sense of the thing being an imposition,
had each a part in it. There could be nothing dishonest, however, in
thus earning a shilling for poor mistress Conal!

"I will carry your bag," he said, "but I must have the shilling
first, if you please."

"Oh!" rejoined Valentine Palmer. "You do not trust me! How then am I
to trust you?"

"Sir!" exclaimed Alister--and, again finding himself on the point of
being foolish, laughed.

"I will pay you when the job is done," said Valentine.

"That is quite fair, but it does not suit my purpose," returned
Alister.

They were walking along the road side by side, but each could
scarcely see anything of the other. The sportsman was searching his
pockets to find a shilling. He succeeded, and, groping, put it in
Alister's hand, with the words--

"All right! it is only a shilling! There it is! But it is not yours
yet: here is the bag!"

Alister took the bag, turned, and ran back.

"Hillo!" cried Valentine.

But Alister had disappeared, and as soon as he turned up the soft
path to the cottage, his steps became inaudible through the wind.

He opened the door, went in, laid the shilling on the back of the
old woman's hand, and without a word hurried out again, and down to
the road. The stranger was some distance ahead, tramping wearily on
through the darkness, and grumbling at his folly in bribing a fellow
with a shilling to carry off his game-bag. Alister overtook him.

"Oh, here you are after all!" exclaimed Valentine. "I thought you
had made off with work and wages both! What did you do it for?"

"I wanted to give the shilling to an old woman close by."

"Your mother--eh?"

"No."

"Your grandmother?"

"No."

"SOME relation then!" insisted the stranger.

"Doubtless," answered the laird, and Valentine thought him a surly
fellow.

They walked on in silence. The youth could hardly keep up with
Alister, who thought him ill bred, and did not care for his company.

"Why do you walk so fast?" said Valentine.

"Because I want to get home," replied Alister.

"But I paid you to keep me company!"

"You paid me to carry your bag. I will leave it at the New House."

His coolness roused the weary youth.

"You rascal!" he said; "you keep alongside of me, or I'll pepper
you."

As he spoke, he shifted his gun. But Alister had already, with a few
long strides, put a space of utter darkness between them. He had
taken the shilling, and must carry the bag, but did not feel bound
to personal attendance. At the same time he could not deny there was
reason in the man's unwillingness to trust him. What had he about
him to give him in pledge? Nothing but his watch, his father's, a
gift of THE PRINCE to the head of the family!--he could not profane
that by depositing it for a game-bag! He must yield to his employer,
moderate his pace, and move side by side with the Sasunnach!

Again they walked some distance in silence. Alister began to
discover that his companion was weary, and his good heart spoke.

"Let me carry your gun," he said.

"See you damned!" returned Valentine, with an angry laugh.

"You fancy your gun protects your bag?"

"I do."

The same instant the gun was drawn, with swift quiet force, through
the loop of his arm from behind. Feeling himself defenceless, he
sprang at the highlander, but he eluded him, and in a moment was out
of his reach, lost in the darkness. He heard the lock of one barrel
snap: it was not loaded; the second barrel went off, and he gave a
great jump, imagining himself struck. The next instant the gun was
below his arm again.

"It will be lighter to carry now!" said the Macruadh; "but if you
like I will take it."

"Take it, then. But no!--By Jove, I wish there was light enough to
see what sort of a rascal you look!"

"You are not very polite!"

"Mind your own politeness. I was never so roughly served in my
life!--by a fellow too that had taken my money! If I knew where to
find a magistrate in this beastly place,--"

"You would tell him I emptied your gun because you threatened me
with it!"

"You were going off with my bag!"

"Because I undertook to carry your bag, was I bound to endure your
company?"

"Alister!" said a quiet voice out of the darkness.

The highlander started, and in a tone strangely tremulous, yet with
a kind of triumph in it, answered--

"Ian!"

The one word said, he stood still, but as in the act to run, staring
into the darkness. The next moment he flung down the game-bag, and
two men were in each other's arms.

"Where are you from, Ian?" said the chief at length, in a voice
broken with gladness.

All Valentine understood of the question, for it was in Gaelic, was
its emotion, and he scorned a fellow to show the least sign of
breaking down.

"Straight from Moscow," answered the new-comer. "How is our mother?"

"Well, Ian, thank God!"

"Then, thank God, all is well!"

"What brought you home in such haste?"

"I had a bad dream about my mother, and was a little anxious. There
was more reason too, which I will tell you afterwards."

"What were you doing in Moscow? Have you a furlough?"

"No; I am a sort of deserter. I would have thrown up my commission,
but had not a chance. In Moscow I was teaching in a school to keep
out of the way of the police. But I will tell you all by and by."

The voice was low, veiled, and sad; the joy of the meeting rippled
through it like a brook.

The brothers had forgotten the stranger, and stood talking till the
patience of Valentine was as much exhausted as his strength.

"Are you going to stand there all night?" he said at last. "This is
no doubt very interesting to you, but it is rather a bore to one who
can neither see you, nor understand a word you say."

"Is the gentleman a friend of yours, Alister?" asked Ian.

"Not exactly.--But he is a Sasunnach," he concluded in English, "and
we ought not to be speaking Gaelic."

"I beg his pardon," said Ian. "Will you introduce me?"

"It is impossible; I do not know his name. I never saw him, and
don't see him now. But he insists on my company."

"That is a great compliment. How far?"

"To the New House."

"I paid him a shilling to carry my bag," said Valentine. "He took
the shilling, and was going to walk off with my bag!"

"Well?"

"Well indeed! Not at all well! How was I to know--"

"But he didn't--did he?" said Ian, whose voice seemed now to tingle
with amusement. "--Alister, you were wrong."

It was an illogical face-about, but Alister responded at once.

"I know it," he said. "The moment I heard your voice, I knew
it.--How is it, Ian,"--here he fell back into Gaelic--"that when you
are by me, I know what is right so much quicker? I don't understand
it. I meant to do right, but--"

"But your pride got up. Alister, you always set out well--nobly--and
then comes the devil's turn! Then you begin to do as if you
repented! You don't carry the thing right straight out. I hate to
see the devil make a fool of a man like you! Do YOU not know that in
your own country you owe a stranger hospitality?"

"My own country!" echoed Alister with a groan.

"Yes, your own country--and perhaps more yours than it was your
grandfather's! You know who said, 'The meek shall inherit the
earth'! If it be not ours in God's way, I for one would not care to
call it mine another way."--Here he changed again to English.--"But
we must not keep the gentleman standing while we talk!"

"Thank you!" said Valentine. "The fact is, I'm dead beat."

"Have you anything I could carry for you?" asked Ian.

"No, I thank you.--Yes; there! if you don't mind taking my gun?--you
speak like a gentleman!"

"I will take it with pleasure."

He took the gun, and they started.

"If you choose, Alister," said his brother, once more in Gaelic, "to
break through conventionalities, you must not expect people to allow
you to creep inside them again the moment you please."

But the young fellow's fatigue had touched Alister.

"Are you a big man?" he said, taking Valentine gently by the arm.

"Not so big as you, I'll lay you a sovereign," answered Valentine,
wondering why he should ask.

"Then look here!" said Alister; "you get astride my shoulders, and
I'll carry you home. I believe you're hungry, and that takes the
pith out of you!--Come," he went on, perceiving some sign of
reluctance in the youth, "you'll break down if you walk much
farther!--Here, Ian! you take the bag; you can manage that and the
gun too!"

Valentine murmured some objection; but the brothers took the thing so
much as a matter of course, and he felt so terribly exhausted--for he
had lost his way, and been out since the morning--that he yielded.

Alister doubled himself up on his heels; Valentine got his weary
legs over his stalwart shoulders; the chief rose with him as if he
had been no heavier than mistress Conal's creel, and bore him along
much relieved in his aching limbs.

So little was the chief oppressed by his burden, that he and his
brother kept up a stream of conversation, every now and then
forgetting their manners and gliding off into Gaelic, but as often
recollecting themselves, apologizing, and starting afresh upon the
path of English. Long before they reached the end of their journey,
Valentine, able from his perch to listen in some measure of ease,
came to understand that he had to do, not with rustics, but,
whatever their peculiarities, with gentlemen of a noteworthy sort.

The brothers, in the joy of their reunion, talked much of things at
home and abroad, avoiding things personal and domestic as often as
they spoke English; but when they saw the lights of the New House, a
silence fell upon them. At the door, Alister set his burden
carefully down.

"There!" he said with a laugh, "I hope I have earned my shilling!"

"Ten times over," answered Valentine; "but I know better now than
offer to pay you. I thank you with all my heart."

The door opened, Ian gave the gun and the bag to the butler, and the
brothers bade Valentine good night.

Valentine had a strange tale to tell. Sercombe refused to accept his
conclusions: if he had offered the men half a crown apiece, he said,
they would have pocketed the money.



CHAPTER VII.

MOTHER AND SON.


The sun was shining bright, and the laird was out in his fields. His
oats were nearly ready for the scythe, and he was judging where he
had best begin to cut them.

His fields lay chiefly along the banks of the stream, occupying the
whole breadth of the valley on the east side of the ridge where the
cottage stood. On the west side of the ridge, nearly parallel to,
and not many yards from it, a small brook ran to join the stream:
this was a march betwixt the chief's land and Mr. Peregrine
Palmer's. Their respective limit was not everywhere so well defined.

The air was clear and clean, and full of life. The wind was asleep.
A consciousness of work approaching completion filled earth and
air--a mood of calm expectation, as of a man who sees his end
drawing nigh, and awaits the saving judgment of the father of
spirits. There was no song of birds--only a crow from the yard, or
the cry of a blackcock from the hill; the two streams were left to
do all the singing, and they did their best, though their water was
low. The day was of the evening of the year; in the full sunshine
was present the twilight and the coming night, but there was a sense
of readiness on all sides. The fruits of the earth must be housed;
that alone remained to be done.

When the laird had made up his mind, he turned towards the house--a
lowly cottage, more extensive than many farmhouses, but looking no
better. It was well built, with an outside wall of rough stone and
lime, and another wall of turf within, lined in parts with wood,
making it as warm a nest as any house of the size could be. The
door, picturesque with abundant repair, opened by a latch into the
kitchen.

For long years the floor of the kitchen had been an earthen one,
with the fire on a hearth in the middle of it, as in all the
cottages; and the smoke rose into the roof, keeping it very dry and
warm, if also very sooty, and thence into the air through a hole in
the middle. But some ten years before this time, Alister and Ian,
mere lads, had built a chimney outside, and opening the wall,
removed the hearth to it--with the smoke also, which now had its own
private way to liberty. They then paved the floor with such stones
as they could find, in the fields and on the hill, sufficiently flat
and smooth on one side, and by sinking them according to their
thickness, managed to get a tolerably even surface. Many other
improvements followed; and although it was a poor place still, it
would at the time of Dr. Johnson's visit to the highlands have been
counted a good house, not to be despised by unambitious knight or
poor baronet. Nor was the time yet over, when ladies and gentlemen,
of all courtesy and good breeding, might be found in such houses.

In the kitchen a deal-dresser, scoured white, stood under one of the
tiny windows, giving light enough for a clean-souled cook--and what
window-light would ever be enough for one of a different sort? There
were only four panes in it, but it opened and closed with a button,
and so was superior to many windows. There was a larger on the
opposite side, which at times in the winter nights when the cold was
great, they filled bodily with a barricade of turf. Here, in the
kitchen, the chief takes his meals with his lady-mother. She and Ian
have just finished their breakfast, and gone to the other end of the
house. The laird broke his fast long ago.

A fire is burning on the hearth--small, for the mid-day-meal is not
yet on its way. Everything is tidy; the hearth is swept up, and the
dishes are washed: the barefooted girl is reaching the last of them
to its place on the rack behind the dresser. She is a red-haired,
blue-eyed Celt, with a pretty face, and a refinement of motion and
speech rarer in some other peasantries.

The chief enters, and takes from the wall an old-fashioned gun. He
wants a bird or two, for Ian's home-coming is a great event.

"I saw a big stag last night down by the burn, sir," said the girl,
"feeding as if he had been the red cow."

"I don't want him to-day, Nancy," returned her master. "Had he big
horns?"

"Great horns, sir; but it was too dark to count the tines."

"When was it? Why did you not tell me?"

"I thought it was morning, sir, and when I got up it was the middle
of the night. The moon was so shiny that I went to the door and
looked out. Just at the narrow leap, I saw him plain."

"If you should see him again, Nancy, scare him. I don't want the
Sasunnachs at the New House to see him."

"Hadn't you better take him yourself, Macruadh? He would make fine
hams for the winter!"

"Mind your own business, Nancy, and hold your tongue," said the
chief, with a smile that took all the harshness from the words.
"Don't you tell any one you saw him. For what you know he may be the
big stag!"

"Sure no one would kill HIM, sir!" answered the girl aghast.

"I hope not. But get the stoving-pot ready, Nancy; I'm going to find
a bird or two. Lest I should not succeed, have a couple of chickens
at hand."

"Sir, the mistress has commanded them already."

"That is well; but do not kill them except I am not back in time."

"I understand, sir."

Macruadh knew the stag as well as the horse he rode, and that his
habit had for some time been to come down at night and feed on the
small border of rich grass on the south side of the burn, between it
and the abrupt heathery rise of the hill. For there the burn ran so
near the hill, and the ground was so covered with huge masses of
grey rock, that there was hardly room for cultivation, and the bank
was left in grass.

The stalking of the stag was the passion of the highlander in that
part of the country. He cared little for shooting the grouse, black
or red, and almost despised those whose ambition was a full bag of
such game; he dreamed day and night of killing deer. The chief,
however, was in this matter more of a man without being less of a
highlander. He loved the deer so much, saw them so much a part of
the glory of mountain and sky, sunshine and storm, that he liked to
see them living, not dead, and only now and then shot one, when the
family had need of it. He felt himself indeed almost the father of
the deer as well as of his clan, and mourned greatly that he could
do so little now, from the limited range of his property, to protect
them. His love for live creatures was not quite equal to that of St.
Francis, for he had not conceived the thought of turning wolf or fox
from the error of his ways; but even the creatures that preyed upon
others he killed only from a sense of duty, and with no pleasure in
their death. The heartlessness of the common type of sportsman was
loathsome to him. When there was not much doing on the farm, he
would sometimes be out all night with his gun, it is true, but he
would seldom fire it, and then only at some beast of prey; on the
hill-side or in the valley he would lie watching the ways and doings
of the many creatures that roam the night--each with its object,
each with its reasons, each with its fitting of means to ends. One
of the grounds of his dislike to the new possessors of the old land
was the raid he feared upon the wild animals.

The laird gone, I will take my reader into the PARLOUR, as they
called in English their one sitting-room. Shall I first tell him
what the room was like, or first describe the two persons in it? Led
up to a picture, I certainly should not look first at the frame; but
a description is a process of painting rather than a picture; and
when you cannot see the thing in one, but must take each part by
itself, and in your mind get it into relation with the rest, there
is an advantage, I think, in having a notion of the frame first. For
one thing, you cannot see the persons without imagining their
surroundings, and if those should be unfittingly imagined, they
interfere with the truth of the persons, and you may not be able to
get them right after.

The room, then, was about fifteen feet by twelve, and the ceiling
was low. On the white walls hung a few frames, of which two or three
contained water-colours--not very good, but not displeasing; several
held miniature portraits--mostly in red coats, and one or two a
silhouette. Opposite the door hung a target of hide, round, and
bossed with brass. Alister had come upon it in the house, covering a
meal-barrel, to which service it had probably been put in aid of its
eluding a search for arms after the battle of Culloden. Never more
to cover man's food from mice, or his person from an enemy, it was
raised to the WALHALLA of the parlour. Under it rested, horizontally
upon two nails, the sword of the chief--a long and broad ANDREW
FERRARA, with a plated basket-hilt; beside it hung a dirk--longer
than usual, and fine in form, with a carved hilt in the shape of an
eagle's head and neck, and its sheath, whose leather was dry and
flaky with age, heavily mounted in silver. Below these was a
card-table of marquetry with spindle-legs, and on it a work-box of
ivory, inlaid with silver and ebony. In the corner stood a harp, an
Erard, golden and gracious, not a string of it broken. In the middle
of the room was a small square table, covered with a green cloth. An
old-fashioned easy chair stood by the chimney; and one sat in it
whom to see was to forget her surroundings.

In middle age she is still beautiful, with the rare beauty that
shines from the root of the being. Her hair is of the darkest brown,
almost black; her eyes are very dark, and her skin is very fair,
though the soft bloom, as of reflected sunset, is gone from her
cheek, and her hair shows lines of keen silver. Her features are
fine, clear, and regular--the chin a little strong perhaps, not for
the size, but the fineness of the rest; her form is that of a
younger woman; her hand and foot are long and delicate. A more
refined and courteous presence could not have been found in the
island. The dignity of her carriage nowise marred its grace, or
betrayed the least consciousness; she looked dignified because she
was dignified. That form of falsehood which consists in assuming the
look of what one fain would be, was, as much as any other,
impossible to Isobel Macruadh. She wore no cap; her hair was
gathered in a large knot near the top of her head. Her gown was of a
dark print; she had no ornament except a ring with a single ruby.
She was working a bit of net into lace.

She could speak Gaelic as well as any in the glen--perhaps better;
but to her sons she always spoke English. To them indeed English was
their mother-tongue, in the sense that English only came addressed
to themselves from her lips. There were, she said, plenty to teach
them Gaelic; she must see to their English.

The one window of the parlour, though not large, was of tolerable
size; but little light entered, so shaded was it with a rose-tree in
a pot on the sill. By the wall opposite was a couch, and on the
couch lay Ian with a book in his hand--a book in a strange language.
His mother and he would sometimes be a whole morning together and
exchange no more than a word or two, though many a look and smile.
It seemed enough for each to be in the other's company. There was a
quite peculiar hond between the two. Like so many of the young men
of that country, Ian had been intended for the army; but there was
in him this much of the spirit of the eagle he resembled, that he
passionately loved freedom, and had almost a gypsy's delight in
wandering. When he left college, he became tutor in a Russian family
of distinction, and after that accepted a commission in the
household troops of the Czar. But wherever he went, he seemed, as he
said once to his mother, almost physically aware of a line
stretching between him and her, which seemed to vibrate when he grew
anxious about her. The bond between him and his brother was equally
strong, but in feeling different. Between him and Alister it was a
cable; between him and his mother a harpstring; in the one case it
was a muscle, in the other a nerve. The one retained, the other drew
him. Given to roaming as he was, again and again he returned, from
pure love-longing, to what he always felt as the PROTECTION of his
mother. It was protection indeed he often had sought--protection
from his own glooms, which nothing but her love seemed able to
tenuate.

He was tall--if an inch above six feet be tall, but not of his
brother's fine proportion. He was thin, with long slender fingers
and feet like his mother's. His small, strong bones were covered
with little more than hard muscle, but every motion of limb or body
was grace. At times, when lost in thought and unconscious of
movement, an observer might have imagined him in conversation with
some one unseen, towards whom he was carrying himself with courtesy:
plain it was that courtesy with him was not a graft upon the finest
stock, but an essential element. His forehead was rather low,
freckled, and crowned with hair of a foxy red; his eyes were of the
glass-gray or green loved of our elder poets; his nose was a very
eagle in itself--large and fine. He more resembled the mask of the
dead Shakspere than any other I have met, only in him the
proportions were a little exaggerated; his nose was a little too
large, and his mouth a little too small for the mask; but the
mingled sweetness and strength in the curves of the latter prevented
the impression of weakness generally given by the association of
such a nose and such a mouth. On his short upper lip was a small
light moustache, and on his face not a hair more. In rest his
countenance wore a great calmness, but a calmness that might seem
rooted in sadness.

While the mother might, more than once in a day, differ to
fault-finding from her elder-born--whom she admired, notwithstanding,
as well as loved, from the bottom of her heart--she was never KNOWN
to say a word in opposition to the younger. It was even whispered
that she was afraid of him. It was not so; but her reverence for Ian
was such that, even when she felt bound not to agree with him, she
seldom had the confidence that, differing from HIM, she was in the
right. Sometimes in the middle of the night she would slip like a
ghost into the room where he lay, and sit by his bed till the black
cock, the gray cock, the red cock crew. The son might be awake all
the time, and the mother suspect him awake, yet no word pass between
them. She would rise and go as she came. Her feeling for her younger
son was like that of Hannah for her eldest--intensest love mixed
with strangest reverence. But there were vast alternations and
inexplicable minglings in her thoughts of him. At one moment she
would regard him as gifted beyond his fellows for some great work,
at another be filled with a horrible fear that he was in rebellion
against the God of his life. Doubtless mothers are far too ready to
think THEIR sons above the ordinary breed of sons: self, unpossessed
of God, will worship itself in its offspring; yet the sons whom HOLY
mothers have regarded as born to great things and who have passed away
without sign, may have gone on toward their great things. Whether this
mother thought too much of her son or not, there were questions moving
in his mind which she could not have understood--even then when he would
creep to her bed in the morning to forget in her arms the terrible
dreams of the night, or when at evening he would draw his little stool
to her knee, unable or unwilling to enjoy his book anywhere but by her
side.

What gave him his unconscious power over his mother, was, first, the
things he said, and next, the things he did not say; for he seemed
to her to dwell always in a rich silence. Yet throughout was she
aware of a something between them, across which they could not meet;
and it was in part her distress at the seeming impossibility of
effecting a spiritual union with her son, that made her so desirous
of personal proximity to him. Such union is by most thinking people
presumed impossible without consent of opinion, and this mistake
rendered her unable to FEEL near him, to be at home with him. If she
had believed that they understood each other, that they were of like
OPINION, she would not have been half so unhappy when he went away,
would not have longed half so grievously for his return. Ian on his
part understood his mother, but knew she did not understand him, and
was therefore troubled. Hence it resulted that always after a time
came the hour--which never came to her--when he could endure
proximity without oneness no longer, and would suddenly announce his
departure. And after a day or two of his absence, the mother would
be doubly wretched to find a sort of relief in it, and would spend
wakeful nights trying to oust it as the merest fancy, persuading
herself that she was miserable, and nothing but miserable, in the
loss of her darling.

Naturally then she would turn more to Alister, and his love was a
strengthening tonic to her sick motherhood. He was never jealous of
either. Their love for each other was to him a love. He too would
mourn deeply over his brother's departure, but it became at once his
business to comfort his mother. And while she had no suspicion of
the degree to which he suffered, it drew her with fresh love to her
elder born, and gave her renewal of the quiet satisfaction in him
that was never absent, when she saw how he too missed Ian. Their
mutual affection was indeed as true and strong as a mother could
desire it. "If such love," she said to herself, "had appeared in the
middle of its history instead of now at its close, the transmitted
affection would have been enough to bind the clan together for
centuries more!"

It was with a prelusive smile that shone on the mother's heart like
the opening of heaven, that Ian lowered his book to answer her
question. She had said--

"Did you not feel the cold very much at St. Petersburg last winter,
Ian?"

"Yes, mother, at times," he answered. "But everybody wears fur; the
peasant his sheep-skin, the noble his silver fox. They have to fight
the cold! Nose and toes are in constant danger. Did I never tell you
what happened to me once in that way? I don't think I ever did!"

"You never tell me anything, Ian!" said his mother, looking at him
with a loving sadness.

"I was suddenly stopped in the street by what I took for an
unheard-of insult: I actually thought my great proboscis was being
pulled! If I had been as fiery as Alister, the man would have found
his back, and I should have lost my nose. Without the least warning
a handful of snow was thrust in my face, and my nose had not even a
chance of snorting with indignation, it found itself so twisted in
every direction at once! But I have a way, in any sudden occurrence,
of feeling perplexed enough to want to be sure before doing
anything, and if it has sometimes hindered me from what was
expedient, it has oftener saved me from what would have been wrong:
in another instant I was able to do justice to the promptitude of a
fellow Christian for the preservation of my nose, already whitening
in frosty death: he was rubbing it hard with snow, the orthodox
remedy! My whole face presently sharpened into one burning spot, and
taking off my hat, I thanked the man for his most kind attention. He
pointed out to me that time spent in explaining the condition of my
nose, would have been pure loss: the danger was pressing, and he
attacked it at once! I was indeed entirely unconscious of the state
of my beak--the worst symptom of any!"

"I trust, Ian, you will not go back to Russia!" said his mother,
after a little more talk about frost-biting. "Surely there is work
for you at home!"

"What can I do at home, mother? You have no money to buy me a
commission, and I am not much good at farm-work. Alister says I am
not worth a horseman's wages!"

"You could find teaching at home; or you could go into the church.
We might manage that, for you would only have to attend the divinity
classes."

"Mother! would you put me into one of the priests' offices that I
may eat a piece of bread? As for teaching, there are too many hungry
students for that: I could not take the bread out of their mouths!
And in truth, mother, I could not endure it--except it were required
of me. I can live on as little as any, but it must be with some
liberty. I have surely inherited the spirit of some old sea-rover,
it is so difficult for me to rest! I am a very thistle-down for
wandering! I must know how my fellow-creatures live! I should like
to BE one man after another--each for an hour or two!"

"Your father used to say there was much Norse blood in the family."

"There it is, mother! I cannot help it!"

"I don't like your holding the Czar's commission, Ian--somehow I
don't like it! He is a tyrant!"

"I am going to throw it up, mother."

"I am glad of that! How did you ever get it?"

"Oddly enough, through the man that pulled my nose. I had a chance
afterwards of doing him a good turn, which he was most generous in
acknowledging; and as he belonged to the court, I had the offer of a
lieutenant's commission. The Scotch are in favour."

A deep cloud had settled on the face of the young man. The lady
looked at him for a moment with keenest mother-eyes, suppressed a
deep sigh, and betook herself again to her work.

Ere she thought how he might take it, another question broke from
her lips.

"What sort of church had you to go to in St. Petersburg, Ian?" she
said.

Ian was silent a moment, thinking how to be true, and not hurt her
more than could not be helped.

"There are a thousand places of worship there, mother," he returned,
with a curious smile.

"Any presbyterian place?" she asked.

"I believe so," he replied.

"Ian, you haven't given up praying?"

"If ever I prayed, mother, I certainly have not given it up."

"Ever prayed, Ian! When a mere child you prayed like an aged
Christian!"

"Ah, mother, that was a sad pity! I asked for things of which I felt
no need! I was a hypocrite! I ought to have prayed like a little
child!"

The mother was silent: she it was who had taught him to pray
thus--making him pray aloud in her hearing! and this was the result!
The premature blossom had withered! she said to herself. But it was
no blossom, only a muslin flower!

"Then you didn't go to church!" she said at length.

"Not often, mother dear," he answered. "When I do go, I like to go
to the church of the country I happen to be in. Going to church and
praying to God are not the same thing."

"Then you do say your prayers? Oh, do not tell me you never bow down
before your maker!"

"Shall I tell you where I think I did once pray to God, mother?" he
said, after a little pause, anxious to soothe her suffering. "At
least I did think then that I prayed!" he added.

"It was not this morning, then, before you left your chamber?"

"No, mother," answered Ian; "I did not pray this morning, and I
never say prayers."

The mother gave a gasp, but answered nothing. Ian went on again.

"I should like to tell you, mother, about that time when I am almost
sure I prayed!"

"I should like to hear about it," she answered, with strangest
minglings of emotion. At one and the same instant she felt parted
from her son by a gulf into which she must cast herself to find him,
and that he stood on a height of sacred experience which she never
could hope to climb. "Oh for his father to talk to him!" she said to
herself. He was a power on her soul which she almost feared. If he
were to put forth his power, might he not drag her down into
unbelief?

It was the first time they had come so close in their talk. The
moment his mother spoke out, Ian had responded. He was anxious to be
open with her so far as he could, and forced his natural
taciturnity, the prime cause of which was his thoughtfulness: it was
hard to talk where was so much thinking to be done, so little time
to do it in, and so little progress made by it! But wherever he
could keep his mother company, there he would not leave her! Just as
he opened his mouth, however, to begin his narration, the door of
the room also opened, flung wide by the small red hand of Nancy, and
two young ladies entered.



CHAPTER VIII.

A MORNING CALL.


Had Valentine known who the brothers were, or where they lived, he
would before now have called to thank them again for their kindness
to him; but he imagined they had some distance to go after
depositing him, and had not yet discovered his mistake. The visit
now paid had nothing to do with him.

The two elder girls, curious about the pretty cottage, had come
wandering down the spur, or hill-toe, as far as its precincts--if
precincts they may be called where was no fence, only a little grove
and a less garden. Beside the door stood a milk-pail and a churn,
set out to be sweetened by the sun and wind. It was very rural, they
thought, and very homely, but not so attractive as some cottages in
the south:--it indicated a rusticity honoured by the most
unceremonious visit from its superiors. Thus without hesitation
concluding, Christina, followed by Mercy, walked in at the open
door, found a barefooted girl in the kitchen, and spoke pleasantly
to her. She, in simple hospitality forgetting herself, made answer
in Gaelic; and, never doubting the ladies had come to call upon her
mistress, led the way, and the girls, without thinking, followed her
to the parlour.

As they came, they had been talking. Had they been in any degree
truly educated, they would have been quite capable of an opinion of
their own, for they had good enough faculties; but they had never
been really taught to read; therefore, with the utmost confidence,
they had been passing judgment upon a book from which they had not
gathered the slightest notion as to the idea or intention of the
writer. Christina was of that numerous class of readers, who, if you
show one thing better or worse than another, will without hesitation
report that you love the one and hate the other. If you say, for
instance, that it is a worse and yet more shameful thing for a man
to break his wife's heart by systematic neglect, than to strike her
and be sorry for it, such readers give out that you approve of
wife-beating, and perhaps write to expostulate with you on your
brutality. If you express pleasure that a poor maniac should have
succeeded in escaping through the door of death from his haunting
demon, they accuse you of advocating suicide. But Mercy was not yet
afloat on the sea of essential LIE whereon Christina swung to every
wave.

One question they had been discussing was, whether the hero of the
story was worthy the name of lover, seeing he deferred offering his
hand to the girl because she told her mother a FIB to account for
her being with him in the garden after dark. "It was cowardly and
unfair," said Christina: "was it not for HIS sake she did it?" Mercy
did not think to say "WAS IT?" as she well might. "Don't you see,
Chrissy," she said, "he reasoned this way: 'If she tell her mother a
lie, she may tell me a lie some day too!'?" So indeed the youth did
reason; but it occurred to neither of his critics to note the fact
that he would not have minded the girl's telling her mother the lie,
if he could have been certain she would never tell HIM one! In
regard to her hiding from him certain passages with another
gentleman, occurring between this event and his proposal, Christina
judged he had no right to know them, and if he had, their
concealment was what he deserved.

When the girl, who would have thought it rude to ask their names--if
I mistake not, it was a point in highland hospitality to entertain
without such inquiry--led the way to the parlour, they followed
expecting they did not know what: they had heard of the cowhouse, the
stable, and even the pigsty, being under the same roof in these parts!
When the opening door disclosed "lady" Macruadh, every inch a chieftain's
widow, their conventional breeding failed them a little; though incapable
of recognizing a refinement beyond their own, they were not incapable
of feeling its influence; and they had not yet learned how to be rude
with propriety in unproved circumstances--still less how to be gracious
without a moment's notice. But when a young man sprang from a couch,
and the stately lady rose and advanced to receive them, it was too
late to retreat, and for a moment they stood abashed, feeling, I am
glad to say, like intruders. The behaviour of the lady and gentleman,
however, speedily set them partially at ease. The latter, with movements
more than graceful, for they were gracious, and altogether free of
scroll-pattern or Polonius-flourish, placed chairs, and invited them
to be seated, and the former began to talk as if their entrance were
the least unexpected thing in the world. Leaving them to explain
their visit or not as they saw fit, she spoke of the weather, the
harvest, the shooting; feared the gentlemen would be disappointed:
the birds were quite healthy, but not numerous--they had too many
enemies to multiply! asked if they had seen the view from such and
such a point;--in short, carried herself as one to whom cordiality
to strangers was an easy duty. But she was not taken with them. Her
order of civilization was higher than theirs; and the simplicity as
well as old-fashioned finish of her consciousness recoiled a
little--though she had not experience enough of a certain kind to be able
at once to say what it was in the manner and expression of the young
ladies that did not please her.

Mammon, gaining more and more of the upper hand in all social
relations, has done much to lower the PETITE as well as the GRANDE
MORALE of the country--the good breeding as well as the honesty.
Unmannerliness with the completest self-possession, is a poor
substitute for stiffness, a poorer for courtesy. Respect and
graciousness from each to each is of the very essence of
Christianity, independently of rank, or possession, or relation. A
certain roughness and rudeness have usurped upon the intercourse of
the century. It comes of the spread of imagined greatness; true
greatness, unconscious of itself, cannot find expression other than
gracious. In the presence of another, a man of true breeding is but
faintly aware of his own self, and keenly aware of the other's self.
Before the human--that bush which, however trodden and peeled, yet
burns with the divine presence--the man who thinks of the homage due
to him, and not of the homage owing by him, is essentially rude.
Mammon is slowly stifling and desiccating Rank; both are miserable
deities, but the one is yet meaner than the other. Unrefined
families with money are received with open arms and honours paid, in
circles where a better breeding than theirs has hitherto prevailed:
this, working along with the natural law of corruption where is no
aspiration, has gradually caused the deterioration of which I speak.
Courtesy will never regain her former position, but she will be
raised to a much higher; like Duty she will be known as a daughter
of the living God, "the first stocke father of gentilnes;" for in
his neighbour every man will see a revelation of the Most High.

Without being able to recognize the superiority of a woman who lived
in a cottage, the young ladies felt and disliked it; and the matron
felt the commonness of the girls, without knowing what exactly it
was. The girls, on the other hand, were interested in the young man:
he looked like a gentleman! Ian was interested in the young women:
he thought they were shy, when they were only "put out," and wished
to make them comfortable--in which he quickly succeeded. His
unconsciously commanding air in the midst of his great courtesy,
roused their admiration, and they had not been many minutes in his
company ere they were satisfied that, however it was to be accounted
for, the young man was in truth very much of a gentleman. It was an
unexpected discovery of northern produce, and "the estate" gathered
interest in their eyes. Christina did the greater part of the
talking, but both did their best to be agreeable.

Ian saw quite as well as his mother what ordinary girls they were,
but, accustomed to the newer modes in manner and speech, he was not
shocked by movements and phrases that annoyed her. The mother
apprehended fascination, and was uneasy, though far from showing it.

When they rose, Ian attended them to the door, leaving his mother
anxious, for she feared he would accompany them home. Till he
returned, she did not resume her seat.

The girls took their way along the ridge in silence, till the ruin
was between them and the cottage, when they burst into laughter.
They were ladies enough not to laugh till out of sight, but not
ladies enough to see there was nothing to laugh at.

"A harp, too!" said Christina. "Mercy, I believe we are on the top
of mount Ararat, and have this very moment left the real Noah's ark,
patched into a cottage! Who CAN they be?"

"Gentlefolk evidently," said Mercy, "--perhaps old-fashioned people
from Inverness."

"The young man must have been to college!--In the north, you know,"
continued Christina, thinking with pride that her brother was at
Oxford, "nothing is easier than to get an education, such as it is!
It costs in fact next to nothing. Ploughmen send their sons to St.
Andrew's and Aberdeen to make gentlemen of them! Fancy!"

"You must allow this case a successful one!"

"I didn't mean HIS father was a ploughman! That is impossible!
Besides, I heard him call that very respectable person MOTHER! She
is not a ploughman's wife, but evidently a lady of the middle
class."

Christina did not count herself or her people to belong to the
middle class. How it was it is not quite easy to say--perhaps the
tone of implied contempt with which the father spoke of the lower
classes, and the quiet negation with which the mother would allude
to shopkeepers, may have had to do with it--but the young people all
imagined themselves to belong to the upper classes! It was a pity
there was no title in the family--but any of the girls might well
marry a coronet! There were indeed persons higher than they; a duke
was higher; the queen was higher--but that was pleasant! it was nice
to have a few to look up to!

On anyone living in a humble house, not to say a poor cottage, they
looked down, as the case might be, with indifference or patronage;
they little dreamed how, had she known all about them, the
respectable person in the cottage would have looked down upon THEM!
At the same time the laugh in which they now indulged was not
altogether one of amusement; it was in part an effort to avenge
themselves of a certain uncomfortable feeling of rebuke.

"I will tell you my theory, Mercy!" Christina went on. "The lady is
the widow of an Indian officer--perhaps a colonel. Some of their
widows are left very poor, though, their husbands having been in the
service of their country, they think no small beer of themselves!
The young man has a military air which he may have got from his
father; or he may be an officer himself: young officers are always
poor; that's what makes them so nice to flirt with. I wonder whether
he really IS an officer! We've actually called upon the people, and
come away too, without knowing their names!"

"I suppose they're from the New House!" said Ian, returning after he
had bowed the ladies from the threshold, with the reward of a
bewitching smile from the elder, and a shy glance from the younger.

"Where else could they be from?" returned his mother; "--come to
make our poor country yet poorer!"

"They're not English!"

"Not they!--vulgar people from Glasgow!"

"I think you are too hard on them, mother! They are not exactly
vulgar. I thought, indeed, there was a sort of gentleness about them
you do not often meet in Scotch girls!"

"In the lowlands, I grant, Ian; but the daughter of the poorest
tacksman of the Macruadhs has a manner and a modesty I have seen in
no Sasunnach girl yet. Those girls are bold!"

"Self-possessed, perhaps!" said Ian.

Upon the awkwardness he took for shyness, had followed a reaction.
It was with the young ladies a part of good breeding, whatever
mistake they made, not to look otherwise than contented with
themselves: having for a moment failed in this principle, they were
eager to make up for it.

"Girls are different from what they used to be, I fancy, mother!"
added Ian thoughtfully.

"The world changes very fast!" said the mother sadly. She was
thinking, like Rebecca, if her sons took a fancy to these who were
not daughters of the land, what good would her life do her.

"Ah, mother dear," said Ian, "I have never"--and as he spoke the
cloud deepened on his forehead--"seen more than one woman whose ways
and manners reminded me of you!"

"And what was she?" the mother asked, in pleased alarm.

But she almost repented the question when she saw how low the cloud
descended on his countenance.

"A princess, mother. She is dead," he answered, and turning walked
so gently from the room that it was impossible for his mother to
detain him.



CHAPTER IX.

ME. SERCOMBE.


The next morning, soon after sunrise, the laird began to cut his
barley. Ian would gladly have helped, but Alister had a notion that
such labour was not fit for him.

"I had a comical interview this morning," said the chief, entering
the kitchen at dinner-time. "I was out before my people, and was
standing by the burn-side near the foot-bridge, when I heard
somebody shouting, and looked up. There was a big English fellow
in gray on the top of the ridge, with his gun on his shoulder,
hollo-ing. I knew he was English by his hollo-ing. It was plain it
was to me, but not choosing to be at his beck and call, I took no
heed. 'Hullo, you there! wake up!' he cried. 'What should I wake up
for?' I returned. 'To carry my bag. You don't seem to have anything
to do! I'll give you five shillings.'"

"You see to what you expose yourself by your unconventionalities,
Alister!" said his brother, with mock gravity.

"It was not the fellow we carried home the other night, Ian; it was
one twice his size. It would take all I have to carry HIM as far!"

"The other must have pointed you out to him!"

"It was much too dark for him to know me again!"

"You forget the hall-lamp!" said Ian.

"Ah, yes, to be sure! I had forgotten!" answered Alister. "To tell
the truth, I thought, when I took his shilling, he would never know
me from Nebuchadnezzar: that is the one thing I am ashamed of in the
affair--I did in the dark what perhaps I should not have done in the
daylight!--I don't mean I would not have carried him and his bag
too! I refer only to the shilling! Now, of course, I will hold my
face to it; but I thought it better to be short with a fellow like
that."

"Well?"

"'You'll want prepayment, no doubt!' he went on, putting his hand in
his pocket. Those Sasunnach fellows think every highlandman keen as
a hawk after their dirty money!"

"They have but too good reason in some parts!" said the mother. "It
is not so bad here yet, but there is a great difference in that
respect. The old breed is fast disappearing. What with the
difficulty of living by the hardest work, and the occasional chance
of earning a shilling easily, many have turned both idle and
greedy."

"That's for you and your shilling, Alister!" said Ian.

"I confess," returned Alister, "if I had foreseen what an idea of
the gentlemen of the country I might give, I should have hesitated.
But I haven't begun to be ashamed yet!"

"Ashamed, Alister!" cried Ian. "What does it matter what a fellow
like that thinks of you?"

"And mistress Conal has her shilling!" said the mother.

"If the thing was right," pursued Ian, "no harm can come of it; if
it was not right, no end of harm may come. Are you sure it was good
for mistress Conal to have that shilling, Alister? What if it be
drawing away her heart from him who is watching his old child in her
turf-hut? What if the devil be grinning at her from, that shilling?"

"Ian! if God had not meant her to have the shilling, he would not
have let Alister earn it."

"Certainly God can take care of her from a shilling!" said Ian, with
one of his strangely sweet smiles. "I was only trying Alister,
mother."

"I confess I did not like the thought of it at first," resumed Mrs.
Macruadh; "but it was mere pride; for when I thought of your father,
I knew he would have been pleased with Alister."

"Then, mother, I am glad; and I don't care what Ian, or any
Sasunnach under the sun, may think of me."

"But you haven't told us," said Ian, "how the thing ended."

"I said to the fellow," resumed Alister, "that I had my shearing to
do, and hadn't the time to go with him. 'Is this your season for
sheep-shearing?' said he.'We call cutting the corn shearing,' I
answered, 'because in these parts we use the reaping hook.' 'That is
a great waste of labour!' he returned. I did not tell him that some
of our land would smash his machines like toys. 'How?' I asked. 'It
costs so much more,' he said. 'But it feeds so many more!' I
replied. 'Oh yes, of course, if you don't want the farmer to make a
living!' 'I manage to make a living,' I said. 'Then you are the
farmer?' 'So it would appear.' 'I beg your pardon; I thought--'
'You thought I was an idle fellow, glad of an easy job to keep the
life in me!' 'You were deuced glad of a job the other night, they
tell me!' 'So I was. I wanted a shilling for a poor woman, and
hadn't one to give her without going home a mile and a half for it!'
By this time he had come down, and I had gone a few steps to meet
him; I did not want to seem unfriendly. 'Upon my word, it was very
good of you! The old lady ought to be grateful!' he said. 'So ought
we all,' I answered, '--I to your friend for the shilling, and he to
me for taking his bag. He did me one good turn for my poor woman,
and I did him another for his poor leg!' 'So you're quits!' said he.
'Not at all,' I answered; 'on the contrary, we are under mutual
obligation.' 'I don't see the difference!--Hillo, there's a hare!'
And up went his gun to his shoulder. 'None of that!' I cried, and
knocked up the barrel. 'What do you mean?' he roared, looking
furious. 'Get out of the way, or I'll shoot you.' 'Murder as well as
poaching!' I said. 'Poaching!' he shouted. 'That rabbit is mine,' I
answered; 'I will not have it killed.' 'Cool!--on Mr. Palmer's
land!' said he. 'The land is mine, and I am my own gamekeeper!' I
rejoined. 'You look like it!' he said. 'You go after your
birds!--not in this direction though,' I answered, and turned and
left him."

"You were rough with him!" said Ian.

"I did lose my temper rather."

"It was a mistake on his part."

"I expected to hear him fire," Alister continued, "for there was the
rabbit he took for a hare lurching slowly away! I'm glad he didn't:
I always feel bad after a row!--Can a conscience ever get too
fastidious, Ian?"

"The only way to find that out is always to obey it."

"So long as it agrees with the Bible, Ian!" interposed the mother.

"The Bible is a big book, mother, and the things in it are of many
sorts," returned Ian. "The Lord did not go with every thing in it."

"Ian! Ian! I am shocked to hear you!"

"It is the truth, mother."

"What WOULD your father say!"

"'He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of
me.'"

Ian rose from the table, knelt by his mother, and laid his head on
her shoulder.

She was silent, pained by his words, and put her arm round him as if
to shelter him from the evil one. Homage to will and word of the
Master, apart from the acceptance of certain doctrines concerning
him, was in her eyes not merely defective but dangerous. To love the
Lord with the love of truest obedience; to believe him the son of
God and the saver of men with absolute acceptance of the heart, was
far from enough! it was but sentimental affection!

A certain young preacher in Scotland some years ago, accused by an
old lady of preaching works, took refuge in the Lord's sermon on the
mount: "Ow ay!" answered the partisan, "but he was a varra yoong mon
whan he preacht that sermon!"

Alister rose and went: there was to him something specially sacred
in the communion of his mother and brother. Heartily he held with
Ian, but shrank from any difference with his mother. For her sake he
received Sunday after Sunday in silence what was to him a bushel of
dust with here and there a bit of mouldy bread in it; but the mother
did not imagine any great coincidence of opinion between her and
Alister any more than between her and Ian. She had not the faintest
notion how much genuine faith both of them had, or how it surpassed
her own in vitality.

But while Ian seemed to his brother, who knew him best, hardly
touched with earthly stain, Alister, notwithstanding his large and
dominant humanity, was still in the troublous condition of one
trying to do right against a powerful fermentation of pride. He held
noblest principles; but the sediment of generations was too easily
stirred up to cloud them. He was not quite honest in his attitude
towards some of his ancestors, judging them far more leniently than
he would have judged others. He loved his neighbour, but his
neighbour was mostly of his own family or his own clan. He MIGHT
have been unjust for the sake of his own--a small fault in the eyes
of the world, but a great fault indeed in a nature like his, capable
of being so much beyond it. For, while the faults of a good man
cannot be such evil things as the faults of a bad man, they are more
blameworthy, and greater faults than the same would be in a bad man:
we must not confuse the guilt of the person with the abstract evil
of the thing.

Ian was one of those blessed few who doubt in virtue of a larger
faith. While its roots were seeking a deeper soil, it could not show
so fast a growth above ground, He doubted most about the things he
loved best, while he devoted the energies of a mind whose keenness
almost masked its power, to discover possible ways of believing
them. To the wise his doubts would have been his best credentials;
they were worth tenfold the faith of most. It was truth, and higher
truth, he was always seeking. The sadness which coloured his deepest
individuality, only one thing could ever remove--the conscious
presence of the Eternal. This is true of all sadness, but Ian knew
it.

He overtook Alister on his way to the barley-field.

"I have been trying to find out wherein lay the falseness of the
position in which you found yourself this morning," he said. "There
could be nothing wrong in doing a small thing for its reward any
more than a great one; where I think you went wrong was in ASSUMING
your social position afterwards: you should have waited for its
being accorded you. There was no occasion to be offended with the
man. You ought to have seen how you must look to him, and given him
time. I don't perceive why you should be so gracious to old mistress
Conal, and so hard upon him. Certainly you would not speak as he did
to any man, but he has been brought up differently; he is not such a
gentleman as you cannot help being. In a word, you ought to have
treated him as an inferior, and been more polite to him."



CHAPTER X.

THE PLOUGH-BULLS.


Partly, it may be, from such incidents at the outset of their
acquaintance, there was for some time no further meeting betwixt any
of the chief's family and that of the new laird. There was indeed
little to draw them together except common isolation. Valentine
would have been pleased to show gratitude to his helpers on that
stormy night, but after his sisters' account of their call, he felt
not only ashamed, which was right, but ashamed to show his shame,
which was a fresh shame. The girls on their part made so much of
what they counted the ridiculous elements of their "adventure,"
that, natural vengeance on their untruthfulness, they came
themselves to see in it almost only what was ridiculous. In the same
spirit Mr. Sercombe recounted his adventure with Alister, which
annoyed his host, who had but little acquaintance with the
boundaries of his land. From the additional servants they had hired
in the vicinity, the people of the New House gathered correct
information concerning the people at the cottage, but the honour in
which they were held only added to the ridicule they associated with
them. On the other side also there was little inclination towards a
pursuit of intercourse. Mrs. Macruadh, from Nancy's account and the
behaviour of the girls, divined the explanation of their visit; and,
as their mother did not follow it up, took no notice of it. In the
mind of Mercy, however, lurked a little thorn, with the bluntest
possible sting of suspicion, every time she joined in a laugh at the
people of the cottage, that she was not quite just to them.

The shooting, such as it was, went on, the sleeping and the eating,
the walking and the talking. Long letters were written from the New
House to female friends--letters with the flourishes if not the
matter of wit, and funny tales concerning the natives, whom, because
of their poor houses and unintelligibility, they represented as
semi-savages. The young men went back to Oxford; and the time for
the return of the family to civilization seemed drawing nigh.

It happened about this time, however, that a certain speculation in
which Mr. Peregrine Palmer was very materially interested, failed
utterly, depriving him of the consciousness of a good many
thousands, and producing in him the feeling of a lady of moderate
means when she loses her purse: he must save it off something! For
though he spent freely, he placed a great value on money--as well he
might, seeing it gave him all the distinction which before
everything else he prized. He did not know what a poor thing it is
to be distinguished among men, therefore did not like losing his
thousands. Having by failure sinned against Mammon, he must do
something to ease the money-conscience that ruled his conduct; and
the first thing that occurred to him was, to leave his wife and
daughters where they were for the winter. None of them were in the
least delicate; his wife professed herself fond of a country life;
it would give the girls a good opportunity for practice, drawing,
and study generally, and he would find them a suitable governess! He
talked the matter over with Mrs. Palmer. She did not mind much, and
would not object. He would spend Christmas with them, he said, and
bring down Christian, and perhaps Mr. Sercombe.

The girls did not like the idea. It was so cold in the country in
winter, and the snow would be so deep! they would be starved to
death! But, of course--if the governor had made up his mind to be
cruel!

The thing was settled. It was only for one winter! It would be a new
experience for them, and they would enjoy their next SEASON all the
more! The governor had promised to send them down new furs, and a
great boxful of novels! He did not apprise them that he meant to
sell their horses. Their horses were his! He was an indulgent father
and did not stint them, but he was not going to ask their leave! At
the same time he had not the courage to tell them.

He took his wife with him as far as Inverness for a day or two, that
she might lay in a good stock of everything antagonistic to cold.

When father and mother were gone from the house, the girls felt
LARKY. They had no wish to do anything they would not do if their
parents were at home, but they had some sense of relief in the
thought that they could do whatever they liked. A more sympathetic
historian might say, and I am nowise inclined to contradict him,
that it was only the reaction from the pain of parting, and the
instinct to make the best of their loneliness. However it was, the
elder girls resolved on a walk to the village, to see what might be
seen, and in particular the young woman at the shop, of whom they
had heard their brother and Mr. Sercombe speak with admiration,
qualified with the remark that she was so proper they could hardly
get a civil word out of her. She was in fact too scrupulously polite
for their taste.

It was a bright, pleasant, frosty morning, perfectly still, with an
air like wine. The harvest had vanished from the fields. The sun
shone on millions of tiny dew-suns, threaded on forsaken
spider-webs. A few small, white, frozen clouds flecked the sky. The
purple heather was not yet gone, and not any snow had yet fallen in
the valley. The burn was large, for there had been a good deal of
rain, but it was not much darker than its usual brown of
smoke-crystal. They tripped gaily along. If they had little
spiritual, they had much innocent animal life, which no great
disappointments or keen twinges of conscience had yet damped. They
were hut human kittens--and not of the finest breed.

As they crossed the root of the spur, and looked down on the autumn
fields to the east of it, they spied something going on which they
did not understand. Stopping, and gazing more intently, they beheld
what seemed a contest between man and beast, but its nature they
could not yet distinguish. Gradually it grew plain that two of the
cattle of the country, wild and shaggy, were rebelling against
control. They were in fact two young bulls, of the small black
highland breed, accustomed to gallop over the rough hills, jumping
like goats, which Alister had set himself the task of breaking to
the plough--by no means an easy one, or to be accomplished
single-handed by any but a man of some strength, and both
persistence and patience. In the summer he had lost a horse, which
he could ill afford to replace: if he could make these bulls work,
they would save him the price of the horse, would cost less to keep,
and require less attention! He bridled them by the nose, not with
rings through the gristle, but with nose-bands of iron, bluntly
spiked inside, against which they could not pull hard without pain,
and had made some progress, though he could by no means trust them
yet: every now and then a fit of mingled wildness and stubbornness
would seize them, and the contest would appear about to begin again
from the beginning; but they seldom now held out very long. The
nose-band of one of them had come off, Alister had him by a horn in
each hand, and a fierce struggle was going on between them, while
the other was pulling away from his companion as if determined to
take to the hills. It was a good thing for them that share and
coulter were pretty deep in the ground, to the help of their master;
for had they got away, they would have killed, or at least disabled
themselves. Presently, however, he had the nose-band on, and by
force and persuasion together got the better of them; the staggy
little furies gave in; and quickly gathering up his reins, he went
back to the plough-stilts, where each hand held at once a handle and
a rein. With energetic obedience the little animals began to
pull--so vigorously that it took nearly all the chief's strength to
hold at once his plough and his team.

It was something of a sight to the girls after a long dearth of
events. Many things indeed upon which they scarce cast an eye when
they came, they were now capable of regarding with a little feeble
interest. Nor, although ignorant of everything agricultural, were
they quite unused to animals; having horses they called their own,
they would not unfrequently go to the stables to give their orders,
or see that they were carried out.

They waited for some time hoping the fight would begin again, and
drew a little nearer; then, as by common consent, left the road,
passed the ruin, ran down the steep side of the ridge, and began to
toil through the stubble towards the ploughman. A sharp straw would
every now and then go through a delicate stocking, and the damp soil
gathered in great lumps on their shoes, but they plodded on,
laughing merrily as they went.

The Macruadh was meditating the power of the frost to break up the
clods of the field, when he saw the girls close to him. He pulled in
his cattle, and taking off his bonnet with one hand while the other
held both reins--

"Excuse me, ladies," he said; "my animals are young, and not quite
broken."

They were not a little surprised at such a reception, and were
driven to conclude that the man must be the laird himself. They had
heard that he cultivated his own land, but had not therefore
imagined him labouring in his own person.

In spite of the blindness produced by their conventional training,
vulgarly called education, they could not fail to perceive something
in the man worthy of their regard. Before them, on the alert toward
his cattle, but full of courtesy, stood a dark, handsome,
weather-browned man, with an eagle air, not so pronounced as his
brother's. His hair was long, and almost black,--in thick, soft
curls over a small, well-set head. His glance had the flash that
comes of victorious effort, and his free carriage was that of one
whom labour has nowise subdued, whose every muscle is instinct with
ready life. True even in trifles, he wore the dark beard that nature
had given him; disordered by the struggle with his bulls, it
imparted a certain wild look that contrasted with his speech.
Christina forgot that the man was a labourer like any other, but
noted that he did not manifest the least embarrassment in their
presence, or any consciousness of a superfluity of favour in their
approach: she did not know that neither would his hired servant, or
the poorest member of his clan. It was said of a certain Sutherland
clan that they were all gentlemen, and of a certain Argyll clan that
they were all poets; of the Macruadhs it was said they were both. As
to Mercy, the first glance of the chiefs hazel eyes, looking
straight into hers with genial respect, went deeper than any look
had yet penetrated.

Ladies in Alister's fields were not an everyday sight. Hardly before
had his work been enlivened by such a presence; and the joy of it
was in his eyes, though his behaviour was calm. Christina thought
how pleasant it would be to have him for a worshipping slave--so
interpenetrated with her charms that, like Una's lion, he would
crouch at her feet, come and go at her pleasure, live on her smiles,
and be sad when she gave him none. She would make a gentleman of
him, then leave him to dream of her! It would be a pleasant and
interesting task in the dullness of their winter's banishment, with
the days so short and the nights so unendurably long! The man was
handsome!--she would do it!--and would proceed at once to initiate
the conquest of him!

The temptation to patronize not unfrequently presents an object for
the patronage superior to the would-be patron; for the temptation is
one to which slight persons chiefly are exposed; it affords an
outlet for the vague activity of self-importance. Few have learned
that one is of no value except to God and other men. Miss Palmer
worshipped herself, and therefore would fain be worshipped--so
dreamed of a friendship de haut en bas with the country fellow.

She put on a smile--no difficult thing, for she was a good-natured
girl. It looked to Alister quite natural. It was nevertheless, like
Hamlet's false friends, "sent for."

"Do you like ploughing?" she asked.

Had she known the manners of the country, she would have added
"laird," or "Macruadh."

"Yes I do," Alister answered; "but I should plough all the same if I
did not. It has to be done."

"But why should YOU do it?"

"Because I must," laughed the laird.

What ought she to answer? Should she condole with the man because he
had to work? It did not seem prudent! She would try another tack!

"You had some trouble with your oxen! We saw it from the road, and
were quite frightened. I hope you are not hurt."

"There was no danger of that," answered Alister with a smile.

"What wild creatures they are! Ain't it rather hard work for them?
They are so small!"

"They are as strong as horses," answered the laird. "I have had my
work to break them! Indeed, I can hardly say I have done it yet!
they would very much like to run their horns into me!"

"Then it MUST be dangerous! It shows that they were not meant to
work!"

"They were meant to work if I can make them work."

"Then you approve of slavery!" said Mercy

She hardly knew what made her oppose him. As yet she had no opinions
of her own, though she did catch a thought sometimes, when it
happened to come within her reach. Alister smiled a curious smile.

"I should," he said, "if the right people were made slaves of. I
would take shares in a company of Algerine pirates to rid the social
world of certain types of the human!"

The girls looked at each other. "Sharp!" said Christina to herself.

"What sorts would you have them take?" she asked.

"Idle men in particular," answered Alister.

"Would you not have them take idle ladies as well?"

"I would see first how they behaved when the men were gone."

"You believe, then," said Mercy, "we have a right to make the lower
animals work?"

"I think it is our duty," answered Alister. "At all events, if we do
not, we must either kill them off by degrees, or cede them this
world, and emigrate. But even that would be a bad thing for my
little bulls there! It is not so many years since the last wolf was
killed--here, close by! and if the dogs turned to wolves again,
where would they be? The domestic animals would then have wild
beasts instead of men for their masters! To have the world a
habitable one, man must rule."

"Men are nothing but tyrants to them!" said Christina.

"Most are, I admit."

Ere he could prevent her, she had walked up to the near bull, and
begun to pat him. He poked a sharp wicked horn sideways at her,
catching her cloak on it, and grazing her arm. She started back very
white. Alister gave him a terrible tug. The beast shook his head,
and began to paw the earth.

"It wont do to go near him," he said. "--But you needn't be afraid;
he can't touch you. That iron band round his nose has spikes in it."

"Poor fellow!" said Christina; "it is no wonder he should be out of
temper! It must hurt him dreadfully!"

"It does hurt him when he pulls against it, but not when he is
quiet."

"I call it cruel!"

"I do not. The fellow knows what is wanted of him--just as well as
any naughty child."

"How can he when he has no reason!"

"Oh, hasn't he!"

"Animals have no reason; they have only instinct!"

"They have plenty of reason--more than many men and women. They are
not so far off us as pride makes most people think! It is only those
that don't know them that talk about the instinct of animals!"

"Do you know them?"

"Pretty well for a man; but they're often too much for me."

"Anyhow that poor thing does not know better."

"He knows enough; and if he did not, would you allow him to do as he
pleased because he didn't know better? He wanted to put his horn
into you a moment ago!"

"Still it must be hard to want very much to do a thing, and not be
able to do it!" said Mercy.

"I used to feel as if I could tear my old nurse to pieces when she
wouldn't let me do as I wanted!" said Christina.

"I suppose you do whatever you please now, ladies?"

"No, indeed. We wanted to go to London, and here we are for the
winter!"

"And you think it hard?"

"Yes, we do."

"And so, from sympathy, you side with my cattle?"

"Well--yes!"

"You think I have no right to keep them captive, and make them
work?"

"None at all," said Christina.

"Then it is time I let them go!"

Alister made for the animals' heads.

"No, no! please don't!" cried both the girls, turning, the one
white, the other red.

"Certainly not if you do not wish it!" answered Alister, staying his
step. "If I did, however, you would be quite safe, for they would
not come near me. They would be off up that hill as hard as they
could tear, jumping everything that came in their way."

"Is it not very dull here in the winter?" asked Christina, panting a
little, but trying to look as if she had known quite well he was
only joking.

"I do not find it dull."

"Ah, but you are a man, and can do as you please!"

"I never could do as I pleased, and so I please as I do," answered
Alister.

"I do not quite understand you."

"When you cannot do as you like, the best thing is to like what you
have to do. One's own way is not to be had in this world. There's a
better, though, which is to be had!"

"I have heard a parson talk like that," said Mercy, "but never a
layman!"

"My father was a parson as good as any layman. He would have laid me
on my back in a moment--here as I stand!" said Alister, drawing
himself to his height.

He broke suddenly into Gaelic, addressing the more troublesome of
the bulls. No better pleased to stand still than to go on, he had
fallen to digging at his neighbour, who retorted with the horn
convenient, and presently there was a great mixing of bull and
harness and cloddy earth. Turning quickly towards them, Alister
dropped a rein. In a moment the plough was out of the furrow, and
the bulls were straining every muscle, each to send the other into
the wilds of the unseen creation. Alister sprang to their heads, and
taking them by their noses forced them back into the line of the
furrow. Christina, thinking they had broken loose, fled; but there
was Mercy with the reins, hauling with all her might!

"Thank you, thank you!" said the laird, laughing with pleasure. "You
are a friend indeed!"

"Mercy! Mercy! come away directly," cried Christina.

But Mercy did not heed her. The laird took the reins, and
administering a blow each to the animals, made them stand still.

There are tender-hearted people who virtually object to the whole
scheme of creation; they would neither have force used nor pain
suffered; they talk as if kindness could do everything, even where
it is not felt. Millions of human beings but for suffering would
never develop an atom of affection. The man who would spare DUE
suffering is not wise. It is folly to conclude a thing ought not to
be done because it hurts. There are powers to be born, creations to
be perfected, sinners to be redeemed, through the ministry of pain,
that could be born, perfected, redeemed, in no other way. But
Christina was neither wise nor unwise after such fashion. She was
annoyed at finding the laird not easily to be brought to her feet,
and Mercy already advanced to his good graces. She was not jealous
of Mercy, for was she not beautiful and Mercy plain? but Mercy had
by her PLUCK secured an advantage, and the handsome ploughman looked
at her admiringly! Partly therefore because she was not pleased with
him, partly that she thought a little outcry would be telling,--

"Oh, you wicked man!" she cried, "you are hurting the poor brutes!"

"No more than is necessary," he answered.

"You are cruel!"

"Good morning, ladies."

He just managed to take off his bonnet, for the four-legged
explosions at the end of his plough were pulling madly. He slackened
his reins, and away it went, like a sharp knife through a Dutch
cheese.

"You've made him quite cross!" said Mercy.

"What a brute of a man!" said Christina.

She never restrained herself from teasing cat or puppy for her
amusement--did not even mind hurting it a little. Those capable of
distinguishing between the qualities of resembling actions are few.
There are some who will regard Alister as capable of vivisection.

On one occasion when the brothers were boys, Alister having lost his
temper in the pursuit of a runaway pony, fell upon it with his fists
the moment he caught it. Ian put himself between, and received,
without word or motion, more than one blow meant for the pony.

"Donal was only in fun!" he said, as soon as Alister's anger had
spent itself. "Father would never have punished him like that!"

Alister was ashamed, and never again was guilty of such an outbreak.
From that moment he began the serious endeavour to subjugate the
pig, tiger, mule, or whatever animal he found in himself. There
remained, however, this difference between them--that Alister
punished without compunction, while Ian was sorely troubled at
having to cause any suffering.



CHAPTER XI.

THE FIR-GROVE.


As the ladies went up the ridge, regarded in the neighbourhood as
the chief's pleasure-ground where nobody went except to call upon
the chief, they must, having mounted it lower down than where they
descended, pass the cottage. The grove of birch, mountain-ash, and
fir which surrounded it, was planted quite irregularly, and a narrow
foot-path went winding through it to the door. Against one of the
firs was a rough bench turned to the west, and seated upon it they
saw Ian, smoking a formless mass of much defiled sea-foam, otherwise
meer-schaum. He rose, uncovered, and sat down again. But Christina,
who regarded it as a praiseworthy kindness to address any one
beneath her, not only returned his salutation, but stopped, and
said,

"Good morning! We have been learning how they plough in Scotland,
but I fear we annoyed the ploughman."

"Fergus does sometimes LOOK surly," said Ian, rising again, and
going to her; "he has bad rheumatism, poor fellow! And then he can't
speak a word of English, and is ashamed of it!"

"The man we saw spoke English very well. Is Fergus your brother's
name?"

"No; my brother's name is Alister--that is Gaelic for Alexander."

"He was ploughing with two wild little oxen, and could hardly manage
them."

"Then it must have been Alister--only, excuse me, he could manage
them perfectly. Alister could break a pair of buffaloes."

"He seemed rather vexed, and I thought it might be that we made the
creatures troublesome.--I do not mean he was rude--only a little
rough to us."

Ian smiled, and waited for more.

"He did not like to be told he was hard on the animals. I only said
the poor things did not know better!"

"Ah--I see!--He understands animals so well, he doesn't like to be
meddled with in his management of them. I daresay he told you that,
if they didn't know better, he had to teach them better! They are
troublesome little wretches.--Yes, I confess he is a little touchy
about animals!"

Somehow Christina felt herself rebuked, and did not like it. He had
almost told her that, if she had quarrelled with his ploughman-brother,
the fault must be hers!

"But indeed, Captain Macruadh," she said--for the people called him
captain, "I am not ignorant about animals! We have horses of our
own, and know all about them.--Don't we, Mercy?"

"Yes," said Mercy; "they take apples and sugar from our hands."

"And you would have the chief's bulls tamed with apples and sugar!"
returned Ian, laughing. "But the horses were tamed before ever you
saw them! If you had taken them wild, or even when they were foals,
and taught them everything, then you would know a little about them.
An acquaintance is not a friendship! My brother loves animals and
understands them almost like human beings; he understands them
better than some human beings, for the most cunning of the animals
are yet simple. He knows what they are thinking when I cannot read a
word of their faces. I remember one terrible night, winters
ago--there had been a blinding drift on and off during the day, and
my father and mother were getting anxious about him--how he came
staggering in, and fell on the floor, and a great lump in his plaid
on his back began to wallow about, and forth crept his big colley!
They had been to the hills to look after a few sheep, and the poor
dog was exhausted, and Alister carried him home at the risk of his
life."

"A valuable animal, I don't doubt," said Christina.

"He had been, but was no more what the world calls valuable. He was
an old dog almost past work--but the wisest creature! Poor fellow,
he never recovered that day on the hills! A week or so after, we
buried him--in the hope of a blessed resurrection," added Ian, with
a smile.

The girls looked at each other as much as to say, "Good heavens!" He
caught the look, but said nothing, for he saw they had "no
understanding."

The brothers believed most devoutly that the God who is present at
the death-bed of the sparrow does not forget the sparrow when he is
dead; for they had been taught that he is an unchanging God; "and,"
argued Ian, "what God remembers, he thinks of, and what he thinks
of, IS." But Ian knew that what misses the heart falls under the
feet! A man is bound to SHARE his best, not to tumble his
SEED-PEARLS into the feeding-trough, to break the teeth of them that
are there at meat. He had but lifted a corner to give them a glimpse
of the Life eternal, and the girls thought him ridiculous! The human
caterpillar that has not yet even begun to sicken with the growth of
her psyche-wings, is among the poorest of the human animals!

But Christina was not going to give in! Her one idea of the glory of
life was the subjugation of men. As if moved by a sudden impulse,
she went close up to him.

"Do not be angry with me," she said, almost coaxingly, but with a
visible mingling of boldness and shyness, neither of them quite
assumed; for, though conscious of her boldness, she was not
frightened; and there was something in the eagle-face that made it
easy to look shy. "I did not mean to be rude. I am sorry."

"You mistake me," he said gently. "I only wanted you to know you
misjudged my brother."

"Then, if you have forgiven me, you will let me sit for a few
minutes! I am SO tired with walking in the sticky earth!"

"Do, pray, sit down," responded Ian heartily, and led the way.

But she sank gracefully at the foot of the next fir, while Mercy sat
down on the bench.

"Do go on with your pipe," she said, looking up as she arranged her
dress; "I am quite used to smoke. Papa would smoke in church if he
dared!"

"Chrissy! You KNOW he NEVER smokes in the drawing-room!" cried
Mercy, scandalized.

"I have seen him--when mamma was away."

Ian began to be a little more interested in the plain one. But what
must his mother think to see them sitting there together! He could
not help it! if ladies chose to sit down, it was not for him to
forbid them! And there WAS a glimmer of conscience in the younger!

Most men believe only what they find or imagine possible to
themselves. They may be sure of this, that there are men so
different from them that no judgment they pass upon them is worth a
straw, simply because it does not apply to them. I assert of Ian
that neither beauty nor intellect attracted him. Imagination would
entice him, but the least lack of principle would arrest its
influence. The simplest manifestation of a live conscience would
draw him more than anything else. I do not mean the conscience that
proposes questions, but the conscience that loves right and turns
from wrong.

Notwithstanding the damsel's invitation, he did not resume his pipe.
He was simple, but not free and easy--too sensitive to the relations
of life to be familiar upon invitation with any girl. If she was not
one with whom to hold real converse, it was impossible to blow
dandelions with her, and talk must confine itself to the
commonplace. After gentlest assays to know what was possible, the
result might be that he grew courteously playful, or drew back, and
confined himself to the formal.

In the conversation that followed, he soon found the younger capable
of being interested, and, having seen much in many parts of the
world, had plenty to tell her. Christina smiled sweetly, taking
everything with over-gentle politeness, but looking as if all that
interested her was, that there they were, talking about it. Provoked
at last by her persistent lack of GENUINE reception, Ian was tempted
to try her with something different: perhaps she might be moved to
horror! Any feeling would be a FIND! He thought he would tell them
an adventure he had read in a book of travels.

In Persia, alone in a fine moonlit night, the traveller had fallen
asleep on his horse, but woke suddenly, roused by something
frightful, he did not know what. The evil odour all about him
explained, however, his bewilderment and terror. Presently he was
bumped on this side, then bumped on that; first one knee, then the
other, would be struck; now the calf of one leg was caught, now the
calf of the other; then both would be caught at once, and he shoved
nearly over his pommel. His horse was very uneasy, but could ill
help himself in the midst of a moving mass of uncertain objects. The
traveller for a moment imagined himself in a boat on the sea, with a
huge quantity of wrecked cargo floating around him, whence came the
frequent collisions he was undergoing; but he soon perceived that
the vague shapes were boxes, pannierwise on the backs of mules,
moving in caravan along the desert. Of not a few the lids were
broken, of some gone altogether, revealing their contents--the
bodies of good Mussulmans, on their way to the consecrated soil of
Mecca for burial. Carelessly shambled the mules along, stumbling as
they jogged over the uneven ground, their boxes tilting from side to
side, sorely shaken, some of them, in frustration of dying hopes,
scattering their contents over the track--for here and there a mule
carried but a wreck of coffins. On and on over the rough gravelly
waste, under the dead cold moon, weltered the slow stream of death!

"You may be sure," concluded Ian, "he made haste out of the ruck!
But it was with difficulty he got clear, happily to windward--then
for an hour sat motionless on his horse, watching through the
moonlight the long dark shadow flitting toward its far-off goal.
When at length he could no longer descry it, he put his horse to his
speed--but not to overtake it."

As he spoke, Mercy's eyes grew larger and larger, never leaving his
face. She had at least imagination enough for that! Christina curled
her pretty lip, and looked disgusted. The one at a horrible tale was
horrified, the other merely disgusted! The one showed herself
capable of some reception; the other did not.

"Something might be done with that girl!" thought Ian.

"Did he see their faces?" drawled Christina.

Mercy was silent, but her eyes remained fixed on him. It was Ian's
telling, more than the story, that impressed her.

"I don't think he mentions them," answered Ian. "But shall I tell
you," he went on, "what seems to me the most unpleasant thing about
the business?"

"Do," said Christina.

"It is that the poor ghosts should see such a disagreeable fuss made
with their old clothes."

Christina smiled.

"Do you think ghosts see what goes on after they are dead?" asked
Mercy.

"The ghosts are not dead," said Ian, "and I can't tell. But I am
inclined to think some ghosts have to stay a while and look on."

"What would be the good of that?" returned Mercy.

"Perhaps to teach them the little good they were in, or got out of
the world," he answered. "To have to stick to a thing after it is
dead, is terrible, but may teach much."

"I don't understand you," said Mercy. "The world is not dead!"

"Better and better!" thought Ian with himself. "The girl CAN
understand!--A thing is always dead to you when you have done with
it," he answered her. "Suppose you had a ball-dress crumpled and
unsightly--the roses on it withered, and the tinsel shining
hideously through them--would it not be a dead dress?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Then suppose, for something you had done, or for something you
would not stop being, you had to wear that ball-dress till something
came about--you would be like the ghosts that cannot get
away.--Suppose, when you were old and wrinkled,--"

"You are very amusing, Captain Macruadh!" said Christina, with a
bell-like laugh. But Ian went on.

"Some stories tell us of ghosts with the same old wrinkled faces in
which they died. The world and its uses over, they are compelled to
haunt it still, seeing how things go but taking no share in them
beholding the relief their death is to all, feeling they have lost
their chance of beauty, and are fixed in ugliness, having wasted
being itself! They are like a man in a miserable dream, in which he
can do nothing, but in which he must stay, and go dreaming, dreaming
on without hope of release. To be in a world and have nothing to do
with it, must be awful! A little more imagination would do some
people good!"

"No, please!--no more for me!" said Christina, laughing as she rose.

Mercy was silent. Though she had never really thought about anything
herself, she did not doubt that certain people were in earnest about
something. She knew that she ought to be good, and she knew she was
not good; how to be good she did not know, for she had never set
herself, to be good. She sometimes wished she were good; but there
are thousands of wandering ghosts who would be good if they might
without taking trouble: the kind of goodness they desire would
not be worth a life to hold it.

Fear is a wholesome element in the human economy; they are merely
silly who would banish it from all association with religion. True,
there is no religion in fear; religion is love, and love casts out
fear; but until a man has love, it is well he should have fear. So
long as there are wild beasts about, it is better to be afraid than
secure.

The vague awe ready to assail every soul that has not found rest in
its source, readier the more honest the soul, had for the first time
laid hold of Mercy. The earnest face of the speaker had most to do
with it. She had never heard anybody talk like that!

The lady of the house appeared, asking, with kind dignity, if they
would not take some refreshment: to a highlander hospitality is a
law where not a passion. Christina declined the offer.

"Thanks! we were only a little tired, and are quite rested now," she
said. "How beautifully sheltered your house is!"

"On the side of the sea, yes," answered Mrs. Macruadh; "but not much
on the east where we want it most. The trees are growing, however!"

When the sisters were out of sight of the cottage--

"Well!" remarked Christina, "he's a nice young man too, is he not?
Exceedingly well bred! And what taste he has! He knows how to amuse
ladies!"

Mercy did not answer.

"I never heard anything so disgusting!" pursued Christina.

"But," suggested Mercy, "you like to READ horrid stories, Chrissy!
You said so only yesterday! And there was nothing in what he told us
that oughtn't to be spoken about."

"What!--not those hideous coffins--and the bodies dropping out of
them--all crawling, no doubt?"

"That is your own, Chrissy! You KNOW he did not go so far as that!
If Colonel Webberly had told you the story, you would have called it
charming--in fun, of course, I mean!"

But Christina never liked the argumentum ad feminam.

"I would not! You know I would not!" she exclaimed. "I do believe
the girl has fallen in love with the horrid man! Of the two, I
declare, I like the ploughman better. I am sorry I happened to vex
him; he is a good stupid sort of fellow! I can't bear this man! How
horribly he fixed his eyes on you when he was talking that rubbish
about the ball-dress!"

"He was anxious to make himself understood. I know he made me think
I must mind what I was about!"

"Oh, nonsense! We didn't come into this wilderness to be preached to
by a lay John the Baptist! He is an ill-bred fellow!"

She would not have said so much against him, had not Mercy taken his
part.

Mercy rarely contradicted her sister, but even this brief passage
with a real man had roused the justice in her.

"I don't agree with you, Chrissy," she said. "He seems to me VERY
MUCH of a gentleman!"

She did not venture to say all she felt, not choosing to be at
absolute variance, and the threatened quarrel blew over like a
shower in spring.

But some sort of impression remained from the words of Ian on the
mind of Mercy, for the next morning she read a chapter in the book
of Genesis, and said a prayer her mother had taught her.



CHAPTER XII.

AMONG THE HILLS.


When Mr. and Mrs. Palmer reached Inverness, they found they could
spend a few days there, one way and another, to good purpose, for
they had friends to visit as well as shopping to do. Mr. Palmer's
affairs calling him to the south were not immediately pressing, and
their sojourn extended itself to a full week of eight days, during
which the girls were under no rule but their own. Their parents
regarded them as perfectly to be trusted, nor were the girls
themselves aware of any reason why they should not be so regarded.

The window of Christina's bedroom overlooked a part of the road
between the New House and the old castle; and she could see from it
all the ridge as far as the grove that concealed the cottage: if now
they saw more of the young men their neighbours, and were led
farther into the wilds, thickets, or pasturage of their
acquaintance, I cannot say she had no hand in it.

She was depressed by a sense of failure; the boor, as she called
him, was much too thick-skinned for any society but that of his
bulls! and she had made no progress with the Valentine any more than
with the Orson; he was better pleased with her ugly sister than with
her beautiful self!

She would have given neither of tie men another thought, but that
there was no one else with whom to do any of that huckster business
called flirting, which to her had just harm enough in it to make it
interesting to her. She was one of those who can imagine beauty nor
enjoyment in a thing altogether right. She took it for granted that
bad and beautiful were often one; that the pleasures of the world
owed their delight to a touch, a wash, a tincture of the wicked in
them. Such have so many crooked lines in themselves that they fancy
nature laid down on lines of crookedness. They think the obliquity
the beauty of the campanile, the blurring the charm of the sketch.

I tread on delicate ground--ground which, alas! many girls tread
boldly, scattering much feather-bloom from the wings of poor Psyche,
gathering for her hoards of unlovely memories, and sowing the seed
of many a wish that they had done differently. They cannot pass over
such ground and escape having their nature more or less vulgarized.
I do not speak of anything counted wicked; it is only gambling with
the precious and lovely things of the deepest human relation! If a
girl with such an experience marry a man she loves--with what power
of loving may be left such a one--will she not now and then remember
something it would be joy to discover she had but dreamed? will she
be able always to forget certain cabinets in her brain which "it
would not do" to throw open to the husband who thinks her simple as
well as innocent? Honesty and truth, God's essentials, are perhaps
more lacking in ordinary intercourse between young men and women
than anywhere else. Greed and selfishness are as busy there as in
money-making and ambition. Thousands on both sides are constantly
seeking more than their share--more also than they even intend to
return value for. Thousands of girls have been made sad for life by
the speeches of a man careful all the time to SAY nothing that
amounted to a pledge! I do not forget that many a woman who would
otherwise have been worth little, has for her sorrow found such
consolation that she has become rich before God; these words hold
nevertheless: "It must needs be that offences come, but woe to that
man by whom the offence cometh!"

On a morning two days later, Christina called Mercy, rather
imperiously, to get ready at once for their usual walk. She obeyed,
and they set out. Christina declared she was perishing with cold,
and they walked fast. By and by they saw on the road before them the
two brothers walking slow; one was reading, the other listening.
When they came nearer they descried in Alister's hand a manuscript
volume; Ian carried an old-fashioned fowling-piece. It was a hard
frost, which was perhaps the cause of Alister's leisure so early in
the day.

Hearing the light steps of the girls behind them, the men turned.
The laird was the first to speak. The plough and the fierce bulls
not there to bewilder their judgment, the young women immediately
discovered their perception in the matter of breeding to be less
infallible than they had imagined it: no well bred woman could for a
moment doubt the man before them a gentleman--though his carriage
was more courteous and more natural than is often seen in a Mayfair
drawing-room, and his English, a little old-fashioned. Ian was at
once more like and more unlike other people. His manner was equally
courteous, but notably stiffer: he was as much at his ease, but more
reserved. To use a figure, he did not step out so far to meet them.

They walked on together.

"You are a little earlier than usual this morning, ladies!" remarked
the chief.

"How do you know that, Mr. Macruadh?" rejoined Christina.

"I often see you pass--and till now always at the same hour."

"And yet we have never met before!"

"The busy and the"--he hesitated a moment--"unbusy seldom meet,"
said the chief.

"Why don't you say the IDLE?" suggested Christina.

"Because that would be rude."

"Why would it be rude? Most people, suppose, are more idle than
busy!"

"IDLE is a word of blame; I had no right to use it."

"I should have taken you for one of those who always speak their
minds!"

"I hope I do when it is required, and I have any to speak."

"You prefer judging with closed doors!"

The chief was silent: he did not understand her. Did she want him to
say he did not think them idle? or, if they were, that they were
quite right?

"I think it hard," resumed Christina, with a tone of injury, almost
of suffering, in her voice, "that we should be friendly and open
with people, and they all the time thinking of us in a way it would
be rude to tell us! It is enough to make one vow never to speak
to--to anybody again!"

Alister turned and looked at her. What could she mean?

"You can't think it hard," he said, "that people should not tell you
what they think of you the moment they first see you!"

"They might at least tell us what they mean by calling us idle!"

"I said NOT BUSY."

"Is EVERYBODY to blame that is idle?" persisted Christina.

"Perhaps my brother will answer you that question," said Alister.

"If my brother and I tell you honestly what we thought of you when
first we saw you," said Ian, "will you tell us honestly what you
thought of us?"

The girls cast an involuntary glance at each other, and when their
eyes met, could not keep them from looking conscious. A twitching
also at the corners of Mercy's mouth showed they had been saying
more than they would care to be cross-questioned upon.

"Ah, you betray yourselves, ladies!" Ian said. "It is all very well
to challenge us, but you are not prepared to lead the way!"

"Girls are never allowed to lead!" said Christina. "The men are down
on them the moment they dare!"

"I am not that way inclined," answered Ian. "If man or woman lead TO
anything, success will justify the leader. I will propose another
thing!"

"What is it?" asked Christina.

"To agree that, when we are about to part, with no probability of
meeting again in this world, we shall speak out plainly what we
think of each other!"

"But that will be such a time!" said Christina.

"In a world that turns quite round every twenty-four hours, it may
be a very short time!"

"We shall be coming every summer, though I hope not to stay through
another winter!"

"Changes come when they are least expected!"

"We cannot know," said Alister, "that we shall never meet again!"

"There the probability will be enough."

"But how can we come to a better--I mean a FAIRER opinion of each
other, when we meet so seldom?" asked Mercy innocently.

"This is only the second time we have met, and already we are not
quite strangers!" said Christina.

"On the other hand," said Alister, "we have been within call for
more than two months, and this is our second meeting!"

"Well, who has not called?" said Christina.

The young men were silent. They did not care to discuss the question
as to which mother was to blame in the matter.

They were now in the bottom of the valley, had left the road, and
were going up the side of the burn, often in single file, Alister
leading, and Ian bringing up the rear, for the valley was thickly
strewn with lumps of gray rock, of all shapes and sizes. They seemed
to have rolled down the hill on the other side of the burn, but
there was no sign of their origin: the hill was covered with grass
below, and with heather above. Such was the winding of the way among
the stones--for path there was none--that again and again no one of
them could see another. The girls felt the strangeness of it, and
began to experience, without knowing it, a little of the power of
solitary places.

After walking thus for some distance, they found their leader
halted.

"Here we have to cross the burn," he said, "and go a long way up the
other side."

"You want to be rid of us!" said Christina.

"By no means," replied Alister. "We are delighted to have you with
us. But we must not let you get tired before turning to go back."

"If you really do not mind, we should like to go a good deal
farther. I want to see round the turn there, where another hill
comes from behind and closes up the view. We haven't anybody to go
with us, and have seen nothing of the country. The men won't take us
shooting; and mamma is always so afraid we lose ourselves, or fall
down a few precipices, or get into a bog, or be eaten by wild
beasts!"

"If this frost last, we shall have time to show you something of the
country. I see you can walk!"

"We can walk well enough, and should so like to get to the top of a
mountain!"

"For the crossing then!" said Alister, and turning to the burn,
jumped and re-jumped it, as if to let them see how to do it.

The bed of the stream was at the spot narrowed by two rocks, so
that, though there was little of it, the water went through with a
roar, and a force to take a man off his legs. It was too wide for
the ladies, and they stood eyeing it with dismay, fearing an end to
their walk and the pleasant companionship.

"Do not be frightened, ladies," said Alister: "it is not too wide
for you."

"You have the advantage of us in your dress!" said Christina.

"I will get you over quite safe," returned the chief.

Christina looked as if she could not trust herself to him.

"I will try," said Mercy.

"Jump high," answered Alister, as he sprang again to the other side,
and held out his hand across the chasm.

"I can neither jump high nor far!" said Mercy.

"Don't be in a hurry. I will take you--no, not by the hand; that
might slip--but by the wrist. Do not think how far you can jump; all
you have to do is to jump. Only jump as high as you can."

Mercy could not help feeling frightened--the water rushed so fast
and loud below.

"Are you sure you can get me over?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Then I will jump."

She sprang, and Alister, with a strong pull on her arm, landed her
easily.

"It is your turn now," he said, addressing Christina.

She was rather white, but tried to laugh.

"I--I--I don't think I can!" she said.

"It is really nothing," persuaded the chief.

"I am sorry to be a coward, but I fear I was born one."

"Some feelings nobody can help," said Ian, "but nobody need give way
to them. One of the bravest men I ever knew would always start aside
if the meanest little cur in the street came barking at him; and yet
on one occasion, when the people were running in all directions, he
took a mad dog by the throat, and held him. Come, Alister! you take
her by one arm and I will take her by the other."

The chief sprang to her side, and the moment she felt the grasp of
the two men, she had the needful courage. The three jumped together,
and all were presently walking merrily along the other bank, over
the same kind of ground, in single file--Ian bringing up the rear.

The ladies were startled by a gun going off close behind them.

"I beg your pardon," said Ian, "but I could not let the rascal go."

"What have you killed?" his brother asked.

"Only one of my own family--a red-haired fellow!" answered Ian, who
had left the path, and was going up the hill.

The girls looked, but saw nothing, and following him a few yards,
came to him behind a stone.

"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed Christina, with horror in her tone,
"it's a fox!--Is it possible you have shot a fox?"

The men laughed.

"And why not?" asked Alister, as if he had no idea what she could
mean. "Is the fox a sacred animal in the south?"

"It's worse than poaching!" she cried.

"Hardly!" returned Alister. "No doubt you may get a good deal of fun
out of Reynard, but you can't make game of him! Why--you look as if
you had lost a friend! I admire his intellect, but we can't afford
to feed it on chickens and lambs."

"But to SHOOT him!"

"Why not? We do not respect him here. He is a rascal, to be sure,
but then he has no money, and consequently no friends!"

"He has many friends! What WOULD Christian or Mr. Sercombe say to
shooting, actually shooting a fox!"

"You treat him as if he were red gold!" said the chief. "We build
temples neither to Reynard nor Mammon here. We leave the men of the
south to worship them!"

"They don't worship them!" said Mercy.

"Do they not respect the rich man because he is rich, and look down
on the poor man because he is poor?" said Ian. "Though the rich be a
wretch, they think him grand; though the poor man be like Jesus
Christ, they pity him!"

"And shouldn't the poor be pitied?" said Christina.

"Not except they need pity."

"Is it not pitiable to be poor?"

"By no means. It is pitiable to be wretched--and that, I venture to
suspect, the rich are oftener than the poor.--But as to master
Reynard there--instead of shooting him, what would you have had us
do with him?"

"Hunt him, to be sure."

"Would he like that better?"

"What he would like is not the question. The sport is the thing."

"That will show you why he is not sacred here: we do not hunt him.
It would be impossible to hunt this country; you could not ride the
ground. Besides, there are such multitudes of holes, the hounds
would scarcely have a chance. No; the only dog to send after the
fellow is a leaden one."

"There's another!" exclaimed the chief; "--there, sneaking
away!--and your gun not loaded, Ian!"

"I am so glad!" said Christina. "He at least will escape you!"

"And some poor lamb in the spring won't escape him!" returned
Alister.

"Lambs are meant to be eaten!" said Christina.

"Yes; but a lamb might think it hard to feed such a creature!"

"If the fox is of no good in the world," said Mercy, "why was he
made?"

"He can't be of no good," answered the chief. "What if some things
are, just that we may get rid of them?"

"COULD they be made just to be got rid of?"

"I said--that WE might get rid of them: there is all the difference
in that. The very first thing men had to do in the world was to
fight beasts."

"I think I see what you mean," said Mercy: "if there had been no
wild beasts to fight with, men would never have grown able for
much!"

"That is it," said Alister. "They were awful beasts! and they had
poor weapons to fight them with--neither guns nor knives!"

"And who knows," suggested Ian, "what good it may be to the fox
himself to make the best of a greedy life?"

"But what is the good to us of talking about such things?" said
Christina. "They're not interesting!"

The remark silenced the brothers: where indeed could be use without
interest?

But Mercy, though she could hardly have said she found the
conversation VERY interesting, felt there was something in the men
that cared to talk about such things, that must be interesting if
she could only get at it. They were not like any other men she had
met!

Christina's whole interest in men was the admiration she looked for
and was sure of receiving from them; Mercy had hitherto found their
company stupid.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE LAKE.


Silence lasted until they reached the shoulder of the hill that
closed the view up the valley. As they rounded it, the sun went
behind a cloud, and a chill wind, as if from a land where dwelt no
life, met them. The hills stood back, and they were on the shore of
a small lake, out of which ran the burn. They were very
desolate-looking hills, with little heather, and that bloomless, to
hide their hard gray bones. Their heads were mostly white with frost
and snow; their shapes had little beauty; they looked worn and
hopeless, ugly and sad--and so cold! The water below was slaty
gray, in response to the gray sky above: there seemed no life in
either. The hearts of the girls sank within them, and all at once
they felt tired. In the air was just one sign of life: high above
the lake wheeled a large fish-hawk.

"Look!" said Alister pointing; "there is the osprey that lives here
with his wife! He is just going to catch a fish!"

He had hardly spoken when the bird, with headlong descent, shot into
the water, making it foam up all about. He reappeared with a fish in
his claws, and flew off to find his mate.

"Do you know the very bird?" asked Mercy.

"I know him well. He and his wife have built on that conical rock
you see there in the middle of the water many years."

"Why have you never shot him? He would look well stuffed!" said
Christina.

She little knew the effect of her words; the chief HATED causeless
killing; and to hear a lady talk of shooting a high-soaring creature
of the air as coolly as of putting on her gloves, was nauseous to
him. Ian gave him praise afterwards for his unusual self-restraint.
But it was a moment or two ere he had himself in hand.

"Do you not think he looks much better going about God's business?"
he said.

"Perhaps; but he is not yours; you have not got him!"

"Why should I have him? He seems, indeed, the more mine the higher
he goes. A dead stuffed thing--how could that be mine at all? Alive,
he seems to soar in the very heaven of my soul!"

"You showed the fox no such pity!" remarked Mercy.

"I never killed a fox to HAVE him!" answered Alister. "The osprey
does no harm. He eats only fish, and they are very plentiful; he
never kills birds or hares, or any creature on the land. I do not
see how any one could wish to kill the bird, except from mere love
of destruction! Why should I make a life less in the world?"

"There would be more lives of fish--would there not?" said Mercy.
"I don't want you to shoot the poor bird; I only want to hear your
argument!"

The chief could not immediately reply, Ian came to his rescue.

"There are qualities in life," he said. "One cannot think the
fish-life so fine, so full of delight as the bird-life!"

"No. But," said Mercy, "have the fishes not as good a right to their
life as the birds?"

"Both have the right given them by the maker of them. The osprey was
made to eat the fish, and the fish, I hope, get some good of being
eaten by the osprey."

"Excuse me, Captain Macruadh, but that seems to me simple nonsense!"
said Christina.

"I hope it is true."

"I don't know about being true, but it must be nonsense."

"It must seem so to most people."

"Then why do you say it?"

"Because I hope it is true."

"Why should you wish nonsense to be true?"

"What is true cannot be nonsense. It looks nonsense only to those
that take no interest in the matter. Would it be nonsense to the
fishes?"

"It does seem hard," said Mercy, "that the poor harmless things
should be gobbled up by a creature pouncing down upon them from
another element!"

"As the poor are gobbled up everywhere by the rich!"

"I don't believe that. The rich are very kind to the poor."

"I beg your pardon," said Ian, "but if you know no more about the
rich than you do about the fish, I can hardly take your testimony.
The fish are the most carnivorous creatures in the world."

"Do they eat each other?"

"Hardly that. Only the cats of Kilkenny can do that."

"I used a common phrase!"

"You did, and I am rude: the phrase must bear the blame for both of
us. But the fish are even cannibals--eating the young of their own
species! They are the most destructive of creatures to other lives."

"I suppose," said Mercy, "to make one kind of creature live on
another kind, is the way to get the greatest good for the greatest
number!"

"That doctrine, which seems to content most people, appears to me a
poverty-stricken and selfish one. I can admit nothing but the
greatest good to every individual creature."

"Don't you think we had better be going, Mercy? It has got quite
cold; I am afraid it will rain," said Christina, drawing her cloak
round her with a little shiver.

"I am ready," answered Mercy.

The brothers looked at each other. They had come out to spend the
day together, but they could not leave the ladies to go home alone;
having brought them across the burn, they were bound to see them
over it again! An imperceptible sign passed between them, and
Alister turned to the girls.

"Come then," he said, "we will go back!"

"But you were not going home yet!" said Mercy.

"Would you have us leave you in this wild place?"

"We shall find our way well enough. The burn will guide us."

"Yes; but it will not jump over you; it will leave you to jump over
it!"

"I forgot the burn!" said Christina.

"Which way were you going?" asked Mercy, looking all around for road
or pathway over the encircling upheaved wildernesses.

"This way," answered Ian. "Good-bye."

"Then you are not coming?"

"No. My brother will take care of you."

He went straight as an arrow up the hill. They stood and watched him
go. At what seemed the top, he turned and waved his cap, then
vanished.

Christina felt disappointed. She did not much care for either of the
very peculiar young men, but any company was better than none; a man
was better than a woman; and two men were better than one! If these
were not equal to admiring her as she deserved, what more
remunerative labour than teaching them to do so?

The thing that chiefly disappointed her in them was, that they had
so little small talk. It was so stupid to be always speaking sense!
always polite! always courteous!--"Two sir Charles Grandisons," she
said, "are two too many!" And indeed the History of Sir Charles
Grandison had its place in the small library free to them from
childhood; but Christina knew nothing of him except by hearsay.

The young men had been brought up in a solemn school--had learned to
take life as a serious and lovely and imperative thing. Not the
less, upon occasions of merry-making, would they frolic like young
colts even yet, and that without the least reaction or sense of
folly afterwards. At the same time, although Ian had in the village
from childhood the character, especially in the workshops of the
carpenter, weaver, and shoemaker, of being 'full of humour, he was
in himself always rather sad, being perplexed with many things: his
humour was but the foam of his troubled sea.

Christina was annoyed besides that Mercy seemed not indifferent to
the opinion of the men. It was from pure inexperience of the
man-world, she said to herself, that the silly child could see
anything interesting in them! GENTLEMEN she must allow them--but of
such an old-fashioned type as to be gentlemen but by courtesy--not
gentlemen in the world's count! She was of the world; they of the
north of Scotland! All day Mercy had been on their side and against
her! It might be from sheer perversity, but she had never been like
that before! She must take care she did not make a fool of herself!
It might end in some unhappiness to the young goose! Assuredly
neither her father nor mother would countenance the thing! She must
throw herself into the breach! But which of them was she taking a
fancy to?

She was not so anxious about her sister, however, as piqued that she
had not herself gathered one expression of homage, surprised one
look of admiration, seen one sign of incipient worship in either. Of
the two she liked better the ploughman! The other was more a man of
the world--but he was not of her world! With him she was a stranger
in a very strange land!

Christina's world was a very small one, and in its temple stood her
own image. Ian belonged to the universe. He was a gentleman of the
high court. Wherever he might go throughout God's worlds, he would
be at home. How could there be much attraction between Christina and
him?

Alister was more talkative on the way back than he had been all day.
Christina thought the change caused by having them, or rather her,
to himself alone; but in reality it sprang from the prospect of soon
rejoining his brother without them. Some of the things he said,
Mercy found well worth hearing; and an old Scotch ballad which he
repeated, having learned it of a lowland nurse, appeared to her as
beautiful as it was wild and strange. For Christina, she despised
the Scotch language: it was vulgar! Had Alister informed her that
Beowulf, "the most important of all the relics of the Pagan
Anglo-Saxon, is written in undeniable Scotch, the English of the
period," it would have made no difference to Christina! Why should
it? She had never yet cared for any book beyond the novels of a
certain lady which, to speak with due restraint, do not tend to
profitable thought. At the same time, it was not for the worst in
them that she liked them; she did not understand them well enough to
see it. But there was ground to fear that, when she came to
understand, shocked at first, she would speedily get accustomed to
it, and at length like them all the better for it.

In Mercy's unawakened soul, echoed now and then a faint thrill of
response to some of the things Alister said, and, oftener, to some
of the verses he repeated; and she would look up at him when he was
silent, with an unconscious seeking glance, as if dimly aware of a
beneficent presence. Alister was drawn by the honest gaze of her yet
undeveloped and homely countenance, with its child-look in process
of sublimation, whence the woman would glance out and vanish again,
leaving the child to give disappointing answers. There was something
in it of the look a dog casts up out of his beautiful brown eyes
into the mystery of his master's countenance. She was on the edge of
coming awake; all was darkness about her, but something was pulling
at her! She had never known before that a lady might be lovely in a
ballad as well as in a beautiful gown!

Finding himself so listened to, though the listener was little more
than a child, the heart of the chief began to swell in his great
bosom. Like a child he was pleased. The gray day about him grew
sweet; its very grayness was sweet, and of a silvery sheen. When
they arrived at the burn, and, easily enough from that side, he had
handed them across, he was not quite so glad to turn from them as he
had expected to be.

"Are you going?" said Christina with genuine surprise, for she had
not understood his intention.

"The way is easy now," he answered. "I am sorry to leave you, but I
have to join Ian, and the twilight will be flickering down before I
reach the place."

"And there will be no moon!" said Mercy: "how will you get home
through the darkness?"

"We do not mean to come home to-night."

"Oh, then, you are going to friends!"

"No; we shall be with each other--not a soul besides."

"There can't surely be a hotel up there?"

Alister laughed as he answered,

"There are more ways than one of spending a night on the hills. If
you look from a window--in that direction," he said, pointing, "the
last thing before you go to bed, you will see that at least we shall
not perish with cold."

He sprang again over the burn, and with a wave of his bonnet, went,
like Ian, straight up the hill.

The girls stood for some time watching him climb as if he had been
going up a flight of stairs, until he stood clear against the sky,
when, with another wave of his bonnet, he too disappeared.

Mercy did not forget to look from her window in the direction
Alister had indicated. There was no room to mistake what he meant,
for through the dark ran a great opening to the side of a hill,
somewhere in the night, where glowed and flamed, reddening the air,
a huge crescent of fire, slowly climbing, like a column of attack,
up toward the invisible crest.

"What does it mean?" she said to herself. "Why do they make such a
bonfire--with nobody but themselves to enjoy it? What strange
men--out by themselves in the dark night, on the cold hill! What can
they be doing it for? I hope they have something to eat! I SHOULD
like to hear them talk! I wonder what they are saying about US! I am
certain we bored them!"

The brothers did speak of them, and readily agreed in some notion of
their characters; but they soon turned to other things, and there
passed a good deal that Mercy could not have followed. What would
she, for instance, have made of Alister's challenge to his brother
to explain the metaphysical necessity for the sine, tangent, and
secant of an angle belonging to its supplement as well?

When the ladies overtook them in the morning, Alister was reading,
from an old manuscript volume of his brother's which he had found in
a chest, a certain very early attempt at humour, and now they
disputed concerning it as they watched the fire. It had abundance of
faults, and in especial lacked suture, but will serve to show
something of lan's youthful ingenium.

    TO A VAGRANT.

    Gentle vagrant, stumping over
    Several verdant fields of clover!
    Subject of unnumbered knockings!
    Tattered' coat and ragged stockings,
    Slouching hat and roving eye,
    Tell of SETTLED vagrancy!
        Wretched wanderer, can it be
    The poor laws have leaguered thee?
    Hear'st thou, in thy thorny den,
    Tramp of rural policemen,
    Inly fancying, in thy rear
    Coats of blue and buttons clear,
    While to meet thee, in the van
    Stalks some vengeful alderman?--
    Each separate sense bringing a notion
    Of forms that teach thee locomotion!
        Beat and battered altogether,
    By fellow-men, by wind and weather;
    Hounded on through fens and bogs,
    Chased by men and bit by dogs:
    And, in thy weakly way of judging,
    So kindly taught the art of trudging;
    Or, with a moment's happier lot,
    Pitied, pensioned, and forgot--
    Cutty-pipe thy regium donum;
    Poverty thy summum bonum;
    Thy frigid couch a sandstone stratum;
    A colder grave thy ultimatum;
    Circumventing, circumvented;
    In short, excessively tormented,
    Everything combines to scare
    Charity's dear pensioner!
    --Say, vagrant, can'st thou grant to me
    A slice of thy philosophy?
        Haply, in thy many trudgings,
    Having found unchallenged lodgings,
    Thy thoughts, unused to saddle-crupper,
    Ambling no farther than thy supper--
    Thou, by the light of heaven-lit taper,
    Mendest thy prospective paper!
    Then, jolly pauper, stitch till day;
    Let not thy roses drop away,
    Lest, begrimed with muddy matter,
    Thy body peep from every tatter,
    And men--a charitable dose--
    Should physic thee with food and clothes!
        Nursling of adversity!
    'Tis thy glory thus to be
    Sinking fund of raggery!
    Thus to scrape a nation's dishes,
    And fatten on a few good wishes!
    Or, on some venial treason bent,
    Frame thyself a government,
    For thy crest a brirnless hat,
    Poverty's aristocrat!
        Nonne habeam te tristem,
    Planet of the human system?
    Comet lank and melancholic
    --Orbit shocking parabolic--
    Seen for a little in the sky
    Of the world of sympathy--
    Seldom failing when predicted,
    Coming most when most restricted,
    Dragging a nebulous tail with thee
    Of hypothetic vagrancy--
    Of vagrants large, and vagrants small,
    Vagrants scarce visible at all!
        Matchless oracle of woe!
    Anarchy in embryo!
    Strange antipodes of bliss!
    Parody on happiness!
    Baghouse of the great creation!
    Subject meet for strangulation,
    By practice tutored to condense
    The cautious inquiry for pence,
    And skilful, with averted eye,
    To hide thy latent roguery--
    Lo, on thy hopes I clap a stopper!
    Vagrant, thou shalt have no copper!
    Gather thy stumps, and get thee hence,
    Unwise solicitor of pence!

Alister, who all but worshipped Ian, and cherished every scrap from
his pen, had not until quite lately seen this foolish production, as
Ian counted it, and was delighted with it, as he would have been had
it been much worse. Ian was vexed that he should like it, and now
spent the greater part of an hour trying to show him how very bad in
parts, even senseless it was. Profusion of epithets without
applicability, want of continuity, purposelessness, silliness,
heartlessness--were but a few of his denunciations. Alister argued
it was but a bit of fun, and that anybody that knew Ian, knew
perfectly he would never amuse himself with a fellow without giving
him something, but it was in vain; Ian was bent on showing it
altogether unworthy. So, not to waste the night, they dropped the
dispute, and by the light of the blazing heather, turned to a
chapter of Boethius.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE WOLVES.


My readers may remember that Ian was on the point of acquainting his
mother with an important event in his spiritual history, when they
were interrupted by the involuntary call of the girls from the New
House. The mother, as will readily be believed, remained desirous of
listening to her son's story, though dreading it would not be of a kind
to give her much satisfaction; but partly from preventions--favoured,
it must be confessed by Ian, and yet more from direct avoidance on his
part, the days passed without her hearing anything more of it. Ian had
in truth almost repented his offer of the narrative: a certain vague
assurance that it would not be satisfactory to her, had grown upon
him until he felt it unkind to lay before her an experience whose
narration would seem to ask a sympathy she could not give. But the
mother was unable to let the thing rest. More than by interest she
was urged by anxiety. In spite of her ungodlike theories of God, it
was impossible she could be in despair about her noble Ian; still,
her hope was at best founded on the uncovenanted mercies of God, not
on the security of his bond! She did not believe that God was doing
and would do his best for every man; therefore she had no assurance
that he would bring down the pride of Ian, and compel his acceptance
of terms worthy of an old Roman father, half law-circumventing lawyer,
half heartless tyrant. But her longing to hear what her son had
proposed telling her, was chiefly inspired by the hope of getting
nearer to him, of closer sympathy becoming possible between them
through her learning more clearly what his views were. She constantly
felt as if walking along the side of a thick hedge, with occasional
thinnesses through which now and then she gained a ghostly glimpse
of her heart's treasure gliding along the other side--close to her,
yet so far that, when they spoke, they seemed calling across a gulf
of dividing darkness. Therefore, the night after that spent by her
sons on the hill, all having retired some two hours before, the mother,
finding herself unable to sleep, rose as she had often done ere now,
and stole to the door of the little room under the thatch where Ian
lay. Listening, and judging him awake, she went softly in, and sat down
by his bedside.

There had been such occasions on which, though son as well as mother
was wide awake, neither spoke a word; but this time the mother could
not be silent.

"You never told me, Ian, the story you began about something that
made you pray!"

Ian saw he could not now draw back without causing, her more trouble
than would the narration.

"Are you sure you will not take cold mother dear?" he said.

"I am warmly clad, my son; and my heart, more than I can tell you,
is longing to hear all about it."

"I am afraid you will not find my story so interesting as you
expect, mother!"

"What concerns you is more interesting to me than anything else in
the whole world, Ian."

"Not more than God, mother?" said Ian.

The mother was silent. She was as honest as her sons. The question,
dim-lucent, showed her, if but in shadow, something of the truth
concerning herself--not so that she could grasp it, for she saw it
as in a glimmer, a fluctuating, vanishing flash--namely, that she
cared more about salvation than about God--that, if she could but
keep her boy out of hell, she would be content to live on without
any nearer approach to him in whom she had her being! God was to her
an awe, not a ceaseless, growing delight!

There are centuries of paganism yet in many lovely Christian
souls--paganism so deep, therefore so little recognized, that their
earnest endeavour is to plant that paganism ineradicably in the
hearts of those dearest to them.

As she did not answer, Ian was afraid she was hurt, and thought it
better to begin his story at once.

"It was one night in the middle of winter--last winter, near
Moscow," he began, "and the frost was very bitter--the worst night
for cold I have ever known. I had gone with a companion into the
depth of a great pine forest. On our way, the cold grew so intense,
that we took refuge at a little public-house, frequented by peasants
and persons of the lowest ranks. On entering I saw a scene which
surpassed all for interest I had ever before witnessed. The little
lonely house was crammed with Russian soldiers, fierce-looking
fellows, and I daresay their number formed our protection from
violence. Many of them were among the finest looking fellows I have
ever seen. They were half drunk, and were dancing and singing with
the wildest gesticulations and grimaces; but such singing for
strange wildness and harmony combined I had never before listened
to. One would keep up a solo for some minutes, when the whole
company would join in a sort of chorus, dancing frantically about,
but with the most perfect regularity of movement. One of them came
up to me and with a low bow begged me in the name of the rest to
give them some money. I accordingly gave them a silver ruble, upon
which the whole party set up a shout, surrounded me, and in a moment
a score of brawny fellows had lifted me in the air, where I was
borne along in triumph. I took off my cap and gave three
hip-hip-hurrahs as loud as my lungs could bawl, whereupon, with the
profoundest expressions of gratitude, I was lowered from my
elevation. One of them then who seemed to be the spokesman of the
rest, seized me in his arms and gave me a hearty kiss on the cheek,
on which I took my departure amid universal acclamation.--But all
that's not worth telling you about; it was not for that I
began--only the scene came up so clear before me that it drew me
aside."

"I don't need to tell you, Ian," said his mother, with shining eyes,
"that if it were only what you had to eat on the most ordinary day
of your life, it would be interesting to me!"

"Thank you, mother dear; I seem to know that without being told; but
I could never talk to you about anything that was not interesting to
myself."

Here he paused. He would rather have stopped.

"Go on, go on, Ian. I am longing to hear."

"Well--where was I?--We left at the inn our carriage and horses, and
went with our guns far into the forest--all of straight, tall pines,
up and up; and the Little island-like tops of them, which, if there
be a breath of wind, are sure to be swaying about like the motion of
a dream, were as still as the big frosty stars in the deep blue
overhead."

"What did you want in such a lonely place at that time of the
night?" asked the mother.

She sat with firm-closed lips, and wide, night-filled eyes looking
at her son, the fear of love in her beautiful face--a face more
beautiful than any other that son had yet seen, fit window for a
heart so full of refuge to look out of; and he knew how she looked
though the darkness was between them.

"Wolves, mother," he answered.

She shuddered. She was a great reader in the long winter nights, and
had read terrible stories of wolves--the last of which in Scotland
had been killed not far from where they sat.

"What did you want with the wolves, Ian?" she faltered.

"To kill them, mother. I never liked killing animals any more than
Alister; but even he destroys the hooded crow; and wolves are yet
fairer game. They are the out-of-door devils of that country, and I
fancy devils do go into them sometimes, as they did once into the
poor swine: they are the terror of all who live near the forests.

"There was no moon--only star-light; but whenever we came to any
opener space, there was light enough from the snow to see all about;
there was light indeed from the snow all through the forest, but the
trees were thick and dark. Far away, somewhere in the mystery of the
black wood, we could now and then hear a faint howling: it came from
the red throats of the wolves."

"You are frightening me, Ian!" said the mother, as if they had been
two children telling each other tales.

"Indeed, mother, they are very horrible when they hunt in droves,
ravenous with hunger. To kill one of them, if it be but one, is to
do something for your kind. And just at that time I was oppressed
with the feeling that I had done and was doing nothing for my
people--my own humans; and not knowing anything else I could at the
moment attempt, I resolved to go and kill a wolf or two: they had
killed a poor woman only two nights before.

"As soon as we could after hearing the noise of them, we got up into
two trees. It took us some time to discover two that were fit for
our purpose, and we did not get them so near each other as we should
have liked. It was rather anxious work too until we found them, for
if we encountered on foot a pack of those demons, we could be but a
moment or two alive: killing one, ten would be upon us, and a
hundred more on the backs of those. But we hoped they would smell us
up in the trees, and search for us, when we should be able to give
account of a few of them at least: we had double-barrelled guns, and
plenty of powder and ball."

"But how could you endure the cold--at night--and without food?"

"No, mother; we did not try that! We had plenty to eat in our
pockets. My companion had a bottle of vodki, and--"

"What is that?" asked the mother with suspicion.

"A sort of raw spirit--horrible stuff--more like spirits of wine.
They say it does not hurt in such cold."

"But, Ian!" cried the mother, and seemed unable to say more.

"Don't be frightened, mother!" said Ian, with a merry laugh. "Surely
you do not imagine _I_ would drink such stuff! True, I had my
bottle, but it was full of tea. The Russians drink enormous
quantities of tea--though not so strong as you make it."

"Go on, then, Ian; go on."

"We sat a long time, and there was no sign of the wolves coming near
us. It was very cold, but our furs kept in our warmth. By and by I
fell asleep--which was not dangerous so long as I kept warm, and I
thought the cold must wake me before it began to numb me. And as 'I
slept I dreamed; but my dream did not change the place; the forest,
the tree I was in, all my surroundings were the same. I even dreamed
that I came awake, and saw everything about me just as it was. I
seemed to open my eyes, and look about me on the dazzling snow from
my perch: I was in a small tree on the border of a little clearing.

"Suddenly, out of the wood to my left, issued something, running
fast, but with soundless feet, over the snow. I doubted in my dream
whether the object were a live thing or only a shadow. It came
nearer, and I saw it was a child, a little girl, running as if for
her life. She came straight to the tree I sat in, and when close to
it, but without a moment's halt, looked up, and I saw a sweet little
face, white with terror--which somehow seemed, however, not for
herself, but for me. I called out after her to stop, and I would
take her into the tree beside me, where the wolves could not reach
her; but she only shook her head, and ran on over the clearing into
the forest. Among the holes I watched the fleeting shape appear and
disappear and appear again, until I saw it no more. Then first I
heard another kind of howl from the wolves--that of pursuit. It
strengthened and swelled, growing nearer and nearer, till at last,
through the stillness of the night and the moveless forest and the
dead snow, came to my ear a kind of soft rushing sound. I don't know
how to describe it. The rustle of dry leaves is too sharp; it was
like a very soft heavy rain on a window--a small dull padding
padding: it was the feet of the wolves. They came nearer and grew
louder and louder, but the noise was still muffled and soft. Their
howling, however, was now loud and horrid. I suppose they cannot
help howling; if they could, they would have too much power over
poor creatures, coming upon them altogether at unawares; but as it
is, they tell, whether they will or no, that they are upon the way.
At length, dark as a torrent of pitch, out of the forest flowed a
multitude of obscure things, and streamed away, black over the snow,
in the direction the child had taken. They passed close to the foot
of my tree, but did not even look up, flitting by like a shadow
whose substance was unseen. Where the child had vanished they also
disappeared: plainly they were after her!

"It was only a dream, mother! don't be so frightened," interrupted
lan, for here his mother gave a little cry, almost forgetting what
the narration was.

"Then first," he went on, "I seemed to recover my self-possession. I
saw that, though I must certainly be devoured by the wolves, and the
child could not escape, I had no choice but go down and follow, do
what I could, and die with her. Down I was the same instant, running
as I had never run before even in a dream, along the track of the
wolves. As I ran, I heard their howling, but it seemed so far off
that I could not hope to be in time to kill one of them ere they
were upon her. Still, by their howling, it did not appear they had
reached her, and I ran on. Their noise grew louder and louder, but I
seemed to run miles and miles, wondering what spell was upon me that
I could not come up with them. All at once the clamour grew hideous,
and I saw them. They were gathered round a tree, in a clearing just
like that I had left, and were madly leaping against it, but ever
falling back baffled. I looked up: in the top of the tree sat the
little girl, her white face looking down upon them with a smile. All
the terror had vanished from it. It was still white as the snow, but
like the snow was radiating a white light through the dark foliage
of the fir. I see it often, mother, so clear that I could paint it.
I was enchanted at the sight. But she was not in safety yet, and I
rushed into the heap of wolves, striking and stabbing with my
hunting-knife. I got to the tree, and was by her in a moment. But
as I took the child in my arms I woke, and knew that it was a dream.
I sat in my own tree, and up against the stem of it broke a howling,
surging black wave of wolves. They leaped at the tree-bole as a
rock-checked billow would leap. My gun was to my shoulder in a
moment, and blazed among them. Howls of death arose. Their
companions fell upon the wounded, and ate them up. The tearing and
yelling at the foot of the tree was like the tumult of devils full
of hate and malice and greed. Then for the first time I thought
whether such creatures might not be the open haunts of demons. I do
not imagine that, when those our Lord drove out of the man asked
permission to go into the swine, they desired anything unheard of
before in the demon-world. I think they were not in the way of going
into tame animals; but, as they must go out of the man, as they
greatly dreaded the abyss of the disembodied, and as no ferocious
animals fit to harbour them were near, they begged leave to go into
such as were accessible, though unsuitable; whereupon the natural
consequence followed: their presence made the poor swine miserable
even to madness, and with the instinct of so many maniacs that in
death alone lies their deliverance, they rushed straight into the
loch."

"It may be so, Ian! But I want to hear how you got away from the
wolves."

"I fired and fired; and still they kept rushing on the tree-hole,
heaping themselves against it, those behind struggling up on the
backs of those next it, in a storm of rage and hunger and jealousy.
Not a few who had just helped to eat some of their fellows, were
themselves eaten in turn, and not a scrap of them left; but it was a
large pack, and it would have taken a long time to kill enough to
satisfy those that remained. I killed and killed until my ammunition
was gone, and then there was nothing for it but await the light.
When the morning began to dawn, they answered its light with
silence, and turning away swept like a shadow back into the wood.
Strange to tell, I heard afterwards that a child had been killed by
them in the earlier part of that same night. But even now sometimes,
as I lie awake, I grow almost doubtful whether the whole was not a
hideous dream.

"Not the less for that was what I went through between the time my
powder came to an end and the dawn of the morning, a real spiritual
fact.

"In the midst of the howling I grew so sleepy that the horrible
noise itself seemed to lull me while it kept me awake, and I fell
into a kind of reverie with which my dream came back and mingled. I
seemed to be sitting in the tree with the little shining girl, and
she was my own soul; and all the wrong things I had in me, and all
the wrong things I had done, with all the weaknesses and evil
tendencies of my nature, whether mine by fault or by inheritance,
had taken shape, and, in the persons of the howling wolves below,
were besieging me, to get at me, and devour me. Suddenly my soul was
gone. Above were the still, bright stars, shining unmoved; beneath
was the white, betraying snow, and the howling wolves; away through
the forest was fleeting, ever fleeting, my poor soul, in the
likeness of a white-faced child! All at once came a great stillness,
as of a desert place, where breathed nor life of man nor life of
beast. I was alone, frightfully alone--alone as I had never been
before. The creatures at the foot of the tree were still howling,
but their cry sounded far away and small; they were in some story I
had been reading, not anywhere in my life! I was left and lost--left
by whom?--lost by whom?--in the waste of my own being, without stay
or comfort. I looked up to the sky; it was infinite--yet only a part
of myself, and much too near to afford me any refuge from the desert
of my lost self. It came down nearer; the limitless space came down,
and clasped me, and held me. It came close to me--as if I had been a
shape off which all nature was taking a mould. I was at once
everything and nothing. I cannot tell you how frightful it was! In
agony I cried to God, with a cry of utter despair. I cannot say
whether I may believe that he answered me; I know this, that a great
quiet fell upon me--but a quiet as of utter defeat and helplessness.
Then again, I cannot tell how, the quiet and the helplessness melted
away into a sense of God--a feeling as if great space all about me
was God and not emptiness. Wolf nor sin could touch me! I was a wide
peace--my very being peace! And in my mind--whether an echo from
the Bible, I do not know--were the words:--'I, even I, am he that
comforteth thee. I am God, thy saviour!' Whereas I had seemed all
alone, I was with God, the only withness man can really share! I
lifted my eyes; morning was in the east, and the wolves were
slinking away over the snow."

How to receive the strange experience the mother did not know. She
ought to say something, for she sorely questioned it! Not a word had
he spoken belonging to the religion in which she had brought him up,
except two--SIN and GOD! There was nothing in it about the
atonement! She did not see that it was a dream, say rather a vision,
of the atonement itself. To Ian her interpretation of the atonement
seemed an everlasting and hopeless severance. The patience of God
must surely be far more tried by those who would interpret him, than
by those who deny him: the latter speak lies against him, the former
speak lies for him! Yet all the time the mother felt as in the
presence of some creature of a higher world--one above the ordinary
race of men--whom the powers of evil had indeed misled, but perhaps
not finally snared. She little thought how near she was to imagining
that good may come out of evil--that there is good which is not of
God! She did not yet understand that salvation lies in being one
with Christ, even as the branch is one with the vine;--that any
salvation short of knowing God is no salvation at all. What moment a
man feels that he belongs to God utterly, the atonement is there,
the son of God is reaping his harvest.

The good mother was not, however, one of those conceited,
stiff-necked, power-loving souls who have been the curse and ruin
of the church in all ages; she was but one of those in whom
reverence for its passing form dulls the perception of unchangeable
truth. They shut up God's precious light in the horn lantern of
human theory, and the lantern casts such shadows on the path to the
kingdom as seem to dim eyes insurmountable obstructions. For the
sake of what they count revealed, they refuse all further
revelation, and what satisfies them is merest famine to the next
generation of the children of the kingdom. Instead of God's truth
they offer man's theory, and accuse of rebellion against God such as
cannot live on the husks they call food. But ah, home-hungry soul!
thy God is not the elder brother of the parable, but the father with
the best robe and the ring--a God high above all thy longing, even
as the heavens are high above the earth.



CHAPTER XV.

THE GULF THAT DIVIDED.


When Ian ceased, a silence deep as the darkness around, fell upon
them. To Ian, the silence seemed the very voice of God, clear in the
darkness; to the mother it was a darkness interpenetrating the
darkness; it was a great gulf between her and her boy. She must cry
to him aloud, but what should she cry? If she did not, an
opportunity, perhaps the last, on which hung eternal issues, would
be gone for ever! Each moment's delay was a disobedience to her
conscience, a yielding to love's sinful reluctance! With "sick
assay" she heaved at the weight on her heart, but not a word would
come. If Ian would but speak again, and break the spell of the
terrible stillness! She must die in eternal wrong if she did not
speak! But no word would come. Something in her would not move. It
was not in her brain or her lips or her tongue, for she knew all the
time she could speak if she would. The caitiff will was not all on
the side of duty! She was not FOR the truth!--could she then be OF
the truth? She did not suspect a divine reluctance to urge that
which was not good.

Not always when the will works may we lay hold of it in the act:
somehow, she knew not how, she heard herself speaking.

"Are you sure it was God, Ian?" she said.

The voice she heard was weak and broken, reedy and strained, like
the voice of one all but dead.

"No, mother," answered Ian, "but I hope it was."

"Hopes, my dear hoy, are not to be trusted."

"That is true, mother; and yet we are saved by hope."

"We are saved by faith."

"I do not doubt it."

"You rejoice my heart. But faith in what?"

"Faith in God, mother."

"That will not save you."

"No, but God will."

"The devils believe in God, and tremble."

"I believe in the father of Jesus Christ, and do not tremble."

"You ought to tremble before an unreconciled God."

"Like the devils, mother?"

"Like a sinful child of Adam. Whatever your fancies, Ian, God will
not hear you, except you pray to him in the name of his Son."

"Mother, would you take my God from me? Would you blot him out of
the deeps of the universe?"

"Ian! are you mad? What frightful things you would lay to my
charge!"

"Mother, I would gladly--oh how gladly! perish for ever, to save God
from being the kind of God you would have me believe him. I love
God, and will not think him other than good. Rather than believe he
does not hear every creature that cries to him, whether he knows
Jesus Christ or not, I would believe there was no God, and go
mourning to my grave."

"That is not the doctrine of the gospel."

"It is, mother: Jesus himself says, 'Every one that hath heard and
learned of the Father, cometh unto me.'"

"Why then do you not come to him, Ian?"

"I do come to him; I come to him every day. I believe in nobody but
him. He only makes the universe worth being, or any life worth
living!"

"Ian, I can NOT understand you! If you believe like that about
him,--"

"I don't believe ABOUT him, mother! I believe in him. He is my
life."

"We will not dispute about words! The question is, do you place your
faith for salvation in the sufferings of Christ for you?"

"I do not, mother. My faith is in Jesus himself, not in his
sufferings."

"Then the anger of God is not turned away from you."

"Mother, I say again--I love God, and will not believe such things
of him as you say. I love him so that I would rather lose him than
believe so of him."

"Then you do not accept the Bible as your guide?"

"I do, mother, for it tells me of Jesus Christ. There is no such
teaching as you say in the Bible."

"How little you know your New Testament!"

"I don't know my New Testament! It is the only book I do know! I
read it constantly! It is the only thing I could not live
without!--No, I do not mean that! I COULD do without my Testament!
Christ would BE all the same!"

"Oh, Ian! Ian! and yet you will not give Christ the glory of
satisfying divine justice by his suffering for your sins!"

"Mother, to say that the justice of God is satisfied with suffering,
is a piece of the darkness of hell. God is willing to suffer, and
ready to inflict suffering to save from sin, but no suffering is
satisfaction to him or his justice."

"What do you mean by his justice then?"

"That he gives you and me and everybody fair play."

The homeliness of the phrase offended the moral ear of the mother.

"How dare you speak lightly of HIM in my hearing!" she cried.

"Because I will speak for God even to the face of my mother!"
answered Ian. "He is more to me than you, mother--ten times more."

"You speak against God, Ian," she rejoined, calmed by the feeling
she had roused.

"No, mother. He speaks against God who says he does things that are
not good. It does not make a thing good to call it good. I speak FOR
him when I say lie cannot but give fair play. He knows he put rue
where I was sure to sin; he will not condemn me because I have
sinned; he leaves me to do that myself. He will condemn me only if I
do not turn away from sin, for he has made me able to turn from it,
and I do."

"He will forgive sin only for Christ's sake."

"He forgives it for his own name's sake, his own love's sake. There
is no such word as FOR CHRIST'S SAKE in the New Testament--except
where Paul prays us for Christ's sake to be reconciled to God. It is
in the English New Testament, but not in the Greek."

"Then you do not believe that the justice of God demands the
satisfaction of the sinner's endless punishment?"

"I do not. Nothing can satisfy the justice of God but justice in his
creature. The justice of God is the love of what is right, and the
doing of what is right. Eternal misery in the name of justice could
satisfy none but a demon whose bad laws had been broken."

"I grant you that no amount of suffering on the part of the wicked
could SATISFY justice; but it is the Holy One who suffers for our
sins!"

"Oh, mother! JUSTICE do wrong for its own satisfaction! Did Jesus
DESERVE punishment? If not, then to punish him was to wrong him!"

"But he was willing; he consented;"

"He yielded to injustice--but the injustice was man's, not God's. If
Justice, insisted on punishment, it would at least insist on the
guilty, not the innocent, being punished! it would revolt from the
idea of the innocent being punished for the guilty! Mind, I say
BEING PUNISHED, not SUFFERING: that is another thing altogether. It
is an eternal satisfaction to love to suffer for the guilty, but not
to justice that innocence should be punished for the guilty. The
whole idea of such atonement is the merest subterfuge, a figment of
the paltry human intellect to reconcile difficulties of its own
invention. Once, when Alister had done something wrong, my father
said, 'He must be punished--except some one will be punished for
him!' I offered to take his place, partly that it seemed expected of
me, partly that I was moved by vanity, and partly that I foresaw
what would follow."

"And what did follow?" asked the mother, to whom the least word out
of the past concerning her husband, was like news from the world
beyond. At the same time it seemed almost an offence that one of his
sons should know anything about him she did not know.

"He scarcely touched me, mother," answered Ian. "The thing taught me
something very different from what he had meant to teach by it. That
he failed to carry out his idea of justice helped me afterwards to
see that God could not have done it either, for that it was not
justice. Some perception of this must have lain at the root of the
heresy that Jesus did not suffer, but a cloud-phantom took his place
on the cross. Wherever people speculate instead of obeying, they
fall into endless error."

"You graceless boy! Do you dare to say your father speculated
instead of obeying?" cried the mother, hot with indignation.

"No, mother. It was not my father who invented that way of
accounting for the death of our Lord."

"He believed it!"

"He accepted it, saturated with the tradition of the elders before
he could think for himself. He does not believe it now."

"But why then should Christ have suffered?"

"It is the one fact that explains to me everything," said Ian.
"--But I am not going to talk about it. So long as your theory
satisfies you, mother, why should I show you mine? When it no longer
satisfies you, when it troubles you as it has troubled me, and as I
pray God it may trouble you, when you feel it stand between you and
the best love you could give God, then I will share my very soul
with you--tell you thoughts which seem to sublimate my very being in
adoration."

"I do not see what other meaning you can put upon the statement that
he was a sacrifice for our sins."

"Had we not sinned he would never have died; and he died to deliver
us from our sins. He against whom was the sin, became the sacrifice
for it; the Father suffered in the Son, for they are one. But if I
could see no other explanation than yours, I would not, could not
accept it--for God's sake I would not."

"How can you say you believe in Christ, when you do not believe in
the atonement!"

"It is not so, mother. I do not believe what you mean by the
atonement; what God means by it, I desire to accept. But we are
never told to believe in the atonement; we are told to believe in
Christ--and, mother, in the name of the great Father who hears me
speak, I do believe in him."

"How can you, when you do not believe what God says about him?"

"I do. God does not say those things about him you think he says.
They are mere traditions, not the teaching of those who understood
him. But I might believe all about him quite correctly, and yet not
believe in him."

"What do you call believing in him, then?"

"Obeying him, mother--to say it as shortly as I can. I try to obey
him in the smallest things he says--only there are no small things
he says--and so does Alister. I strive to be what he would have me,
nor do I hold anything else worth my care. Let a man trust in his
atonement to absolute assurance, if he does not do the things he
tells him--the very things he said--he does not believe in him. He
may be a good man, but he has not yet heard enough and learned
enough of the Father to be sent to Jesus to learn more."

"Then I do not believe in him," said the mother, with a strange, sad
gentleness--for his words awoke an old anxiety never quite at rest.

Ian was silent. The darkness seemed to deepen around them, and the
silence grew keen. The mother began to tremble.

"GOD KNOWS," said Ian at length, and again the broken silence closed
around them.

It was between God and his mother now! Unwise counsellors will
persuade the half crazy doubter in his own faith, to believe that he
does believe!--how much better to convince him that his faith is a
poor thing, that he must rise and go and do the thing that Jesus
tells him, and so believe indeed! When will men understand that it
is neither thought nor talk, neither sorrow for sin nor love of
holiness that is required of them, but obedience! To BE and to OBEY
are one.

A cold hand grasping her heart, the mother rose, and went from the
room. The gulf seemed now at last utterly, hopelessly impassable!
She had only feared it before; she knew it now! She did not see
that, while she believed evil things of God, and none the less that
she called them good, oneness was impossible between her and any
being in God's creation.

The poor mother thought herself broken-hearted, and lay down too
sick to know that she was trembling from head to foot. Such was the
hold, such the authority of traditional human dogma on her soul--a
soul that scorned the notion of priestly interposition between God
and his creature--that, instead of glorifying God that she had
given birth to such a man, she wept bitterly because he was on the
broad road to eternal condemnation.

But as she lay, now weeping, now still and cold with despair, she
found that for some time she had not been thinking. But she had not
been asleep! Whence then was this quiet that was upon her? Something
had happened, though she knew of nothing! There was in her as it
were a moonlight of peace!

"Can it be God?" she said to herself.

No more than Ian could she tell whether it was God or not; but from
that night she had an idea in her soul by which to reach after "the
peace of God." She lifted up her heart in such prayer as she had
never prayed before; and slowly, imperceptibly awoke in her the
feeling that, if she was not believing aright, God would not
therefore cast her off, but would help her to believe as she ought
to believe: was she not willing? Therewith she began to feel as if
the gulf betwixt her and Ian were not so wide as she had supposed;
and that if it were, she would yet hope in the Son of Man. Doubtless
he was in rebellion against God, seeing he would question his ways,
and refuse to believe the word he had spoken, but surely something
might be done for him! The possibility had not yet dawned upon her
that there could be anything in the New Testament but those
doctrines against which the best in him revolted. She little
suspected the glory of sky and earth and sea eternal that would one
day burst upon her! that she would one day see God not only good but
infinitely good--infinitely better than she had dared to think him,
fearing to image him better than he was! Mortal, she dreaded being
more just than God, more pure than her maker!

"I will go away to-morrow!" said Ian to himself. "I am only a pain
to her. She will come to see things better without me! I cannot
live in her sight any longer now! I will go, and come again."

His heart broke forth in prayer.

"O God, let my mother see that thou art indeed true-hearted; that
thou dost not give us life by parings and subterfuges, but
abundantly; that thou dost not make men in order to assert thy
dominion over them, but that they may partake of thy life. O God,
have pity when I cannot understand, and teach me as thou wouldst the
little one whom, if thou wert an earthly father amongst us as thy
son was an earthly son, thou wouldst carry about in thy arms. When
pride rises in me, and I feel as if I ought to be free and walk
without thy hand; when it looks as if a man should be great in
himself, nor need help from God; then think thou of me, and I shall
know that I cannot live or think without the self-willing life; that
thou art because thou art, I am because thou art; that I am deeper
in thee than my life, thou more to my being than that being to
itself. Was not that Satan's temptation, Father? Did he not take
self for the root of self in him, when God only is the root of all
self? And he has not repented yet! Is it his thought coming up in
me, flung from the hollow darkness of his soul into mine? Thou
knowest, when it comes I am wretched. I love it not. I would have
thee lord and love over all. But I cannot understand: how comes it
to look sometimes as if independence must be the greater? A lie
cannot be greater than the truth! I do not understand, but thou
dost. I cannot see my foundations; I cannot dig up the roots of my
being: that would be to understand creation! Will the Adversary ever
come to see that thou only art grand and beautiful? How came he to
think to be greater by setting up for himself? How was it that it
looked so to him? How is it that, not being true, it should ever
look so? There must be an independence that thou lovest, of which
this temptation is the shadow! That must be how 'Satan fell!--for
the sake of not being a slave!--that he might be a free being! Ah,
Lord, I see how it all comes! It is because we are not near enough
to thee to partake of thy liberty that we want a liberty of our own
different from thine! We do not see that we are one with thee, that
thy glory is our glory, that we can have none but in thee! that we
are of thy family, thy home, thy heart, and what is great for thee
is great for us! that man's meanness is to want to be great out of
his Father! Without thy eternity in us we are so small that we think
ourselves great, and are thus miserably abject and contemptible.
Thou only art true! thou only art noble! thou wantest no glory for
selfishness! thou doest, thou art, what thou requirest of thy
children! I know it, for I see it in Jesus, who casts the contempt
of obedience upon the baseness of pride, who cares only for thee and
for us, never thinking of himself save as a gift to give us! O
lovely, perfect Christ! with my very life I worship thee! Oh, pray,
Christ! make me and my brother strong to be the very thing thou
wouldst have us, as thy brothers, the children of thy Father. Thou
art our perfect brother--perfect in love, in courage, in
tenderness! Amen, Lord! Good-night! I am thine."

He was silent for a few moments, then resumed:

"Lord, thou knowest whither my thoughts turn the moment I cease
praying to thee. I dared not think of her, but that I know thee. But
for thee, my heart would be as water within me! Oh, take care of
her, come near to her! Thou didst send her where she could not learn
fast--but she did learn. And now, God, I do not know where she is!
Thou only of all in this world knowest, for to thee she lives though
gone from my sight and knowledge--in the dark to me. Pray, Father,
let her know that thou art near her, and that I love her. Thou hast
made me love her by taking her from me: thou wilt give her to me
again! In this hope I will live all my days, until thou takest me
also; for to hope mightily is to believe well in thee. I will hope
in thee infinitely. Amen, Father!"



CHAPTER XVI.

THE CLAN CHRISTMAS.


By slow degrees, with infinite subdivisions and apparent reversals
of change, the autumn had passed into winter indeed. Cloud above,
mire below, mist and rain all between, made up many days; only, like
the dreariest life, they were broken through and parted, lest they
should seem the universe itself, by such heavenly manifestations,
such gleams and glimpses of better, as come into all lives, all
winters, all evil weathers. What is loosed on earth is loosed first
in heaven: we have often shared of heaven, when we thought it but a
softening of earth's hardness. Every relief is a promise, a pledge
as well as a passing meal. The frost at length had brought with it
brightness and persuasion and rousing. In the fields it was swelling
and breaking the clods; and for the heart of man, it did something
to break up that clod too. A sense of friendly pleasure filled all
the human creatures. The children ran about like wild things; the
air seemed to intoxicate them. The mother went out walking with the
girls, and they talked of their father and Christian and Mr.
Sercombe, who were all coming together. For some time they saw
nothing of their next neighbours.

They had made some attempts at acquaintance with the people of the
glen, but unhappily were nowise courteous enough for their ideas of
good breeding, and offended both their pride and their sense of
propriety. The manners and address of these northern peasants were
blameless--nearly perfect indeed, like those of the Irish, and in
their own houses beyond criticism; those of the ladies conventional
where not rudely condescending. If Mistress Conal was an exception
to the rest of the clan, even she would be more civil to a stranger
than to her chief whom she loved--until the stranger gave her
offence. And if then she passed to imprecation, she would not curse
like an ordinary woman, but like a poetess, gaining rather than
losing dignity. She would rise to the evil occasion, no hag, but a
largely-offended sibyl, whom nothing thereafter should ever
appease. To forgive was a virtue unknown to Mistress Conal. Its more
than ordinary difficulty in forgiving is indeed a special fault of
the Celtic character.--This must not however be confounded with a
desire for revenge. The latter is by no means a specially Celtic
characteristic. Resentment and vengeance are far from inseparable.
The heart that surpasses in courtesy, except indeed that courtesy,
be rooted in love divine, must, when treated with discourtesy,
experience the worse revulsion, feel the bitterer indignation. But
many a Celt would forgive, and forgive thoroughly and heartily, with
his enemy in his power, who, so long as he remained beyond his
reach, could not even imagine circumstances in which they might be
reconciled. To a Celt the summit of wrong is a slight, but apology
is correspondingly potent with him. Mistress Conal, however, had not
the excuse of a specially courteous nature.

Christina and Mercy, calling upon her one morning, were not
ungraciously received, but had the misfortune to remark, trusting to
her supposed ignorance of English, upon the dirtiness of her floor,
they themselves having imported not a little of the moisture that
had turned its surface into a muddy paste. She said nothing, but, to
the general grudge she bore the possessors of property once
belonging to her clan, she now added a personal one; the offence lay
cherished and smouldering. Had the chief offended her, she would
have found a score of ways to prove to herself that he meant
nothing; but she desired no mitigation of the trespass of strangers.

The people at the New House did not get on very well with any of the
clan. In the first place, they were regarded not merely as
interlopers, but almost as thieves of the property--though in truth
it had passed to them through other hands. In the second place, a
rumour had got about that they did not behave with sufficient
respect to the chief's family, in the point of whose honour the clan
was the more exacting because of their common poverty. Hence the
inhabitants of the glen, though they were of course polite, showed
but little friendliness.

But the main obstacle to their reception was in themselves: the
human was not much developed in them; they understood nothing of
their own beings; they had never had any difficulty with
themselves:--how could they understand others, especially in
circumstances and with histories so different from their own! They
had not a notion how poor people feel, still less poor people poorer
than before--or how they regard the rich who have what they have
lost. They did not understand any huftian feeling--not even the
silliness they called LOVE--a godless, mindless affair, fit only
for the doll-histories invented by children: they had a feeling, or
a feeling had them, till another feeling came and took its place.
When a feeling was there, they felt as if it would never go; when it
was gone, they felt as if it had never been; when it returned, they
felt as if it had never gone. They seldom came so near anything as
to think about it, never put a question to themselves as to how a
thing affected them, or concerning the phenomena of its passage
through their consciousness! There is a child-eternity of soul that
needs to ask nothing, because it understands everything: the ways of
the spirit are open to it; but where a soul does not understand, and
has to learn, how is it to do so without thinking? They knew nothing
of labour, nothing of danger, nothing of hunger, nothing of cold,
nothing of sickness, nothing of loneliness. The realities of life,
in their lowest forms as in their highest, were far from them. If
they had nearly gone through life instead of having but entered upon
it, they would have had some ground for thinking themselves unfairly
dealt with; for to be made, and then left to be worthless, unfit
even for damnation, might be suspected for hard lines; but there is
One who takes a perfect interest in his lowliest creature, and will
not so spare it. They were girls notwithstanding who could make
themselves agreeable, and passed for clever--Christina because she
could give a sharp answer, and sing a drawingroom-song, Mercy
because as yet she mostly held her tongue. That there was at the
same time in each of them the possibility of being developed into
something of inestimable value, is merely to say that they were
human.

The days passed, and Christmas drew near. The gentlemen arrived.
There was family delight and a bustling reception. It is amazing--it
shows indeed how deep and divine, how much beyond the individual
self are the family affections--that such gladness breaks forth in
the meeting of persons who, within an hour or so of the joyous
welcome, self getting the better of the divine, will begin to feel
bored, and will each lay the blame of the disappointment on the
other.

Coats were pulled off; mufflers were unwound; pretty hands were
helping; strong hands were lifting and carrying; every room was
bright with a great fire; tea was refused, and dinner welcomed.
After dinner came the unpacking of great boxes; and in the midst of
the resultant pleasure, the proposal came to be made--none but
Christina knew how--that the inhabitants of the cottage should be
invited to dinner on Christmas-eve. It was carried at once, and the
next afternoon a formal invitation was sent.

At the cottage it caused conference, no discussion. The lady of the
New House had not called with her girls, it was true; but then
neither had the lady of the castle--for that was the clanspeople's
name for the whole ridge on which the cottage stood--called on the
new-comers! If there was offence, it was mutual! The unceremonious
invitation MIGHT indicate that it was not thought necessary to
treat them as persons who knew the ways of society; on the other
hand, if it meant that they were ready to throw aside formalities
and behave heartily, it would be wrong not to meet them half-way!
They resolved therefore to make a counter-proposal; and if the
invitation came of neighbourliness, and not of imagined patronage,
they would certainly meet it in a friendly spirit! Answer was
returned, sealed with no mere crest but with a coat of arms, to the
effect that it had been the custom since time forgotten for the
chief to welcome his people and friends without distinction on
Christmas-eve, and the custom could not be broken; but if the ladies
and gentlemen of the New House would favour them with their
company on the occasion, to dine and dance, the chief and his family
would gratefully accept any later offer of hospitality Mr. and Mrs.
Peregrine Palmer might do them, the honour to send.

This reply gave occasion to a good deal of talk at the New House,
not entirely of a sort which the friends of the chief would have
enjoyed hearing. Frequent were the bursts of laughter from the men
at the assumption of the title of CHIEF by a man with no more land
than he could just manage to live upon. The village they said, and
said truly, in which the greater number of HIS PEOPLE lived, was
not his at all--not a foot of the ground on which it stood, not a
stone or sod of which it was built--but belonged to a certain
Canadian, who was about to turn all his territory around and
adjacent into a deer forest! They could not see that, if there had
ever been anything genuine in the patriarchal relation, the mere
loss of the clan-property could no more cause the chieftainship to
cease, than could the loss of the silver-hilted Andrew Ferrara,
handed down from father to son for so many generations.

There are dull people, and just as many clever people, who look upon
customs of society as on laws of nature, and judge the worth of
others by their knowledge or ignorance of the same. So doing they
disable themselves from understanding the essential, which is, like
love, the fulfilling of the law. A certain Englishman gave great
offence in an Arab tent by striding across the food placed for the
company on the ground: would any Celt, Irish or Welsh, have been
guilty of such a blunder? But there was not any overt offence on the
present occasion. They called it indeed a cool proposal that THEY
should put off their Christmas party for that of a ploughman in
shabby kilt and hob-nailed shoes; but on their amused indignation
supervened the thought that they were in a wild part of the country,
where it would be absurd to expect the SAVOIR VIVRE of the south,
and it would be amusing to see the customs of the land. By
suggestion and seeming response, the clever Christina, unsuspected
even of Mercy, was the motive power to bring about the acceptance of
the chief's invitation.

A friendly answer was returned: they would not go to dinner, they
said, as it was their custom also to dine at home on Christmas-eve;
but they would dine early, and spend the evening with them.

To the laird the presence of the lowland girls promised a great
addition to the merry-making. During the last thirty years, all the
gentlemen-farmers of the clan, and most of the humbler tacksmen as
well, had vanished, and there was a wide intellectual space between
all those left and the family of the chief. Often when Ian was away,
would Alister, notwithstanding his love to his people and their
entire response, have felt lonely but for labour.

There being in the cottage no room equal to the reception of a large
company, and the laird receiving all the members of the
clan--"poor," I was going to say, "and rich," but there were no
rich--as well as any neighbour or traveller who chose to appear, the
father of the present chief had had good regard to the necessities
of entertainment in the construction of a new barn: companionship,
large feasting, and dancing, had been even more considered than the
storing and threshing of his corn.

There are in these days many who will mock; but for my part I am
proud of a race whose social relations are the last upon which they
will retrench, whose latest yielded pleasure is their hospitality.
It is a common feeling that only the WELL-TO-DO have a right to be
hospitable: the ideal flower of hospitality is almost unknown to the
rich; it can hardly be grown save in the gardens of the poor; it is
one of their beatitudes.

Means in Glenruadh had been shrinking for many years, but the heart
of the chief never shrank. His dwelling dwindled from a castle to a
house, from a house to a cottage; but the hospitality did not
dwindle. As the money vanished, the show diminished; the place of
entertainment from a hall became a kitchen, from a kitchen changed
to a barn; but the heart of the chief was the same; the
entertainment was but little altered, the hospitality not in the
least. When things grow hard, the first saving is generally off
others; the Macruadh's was off himself. The land was not his, save
as steward of the grace of God! Let it not be supposed he ran in
debt: with his mother at the head, or rather the heart of affairs,
that could not be. She was not one to regard as hospitality a
readiness to share what you have not!

Little did good Doctor Johnson suspect the shifts to which some of
the highland families he visited were driven--not to feed, but to
house him: and housing in certain conditions of society is the large
half of hospitality. Where he did not find his quarters comfortable,
he did not know what crowding had to be devised, what inconveniences
endured by the family, that he might have what ease and freedom were
possible. Be it in stone hall or thatched cottage, the chief must
entertain the stranger as well as befriend his own! This was the
fulfilling of his office--none the less that it had descended upon
him in evil times. That seldom if ever had a chief been Christian
enough or strong enough to fill to the full the relation of father
of his people, was nothing against the ideal fact in the existent
relation; it was rather for it: now that the chieftainship had come
to a man with a large notion of what it required of him, he was the
more, not the less ready to aim at the mark of the idea; he was not
the more easily to be turned aside from a true attempt to live up to
his calling, that many had yielded and were swept along bound slaves
in the triumph of Mammon! He looked on his calling as entirely
enough to fill full the life that would fulfil the calling. It was
ambition enough for him to be the head of his family, with the
highest of earthly relations to realize toward its members. As to
the vulgar notion of a man's obligation to himself, he had learned
to despise it.

"Rubbish!" Ian would say. "I owe my self nothing. What has my self
ever done for me, but lead me wrong? What but it has come between me
and my duty--between me and my very Father in heaven--between me
and my fellow man! The fools of greed would persuade that a man has
no right to waste himself in the low content of making and sharing a
humble living; he ought to make money! make a figure in the world,
forsooth! be somebody! 'Dwell among the people!' such would say:
'Bah! Let them look after themselves! If they cannot pay their
rents, others will; what is it to you if the rents are paid? Send
them about their business; turn the land into a deer-forest or a
sheep-farm, and clear them out! They have no rights! A man is bound
to the children of his body begotten; the people are nothing to him!
A man is not his brother's keeper--except when he has got him in
prison! And so on, in the name of the great devil!"

Whether there was enough in Alister to have met and overcome the
spirit of the world, had he been brought up at Oxford or Cambridge,
I have not to determine; there was that in him at least which would
have come to, repent bitterly had he yielded; but brought up as he
was, he was not only able to entertain the exalted idea presented to
him, but to receive and make it his. With joy he recognized the
higher dignity of the shepherd of a few poor, lean, wool-torn human
sheep, than of the man who stands for himself, however "spacious in
the possession of dirt." He who holds dead land a possession, and
living souls none of his, needs wake no curse, for he is in the very
pit of creation, a live outrage on the human family.

If Alister Macruadh was not in the highest grade of Christianity, he
was on his way thither, for he was doing the work that was given him
to do, which is the first condition of all advancement. He had much
to learn yet, but he was one who, from every point his feet touched,
was on the start to go further.

The day of the holy eve rose clear and bright. Snow was on the
hills, and frost in the valley. There had been a time when at this
season great games were played between neighbour districts or clans,
but here there were no games now, because there were so few men; the
more active part fell to the women. Mistress Macruadh was busy all
day with her helpers, preparing a dinner of mutton, and beef, and
fowls, and red-deer ham; and the men soon gave the barn something of
the aspect of the old patriarchal hall for which it was no very poor
substitute. A long table, covered with the finest linen, was laid
for all comers; and when the guests took their places, they needed
no arranging; all knew their standing, and seated themselves
according to knowledge. Two or three small farmers took modestly the
upper places once occupied by immediate relatives of the chief, for
of the old gentry of the clan there were none. But all were happy,
for their chief was with them still. Their reverence was none the
less that they were at home with him. They knew his worth, and the
roughest among them would mind what the Macruadh said. They knew
that he feared nothing; that he was strong as the red stag after
which the clan was named; that, with genuine respect for every man,
he would at the least insolence knock the fellow down; that he was
the best shot, the best sailor, the best ploughman in the clan: I
would have said THE BEST SWORDSMAN, but that, except Ian, there was
not another left to it.

Not many of them, however, understood how much he believed that he
had to give an account of his people. He was far from considering
such responsibility the clergyman's only. Again and again had he
expostulated with some, to save them from the slow gaping hell of
drink, and in one case, he had reason to hope, with success.

As they sat at dinner, it seemed to the young fellow who, with his
help, had so far been victorious, that the chief scarcely took his
eyes off him. One might think there was small danger where the
hostess allowed nothing beyond water and milk but small ale; the
chief, however, was in dread lest he should taste even that, and
caught one moment the longing look he threw at the jug as it passed.
He rose and went down the table, speaking to this one and that, but
stopped behind the lad, and putting his arm round his shoulders,
whispered in his ear. The youth looked up in his face with a solemn
smile: had not the chief embraced him before them all! He was only a
shepherd-lad, but his chief cared for him!

In the afternoon the extemporized tables were cleared away, candles
were fixed in rough sconces along the walls, not without precaution
against fire, and the floor was rubbed clean--for the barn was
floored throughout with pine, in parts polished with use. The walls
were already covered with the plaids of the men and women, each kept
in place by a stone or two on the top of the wall where the rafters
rested. In one end was a great heap of yellow oat-straw, which,
partly levelled, made a most delightful divan. What with the straw,
the plaids, the dresses, the shining of silver ornaments, and the
flash of here and there a cairngorm or an amethyst, there was not a
little colour in the barn. Some of the guests were poorly but all
were decently attired, and the shabbiest behaved as ladies and
gentlemen.

The party from the New House walked through the still, star-watched
air, with the motionless mountains looking down on them, and a
silence around, which they never suspected as a presence. The little
girls were of the company, and there was much merriment. Foolish
compliments were not wanting, offered chiefly on the part of Mr.
Sercombe, and accepted on that of Christina. The ladies, under their
furs and hoods, were in their best, with all the jewels they could
wear at once, for they had heard that highlanders have a passion for
colour, and that poor people are always best pleased when you go to
them in your finery. The souls of these Sasunnachs were full of
THINGS. They made a fine show as they emerged from the darkness of
their wraps into the light of the numerous candles; nor did the
approach of the widowed chieftainess to receive them, on the arm of
Alister, with Ian on her other side, fail in dignity. The mother was
dressed in a rich, matronly black silk; the chief was in the full
dress of his clan--the old-fashioned coat of the French court, with
its silver buttons and ruffles of fine lace, the kilt of Macruadh
tartan in which red predominated, the silver-mounted sporan--of the
skin and adorned with the head of an otter caught with, the bare
hands of one of his people, and a silver-mounted dirk of length
unusual, famed for the beauty of both hilt and blade; Ian was
similarly though less showily clad. When she saw the stately dame
advancing between her sons, one at least of her visitors felt a
doubt whether their condescension would be fully appreciated.

As soon as their reception was over, the piper--to the discomfort of
Mr. Sercombe's English ears--began his invitation to the dance, and
in a few moments the floor was, in a tumult of reels. The girls,
unacquainted with their own country's dances, preferred looking on,
and after watching reel and strathspey for some time, altogether
declined attempting either. But by and by it was the turn of the
clanspeople to look on while the lady of the house and her sons
danced a quadrille or two with their visitors; after which the chief
and his brother pairing with the two elder girls, the ladies were
astonished to find them the best they had ever waltzed with,
although they did not dance quite in the London way. Ian's dancing,
Christina said, was French; Mercy said all she knew was that the
chief took the work and left her only the motion: she felt as in a
dream of flying. Before the evening was over, the young men had so
far gained on Christina that Mr. Sercombe looked a little
commonplace.



CHAPTER XVII.

BETWEEN DANCING AND SUPPER.


The dancing began about six o'clock, and at ten it was time for
supper. It was ready, but there was no room for it except the barn;
the dancing therefore had to cease for a while, that the table might
again be covered. The ladies put on their furs and furry boots and
gloves, and went out into the night with the rest.

The laird and Christina started together, but, far from keeping at
her side, Alister went and came, now talking to this couple, now to
that, and adding to the general pleasure with every word he spoke.
Ian and Mercy walked together, and as often as the chief left her
side, Christina joined them. Mrs. Palmer stayed with their hostess;
her husband took the younger children by the hand; Mr. Sercombe and
Christian sauntered along in the company, talking now to one, now to
another of the village girls.

All through the evening Christina and Mercy noted how instantly the
word of the chief was followed in the smallest matter, and the fact
made its impression on them; for undeveloped natures in the presence
of a force, revere it as POWER--understanding by POWER, not the
strength to create, to harmonize, to redeem, to discover the true,
to suffer with patience; but the faculty of having things one's own
vulgar, self-adoring way.

Ian had not proposed to Mercy that they should walk together; but
when the issuing crowd had broken into twos and threes, they found
themselves side by side. The company took its way along the ridge,
and the road eastward. The night was clear, and like a great
sapphire frosted with topazes--reminding Ian that, solid as is the
world under our feet, it hangs in the will of God. Mercy and he
walked for some time in silence. It was a sudden change from the low
barn, the dull candles, and the excitement of the dance, to the
awful space, the clear pure far-off lights, and the great stillness.
Both felt it, though differently. There was in both of them the
quest after peace. It is not the banished demon only that wanders
seeking rest, but souls upon souls, and in ever growing numbers. The
world and Hades swarm with them. They long after a repose that is
not mere cessation of labour: there is a positive, an active rest.
Mercy was only beginning to seek it, and that without knowing what
it was she needed. Ian sought it in silence with God; she in
crepitant intercourse with her kind. Naturally ready to fall into
gloom, but healthy enough to avoid it, she would rush at anything to
do--not to keep herself from thinking, for she had hardly begun to
think, but to escape that heavy sense of non-existence, that weary
and restless want which is the only form life can take to the yet
unliving, those who have not yet awakened and arisen from the dead.
She was a human chicken that had begun to be aware of herself, but
had not yet attacked the shell that enclosed her: because it was
transparent, and she could see life about her, she did not know that
she was in a shell, or that, if she did not put forth the might of
her own life, she was sealing herself up, a life in death, in her
antenatal coffin. Many who think themselves free have never yet even
seen the shell that imprisons them--know nothing of the liberty
wherewith the Lord of our life would set them free. Men fight many a
phantom when they ought to be chipping at their shells. "Thou art
the dreamer!" they cry to him who would wake them. "See how diligent
we are to get on in the world! We labour as if we should never go
out of it!" What they call the world is but their shell, which is
all the time killing the infant Christ that houses with them.

Ian looked up to the sky, and breathed a deep breath. Mercy looked
up in his face, and saw his strangely beautiful smile.

"What are you thinking of, Captain Macruadh?" she said.

"I was thinking," he answered, "that perhaps up THERE"--he waved his
arm wide over his head--"might be something like room; but I doubt
it, I doubt it!"

Naturally, Mercy was puzzled. The speech sounded quite mad, and yet
he could not be mad, he had danced so well! She took comfort that
her father was close behind.

"Did you never feel," he resumed, "as if you could not anyhow get
room enough?"

"No," answered Mercy, "never."

Ian fell a thinking how to wake in her a feeling of what he meant.
He had perceived that one of the first elements in human education
is the sense of space--of which sense, probably, the star-dwelt
heaven is the first awakener. He believed that without the heavens
we could not have learned the largeness in things below them, could
not, for instance, have felt the mystery of the high-ascending
gothic roof--for without the greater we cannot interpret the less;
and he thought that to have the sense of largeness developed might
be to come a little nearer to the truth of things, to the
recognition of spiritual relations.

"Did you ever see anything very big?" he asked.

"I suppose London is as big as most things!" she answered, after a
moment.

"Did you ever see London?" he asked.

"We generally live there half the year."

"Pardon me; I did not ask if you had ever been to London," said Ian;
"I asked if you had ever seen London."

"I know the west end pretty well."

"Did it ever strike you as very large?"

"Perhaps not; but the west end is only a part of London."

"Did you ever see London from the top of St. Paul's?"

"No."

"Did you ever see it from the top of Hampstead heath?"

"I have been there several times, but I don't remember seeing London
from it. We don't go to London for the sights."

"Then you have not seen London!"

Mercy was annoyed. Ian did not notice that she was, else perhaps he
would not have gone on--which would have been a pity, for a little
annoyance would do her no harm. At the same time the mood was not
favourable to receiving any impression from the region of the things
that are not seen. A pause followed.

"It is so delightful," said Ian at length, "to come out of the
motion and the heat and the narrowness into the still, cold
greatness!"

"You seemed to be enjoying yourself pretty well notwithstanding,
Captain Macruadh!"

"What made you think so?" he asked, turning to her with a smile.

"You were so merry--not with me--you think me only a stupid lowland
girl; but the other young persons you danced with, laughed very much
at things you said to them."

"You are right; I did enjoy myself. As often as one comes near a
simple human heart, one's own heart finds a little room."

Ere she knew, Mercy had said--

"And you didn't find any room with me?"

With the sound of her words her face grew hot, as with a
furnace-blast, even in the frosty night-air. She would have covered
what she had said, but only stammered. Ian turned, and looking at
her, said with a gentle gravity--

"You must not be offended with me! I must answer you truly.--You do
not give me room: have you not just told me you never longed for any
yourself?"

"One ought to be independent!" said Mercy, a little nettled.

"Are you sure of that? What is called independence may really be
want of sympathy. That would indicate a kind of loneliness
anything but good."

"I wish you would find a less disagreeable companion then!--one that
would at least be as good as nobody! I am sorry I don't know how to
give you room. I would if I could. Tell me how."

Again Ian turned to her: was it possible there were tears in her
voice? But her black eyes were flashing in the starlight!

"Did you ever read Zanoni?" he asked.

"I never heard of it. What is it?"

"A romance of Bulwer's."

"My father won't let us read anything of Bulwer's. Does he write
very wicked books?"

"The one I speak of," said Ian, "is not wicked, though it is full of
rubbish, and its religion is very false."

Whether Mercy meant to take her revenge on him with consciously bad
logic, I am in doubt.

"Captain Macruadh! you astonish me! A Scotchman speak so of
religion!"

"I spoke of the religion in that book. I said it was false--which is
the same as saying it was not religion."

"Then religion is not all true!"

"All true religion is true," said Ian, inclined to laugh like one
that thought to catch an angel, and had clutched a bat! "I was going
on to say that, though the religion and philosophy of the book were
rubbish, the story was fundamentally a grand conception. It puzzles
me to think how a man could start with such an idea, and work it out
so well, and yet be so lacking both in insight and logic. It is
wonderful how much of one portion of our nature may be developed
along with so little of another!"

"What is the story about?" asked Mercy.

"What I may call the canvas of it, speaking as if it were a picture,
is the idea that the whole of space is full of life; that, as the
smallest drop of water is crowded with monsters of hideous forms and
dispositions, so is what we call space full of living creatures,--"

"How horrible!"

"--not all monsters, however. There are among them creatures not
altogether differing from us, but differing much from each other,--"

"As much as you and I?"

"--some of them lovely and friendly, others frightful in their
beauty and malignity,--"

"What nonsense!"

"Why do you call it nonsense?"

"How could anything beautiful be frightful?"

"I ought not to have said BEAUTIFUL. But the frightfullest face I
ever saw ought to have been the finest. When the lady that owned it
spoke to me, I shivered."

"But anyhow the whole thing is nonsense!"

"How is it nonsense?"

"Because there are no such creatures."

"How do you know that? Another may have seen them though you and I
never did!"

"You are making game of me! You think to make me believe anything
you choose!"

"Will you tell me something you do believe?"

"That you may prove immediately that I do not believe it!" she
retorted, with more insight than he had expected. "--You are not
very entertaining!"

"Would you like me to tell you a story then?"

"Will it be nonsense?"

"No."

"I should like a little nonsense."

"You are an angel of goodness, and as wise as you are lovely!" said
Ian.

She turned upon him, and opened wide at him her great black eyes, in
which were mingled defiance and question.

"Your reasoning is worthy of your intellect. When you dance," he
went on, looking very solemn, "your foot would not bend the neck of
a daisy asleep in its rosy crown. The west wind of May haunts you
with its twilight-odours; and when you waltz, so have I seen the
waterspout gyrate on the blue floor of the Mediterranean. Your voice
is as the harp of Selma; and when you look out of your welkin
eyes--no! there I am wrong! Allow me!--ah, I thought so!--dark as
Erebus!--But what!"

For Mercy, perceiving at last that he was treating her like the
silliest of small girls, lost her patience, and burst into tears.

"You are dreadfully rude!" she sobbed.

Ian was vexed with himself.

"You asked me to talk nonsense to you, Miss Mercy! I attempted to
obey you, and have done it stupidly. But at least it was absolute
nonsense! Shall I make up for it by telling you a pretty story?"

"Anything to put away that!" answered Mercy, trying to smile.

He began at once, and told her a wonderful tale--told first after
this fashion by Bob of the Angels, at a winter-night gathering of
the women, as they carded and spun their wool, and reeled their yarn
together. It was one well-known in the country, but Rob had filled
it after his fancy with imaginative turns and spiritual hints,
unappreciable by the tall child of seventeen walking by Ian's side.
There was not among the maidens of the poor village one who would
not have understood it better than she. It took her fancy
notwithstanding, partly, perhaps, from its unlikeness to any story
she had ever heard before. Her childhood had been starved on the
husks of new fairy-tales, all invention and no imagination, than
which more unnourishing food was never offered to God's children.

The story Ian told her under that skyful of stars, was as Rob of the
Angels had dressed it for the clan matrons and maidens, only altered
a very little for the ears of the lowland girl.

END OF VOL. I.





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