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Title: What's Mine's Mine — Complete
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 — Complete" ***

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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 Rob 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.



VOL. II.



CONTENTS OF VOL. II.

CHAPTER

   I. THE STORY TOLD BY IAN
  II. ROB OF THE ANGELS
 III. AT THE NEW HOUSE
  IV. THE BROTHERS
   V. THE PRINCESS
  VI. THE TWO PAIRS
 VII. AN CABRACH MOR
VIII. THE STAG'S HEAD
  IX. ANNIE OF THE SHOP
   X. THE ENCOUNTER
  XI. A LESSON
 XII. NATURE
XIII. GRANNY ANGRY
 XIV. CHANGE
  XV. LOVE ALLODIAL
 XVI. MERCY CALLS ON GRANNIE
XVII. IN THE TOMB



WHATS'S MINE'S MINE.



CHAPTER I.

THE STORY TOLD BY IAN.


"There was once a woman whose husband was well to do, but he died
and left her, and then she sank into poverty. She did her best; but
she had a large family, and work was hard to find, and hard to do
when it was found, and hardly paid when it was done. Only hearts of
grace can understand the struggles of the poor--with everything but
God against them! But she trusted in God, and said whatever he
pleased must be right, whether he sent it with his own hand or not.

"Now, whether it was that she could not find them enough to eat, or
that she could not keep them warm enough, I do not know; I do not
think it was that they had not gladness enough, which is as
necessary for young things as food and air and sun, for it is
wonderful on how little a child can be happy; but whatever was the
cause, they began to die. One after the other sickened and lay down,
and did not rise again; and for a time her life was just a waiting
upon death. She would have wanted to die herself, but that there was
always another to die first; she had to see them all safe home
before she dared wish to go herself. But at length the last of them
was gone, and then when she had no more to provide for, the heart of
work went out of her: where was the good of working for herself!
there was no interest in it! But she knew it was the will of God she
should work and eat until he chose to take her back to himself; so
she worked on for her living while she would much rather have worked
for her dying; and comforted herself that every day brought death a
day nearer. Then she fell ill herself, and could work no more, and
thought God was going to let her die; for, able to win her bread no
longer, surely she was free to lie down and wait for death! But just
as she was going to her bed for the last time, she bethought herself
that she was bound to give her neighbour the chance of doing a good
deed: and felt that any creature dying at her door without letting
her know he was in want, would do her a great wrong. She saw it was
the will of God that she should beg, so put on her clothes again,
and went out to beg. It was sore work, and she said so to the
priest. But the priest told her she need not mind, for our Lord
himself lived by the kindness of the women who went about with him.
They knew he could not make a living for his own body and a living
for the souls of so many as well, and the least they could do was to
keep him alive who was making them alive. She said that was very
true; but he was all the time doing everything for everybody, and
she was doing nothing for anybody. The priest was a wise man, and
did not tell her how she had, since ever he knew her, been doing the
work of God in his heart, helping him to believe and trust in God;
so that in fact, when he was preaching, she was preaching. He did
not tell her that, I say, for he was jealous over her beauty, and
would have Christ's beloved sheep enter his holy kingdom with her
wool white, however torn it might be. So he left her to think she
was nobody at all; and told her that, whether she was worth keeping
alive or not, whether she was worth begging for or not, whether it
was a disgrace or an honour to beg, all was one, for it was the will
of God that she should beg, and there was no word more to be said,
and no thought more to be thought about it. To this she heartily
agreed, and did beg--enough to keep her alive, and no more.

"But at last she saw she must leave that part of the country, and go
back to the place her husband took her from. For the people about
her were very poor, and she thought it hard on them to have to help
a stranger like her; also her own people would want her to bury. For
you must know that in the clans, marriage was thought to be
dissolved by death, so far at least as the body was concerned;
therefore the body of a dead wife was generally carried back to the
burial place of her own people, there to be gathered to her fathers.
So the woman set out for her own country, begging her way thither.
Nor had she any difficulty, for there were not a few poor people on
her way, and the poor are the readiest to help the poor, also to
know whether a person is one that ought to be helped or not.

"One night she came to a farm house where a rich miserly farmer
dwelt. She knew about him, and had not meant to stop there, but she
was weary, and the sun went down as she reached his gate, and she
felt as if she could go no farther. So she went up to the door and
knocked, and asked if she could have a nights lodging. The woman
who opened to her went and asked the farmer. Now the old man did not
like hospitality, and in particular to such as stood most in need of
it; he did not enjoy throwing away money! At the same time, however,
he was very fond of hearing all the country rumours; and he thought
with himself he would buy her news with a scrap of what was going,
and a shake-down at the foot of the wall. So he told his servant to
bring her in.

"He received her not unkindly, for he wanted her to talk; and he let
her have a share of the supper, such as it was. But not until he had
asked every question about everybody he could think of, and drawn
her own history from her as well, would he allow her to have the
rest she so much needed.

"Now it was a poor house, like most in the country, and nearly
without partitions. The old man had his warm box-bed, and slept on
feathers where no draught could reach him, and the poor woman had
her bed of short rumpled straw on the earthen floor at the foot of
the wall in the coldest corner. Yet the heart of the man had been
moved by her story, for, without dwelling on her sufferings, she had
been honest in telling it. He had indeed, ere he went to sleep,
thanked God that he was so much better off than she. For if he did
not think it the duty of the rich man to share with his neighbours,
he at least thought it his duty to thank God for his being richer
than they.

"Now it may well seem strange that such a man should be privileged
to see a vision; but we do read in the Bible of a prophet who did
not even know his duty to an ass, so that the ass had to teach it
him. And the man alone saw the vision; the woman saw nothing of it.
But she did not require to see any vision, for she had truth in the
inward parts, which is better than all visions. The vision was on
this wise:--In the middle of the night the man came wide awake, and
looking out of his bed, saw the door open, and a light come in,
burning like a star, of a faint rosy colour, unlike any light he had
ever before seen. Another and another came in, and more yet, until
he counted six of them. They moved near the floor, but he could not
see clearly what sort of little creatures they were that were
carrying them. They went up to the woman's bed, and walked slowly
round it in a hovering kind of a way, stopping, and moving up and
down, and going on again; and when they had done this three times,
they went slowly out of the door again, stopping for a moment
several times as they went.

"He fell asleep, and waking not very early, was surprised to see his
guest still on her hard couch--as quiet as any rich woman, he said
to himself, on her feather bed. He woke her, told her he wondered
she should sleep so far into the morning, and narrated the curious
vision he had had. 'Does not that explain to you,' she said, 'how it
is that I have slept so long? Those were my dead children you saw
come to me. They died young, without any sin, and God lets them come
and comfort their poor sinful mother. I often see them in my dreams.
If, when I am gone, you will look at my bed, you will find every
straw laid straight and smooth. That is what they were doing last
night.' Then she gave him thanks for good fare and good rest, and
took her way to her own, leaving the farmer better pleased with
himself than he had been for a long time, partly because there had
been granted him a vision from heaven.

"At last the woman died, and was carried by angels into Abraham's
bosom. She was now with her own people indeed, that is, with God and
all the good. The old farmer did not know of her death till a long
time after; but it was upon the night she died, as near as he could
then make out, that he dreamed a wonderful dream. He never told it
to any but the priest from whom he sought comfort when he lay dying;
and the priest did not tell it till after everybody belonging to the
old man was gone. This was the dream:--

"He was lying awake in his own bed, as he thought, in the dark
night, when the poor woman came in at the door, having in her hand a
wax candle, but not alight. He said to her, 'You extravagant woman!
where did you get that candle?' She answered, 'It was put into my
hand when I died, with the word that I was to wander till I found a
fire at which to light it.' 'There!' said he, 'there's the rested
fire! Blow and get a light, poor thing! It shall never be said I
refused a body a light!' She went to the hearth, and began to blow
at the smouldering peat; but, for all she kept trying, she could not
light her candle. The old man thought it was because she was dead,
not because he was dead in sin, and losing his patience, cried, 'You
foolish woman! haven't you wit enough left to light a candle? It's
small wonder you came to beggary!' Still she went on trying, but the
more she tried, the blacker grew the peat she was blowing at. It
would indeed blaze up at her breath, but the moment she brought the
candle near it to catch the flame, it grew black, and each time
blacker than before. 'Tut! give me the candle,' cried the farmer,
springing out of bed; 'I will light it for you!' But as he stretched
out his hand to take it, the woman disappeared, and he saw that the
fire was dead out. 'Here's a fine business!' he said. 'How am I to
get a light?' For he was miles from the next house. And with that he
turned to go back to his bed. When he came near it, he saw somebody
lying in it. 'What! has the carline got into my very bed?' he cried,
and went to drive her out of the bed and out of the house. But when
he came close, he saw it was himself lying there, and knew that at
least he was out of the body, if not downright dead. The next moment
he found himself on the moor, following the woman, some distance
before him, with her unlighted candle still in her hand. He walked
as fast as he could to get up with her, but could not; he called
after her, but she did not seem to hear.

"When first he set out, he knew every step of the ground, but by and
by he ceased to know it. The moor stretched out endlessly, and the
woman walked on and on. Without a thought of turning back, he
followed. At length he saw a gate, seemingly in the side of a hill.
The woman knocked, and by the time it opened, he was near enough to
hear what passed. It was a grave and stately, but very happy-looking
man that opened it, and he knew at once it was St. Peter. When he
saw the woman, he stooped and kissed her. The same moment a light
shone from her, and the old man thought her candle was lighted at
last; but presently he saw it was her head that gave out the
shining. And he heard her say, 'I pray you, St. Peter, remember the
rich tenant of Balmacoy; he gave me shelter one whole night, and
would have let me light my candle but I could not.' St. Peter
answered, 'His fire was not fire enough to light your candle, and
the bed he gave you was of short straw!' 'True, St. Peter,' said the
woman, 'but he gave me some supper, and it is hard for a rich man to
be generous! You may say the supper was not very good, but at least
it was more than a cup of cold water!' 'Yes, verily!' answered the
saint, 'but he did not give it you because you loved God, or because
you were in need of it, but because he wanted to hear your news.'
Then the woman was sad, for she could not think of anything more to
say for the poor old rich man. And St. Peter saw that she was sad,
and said, 'But if he die to-night, he shall have a place inside the
gate, because you pray for him. He shall lie there!' And he pointed
to just such a bed of short crumpled straw as she had lain upon in
his house. But she said, 'St. Peter, you ought to be ashamed of
yourself! Is that the kind of welcome to give a poor new-dead man?
Where then would he have lain if I had not prayed for him?' 'In the
dog-kennel outside there,' answered St. Peter. 'Oh, then, please,
let me go back and warn him what comes of loving money!' she
pleaded. 'That is not necessary,' he replied; 'the man is hearing
every word you and I are this moment saying to each other.' 'I am so
glad!' rejoined the woman; 'it will make him repent.' 'He will not
be a straw the better for it!' answered the saint. 'He thinks now
that he will do differently, and perhaps when he wakes will think so
still; but in a day or two he will mock at it as a foolish dream. To
gather money will seem to him common sense, and to lay up treasure
in heaven nonsense. A bird in the hand will be to him worth ten in
the heavenly bush. And the end will be that he will not get the
straw inside the gate, and there will be many worse places than the
dog-kennel too good for him!' With that he woke.

"'What an odd dream!' he said to himself. 'I had better mind what I
am about!' So he was better that day, eating and drinking more
freely, and giving more to his people. But the rest of the week he
was worse than ever, trying to save what he had that day spent, and
so he went on growing worse. When he found himself dying, the terror
of his dream came upon him, and he told all to the priest. But the
priest could not comfort him."

By the time the story was over, to which Mercy had listened without
a word, they were alone in the great starry night, on the side of a
hill, with the snow high above them, and the heavens above the snow,
and the stars above the heavens, and God above and below everything.
Only Ian felt his presence. Mercy had not missed him yet.

She did not see much in the tale: how could she? It was very odd,
she thought, but not very interesting. She had expected a tale of
clan-feud, or a love-story! Yet the seriousness of her companion in
its narration had made some impression upon her.

"They told me you were an officer," she said, "but I see you are a
clergyman! Do you tell stories like that from the pulpit?"

"I am a soldier," answered Ian, "not a clergyman. But I have heard
my father tell such a story from the pulpit."

Ian imagined himself foiled in his attempt to interest the maiden.
If he was, it would not be surprising. He had not the least desire
to commend HIMSELF to the girl; and he would not talk rubbish even
to a child. There is sensible and senseless nonsense, good absurdity
and bad.

As Mercy recounted to her sister the story Ian had told her, it
certainly was silly enough. She had retained but the withered stalk
and leaves; the strange flower was gone. Christina judged it hardly
a story for a gentleman to tell a lady.

They returned almost in silence to find the table laid, a plentiful
supper spread, and the company seated. After supper came singing of
songs, saying of ballads, and telling of tales. I know with what
incredulity many highlanders will read of a merry-making in their own
country at which no horn went round, no punch-bowl was filled and
emptied without stint! But the clearer the brain, the better justice
is done to the more etherial wine of the soul. Of several of the
old songs Christina begged the tunes, but was disappointed to find
that, as she could not take them down, so the singers of them could
not set them down. In the tales she found no interest. The hostess
sang to her harp, and made to revering listeners eloquent music, for
her high clear tones had not yet lost their sweetness, and she had
some art to come in aid of her much feeling: loud murmurs of
delight, in the soft strange tongue of the songs themselves,
followed the profound silence with which they were heard, but
Christina wondered what there was to applaud. She could not herself
sing without accompaniment, and when she left, it was with a
regretful feeling that she had not distinguished herself. Naturally,
as they went home, the guests from the New House had much fun over
the queer fashions and poverty--stricken company, the harp and the
bagpipes, the horrible haggis, the wild minor songs, and the
unintelligible stories and jokes; but the ladies agreed that the
Macruadh was a splendid fellow.



CHAPTER II

ROB OF THE ANGELS.


Among the peasantry assembled at the feast, were two that had
neither danced, nor seated themselves at the long table where all
were welcome. Mercy wondered what might be the reason of their
separation. Her first thought was that they must be somehow, she
could not well imagine how, in lower position than any of the rest--had
perhaps offended against the law, perhaps been in prison, and
so the rest would not keep company with them; or perhaps they were
beggars who did not belong to the clan, and therefore, although fed,
were not allowed to eat with it! But she soon saw she must be wrong
in each conjecture; for if there was any avoiding, it was on the
part of the two: every one, it was clear, was almost on the alert to
wait upon them. They seemed indeed rather persons of distinction
than outcasts; for it was with something like homage, except for a
certain coaxing tone in the speech of the ministrants, that they
were attended. They had to help themselves to nothing; everything
was carried to them. Now one, now another, where all were guests and
all were servants, would rise from the table to offer them
something, or see what they would choose or might be in want of,
while they partook with the same dignity and self-restraint that was
to be noted in all.

The elder was a man about five-and-fifty, tall and lean, with a wiry
frame, dark grizzled hair, and a shaven face. His dress, which was
in the style of the country, was very poor, but decent; only his
plaid was large and thick, and bright compared with the rest of his
apparel: it was a present he had had from his clan-some giving the
wool, and others the labour in carding, dyeing, and weaving it. He
carried himself like a soldier-which he had never been, though his
father had. His eyes were remarkably clear and keen, and the way he
used them could hardly fail to attract attention. Every now and then
they would suddenly fix themselves with a gaze of earnest inquiry,
which would either grow to perception, or presently melt away and
let his glance go gently roving, ready to receive, but looking for
nothing. His face was very brown and healthy, with marked and
handsome features. Its expression seemed at first a little severe,
but soon, to reading eyes, disclosed patience and tenderness. At the
same time there was in it a something indescribably unlike the other
faces present-and indeed his whole person and carriage were
similarly peculiar. Had Mercy, however, spent on him a little more
attention, the peculiarity would have explained itself. She would
have seen that, although everybody spoke to him, he never spoke in
reply--only made signs, sometimes with his lips, oftener with hand
or head: the man was deaf and dumb. But such was the keenness of his
observation that he understood everything said to him by one he
knew, and much from the lips of a stranger.

His companion was a youth whose age it would have been difficult to
guess. He looked a lad, and was not far from thirty. His clothing
was much like his father's--poor enough, yet with the air of being
a better suit than that worn every day. He was very pale and
curiously freckled, with great gray eyes like his father's, which
had however an altogether different expression. They looked dreamy,
and seemed almost careless of what passed before them, though now
and then a certain quick, sharp turn of the head showed him not
devoid of attention.

The relation between the two was strangely interesting. Day and
night they were inseparable. Because the father was deaf, the son
gave all his attention to the sounds of the world; his soul sat in
his ears, ever awake, ever listening; while such was his confidence
in his father's sight, that he scarcely troubled himself to look
where he set his feet. His expression also was peculiar, partly from
this cause, mainly from a deeper. It was a far-away look, which a
common glance would have taken to indicate that he was "not all
there." In a lowland parish he would have been regarded as little
better than a gifted idiot; in the mountains he was looked upon as a
seer, one in communion with higher powers. Whether his people were
of this opinion from being all fools together, and therefore unable
to know a fool, or the lowland authorities would have been right in
taking charge of him, let him who pleases judge or misjudge for
himself. What his own thought of him came out in the name they gave
him: "Rob of the Angels," they called him. He was nearly a foot
shorter than his father, and very thin. Some said he looked always
cold; but I think that came of the wonderful peace on his face, like
the quiet of a lake over which lies a thin mist. Never was stronger
or fuller devotion manifested by son to father than by Rob of the
Angels to Hector of the Stags. His filial love and faith were
perfect. While they were together, he was in his own calm elysium;
when they were apart, which was seldom for more than a few minutes,
his spirit seemed always waiting. I believe his notions of God his
father, and Hector his father, were strangely mingled--the more
perhaps that the two fathers were equally silent. It would have been
a valuable revelation to some theologians to see in those two what
_love_ might mean.

So gentle was Rob of the Angels, that all the women, down to the
youngest maid-child, gave him a compassionate, mother-like love.
He had lost his mother when he was an infant; the father had brought
him up with his own hand, and from the moment of his mother's
departure had scarce let him out of his sight; but the whole
woman-remnant of the clan was as a mother to the boy. And from the
first they had so talked to him of his mother, greatly no doubt
through the feeling that from his father he could learn nothing of
her, that now his mother seemed to him everywhere: he could not see
God; why should not his mother be there though he could not see her!
No wonder the man was peaceful!

Many would be inclined to call the two but poachers and
vagabonds--vagabonds because they lived in houses not quite made
with hands, for they had several dwellings that were mostly
caves--which yet they contrived to make warm and comfortable; and
poachers because they lived by the creatures which God scatters on
his hills for his humans. Let those who inherit or purchase, avenge
the breach of law; but let them not wonder when those who are
disinherited and sold, cry out against the breach of higher law!

The land here had never, partly from the troubles besetting its
owners, but more from their regard for the poor, of the clan, been
with any care preserved; little notice was ever taken of what game
was killed, or who killed it. At the same time any wish of the chief
with regard to the deer, of which Rob's father for one knew every
antlered head, was rigidly respected. As to the parts which became
the property of others-the boundaries between were not very
definite, and sale could ill change habits, especially where owners
were but beginning to bestir themselves about the deer, or any of
the wild animals called game. Hector and Rob led their life with
untroubled conscience and easy mind.

In a world of the devil, where the justification of existence lay
in money on the one side, and work for money on the other, there
could be no justification of the existence of these men; but this
world does not belong to the devil, though it may often seem as if
it did, and father and son lived and enjoyed life, as in a manner so
to a decree unintelligible to him who, without his money and its
consolations, would know himself in the hell he has not yet
recognized. Neither of them could read or write; neither of them had a
penny laid by for wet weather; neither of them would leave any
memory beyond their generation; the will of neither would be laid up
in Doctors' Commons; neither of the two would leave on record a
single fact concerning one of the animals whose ways and habits
they knew better than any other man in the highlands; that they were
nothing, and worth nothing to anybody--even to themselves, would
have been the judgment of most strangers concerning them; but God
knew what a life of unspeakable pleasures it was that he had given
them-a life the change from which to the life beyond, would scarce
be distracting: neither would find himself much out of doors when he
died. To Rob of the Angels tow could Abraham's bosom feel strange,
accustomed to lie night after night, star-melted and soft-breathing,
or snow-ghastly and howling, with his head on--the bosom of Hector
of the Stags-an Abraham who could as ill do without his Isaac, as
his Isaac without him!

The father trusted his son's hearing as implicitly as his own sight.
When he saw a certain look come on his face, he would drop on the
instant, and crouch as still as if he had ears and knew what noise
was, watching Rob's face for news of some sound wandering through
the vast of the night.

It seemed at times, however, as if either he was not quite deaf, or
he had some gift that went toward compensation. To all motion about
him he was sensitive as no other man. I am afraid to say from how
far off the solid earth would convey to him the vibration of a
stag's footstep. Rob sometimes thought his cheek must feel the wind
of a sound to which his ear was irresponsive. Beyond a doubt he
was occasionally aware of the proximity of an animal, and knew
what animal it was, of which Rob had no intimation. His being,
corporeal and spiritual, seemed, to the ceaseless vibrations of the
great globe, a very seismograph. Often would he make his sign to
Rob to lay his ear on the ground and listen, when no indication had
reached the latter. I suspect the exceptional development in him of
some sense rudimentary in us all.

He had the keenest eyes in Glenruadh, and was a dead shot. Even the
chief was not his equal. Yet he never stalked a deer, never killed
anything, for mere sport. I am not certain he never had, but for Rob
of the Angels, he had the deep-rooted feeling of his chief in regard
to the animals. What they wanted for food, they would kill; but it
was not much they needed, for seldom can two men have lived on less,
and they had positively not a greed of any kind between them. If
their necessity was meal or potatoes, they would carry grouse or
hares down the glen, or arrange with some farmer's wife, perhaps
Mrs. Macruadh herself, for the haunches of a doe; but they never
killed from pleasure in killing. Of creatures destructive to game
they killed enough to do far more than make up for all the game they
took; and for the skins of ermine and stoat and fox and otter they
could always get money's worth; money itself they never sought or
had. If the little birds be regarded as earning the fruit and seed
they devour by the grubs and slugs they destroy, then Hector of the
Stags and Rob of the Angels also thoroughly earned their food.

When a trustworthy messenger was wanted, and Rob was within reach,
he was sure to be employed. But not even then were his father and he
quite parted. Hector would shoulder his gun, and follow in the track
of his fleet-footed son till he met him returning.

For what was life to Hector but to be with Rob! Was his Mary's son
to go about the world unattended! He had a yet stronger feeling than
any of the clan that his son was not of the common race of mortals.
To Hector also, after their own fashion, would Rob of the Angels
tell the tales that suggested the name his clanspeople gave
him--wonderful tales of the high mountain-nights, the actors in them
for the most part angels. Whether Rob believed he had intercourse
with such beings, heard them speak, and saw them, do the things he
reported, I cannot tell: it may be that, like any other poet of good
things, he but saw and believed the things his tales meant, the
things with which he represented the angels as dealing, and
concerning which he told their sayings. To the eyes of those who
knew him, Rob seemed just the sort of person with whom the angels
might be well pleased to hold converse: was he not simplicity
itself, truth, generosity, helpfulness? Did he not, when a child,
all but lose his life in the rescue of an idiot from the swollen
burn? Did he not, when a boy, fight a great golden eagle on its
nest, thinking to deliver the lamb it had carried away? Knowing his
father in want of a new bonnet, did not Rob with his bare hands
seize an otter at the mouth of its hole, and carry it home, laughing
merrily over the wounds it had given him?

His voice had in it a strangely peculiar tone, making it seem not of
this world. Especially after he had been talking for some time, it
would appear to come from far away, not from the lips of the man
looking you in the face.

It was wonderful with what solemnity of speech, and purity of form
he would tell his tales. So much in solitude with his dumb father,
his speech might well be unlike the speech of other men; but whence
the impression of cultivation it produced?

When the Christmas party broke up, most of the guests took the road
toward the village, the chief and his brother accompanying them part
of the way. Of these were Rob and his father, walking hand in hand,
Hector looking straight before him, Rob gazing up into the heavens,
as if holding counsel with the stars.

"Are you seeing any angels, Rob?" asked a gentle girl of ten.

"Well, and I'm not sure," answered Rob of the Angels.

"Sure you can tell whether you see anything!"

"Oh, yes, I see! but it is not easy to tell what will be an angel
and what will not. There's so much all blue up there, it might be
full of angels and none of us see one of them!"

"Do tell us what you see, Rob, dear Rob," said the girl.

"Well, and I will tell you. I think I see many heads close together,
talking."

"And can you hear what they will be saying?"

"Some of it."

"Tell me, do tell me-some-just a little."

"Well then, they are saying, one to the other--not very plain, but I
can hear--they are saying, 'I wonder when people will be good! It
would be so easy, if only they would mean it, and begin when they
are little!' That's what they are saying as they look down on us
walking along."

"That will be good advice, Rob!" said one of the women.

"And," he resumed, "they are saying now--at least that is what it
sounds to me--'I wish women were as good as they were when they
were little girls!'"

"Now I know they are not saying that!" remarked the woman. "How
should the angels trouble themselves about us! Rob, dear, confess
you are making it up, because the child would be asking you."

Rob made no answer, but some saw him smile a curious smile. Rob
would never defend anything he had said, or dispute anything another
said. After a moment or two, he spoke again.

"Shall I be telling you what I heard them saying to each other this
last night of all?" he asked.

"Yes, do, do!"

"It was upon Dorrachbeg; and there were two of them. They were
sitting together in the moon--in the correi on the side of the hill
over the village. I was lying in a bush near them, for I could not
sleep, and came out, and the night was not cold. Now I would never
be so bad-mannered as to listen where persons did not want me to
hear."

"What were they like, Rob, dear?" interrupted the girl.

"That does not matter much," answered Rob; "but they were white, and
their eyes not so white, but brighter; for so many sad things go in
at their eyes when they come down to the earth, that it makes them
dark."

"How could they be brighter and darker both at once?" asked the
girl, very pertinently.

"I will tell you," answered Rob. "The dark things that go in at
their eyes, they have to burn them in the fire of faith; and it is
the fire of that burning that makes their eyes bright; it is the
fire of their faith burning up the sad things they see."

"Oh, yes! I understand now!" said the girl. "And what were their
clothes like, Rob?"

"When you see the angels, you don't think much about their clothes."

"And what were they saying?"

"I spoke first--the moment I saw them, for I was not sure they knew
that I was there. I said, 'I am here, gentlemen.' 'Yes, we know
that,' they answered. 'Are you far from home, gentlemen?' I asked.
'It is all one for that,' they answered. 'Well,' said I, 'it is
true, gentlemen, for you seem as much at home here on the side of
Dorrachbeg, as if it was a hill in paradise!' 'And how do you know
it is not?' said they. 'Because I see people do upon it as they
would not in paradise,' I answered. 'Ah!' said one of them, 'the
hill may be in paradise, and the people not! But you cannot
understand these things.' 'I think I do,' I said; 'but surely, if
you did let them know they were on a hill in paradise, they would
not do as they do!' 'It would be no use telling them,' said he;
'but, oh, how they spoil the house!' 'Are the red deer, and the
hares, and the birds in paradise?' I asked. 'Certain sure!' he
answered. 'Do they know it?' said I. 'No, it is not necessary for
them; but they will know it one day.' 'You do not mind your little
brother asking you questions?' I said. 'Ask a hundred, if you will,
little brother,' he replied. 'Then tell me why you are down here
to-night.' 'My friend and I came out for a walk, and we thought we
would look to see when the village down there will have to be
reaped.' 'What do you mean?' I said. 'You cannot see what we see,'
they answered; 'but a human place is like a flower, or a field of
corn, and grows ripe, or won't grow ripe, and then some of us up
there have to sharpen our sickles.' 'What!' said I, for a great fear
came upon me, 'they are not wicked people down there!' 'No, not very
wicked, but slow and dull.' Then I could say nothing more for a
while, and they did not speak either, but sat looking before them.
'Can you go and come as you please?' I asked at length. 'Yes, just
as we are sent,' they answered. 'Would you not like better to go and
come of yourselves, as my father and I do?' I said. 'No,' answered
both of them, and something in their one voice almost frightened me;
'it is better than everything to go where we are sent. If we had to
go and come at our own will, we should be miserable, for we do not
love our own will.' 'Not love your own will?' 'No, not at all!'
'Why?' 'Because there is one--oh, ever so much better! When you and
your father are quite good, you will not be left to go and come at
your own will any more than we are.' And I cried out, and said, 'Oh,
dear angel! you frighten me!' And he said, 'That is because you are
only a man, and not a--' Now I am not sure of the word he said next;
bat I think it was CHRISTIAN; and I do not quite know what the word
meant."

"Oh, Rob, dear! everybody knows that!" exclaimed the girl.

But Rob said no more.

While he was talking, Alister had come up behind him, with Annie of
the shop, and he said--

"Rob, my friend, I know what you mean, and I want to hear the rest
of it: what did the angels say next?"

"They said," answered Rob, "--'Was it your will set you on this
beautiful hill, with all these things to love, with such air to
breathe, such a father as you've got, and such grand deer about
you?' 'No,' I answered. 'Then,' said the angel, 'there must be a
better will than yours, for you would never have even thought of
such things!' 'How could I, when I wasn't made?' said I. 'There it
is!' he returned, and said no more. I looked up, and the moon was
shining, and there were no angels on the stone. But a little way off
was my father, come out to see what had become of me."

"Now did you really see and hear all that, Rob?" said Alister.

Rob smiled a beautiful smile--with something in it common people
would call idiotic--stopped and turned, took the chief's hand, and
carried it to his lips; but not a word more would he speak, and soon
they came where the path of the two turned away over the hill.

"Will you not come and sleep at our house?" said one of the company.

But they made kindly excuse.

"The hill-side would miss us; we are expected home!" said Rob--and
away they climbed to their hut, a hollow in a limestone rock, with a
front wall of turf, there to sleep side by side till the morning
came, or, as Rob would have said, "till the wind of the sun woke
them."

Rob of the Angels made songs, and would sing one sometimes; but they
were in Gaelic, and the more poetic a thing, the more inadequate at
least, if not stupid is its translation.

He had all the old legends of the country in his head, and many
stories of ghosts and of the second sight. These stories he would
tell exactly as he had heard them, showing he believed every word of
them; but with such of the legends as were plainly no other than
poetic inventions, he would take what liberties he pleased--and they
lost nothing by it; for he not only gave them touches of fresh
interest, but sent glimmering through them hints of something
higher, of which ordinary natures perceived nothing, while others
were dimly aware of a loftier intent: according to his listeners was
their hearing. In Rob's stories, as in all the finer work of genius,
a man would find as much as, and no more than, he was capable of.
Ian's opinion of Rob was even higher than Alister's.

"What do you think, Ian, of the stories Rob of the Angels tells?"
asked Alister, as they walked home.

"That the Lord has chosen the weak things of the world to confound
the mighty," answered Ian.

"Tut! Rob confounds nobody."

"He confounds me," returned Ian.

"Does he believe what he tells?"

"He believes all of it that is to be believed," replied Ian.

"You are as bad as he!" rejoined Alister. "There is no telling,
sometimes, what you mean!"

"Tell me this, Alister: can a thing be believed that is not true?"

"Yes, certainly!"

"I say, NO. Can you eat that which is not bread?"

"I have seen a poor fellow gnawing a stick for hunger!" answered
Alister.

"Yes, gnawing! but gnawing is not eating. Did the poor fellow eat
the stick? That is just it! Many a man will gnaw at a lie all his
life, and perish of want. I mean LIE, of course, the real lie--a
thing which is in its nature false. He may gnaw at it, he may even
swallow it, but I deny that he can believe it. There is not that in
it which can be believed; at most it can but be supposed to be true.
Belief is another thing. Truth is alone the correlate of belief,
just as air is for the lungs, just as form and colour are for the
sight. A lie can no more be believed than carbonic acid can be
breathed. It goes into the lungs, true, and a lie goes into the
mind, but both kill; the one is not BREATHED, the other is not
BELIEVED. The thing that is not true cannot find its way to the home
of faith; if it could, it would be at once rejected with a loathing
beyond utterance; to a pure soul, which alone can believe, nothing
is so loathsome as a pretence of truth. A lie is a pretended truth.
If there were no truth there could be no lie. As the devil upon God,
the very being of a lie depends on that whose opposite and enemy it
is. But tell me, Alister, do you believe the parables of our Lord?"

"With all my heart."

"Was there any real person in our Lord's mind when he told that one
about the unjust judge?"

"I do not suppose there was; but there were doubtless many such."

"Many who would listen to a poor woman because she plagued them?"

"Well, it does not matter; what the story teaches is true, and that
was what he wanted believed."

"Just so. The truth in the parables is what they mean, not what they
say; and so it is, I think, with Rob of the Angels' stories. He
believes all that can be believed of them. At the same time, to a
mind so simple, the spirit of God must have freer entrance than to
ours--perhaps even teaches the man by what we call THE MAN'S OWN
WORDS. His words may go before his ideas--his higher ideas at
least--his ideas follow after his words. As the half-thoughts pass
through his mind--who can say how much generated by himself, how
much directly suggested by the eternal thought in which his spirit
lives and breathes!--he drinks and is refreshed. I am convinced that
nowhere so much as in the highest knowledge of all--what the people
above count knowledge--will the fulfilment of the saying of our
Lord, "Many first shall be last, and the last first," cause
astonishment; that a man who has been leader of the age's opinion,
may be immeasurably behind another whom he would have shut up in a
mad-house. Depend upon it, things go on in the soul of that Rob of
the Angels which the angels, whether they come to talk with him or
not, would gladly look into. Of such as he the angels may one day be
the pupils."

A silence followed.

"Do you think the young ladies of the New House could understand Rob
of the Angels, Ian?" at length asked Alister.

"Not a bit. I tried the younger, and she is the best.--They could if
they would wake up."

"You might say that of anybody!"

"Yes; but there is this among other differences--that some people do
not wake up, because they want a new brain first, such as they will
get when they die, perhaps; while others do not wake up, because
their whole education has been a rocking of them to sleep. And there
is this difference between the girls, that the one is full of
herself, and the other is not. The one has a close, the other an
open mind."

"And yet," said Alister, "if they heard you say so, the open mind
would imagine itself the close, and the close never doubt it was the
open!"



CHAPTER III

AT THE NEW HOUSE.


The ladies of the New House were not a little surprised the next day
when, as they sat waiting their guests, the door of the drawing-room
opened, and they saw the young highlanders enter in ordinary evening
dress. The plough-driving laird himself looked to Christina very
much like her patterns of Grosvenor-square. It was long since he had
worn his dress-coat, and it was certainly a little small for his
more fully developed frame, but he carried himself as straight as a
rush, and was nowise embarrassed with hands or feet. His hands were
brown and large, but they were well shaped, and not ashamed of
themselves, being as clean as his heart. Out of his hazel eyes,
looking in the candle-light nearly as dark as Mercy's, went an
occasional glance which an emergency might at once develop into a
look of command.

For Ian, he would have attracted attention anywhere, if only from
his look of quiet UNSELFNESS, and the invariable grace of the
movement that broke his marked repose; but his entertainers would
doubtless have honoured him more had they understood that his manner
was just the same and himself as much at home in the grandest court
of Europe.

The elder ladies got on together pretty well. The widow of the chief
tried to explain to her hostess the condition of the country and its
people; the latter, though knowing little and caring less about
relations beyond those of the family and social circle, nor feeling
any purely human responsibility, was yet interested enough to be
able to seem more interested than she was; while her sweet smile and
sweet manners were very pleasing to one who seldom now had the
opportunity of meeting a woman so much on her own level.

The gentlemen, too, were tolerably comfortable together. Both
Alister and Ian had plenty of talk and anecdote. The latter pleased
the ladies with descriptions of northern ways and dresses and
manners--perhaps yet more with what pleased the men also, tales of
wolf-and bear-shooting. But it seemed odd that, when the talk
turned upon the home-shooting called sport, both Alister and Ian
should sit in unsmiling silence.

There was in Ian a certain playfulness, a subdued merriment, which
made Mercy doubt her ears after his seriousness of the night before.
Life seemed to flash from him on all sides, occasionally in a keen
stroke of wit, oftener in a humorous presentation of things. His
brother alone could see how he would check the witticism on his very
lips lest it should hurt. It was in virtue of his tenderness toward
everything that had life that he was able to give such narratives
of what he had seen, such descriptions of persons he had met. When
he told a story, it was with such quiet participation, manifest in
the gleam of his gray eyes, in the smile that hovered like the very
soul of Psyche about his lips, that his hearers enjoyed the telling
more than the tale. Even the chief listened with eagerness to every
word that fell from his brother.

The ladies took note that, while the manners of the laird and his
mother were in a measure old-fashioned, those of Ian were of the
latest: with social custom, in its flow of change, he seemed at
home. But his ease never for a moment degenerated into the
free-and-easy, the dry rot of manners; there was a stateliness in
him that dominated the ease, and a courtesy that would not permit
frendliness to fall into premature familiarity. He was at ease with
his fellows because he respected them, and courteous because he
loved them.

The ladies withdrew, and with their departure came the time that
tests the man whether he be in truth a gentleman. In the presence of
women the polish that is not revelation but concealment preserves
itself only to vanish with them. How would not some women stand
aghast to hear but a specimen of the talk of their heroes at such a
time!

It had been remarked throughout the dinner that the highlanders took
no wine; but it was supposed they were reserving their powers. When
they now passed decanter and bottle and jug without filling their
glasses, it gave offence to the very soul of Mr. Peregrine Palmer.
The bettered custom of the present day had not then made progress
enough to affect his table; he was not only fond of a glass of good
wine, but had the ambition of the cellar largely developed; he would
fain be held a connaisseur in wines, and kept up a good stock of
distinguished vintages, from which he had brought of such to
Glenruadh as would best bear the carriage. Having no aspiration,
there was room in him for any number of petty ambitions; and it
vexed him not to reap the harvest of recognition. "But of course,"
he said to himself, "no highlander understands anything but whisky!"

"You don't mean you're a teetotaler, Macruadh!" he said.

"No," answered the chief; "I do not call myself one; but I never
drink anything strong."

"Not on Christmas-day? Of course you make an exception at times; and
if at any time, why not on the merriest day of the year? You are
under no pledge!"

"If that were a reason," returned Alister, laughing, "it would
rather be one for becoming pledged immediately."

"Well, you surprise me! And highlanders too! I thought better of all
highlanders; they have the reputation of good men at the bottle! You
make me sorry to have brought my wine where it meets with no
consideration.--Mr. Ian, you are a man of the world: you will not
refuse to pledge me?"

"I must, Mr. Palmer! The fact is, my brother and I have seen so much
evil come of the drinking habits of the country, which always get
worse in a time of depression, that we dare not give in to them. My
father, who was clergyman of the parish before he became head of the
clan, was of the same mind before us, and brought us up not to
drink. Throughout a whole Siberian winter I kept the rule."

"And got frost-bitten for your pains?"

"And found myself nothing the worse."

"It's mighty good of you, no doubt!" said the host, with a curl of
his shaven lip.

"You can hardly call that good which does not involve any
self-denial!" remarked Alister.

"Well," said Mr. Peregrine Palmer, "what IS the world coming to? All
the pith is leaking out of our young men. In another generation we
shall have neither soldiers nor sailors nor statesmen!"

"On what do you found such a sad conclusion?" inquired Ian.

"On the growth of asceticism in the young men. Believe me, it is
necessary to manhood that men when they are young should drink a
little, gamble a little, and sow a few wild oats--as necessary as
that a nation should found itself by the law of the strongest. How
else can we look for the moderation to follow with responsibilities?
The vices that are more than excusable in the young, are very
properly denied to the married man; the law for him is not the same
as for the young man. I do not plead for license, you see; but it
will never do for young men to turn ascetics! Let the clergy do as
they please; they are hardly to be counted men; at least their
calling is not a manly one! Depend upon it, young men who do not
follow the dictates of nature--while they are young, I mean--will
never make any mark in the world! They dry up like a nut, brain and
all, and have neither spirit, nor wit, nor force of any kind. Nature
knows best! When I was a young man,--"

"Pray spare us confession, Mr. Palmer," said Ian. "In our case your
doctrine does not enter willing ears, and I should be sorry anything
we might feel compelled to say, should have the appearance of
personality."

"Do you suppose I should heed anything you said?" cried the host,
betraying the bad blood in his breeding. "Is it manners here to
prevent a man from speaking his mind at his own table? I say a saint
is not a man! A fellow that will neither look at a woman nor drink
his glass, is not cut out for man's work in the world!"

Like a sledge-hammer came the fist of the laird on the table, that
the crystal danced and rang.

"My God!" he exclaimed, and rose in hugest indignation.

Ian laid his hand on his arm, and he sat down again.

"There may be some misunderstanding, Alister," said Ian, "between us
and our host!--Pray, Mr. Palmer, let us understand each other: do
you believe God made woman to be the slave of man? Can you believe
he ever made a woman that she might be dishonoured?--that a man
might caress and despise her?"

"I know nothing about God's intentions; all I say is, we must obey
the laws of our nature."

"Is conscience then not a law of our nature? Or is it below the
level of our instincts? Must not the lower laws be subject to the
higher? It is a law--for ever broken, yet eternal--that a man is his
brother's keeper: still more must he be his sister's keeper. Therein
is involved all civilization, all national as well as individual
growth."

Mr. Peregrine Palmer smiled a contemptuous smile. The other young
men exchanged glances that seemed to say, "The governor knows what's
what!"

"Such may be the popular feeling in this out-of-the-way spot," said
Mr. Peregrine Palmer, "and no doubt it is very praiseworthy, but the
world is not of your opinion, gentlemen."

"The world has got to come to our opinion," said the laird--at which
the young men of the house broke into a laugh.

"May we join the ladies?" said Ian, rising.

"By all means," answered the host, with a laugh meant to be
good-humoured; "they are the fittest company for you."

As the brothers went up the stair, they heard their host again
holding forth; but they would not have been much edified by the
slight change of front he had made--to impress on the young men the
necessity of moderation in their pleasures.

There are two opposite classes related by a like unbelief--those who
will not believe in the existence of the good of which they have
apprehended no approximate instance, and those who will not believe
in the existence of similar evil. I tell the one class, there are
men who would cast their very being from them rather than be such as
they; and the other, that their shutting of their eyes is no potent
reason for the shutting of my mouth. There are multitudes delicate
as they, who are compelled to meet evil face to face, and fight with
it the sternest of battles: on their side may I be found! What the
Lord knew and recognized, I will know and recognize too, be shocked
who may. I spare them, however, any more of the talk at that
dinner-table. Only let them take heed lest their refinement involve
a very bad selfishness. Cursed be the evil thing, not ignored! Mrs.
Palmer, sweet-smiled and clear-eyed, never showed the least
indignation at her husband's doctrines. I fear she was devoid of
indignation on behalf of others. Very far are such from
understanding the ways of the all-pardoning, all-punishing Father!

The three from the cottage were half-way home ere the gentlemen of
the New House rose from their wine. Then first the mother sought an
explanation of the early departure they had suggested.

"Something went wrong, sons: what was it she said?"

"I don't like the men, mother; nor does Ian," answered Alister
gloomily.

"Take care you are not unjust!" she replied.

"You would not have liked Mr. Palmer's doctrine any better than we
did, mother."

"What was it?"

"We would rather not tell you."

"It was not fit for a woman to hear."

"Then do not tell me. I trust you to defend women."

"In God's name we will!" said Alister.

"There is no occasion for an oath, Alister!" said his mother.

"Alister meant it very solemnly!" said Ian.

"Yes; but it was not necessary--least of all to me. The name of our
Lord God should lie a precious jewel in the cabinet of our hearts,
to be taken out only at great times, and with loving awe."

"I shall be careful, mother," answered Alister; "but when things
make me sorry, or glad, or angry, I always think of God first!"

"I understand you; but I fear taking the name of God in vain."

"It shall not be in vain, mother!" said the laird.

"Must it be a breach with our new neighbours?" asked the mother.

"It will depend on them. The thing began because we would not drink
with them."

"You did not make any remark?"

"Not until our host's remarks called for our reasons. By the way, I
should like to know how the man made his money."



CHAPTER IV.

THE BROTHERS.


Events, then, because of the deeper things whence they came, seemed
sorely against any cordial approach of the old and the new houses of
Glenruadh. But there was a sacred enemy within the stronghold of Mr.
Peregrine Palmer, and that enemy forbade him to break with the young
highlanders notwithstanding the downright mode in which they had
expressed their difference with him: he felt, without knowing it,
ashamed of the things he had uttered; they were not such as he would
wish proclaimed from the house-tops out of the midst of which rose
heavenward the spire of the church he had built; neither did the
fact that he would have no man be wicked on Sundays, make him feel
quite right in urging young men to their swing on other days.

Christian and Sercombe could not but admire the straightforwardness
of the brothers; their conventionality could not prevent them from
feeling the dignity with which they acted on their convictions. The
quixotic young fellows ought not to be cut for their behaviour! They
could not court their society, but would treat them with
consideration! Things could not well happen to bring them into much
proximity!

What had taken place could not definitely influence the ideas,
feelings, or opinions of the young ladies. Their father would sooner
have had his hand cut off than any word said over that fuliginous
dessert reach the ears of his daughters. Is it not an absolute
damnation of certain evil principles, that many men would be flayed
alive rather than let those they love know that they hold them? But
see the selfishness of such men: each looks with scorn on the woman
he has done his part to degrade, but not an impure breath must reach
the ears of HIS children! Another man's he will send to the devil!

Mr. Palmer did, however, communicate something of the conversation
to his wife; and although she had neither the spirit, nor the
insight, nor the active purity, to tell him he was in the wrong, she
did not like the young highlanders the worse. She even thought it a
pity the world should have been so made that they could not be in
the right.

It is wonderful how a bird of the air will carry a matter, and some
vaguest impression of what had occurred alighted on the minds of the
elder girls--possibly from hints supposed unintelligible, passing
between Mr. Sercombe and Christian: something in the social opinions
of the two highlanders made those opinions differ much from the
opinions prevailing in society! Now even Mercy had not escaped some
notion of things of which the air about her was full; and she felt
the glow of a conscious attraction towards men--somehow, she did not
know how--like old-fashioned knights errant in their relations to
women.

The attachment between the brothers was unusual both in kind and
degree. Alister regarded Ian as his better self, through whom to
rise above himself; Ian looked up to his brother as the head of the
family, uniting in himself all ancestral claims, the representative
of an ordered and harmonious commonwealth. He saw in Alister virtues
and powers he did not recognize in himself. His love blossomed into
the deeper devotion that he only had been sent to college: he was
bound to share with his elder brother what he had learned. So
Alister got more through Ian than he would have got at the best
college in the world. For Ian was a born teacher, and found
intensest delight, not in imparting knowledge--that is a
comparatively poor thing--but in leading a mind up to see what it
was before incapable of seeing. It was part of the same gift that he
always knew when he had not succeeded. In Alister he found a
wonderful docility--crossed indeed with a great pride, against
which he fought sturdily.

It is not a good sign of any age that it should find it hard to
believe in such simplicity and purity as that of these young men; it
is perhaps even a worse sign of our own that we should find it
difficult to believe in such love between men. I am sure of this,
that a man incapable of loving another man with hearty devotion, can
not be capable of loving a woman as a woman ought to be loved. From
each other these two kept positively nothing secret.

Alister had a great love of music, which however had had little
development except from the study of the violin, with the assistance
of a certain poor enough performer in the village, and what
criticism his brother could afford him, who, not himself a player,
had heard much good music. But Alister was sorely hampered by the
fact that his mother could not bear the sound of it. The late chief
was one of the few clergymen who played the violin; and at the first
wail of the old instrument in the hands of his son, his widow was
seized with such a passion of weeping, that Alister took the utmost
care she should never hear it again, always carrying it to some
place too remote for the farthest-travelling tones to reach her. But
this was not easy, for sound will travel very far among the hills.
At times he would take it to the room behind Annie's shop, at times
to the hut occupied by Hector of the Stags: there he would not
excruciate his host at least, and Rob of the Angels would endure
anything for his chief. The place which he most preferred was too
distant to be often visited; but there, soon after Christmas, the
brothers now resolved to have a day together, a long talk, and a
conference with the violin. On a clear frosty morning in January
they set out, provided for a night and two days.

The place was upon an upland pasture-ground, yet in their
possession: no farm was complete without a range in some high valley
for the sheep and cattle in summer. On the north of this valley
stood a bare hilltop, whose crest was a limestone rock, rising from
the heather about twenty feet. Every summer they had spent weeks of
their boyhood with the shepherds, in the society of this hill, and
one day discovered in its crest a shallow cave, to which thereafter
they often took their food, and the book they were reading together.
There they read the English Ossian, troubled by no ignorant
unbelief; and there they made Gaelic songs, in which Alister
excelled, while Ian did better in English.

When Ian was at home in the university-vacations, they were fonder
than ever of going to the hill. There Ian would pour out to Alister
of the fullness of his gathered knowledge, and there and then they
made their first acquaintance with Shakspere. Ian had bought some
dozen of his plays, in smallest compass and cleanest type, at a
penny a piece, and how they revelled in them the long summer
evenings! Ian had bought also, in a small thick volume, the poems of
Shelley: these gave them not only large delight, but much to talk
about, for they were quite capable of encountering his vague
philosophy. Then they had their Euclid and Virgil--and even tried
their mental teeth upon Dante, but found the Commedia without notes
too hard a nut for them. Every fresh spring, Ian brought with him
fresh books, and these they read in their cave. But I must not
forget the cave itself, which also shared in the progress of its
troglodytes.

The same week in which they first ate and read in it, they conceived
and began to embody the idea of developing the hollow into a house.
Foraging long ago in their father's library for mental pabulum, they
had come upon Belzoni's quarto, and had read, with the avidity of
imaginative boys, the tale of his discoveries, taking especial
delight in his explorations of the tombs of the kings in the rocks
of Beban el Malook: these it was that now suggested excavation.

They found serviceable tools about the place at home, and the rock
was not quite of the hardest. Not a summer, for the last seventeen
years, had passed without a good deal being done, Alister working
alone when Ian was away, and the cave had now assumed notable
dimensions. It was called by the people uamh an ceann, the cave of
the chief, and regarded as his country house. All around it was
covered with snow throughout the winter and spring, and supplied
little to the need of man beyond the blessed air, and a glorious
vision of sea and land, mountain and valley, falling water, gleaming
lake, and shadowy cliff.

Crossing the wide space where so lately they had burned the heather
that the sheep might have its young shoots in the spring, the
brothers stood, and gazed around with delight.

"There is nothing like this anywhere!" said Ian.

"Do you mean nothing so beautiful?" asked Alister.

"No; I mean just what I say: there is nothing like it. I do not care
a straw whether one scene be more or less beautiful than another;
what I do care for is--its individual speech to my soul. I feel
towards visions of nature as towards writers. If a book or a
prospect produces in my mind a mood that no other produces, then I
feel it individual, original, real, therefore precious. If a scene
or a song play upon the organ of my heart as no other scene or song
could, why should I ask at all whether it be beautiful? A bare hill
may be more to me than a garden of Damascus, but I love them both.
The first question as to any work of art is whether it puts the
willing soul into any mood at all peculiar; the second, what that
mood is. It matters to me little by whom our Ossian was composed,
and it matters nothing whoever may in his ignorance declare that
there never was an Ossian any more than a Homer: here is a something
that has power over my heart and soul, works upon them as not
anything else does. I do not ask whether its power be great or
small; it is enough that it is a peculiar power, one by itself; that
it puts my spiritual consciousness in a certain individual
condition, such in character as nothing else can occasion. Either a
man or a nation must have felt to make me so feel."

They were now climbing the last slope of the hill on whose top stood
their playhouse, dearer now than in their boyhood. Alister
occasionally went there for a few hours' solitude, and Ian would
write there for days at a time, but in general when they visited the
place it was together. Alister unlocked the door and they entered.

Unwilling to spend labour on the introductory, they had made the
first chamber hardly larger than the room required for opening the
door. Immediately within, another door opened into a room of about
eight feet by twelve, with two small windows. Its hearth was a
projection from the floor of the live stone; and there, all ready
for lighting, was a large pile of peats. The chimney went up through
the rock, and had been the most difficult part of their undertaking.
They had to work it much wider than was necessary for the smoke, and
then to reduce its capacity with stone and lime. Now and then it
smoked, but peat-smoke is sweet.

The first thing after lighting the fire, was to fill their kettle,
for which they had to take off the snow-lid of a small spring near
at hand. Then they made a good meal of tea, mutton-ham, oatcakes and
butter. The only seats in the room were a bench in each of two of
the walls, and a chair on each side of the hearth, all of the live
rock.

From this opened two rooms more--one a bedroom, with a bed in the
rock-wall, big enough for two. Dry heather stood thick between the
mattress and the stone. The third room, of which they intended
making a parlour, was not yet more than half excavated; and there,
when they had rested a while, they began to bore and chip at the
stone. Their progress was slow, for the grain was close: never, even
when the snow above was melting, had the least moisture come
through. For a time they worked and talked: both talked better when
using their hands. Then Alister stopped, and played while Ian went
on; Ian stopped next, and read aloud from a manuscript he had
brought, while his brother again worked. But first he gave Alister
the history of what he was going to read. It was suggested, he said,
by that strange poem of William Mayne's, called "The Dead Man's
Moan," founded on the silly notion that the man himself is buried,
and not merely his body.

   "I wish I were up to straught my banes,
        And drive frae my face the cauld, dead air;
    I wish I were up, that the friendly rains
        Micht wash the dark mould frae my tangled hair!"

quoted Ian, and added,

"I thought I should like to follow out the idea, and see what ought
to come of it. I therefore supposed a person seized by something of
the cataleptic kind, from which he comes to himself still in the
body, but unable to hold communication with the outer world. He
thinks therefore that he is dead and buried. Recovering from his
first horror, he reflects that, as he did not make himself think and
feel, nor can cease to think and feel if he would, there must be
somewhere--and where but within himself?--the power by which he
thinks and feels, a power whose care it must be, for it can belong
to no other, to look after the creature he has made. Then comes to
him the prayer of Job, 'Oh that thou wouldst hide me in the grave
till thy anger with me was past! Then wouldst thou desire to see
again the work of thy hands, the creature thou hadst made! Then
wouldst thou call, and I would answer.' So grandly is the man
comforted thereby, that he breaks out in a dumb song of triumph over
death and the grave. As its last tone dies in him, a kiss falls upon
his lips. It is the farewell of the earth; the same moment he bursts
the bonds and rises above the clouds of the body, and enters into
the joy of his Lord."

Having thus prepared Alister to hear without having to think as well
as attend, which is not good for poetry, Ian read his verses. I will
not trouble my reader with them; I am sure he would not think so
well of them as did Alister. What Ian desired was sympathy, not
admiration, but from Alister he had both.

Few men would care to hear the talk of those two, for they had no
interest in anything that did not belong to the reality of things.
To them the things most men count real, were the merest phantasms.
They sought what would not merely last, but must go on growing. At
strife with all their known selfishness, they were growing into
strife with all the selfishness in them as yet unknown. There was
for them no question of choice; they MUST choose what was true; they
MUST choose life; they MUST NOT walk in the way of death.

They were very near to agreeing about EVERYthing they should ask.
Few men are capable of understanding such love as theirs, of
understanding the love of David and Jonathan, of Shakspere to W. H.,
of Tennyson and Hallam. Every such love, nevertheless, is a
possession of the race; what has once been is, in possibility to
come, as well as in fact that has come. A solitary instance of
anything great is enough to prove it human, yea necessary to
humanity. I have wondered whether the man in whom such love is
possible, may not spring of an altogether happy conjunction of male
and female--a father and mother who not only loved each other, but
were of the same mind in high things, of the same lofty aims in
life, so that their progeny came of their true man-and-woman-hood.
If any unaccountable disruption or discord of soul appear in a man,
it is worth while to ask whether his father and mother were of one
aspiration. Might not the fact that their marriage did not go deep
enough, that father and mother were not of one mind, only of one
body, serve to account for the rude results of some marriages of
personable people? At the same time we must not forget the endless
and unfathomable perpetuations of ancestry. But however these things
may be, those two men, brothers born, were also brothers willed.

They ceased quarrying, and returned to the outer room. Ian betook
himself to drawing figures on one of the walls, with the intention
of carving them in dipped relief. Alister proceeded to take their
bedding from before the fire, and prepare for the night.



CHAPTER V.

THE PRINCESS.


While they were thus busied, Ian, with his face to the wall, in the
dim light of the candle by which he was making his first rough
sketches, began the story of his flight from Russia. Long ere he
ended, Alister came close behind him, and there stood, his bosom
heaving with emotion, his eyes burning with a dry fire. Ian was
perfectly composed, his voice quiet and low.

I will not give his tale in the first person; and will tell of it
only as much as I think it necessary my reader should know.

Having accepted a commission of the Czar, he was placed in a post of
trust in the palace.

In one apartment of it, lived an imperial princess, the burden of
whose rank had not even the alleviation of society. Her disclosure
of a sympathy with oppressed humanity had wakened a doubt as to her
politics, and she was virtually a prisoner, restricted to a corner
of the huge dwelling, and allowed to see hardly any but her women.
Her father had fallen into disgrace before her, and her mother was
dead of grief. All around her were spies, and love was nowhere.
Gladly would she have yielded every rag of her rank, to breathe the
air of freedom. To be a peasant girl on her father's land, would be
a life of rapture!

She knew little of the solace books might have given her. With a
mind capable of rapid development, she had been ill taught except in
music; and that, alone, cannot do much for spiritual development; it
cannot enable the longing, the aspiration it rouses, to understand
itself; it cannot lead back to its own eternal source.

She knew no one in whom to trust, or from whom to draw comfort; her
confessor was a man of the world, incapable of leading her to any
fountain of living water; she had no one to tell her of God and his
fatherhood, the only and perfect refuge from the divine miseries of
loneliness.

A great corridor went from end to end of one of the wings of the
palace, and from this corridor another passage led toward the
apartment of the princess, consisting of some five or six rooms. At
certain times of the day, Ian had to be at the beginning of the
corridor, at the head of a huge stair with a spacious hall-like
landing. Along the corridor few passed, for the attendants used a
back stair and passages. As he sat in the recess of a large window,
where stood a table and chair for his use, Ian one morning heard a
cry--whence, he never knew--and darted along the corridor, thinking
assistance might be wanted. When about halfway down, he saw a lady
enter, near the end of it, and come slowly along. He stood aside,
respectfully waiting till she should pass. Her eyes were on the
ground, but as she came near she raised them. The sadness of them
went to his heart, and his soul rushed into his. The princess, I
imagine, had never before met such an expression, and misunderstood
it. Lonely, rejected, too helpless even to hope, it seemed full of
something she had all her life been longing for--a soul to be her
refuge from the wind, her covert from the tempest, her shadow as of
a great rock in the weary land where no one cared for her. She stood
and gazed at him.

Ian at once perceived who she must be, and stood waiting for some
expression of her pleasure. But she appeared fascinated; her eyes
remained on his, for they seemed to her to be promising help. Her
fascination fascinated him, and for some moments they stood thus,
regarding each other. Ian felt he must break the spell. It was her
part to speak, his to obey, but he knew the danger of the smallest
suspicion. If she was a princess and he but a soldier on guard, she
was a woman and he was a man: he was there to protect her! "How may
I serve your imperial highness?" he asked. She was silent yet a
moment, then said, "Your name?" He gave it. "Your nation?" He stated
it. "When are you here?" He told her his hours. "I will see you
again," she said, and turned and went back.

From that moment she loved him, and thought he loved her. But,
though he would willingly have died for her, he did not love her as
she thought. Alister wondered to hear him say so. At such a moment,
and heart-free, Alister could no more have helped falling in love
with her than he could help opening his eyes when the light shone on
their lids. Ian, with a greater love for his kind than even Alister,
and with a tenderness for womankind altogether infinite, was not
ready to fall in love. Accessible indeed he was to the finest of
Nature's witcheries; ready for the response as of summer lightnings
from opposing horizons; all aware of loveliest difference, of refuge
and mysterious complement; but he was not prone to fall in love.

The princess, knowing the ways of the house, contrived to see him
pretty often. He talked to her of the hest he knew; he did what he
could to lighten her loneliness by finding her books and music; best
of all, he persuaded her--without difficulty--to read the New
Testament. In their few minutes of conference, he tried to show her
the Master of men as he showed himself to his friends; but their
time together was always so short, and their anxiety for each other
so great, seeing that discovery would be ruin to both, that they
could not go far with anything.

At length came an occasion when at parting they embraced. How it was
Ian could not tell. He blamed himself much, but Alister thought it
might not have been his fault. The same moment he was aware that he
did not love her and that he could not turn back. He was ready to do
anything, everything in honour; yet felt false inasmuch as he had
given her ground for believing that he felt towards her as he could
not help seeing she felt towards him. Had it been in his power to
order his own heart, he would have willed to love, and so would have
loved her. But the princess doubted nothing, and the change that
passed upon her was wonderful. The power of human love is next to
the power of God's love. Like a flower long repressed by cold, she
blossomed so suddenly in the sunshine of her bliss, that Ian greatly
dreaded the suspicion which the too evident alteration might arouse:
the plain, ordinary-looking young woman with fine eyes, began to put
on the robes of beauty. A softest vapour of rose, the colour of the
east when sundown sets it dreaming of sunrise, tinged her cheek; it
grew round like that of a girl; and ere two months were gone, she
looked years younger than her age. But Ian could never be absolutely
open with her; while she, poor princess, happy in her ignorance of
the shows of love, and absorbed in the joy of its great deliverance,
jealoused nothing of restraint, nothing of lack, either in his words
or in the caresses of which he was religiously sparing. He was
haunted by the dread of making her grieve who had already grieved so
much, and was but just risen from the dead.

One evening they met as usual in the twilight; in five minutes the
steps of the man would be heard coming to light the lamps of the
corridor, his guard would be over, and he must retire. Few words
passed, but they parted with more of lingering tenderness than
usual, and the princess put a little packet in his hand. The same
night his only friend in the service entered his room hurriedly, and
urged immediate flight: something had been, or was imagined to be
discovered, through which his liberty, perhaps his life, was
compromised; he must leave at once by a certain coach which would
start in an hour: there was but just time to disguise him; he must
make for a certain port on the Baltic, and there lie concealed until
a chance of getting away turned up!

Ian refused. He feared nothing, had done nothing to be ashamed of!
What was it to him if they did take his life! he could die as well
as another! Anxious about the princess, he persisted in his refusal,
and the coach went without him. Every passenger in that coach was
murdered. He saw afterward the signs of their fate in the snow.

In the middle of the night, a company of men in masks entered his
room, muffled his head, and hurried him into a carriage, which drove
rapidly away.

When it stopped, he thought he had arrived at some prison, but soon
found himself in another carriage, with two of the police. He could
have escaped had he been so minded, but he could do nothing for the
princess, and did not care what became of him. At a certain town his
attendants left him, with the assurance that if he did not make
haste out of the country, he would find they had not lost sight of
him.

But instead of obeying, he disguised himself, and took his way to
Moscow, where he had friends. Thence he wrote to his friend at St.
Petersburg. Not many letters passed ere he learned that the princess
was dead. She had been placed in closer confinement, her health gave
way, and by a rapid decline she had gained her freedom.

All the night through, not closing their eyes till the morning, the
brothers, with many intervals of thoughtful silence, lay talking.

"I am glad to think," said Alister, after one of these silences,
"you do not suffer so much, Ian, as if you had been downright in
love with her."

"I suffer far more," answered Ian with a sigh; "and I ought to
suffer more. It breaks my heart to think she had not so much from me
as she thought she had."

They were once more silent. Alister was full of trouble for his
brother. Ian at length spoke again.

"Alister," he said, "I must tell you everything! I know the truth
now. If I wronged her, she is having her revenge!"

By his tone Alister seemed through the darkness to see his sad
smile. He was silent, and Alister waited.

"She did not know much," Ian resumed. "I thought at first she had
nothing but good manners and a good heart; but the moment the sun of
another heart began to shine on her, the air of another's thought to
breathe upon her, the room of another soul to surround her, she
began to grow; and what more could God intend or man desire? As I
told you, she grew beautiful, and what sign of life is equal to
that!"

"But I want to know what you mean by her having her revenge on you?"
said Alister.

"Whether I loved her then or not, and I believe I did, beyond a
doubt I love her now. It needed only to be out of sight of her, and
see other women beside the memory of her, to know that I loved
her.--Alister, I LOVE HER!" repeated Ian with a strange exaltation.

"Oh, Ian!" groaned Alister; "how terrible for you!"

"Alister, you dear fellow!" returned Ian, "can you understand no
better than that? Do you not see I am happy now? My trouble was that
I did not love her--not that she loved me, but that I did not love
her! Now we shall love each other for ever!"

"How do you know that, Ian?"

"By knowing that I love her. If I had not come to know that, I could
not have said to myself I would love her for ever."

"But you can't marry her, Ian! The Lord said there would be no
marrying there!"

"Did he say there would be no loving there, Alister? Most people
seem to fancy he did, for how else could they forget the dead as
they do, and look so little for their resurrection? Few can be
said really to believe in any hereafter worth believing in. How many
go against the liking of the dead the moment they are gone-behave as
if they were nowhere, and could never call them to account! Their
plans do not recognize their existence; the life beyond is no factor
in their life here. If God has given me a hope altogether beyond
anything I could have generated for myself, beyond all the
likelihoods and fulfilments around me, what can I do but give him
room to verify it--what but look onward! Some people's bodies get so
tired that they long for the rest of the grave; it is my soul that
gets tired, and I know the grave can give that no rest; I look for
the rest of more life, more strength, more love. But God is not shut
up in heaven, neither is there one law of life there and another
here; I desire more life here, and shall have it, for what is
needful for this world is to be had in this world. In proportion as
I become one with God, I shall have it. This world never did seem my
home; I have never felt quite comfortable in it; I have yet to find,
and shall find the perfect home I have not felt this world, even my
mother's bosom to be. Nature herself is not lovely enough to satisfy
me. Nor can it be that I am beside myself, seeing I care only for
the will of God, not for my own. For what is madness but two or more
wills in one body? Does not the 'Bible itself tell us that we are
pilgrims and strangers in the world, that here we have no abiding
city? It is but a place to which we come to be made ready for
another. Yet I am sure those who regard it as their home, are not
half so well pleased with it as I. They are always grumbling at it.
'What wretched weather!' they say. 'What a cursed misfortune!'
they cry. 'What abominable luck!' they protest. Health is the
first thing, they say, and cannot find it. They complain that their
plans are thwarted, and when they succeed, that they do not yield
the satisfaction they expected. Yet they mock at him who says he
seeks a better country!--But I am keeping you awake, Alister! I will
talk no more. You must go to sleep!"

"It is better than any sleep to hear you talk, Ian," returned
Alister. "What a way you are ahead of me! I do love this world! When
I come to die, it will tear my heart to think that this cave which
you and I have dug out together, must pass into other hands! I love
every foot of the earth that remains to us--every foot that has been
taken from us. When I stand on the top of this rock, and breathe the
air of this mountain, I bless God we have still a spot to call our
own. It is quite a different thing from the love of mere land; I
could not feel the same toward any, however beautiful, that I had
but bought. This, our own old land, I feel as if I loved in
something the same way as I love my mother. Often in the hot
summer-days, lying on my face in the grass, I have kissed the earth
as if it were a live creature that could return my caresses! The
long grass is a passion to me, and next to the grass I love the
heather, not the growing corn. I am a fair farmer, I think, but I
would rather see the land grow what it pleased, than pass into the
hands of another. Place is to me sacred almost as body. There is at
least something akin between the love we bear to the bodies of our
friends, and that we bear to the place in which we were born and
brought up."

"That is all very true, Alister. I understand your feeling
perfectly; I have it myself. But we must be weaned, I say only
weaned, from that kind of thing; we must not love the outside as if
it were the inside! Everything comes that' we may know the sender-of
whom it is a symbol, that is, a far-off likeness of something in
him; and to him it must lead us-the self-existent, true, original
love, the making love. But I have felt all you say. I used to lie in
bed and imagine the earth alive and carrying me on her back, till I
fell asleep longing to see the face of my nurse. Once, the fancy
turned into a dream. I will try to recall a sonnet I made the same
night, before the dream came: it will help you to understand it. I
was then about nineteen, I believe. I did not care for it enough to
repeat it to you, and I fear we shall find it very bad."

Stopping often to recall and rearrange words and lines, Ian
completed at last the following sonnet:--

"She set me on my feet with steady hand, Among the crowding marvels
on her face, Bidding me rise, and run a strong man's race; Swathed
mo in circumstance's swaddling band; Fed me with her own self; then
bade me stand MYself entire,--while she was but a place Hewn for my
dwelling from the midst of space, A something better than HER sea or
land. Nay, Earth! thou bearest me upon thy back, Like a rough nurse,
and I can almost feel A touch of kindness in thy bands of steel,
Although I cannot see thy face, and track An onward purpose shining
through its black, Instinct with prophecy of future weal.

"There! It is not much, is it?"

"It is beautiful!" protested Alister.

"It is worth nothing," said Ian, "except between you and me-and that
it will make you understand my dream. That I shall never forget.
When a dream does us good we don't forget it.

"I thought I was home on the back of something great and strong-I
could not tell what; it might be an elephant or a great eagle or a
lion. It went sweeping swiftly along, the wind of its flight roaring
past me in a tempest. I began to grow frightened. Where could this
creature of such awful speed be carrying me? I prayed to God to take
care of me. The head of the creature turned to me, and I saw the
face of a woman, grand and beautiful. Never with my open eyes have I
seen such a face! And I knew it was the face of this earth, and that
I had never seen it before because she carries us upon her back.
When I woke, I knew that all the strangest things in life and
history must one day come together in a beautiful face of loving
purpose, one of the faces of the living God. The very mother of the
Lord did not for a long time understand him, and only through sorrow
came to see true glory. Alister, if we were right with God, we could
see the earth vanish and never heave a sigh; God, of whom it was but
a shimmering revelation, would still be ours!"

In the morning they fell asleep, and it was daylight, late in the
winter, when Alister rose. He roused the fire, asleep all through
the night, and prepared their breakfast of porridge and butter, tea,
oat-cake, and mutton-ham. When it was nearly ready, he woke Ian,
and when they had eaten, they read together a portion of the Bible,
that they might not forget, and start the life of the day without
trust in the life-causing God.

"All that is not rooted in him," Ian would say, "all hope or joy
that does not turn its face upward, is an idolatry. Our prayers must
rise that our thoughts may follow them."

The portion they read contained the saying of the Lord that we must
forsake all and follow him if we would be his disciples.

"I am sometimes almost terrified," said Ian, "at the scope of the
demands made upon me, at the perfection of the self-abandonment
required of me; yet outside of such absoluteness can be no
salvation. In God we live every commonplace as well as most exalted
moment of our being. To trust in him when no need is pressing, when
things seem going right of themselves, may be harder than when
things seem going wrong. At no time is there any danger except in
ourselves, and the only danger is of trusting in something else than
the living God, and so getting, as it were, outside of God. Oh
Alister, take care you do not love the land more than the will of
God! Take care you do not love even your people more than the will
of God."

They spent the day on the hill-top, and as there was no sign of
storm, remained till the dark night, when the moon came to light
them home.

"Perhaps when we are dead," said Alister as they went, "we may be
allowed to come here again sometimes! Only we shall not be able to
quarry any further, and there is pain in looking on what cannot go
on."

"It may be a special pleasure," returned Ian, "in those new
conditions, to look into such a changeless cabinet of the past. When
we are one with our life, so that no prayer can be denied, there
will be no end to the lovely possibilities."

"So I have the people I love, I think I could part with all things
else, even the land!" said Alister.

"Be sure we shall not have to part with THEM. We shall yet walk, I
think, with our father as of old, where the setting sun sent the
shadows of the big horse-gowans that glowed in his red level rays,
trooping eastward, as if they would go round the world to meet the
sun that had banished them, and die in his glory; the wind of the
twilight will again breathe about us like a thought of the living
God haunting our goings, and watching to help us; the stars will
yet call to us out of the great night, 'Love and be fearless.' 'Be
independent!' cries the world from its' great Bible of the
Belly;-says the Lord of men, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and
his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.'
Our dependence is our eternity. We cannot live on bread alone; we
need every word of God. We cannot live on air alone; we need an
atmosphere of living souls. Should we be freer, Alister, if we were
independent of each other? When I am out in the world, my heart is
always with mother and you. We must be constantly giving ourselves
away, we must dwell in houses of infinite dependence, or sit alone
in the waste of a godless universe."

It was a rough walk in the moonlight over the hills, but full of a
rare delight. And while they walked the mother was waiting them,
with the joy of St. John, of the Saviour, of God himself in her
heart, the joy of beholding how the men she loved loved each other.



CHAPTER VI.

THE TWO PAIRS.


The next morning, on the way to the village, the brothers overtook
Christina and Mercy, and they walked along together.

The young men felt inclined to be the more friendly with the girls,
that the men of their own family were so unworthy of them. A man who
does not respect a woman because she is a woman, cannot have
thorough respect for his own mother, protest as he pleases: he is
incapable of it, and cannot know his own incapacity. Alas for girls
in a family where the atmosphere of vile thinking, winnowed by the
carrion wings of degraded and degrading judgments, infolds them! One
of the marvels of the world is, that, with such fathers and
brothers, there are so few wicked women. Type of the greater number
stands Ophelia, poor, weak, and not very refined, yet honest, and,
in all her poverty, immeasurably superior to father and brother.

Christina's condescension had by this time dwindled almost to the
vanishing-point, and her talk was in consequence more natural: the
company, conversation, and whole atmosphere of the young men, tended
to wake in the girls what was best and sweetest. Reality appeals at
once to the real, opens the way for a soul to emerge from the fog of
the commonplace, the marsh of platitude, the Sahara of lies, into
the colour and air of life. The better things of humanity often need
the sun of friendship to wile them out. A girl, well-bred, tolerably
clever, and with some genius of accommodation, will appear to a man
possessed of a hundred faculties of which she knows nothing; but his
belief will help to rouse them in her. A young man will see an angel
where those who love her best see only a nice girl; but he sees not
merely what she might be, but what one day she must be.

Christina had been at first rather taken with the ploughman, but she
turned her masked batteries now mainly on the soldier. During the
dinner she had noted how entirely Ian was what she chose to call a
man of the world; and it rendered him in her eyes more worthy of
conquest. Besides, as elder sister, must she not protect the
inexperienced Mercy?

What is this passion for subjugation? this hunger for homage? Is it
of hell direct, or what is there in it of good to begin with?
Apparently it takes possession of such women as have set up each
herself for the object of her worship: she cannot then rest from the
effort to bring as many as possible to worship at the same shrine;
and to this end will use means as deserving of the fire as any
witchcraft.

Christina stopped short with a little cry, and caught Ian's arm.

"I beg your pardon," she said, "but I cannot bear it a moment
longer! Something in my boot hurts me so!"

She limped to the road-side, sat down, accepted the service of Ian
to unlace her boot, and gave a sigh of relief when he pulled it off.
He inverted and shook it, then searched and found a nail which must
have hurt her severely.

But how to get rid of the cruel projection! Ian's slender hand could
but just reach with its finger-tips the haunted spot. In vain he
tried to knock it down against a stone put inside. Alister could
suggest nothing. But Mistress Conal's cottage was near: they might
there find something to help! Only Christina could not be left
behind, and how was she to walk in a silk stocking over a road
frozen hard as glass? The chief would have carried her, but she
would not let him. Ian therefore shod her with his Glengarry bonnet,
tying it on with his handkerchief.

There was much merriment over the extemporized shoe, mingled with
apologetic gratitude from Christina, who, laughing at her poulticed
foot, was yet not displeased at its contrast with the other.

When the chief opened the door of the cottage, there was no one to
be seen within. The fire was burning hot and flameless; a
three-footed pot stood half in it; other sign of presence they saw
none. As Alister stooped searching for some implement to serve their
need, in shot a black cat, jumped over his back, and disappeared.
The same instant they heard a groan, and then first discovered the
old woman in bed, seemingly very ill. Ian went up to her.

"What is the matter with you, Mistress Conal?" he asked, addressing
her in English because of the ladies.

But in reply she poured out a torrent of Gaelic, which seemed to the
girls only grumbling, but was something stronger. Thereupon the
chief went and spoke to her, but she was short and sullen with him.
He left her to resume his search.

"Let alone," she cried. "When that nail leaves her brog, it will be
for your heart."

Ian sought to soothe her.

"She will bring misery on you all!" she insisted.

"You have a hammer somewhere, I know!" said Alister, as if he had
not heard her.

"She shall be finding no help in MY house!" answered the old woman
in English.

"Very well, Mistress Conal!" returned the chief; "the lady cannot
walk home; I shall have to carry her!"

"God forbid!" she cried. "Go and fetch a wheelbarrow."

"Mistress Conal, there is nothing for it but carry her home in my
arms!"

"Give me the cursed brog then. I will draw the nail."

But the chief would not yield the boot; he went out and searched the
hill-side until he found a smooth stone of suitable size, with which
and a pair of tongs, he beat down the nail. Christina put on the
boot, and they left the place. The chief stayed behind the rest for
a moment, but the old woman would not even acknowledge his presence.

"What a rude old thing she is! This is how she always treats us!"
said Christina.

"Have you done anything to offend her?" asked Alister.

"Not that we know of. We can't help being lowlanders!"

"She no doubt bears you a grudge," said Ian, "for having what once
belonged to us. I am sorry she is so unfriendly. It is not a common
fault with our people."

"Poor old thing! what does it matter!" said Christina.

A woman's hate was to her no more than the barking of a dog.

They had not gone far, before the nail again asserted itself; it had
been but partially subjugated. A consultation was held. It resulted
in this, that Mercy and the chief went to fetch another pair of
boots, while Ian remained with Christina.

They seated themselves on a stone by the roadside. The sun clouded
over, a keen wind blew, and Christina shivered. There was nothing
for it but go back to the cottage. The key was in the door, Ian
turned it, and they went in. Certainly this time no one was there.
The old woman so lately groaning on her bed had vanished. Ian made
up the fire, and did what he could for his companion's comfort.

She was not pleased with the tone of his attentions, but the way she
accepted them made her appear more pleased than Ian cared for, and
he became colder and more polite. Piqued by his indifference, she
took it nevertheless with a sweetness which belonged to her nature
as God made it, not as she had spoiled it; and even such a butterfly
as she, felt the influence of a man like Ian, and could not help
being more natural in his presence. His truth elicited what there
was of hers; the true being drew to the surface what there was of
true in the being that was not true. The longer she was in his
company, the more she was pleased with him, and the more annoyed
with her failure in pleasing him.

It is generally more or less awkward when a young man and maiden
between whom is no convergent rush of spiritual currents, find
themselves alone together. Ian was one of the last to feel such
awkwardness, but he thought his companion felt it; he did his best,
therefore, to make her forget herself and him, telling her story
after story which she could not but find the more interesting that
for the time she was quieted from self, and placed in the humbler
and healthier position of receiving the influence of another. For
one moment, as he was narrating a hair's-breadth escape he had had
from a company of Tartar soldiers by the friendliness of a young
girl, the daughter of a Siberian convict, she found herself under
the charm of a certain potency of which he was himself altogether
unconscious, but which had carried away hearts more indifferent than
hers.

In the meantime, Alister and Mercy were walking toward the New
House, and, walking, were more comfortable than those that sat
waiting. Mercy indeed had not much to say, but she was capable of
asking a question worth answering, and of understanding not a
little. Thinking of her walk with Ian on Christmas day,--

"Would you mind telling me something about your brother?" she said.

"What would you like to know about him?" asked Alister.

"Anything you care to tell me," she answered.

Now there was nothing pleased Alister better than talking about Ian;
and he talked so that Mercy could not help feeling what a brother he
must be himself; while on his part Alister was delighted with the
girl who took such an interest in Ian: for Ian's sake he began to
love Mercy. He had never yet been what is called in love--had
little opportunity indeed of falling in love. His breeding had been
that of a gentleman, and notwithstanding the sweetness and
gentleness of the maidens of his clan, there were differences which
had as yet proved sufficient to prevent the first approaches of
love, though, once entertained, they might have added to the depth
of it. At the same time it was by no means impossible for Alister to
fall in love with even an uneducated girl--so-called; neither would
he, in that case, have felt any difficulty about marrying her; but
the fatherly relation in which he stood toward his clan, had tended
rather to prevent the thing. Many a youth falls to premature
love-making, from the lack in his daily history of the womanly
element. Matrons in towns should be exhorted to make of their houses
a refuge. Too many mothers are anxious for what they count the
welfare of their own children, and care nothing for the children of
other women! But can we wonder, when they will wallow in meannesses
to save their own from poverty and health, and damn them into
comfort and decay.

Alister told Mercy how Ian and he used to spend their boyhood. He
recounted some of their adventures in hunting and herding and
fishing, and even in going to and from school, a distance of five
miles, in all weathers. Then he got upon the poetry of the people,
their legends, their ballads and their songs; and at last came to
the poetry of the country itself--the delights of following the
plough, the whispers and gleams of nature, her endless appeal
through every sense. The mere smell of the earth in a spring
morning, he said, always made him praise God.

"Everything we have," he went on, "must be shared with God. That is
the notion of the Jewish thank-offering. Ian says the greatest word
in the universe is ONE; the next greatest, ALL. They are but the two
ends of a word to us unknowable--God's name for himself."

Mercy had read Mrs. Barbauld's Hymns, and they had been something to
her; but most of the little poetry she had read was only platitude
sweetened with sound; she had never read, certainly never understood
a real poem. Who can tell what a nature may prove, after feeding on
good food for a while? The queen bee is only a better fed working
bee. Who can tell what it may prove when it has been ploughed with
the plough of suffering, when the rains of sorrow, the frosts of
pain, and the winds of poverty have moistened and swelled and dried
its fallow clods?

Mercy had not such a sweet temper as her sister, but she was not so
selfish. She was readier to take offence, perhaps just because she
was less self-satisfied. Before long they might change places. A
little dew from the eternal fountain was falling upon them.
Christina was beginning to be aware that a certain man, neither rich
nor distinguished nor ambitious, had yet a real charm for her. Not
that for a moment she would think seriously of such a man! That
would be simply idiotic! But it would be very nice to have a little
innocent flirtation with him, or perhaps a "Platonic friendship!
"--her phrase, not mine. What could she have to do with Plato, who,
when she said I, was aware only of a neat bundle of foolish desires,
not the God at her heart!

Mercy, on the other hand, was being drawn to the big, strong,
childlike heart of the chief. There is always, notwithstanding the
gulf of unlikeness between them, an appeal from the childish to the
childlike. The childish is but the shadow of the childlike, and
shadows are little like the things from which they fall. But to what
save the heavenly shall the earthly appeal in its sore need, its
widowhood, its orphanage? with what shall the childish take refuge
but the childlike? to what shall ignorance cry but wisdom? Mercy
felt no restraint with the chief as with Ian. His great, deep, yet
refined and musical laugh, set her at ease. Ian's smile, with its
shimmering eternity, was no more than the moon on a rain-pool to
Mercy. The moral health of the chief made an atmosphere of conscious
safety around her. By the side of no other man had she ever felt so.
With him she was at home, therefore happy. She was already growing
under his genial influence. Every being has such influence who is
not selfish.

When Christina was re-shod, and they were leaving the cottage, Ian,
happening to look behind him, spied the black cat perched on the
edge of the chimney in the smoke.

"Look at her," he said, "pretending innocence, when she has been
watching you all the time!"

Alister took up a stone.

"Don't hurt her," said Ian, and he dropped it.



CHAPTER VII.

AN CABRACH MOR.


I have already said that the young men had not done well as hunters.
They had neither experience nor trustworthy attendance: none of the
chief's men would hunt with them. They looked on them as intruders,
and those who did not share in their chiefs dislike to useless
killing, yet respected it. Neither Christian nor Sercombe had yet
shot a single stag, and the time was drawing nigh when they must
return, the one to Glasgow, the other to London. To have no proof of
prowess to display was humbling to Sercombe; he must show a stag's
head, or hide his own! He resolved, therefore, one of the next
moonlit nights, to stalk by himself a certain great, wide-horned
stag, of whose habits he had received information.

At Oxford, where Valentine made his acquaintance, Sercombe belonged
to a fast set, but had distinguished himself notwithstanding as an
athlete. He was a great favourite with a few, not the best of the
set, and admired by many for his confidence, his stature, and his
regular features. These latter wore, however, a self-assertion which
of others made him much disliked: a mean thing in itself, it had the
meanest origin--the ability, namely, to spend money, for he was the
favourite son of a rich banker in London. He knew nothing of the
first business of life--self-restraint, had never denied himself
anything, and but for social influences would, in manhood as
infancy, have obeyed every impulse. He was one of the merest slaves
in the universe, a slave in his very essence, for he counted wrong
to others freedom for himself, and the rejection of the laws of his
own being, liberty. The most righteous interference was insolence;
his likings were his rights, and any devil that could whisper him a
desire, might do with him as he pleased. From such a man every true
nature shrinks with involuntary recoil, and a sick sense of the
inhuman. But I have said more of him already than my history
requires, and more than many a reader, partaking himself of his
character to an unsuspected degree, will believe; for such men
cannot know themselves. He had not yet in the eyes of the world
disgraced himself: it takes a good many disgraceful things to bring
a rich man to outward disgrace.

His sole attendant when shooting was a clever vagabond lad belonging
to nowhere in particular, and living by any crook except the
shepherd's. From him he heard of the great stag, and the spots which
in the valleys he frequented, often scraping away the snow with his
feet to get at the grass. He did not inform him that the animal was
a special favourite with the chief of Clanruadh, or that the clan
looked upon him as their live symbol, the very stag represented as
crest to the chief's coat of arms. It was the same Nancy had
reported to her master as eating grass on the burn-side in the
moonlight. Christian and Sercombe had stalked him day after day, but
without success. And now, with one poor remaining hope, the latter
had determined to stalk him at night. To despoil him of his life,
his glorious rush over the mountain side, his plunge into the
valley, and fierce strain up the opposing hill; to see that ideal of
strength, suppleness, and joyous flight, lie nerveless and flaccid
at his feet; to be able to call the thicket-like antlers of the
splendid animal his own, was for the time the one ambition of Hilary
Sercombe; for he was of the brood of Mephistopheles, the child of
darkness, whose delight lies in undoing what God has done--the
nearest that any evil power can come to creating.

There was, however, a reason for the failure of the young hunters
beyond lack of skill and what they called their ill-luck. Hector of
the Stags was awake; his keen, everywhere-roving eyes were upon
them, seconded by the keen, all-hearkening ears of Rob of the
Angels. They had discovered that the two men had set their hearts on
the big stag, an cabrach mor by right of excellence, and every time
they were out after him, Hector too was out with his spy-glass, the
gift of an old sea-faring friend, searching the billowy hills.
While, the southrons would be toiling along to get the wind of him
unseen, for the old stag's eyes were as keen as his velvety nose,
the father and son would be lying, perhaps close at hand, perhaps
far away on some hill-side of another valley, watching now the
hunters, now the stag. For love of the Macruadh, and for love of the
stag, they had constituted themselves his guardians. Again and again
when one of them thought he was going to have a splendid
chance--perhaps just as, having reached a rock to which he had been
making his weary way over stones and bogs like Satan through chaos,
and raised himself with weary slowness, he peeped at last over the
top, and lo, there he was, well within range, quietly feeding,
nought between the great pumping of his big joyous heart and the hot
bullet but the brown skin behind his left shoulder!--a distant shot
would forestall the nigh one, a shot for life, not death, and the
stag, knowing instantly by wondrous combination of sense and
judgment in what quarter lay the danger, would, without once looking
round, measure straight a hundred yards of hillocks and rocks
between the sight-taking and the pulling of the trigger. Another
time it would be no shot, but the bark of a dog, the cry of a
moorfowl, or a signal from watching hind that started him; for the
creatures understand each the other's cries, and when an animal sees
one of any sort on the watch to warn covey or herd or flock of its
own kind, it will itself keep no watch, but feed in security. To
Christian and Sercombe it seemed as if all the life in the glen were
in conspiracy to frustrate their hearts' desire; and the latter at
least grew ever the more determined to kill the great stag: he had
begun to hate him.

The sounds that warned the stag were by no means always what they
seemed, those of other wild animals; they were often hut imitations
by Rob of the Angels. I fear the animal grew somewhat bolder and
less careful from the assurance thus given him that he was watched
over, and cultivated a little nonchalance. Not a moment, however,
did he neglect any warning from quarter soever, but from peaceful
feeder was instantaneously wind-like fleer, his great horns thrown
back over his shoulders, and his four legs just touching the ground
with elastic hoof, or tucking themselves almost out of sight as he
skipped rather than leaped over rock and gully, stone and
bush--whatever lay betwixt him and larger room. Great joy it was to
his two guardians to see him, and great game to watch the motions of
his discomfited enemies. For the sake of an cabrach Hector and Rob
would go hungry for hours. But they never imagined the luxurious
Sasunnach, incapable, as they thought, of hardship or sustained
fatigue, would turn from his warm bed to stalk the lordly animal
betwixt snow and moon.

One night, Hector of the Stags found he could not sleep. It was not
for cold, for the night was for the season a mild one. The snow
indeed lay deep around their dwelling, but they owed not a little of
its warmth to the snow. It drifted up all about it, and kept off the
terrible winds that swept along the side of the hill, like sharp
swift scythes of death. They were in the largest and most
comfortable of their huts--a deepish hollow in the limestone rock,
lined with turf, and with wattles filled in with heather, the tops
outward; its front a thick wall of turf, with a tolerable door of
deal. It was indeed so snug as to be far from airy. Here they kept
what little store of anything they had--some dried fish and venison;
a barrel of oat-meal, seldom filled full; a few skins of wild
creatures, and powder, ball, and shot.

After many fruitless attempts to catch the still fleeting vapour
sleep, raising himself at last on his elbow, Hector found that Rob
was not by his side.

He too had been unable to sleep, and at last discovered that he was
uneasy about something-what, he could not tell. He rose and went
out. The moon was shining very clear, and as there was much snow,
the night, if not so bright as day, was yet brighter than many a
day. The moon, the snow, the mountains, all dreaming awake, seemed
to Rob the same as usual; but presently he fancied the hillside
opposite had come nearer than usual: there must be a reason for
that! He searched every yard of it with keenest gaze, but saw
nothing.

They were high above Glenruadh, and commanded parts of it: late
though it was, Rob thought he saw some light from the New House,
which itself he could not see, reflected from some shadowed
evergreen in the shrubbery. He was thinking some one might be ill,
and he ought to run down and See whether a messenger was wanted,
when his father joined him. He had brought his telescope, and
immediately began to sweep the moonlight on the opposite hill. In a
moment he touched Rob on the shoulder, and handed him the telescope,
pointing with it. Rob looked and saw a dark speck on the snow,
moving along the hill-side. It was the big stag. Now and then he
would stop to snuff and search for a mouthful, but was evidently
making for one of his feeding-places--most likely that by the burn
on the chief's land. The light! could it imply danger? He had heard
the young men were going to leave: were they about to attempt a last
assault on the glory of the glen? He pointed out to his father the
dim light in the shadow of the house. Hector turned his telescope
thitherward, immediately gave the glass to Rob, went into the hut,
and came out again with his gun. They had not gone far when they
lost sight of the stag, but they held on towards the castle. At
every point whence a peep could be had in the direction of the
house, they halted to reconnoitre: if enemies were abroad, they
must, if possible, get and keep sight of them. They did not stop for
more than a glance, however, but made for the valley as fast as they
could walk: the noise of running feet would, on such a still night,
be heard too far. The whole way, without sound uttered, father and
son kept interchanging ideas on the matter.

From thorough acquaintance with the habits of the animal, they were
pretty certain he was on his way to the haunt aforementioned: if he
got there, he would be safe; it was the chiefs ground, and no one
would dare touch him. But he was not yet upon it, and was in danger;
while, if he should leave the spot in any westward direction, he
would almost at once be out of sanctuary! If they found him
therefore at his usual feed, and danger threatening, they must scare
him eastward; if no peril seemed at hand, they would watch him a
while, that he might feed in safety. Swift and all but soundless on
their quiet brogs they paced along: to startle the deer while the
hunter was far off, might be to drive him within range of his shot.

They reached the root of the spur, and approached the castle;
immediately beyond that, they would be in sight of the feeding
ground. But they were yet behind it when Rob of the Angels bounded
forward in terror at the sound of a gun. His father, however, who
was in front, was off before him. Neither hearing anything, nor
seeing Rob, he knew that a shot had been fired, and, caution being
now useless, was in a moment at full speed. The smoke of the shot
hung white in the moonlight over the end of the ridge. No red bulk
shadowed the green pasture, no thicket of horns went shaking about
over the sod. No lord of creation, but an enemy of life, stood
regarding his work, a tumbled heap of death, yet saying to himself,
like God when he made the world, "It is good." The noble creature
lay disformed on the grass; shot through the heart he had leaped
high in the air, fallen with his head under him, and broken his
neck.

Rage filled the heart of Hector of the Stags. He could not curse,
but he gave a roar like a wild beast, and raised his gun. But Rob of
the Angels caught it ere it reached his shoulder. He yielded it,
and, with another roar like a lion, bounded bare-handed upon the
enemy. He took the descent in three leaps, and the burn in one. It
was not merely that the enemy had killed an cabrach mor, the great
stag of their love; he had killed him on the chief's own land! under
the very eyes of the man whose business it was to watch over him! It
was an offence unpardonable! an insult as well as a wrong to his
chief! In the fierce majesty of righteous wrath he threw himself on
the poacher. Sercombe met him with a blow straight from the
shoulder, and he dropped.

Rob of the Angels, close behind him, threw down the gun. The devil
all but got into Rob of the Angels. His knife flashed pale in the
moonlight, and he darted on the Sasunnach. It would then have gone
ill with the bigger man, for Rob was lithe as a snake, swift not
only to parry and dodge but to strike; he could not have reached the
body of his antagonist, but Sercombe's arm would have had at least
one terrible gash from his skean-dhu, sharp as a razor, had not, at
the moment, from the top of the ridge come the stern voice of the
chief. Rob's knife, like Excalibur from the hand of Sir Bedivere,
"made lightnings in the splendour of the moon," as he threw it from
him, and himself down by his father. Then Hector came to himself and
rose. Rob rose also; and his father, trembling with excitement,
stood grasping his arm, for he saw the stalwart form of his chief on
the ridge above them. Alister had been waked by the gun, and at the
roar of his friend Hector, sprang from his bed. When he saw his
beloved stag dead on his pasture, he came down the ridge like an
avalanche.

Sercombe stood on his defence, wondering what devil was to pay, but
beginning to think he might be in some wrong box. He had taken no
trouble to understand the boundaries between Mr. Peregrine Palmer's
land and that of the chief, and had imagined himself safe on the
south side of the big burn.

Alister gazed speechless for a moment on the slaughtered stag, and
heaved a great sigh.

"Mr. Sercombe," he said, "I would rather you had shot my best horse!
Are you aware, sir, that you are a poacher?"

"I had supposed the appellation inapplicable to a gentleman!"
answered Sercombe, with entire coolness. "But by all means take me
before a magistrate."

"You are before a magistrate."

"All I have to answer then is, that I should not have shot the
animal had I not believed myself within my rights."

"On that point, and on this very ground, I instructed you myself!"
said the chief.

"I misunderstood you."

"Say rather you had not the courtesy to heed what I told you-had not
faith enough to take the word of a gentleman! And for this my poor
stag has suffered!"

He stood for some moments in conflict with himself, then quietly
resumed.

"Of course, Mr. Sercombe, I have no intention of pushing the
matter!" he said.

"I should hope not!" returned Sercombe scornfully. "I will pay
whatever you choose to set on the brute."

It would be hard to say which was less agreeable to the chief-to
have his stag called a brute, or be offered blood-money for him.

"Stag Ruadh priced like a bullock!" he said, with a slow smile, full
of sadness; "--the pride of every child in the strath! Not a
gentleman in the county would have shot Clanruadh's deer!"

Sercombe was by this time feeling uncomfortable, and it made him
angry. He muttered something about superstition.

"He was taken when a calf," the chief went on, "and given to a
great-aunt of mine. But when he grew up, he took to the hills again,
and was known by his silver collar till he managed to rid himself of
it. He shall be buried where he lies, and his monument shall tell
how the stranger Sasunnach served the stag of Clanruadh!"

"Why the deuce didn't you keep the precious monster in a paddock,
and let people know him for a tame animal?" sneered Sercombe.

"My poor Euadh!" said the chief; "he was no tame animal! He as well
as I would have preferred the death you have given him to such a
fate. He lived while he lived! I thank you for his immediate
transit. Shot right through the heart! Had you maimed him I should
have been angrier."

Sercombe felt flattered, and, attributing the chief's gentleness to
a desire to please him, began to condescend.

"Well, come now, Macruadh!" he began; but the chief turned from him.

Hector stood with his arm on Rob's shoulder, and the tears rolling
down his cheeks. He would not have wept but that the sobs of his son
shook him.

"Rob of the Angels," Alister said in their mother-tongue, "you must
make an apology to the Sasunnach gentleman for drawing the knife on
him. That was wrong, if he had killed all the deer in Benruadh."

"It was not for that, Macruadh," answered Rob of the Angels. "It was
because he struck my father, and laid a better man than himself on
the grass."

The chief turned to the Englishman. "Did the old man strike you, Mr.
Sercombe?"

"No, by Jove! I took a little care of that! If he had, I would have
broke every bone in his body!"

"Why did you strike him then?"

"Because he rushed at me."

"It was his duty to capture a poacher!--But you did not know he was
deaf and dumb!" Alister added, as some excuse.

"The deaf makes no difference!" protested Rob. "Hector of the
Stags does not fight with his hands like a woman!"

"Well, what's done is done!" laughed Sercombe. "It wasn't a bad shot
anyhow!"

"You have little to plume yourself upon, Mr. Sercombe!" said the
chief. "You are a good shot, but you need not have been so
frightened at an old man as to knock him down!"

"Come, come, Macruadh! enough's enough! It's time to drop this!"
returned Sercombe. "I can't stand much more of it!--Take ten pounds
for the head!--Come!"

The chief made one great stride towards him, but turned away, and
said,

"Come along, Rob! Tell your father you must not go up the hill again
to-night."

"No, sir," answered Rob; "there's nothing now to go up the hill for!
Poor old Buadh! God rest his soul!"

"Amen!" responded the chief; "but say rather, 'God give him room to
run!'"

"Amen! It is better.--But," added Rob, "we must watch by the body.
The foxes and hooded crows are gathering already--I hear them on the
hills; and I saw a sea-eagle as white as silver yesterday! We
cannot leave Ruadh till he is under God's plaid!"

"Then one of you come and fetch food and fire," said the chief. "I
will be with you early."

Father and son communicated in silence, and Rob went with the chief.

"They worship the stag, these peasants, as the old Egyptians the
bull!" said Sercombe to himself, walking home full of contempt.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE STAG'S HEAD.


Alister went straight to his brother's room, his heart bursting with
indignation. It was some time before Ian could get the story from
him in plain consecution; every other moment he would diverge into
fierce denunciations.

"Hadn't you better tell your master what has happened?" at length
said Ian. "He ought to know why you curse one of your fellows so
bitterly."

Alister was dumb. For a moment he looked aghast.

"Ian!" he said: "You think he wants to be told anything? I always
thought you believed in his divinity!"

"Ah!" returned Ian, "but do you? How am I to imagine it, when you go
on like that in his hearing? Is it so you acknowledge his presence?"

"Oh, Ian! you don't know how it tortures me to think of that
interloper, the low brute, killing the big stag, the Macruadh
stag-and on my land too! I feel as if I could tear him in pieces.
But for him I would have killed him on the spot! It is hard if I may
not let off my rage even to you!"

"Let it off to him, Alister; he will give you fairer play than your
small brother; he understands you better than I."

"But I could not let it off to him that way!"

"Then that is not a good way. The justice that, even in imagination,
would tear and destroy and avenge, may be justice, but it is devil's
justice. Come, begin now, and tell me all quietly-as if you had read
it in a book."

"Word for word, then, with all the imprecations!" returned
Alister, a little cooler; and Ian was soon in possession of the
story.

"Now what do you think, Ian?" said the chief, ending a recital true
to the very letter, and in a measure calm, but at various points
revealing, by the merest dip of the surface, the boiling of the
floods beneath.

"You must send him the head, Alister," answered Ian.

"Send-what-who-I don't understand you, Ian!" returned the chief,
bewildered.

"Oh, well, never mind!" said Ian. "You will think of it presently!"

And therewith he turned his face to the wall, as if he would go to
sleep.

It had been a thing understood betwixt the brothers, and that from
so far back in the golden haze of childhood that the beginning of
it was out of sight, that, the moment one of them turned his back,
not a word more was to be said, until he who thus dropped the
subject, chose to resume it: to break this unspoken compact would
have been to break one of the strands in the ancient bond of their
most fast brotherhood. Alister therefore went at once to his room,
leaving Ian loving him hard, and praying for him with his face to
the wall. He went as one knowing well the storm he was about to
encounter, but never before had he had such a storm to meet.

He closed the door, and sat down on the side of his bed like one
stunned. He did not doubt, yet could hardly allow he believed, that
Ian, his oracle, had in verity told him to send the antlers of his
cabrach mor, the late live type of his ancient crest, the pride of
Clanruadh, to the vile fellow of a Sasunnach who had sent out into
the deep the joyous soul of the fierce, bare mountains.

There were rushings to and fro in the spirit of Alister, wild and
terrible, even as those in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He
never closed his eyes, but fought with himself all the night, until
the morning broke. Could this thing be indeed his duty? And if not
his duty, was he called to do it from mere bravado of goodness? How
frightfully would not such an action be misunderstood by such a man!
What could he take it for but a mean currying of favour with him!
Why should he move to please such a fellow! Ian was too hard upon
him! The more he yielded, the more Ian demanded! Every time it was
something harder than the last! And why did he turn his face to
the wall? Was he not fit to be argued with! Was he one that would
not listen to reason! He had never known Ian ungenerous till now!

But all the time there lay at his door a thing calling out to be
done! The thing he did not like was always the thing he had to do!
he grumbled; but this thing he hated doing! It was abominable! What!
send the grand head, with its horns spread wide like a half-moon,
and leaning--like oaks from a precipice--send it to the man that made
it a dead thing! Never! It must not be left behind! It must go to
the grave with the fleet limbs! and over it should rise a monument,
at sight of which every friendly highlandman would say, Feiich an
cabracli mor de Clanruadli! What a mockery of fate to be exposed for
ever to the vulgar Cockney gaze, the trophy of a fool, whose boast
was to kill! Such a noble beast! Such a mean man! To mutilate his
remains for the pride of the wretch who killed him! It was too
horrible!

He thought and thought--until at last he lay powerless to think any
more. But it is not always the devil that enters in when a man
ceases to think. God forbid! The cessation of thought gives
opportunity for setting the true soul thinking from another
quarter. Suddenly Alister remembered a conversation he had had
with Ian a day or two before. He had been saying to Ian that he
could not understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Whosoever shall
smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;" and was
dissatisfied with the way Ian had answered him. "You must explain it
to yourself," Ian said. He replied, "If I could do that, I should
not have to ask you." "There are many things," Ian rejoined,
"--arithmetic is one--that can be understood only in the doing of
them." "But how can I do a thing without understanding it?" objected
Alister. "When you have an opportunity of doing this very thing,"
said Ian, "do it, and see what will follow!" At the time he thought
Ian was refusing to come to the point, and was annoyingly indefinite
and illogical; but now it struck him that here was the opportunity
of which he had spoken.

"I see!" he said to himself. "It is not want of understanding that
is in the way now! A thing cannot look hateful and reasonable at the
same moment! This may be just the sort of thing Jesus meant! Even if
I be in the right, I have a right to yield my right--and to HIM I
will yield it. That was why Ian turned his face to the wall: he
wanted me to discover that here was my opportunity! How but in the
name of Jesus Christ could he have dared tell me to forgive Ruadh's
death by sending his head to his murderer! It has to be done! I've
got to do it! Here is my chance of turning the other cheek and being
hurt again! What can come of it is no business of mine! To return
evil is just to do a fresh evil! It MAY make the man ashamed of
himself! It cannot hurt the stag; it only hurts my pride, and I owe
my pride nothing! Why should not the fellow have what satisfaction
he may--something to show for his shot! He shall have the head."

Thereupon rushed into his heart the joy of giving up, of deliverance
from self; and pity, to leaven his contempt, awoke for Sercombe. No
sooner had he yielded his pride, than he felt it possible to love
the man--not for anything he was, but for what he might and must be.

"God let the man kill the stag," he said; "I will let him have the
head."

Again and yet again swelled afresh the tide of wrath and
unwillingness, making him feel as if he could not carry out his
resolve; but all the time he knew the thing was as good as
done--absolutely determined, so that nothing could turn it aside.

"To yield where one may, is the prerogative of liberty!" he said to
himself. "God only can give; who would be his child must yield!
Abroad in the fields of air, as Paul and the love of God make me
hope, what will the wind-battling Ruadh care for his old head! Would
he not say, 'Let the man have it; my hour was come, or the Some One
would not have let him kill me!'?"

Thus argued the chief while the darkness endured--and as soon as the
morning began to break, rose, took spade and pick and great knife,
and went where Hector and Rob were watching the slain.

It was bitterly cold. The burn crept silent under a continuous
bridge of ice. The grass-blades were crisp with frost. The ground
was so hard it met iron like iron.

He sent the men to get their breakfast from Nancy: none but himself
should do the last offices for Ruadh! With skilful hand he separated
and laid aside the head--in sacrifice to the living God. Then the
hard earth rang with mighty blows of the pickaxe. The labour was
severe, and long ere the grave was deep enough, Hector and Rob had
returned; but the chief would not get out of it to give them any
share in the work. When he laid hold of the body, they did not offer
to help him; they understood the heart of their chief. Not without a
last pang that he could not lay the head beside it, he began to
shovel in the frozen clods, and then at length allowed them to take
a part. When the grave was full, they rolled great stones upon it,
that it might not be desecrated. Then the chief went back to his
room, and proceeded to prepare the head, that, as the sacrifice, so
should be the gift.

"I suppose he would like glass eyes, the ruffian!" he muttered to
himself, "but I will not have the mockery. I will fill the sockets
and sew up the eyelids, and the face shall be as of one that
sleeps."

Haying done all, and written certain directions for temporary
treatment, which he tied to an ear, he laid the head aside till the
evening.

All the day long, not a word concerning it passed between the
brothers; but when evening came, Alister, with a blue cotton
handkerchief in his hand, hiding the head as far as the roots of the
huge horns, asked Ian to go for a walk. They went straight to the
New House. Alister left the head at the door, with his compliments
to Mr. Sercombe.

As soon as they were out of sight of the house, Ian put his arm
through his brother's, but did not speak.

"I know now about turning the other cheek!" said Alister. "--Poor
Euadh!"

"Leave him to the God that made the great head and nimble feet of
him," said Ian. "A God that did not care for what he had made, how
should we believe in! but he who cares for the dying sparrow, may be
trusted with the dead stag."

"Truly, yes," returned Alister.

"Let us sit down," said Ian, "and I will sing you a song I made last
night; I could not sleep after you left me."

Without reply, Alister took a stone by the wayside, and Ian one a
couple of yards from him. This was his song.

    LOVE'S HISTORY.

    Love, the baby,
      Toddled out to pluck a flower;
    One said, "No, sir;" one said, "Maybe,
      At the evening hour!"

    Love, the boy,
      Joined the boys and girls at play;
    But he left them half his joy
      Ere the close of day.

    Love, the youth,
      Roamed the country, lightning-laden;
    But he hurt himself, and, sooth,
      Many a man and maiden!

    Love, the man,
      Sought a service all about;
    But he would not take their plan,
      So they cast him out.

    Love, the aged,
      Walking, bowed, the shadeless miles,
    Bead a volume many-paged,
      Full of tears and smiles.

    Love, the weary,
      Tottered down the shelving road:
    At its foot, lo, night the starry
      Meeting him from God!

    "Love, the holy!"
      Sang a music in her dome,
    Sang it softly, sang it slowly,
      "--Love is coming home!"

Ere the week was out, there stood above the dead stag a growing
cairn, to this day called Carn a' cabrach mor. It took ten men with
levers to roll one of the boulders at its base. Men still cast
stones upon it as they pass.

The next morning came a note to the cottage, in which Sercombe
thanked the Macruadh for changing his mind, and said that, although
he was indeed glad to have secured such a splendid head, he would
certainly have stalked another deer, had he known the chief set such
store by the one in question.

It was handed to Alister as he sat at his second breakfast with his
mother and Ian: even in winter he was out of the house by six
o'clock, to set his men to work, and take his own share. He read to
the end of the first page with curling lip; the moment he turned the
leaf, he sprang from his seat with an exclamation that startled his
mother.

"The hound!--I beg my good dogs' pardon, one and all!" he cried.
"--Look at this, Ian! See what comes of taking your advice!"

"My dear fellow, I gave you no advice that had the least regard to
the consequence of following it! That was the one thing you had
nothing to do with."

"READA," insisted Alister, as he pranced about the room. "No, don't
read the letter; it's not worth, reading. Look at the paper in it."

Ian looked, and saw a cheque for ten pounds. He burst into loud
laughter.

"Poor Ruadh's horns! they're hardly so long as their owner's ears!"
he said.

"I told you so!" cried the chief.

"No, Alister! You never suspected such a donkey!"

"What is it all about?" asked the mother.

"The wretch who shot Ruadh," replied Alister, "--to whom I gave his
head, all to please Ian,--"

"Alister!" said Ian.

The chief understood, and retracted.

"--no, not to please Ian, but to do what Ian showed me was right:--I
believe it was my duty!--I hope it was!--here's the murdering fellow
sends me a cheque for ten pounds!--I told you, Ian, he offered me
ten pounds over the dead body!"

"I daresay the poor fellow was sorely puzzled what to do, and
appealed to everybody in the house for advice!"

"You take the cheque to represent the combined wisdom of the New
House?"

"You must have puzzled them all!" persisted Ian. "How could people
with no principle beyond that of keeping to a bargain, understand
you otherwise! First, you perform an action such persons think
degrading: you carry a fellow's bag for a shilling, and then himself
for nothing! Next, in the very fury of indignation with a man for
killing the finest stag in the country on your meadow, you carry him
home the head with your own hands! It all comes of that unlucky
divine motion of yours to do good that good may come! That shilling
of Mistress Conal's is at the root of it all!"

Ian laughed again, and right heartily. The chief was too angry to
enter into the humour of the thing.

"Upon my word, Ian, it is too bad of you! What ARE you laughing at?
It would become you better to tell me what I am to do! Am I free to
break the rascal's bones?"

"Assuredly not, after that affair with the bag!"

"Oh, damn the bag!--I beg your pardon, mother."

"Am I to believe my ears, Alister?"

"What does it matter, mother? What harm can it do the bag? I wished
no evil to any creature!"

"It was the more foolish."

"I grant it, mother. But you don't know what a relief it is
sometimes to swear a little!--You are quite wrong, Ian; it all comes
of giving him the head!"

"You wish you had not given it him?"

"No!" growled Alister, as from a pent volcano.

"You will break my ears, Alister!" cried the mother, unable to keep
from laughing at the wrath in which he went straining through the
room.

"Think of it," insisted Ian: "a man like could not think otherwise
without a revolution of his whole being to which the change of the
leopard's spots would be nothing.--What you meant, after all, was
not cordiality; it was only generosity; to which his response, his
countercheck friendly, was an order for ten pounds!--All is right
between you!"

"Now, really, Ian, you must not go on teasing your elder brother
so!" said the mother.

Alister laughed, and ceased fuming. "But I must answer the brute!"
he said. "What am I to say to him?"

"That you are much obliged," replied Ian, "and will have the cheque
framed and hung in the hall."

"Come, come! no more of that!"

"Well, then, let me answer the letter."

"That is just what I wanted!"

Ian sat down at his mother's table, and this is what he wrote.

"Dear sir,--My brother desires me to return the cheque which you
unhappily thought it right to send him. Humanity is subject to
mistake, but I am sorry for the individual who could so
misunderstand his courtesy. I have the honour to remain, sir, your
obedient servant, Ian Macruadh."

As Ian guessed, the matter had been openly discussed at the New
House; and the money was sent with the approval of all except the
two young ladies. They had seen the young men in circumstances more
favourable to the understanding of them by ordinary people.

"Why didn't the chief write himself?" said Christian.

"Oh," replied Sercombe, "his little brother had been to school, and
could write better!"

Christina and Mercy exchanged glances.

"I will tell you," Mercy said, "why Mr. lau answered the note: the
chief had done with you!"

"Or," suggested Christina, "the chief was in such a rage that he
would write nothing but a challenge."

"I wish to goodness he had! It would have given me the chance of
giving the clodhopper a lesson."

"For sending you the finest stag's head and horns in the country!"
remarked Mercy.

"I shot the stag! Perhaps you don't believe I shot him!"

"Indeed I do! No one else would have done it. The chief would have
died sooner!"

"I'm sick of your chief!" said Christian. "A pretty chief without a
penny to bless himself! A chief, and glad of the job of carrying a
carpet-bag! You'll be calling him MY LORD, next!"

"He may at least write BARONET after his name when he pleases,"
returned Mercy.

"Why don't he then? A likely story!"

"Because," answered Christina, "both his father and himself were
ashamed of how the first baronet got his title. It had to do with
the sale of a part of the property, and they counted the land the
clan's as well as the chief's. They regarded it as an act of
treachery to put the clan in the power of a stranger, and the chief
looks on the title as a brand of shame."

"I don't question the treachery," said Christian. "A highlander is
treacherous."

Christina had asked a friend in Glasgow to find out for her anything
known among the lawyers concerning the Macruadhs, and what she had
just recounted was a part of the information she had thereby
received.

Thenceforward silence covered the whole transaction. Sercombe
neither returned the head, sent an apology, nor recognized the gift.
That he had shot the stag was enough!

But these things wrought shaping the idea of the brothers in the
minds of the sisters, and they were beginning to feel a strange
confidence in them, such as they had never had in men before. A
curious little halo began to shimmer about the heads of the young
men in the picture-gallery of the girls' fancy. Not the less,
however, did they regard them as enthusiasts, unfitted to this
world, incapable of self-protection, too good to live--in a word,
unpractical! Because a man would live according to the laws of his
being as well as of his body, obeying simple, imperative, essential
human necessity, his fellows forsooth call him UNPRACTICAL! Of the
idiotic delusions of the children of this world, that of being
practical is one of the most ludicrous.

Here is a translation, made by Ian, of one of Alister's Gaelic
songs.

    THE SUN'S DAUGHTER.

    A bright drop of water
        In the gold tire
    Of a sun's daughter
        Was laughing to her sire;

    And from all the flowers about,
        That never toiled or spun,
    The soul of each looked out,
        Clear laughing to the sun.

    I saw them unfolding
        Their hearts every one!
    Every soul holding
        Within it the sun!

    But all the sun-mirrors
        Vanished anon;
    And their flowers, mere starers,
        Grew dry in the sun.

    "My soul is but water,
        Shining and gone!
    She is but the daughter,"
        I said, "of the sun!"

    My soul sat her down
        In a deep-shaded gloom;
    Her glory was flown,
        Her earth was a tomb,

    Till night came and caught her,
        And then out she shone;
    And I knew her no daughter
        Of that shining sun--

    Till night came down and taught her
        Of a glory yet unknown;
    And I knew my soul the daughter
        Of a sun behind the sun.

    Back, back to him that wrought her
        My soul shall haste and run;
    Straight back to him, his daughter,
        To the sun behind the sun.



CHAPTER IX.

ANNIE OF THE SHOP.


At the dance in the chief's barn, Sercombe had paired with Annie of
the shop oftener than with any other of the girls. That she should
please him at all, was something in his favour, for she was a
simple, modest girl, with the nicest feeling of the laws of
intercourse, the keenest perception both of what is in itself right,
and what is becoming in the commonest relation. She understood by a
fine moral instinct what respect was due to her, and what respect
she ought to show, and was therefore in the truest sense well-bred.
There are women whom no change of circumstances would cause to alter
even their manners a hair's-breadth: such are God's ladies; there
are others in whom any outward change will reveal the vulgarity of a
nature more conscious of claim than of obligation.

I need not say that Sercomhe, though a man of what is called
education, was but conventionally a gentleman. If in doubt whether a
man be a gentleman or not, hear him speak to a woman he regards as
his inferior: his very tone will probably betray him. A true
gentleman, that is a true man, will be the more carefully
respectful. Sercombe was one of those who regard themselves as
respectable because they are prudent; whether they are human, and
their brother and sister's keeper, they have never asked themselves.

To some minds neither innocent nor simple, there is yet something
attractive in innocence and simplicity. Perhaps it gives them a
pleasing sense of their superiority--a background against which to
rejoice in their liberty, while their pleasure in it helps to
obscure the gulf between what the man would fain hold himself to be,
and what in reality he is. There is no spectre so terrible as the
unsuspected spectre of a man's own self; it is noisome enough to the
man who is ever trying to better it: what must it appear to the man
who sees it for the first time! Sercombe's self was ugly, and he did
not know it; he thought himself an exceptionally fine fellow. No one
knows what a poor creature he is but the man who makes it his
business to be true. The only mistake worse than thinking well of
himself, is for a man to think God takes no interest in him.

One evening, sorely in lack of amusement, Sercombe wandered out into
a star-lit night, and along the road to the village. There he went
into the general shop, where sat Annie behind the counter. Now the
first attention he almost always paid a woman, that is when he cared
and dared, was a compliment--the fungus of an empty head or a false
heart; but with Annie he took no such initiative liberty, and she,
accustomed to respectful familiarity from the chief and his brother,
showed no repugnance to his friendly approach.

"Upon my word, Miss Annie," said Sercombe, venturing at length a
little, "you were the best dancer on the floor that night!"

"Oh, Mr. Sercombe! how can you say so--with such dancers as the
young ladies of your party!" returned Annie.

"They dance well," he returned, "but not so well as you."

"It all depends on the dance--whether you are used to it or not."

"No, by Jove! If you had a lesson or two such as they have been
having all their lives, you would dance out of their sight in the
twinkling of an eye. If I had you for a partner every night for a
month, you would dance better than any woman I have ever seen--off
the stage--any lady, that is."

The grosser the flattery, the surer with a country girl, he thought.
But there was that in his tone, besides the freedom of sounding her
praises in her own ears, which was unpleasing to Annie's ladyhood,
and she held her peace.

"Come out and have a turn," he said thereupon. "It is lovely
star-light. Have you had a walk to-day?"

"No, I have not," answered Annie, casting how to get rid of him.

"You wrong your beauty by keeping to the house."

"My beauty," said Annie, flushing, "may look after itself; I have
nothing to do with it--neither, excuse me, sir, have you."

"Why, who has a right to be offended with the truth! A man can't
help seeing your face is as sweet as your voice, and your figure, as
revealed by your dancing, a match for the two!"

"I will call my mother," said Annie, and left the shop.

Sercombe did not believe she would, and waited. He took her
departure for a mere coquetry. But when a rather grim, handsome old
woman appeared, asking him--it took the most of her English--"What
would you be wanting, sir?" as if he had just come into the shop, he
found himself awkwardly situated. He answered, with more than his
usual politeness, that, having had the pleasure of dancing with her
daughter at the chief's hall, he had taken the liberty of looking in
to inquire after her health; whereupon, perplexed, the old woman in
her turn called Annie, who came at once, but kept close to her
mother. Sercombe began to tell them about a tour he had made in
Canada, for he had heard they had friends there; but the mother did
not understand him, and Annie more and more disliked him. He soon
saw that at least he had better say nothing more about a walk, and
took himself off, not a little piqued at repulse from a peasant-girl
in the most miserable shop he had ever entered.

Two days after, he went again--this time to buy tobacco. Annie was
short with him, but he went yet again and yet sooner: these
primitive people objected to strangers, he said; accustomed to him
she would be friendly! he would not rest until he had gained some
footing of favour with her! Annie grew heartily offended with the
man. She also feared what might be said if he kept coming to the
shop--where Mistress Conal had seen him more than once, and looked
poison at him. For her own sake, for the sake of Lachlan, and for
the sake of the chief, she resolved to make the young father of the
ancient clan acquainted with her trouble. It was on the day after
his rejection of the ten-pound note that she found her opportunity,
for the chief came to see her.

"Was he rude to you, Annie?" he asked.

"No, sir--too polite, I think: he must have seen I did not want his
company.--I shall feel happier now you know."

"I will see to it," said the chief.

"I hope it will not put you to any trouble, sir!"

"What am I here for, Annie! Are you not my clanswoman! Is not
Lachlan my foster-brother!--He will trouble you no more, I think."

As Alister walked home, he met Sercombe, and after a greeting not
very cordial on either side, said thus:

"I should be obliged to you, Mr. Sercombe, if you would send for
anything you want, instead of going to the shop yourself. Annie
Macruadh is not the sort of girl you may have found in such a
position, and you would not wish to make her uncomfortable!"

Sercombe was, ashamed, I think; for the refuge of the fool when
dissatisfied with himself, is offence with his neighbour, and
Sercombe was angry.

"Are you her father--or her lover?" he said.

"She has a right to my protection--and claims it," rejoined Alister
quietly.

"Protection! Oh!--What the devil would you protect her from?"

"From you, Mr. Sercombe."

"Protect her, then."

"I will. Force yourself on that young woman's notice again, and you
will have to do with me."

They parted. Alister went home. Sercombe went straight to the shop.

He was doing what he could to recommend himself to Christina; but
whether from something antagonistic between them, or from
unwillingness on her part to yield her position of advantage and so
her liberty, she had not given him the encouragement he thought he
deserved. He believed himself in love with her, and had told her so;
but the truest love such a man can feel, is a poor thing. He
admired, and desired, and thought he loved her beauty, and that he
called being in love with HER! He did not think much about her
money, but had she then been brought to poverty, he would at least
have hesitated about marrying her.

In the family he was regarded as her affianced, although she did not
treat him as such, but merely went on bewitching him, pleased that
at least he was a man of the world.

While one is yet only IN LOVE, the real person, the love-capable,
lies covered with the rose-leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams,
and through them come to the dreamer but the barest hints of the
real person of whom is the dream. A thousand fancies fly out,
approach, and cross, but never meet; the man and the woman are
pleased, not with each other, but each with the fancied other. The
merest common likings are taken for signs of a wonderful sympathy,
of a radical unity--of essential capacity, therefore, of loving and
being loved; at a hundred points their souls seem to touch, but
their contacts are the merest brushings as of insect-antennae; the
real man, the real woman, is all the time asleep under the
rose-leaves. Happy is the rare fate of the true--to wake and come
forth and meet in the majesty of the truth, in the image of God, in
their very being, in the power of that love which alone is being.
They love, not this and that about each other, but each the very
other--a love as essential to reality, to truth, to religion, as the
love of the very God. Where such love is, let the differences of
taste, the unfitnesses of temperament be what they may, the two must
by and by be thoroughly one.

Sercombe saw no reason why a gentleman should not amuse himself with
any young woman he pleased. What was the chief to him! He was not
his chief! If he was a big man in the eyes of his little clan, he
was nothing much in the eyes of Hilary Sercombe.



CHAPTER X

THE ENCOUNTER.


Annie came again to her chief, with the complaint that Mr. Sercombe
persisted in his attentions. Alister went to see her home. They had
not gone far when Sercombe overtook them, and passed. The chief told
Annie to go on, and called after him,

"I must have a word or two with you, Mr. Sercombe!"

He turned and came up with long steps, his hands in his
coat-pockets.

"I warned you to leave that girl alone!" said the chief.

"And I warn you now," rejoined Sercombe, "to leave me alone!"

"I am bound to take care of her."

"And I of myself."

"Not at her expense!"

"At yours then!" answered Sercombe, provoking an encounter, to which
he was the more inclined that he saw Ian coming slowly up the ridge.

"It was your deliberate intention then to forget the caution I gave
you?" said the chief, restraining his anger.

"I make a point of forgetting what I do not think worth
remembering."

"I forget nothing!"

"I congratulate you."

"And I mean to assist your memory, Mr. Sercombe."

"Mr. Macruadh!" returned Sercombe, "if you expect me not to open my
lips to any hussy in the glen without your leave,--"

His speech was cut short by a box on the ear from the open hand of
the chief. He would not use his fist without warning, but such a
word applied to any honest woman of his clan demanded instant
recognition.

Sercomhe fell back a step, white with rage, then darting forward,
struck straight at the front of his adversary. Alister avoided the
blow, but soon found himself a mere child at such play with the
Englishman. He had not again touched Sercombe, and was himself
bleeding fast, when Ian came up running.

"Damn you! come on!" cried Sercombe when he saw him; "I can do the
precious pair of you!"

"Stop!" cried Ian, laying hold of his brother from behind, pinning
his arms to his sides, wheeling him round, and taking his place.
"Give over, Alister," he went on. "You can't do it, and I won't see
you punished when it is he that deserves it. Go and sit there, and
look on."

"YOU can't do it, Ian!" returned Alister. "It is my business. One
blow in will serve. He jumps about like a goat that I can't hit
him!"

"You are blind with blood!" said Ian, in a tone that gave Sercombe
expectation of too easy a victory. "Sit down there, I tell you!"

"Mind, I don't give in!" said Alister, but turning went to the bank
at the roadside. "If he speak once again to Annie, I swear I will
make him repent it!"

Sercombe laughed insultingly.

"Mr. Sercombe," said Ian, "had we not better put off our bout till
to-morrow? You have fought already!"

"Damn you for a coward, come on!"

"Would you not like to take your breath for a moment?"

"I have all I am likely to need."

"It is only fair," persisted Ian, "to warn you that you will not
find my knowledge on the level of my brother's!"

"Shut up," said Sercombe savagely, "and come on."

For a few rounds Ian seemed to Alister to be giving Sercombe time to
recover his wind; to Sercombe he seemed to be saving his own. He
stood to defend, and did not attempt to put in a blow.

"Mr. Sercombe," he said at length, "you cannot serve me as you did
my brother."

"I see that well enough. Come on!"

"Will you give your word to leave Annie of the shop alone?"

Sercombe answered with a scornful imprecation.

"I warn you again, I am no novice in this business!" said Ian.

Sercombe struck out, but did not reach his antagonist.

The fight lasted but a moment longer. As his adversary drew back
from a failed blow, Alister saw Ian's eyes flash, and his left arm
shoot out, as it seemed, to twice its length. Sercombe neither
reeled nor staggered but fell supine, and lay motionless. The
brothers were by his side in a moment.

"I struck too hard!" said Ian.

"Who can think about that in a fight!" returned Alister.

"I could have helped it well enough, and a better man would.
Something shot through me--I hope it wasn't hatred; I am sure it was
anger--and the man went down! What if the devil struck the blow!"

"Nonsense, Ian!" said Alister, as they raised Sercombe to carry him
to the cottage. "It was pure indignation, and nothing to blame in
it!"

"I wish I could be sure of that!"

They had not gone far before he began to come to himself.

"What are you about?" he said feebly but angrily. "Set me down."

They did so. He staggered to the road-side, and leaned against the
bank.

"What's been the row?" he asked. "Oh, I remember!--Well, you've had
the best of it!"

He held out his hand in a vague sort of way, and the gesture invaded
their soft hearts. Each took the hand.

"I was all right about the girl though," said Sercombe. "I didn't
mean her any harm."

"I don't think you did," answered Alister; "and I am sure you could
have done her none; but the girl did not like it."

"There is not a girl of the clan, or in the neighbourhood, for whom
my brother would not have done the same." said Ian.

"You're a brace of woodcocks!" cried Sercombe. "It's well you're not
out in the world. You would be in hot water from morning to night! I
can't think how the devil you get on at all!"

"Get on! Where?" asked Ian with a smile.

"Come now! You ain't such fools as you want to look! A man must make
a place for himself somehow in the world!"

He rose, and they walked in the direction of the cottage.

"There is a better thing than that," said Ian!

"What?"

"To get clean out of it."

"What! cut your throats?"

"I meant that to get out of the world clean was better than to get
on in it."

"I don't understand you. I don't choose to think the man that
thrashed me a downright idiot!" growled Sercombe.

"What you call getting on," rejoined Ian, "we count not worth a
thought. Look at our clan! it is a type of the world itself.
Everything is passing away. We believe in the kingdom of heaven."

"Come, come! fellows like you must know well enough that's all bosh!
Nobody nowadays--nobody with any brains--believes such rot!"

"We believe in Jesus Christ," said Ian, "and are determined to do
what he will have us do, and take our orders from nobody else."

"I don't understand you!"

"I know you don't. You cannot until you set about changing your
whole way of life."

"Oh, be damned! what an idea! a sneaking, impossible idea!"

"As to its being an impossible idea, we hold it, and live by it. How
absurd it must seem to you, I know perfectly. But we don't live in
your world, and you do not even see the lights of ours."

"'There is a world beyond the stars'!--Well, there may be; I know
nothing about it; I only know there is one on this side of them,--a
very decent sort of world too! I mean to make the best of it."

"And have not begun yet!"

"Indeed I have! I deny myself nothing. I live as I was made to
live."

"If you were not made to obey your conscience or despise yourself,
you are differently made from us, and no communication is possible
between us. We must wait until what differences a man from a beast
make its appearance in you."

"You are polite!"

"You have spoken of us as you think; now we speak of you as we
think. Taking your representation of yourself, you are in the
condition of the lower animals, for you claim inclination as the law
of your life."

"My beast is better than your man!"

"You mean you get more of the good of life!"

"Right! I do."

The brothers exchanged a look and smile.

"But suppose," resumed Ian, "the man we have found in us should one
day wake up in you! Suppose he should say, 'Why did you make a
beast of me?'! It will not be easy for you to answer him!"

"That's all moonshine! Things are as you take them."

"So said Lady Macbeth till she took to walking in her sleep, and
couldn't get rid of the smell of the blood!"

Sercombe said no more. He was silent with disgust at the nonsense of
it all.

They reached the door of the cottage. Alister invited him to walk
in. He drew back, and would have excused himself.

"You had better lie down a while," said Alister.

"You shall come to my room," said Ian. "We shall meet nobody."

Sercombe yielded, for he felt queer. He threw himself on Ian's bed,
and in a few minutes was fast asleep.

When he woke, he had a cup of tea, and went away little the worse.
The laird could not show himself for several days.

After this Annie had no further molestation. But indeed the young
men's time was almost up--which was quite as well, for Annie of the
shop, after turning a corner of the road, had climbed the hill-side,
and seen all that passed. The young ladies, hearing contradictory
statements, called upon Annie to learn the truth, and the
intercourse with her that followed was not without influence on
them. Through Annie they saw further into the character of the
brothers, who, if they advocated things too fine for the world the
girls had hitherto known, DID things also of which it would by no
means have approved. They valued that world and its judgment not a
straw!



CHAPTER XI.

A LESSON.


All the gentlemen at the New House left it together, and its ladies
were once more abandoned to the society of Nature, who said little
to any of them. For, though she recognized her grandchildren, and
did what she could for them, it was now time they should make some
move towards acquaintance with her. A point comes when she must
stand upon her dignity, for it is great. If you would hear her
wonderful tales, or see her marvellous treasures, you must not
trifle with her; you must not talk as if you could rummage her
drawers and cabinets as you pleased. You must believe in her; you
must reverence her; else, although she is everywhere about the
house, you may not meet her from the beginning of one year to the
end of another.

To allude to any aspect of nature in the presence of the girls was
to threaten to bore them; and I heartily confess to being bored
myself with common talk about scenery; but these ladies appeared
unaware of the least expression on the face of their grand-mother.
Doubtless they received some good from the aspect of things--that
they could not help; there Grannie's hidden, and therefore
irresistible power was in operation; but the moment they had their
thoughts directed to the world around them, they began to gape
inwardly. Even the trumpet and shawm of her winds, the stately march
of her clouds, and the torrent-rush of her waters, were to them
poor facts, no vaguest embodiment of truths eternal. It was small
wonder then that verse of any worth should be to them but sounding
brass and clanging cymbals. What they called society, its ways and
judgments, its decrees and condemnations, its fashions and pomps and
shows, false, unjust, ugly, was nearly all they cared for. The truth
of things, without care for which man or woman is the merest puppet,
had hitherto been nothing to them. To talk of Nature was
sentimental. To talk of God was both irreverent and ill-bred.
Wordsworth was an old woman; St. Paul an evangelical churchman. They
saw no feature of any truth, but, like all unthinkers, wrapped the
words of it in their own foolishness, and then sneered at them. They
were too much of ladies, however, to do it disagreeably; they only
smiled at the foolish neighbour who believed things they were too
sensible to believe. It must, however, be said for them, that they
had not yet refused anything worth believing--as presented to them.
They had not yet actually looked upon any truth and refused it. They
were indeed not yet true enough in themselves to suspect the
presence of either a truth or a falsehood.

A thaw came, and the ways were bad, and they found the time hang yet
heavier on their unaided hands. An intercourse by degrees
established itself between Mrs. Macruadh and the well-meaning,
handsome, smiling Mrs. Palmer, and rendered it natural for the girls
to go rather frequently to the cottage. They made themselves
agreeable to the mother, and subject to the law of her presence
showed to better advantage.

With their love of literature, it was natural also that the young
men should at such times not only talk about books, but occasionally
read for their entertainment from some favourite one; so that now,
for the first time in their lives, the young ladies were brought
under direct teaching of a worthy sort--they had had but a mockery
of it at school and church--and a little light began to soak through
their unseeking eyes. Among many others, however, less manifest, one
obstruction to their progress lay in the fact that Christina, whose
perceptions in some directions was quick enough, would always make a dart
at the comical side of anything that could be comically turned, so
disturbing upon occasion the whole spiritual atmosphere about some
delicate epiphany: this to both Alister and Ian was unbearable. She
offended chiefly in respect of Wordsworth--who had not humour enough
always to perceive what seriously meant expression might suggest a
ludicrous idea.

One time, reading from the Excursion, Ian came to the verse--not to
be found, I think, in later editions--

"Perhaps it is not he but some one else":--

"Awful idea!" exclaimed Christina, with sepulchral tone; "--'some
one else!' Think of it! It makes me shudder! Who might it not have
been!"

Ian closed the book, and persistently refused to read more that day.

Another time he was reading, in illustration of something,
Wordsworth's poem, "To a Skylark," the earlier of the two with that
title: when he came to the unfortunate line,--

"Happy, happy liver!"--

"Oh, I am glad to know that!" cried Christina. "I always thought the
poor lark must have a bad digestion--he was up so early!"

Ian refused to finish the poem, although Mercy begged hard.

The next time they came, he proposed to "read something in Miss
Palmer's style," and taking up a volume of Hood, and avoiding both
his serious and the best of his comic poems, turned to two or three
of the worst he could find. After these he read a vulgar rime about
an execution, pretending to be largely amused, making flat jokes of
his own, and sometimes explaining elaborately where was no occasion.

"Ian!" said his mother at length; "have you bid farewell to your
senses?"

"No, mother," he answered; "what I am doing is the merest
consequence of the way you brought us up."

"I don't understand that!" she returned.

"You always taught us to do the best we could for our visitors. So
when I fail to interest them, I try to amuse them."

"But you need not make a fool of yourself!"

"It is better to make a fool of myself, than let Miss Palmer make a
fool of--a great man!"

"Mr. Ian," said Christina, "it is not of yourself but of me you have
been making a fool.--I deserved it!" she added, and burst into
tears.

"Miss Palmer," said Ian, "I will drop my foolishness, if you will
drop your fun."

"I will," answered Christina.

And Ian read them the poem beginning--

   "Three years she grew in sun and shower."

Scoffing at what is beautiful, is not necessarily a sign of evil; it
may only indicate stupidity or undevelopment: the beauty is not
perceived. But blame is often present in prolonged undevelopment.
Surely no one habitually obeying his conscience would long be left
without a visit from some shape of the beautiful!



CHAPTER XII.

NATURE.


The girls had every liberty; their mother seldom interfered. Herself
true to her own dim horn-lantern, she had confidence in the
discretion of her daughters, and looked for no more than discretion.
Hence an amount of intercourse was possible between them and the
young men, which must have speedily grown to a genuine intimacy had
they inhabited even a neighbouring sphere of conscious life.

Almost unknown to herself, however, a change for the better had
begun in Mercy. She had not yet laid hold of, had not yet perceived
any truth; but she had some sense of the blank where truth ought to
be. It was not a sense that truth was lacking; it was only a sense
that something was not in her which was in those men. A nature such
as hers, one that had not yet sinned against the truth, was not one
long to frequent such a warm atmosphere of live truth, without
approach to the hour when it must chip its shell, open its eyes, and
acknowledge a world of duty around it.

One lovely star-lit night of keen frost, the two mothers were
sitting by a red peat-fire in the little drawing-room of the
cottage, and Ian was talking to the girls over some sketches he had
made in the north, when the chief came in, bringing with him an air
of sharp exhilaration, and proposed a walk.

"Come and have a taste of star-light!" he said.

The girls rose at once, and were ready in a minute.

The chief was walking between the two ladies, and Ian was a few
steps in front, his head bent as in thought. Suddenly, Mercy saw him
spread out his arms toward the starry vault, with his face to its
serrated edge of mountain-tops. The feeling, almost the sense of
another presence awoke in her, and as quickly vanished. The thought,
IS HE A PANTHEIST? took its place. Had she not surprised him in an
act of worship? In that wide outspreading of the lifted arms, was he
not worshipping the whole, the Pan? Sky and stars and mountains and
sea were his God! She walked aghast, forgetful of a hundred things
she had heard him say that might have settled the point. She had,
during the last day or two, been reading an article in which
PANTHEISM was once and again referred to with more horror than
definiteness. Recovering herself a little, she ventured approach to
the subject.

"Macruadh," she said, "Mr. Ian and you often say things about NATURE
that I cannot understand: I wish you would tell me what you mean by
it."

"By what?" asked Alister.

"By NATURE" answered Mercy. "I heard Mr. Ian say, for instance, the
other night, that he did not like Nature to take liberties with him;
you said she might take what liberties with you she pleased; and
then you went on talking so that I could not understand a word
either of you said!"

While she spoke, Ian had turned and rejoined them, and they were now
walking in a line, Mercy between the two men, and Christina on Ian's
right. The brothers looked at each other: it would be hard to make
her understand just that example! Something more rudimentary must
prepare the way! Silence fell for a moment, and then Ian said--

"We mean by nature every visitation of the outside world through our
senses."

"More plainly, please Mr. Ian! You cannot imagine how stupid I feel
when you are talking your thinks, as once I heard a child call
them."

"I mean by nature, then, all that you see and hear and smell and
taste and feel of the things round about you."

"If that be all you mean, why should you make it seem so difficult?"

"But that is not all. We mean the things themselves only for the
sake of what they say to us. As our sense of smell brings us news of
fields far off, so those fields, or even the smell only that comes
from them, tell us of things, meanings, thoughts, intentions beyond
them, and embodied in them."

"And that is why you speak of Nature as a person?" asked Mercy.

"Whatever influences us must be a person. But God is the only real
person, being in himself, and without help from anybody; and so we
talk even of the world which is but his living garment, as if that
were a person; and we call it SHE as if it were a woman, because so
many of God's loveliest influences come to us through her. She
always seems to me a beautiful old grandmother."

"But there now! when you talk of her influences, and the liberties
she takes, I do not know what you mean. She seems to do and be
something to you which certainly she does not and is not to me. I
cannot tell what to make of it. I feel just as when our music-master
was talking away about thorough bass: I could not get hold, head or
tail, of what the man was after, and we all agreed there was no
sense in it. Now I begin to suspect there must have been too much!"

"There is no fear of her!" said Ian to himself.

"My heart told me the truth about her!" thought Alister jubilant.
"Now we shall have talk!"

"I think I can let you see into it, Miss Mercy," said Ian. "Imagine
for a moment how it would be if, instead of having a roof like 'this
most excellent canopy the air, this brave o'erhanging, this
majestical roof, fretted with golden fire,'--"

"Are you making the words, or saying them out of a book?"
interrupted Mercy.

"Ah! you don't know Hamlet? How rich I should feel myself if I had
the first reading of it before me like you!--But imagine how
different it would have been if, instead of such a roof, we had only
clouds, hanging always down, like the flies in a theatre, within a
yard or two of our heads!"

Mercy was silent for a moment, then said,

"It would be horribly wearisome."

"It would indeed be wearisome! But how do you think it would affect
your nature, your being?"

Mercy held the peace which is the ignorant man's wisdom.

"We should have known nothing of astronomy," said Christina.

"True; and the worst would have been, that the soul would have had
no astronomy--no notion of heavenly things."

"There you leave me out again!" said Mercy.

"I mean," said Ian, "that it would have had no sense of
outstretching, endless space, no feeling of heights above, and
depths beneath. The idea of space would not have come awake in it."

"I understand!" said Christina. "But I do not see that we should
have been much the worse off. Why should we have the idea of more
than we want? So long as we have room, I do not see what space
matters to us!"

"Ah, but when the soul wakes up, it needs all space for room! A
limit of thousands of worlds will not content it. Mere elbow-room
will not do when the soul wakes up!"

"Then my soul is not waked up yet!" rejoined Christina with a laugh.

Ian did not reply, and Christina felt that he accepted the
proposition, absurd as it seemed to herself.

"But there is far more than that," he resumed. "What notion could
you have had of majesty, if the heavens seemed scarce higher than
the earth? what feeling of the grandeur of him we call God, of his
illimitation in goodness? For space is the body to the idea of
liberty. Liberty is--God and the souls that love; these are the
limitless room, the space, in which thoughts, the souls of things,
have their being. If there were no holy mind, then no freedom, no
spiritual space, therefore no thoughts; just as, if there were no
space, there could be no things."

Ian saw that not even Alister was following him, and changed his
key.

"Look up," he said, "and tell me what you see.--What is the shape
over us?"

"It is a vault," replied Christina.

"A dome--is it not?" said Mercy.

"Yes; a vault or a dome, recognizable at the moment mainly by its
shining points. This dome we understand to be the complement or
completing part of a correspondent dome on the other side of the
world. It follows that we are in the heart of a hollow sphere of
loveliest blue, spangled with light. Now the sphere is the one
perfect geometrical form. Over and round us then we have the one
perfect shape. I do not say it is put there for the purpose of
representing God; I say it is there of necessity, because of its
nature, and its nature is its relation to God. It is of God's
thinking; and that half-sphere above men's heads, with influence
endlessly beyond the reach of their consciousness, is the beginning
of all revelation of him to men. They must begin with that. It is
the simplest as well as most external likeness of him, while its
relation to him goes so deep that it represents things in his very
nature that nothing else could."

"You bewilder me," said Mercy. "I cannot follow you. I am not fit
for such high things!"

"I will go on; you will soon begin to see what I mean: I know what
you are fit for better than you do yourself, Miss Mercy.--Think
then how it would be if this blue sky were plainly a solid. Men of
old believed it a succession of hollow spheres, one outside the
other; it is hardly a wonder they should have had little gods. No
matter how high the vault of the inclosing sphere; limited at all it
could not declare the glory of God, it could only show his
handiwork. In our day it is a sphere only to the eyes; it is a
foreshortening of infinitude that it may enter our sight; there is
no imagining of a limit to it; it is a sphere only in this, that in
no one direction can we come nearer to its circumference than in
another. This infinitive sphere, I say then, or, if you like it
better, this spheric infinitude, is the only figure, image, emblem,
symbol, fit to begin us to know God; it is an idea incomprehensible;
we can only believe in it. In like manner God cannot by searching be
found out, cannot be grasped by any mind, yet is ever before us, the
one we can best know, the one we must know, the one we cannot help
knowing; for his end in giving us being is that his humblest
creature should at length possess himself, and be possessed by him."

"I think I begin," said Mercy--and said no more.

"If it were not for the outside world," resumed Ian, "we should have
no inside world to understand things by. Least of all could we
understand God without these millions of sights and sounds and
scents and motions, weaving their endless harmonies. They come out
from his heart to let us know a little of what is in it!"

Alister had been listening hard. He could not originate such things,
but he could understand them; and his delight in them proved them
his own, although his brother had sunk the shaft that laid open
their lode.

"I never heard you put a thing better, Ian!" he said.

"You gentlemen," said Mercy, "seem to have a place to think in that
I don't know how to get into! Could you not open your church-door a
little wider to let me in? There must be room for more than two!"

She was looking up at Alister, not so much afraid of him; Ian was to
her hardly of this world. In her eyes Alister saw something that
seemed to reflect the starlight; but it might have been a luminous
haze about the waking stars of her soul!

"My brother has always been janitor to me," replied Alister; "I do
not know how to open any door. But here no door needs to be opened;
you have just to step straight into the temple of nature, among all
the good people worshipping."

"There! that is what I was afraid of!" cried Mercy: "you are
pantheists!"

"Bless my soul, Mercy!" exclaimed Christina; "what do you mean?"

"Yes," answered Ian. "If to believe that not a lily can grow, not a
sparrow fall to the ground without our Father, be pantheism, Alister
and I are pantheists. If by pantheism you mean anything that would
not fit with that, we are not pantheists."

"Why should we trouble about religion more than is required of us!"
interposed Christina.

"Why indeed?" returned Ian. "But then how much is required?"

"You require far more than my father, and he is good enough for me!"

"The Master says we are to love God with all our hearts and souls
and strength and mind."

"That was in the old law, Ian," said Alister.

"You are right. Jesus only justified it--and did it."

"How then can you worship in the temple of Nature?" said Mercy.

"Just as he did. It is Nature's temple, mind, for the worship of
God, not of herself!"

"But how am I to get into it? That is what I want to know."

"The innermost places of the temple are open only to such as already
worship in a greater temple; but it has courts into which any honest
soul may enter."

"You wouldn't set me to study Wordsworth?"

"By no means."

"I am glad of that--though there must be more in him than I see, or
you couldn't care for him so much!"

"Some of Nature's lessons you must learn before you can understand
them."

"Can you call it learning a lesson if you do not understand it?"

"Yes--to a certain extent. Did you learn at school to work the rule
of three?"

"Yes; and I was rather fond of it."

"Did you understand it?"

"I could work sums in it."

"Did you see how it was that setting the terms down so, and working
out the rule, must give you a true answer. Did you perceive that it
was safe to buy or sell, to build a house, or lay out a garden, by
the rule of three?"

"I did not. I do not yet."

"Then one may so far learn a lesson without understanding it! All
do, more or less, in Dame Nature's school. Not a few lessons must be
so learned in order to be better learned. Without being so learned
first, it is not possible to understand them; the scholar has not
facts enough about the things to understand them. Keats's youthful
delight in Nature was more intense even than Wordsworth's, but he
was only beginning to understand her when he died. Shelley was much
nearer understanding her than Keats, but he was drowned before he
did understand her. Wordsworth was far before either of them. At the
same time, presumptuous as it may appear, I believe there are
regions to be traversed, beyond any point to which Wordsworth leads
us."

"But how am I to begin? Do tell me. Nothing you say helps me in the
least."

"I have all the time been leading you toward the door at which you
want to go in. It is not likely, however, that it will open to you
at once. I doubt if it will open to you at all except through
sorrow."

"You are a most encouraging master!" said Christina, with a light
laugh.

"It was Wordsworth's bitter disappointment in the outcome of the
French revolution," continued Ian, "that opened the door to him. Yet
he had gone through the outer courts of the temple with more
understanding than any who immediately preceded him.--Will you let
me ask you a question?"

"You frighten me!" said Mercy.

"I am sorry for that. We will talk of something else."

"I am not afraid of what you may ask me; I am frightened at what you
tell me. I fear to go on if I must meet Sorrow on the way!"

"You make one think of some terrible secret society!" said
Christina.

"Tell me then, Miss Mercy, is there anything you love very much? I
don't say any PERSON, but any THING."

"I love some animals."

"An animal is not a thing. It is possible to love animals and not
the nature of which we are speaking. You might love a dog dearly,
and never care to see the sun rise!--Tell me, did any flower ever
make you cry?

"No," answered Mercy, with a puzzled laugh; "how could it?"

"Did any flower ever make you a moment later in going to bed, or a
moment earlier in getting out of it?"

"No, certainly!"

"In that direction, then, I am foiled!"

"You would not really have me cry over a flower, Mr. Ian? Did ever a
flower make you cry yourself? Of course not! it is only silly women
that cry for nothing!"

"I would rather not bring myself in at present," answered Ian
smiling. "Do you know how Chaucer felt about flowers?"

"I never read a word of Chaucer."

"Shall I give you an instance?"

"Please."

"Chaucer was a man of the world, a courtier, more or less a man of
affairs, employed by Edward III. in foreign business of state: you
cannot mistake him for an effeminate or sentimental man! He does not
anywhere, so far as I remember, say that ever he cried over a
flower, but he shows a delight in some flowers so delicate and deep
that it must have a source profounder than that of most people's
tears. When we go back I will read you what he says about the daisy;
but one more general passage I think I could repeat. There are
animals in it too!"

"Pray let us hear it," said Christina.

He spoke the following stanzas--not quite correctly, but supplying
for the moment's need where he could not recall:--

    A gardein saw I, full of blosomed bowis,
    Upon a river, in a grene mede,
    There as sweetnesse evermore inough is,
    With floures white, blewe, yelowe, and rede,
    And cold welle streames, nothing dede,
    That swommen full of smale fishes light,
    With finnes rede, and scales silver bright.

    On every bough the birdes heard I sing,
    With voice of angell, in hir armonie,
    That busied hem, hir birdes forth to bring,
    The little pretty conies to hir play gan hie,
    And further all about I gan espie,
    The dredeful roe, the buck, the hart, and hind,
    Squirrels, and beastes small, of gentle kind.

    Of instruments of stringes in accorde,
    Heard I so play, a ravishing swetnesse,
    That God, that maker is of all and Lorde,
    Ne heard never better, as I gesse,
    Therewith a wind, unneth it might be lesse,
    Made in the leaves grene a noise soft,
    Accordant to the foules song on loft.

    The aire of the place so attempre was,
    That never was ther grevance of hot ne cold,
    There was eke every noisome spice and gras,
    Ne no man may there waxe sicke ne old,
    Yet was there more joy o thousand fold,
    Than I can tell or ever could or might,
    There is ever clere day, and never night.

He modernized them also a little in repeating them, so that his
hearers missed nothing through failing to understand the words: how
much they gained, it were hard to say.

"It reminds one," commented Ian, "of Dante's paradise on the top of
the hill of purgatory."

"I don't know anything about Dante either," said Mercy regretfully.

"There is plenty of time!" said Ian.

"But there is so much to learn!" returned Mercy in a hopeless tone.

"That is the joy of existence!" Ian replied. "We are not bound to
know; we are only bound to learn.--But to return to my task: a man
may really love a flower. In another poem Chaucer tells us that such
is his delight in his books that no other pleasure can take him from
them--

    Save certainly, when that the month of May
    Is comen, and that I heare the foules sing,
    And that the floures ginnen for to spring,
    Farwell my booke, and my devotion!

Poor people love flowers; rich people admire them."

"But," said Mercy, "how can one love a thing that has no life?"

Ian could have told her that whatever grows must live; he could
further have told her his belief that life cannot be without its
measure of consciousness; but it would have led to more difficulty,
and away from the end he had in view. He felt also that no
imaginable degree of consciousness in it was commensurate with the
love he had himself for almost any flower. His answer to Mercy's
question was this:--

"The flowers come from the same heart as man himself, and are sent
to be his companions and ministers. There is something divinely
magical, because profoundly human in them. In some at least the
human is plain; we see a face of childlike peace and confidence that
appeals to our best. Our feeling for many of them doubtless owes
something to childish associations; but how did they get their hold
of our childhood? Why did they enter our souls at all? They are
joyous, inarticulate children, come with vague messages from the
father of all. If I confess that what they say to me sometimes makes
me weep, how can I call my feeling for them anything but love? The
eternal thing may have a thousand forms of which we know nothing
yet!"

Mercy felt Ian must mean something she ought to like, if only she
knew what it was; but he had not yet told her anything to help her!
He had, however, neither reached his end nor lost his way; he was
leading her on--gently and naturally.

"I did not mean," he resumed, "that you must of necessity begin with
the flowers. I was only inquiring whether at that point you were
nearer to Nature.--Tell me--were you ever alone?"

"Alone!" repeated Mercy, thinking. "--Surely everybody has been many
times alone!"

"Could you tell when last you were alone?"

She thought, but could not tell.

"What I want to ask you," said Ian, "is--did you ever feel alone?
Did you ever for a moment inhabit loneliness? Did it ever press
itself upon you that there was nobody near--that if you called
nobody would hear? You are not alone while you know that you can
have a fellow creature with you the instant you choose."

"I hardly think I was ever alone in that way."

"Then what I would have you do," continued Ian, "is--to make
yourself alone in one of Nature's withdrawing-rooms, and seat
yourself in one of Grannie's own chairs.--I am coming to the point
at last!--Upon a day when the weather is fine, go out by yourself.
Tell no one where you are going, or that you are going anywhere.
Climb a hill. If you cannot get to the top of it, go high on the
side of it. No book, mind! nothing to fill your thinking-place from
another's! People are always saying 'I think,' when they are not
thinking at all, when they are at best only passing the thoughts of
others whom they do not even know.

"When you have got quite alone, when you do not even know the
nearest point to anybody, sit down and be lonely. Look out on the
loneliness, the wide world round you, and the great vault over you,
with the lonely sun in the middle of it; fold your hands in your
lap, and be still. Do not try to think anything. Do not try to call
up any feeling or sentiment or sensation; just be still. By and by,
it may be, you will begin to know something of Nature. I do not know
you well enough to be sure about it; but if you tell me afterwards
how you fared, I shall then know you a little better, and perhaps be
able to tell you whether Nature will soon speak to you, or not
until, as Henry Vaughan says, some veil be broken in you."

They were approaching the cottage, and little more was said. They
found Mrs. Palmer prepared to go, and Mercy was not sorry: she had
had enough for a while. She was troubled at the thought that perhaps
she was helplessly shut out from the life inhabited by the brothers.
When she lay down, her own life seemed dull and poor. These men,
with all their kindness, respect, attention, and even attendance
upon them, did not show them the homage which the men of their own
circle paid them!

"They will never miss us!" she said to herself. "They will go on
with their pantheism, or whatever it is, all the same!"

But they should not say she was one of those who talk but will not
do! That scorn she could not bear!

All the time, however, the thing seemed to savour more of spell or
cast of magic than philosophy: the means enjoined were suggestive of
a silent incantation!



CHAPTER XIII.

GRANNY ANGRY.


It must not be supposed that all the visiting was on the part of
those of the New House. The visits thence were returned by both
matron and men. But somehow there was never the same freedom in the
house as in the cottage. The difference did not lie in the presence
of the younger girls: they were well behaved, friendly, and nowise
disagreeable children. Doubtless there was something in the absence
of books: it was of no use to jump up when a passage occurred; help
was not at hand. But it was more the air of the place, the presence
of so many common-place things, that clogged the wheels of thought.
Neither, with all her knowledge of the world and all her sweetness,
did Mrs. Palmer understand the essentials of hospitality half so
well as the widow of the late minister-chief. All of them liked, and
confessed that they liked the cottage best. Even Christina felt
something lacking in their reception. She regretted that the house
was not grand enough to show what they were accustomed to.

Mrs. Palmer seldom understood the talk, and although she sat looking
persistently content, was always haunted with a dim feeling that her
husband would not be hest pleased at so much intercourse between his
rich daughters and those penniless country-fellows. But what could
she do! the place where he had abandoned them was so dull, so
solitary! the girls must not mope! Christina would wither up without
amusement, and then good-bye to her beauty and all that depended
upon it! In the purity of her motherhood, she more than liked the
young men: happy mother she would think herself, were her daughters
to marry such men as these! The relations between them and their
mother delighted her: they were one! their hearts were together!
they understood each other! She could never have such bliss with her
sons! Never since she gave them birth had she had one such look from
either of hers as she saw pass every now and then from these to
their mother! It would be like being born again to feel herself
loved in that way! For any danger to the girls, she thought with a
sigh how soon in London they would forget the young highlanders. Was
there no possibility of securing one of them? What chance was there
of Mercy's marrying well! she was so decidedly plain! Was the idea
of marrying her into an old and once powerful family like that of
the Macruadh, to her husband inconceivable? Could he not restore its
property as the dowry of his unprized daughter! it would be to him
but a trifle!--and he could stipulate that the chief should
acknowledge the baronetcy and use his title! Mercy would then be a
woman of consequence, and Peregrine would have the Bible-honour of
being the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell
in!--Such were some of the thoughts that would come and go in the
brain of the mother as she sat; nor were they without a share in her
readiness to allow her daughters to go out with the young men: she
had an unquestioning conviction of their safety with them.

The days went by, and what to Christina had seemed imprisonment,
began to look like some sort of liberty. She had scarce come nearer
to sympathy with those whose society consoled her, but their talk
had ceased to sound repulsive. She was infinitely more than a
well-modelled waxflower, and yet hardly a growing plant. More was
needed to wake her than friends awake. It is wonderful how long the
sleeping may go with the waking, and not discover any difference
between them. But Grannie Nature was about to interfere.

The spring drew gently on. It would be long ere summer was summer
enough to show. There seemed more of the destructive in the spring
itself than of the genial--cold winds, great showers, days of steady
rain, sudden assaults of hail and sleet. Still it was spring, and at
length, one fine day with a bright sun, snow on the hills, and
clouds in the east, but no sign of any sudden change, the girls went
out for a walk, and took the younger girls with them.

A little way up the valley, out of sight of the cottage, a small
burn came down its own dell to join that which flowed through the
chiefs farm. Its channel was wide, but except in time of rain had
little water in it. About half a mile up its course it divided, or
rather the channel did, for in one of its branches there was seldom
any water. At the fork was a low rocky mound, with an ancient ruin
of no great size-three or four fragments of thick walls, within
whose plan grew a slender birch-tree. Thither went the little party,
wandering up the stream: the valley was sheltered; no wind but the
south could reach it; and the sun, though it could not make it very
warm, as it looked only aslant on its slopes, yet lighted both sides
of it. Great white clouds passed slowly across the sky, with now and
then a nearer black one threatening rain, but a wind overhead was
carrying them quickly athwart.

Ian had seen the ladies pass, but made no effort to overtake them,
although he was bound in the same direction: he preferred sauntering
along with a book of ballads. Suddenly his attention was roused by a
peculiar whistle, which he knew for that of Hector of the Stags: it
was one of the few sounds he could make. Three times it was
hurriedly repeated, and ere the third was over, Ian had discovered
Hector high on a hill on the opposite side of the burn, waving his
arms, and making eager signs to him. He stopped and set himself to
understand. Hector was pointing with energy, but it was impossible
to determine the exact direction: all that Ian could gather was,
that his presence was wanted somewhere farther on. He resumed his
walk therefore at a rapid pace, whereupon Hector pointed higher.
There on the eastern horizon, towards the north, almost down upon
the hills, Ian saw a congeries of clouds in strangest commotion,
such as he had never before seen in any home latitude--a mass of
darkly variegated vapours manifesting a peculiar and appalling
unrest. It seemed tormented by a gyrating storm, twisting and
contorting it with unceasing change. Now the gray came writhing out,
now the black came bulging through, now a dirty brown smeared the
ashy white, and now the blue shone calmly out from eternal
distances. At the season he could hardly think it a thunderstorm,
and stood absorbed in the unusual phenomenon. But again, louder and
more hurried, came the whistling, and again he saw Hector
gesticulating, more wildly than before. Then he knew that someone
must be in want of help or succour, and set off running as hard as
he could: he saw Hector keeping him in sight, and watching to give
him further direction: perhaps the ladies had got into some
difficulty!

When he arrived at the opening of the valley just mentioned,
Hector's gesticulations made it quite plain it was up there he must
go; and as soon as he entered it, he saw that the cloudy turmoil was
among the hills at its head. With that he began to suspect the
danger the hunter feared, and almost the same instant heard the
merry voices of the children. Running yet faster, he came in sight
of them on the other side of the stream,--not a moment too soon. The
valley was full of a dull roaring sound. He called to them as he
ran, and the children saw and came running down toward him, followed
by Mercy. She was not looking much concerned, for she thought it
only the grumbling of distant thunder. But Ian saw, far up the
valley, what looked like a low brown wall across it, and knew what
it was.

"Mercy!" he cried, "run up the side of the hill directly; you will
be drowned--swept away if you do not."

She looked incredulous, and glanced up the hill-side, but carne on
as if to cross the burn and join him.

"Do as I tell you," he cried, in a tone which few would have
ventured to disregard, and turning darted across the channel toward
her.

Mercy did not wait his coming, but took the children, each by a
hand, and went a little way up the hill that immediately bordered
the stream.

"Farther! farther!" cried Ian as he ran. "Where is Christina?"

"At the ruin," she answered.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Ian, and darted off, crying, "Up the hill
with you! up the hill!"

Christina was standing by the birch-tree in the ruin, looking down
the burn. She had heard Ian calling, and saw him running, but
suspected no danger.

"Come; come directly; for God's sake, come!" he cried. "Look up the
burn!" he added, seeing her hesitate bewildered.

She turned, looked, and came running to him, down the channel, white
with terror. It was too late. The charging water, whose front rank
was turf, and hushes, and stones, was almost upon her. The solid
matter had retarded its rush, but it was now on the point of
dividing against the rocky mound, to sweep along both sides, and
turn it into an island. Ian bounded to her in the middle of the
channel, caught her by the arm, and hurried her back to the mound as
fast as they could run: it was the highest ground immediately
accessible. As they reached it, the water broke with a roar against
its rocky base, rose, swelled--and in a moment the island was
covered with a brown, seething, swirling flood.

"Where's Mercy and the children?" gasped Christina, as the water
rose upon her.

"Safe, safe!" answered Ian. "We must get to the ruin!"

The water was halfway up his leg, and rising fast. Their danger was
but beginning. Would the old walls, in greater part built without
mortar, stand the rush? If a tree should strike them, they hardly
would! If the flood came from a waterspout, it would soon be
over--only how high it might first rise, who could tell! Such were
his thoughts as they struggled to the ruin, and stood up at the end
of a wall parallel with the current.

The water was up to Christina's waist, and very cold. Here out of
the rush, however, she recovered her breath in a measure, and showed
not a little courage. Ian stood between her and the wall, and held
her fast. The torrent came round the end of the wall from both
sides, but the encounter and eddy of the two currents rather pushed
them up against it. Without it they could not have stood.

The chief danger to Christina, however, was from the cold. With the
water so high on her body, and flowing so fast, she could not long
resist it! Ian, therefore, took her round the knees, and lifted her
almost out of the water.

"Put your arms up," he said, "and lay hold of the wall. Don't mind
blinding me; my eyes are of little use at present. There--put your
feet in my hands. Don't be frightened; I can hold you."

"I can't help being frightened!" she panted.

"We are in God's arms," returned Ian. "He is holding us."

"Are you sure we shall not be drowned?" she asked.

"No; but I am sure the water cannot take us out of God's arms."

This was not much comfort to Christina. She did not know anything
about God--did not believe in him any more than most people. She
knew God's arms only as the arms of Ian--and THEY comforted her, for
she FELT them!

How many of us actually believe in any support we do not immediately
feel? in any arms we do not see? But every help I from God; Ian's
help was God's help; and though to believe in Ian was not to believe
in God, it was a step on the road toward believing in God. He that
believeth not in the good man whom he hath seen, how shall he
believe in the God whom he hath not seen?

She began to feel a little better; the ghastly choking at her heart
was almost gone.

"I shall break your arms!" she said.

"You are not very heavy," he answered; "and though I am not so
strong as Alister, I am stronger than most men. With the help of the
wall I can hold you a long time."

How was it that, now first in danger, self came less to the front
with her than usual? It was that now first she was face to face with
reality. Until this moment her life had been an affair of
unrealities. Her selfishness had thinned, as it were vaporized,
every reality that approached her. Solidity is not enough to teach
some natures reality; they must hurt themselves against the solid
ere they realize its solidity. Small reality, small positivity of
existence has water to a dreaming soul, half consciously gazing
through half shut eyes at the soft river floating away in the
moonlight: Christina was shivering in its grasp on her person, its
omnipresence to her skin; its cold made her gasp and choke; the push
and tug of it threatened to sweep her away like a whelmed log! It is
when we are most aware of the FACTITUDE of things, that we are most
aware of our need of God, and most able to trust in him; when most
aware of their presence, the soul finds it easiest to withdraw from
them, and seek its safety with the maker of it and them. The
recognition of inexorable reality in any shape, or kind, or way,
tends to rouse the soul to the yet more real, to its relations with
higher and deeper existence. It is not the hysterical alone for whom
the great dash of cold water is good. All who dream life instead of
living it, require some similar shock. Of the kind is every
disappointment, every reverse, every tragedy of life. The true in
even the lowest kind, is of the truth, and to be compelled to feel
even that, is to be driven a trifle nearer to the truth of being, of
creation, of God. Hence this sharp contact with Nature tended to
make Christina less selfish: it made her forget herself so far as to
care for her helper as well as herself.

It must be remembered, however, that her selfishness was not the
cultivated and ingrained selfishness of a long life, but that of an
uneducated, that is undeveloped nature. Her being had not
degenerated by sinning against light known as light; it had not been
consciously enlightened at all; it had scarcely as yet begun to
grow. It was not lying dead, only unawaked. I would not be
understood to imply that she was nowise to blame--but that she was
by no means so much to blame as one who has but suspected the
presence of a truth, and from selfishness or self-admiration has
turned from it. She was to blame wherever she had not done as her
conscience had feebly told her; and she had not made progress just
because she had neglected the little things concerning which she had
promptings. There are many who do not enter the kingdom of heaven
just because they will not believe the tiny key that is handed them,
fit to open its hospitable gate.

"Oh, Mr. Ian, if you should be drowned for my sake!" she faltered
with white lips. "You should not have come to me!"

"I would not wish a better death," said Ian.

"How can you talk so coolly about it!" she cried.

"Well," he returned, "what better way of going out of the world is
there than by the door of help? No man cares much about what the
idiots of the world call life! What is it whether we live in this
room or another? The same who sent us here, sends for us out of
here!"

"Most men care very much! You are wrong there!"

"I don't call those who do, men! They are only children! I know many
men who would no more cleave to this life than a butterfly would
fold his wings and creep into his deserted chrysalis-case. I do care
to live--tremendously, but I don't mind where. He who made this room
so well worth living in, may surely be trusted with the next!"

"I can't quite follow you," stammered Christina. "I am sorry.
Perhaps it is the cold. I can't feel my hands, I am so cold."

"Leave the wall, and put your arms round my neck. The change will
rest me, and the water is already falling! It will go as rapidly as
it came!"

"How do you know that?"

"It has sunk nearly a foot in the last fifteen minutes: I have been
carefully watching it, you may be sure! It must have been a
waterspout, and however much that may bring, it pours it out all at
once."

"Oh!" said Christina, with a tremulous joyfulness; "I thought it
would go on ever so long!"

"We shall get out of it alive!--God's will be done!"

"Why do you say that? Don't you really mean we are going to be
saved?"

"Would you want to live, if he wanted you to die?"

"Oh, but you forget, Mr. Ian, I am not ready to die, like you!"
sobbed Christina.

"Do you think anything could make it better for you to stop here,
after God thought it better for you to go?"

"I dare not think about it."

"Be sure God will not take you away, if it be better for you to live
here a little longer. But you will have to go sometime; and if you
contrived to live after God wanted you to go, you would find
yourself much less ready when the time came that you must. But, my
dear Miss Palmer, no one can be living a true life, to whom dying is
a terror."

Christina was silent. He spoke the truth! She was not worth
anything! How grand it was to look death in the face with a smile!

If she had been no more than the creature she had hitherto shown
herself, not all the floods of the deluge could have made her think
or feel thus: her real self, her divine nature had begun to wake.
True, that nature was as yet no more like the divine, than the
drowsy, arm-stretching, yawning child is like the merry elf about to
spring from his couch, full of life, of play, of love. She had no
faith in God yet, but it was much that she felt she was not worth
anything.

You are right: it was odd to hold such a conversation at such a
time! But Ian was an odd man. He actually believed that God was
nearer to him than his own consciousness, yet desired communion with
him! and that Jesus Christ knew what he said when he told his
disciples that the Father cared for his sparrows.

Only one human being witnessed their danger, and he could give no
help. Hector of the Stags had crossed the main valley above where
the torrent entered it, and coming over the hill, saw with
consternation the flood-encompassed pair. If there had been help in
man, he could have brought none; the raging torrent blocked the way
both to the village and to the chief's house. He could only stand
and gaze with his heart in his eyes.

Beyond the stream lay Mercy on the hillside, with her face in the
heather. Frozen with dread, she dared not look up. Had she moved but
ten yards, she would have seen her sister in Ian's arms.

The children sat by her, white as death, with great lumps in their
throats, and the silent tears rolling down their cheeks. It was the
first time death had come near them.

A sound of sweeping steps came through the heather. They looked up:
there was the chief striding toward them.

The flood had come upon him at work in his fields, whelming his
growing crops. He had but time to unyoke his bulls, and run for his
life. The bulls, not quite equal to the occasion, were caught and
swept away. They were found a week after on the hills, nothing the
worse, and nearly as wild as when first the chief took them in hand.
The cottage was in no danger; and Nancy got a horse and the last of
the cows from the farm-yard on to the crest of the ridge, against
which the burn rushed roaring, just as the water began to invade the
cowhouse and stable. The moment he reached the ridge, the chief set
out to look for his brother, whom he knew to be somewhere up the
valley; and having climbed to get an outlook, saw Mercy and the
girls, from whose postures he dreaded that something had befallen
them.

The girls uttered a cry of welcome, and the chief answered, but
Mercy did not lift her head.

"Mercy," said Alister softly, and kneeling laid his hand on her.

She turned to him such a face of blank misery as filled him with
consternation.

"What has happened?" he asked.

She tried to speak, but could not.

"Where is Christina?" he went on.

She succeeded in bringing out the one word "ruin."

"Is anybody with her?"

"Ian."

"Oh!" he returned cheerily, as if then all would be right. But a
pang shot through his heart, and it was as much for himself as for
Mercy that he went on: "But God is with them, Mercy. If he were not,
it would be bad indeed! Where he is, all is well!"

She sat up, and putting out her hand, laid it in his great palm.

"I wish I could believe that!" she said; "but you know people ARE
drowned sometimes!"

"Yes, surely! but if God be with them what does it matter! It is no
worse than when a mother puts her baby into a big bath."

"It is cruel to talk like that to me when my sister is drowning!"

She gave a stifled shriek, and threw herself again on her face.

"Mercy," said the chief--and his voice trembled a little, "you do
not love your sister more than I love my brother, and if he be
drowned I shall weep; but I shall not be miserable as if a mocking
devil were at the root of it, and not one who loves them better than
we ever shall. But come; I think we shall find them somehow alive
yet! Ian knows what to do in an emergency; and though you might not
think it, he is a very strong man."

She rose immediately, and taking like a child the hand he offered
her, went up the hill with him.

The girls ran before them, and presently gave a scream of joy.

"I see Chrissy! I see Chrissy!" cried one.

"Yes! there she is! I see her too!" cried the other.

Alister hurried up with Mercy. There was Christina! She seemed
standing on the water!

Mercy burst into tears.

"But where's Ian?" she said, when she had recovered herself a
little; "I don't see him!"

"He is there though, all right!" answered Alister. "Don't you see
his hands holding her out of the water?"

And with that he gave a great shout:--

"Ian! Ian! hold on, old boy! I'm coming!"

Ian heard him, and was filled with terror, but had neither breath
nor strength to answer. Along the hillside went Alister bounding
like a deer, then turning sharp, shot headlong down, dashed into the
torrent--and was swept away like a cork. Mercy gave a scream, and
ran down the hill.

He was not carried very far, however. In a moment or two he had
recovered himself, and crept out gasping and laughing, just below
Mercy. Ian did not move. He was so benumbed that to change his
position an inch would, he well knew, be to fall.

And now Hector began to behave oddly. He threw a stone, which went
in front of Ian and Christina. Then he threw another, which went
behind them. Then he threw a third, and Christina felt her hat
caught by a bit of string. She drew it toward her as fast as
numbness would permit, and found at the end a small bottle. She
managed to get it uncorked, and put it to Ian's lips. He swallowed a
mouthful, and made her take some. Hector stood on one side, the
chief on the other, and watched the proceeding.

"What would mother say, Alister!" cried Ian across the narrowing
water.

In the joy of hearing his voice, Alister rushed again into the
torrent; and, after a fierce struggle, reached the mound, where he
scrambled up, and putting his arms round Ian's legs with a shout,
lifted the two at once like a couple of babies.

"Come! come, Alister! don't be silly!" said Ian. "Set me down!"

"Give me the girl then."

"Take her!"

Christina turned on him a sorrowful gaze as Alister took her.

"I have killed you!" she said.

"You have done me the greatest favour," he replied.

"What?" she asked.

"Accepted help."

She burst out crying. She had not shed a tear before.

"Get on the top of the wall, Ian, out of the wet," said Alister.

"You can't tell what the water may have done to the foundations,
Alister! I would rather not break my leg! It is so frozen it would
never mend again!"

As they talked, the torrent had fallen so much, that Hector of the
Stags came wading from the other side. A few minutes more, and
Alister carried Christina to Mercy.

"Now," he said, setting her down, "you must walk."

Ian could not cross without Hector's help; he seemed to have no
legs. They set out at once for the cottage.

"How will your crops fare, Alister?" asked Ian.

"Part will be spoiled," replied the chief; "part not much the
worse."

The torrent had rushed half-way up the ridge, then swept along the
flank of it, and round the end in huge bulk, to the level on the
other side. The water lay soaking into the fields. The valley was
desolated. What green things had not been uprooted or carried away
with the soil, were laid flat. Everywhere was mud, and scattered all
over were lumps of turf, with heather, brushwood, and small trees.
But it was early in the year, and there was hope!

I will spare the description of the haste and hurrying to and fro in
the little house--the blowing of fires, the steaming pails and
blankets, the hot milk and tea! Mrs. Macruadh rolled up her sleeves,
and worked like a good housemaid. Nancy shot hither and thither on
her bare feet like a fawn--you could not say she ran, and certainly
she did not walk. Alister got Ian to bed, and rubbed him with rough
towels--himself more wet than he, for he had been rolled over and
over in the torrent. Christina fell asleep, and slept many hours.
When she woke, she said she was quite well; but it was weeks before
she was like herself. I doubt if ever she was quite as strong again.
For some days Ian confessed to an aching in his legs and arms. It
was the cold of the water, he said; but Alister insisted it was from
holding Christina so long.

"Water could not hurt a highlander!" said Alister.



CHAPTER XIV

CHANGE.


Christina walked home without difficulty, but the next day did not
leave her bed, and it was a fortnight before she was able to be out
of doors. When Ian and she met, her manner was not quite the same as
before. She seemed a little timid. As she shook hands with him her
eyes fell; and when they looked up again, as if ashamed of their
involuntary retreat, her face was rosy; but the slight embarrassment
disappeared as soon as they began to talk. No affectation or
formality, however, took its place: in respect of Ian her falseness
was gone. The danger she had been in, and her deliverance through
the voluntary sharing of it by Ian, had awaked the simpler, the real
nature of the girl, hitherto buried in impressions and their
responses. She had lived but as a mirror meant only to reflect the
outer world: something of an operative existence was at length
beginning to appear in her. She was growing a woman. And the first
stage in that growth is to become as a little child.

The child, however, did not for some time show her face to any but
Ian. In his presence Christina had no longer self-assertion or wile.
Without seeking his notice she would yet manifest an almost childish
willingness to please him. It was no sudden change. She had, ever
since their adventure, been haunted, both awake and asleep, by his
presence, and it had helped her to some discoveries regarding
herself. And the more she grew real, the nearer, that is, that she
came to being a PERSON, the more she came under the influence of his
truth, his reality. It is only through live relation to others that
any individuality crystallizes.

"You saved my life, Ian!" she said one evening for the tenth time.

"It pleased God you should live," answered Ian.

"Then you really think," she returned, "that God interfered to save
us?"

"No, I do not; I don't think he ever interferes."

"Mr. Sercombe says everything goes by law, and God never interferes;
my father says he does interfere sometimes."

"Would you say a woman interfered in the management of her own
house? Can one be said to interfere where he is always at work? He
is the necessity of the universe, ever and always doing the best
that can be done, and especially for the individual, for whose sake
alone the cosmos exists. If we had been drowned, we should have
given God thanks for saving us."

"I do not understand you!"

"Should we not have given thanks to find ourselves lifted out of the
cold rushing waters, in which we felt our strength slowly sinking?"

"But you said DROWNED! How could we have thanked God for deliverance
if we were drowned?"

"What!--not when we found ourselves above the water, safe and well,
and more alive than ever? Would it not be a dreadful thing to lie
tossed for centuries under the sea-waves to which the torrent had
borne us? Ah, how few believe in a life beyond, a larger life, more
awake, more earnest, more joyous than this!"

"Oh, _I_ do! but that is not what one means by LIFE; that is quite a
different kind of thing!"

"How do you make out that it is so different? If I am I, and you are
you, how can it be very different? The root of things is
individuality, unity of idea, and persistence depends on it. God is
the one perfect individual; and while this world is his and that
world is his, there can be no inconsistency, no violent difference,
between there and here."

"Then you must thank God for everything--thank him if you are
drowned, or burnt, or anything!"

"Now you understand me! That is precisely what I mean."

"Then I can never be good, for I could never bring myself to that!"

"You cannot bring yourself to it; no one could. But we must come to
it. I believe we shall all be brought to it."

"Never me! I should not wish it!"

"You do not wish it; but you may be brought to wish it; and without
it the end of your being cannot be reached. No one, of course, could
ever give thanks for what he did not know or feel as good. But what
IS good must come to be felt good. Can you suppose that Jesus at any
time could not thank his Father for sending him into the world?"

"You speak as if we and he were of the same kind!"

"He and we are so entirely of the same kind, that there is no bliss
for him or for you or for me but in being the loving obedient child
of the one Father."

"You frighten me! If I cannot get to heaven any other way than that,
I shall never get there."

"You will get there, and you will get there that way and no other.
If you could get there any other way, it would be to be miserable."

"Something tells me you speak the truth; but it is terrible! I do
not like it."

"Naturally."

She was on the point of crying. They were alone in the drawing-room
of the cottage, but his mother might enter any moment, and Ian said
no more.

It was not a drawing toward the things of peace that was at work in
Christina: it was an urging painful sense of separation from Ian.
She had been conscious of some antipathy even toward him, so unlike
were her feelings, thoughts, judgments, to his: this feeling had
changed to its opposite.

A meeting with Ian was now to Christina the great event of day or
week; but Ian, in love with the dead, never thought of danger to
either.

One morning she woke from a sound and dreamless sleep, and getting
out of bed, drew aside the curtains, looked out, and then opened her
window. It was a lovely spring-morning. The birds were singing loud
in the fast greening shrubbery. A soft wind was blowing. It came to
her, and whispered something of which she understood only that it
was both lovely and sad. The sun, but a little way up, was shining
over hills and cone-shaped peaks, whose shadows, stretching eagerly
westward, were yet ever shortening eastward. His light was gentle,
warm, and humid, as if a little sorrowful, she thought, over his
many dead children, that he must call forth so many more to the new
life of the reviving year. Suddenly as she gazed, the little clump
of trees against the hillside stood as she had never seen it stand
before--as if the sap in them were no longer colourless, but red
with human life; nature was alive with a presence she had never seen
before; it was instinct with a meaning, an intent, a soul; the
mountains stood against the sky as if reaching upward, knowing
something, waiting for something; over all was a glory. The change
was far more wondrous than from winter to summer; it was not as if a
dead body, but a dead soul had come alive. What could it mean? Had
the new aspect come forth to answer this glow in her heart, or was
the glow in her heart the reflection of this new aspect of the
world? She was ready to cry aloud, not with joy, not from her
feeling of the beauty, but with a SENSATION almost, hitherto
unknown, therefore nameless. It was a new and marvellous interest in
the world, a new sense of life in herself, of life in everything, a
recognition of brother-existence, a life-contact with the universe,
a conscious flash of the divine in her soul, a throb of the pure joy
of being. She was nearer God than she had ever been before. But she
did not know this--might never in this world know it; she understood
nothing of what was going on in her, only felt it go on; it was not
love of God that was moving in her. Yet she stood in her white dress
like one risen from the grave, looking in sweet bliss on a new
heaven and a new earth, made new by the new opening of her eyes. To
save man or woman, the next thing to the love of God is the love of
man or woman; only let no man or woman mistake the love of love for
love!

She started, grew white, stood straight up, grew red as a
sunset:--was it--could it be?--"Is this love?" she said to herself,
and for minutes she hardly moved.

It was love. Whether love was in her or not, she was in love--and it
might get inside her. She hid her face in her hands, and wept.

With what opportunities I have had of studying, I do not say
UNDERSTANDING, the human heart, I should not have expected such
feeling from Christina--and she wondered at it herself. Till a child
is awake, how tell his mood?--until a woman is awaked, how tell her
nature? Who knows himself?--and how then shall he know his
neighbour?

For who can know anything except on the supposition of its remaining
the same? and the greatest change of all, next to being born again,
is beginning to love. The very faculty of loving had been hitherto
repressed in the soul of Christina--by poor education, by low family
and social influences, by familiarity with the worship of riches, by
vanity, and consequent hunger after the attentions of men; but now
at length she was in love.

At breakfast, though she was silent, she looked so well that her
mother complimented her on her loveliness. Had she been more of a
mother, she might have seen cause for anxiety in this fresh
bourgeoning of her beauty.



CHAPTER XV.

LOVE ALLODIAL.


While the chief went on in his humble way, enjoying life and his
lowly position; seeming, in the society of his brother, to walk the
outer courts of heaven; and, unsuspicious of the fact, growing more
and more in love with the ill educated, but simple, open, and wise
Mercy, a trouble was gathering for him of which he had no
presentiment. We have to be delivered from the evils of which we are
unaware as well as from those we hate; and the chief had to be set
free from his unconscious worship of Mammon. He did not worship
Mammon by yielding homage to riches; he did not make a man's money
his pedestal; had he been himself a millionaire, he would not have
connived at being therefore held in honour; but, ever consciously
aware of the deteriorating condition of the country, and pitifully
regarding the hundred and fifty souls who yet looked to him as their
head, often turning it over in his mind how to shepherd them should
things come to a crisis, his abiding, ever-recurring comfort was the
money from the last sale of the property, accumulating ever since,
and now to be his in a very few years: he always thought, I say,
first of this money and not first of God. He imagined it an
inexhaustible force, a power with which for his clan he could work
wonders. It is the common human mistake to think of money as a force
and not as a mere tool. But he never thought of it otherwise than as
belonging to the clan; never imagined the least liberty to use it
save in the direct service of his people. And all the time, the very
shadow of this money was disappearing from the face of the earth!

It had scarcely been deposited where the old laird judged it as safe
as in the Bank of England, when schemes and speculations were
initiated by the intrusted company which brought into jeopardy
everything it held, and things had been going from bad to worse ever
since. Nothing of this was yet known, for the directors had from the
first carefully muffled up the truth, avoiding the least economy
lest it should be interpreted as hinting at any need of prudence;
living in false show with the very money they were thus lying away,
warming and banqueting their innocent neighbours with fuel and wine
stolen from their own cellars; and working worse wrong and more
misery under the robe of imputed righteousness, that is,
respectability, than could a little army of burglars. Unawares to a
trusting multitude, the vacant eyes of loss were drawing near to
stare them out of hope and comfort; and annihilation had long closed
in upon the fund which the chief regarded as the sheet-anchor of his
clan: he trusted in Mammon, and Mammon had played him one of his
rogue's-tricks. The most degrading wrong to ourselves, and the worst
eventual wrong to others, is to trust in any thing or person but the
living God: it was an evil thing from which the chief had sore need
to be delivered. Even those who help us we must regard as the loving
hands of the great heart of the universe, else we do God wrong, and
will come to do them wrong also.

And there was more yet of what we call mischief brewing in another
quarter to like hurt.

Mr. Peregrine Palmer was not now so rich a man as when he bought
his highland property; also he was involved in affairs of doubtful
result. It was natural, therefore, that he should begin to think of
the said property not merely as an ornament of life, but as
something to fall back upon. He feared nothing, however, more
unpleasant than a temporary embarrassment. Had not his family been
in the front for three generations! Had he not a vested right in
success! Had he not a claim for the desire of his heart on whatever
power it was that he pictured to himself as throned in the heavens!
It never came into his head that, seeing there were now daughters in
the family, it might be worth the while of that Power to make a poor
man of him for their sakes; or that neither he, his predecessors,
nor his sons, had ever come near enough to anything human to be fit
for having their pleasures taken from them. But what I have to do
with is the new aspect his Scotch acres now put on: he must see to
making the best of them! and that best would be a deer-forest! He
and his next neighbour might together effect something worth doing!
Therefore all crofters or villagers likely to trespass must be got
rid of--and first and foremost the shepherds, for they had endless
opportunities of helping themselves to a deer. Where there were
sheep there must be shepherds: they would make a clearance of both!
The neighbour referred to, a certain Mr. Brander, who had made his
money by sharp dealing in connection with a great Russian railway,
and whom Mr. Peregrine Palmer knew before in London, had enlightened
him on many things, and amongst others on the shepherds' passion for
deer-stalking. Being in the company of the deer, he said, the whole
day, and the whole year through, they were thoroughly acquainted
with their habits, and were altogether too much both for the deer
and for their owners. A shepherd would take the barrel of his gun
from the stock, and thrust it down his back, or put it in a hollow
crook, and so convey it to the vicinity of some spot frequented by a
particular animal, to lie hidden there for his opportunity. In the
hills it was impossible to tell with certainty whence came the sound
of a shot; and no rascal of them would give information concerning
another! In short, there was no protecting the deer without
uprooting and expelling the peasantry!

The village of the Clanruadh was on Mr. Brander's land, and was
dependent in part on the produce of small pieces of ground, the
cultivators of which were mostly men with other employment as well.
Some made shoes of the hides, others cloth and clothes of the wool
of the country. Some were hinds on neighbouring farms, but most were
shepherds, for there was now very little tillage. Almost all the
land formerly cultivated had been given up to grass and sheep, and
not a little of it was steadily returning to that state of nature
from which it had been reclaimed, producing heather, ling,
blueberries, cnowperts, and cranberries. The hamlet was too far from
the sea for much fishing, but some of its inhabitants would join
relatives on the coast and go fishing with them, when there was
nothing else to be done. But many of those who looked to the sea for
help had lately come through a hard time, in which they would have
died but for the sea-weed and shellfish the shore afforded them; yet
such was their spirit of independence that a commission appointed to
inquire into their necessity, found scarcely one willing to
acknowledge any want: such was the class of men and women now
doomed, at the will of two common-minded, greedy men, to expulsion
from the houses and land they had held for generations, and loved
with a love unintelligible to their mean-souled oppressors.

Ian, having himself learned the lesson that, so long as a man is
dependent on anything earthly, he is not a free man, was very
desirous to have his brother free also. He could not be satisfied to
leave the matter where, on their way home that night from THE TOMB,
as they called their cave-house, their talk had left it. Alister's
love of the material world, of the soil of his ancestral acres, was,
Ian plainly saw, not yet one with the meaning and will of God: he
was not yet content that the home of his fathers should fare as the
father of fathers pleased. He was therefore on the outlook for the
right opportunity of having another talk with him on the subject.

That those who are trying to be good are more continuously troubled
than the indifferent, has for ages been a puzzle. "I saw the wicked
spreading like a green bay tree," says king David; and he was far
from having fathomed the mystery when he got his mind at rest about
it. Is it not simply that the righteous are worth troubling? that
they are capable of receiving good from being troubled? As a man
advances, more and more is required of him. A wrong thing in the
good man becomes more and more wrong as he draws nearer to freedom
from it. His friends may say how seldom he offends; but every time
he offends, he is the more to blame. Some are allowed to go on
because it would be of no use to stop them yet; nothing would yet
make them listen to wisdom. There must be many who, like Dives, need
the bitter contrast between the good things of this life and the
evil things of the next, to wake them up. In this life they are not
only fools, and insist on being treated as fools, but would have God
consent to treat them as if he too had no wisdom! The laird was one
in whom was no guile, but he was far from perfect: any man is far
from perfect whose sense of well-being could be altered by any
change of circumstance. A man unable to do without this thing or
that, is not yet in sight of his perfection, therefore not out of
sight of suffering. They who do not know suffering, may well doubt
if they have yet started on the way TO BE. If clouds were gathering
to burst in fierce hail on the head of the chief, it was that he
might be set free from yet another of the cords that bound him. He
was like a soaring eagle from whose foot hung, trailing on the
earth, the line by which his tyrant could at his will pull him back
to his inglorious perch.

To worship truly is to treat according to indwelling worth. The
highest worship of Nature is to worship toward it, as David and
Daniel worshipped toward the holy place. But even the worship of
Nature herself might be an ennobling idolatry, so much is the divine
present in her. There is an intense, almost sensuous love of Nature,
such as the chief confessed to his brother, which is not only one
with love to the soul of Nature, but tends to lift the soul of man
up to the lord of Nature. To love the soul of Nature, however, does
not secure a man from loving the body of Nature in the low
Mammon-way of possession. A man who loves the earth even as the meek
love it, may also love it in a way hostile to such possession of it
as is theirs. The love of possessing as property, must, unchecked,
come in time to annihilate in a man the inheritance of the meek.

A few acres of good valley-land, with a small upland pasturage, and
a space of barren hill-country, had developed in the chief a greater
love of the land as a possession than would have come of entrance
upon an undiminished inheritance. He clave to the ground remaining
to him, as to the last remnant of a vanishing good.

One day the brothers were lying on the westward slope of the ridge,
in front of the cottage. A few sheep, small, active, black-faced,
were feeding around them: it was no use running away, for the
chief's colley was lying beside him! The laird every now and then
buried his face in the short sweet mountain-grass-like that of the
clowns in England, not like the rich sown grass on the cultivated
bank of the burn.

"I believe I love the grass," he said, "as much, Ian, as your
Chaucer loved the daisy!"

"Hardly so much, I should think!" returned Ian.

"Why do you think so?"

"I doubt if grass can be loved so much as a flower."

"Why not?"

"Because the one is a mass, the other an individual."

"I understand."

"I have a fear, Alister, that you are in danger of avarice," said
Ian, after a pause.

"Avarice, Ian! What can you mean?"

"You are as free, Alister, from the love of money, as any man I ever
knew, but that is not enough. Did you ever think of the origin of
the word AVARICE?"

"No."

"It comes--at least it seems to me to come--from the same root as
the verb HAVE. It is the desire to call THINGS ours--the desire of
company which is not of our kind--company such as, if small enough,
you would put in your pocket and carry about with you. We call the
holding in the hand, or the house, or the pocket, or the power,
HAVING; but things so held cannot really be HAD; HAVING is but an
illusion in regard to THINGS. It is only what we can be WITH that we
can really possess--that is, what is of our kind, from God to the
lowest animal partaking of humanity. A love can never be lost; it is
a possession; but who can take his diamond ring into the somewhere
beyond?--it is not a possession. God only can be ours perfectly;
nothing called property can be ours at all."

"I know it--with my head at least," said Alister; "but I am not sure
how you apply it to me."

"You love your country--don't you, Alister?"

"I do."

"What do you mean by LOVING YOUR COUNTRY?"

"It is hard to say all at once. The first thing that comes to me is,
that I would rather live in it than in any other."

"Would you care to vaunt your country at the expense of any other?"

"Not if it did not plainly excel--and even then it might be neither
modest nor polite!"

"Would you feel bound to love a man more because he was a
fellow-countryman?"

"Other things being equal, I could not help it."

"Other things not being equal,--?"

"I should love the best man best--Scotsman or negro."

"That is as I thought of you. For my part, my love for my own people
has taught me to love every man, be his colour or country what it
may. The man whose patriotism is not leading him in that direction
has not yet begun to be a true patriot. Let him go to St. Paul and
learn, or stay in his own cellar and be an idiot.--But now, from
loving our country, let us go down the other way:--Do you love the
highlands or the lowlands best? You love the highlands, of course,
you say. And what district do you like best? Our own. What parish?
Your father's. What part of the parish? Why this, where at this
moment we are lying. Now let me ask, have you, by your love for this
piece of the world, which you will allow me to call ours, learned to
love the whole world in like fashion?"

"I cannot say so. I do not think we can love the whole world in the
same way as our own part of it--the part where we were born and
bred! It is a portion of our very being."

"If your love to what we call our own land is a love that cannot
spread, it seems to me of a questionable kind--of a kind involving
the false notion of HAVING? The love that is eternal is alone true,
and that is the love of the essential, which is the universal. We
love indeed individuals, even to their peculiarities, but only
BECAUSE of what lies under and is the life of them--what they share
with every other, the eternal God-born humanity WHICH IS THE PERSON.
Without this humanity where were your friend? Mind, I mean no
abstraction, but the live individual humanity. Do you see what I am
driving at? I would extend my love of the world to all the worlds;
my love of humanity to all that inhabit them. I want, from being a
Scotsman, to be a Briton, then a European, then a cosmopolitan,
then a dweller of the universe, a lover of all the worlds I see, and
shall one day know. In the face of such a hope, I find my love for
this ground of my father's--not indeed less than before, but very
small. It has served its purpose in having begun in me love of the
revelation of God. Wherever I see the beauty of the Lord, that shall
be to me his holy temple. Our Lord was sent first to the lost sheep
of the house of Israel:-how would you bear to be told that he loved
them more than Africans or Scotsmen?"

"I could not bear it."

"Then, Alister, do you not see that the love of our mother earth is
meant to be but a beginning; and that such love as yours for the
land belongs to that love of things which must perish? You seem to
me not to allow it to blossom, but to keep it a hard bud; and a bud
that will not blossom is a coffin. A flower is a completed idea, a
thought of God, a creature whose body is most perishable, bat whose
soul, its idea, cannot die. With the idea of it in you, the
withering of the flower you can bear. The God in it is yours always.
Every spring you welcome the daisy anew; every time the primrose
departs, it grows more dear by its death. I say there must be a
better way of loving the ground on which we were born, than that
whence the loss of it would cause us torture."

Alister listened as to a prophecy of evil.

"Rather than that cottage and those fields should pass into the
hands of others," he said, almost fiercely, "I would see them sunk
in a roaring tide!"

Ian rose, and walked slowly away.

Alister lay clutching the ground with his hands. For a passing
moment Ian felt as if he had lost him.

"Lord, save him from this demon-love," he said, and sat down among
the pines.

In a few minutes, Alister came to him.

"You cannot mean, Ian," he said-and his face was white through all
its brown, "that I am to think no more of the fields of my fathers
than of any other ground on the face of the earth!" "Think of them
as the ground God gave to our fathers, which God may see fit to take
from us again, and I shall be content--for the present," answered
Ian.

"Do not be vexed with me," cried Alister. "I want to think as well
as do what is right; but you cannot know how I feel or you would
spare me. I love the very stones and clods of the land! The place is
to me as Jerusalem to the Jews:--you know what the psalm says:--

    Thy saints take pleasure in her stones,
    Her very dust to them is dear!"

"They loved their land as theirs," said Ian, "and have lost it!"

"I know I must be cast out of it! I know I must die and go from it;
but I shall come back and wander about the fields and the hills with
you and our father and mother!"

"And how about horse and dog?" asked Ian, willing to divert his
thoughts for a moment.

"Well! Daoimean and Luath are so good that I don't see why I should
not have them!"

"No more do I!" responded Ian. "We may be sure God will either let
you have them, or show you reason to content you for not having
them. No love of any thing is to be put in the same thought-pocket
with love for the poorest creature that has life. But I am sometimes
not a little afraid lest your love for the soil get right in to your
soul. We are here but pilgrims and strangers. God did not make the
world to be dwelt in, but to be journeyed through. We must not love
it as he did not mean we should. If we do, he may have great trouble
and we much hurt ere we are set free from that love. Alister, would
you willingly walk out of the house to follow him up and down for
ever?"

"I don't know about willingly," replied Alister, "but if I were sure
it was he calling me, I am sure I would walk out and follow him."

"What if your love of house and lands prevented you from being sure,
when he called you, that it was he?"

"That would be terrible! But he would not leave me so. He would not
forsake me in my ignorance!"

"No. Having to take you from everything, he would take everything
from you!"

Alister went into the house.

He did not know how much of the worldly mingled with the true in
him. He loved his people, and was unselfishly intent on helping them
to the utmost; but the thought that he was their chief was no small
satisfaction to him; and if the relation between them was a grand
one, self had there the more soil wherein to spread its creeping
choke-grass roots. In like manner, his love of nature nourished the
parasite possession. He had but those bare hill-sides, and those few
rich acres, yet when, from his eyry on the hill-top, he looked down
among the valleys, his heart would murmur within him, "From my feet
the brook flows gurgling to water my fields! The wild moors around
me feed my sheep! Yon glen is full of my people!" Even with the pure
smell of the earth, mingled the sense of its possession. When,
stepping from his cave-house, he saw the sun rise on the
outstretched grandeur of the mountain-world, and felt the earth a new
creation as truly as when Adam first opened his eyes on its glory,
his heart would give one little heave more at the thought that a
portion of it was his own. But all is man's only because it is
God's. The true possession of anything is to see and feel in it what
God made it for; and the uplifting of the soul by that knowledge,
is the joy of true having. The Lord had no land of his own. He did
not care to have it, any more than the twelve legions of angels he
would not pray for: his pupils must not care for things he did not
care for. He had no place to lay his head in-had not even a grave of
his own. For want of a boat he had once to walk the rough Galilean
sea. True, he might have gone with the rest, but he had to stop
behind to pray: he could not do without that. Once he sent a fish to
fetch him money, but only to pay a tax. He had even to borrow the
few loaves and little fishes from a boy, to feed his five thousand
with.

The half-hour which Alister spent in the silence of his chamber,
served him well: a ray as of light polarized entered his soul in its
gloom. He returned to Ian, who had been all the time walking up and
down the ridge.

"You are right, Ian!" he said. "I do love the world! If I were
deprived of what I hold, I should doubt God! I fear, oh, I fear,
Ian, he is going to take the land from me!"

"We must never fear the will of God, Alister! We are not right until
we can pray heartily, not say submissively, 'Thy will be done!' We
have not one interest, and God another. When we wish what he does
not wish, we are not more against him than against our real selves.
We are traitors to the human when we think anything but the will
of God desirable, when we fear our very life."

It was getting toward summer, and the days were growing longer.

"Let us spend a night in the tomb!" said Ian; and they fixed a day
in the following week.



CHAPTER XVI.

MERCY CALLS ON GRANNIE.


Although the subject did not again come up, Mercy had not forgotten
what Ian had said about listening for the word of Nature, and had
resolved to get away the first time she could, and see whether
Grannie, as Ian had called her, would have anything to do with her.
It were hard to say what she expected--something half magical rather
than anything quite natural. The notions people have of spiritual
influence are so unlike the facts, that, when it begins they never
recognize it, but imagine something common at work. When the Lord
came, those who were looking for him did not know him:--was he not a
man like themselves! did they not know his father and mother!

It was a fine spring morning when Mercy left the house to seek an
interview with Nature somewhere among the hills. She took a path she
knew well, and then struck into a sheep-track she had never tried.
Up and up she climbed, nor spent a thought on the sudden changes to
which at that season, and amongst those hills, the weather is
subject. With no anxiety as to how she might fare, she was yet
already not without some awe: she was at length on her pilgrimage
to the temple of Isis!

Not until she was beyond sight of any house, did she begin to feel
alone. It was a new sensation, and of a mingled sort. But the slight
sense of anxiety and fear that made part of it, was soon overpowered
by something not unlike the exhilaration of a child escaped from
school. This grew and grew until she felt like a wild thing that had
been caught, and had broken loose. Now first, almost, she seemed to
have begun to live, for now first was she free! She might lie in the
heather, walk in the stream, do as she pleased! No one would
interfere with her, no one say Don't! She felt stronger and fresher
than ever in her life; and the farther she went, the greater grew
the pleasure. The little burn up whose banks, now the one and now
the other, she was walking, kept on welcoming her unaccustomed
feet to the realms of solitude and liberty. For ever it seemed
coming to meet her, hasting, running steep, as if straight out of
the heaven to which she was drawing nearer and nearer. The wind woke
now and then, and blew on her for a moment, as if tasting her, to
see what this young Psyche was that had floated up into the wild
thin air of the hills. The incessant meeting of the brook made it a
companion to her although it could not go her way, and was always
leaving her. But it kept her from the utter loneliness she sought;
for loneliness is imperfect while sound is by, especially a
sing-sound, and the brook was one of Nature's self--playing
song--instruments. But she came at length to a point where the
ground was too rough to let her follow its path any more, and
turning from it, she began to climb a steep ridge. The growing and
deepening silence as she went farther and farther from the brook,
promised the very place for her purpose on the top of the heathery
ridge.

But when she reached it and looked behind her, lo, the valley she
had left lay at her very feet! The world had rushed after and caught
her! She had not got away from it! It was like being enchanted! She
thought she was leaving it far behind, but the nature she sought to
escape that she might find Nature, would not let her go! It kept
following her as if to see that she fell into no snare, neither was
too sternly received by the loftier spaces. She could distinguish
one of the laird's men, ploughing in the valley below: she knew him
by his red waistcoat! Almost fiercely she turned and made for the
next ridge: it would screen her from the world she had left; it
should not spy upon her! The danger of losing her way back never
suggested itself. She had not learned that the look of things as you
go, is not their look when you turn to go back; that with your
attitude their mood will have altered. Nature is like a lobster-pot:
she lets you easily go on, but not easily return.

When she gained the summit of the second ridge, she looked abroad on
a country of which she knew nothing. It was like the face of an
utter stranger. Not far beyond rose yet another ridge: she must see
how the world looked from that! On and on she went, crossing ridge
after ridge, but no place invited her to stay and be still.

She found she was weary, and spying in the midst of some short
heather a great stone, sat down, and gave herself up to the rest
that stole upon her. Though the sun was warm, the air was keen, and,
hot with climbing, she turned her face to it, and drank in its
refreshing with delight. She looked around; not a trace of humanity
was visible-nothing but brown and gray and green hills, with the
clear sky over her head, and in the north a black cloud creeping
up from the horizon. Another sense than that of rest awoke in her;
now first in her life the sense of loneliness absolute began to
possess her. And therewith suddenly descended upon her a farther
something she had never known; it was as if the loneliness, or what
is the same thing, the presence of her own being without another to
qualify and make it reasonable and endurable, seized and held her.
The silence gathered substance, grew as it were solid, and closing
upon her, imprisoned her. Was it not rather that the Soul of Nature,
unprevented, unthwarted by distracting influences, found a freer
entrance to hers, but she, not yet in harmony with it, felt its
contact as alien-as bondage therefore and not liberty? She was nearer
than ever she had been to knowing the presence of the God who is
always nearer to us than aught else. Yea, something seemed, through
the very persistence of its silence, to say to her at last, and keep
saying, "Here I am!" She looked behind her in sudden terror: 110
form was there. She sent out her gaze to the horizon: the huge waves
of the solid earth stood up against the sky, sinking so slowly she
could not see them sink: they stood mouldering away, biding their
time. They were of those "who only stand and wait," fulfilling the
will of him who set them to crumble till the hour of the new heavens
and the new earth arrive. There was no visible life between her and
the great silent mouldering hills. On her right hand lay a blue
segment of the ever restless sea, but so far that its commotion
seemed a yet deeper rest than that of the immovable hills.

She sat and sat, but nothing came, nothing seemed coming to her. The
hope Ian had given her was not to be fulfilled! For here there was
no revelation! She was not of the kind Nature could speak to!

She began to grow uncomfortable--to feel as if she had done
something wrong--as if she was a child put into the corner--a corner
of the great universe, to learn to be sorry for something. Certainly
something was wrong with her-but what? Why did she feel so
uncomfortable? Was she so silly as mind being alone? There was
nothing in these mountains that would hurt her! The red deer were
sometimes dangerous, but none were even within sight! Yet something
like fear was growing in her! Why should she be afraid? Everything
about her certainly did look strange, as if she had nothing to do
with it, and it had nothing to do with her; but that was all! Ian
Macruadh must be wrong! How could there be any such bond as he said
between Nature and the human heart, when the first thing she felt
when alone with her, was fear! The world was staring at her! She was
the centre of a fixed, stony regard from all sides! The earth, and
the sea, and the sky, were watching her! She did not like it! She
would rise and shake off the fancy! But she did not rise; something
held her to her thinking. Just so she would, when a child in
the dark, stand afraid to move lest the fear itself, lying in wait
like a tigress, should at her first motion pounce upon her. The
terrible, persistent silence!--would nothing break it! And there was
in herself a response to it--something that was in league with it,
and kept telling her that things were not all right with her; that
she ought not to be afraid, yet had good reason for being afraid;
that she knew of no essential safety. There must be some refuge,
some impregnable hiding-place, for the thing was a necessity, and
she ought to know of it! There must be a human condition of never
being afraid, of knowing nothing to be afraid of! She wondered
whether, if she were quite good, went to church twice every Sunday,
and read her bible every morning, she would come not to be afraid
of-she did not know what. It would be grand to have no fear of
person or thing! She was sometimes afraid of her own father, even
when she knew no reason! How that mountain with the horn kept
staring at her!

It was all nonsense! She was silly! She would get up and go home: it
must be time!

But things were not as they should be! Something was required of
her! Was it God wanting her to do something? She had never thought
whether he required anything of her! She must be a better girl! Then
she would have God with her, and not be afraid!

And all the time it was God near her that was making her unhappy.
For, as the Son of Man came not to send peace on the earth but a
sword, so the first visit of God to the human soul is generally in a
cloud of fear and doubt, rising from the soul itself at his
approach. The sun is the cloud-dispeller, yet often he must look
through a fog if he would visit the earth at all. The child, not
being a son, does not know his father. He may know he is what is
called a father; what the word means he does not know. How then
should he understand when the father comes to deliver him from his
paltry self, and give him life indeed!

She tried to pray. She said, "Oh G--od! forgive me, and make me good.
I want to be good!" Then she rose.

She went some little way without thinking where she was going, and
then found she did not even know from what direction she had come. A
sharp new fear, quite different from the former, now shot through
her heart: she was lost! She had told no one she was going anywhere!
No one would have a notion where to look for her! She had been
beginning to feel hungry, but fear drove hunger away. All she knew
was that she must not stay there. Here was nowhere; walking on she
might come somewhere--that is, among human beings! So out she set
on her weary travel from no-where to somewhere, giving Nature
little thanks. She did not suspect that her grandmother had been
doing anything for her by the space around her, or that now, by the
tracklessness, the lostness, she was doing yet more. On and on she
walked, climbing the one hillside and descending the other, going
she knew not whither, hardly hoping she drew one step nearer home.

All at once her strength went from her. She sat down and cried. But
with her tears came the thought how the chief and his brother talked
of God. She remembered she had heard in church that men ought to cry
to God in their troubles. Broken verses of a certain psalm came to
her, saying God delivered those who cried to him even from things
they had brought on themselves, and she had been doing nothing
wrong! She tried to trust in him, but could not: he was as far from
her as the blue heavens! True, it bent over all, but its one great
eye was much too large to see the trouble she was in! What did it
matter to the blue sky if she fell down and withered up to bones and
dust! She well might-for here no foot of man might pass till she was
a thing terrible to look at! If there was nobody where seemed to be
nothing, how fearfully empty was the universe! Ah, if she had God
for her friend! What if he was her friend, and she had not known it
because she never spoke to him, never asked him to do anything for
her? It was horrible to think it could be a mere chance whether she
got home, or died there! She would pray to God! She would ask him to
take her home!

A wintery blast came from the north. The black cloud had risen, and
was now spreading over the zenith. Again the wind came with an angry
burst and snarl. Snow carne swept upon it in hard sharp little
pellets. She started up, and forgot to pray.

Some sound in the wind or some hidden motion of memory all at once
let loose upon her another fear, which straight was agony. A rumour
had reached the New House the night before, that a leopard had
broken from a caravan, and got away to the hills. It was but a
rumour; some did not believe it, and the owners contradicted it, but
a party had set out with guns and dogs. It was true! it was true!
There was the terrible creature crouching behind that stone! He was
in every clump of heather she passed, swinging his tail, and ready
to spring upon her! He must be hungry by this time, and there was
nothing there for him to eat but her! By and by, however, she was
too cold to be afraid, too cold to think, and presently, half-frozen
and faint for lack of food, was scarce able to go a step farther.
She saw a great rock, sank down in the shelter of it, and in a
minute was asleep. She slept for some time, and woke a little
refreshed. The wonder is that she woke at all. It was dark, and her
first consciousness was ghastly fear. The wind had ceased, and the
storm was over. Little snow had fallen. The stars were all out
overhead, and the great night was round her, enclosing, watching
her. She tried to rise, and could just move her limbs. Had she
fallen asleep again, she would not have lived through the night. But
it is idle to talk of what would have been; nothing could have been
but what was. Mercy wondered afterwards that she did not lose her
reason. She must, she thought, have been trusting somehow in God.

It was terribly dreary. Sure never one sorer needed God's help! And
what better reason could there be for helping her than that she so
sorely needed it! Perhaps God had let her walk into this trouble
that she might learn she could not do without him! She--would try to
be good! How terrible was the world, with such wide spaces and
nobody in them!

And all the time, though she did not know it, she was sobbing and
weeping.

The black silence was torn asunder by the report of a gun. She
started up with a strange mingling of hope and terror, gave a loud
cry, and sank senseless. The leopard would be upon her!

Her cry was her deliverance.



CHAPTER XVII.

IN THE TOMB.


The brothers had that same morning paid their visit to the tomb, and
there spent the day after their usual fashion, intending to go home
the same night, and as the old moon was very late in rising, to take
the earlier and rougher part of the way in the twilight. Just as
they were setting out, however, what they rightly judged a passing
storm came on, and they delayed their departure. By the time the
storm was over, it was dark, and there was no use in hurrying;
they might as well stop a while, and have the moon the latter part
of the way. When at length they were again on the point of starting,
they thought they heard something like sounds of distress, but the
darkness making search difficult and unsatisfactory, the chief
thought of firing his gun, when Mercy's cry guided them to where she
lay. Alister's heart, at sight of her, and at the thought of what
she must have gone through, nearly stood still. They carried her in,
laid her on the bed, and did what they could to restore her, till
she began to come to herself. Then they left her, that she might not
see them without preparation, and sat down by the fire in the outer
room, leaving the door open between the two.

"I see how it is!" said Alister. "You remember, Ian, what you said
to her about giving Nature an opportunity of exerting her influence?
Mercy has been following your advice, and has lost her way among the
hills!"

"That was so long ago!" returned Ian thoughtfully.

"Yes-when the weather was not fit for it. It is not fit now, but she
has ventured!"

"I believe you are right! I thought there was some reality in
her!-But she must not hear us talking about her!"

When Mercy came to herself, she thought at first that she lay where
she had fallen, but presently perceived that she was covered, and
had something hot at her feet: was she in her own bed? was it all a
terrible dream, that she might know what it was to be lost, and
think of God? .She put out her arm: her hand went against cold
stone. The dread thought rushed in-that she was buried-was lying in
her grave-to lie there till the trumpet should sound, and the dead
be raised. She was not horrified; her first feeling was gladness
that she had prayed before she died. She had been taught at church
that an hour might come when it would be of no use to pray-the hour
of an unbelieving death: it was of no use to pray now, but her
prayer before she died might be of some avail! She wondered that she
was not more frightened, for in sooth it was a dreary prospect
before her: long and countless years must pass ere again she heard
the sound of voices, again saw the light of the sun! She was half
awake and half dreaming; the faintness of her swoon yet upon her,
the repose following her great weariness, and the lightness of her
brain from want of food, made her indifferent-almost happy. She
could lie so a long time, she thought.

At length she began to hear sounds, and they were of human voices.
She had companions then in the grave! she was not doomed to a
solitary waiting for judgment! She must be in some family-vault,
among strangers. She hoped they were nice people: it was very
desirable to be buried with nice people!

Then she saw a reddish light. It was a fire--far off! Was she in the
bad place? Were those shapes two demons, waiting till she had got
over her dying? She listened:--"That will divide her between us,"
said one. "Yes," answered the other; "there will be no occasion to
cut it!" What dreadful thing could they mean? But surely she had
heard their voices before! She tried to speak, but could not.

"We must come again soon!" said one. "At this rate it will take a
life-time to carve the tomb."

"If we were but at the roof of it!" said the other. "I long to
tackle the great serpent of eternity, and lay him twining and
coiling and undulating all over it! I dream about those tombs before
ever they were broken into-royally furnished in the dark, waiting
for the souls to come back to their old, brown, dried up bodies!"

Here one of them rose and came toward her, growing bigger and
blacker as he came, until he stood by the bedside. He laid his hand
on her wrist, and felt her pulse. It was Ian! She could not see his
face for there was no light on it, but she knew his shape, his
movements! She was saved!

He saw her wide eyes, two great spiritual nights, gazing up at him.

"All, you are better, Miss Mercy!" lie said cheerily. "Now you shall
have some tea!"

Something inside her was weeping for joy, but her outer self was
quite still. She tried again to speak, and uttered a few
inarticulate sounds. Then came Alister on tip-toe, and they stood both
by the bedside, looking down on her.

"I shall be all right presently!"' she managed at length to say. "I
am so glad I'm not dead! I thought I was dead!"

"You would soon have been if we had not found you!" replied Alister.

"Was it you that fired the gun?"

"Yes."

"I was so frightened!"

"It saved your life, thank God! for then you cried out."

"Fright was your door out of fear!" said Ian.

"I thought it was the leopard!"

"I did bring my gun because of the leopard," said Alister.

"It was true about him then?"

"He is out."

"And now it is quite dark!"

"It doesn't signify; we'll take a lantern; I've got my gun, and Ian
has his dirk!"

"Where are you going then?" asked Mercy, still confused.

"Home, of course."

"Oh, yes, of course! I will get up in a minute."

"There is plenty of time," said Ian. "You must eat something before
you get up. We, have nothing but oat-cakes, I am sorry to say!"

"I think you promised me some tea!" said Mercy. "I don't feel
hungry."

"You shall have the tea. When did you eat last?"

"Not since breakfast."

"It is a marvel you are able to speak! You must try to eat some
oat-cake."

"I wish I hadn't taken that last slice of deer-ham!" said Alister,
ruefully.

"I will eat if I can," said Mercy.

They brought her a cup of tea and some pieces of oat-cake; then,
having lighted her a candle, they left her, and closed the door.

She sipped her tea, managed to eat a little of the dry but wholesome
food, and found herself capable of getting up. It was the strangest
bedroom! she thought. Everything was cut out of the live rock. The
dressing-table might have been a sarcophagus! She kneeled by the
bedside, and tried to thank God. Then she opened the door. The chief
rose at the sound of it.

"I'm sorry," he said, "that we have no woman to wait on you."

"I want nothing, thank you!" answered Mercy, feeling very weak and
ready to cry, but restraining her tears. "What a curious house this
is!"

"It is a sort of doll's house my brother and I have been at work
upon for nearly fifteen years. We meant, when summer was come, to
ask you all to spend a day with us up here."

"When first we went to work on it," said Ian, "we used to tell each
other tales in which it bore a large share, and Alister's were
generally about a lost princess taking refuge in it!"

"And now it is come true!" said Alister.

"What an escape I have had!"

"I do not like to hear you say that!" returned Ian. "You have been
taken care of all the time. If you had died in the cold, it would
not have been because God had forgotten you; you would not have been
lost."

"I wanted to know," said Mercy, "whether Nature would speak to me.
It was of no use! She never came near me!"

"I think she must have come without your knowing her," answered Ian.
"But we shall have a talk about that afterwards, when you are quite
rested; we must prepare for home now."

Mercy's heart sank within her--she felt so weak and sleepy! How was
she to go back over all that rough mountain-way! But she dared not
ask to be left-with the leopard about! He might come down the wide
chimney!

She soon found that the brothers had never thought of her walking.
They wrapt her in Ian's plaid. Then they took the chiefs, which was
very strong, and having folded it twice lengthwise, drew each an end
of it over his shoulders, letting it hang in a loop between them: in
this loop they made her seat herself, and putting each as arm behind
her, tried how they could all get on.

After a few shiftings and accommodations, they found the plan
likely to answer. So they locked the door, and left the fire glowing
on the solitary hearth.

To Mercy it was the strangest journey--an experience never to be
forgotten. The tea had warmed her, and the air revived her. It was
not very cold, for only now and then blew a little puff of wind. The
stars were brilliant overhead, and the wide void of the air between
her and the earth below seemed full of wonder and mystery. Now and
then she fancied some distant sound the cry of the leopard: he might
be coming nearer and nearer as they went! but it rather added to the
eerie witchery of the night, making it like a terrible story read in
the deserted nursery, with the distant noise outside of her brothers
and sisters at play. The motion of her progress by and by became
pleasant to her. Sometimes her feet would brush the tops of the
heather; but when they came to rocky ground, they always shortened
the loop of the plaid. To Mercy's inner ear came the sound of words
she had heard at church: "He shall give his angels charge over thee,
and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou
dash thy foot against a stone." Were not these two men God's own
angels!

They scarcely spoke, except when they stopped to take breath, but
went on and on with a steady, rhythmic, silent trudge. Up and down
the rough hill, and upon the hardly less rough hill-road, they had
enough ado to heed their steps. Now and then they would let her walk
a little way, but not far. She was neither so strong nor so heavy as
a fat deer, they said.

They were yet high among the hills, when the pale, withered, waste
shred of the old moon rose above the upheaved boat-like back of one
of the battlements of the horizon-rampart. With disconsolate face,
now lost, now found again, always reappearing where Mercy had not
been looking for her, she accompanied them the rest of their
journey, and the witch-like creature brought out the whole character
of the night. Booked in her wonderful swing, Mercy was not always
quite sure that she was not dreaming the strangest, pleasantest
dream. Were they not fittest for a dream, this star and moon beset
night-this wind that now and then blew so eerie and wild, yet did
not wake her-this gulf around, above, and beneath her, through which
she was borne as if she had indeed died, and angels were carrying
her through wastes of air to some unknown region afar? Except when
she brushed the heather, she forgot that the earth was near her. The
arms around her were the arms of men and not angels, but how far
above this lower world dwelt the souls that moved those strong
limbs! What a small creature she was beside them! how unworthy of
the labour of their deliverance! Her awe of the one kept growing;
the other she could trust with heart as well as brain; she could
never be afraid of him! To the chief she turned to shadow her from
Ian.

When they came to the foot of the path leading up to Mistress
Conal's cottage, there, although it was dark night, sat the old
woman on a stone.

"It's a sorrow you are carrying home with you, chief!" she said in
Gaelic. "As well have saved a drowning man!"

She did not rise or move, but spoke like one talking by the
fireside.

"The drowning man has to be saved, mother!" answered the chief, also
in Gaelic; "and the sorrow in your way has to be taken with you. It
won't let you pass!"

"True, my son!" said the woman; "but it makes the heart sore that
sees it!"

"Thank you for the warning then, but welcome the sorrow!" he
returned. "Good night."

"Good night, chiefs sons both!" she replied. "You're your father's
anyway! Did he not one night bring home a frozen fox in his arms, to
warm him by his fire! But when he had warmed him--he turned him
out!"

It was quite clear when last they looked at the sky, but the moment
they left her, it began to rain heavily.

So fast did it rain, that the men, fearing for Mercy, turned off the
road, and went down a steep descent, to make straight across their
own fields for the cottage; and just as they reached the bottom of
the descent, although they had come all the rough way hitherto
without slipping or stumbling--once, the chief fell. He rose in
consternation; but finding that Mercy, upheld by Ian, had simply
dropped on her feet, and taken no hurt, relieved himself by
unsparing abuse of his clumsiness. Mercy laughed merrily, resumed her
place in the plaid, and closed her eyes. She never saw where they
were going, for she opened them again only when they stopped a
little as they turned into the fir-clump before the door.

"Where are we?" she asked; but for answer they carried her straight
into the house.

"We have brought you to our mother instead of yours," said Alister.
"To get wet would have been the last straw on the back of such a
day. We will let them know at once that you are safe."

Lady Macruadh, as the highlanders generally called her, made haste
to receive the poor girl with that sympathetic pity which, of all
good plants, flourishes most in the Celtic heart. Mercy's mother had
come to her in consternation at her absence, and the only comfort
she could give her was the suggestion that she had fallen in with
her sons. She gave her a warm bath,-put her to bed, and then made
her eat, so preparing her for a healthful sleep. And she did
sleep, but dreamed of darkness and snow and leopards.

As men were out searching in all directions, Alister, while Ian
went to the New House, lighted a beacon on the top of the old castle
to bring them back. By the time Ian had persuaded Mrs. Palmer to
leave Mercy in his mother's care for the night, it was blazing
beautifully.

In the morning it was found that Mercy had a bad cold, and could not
be moved. But the cottage, small as it was, had more than one
guest-chamber, and Mrs. Macruadh was delighted to have her to
nurse.

END OF VOL. II.



VOL. III.



CONTENTS OF VOL. III.

CHAPTER

    I. AT A HIGH SCHOOL
   II. A TERRIBLE DISCOVERY
  III. HOW ALISTER TOOK IT
   IV. LOVE
    V. PASSION AND PATIENCE
   VI. LOVE GLOOMING
  VII. A GENEROUS DOWRY
 VIII. MISTRESS CONAL
   IX. THE MARCHES
    X. MIDNIGHT
   XI. SOMETHING STRANGE
  XII. THE POWER OF DARKNESS
 XIII. THE NEW STANCE
  XIV. THE PEAT-MOSS
   XV. A DARING VISIT
  XVI. THE FLITTING
 XVII. THE NEW VILLAGE
XVIII. A FRIENDLY OFFER
  XIX. ANOTHER EXPULSION
   XX. ALISTER'S PRINCESS
  XXI. THE FAREWELL



WHAT'S MINE'S MINE



CHAPTER I

AT A HIGH SCHOOL.


When Mercy was able to go down to the drawing-room, she found the
evenings pass as never evenings passed before; and during the day,
although her mother and Christina came often to see her, she had
time and quiet for thinking. And think she must; for she found
herself in a region of human life so different from any she had
hitherto entered, that in no other circumstances would she have been
able to recognize even its existence. Everything said or done in it
seemed to acknowledge something understood. Life went on with a
continuous lean toward something rarely mentioned, plainly
uppermost; it embodied a tacit reference of everything to some code
so thoroughly recognized that occasion for alluding to it was
unfrequent. Its inhabitants appeared to know things which her people
did not even suspect. The air of the brothers especially was that of
men at their ease yet ready to rise--of men whose loins were girded,
alert for an expected call.

Under their influence a new idea of life, and the world, and the
relations of men and things, began to grow in the mind of Mercy.
There was a dignity, almost grandeur, about the simple life of the
cottage, and the relation of its inmates to all they came near. No
one of them seemed to live for self, but each to be thinking and
caring for the others and for the clan. She awoke to see that
manners are of the soul; that such as she had hitherto heard admired
were not to be compared with the simple, almost peasant-like dignity
and courtesy of the chief; that the natural grace, accustomed ease,
and cultivated refinement of Ian's carriage, came out in attention
and service to the lowly even more than in converse with his equals;
while his words, his gestures, his looks, every expression born of
contact, witnessed a directness and delicacy of recognition she
could never have imagined. The moment he began to speak to another,
he seemed to pass out of himself, and sit in the ears of the other
to watch his own words, lest his thoughts should take such sound or
shape as might render them unwelcome or weak. If they were not to be
pleasant words, they should yet be no more unpleasant than was
needful; they should not hurt save in the nature of that which they
bore; the truth should receive no injury by admixture of his
personality. He heard with his own soul, and was careful over the
other soul as one of like kind. So delicately would he initiate what
might be communion with another, that to a nature too dull or
selfish to understand him, he gave offence by the very graciousness
of his approach.

It was through her growing love to Alister that Mercy became able to
understand Ian, and perceived at length that her dread, almost
dislike of him at first, was owing solely to her mingled incapacity
and unworthiness. Before she left the cottage, it was spring time in
her soul; it had begun to put forth the buds of eternal life. Such
buds are not unfrequently nipped; but even if they are, if a dull,
false, commonplace frost close in, and numb the half wakened spirit
back into its wintry sleep, that sleep will ever after be haunted
with some fainting airs of the paradise those buds prophesied. In
Mercy's case they were to grow into spiritual eyes--to open and see,
through all the fogs and tumults of this phantom world, the light
and reality of the true, the spiritual world everywhere around
her--as the opened eyes of the servant of the prophet saw the
mountains of Samaria full of horses of fire and chariots of fire
around him. Every throb of true love, however mingled with the
foolish and the false, is a bourgeoning of the buds of the life
eternal--ah, how far from leaves! how much farther from flowers.

Ian was high above her, so high that she shrank from him; there
seemed a whole heaven of height between them. It would fill her with
a kind of despair to see him at times sit lost in thought: he was
where she could never follow him! He was in a world which, to her
childish thought, seemed not the world of humanity; and she would
turn, with a sense of both seeking and finding, to the chief. She
imagined he felt as she did, saw between his brother and him a gulf
he could not cross. She did not perceive this difference, that
Alister knew the gulf had to be crossed. At such a time, too, she
had seen his mother regarding him with a similar expression of loss,
but with a mingling of anxiety that was hers only. It was sweet to
Mercy to see in the eyes of Alister, and in his whole bearing toward
his younger brother, that he was a learner like herself, that they
were scholars together in Ian's school.

A hunger after something beyond her, a something she could not have
described, awoke in her. She needed a salvation of some kind, toward
which she must grow! She needed a change which she could not
understand until it came--a change the greatest in the universe, but
which, man being created with the absolute necessity for it, can be
no violent transformation, can be only a grand process in the divine
idea of development.

She began to feel a mystery in the world, and in all the looks of
it--a mystery because a meaning. She saw a jubilance in every
sunrise, a sober sadness in every sunset; heard a whispering of
strange secrets in the wind of the twilight; perceived a
consciousness of unknown bliss in the song of the lark;--and was
aware of a something beyond it all, now and then filling her with
wonder, and compelling her to ask, "What does it, what can it mean?"
Not once did she suspect that Nature had indeed begun to deal with
her; not once suspect, although from childhood accustomed to hear
the name of Love taken in vain, that love had anything to do with
these inexplicable experiences.

Let no one, however, imagine he explains such experiences by
suggesting that she was in love! That were but to mention another
mystery as having introduced the former. For who in heaven or on
earth has fathomed the marvel betwixt the man and the woman? Least
of all the man or the woman who has not learned to regard it with
reverence. There is more in this love to uplift us, more to condemn
the lie in us, than in any other inborn drift of our being, except
the heavenly tide Godward. From it flow all the other redeeming
relations of life. It is the hold God has of us with his right hand,
while death is the hold he has of us with his left. Love and death
are the two marvels, yea the two terrors--but the one goal of our
history.

It was love, in part, that now awoke in Mercy a hunger and thirst
after heavenly things. This is a direction of its power little
heeded by its historians; its earthly side occupies almost all their
care. Because lovers are not worthy of even its earthly aspect, it
palls upon them, and they grow weary, not of love, but of their lack
of it. The want of the heavenly in it has caused it to perish: it
had no salt. From those that have not is taken away that which they
have. Love without religion is the plucked rose. Religion without
love--there is no such thing. Religion is the bush that bears all
the roses; for religion is the natural condition of man in relation
to the eternal facts, that is the truths, of his own being. To live
is to love; there is no life but love. What shape the love puts on,
depends on the persons between whom is the relation. The poorest
love with religion, is better, because truer, therefore more
lasting, more genuine, more endowed with the possibility of
persistence--that is, of infinite development, than the most
passionate devotion between man and woman without it.

Thus together in their relation to Ian, it was natural that Mercy
and the chief should draw yet more to each other. Mercy regarded
Alister as a big brother in the same class with herself, but able to
help her. Quickly they grew intimate. In the simplicity of his large
nature, the chief talked with Mercy as openly as a boy, laying a
heart bare to her such that, if the world had many like it, the
kingdom of heaven would be more than at hand. He talked as to an old
friend in perfect understanding with him, from whom he had nothing
to gain or to fear. There was never a compliment on the part of the
man, and never a coquetry on the part of the girl--a dull idea to
such as without compliment or coquetry could hold no intercourse,
having no other available means. Mercy had never like her sister
cultivated the woman's part in the low game; and her truth required
but the slightest stimulus to make her incapable of it. With such a
man as Alister she could use only a simplicity like his; not thus to
meet him would have been to decline the honouring friendship. Dark
and plain, though with an interesting face and fine eyes, she had
received no such compliments as had been showered upon her sister;
it was an unspoiled girl, with a heart alive though not yet quite
awake, that was brought under such good influences. What better
influences for her, for any woman, than those of unselfish men? what
influences so good for any man as those of unselfish women? Every
man that hears and learns of a worthy neighbour, comes to the
Father; every man that hath heard and learned of the Father comes to
the Lord; every man that comes to the Lord, he leads back to the
Father. To hear Ian speak one word about Jesus Christ, was for a
true man to be thenceforth truer. To him the Lord was not a
theological personage, but a man present in the world, who had to be
understood and obeyed by the will and heart and soul, by the
imagination and conscience of every other man. If what Ian said was
true, this life was a serious affair, and to be lived in downright
earnest! If God would have his creatures mind him, she must look to
it! She pondered what she heard. But she went always to Alister to
have Ian explained; and to hear him talk of Ian, revealed Alister to
her.

When Mercy left the cottage, she felt as if she were leaving home to
pay a visit. The rich house was dull and uninteresting. She found
that she had immediately to put in practice one of the lessons she
had learned--that the service of God is the service of those among
whom he has sent us. She tried therefore to be cheerful, and even to
forestall her mother's wishes. But life was harder than hitherto--so
much more was required of her.

The chief was falling thoroughly in love with Mercy, but it was some
time before he knew it. With a heart full of tenderness toward
everything human, he knew little of love special, and was gradually
sliding into it without being aware of it. How little are we our
own! Existence is decreed us; love and suffering are appointed us.
We may resist, we may modify; but we cannot help loving, and we
cannot help dying. We need God to keep us from hating. Great in
goodness, yea absolutely good, God must be, to have a right to make
us--to compel our existence, and decree its laws! Without his choice
the chief was falling in love. The woman was sent him; his heart
opened and took her in. Relation with her family was not desirable,
but there she was! Ian saw, but said nothing. His mother saw it too.

"Nothing good will come of it!" she said, with a strong feeling of
unfitness in the thing.

"Everything will come of it, mother, that God would have come of
it," answered Ian. "She is an honest, good girl, and whatever comes
of it must be good, whether pleasant or not."

The mother was silent. She believed in God, but not so thoroughly as
to abjure the exercise of a subsidiary providence of her own. The
more people trust in God, the less will they trust their own
judgments, or interfere with the ordering of events. The man or
woman who opposes the heart's desire of another, except in aid of
righteousness, is a servant of Satan. Nor will it avail anything to
call that righteousness which is of Self or of Mammon.

"There is no action in fretting," Ian would say, "and not much in
the pondering of consequences. True action is the doing of duty,
come of it heartache, defeat, or success."

"You are a fatalist, Ian!" said his mother one day.

"Mother, I am; the will of God is my fate!" answered Ian. "He shall
do with me what he pleases; and I will help him!"

She took him in her arms and kissed him. She hoped God would not be
strict with him, for might not the very grandeur of his character be
rooted in rebellion? Might not some figs grow on some thistles?

At length came the paternal summons for the Palmers to go to London.
For a month the families had been meeting all but every day. The
chief had begun to look deep into the eyes of the girl, as if
searching there for some secret joy; and the girl, though she
drooped her long lashes, did not turn her head away. And now
separation, like death, gave her courage, and when they parted,
Mercy not only sustained Alister's look, but gave him such a look in
return that he felt no need, no impulse to say anything. Their souls
were satisfied, for they knew they belonged to each other.



CHAPTER II

A TERRIBLE DISCOVERY.


So entirely were the chief and his family out of the world, that
they had not yet a notion of the worldly relations of Mr. Peregrine
Palmer. But the mother thought it high time to make inquiry as to
his position and connections. She had an old friend in London, the
wife of a certain vice-chancellor, with whom she held an occasional
correspondence, and to her she wrote, asking if she knew anything of
the family.

Mrs. Macruadh was nowise free from the worldliness that has regard
to the world's regard. She would not have been satisfied that a
daughter in law of hers should come of people distinguished for
goodness and greatness of soul, if they were, for instance,
tradespeople. She would doubtless have preferred the daughter of an
honest man, whatever his position, to the daughter of a scoundrel,
even if he chanced to be a duke; but she would not have been content
with the most distinguished goodness by itself. Walking after Jesus,
she would have drawn to the side of Joanna rather than Martha or
Mary; and I fear she would have condescended--just a little--to Mary
Magdalen: repentance, however perfect, is far from enough to satisfy
the worldly squeamishness of not a few high-principled people who do
not know what repentance means.

Mrs. Macruadh was anxious to know that the girl was respectable, and
so far worthy of her son. The idea of such an inquiry would have
filled Mercy's parents with scornful merriment, as a thing ludicrous
indeed. People in THEIR position, who could do this and that, whose
name stood so high for this and that, who knew themselves well bred,
who had one relation an admiral, another a general, and a
marriage-connection with some of the oldest families in the
country--that one little better than a yeoman, a man who held the
plough with his own big hands, should enquire into THEIR social
standing! Was not Mr. Peregrine Palmer prepared to buy him up the
moment he required to sell! Was he not rich enough to purchase an
earl's daughter for his son, and an earl himself for his beautiful
Christina! The thing would have seemed too preposterous.

The answer of the vice-chancellor's lady burst, nevertheless, like a
bombshell in the cottage. It was to this effect:--The Palmers were
known, if not just in the best, yet in very good society; the sons
bore sign of a defective pedigree, but the one daughter out was,
thanks to her mother, fit to go anywhere. For her own part, wrote
the London correspondent, she could not help smelling the grains: in
Scotland a distiller, Mr. Peregrine Palmer had taken to brewing in
England--was one of the firm Pulp and Palmer, owning half the
public-houses in London, therefore high in the regard of the English
nobility, if not actually within their circle.--Thus far the
satirical lady of the vice-chancellor.

Horror fell upon the soul of the mother. The distiller was to her as
the publican to the ancient Jew. No dealing in rags and marine
stores, no scraping of a fortune by pettifogging, chicane, and
cheating, was to her half so abominable as the trade of a brewer.
Worse yet was a brewer owning public-houses, gathering riches in
half-pence wet with beer and smelling of gin. The brewer was to her
a moral pariah; only a distiller was worse. As she read, the letter
dropped from her hands, and she threw them up in unconscious appeal
to heaven. She saw a vision of bloated men and white-faced women,
drawing with trembling hands from torn pockets the money that had
bought the wide acres of the Clanruadh. To think of the Macruadh
marrying the daughter of such a man! In society few questions indeed
were asked; everywhere money was counted a blessed thing, almost
however made; none the less the damnable fact remained, that certain
moneys were made, not in furthering the well-being of men and women,
but in furthering their sin and degradation. The mother of the chief
saw that, let the world wink itself to blindness, let it hide the
roots of the money-plant in layer upon layer of social ascent, the
flower for which an earl will give his daughter, has for the soil it
grows in, not the dead, but the diseased and dying, of loathsome
bodies and souls of God's men and women and children, which the
grower of it has helped to make such as they are.

She was hot, she was cold; she started up and paced hurriedly about
the room. Her son the son in law of a distiller! the husband of his
daughter! The idea was itself abhorrence and contempt! Was he not
one of the devil's fishers, fishing the sea of the world for the
souls of men and women to fill his infernal ponds withal! His money
was the fungous growth of the devil's cellars. How would the brewer
or the distiller, she said, appear at the last judgment! How would
her son hold up his head, if he cast in his lot with theirs! But
that he would never do! Why should she be so perturbed! in this
matter at least there could be no difference between them! Her noble
Alister would be as much shocked as herself at the news! Could the
woman be a lady, grown on such a hot-bed! Yet, alas! love could tempt
far--could subdue the impossible!

She could not rest; she must find one of them! Not a moment longer
could she remain alone with the terrible disclosure. If Alister was
in love with the girl, he must get out of it at once! Never again
would she enter the Palmers' gate, never again set foot on their
land! The thought of it was unthinkable! She would meet them as if
she did not see them! But they should know her reason--and know her
inexorable!

She went to the edge of the ridge, and saw Ian sitting with his book
on the other side of the burn. She called him to her, and handed him
the letter. He took it, read it through, and gave it her back.

"Ian!" she exclaimed, "have you nothing to say to that?"

"I beg your pardon, mother," he answered: "I must think about it.
Why should it trouble you so! It is painfully annoying, but we have
come under no obligation to them!"

"No; but Alister!"

"You cannot doubt Alister will do what is right!"

"He will do what he thinks right!"

"Is not that enough, mother?"

"No," she answered angrily; "he must do the thing that is right."

"Whether he knows it or not? Could he do the thing he thought
wrong?"

She was silent.

"Mother dear," resumed Ian, "the only Way to get at what IS right is
to do what seems right. Even if we mistake there is no other way!"

"You would do evil that good may come! Oh, Ian!"

"No, mother; evil that is not seen to be evil by one willing and
trying to do right, is not counted evil to him. It is evil only to
the person who either knows it to be evil, or does not care whether
it be or not."

"That is dangerous doctrine!"

"I will go farther, mother, and say, that for Alister to do what you
thought right, if he did not think it right himself--even if you
were right and he wrong--would be for him to do wrong, and blind
himself to the truth."

"A man may be to blame that he is not able to see the truth," said
the mother.

"That is very true, but hardly such a man as Alister, who would
sooner die than do the thing he believed wrong. But why should you
take it for granted that Alister will think differently from you?"

"We don't always think alike."

"In matters of right and wrong, I never knew him or me think
differently from you, mother!"

"He is very fond of the girl!"

"And justly. I never saw one more in earnest, or more anxious to
learn."

"She might well be teachable to such teachers!"

"I don't see that she has ever sought to commend herself to either
of us, mother. I believe her heart just opened to the realities she
had never had shown her before. Come what may, she will never forget
the things we have talked about."

"Nothing would make me trust her!"

"Why?"

"She comes of an' abominable breed."

"Is it your part, mother, to make her suffer for the sins of her
fathers?"

"I make her suffer!"

"Certainly, mother--by changing your mind toward her, and suspecting
her, the moment you learn cause to condemn her father."

"The sins of the fathers are visited on the children!--You will not
dispute that?'

"I will grant more--that the sins of the fathers are often
reproduced in the children. But it is nowhere said, 'Thou shalt
visit the sins of the fathers on the children.' God puts no
vengeance into our hands. I fear you are in danger of being unjust
to the girl, mother!--but then you do not know her so well as we
do!"

"Of course not! Every boy understands a woman better than his
mother!"

"The thing is exceedingly annoying, mother! Let us go and find
Alister at once!"

"He will take it like a man of sense, I trust!"

"He will. It will trouble him terribly, but he will do as he ought.
Give him time and I don't believe there is a man in the world to
whom the right comes out clearer than to Alister."

The mother answered only with a sigh.

"Many a man," remarked Ian, "has been saved through what men call an
unfortunate love affair!"

"Many a man has been lost by having his own way in one!" rejoined
the mother.

"As to LOST, I would not make up my mind about that for a few
centuries or so!" returned Ian. "A man may be allowed his own way
for the discipline to result from it."

"I trust, Ian, you will not encourage him in any folly!"

"I shall have nothing to do but encourage him in his first resolve,
mother!"



CHAPTER III

HOW ALISTER TOOK IT.


They could not find Alister, who had gone to the smithy. It was
tea-time before he came home. As soon as he entered, his mother
handed him the letter.

He read it without a word, laid it on the table beside his plate,
and began to drink his tea, his eyes gleaming with a strange light,
lan kept silence also. Mrs. Macruadh cast a quick glance, now at the
one, now at the other. She was in great anxiety, and could scarce
restrain herself. She knew her boys full of inbred dignity and
strong conscience, but was nevertheless doubtful how they would act.
They could not feel as she felt, else would the hot blood of their
race have at once boiled over! Had she searched herself she might
have discovered a latent dread that they might be nearer the right
than she. Painfully she watched them, half conscious of a traitor in
her bosom, judging the world's judgment and not God's. Her sons
seemed on the point of concluding as she would not have them
conclude: they would side with the young woman against their mother!

The reward of parents who have tried to be good, may be to learn,
with a joyous humility from their children. Mrs. Macruadh was
capable of learning more, and was now going to have a lesson.

When Alister pushed back his chair and rose, she could refrain no
longer. She could not let him go in silence. She must understand
something of what was passing in his mind!

"What do you think of THAT, Alister?" she said.

He turned to her with a faint smile, and answered,

"I am glad to know it, mother."

"That is good. I was afraid it would hurt you!"

"Seeing the thing is so, I am glad to be made aware of it. The
information itself you cannot expect me to be pleased with!"

"No, indeed, my son! I am very sorry for you. After being so taken
with the young woman,--"

Alister looked straight in his mother's face.

"You do not imagine, mother," he said, "it will make any difference
as to Mercy?"

"Not make any difference!" echoed Mrs. Macruadh. "What is it
possible you can mean, Alister?"

The anger that glowed in her dark eyes made her look yet handsomer,
proving itself not a mean, though it might be a misplaced anger.

"Is she different, mother, from what she was before you had the
letter?"

"You did not then know what she was!"

"Just as well as I do now. I have no reason to think she is not what
I thought her."

"You thought her the daughter of a gentleman!"

"Hardly. I thought her a lady, and such I think her still."

"Then you mean to go on with it?"

"Mother dear," said Alister, taking her by the hand, "give me a
little time. Not that I am in any doubt--but the news has been such
a blow to me that--"

"It must have been!" said the mother.

"--that I am afraid of answering you out of the soreness of my
pride, and Ian says the Truth is never angry."

"I am quite willing you should do nothing in a hurry," said the
mother.

She did not understand that he feared lest, in his indignation for
Mercy, he should answer his mother as her son ought not.

"I will take time," he replied. "And here is Ian to help me!"

"Ah! if only your father were here!"

"He may be, mother! Anyhow I trust I shall do nothing he would not
like!"

"He would sooner see son of his marry the daughter of a cobbler than
of a brewer!"

"So would I, mother!" said Alister.

"I too," said Ian, "would much prefer that my sister-in-law's father
were not a brewer."

"I suppose you are splitting some hair, Ian, but I don't see it,"
remarked his mother, who had begun to gather a little hope. "You
will be back by supper-time, Alister, I suppose?"

"Certainly, mother. We are only going to the village."

The brothers went.

"I knew everything you were thinking," said Ian.

"Of course you did!" answered Alister.

"But I am very sorry!"

"So am I! It is a terrible bore!"

A pause followed. Alister burst into a laugh that was not merry.

"It makes me think of the look on my father's face," he said, "once
at the market, as he was putting in his pocket a bunch of more than
usually dirty bank-notes. The look seemed almost to be making
apology that he was my father--the notes were SO DIRTY! 'They're
better than they look, lad!' he said."

"What ARE you thinking of, Alister?"

"Of nothing you are not thinking of, Ian, I hope in God! Mr.
Palmer's money is worse than it looks."

"You frightened me for a moment, Alister!"

"How could I, Ian?"

"It was but a nervo-mechanical fright. I knew well enough you could
mean nothing I should not like. But I see trouble ahead, Alister!"

"We shall be called a pack of fools, but what of that! We shall be
told the money itself was clean, however dirty the hands that made
it! The money-grubs!"

"I would rather see you hanged, than pocketing a shilling of it!"

"Of course you would! But the man who could pocket it, will be
relieved to find it is only his daughter I care about."

"There will be difficulty, Alister, I fear. How much have you said
to Mercy?"

"I have SAID nothing definite."

"But she understands?"

"I think--I hope so.--Don't you think Christina is much improved,
lan?"

"She is more pleasant."

"She is quite attentive to you!"

"She is pleased with me for saving her life. She does not like
me--and I have just arrived at not disliking her."

"There is a great change on her!"

"I doubt if there is any IN her though!"

"She may be only amusing herself with us in this outlandish place!
Mercy, I am sure, is quite different!"

"I would trust her with anything, Alister. That girl would die for
the man she loved!"

"I would rather have her love, though we should never meet in this
world, than the lands of my fathers!"

"What will you do then?"

"I will go to Mr. Palmer, and say to him: 'Give me your daughter. I
am a poor man, but we shall have enough to live upon. I believe she
will be happy.'"

"I will answer for him: 'I have the greatest regard for you,
Macruadh. You are a gentleman, and that you are poor is not of the
slightest consequence; Mercy's dowry shall be worthy the lady of a
chief!'--What then, Alister?"

"Fathers that love money must be glad to get rid of their daughters
without a. dowry!"

"Yes, perhaps, when they are misers, or money is scarce, or wanted
for something else. But when a poor man of position wanted to marry
his daughter, a parent like Mr. Palmer would doubtless regard her
dowry as a good investment. You must not think to escape that way,
Alister! What would you answer him?"

"I would say, 'My dear sir,'--I may say 'My dear sir,' may I not?
there is something about the man I like!--'I do not want your money.
I will not have your money. Give me your daughter, and my soul will
bless you.'"

"Suppose he should reply,' Do you think I am going to send my
daughter from my house like a beggar? No, no, my boy! she must carry
something with her! If beggars married beggars, the world would be
full of beggars!'--what would you say then?"

"I would tell him I had conscientious scruples about taking his
money."

"He would tell you you were a fool, and not to be trusted with a
wife. 'Who ever heard such rubbish!' he would say. 'Scruples,
indeed! You must get over them! What are they?'--What would you say
then?"

"If it came to that, I should have no choice but tell him I had
insuperable objections to the way his fortune was made, and could
not consent to share it."

"He would protest himself insulted, and swear, if his money was not
good enough for you, neither was his daughter. What then?"

"I would appeal to Mercy."

"She is too young. It would be sad to set one of her years at
variance with her family. I almost think I would rather you ran away
with her. It is a terrible thing to go into a house and destroy the
peace of those relations which are at the root of all that is good
in the world."

"I know it! I know it! That is my trouble! I am not afraid of
Mercy's courage, and I am sure she would hold out. I am certain
nothing would make her marry the man she did not love. But to turn
the house into a hell about her--I shrink from that!--Do you count
it necessary to provide against every contingency before taking the
first step?"

"Indeed I do not! The first step is enough. When that step has
landed us, we start afresh. But of all things you must not lose your
temper with the man. However despicable his money, you are his
suitor for his daughter! And he may possibly not think you half good
enough for her."

"That would be a grand way out of the difficulty!"

"How?"

"It would leave me far freer to deal with her."

"Perhaps. And in any case, the more we can honestly avoid reference
to his money, the better. We are not called on to rebuke."

"Small is my inclination to allude to it--so long as not a stiver
of it seeks to cross to the Macruadh!"

"That is fast as fate. But there is another thing, Alister: I fear
lest you should ever forget that her birth and her connections are
no more a part of the woman's self than her poverty or her wealth."

"I know it, Ian. I will not forget it."

"There must never be a word concerning them!"

"Nor a thought, Ian! In God's name I will be true to her."

They found Annie of the shop in a sad way. She had just had a letter
from Lachlan, stating that he had not been well for some time, and
that there was little prospect of his being able to fetch her. He
prayed her therefore to go out to him; and had sent money to pay her
passage and her mother's.

"When do you go?" asked the chief.

"My mother fears the voyage, and is very unwilling to turn her back
on her own country. But oh, if Lachlan die, and me not with him!"

She could say no more.

"He shall not die for want of you!" said the laird. "I will talk to
your mother."

He went into the room behind. Ian remained in the shop.

"Of course you must go, Annie!" he said.

"Indeed, sir, I must! But how to persuade my mother I do not know!
And I cannot leave her even for Lachlan. No one would nurse him more
tenderly than she; but she has a horror of the salt water, and what
she most dreads is being buried in it. She imagines herself drowning
to all eternity!"

"My brother will persuade her."

"I hope so, sir. I was just coming to him! I should never hold up my
head again--in this world or the next--either if I did not go, or if
I went without my mother! Aunt Conal told me, about a month since,
that I was going a long journey, and would never come back. I asked
her if I was to die on the way, but she would not answer me. Anyhow
I'm not fit to be his wife, if I'm not ready to die for him! Some
people think it wrong to marry anybody going to die, but at the
longest, you know, sir, you must part sooner than you would! Not
many are allowed to die together!--You don't think, do you, sir,
that marriages go for nothing in the other world?"

She spoke with a white face and brave eyes, and Ian was glad at
heart.

"I do not, Annie," he answered. "'The gifts of God are without
repentance.' He did not give you and Lachlan to each other to part
you again! Though you are not married yet, it is all the same so
long as you are true to each other."

"Thank you, sir; you always make me feel strong!"

Alister came from the back room.

"I think your mother sees it not quite so difficult now," he said.

The next time they went, they found them preparing to go.

Now Ian had nearly finished the book he was writing about Russia,
and could not begin another all at once. He must not stay at home
doing nothing, and he thought that, as things were going from bad to
worse in the highlands, he might make a voyage to Canada, visit
those of his clan, and see what ought to be done for such as must
soon follow them. He would presently have a little money in his
possession, and believed he could not spend it better. He made up
his mind therefore to accompany Annie and her mother, which resolve
overcame the last of the old woman's lingering reluctance. He did
not like leaving Alister at such a critical point in his history;
but he said to himself that a man might be helped too much; arid it
might come that he and Mercy were in as much need of a refuge as the
clan.

I cannot say NO worldly pride mingled in the chief's contempt for
the distiller's money; his righteous soul was not yet clear of its
inherited judgments as to what is dignified and what is not. He had
in him still the prejudice of the landholder, for ages instinctive,
against both manufacture and trade. Various things had combined to
foster in him also the belief that trade at least was never free
from more or less of unfair dealing, and was therefore in itself a
low pursuit. He had not argued that nothing the Father of men has
decreed can in its nature be contemptible, but must be capable of
being nobly done. In the things that some one must do, the doer
ranks in God's sight, and ought to rank among his fellow-men,
according to how he does it. The higher the calling the more
contemptible the man who therein pursues his own ends. The humblest
calling, followed on the principles of the divine caller, is a true
and divine calling, be it scavenging, handicraft, shop-keeping, or
book-making. Oh for the day when God and not the king shall be
regarded as the fountain of honour.

But the Macruadh looked upon the calling of the brewer or distiller
as from the devil: he was not called of God to brew or distil! From
childhood his mother had taught him a horror of gain by corruption.
She had taught, and he had learned, that the poorest of all
justifications, the least fit to serve the turn of gentleman,
logician, or Christian, was--"If I do not touch this pitch, another
will; there will be just as much harm done; AND ANOTHER INSTEAD OF
ME WILL HAVE THE BENEFIT; therefore it cannot defile me.--Offences
must come, therefore I will do them!" "Imagine our Lord in the
brewing trade instead of the carpentering!" she would say. That
better beer was provided by the good brewer would not go far for
brewer or drinker, she said: it mattered little that, by drinking
good beer, the drunkard lived to be drunk the oftener. A brewer
might do much to reduce drinking; but that would be to reduce a
princely income to a modest livelihood, and to content himself with
the baker's daughter instead of the duke's! It followed that the
Macruadh would rather have robbed a church than touched Mr.
Peregrine Palmer's money. To rifle the tombs of the dead would have
seemed to him pure righteousness beside sharing in that. He could
give Mercy up; he could NOT take such money with her! Much as he
loved her, separate as he saw her, clearly as she was to him a woman
undefiled and straight from God, it was yet a trial to him that she
should be the daughter of a person whose manufacture and trade were
such.

After much consideration, it was determined in the family conclave,
that Ian should accompany the two women to Canada, note how things
were going, and conclude what had best be done, should further
exodus be found necessary. As, however, there had come better news
of Lachlan, and it was plain he was in no immediate danger, they
would not, for several reasons, start before the month of September.
A few of the poorest of the clan resolved to go with them. Partly
for their sakes, partly because his own provision would be small,
Ian would take his passage also in the steerage.



CHAPTER IV

LOVE.


Christina went back to London considerably changed. Her beauty was
greater far, for there was a new element in it--a certain atmosphere
of distances and shadows gave mystery to her landscape. Her weather,
that is her mood, was now subject to changes which to many made her
more attractive. Fits of wild gaiety alternated with glooms, through
which would break flashes of feline playfulness, where pat and
scratch were a little mixed. She had more admirers than ever, for
she had developed points capable of interesting men of somewhat
higher development than those she had hitherto pleased. At the same
time she was more wayward and imperious with her courtiers. Gladly
would she have thrown all the flattery once so coveted into the
rag-bag of creation, to have one approving smile from the
grave-looking, gracious man, whom she knew happier, wandering alone
over the hills, than if she were walking by his side. For an hour
she would persuade herself that he cared for her a little; the next
she would comfort herself with the small likelihood of his meeting
another lady in Glenruadh. But then he had been such a traveller,
had seen so much of the great world, that perhaps he was already
lost to her! It seemed but too probable, when she recalled the
sadness with which he seemed sometimes overshadowed: it could not be
a religious gloom, for when he spoke of God his face shone, and his
words were strong! I think she mistook a certain gravity, like that
of the Merchant of Venice, for sorrowfulness; though doubtless the
peculiarity of his loss, as well as the loss itself, did sometimes
make him sad.

She had tried on him her little arts of subjugation, but the moment
she began to love him, she not only saw their uselessness, but hated
them. Her repellent behaviour to her admirers, and her occasional
excitement and oddity, caused her mother some anxiety, but as the
season came to a close, she grew gayer, and was at times absolutely
bewitching. The mother wished to go northward by degrees, paying
visits on the way; but her plan met with no approbation from the
girls. Christina longed for the presence and voice of Ian in the
cottage-parlour, Mercy for a hill-side with the chief; both longed
to hear them speak to each other in their own great way. And they
talked so of the delights of their highland home, that the mother
began to feel the mountains, the sea, and the islands, drawing her
to a land of peace, where things went well, and the world knew how
to live. But the stormiest months of her life were about to pass
among those dumb mountains!

After a long and eager journey, the girls were once more in their
rooms at the New House.

Mercy went to her window, and stood gazing from it upon the
mountain-world, faint-lighted by the northern twilight. She might
have said with Portia:--

   "This night methinks is but the daylight sick;
   It looks a little paler: 'tis a day,
   Such as the day is when the sun is hid."

She could see the dark bulk of the hills, sharpened to a clear edge
against the pellucid horizon, but with no colour, and no visible
featuring of their great fronts. When the sun rose, it would reveal
innumerable varieties of surface, by the mottling of endless
shadows; now all was smooth as an unawakened conscience. By the
shape of a small top that rose against the greenish sky betwixt the
parting lines of two higher hills, where it seemed to peep out over
the marge into the infinite, as a little man through the gap between
the heads of taller neighbours, she knew the roof of THE TOMB; and
she thought how, just below there, away as it seemed in the
high-lifted solitudes of heaven, she had lain in the clutches of
death, all the time watched and defended by the angel of a higher
life who had been with her ever since first she came to Glenruadh,
waking her out of such a stupidity, such a non-existence, as now she
could scarce see possible to human being. It was true her waking had
been one with her love to that human East which first she saw as she
opened her eyes, and whence first the light of her morning had
flowed--the man who had been and was to her the window of God! But
why should that make her doubt? God made man and woman to love each
other: why should not the waking to love and the waking to truth
come together, seeing both were of God? If the chief were never to
speak to her again, she would never go back from what she had
learned of him! If she ever became careless of truth and life and
God, it would but show that she had never truly loved the chief!

As she stood gazing on the hill-top, high landmark of her history,
she felt as if the earth were holding her up toward heaven, an
offering to the higher life. The hill grew an altar of prayer on
which her soul was lying, dead until taken up into life by the arms
of the Father. A deep content pervaded her heart. She turned with
her weight of peace, lay down, and went to sleep in the presence of
her Life.

Christina looked also from her window, but her thoughts were not
like Mercy's, for her heart was mainly filled, not with love of Ian,
but with desire that Ian should love her. She longed to be his
queen--the woman of all women he had seen. The sweet repose of the
sleeping world wrought in her--not peace, but weakness. Her soul
kept leaning towards Ian; she longed for his arms to start out the
alien nature lying so self-satisfied all about her. To her the
presence of God took shape as an emptiness--an absence. The resting
world appeared to her cold, unsympathetic, heedless; its peace was
but heartlessness. The soft pellucid chrysolite of passive heavenly
thought, was a merest arrangement, a common fact, meaning nothing to
her.

She was hungry, not merely after bliss, but after distinction in
bliss; not after growth, but after acknowledged superiority. She
needed to learn that she was nobody--that if the world were peopled
with creatures like her, it would be no more worth sustaining than
were it a world of sand, of which no man could build even a hut.
Still, by her need of another, God was laying hold of her. As by the
law is the knowledge of sin, so by love is selfishness rampantly
roused--to be at last, like death, swallowed up in victory--the
victory of the ideal self that dwells in God.

All night she dreamed sad dreams of Ian in the embrace of a lovely
woman, without word or look for her. She woke weeping, and said to
herself that it could not be. He COULD not be taken from her! it was
against nature! Soul, brain, and heart, claimed him hers! How could
another possess what, in the testimony of her whole consciousness,
was hers and hers alone! Love asserts an innate and irreversible
right of profoundest property in the person loved. It is an
instinct--but how wrongly, undivinely, falsely interpreted! Hence so
many tears! Hence a law of nature, deep written in the young heart,
seems often set utterly at nought by circumstance!

But the girl in her dejection and doubt, was worth far more than in
her content and confidence. She was even now the richer by the
knowledge of sorrow, and she was on the way to know that she needed
help, on the way to hate herself, to become capable of loving. Life
could never be the same to her, and the farther from the same the
better!

The beauty came down in the morning pale and dim and white-lipped,
like a flower that had had no water. Mercy was fresh and rosy, with
a luminous mist of loveliness over her plain unfinished features.
Already had they begun to change in the direction of beauty.
Christina's eyes burned; in Mercy's shone something of the light by
which a soul may walk and not stumble. In the eyes of both was
expectation, in the eyes of the one confident, in the eyes of the
other anxious.

As soon as they found themselves alone together, eyes sought eyes,
and met in understanding. They had not made confidantes of each
other, each guessed well, and was well guessed at. They did not
speculate; they understood. In like manner, Mercy and Alister
understood each other, but not Christina and Ian. Neither of these
knew the feelings of the other.

Without a word they rose, put on their hats, left the house, and
took the road toward the valley.

About half-way to the root of the ridge, they came in sight of the
ruined castle; Mercy stopped with a little cry.

"Look! Chrissy!" she said, pointing.

On the corner next them, close by the pepper-pot turret, sat the two
men, in what seemed to loving eyes a dangerous position, but to the
mountaineers themselves a comfortable coin of vantage. The girls
thought, "They are looking out for us!" but Ian was there only
because Alister was there.

The men waved their bonnets. Christina responded with her
handkerchief. The men disappeared from their perch, and were with
the ladies before they reached the ridge. There was no embarrassment
on either side, though a few cheeks were rosier than usual. To the
chief, Mercy was far beyond his memory of her. Not her face only,
but her every movement bore witness to a deeper pleasure, a greater
freedom in life than before.

"Why were you in such a dangerous place?" asked Christina.

"We were looking out for you," answered Alister. "From there we
could see you the moment you came out."

"Why didn't you come and meet us then?"

"Because we wanted to watch you coming."

"Spies!--I hope, Mercy, we were behaving ourselves properly! I had
no idea we were watched!"

"We thought you had quarrelled; neither said a word to the other."

Mercy looked up; Christina looked down.

"Could you hear us at that height?" asked Mercy.

"How could we when there was not a word to hear!"

"How did you know we were silent?"

"We might have known by the way you walked," replied Alister. "But
if you had spoken we should have heard, for sound travels far among
the mountains!"

"Then I think it was a shame!" said Christina. "How could you tell
that we might not object to your hearing us?"

"We never thought of that!" said Alister. "I am very sorry. We shall
certainly not be guilty again!"

"What men you are for taking everything in downright earnest!"
cried Christina; "--as if we could have anything to say we should
wish YOU not to hear?"

She pat a little emphasis on the YOU, hut not much. Alister heard it
as if Mercy had said it, and smiled a pleased smile.

"It will be a glad day for the world," he said, "when secrecy is
over, and every man may speak out the thing that is in him, without
danger of offence!"

In her turn, Christina heard the words as if spoken with reference
to Ian though not by him, and took them to hint at the difficulty of
saying what was in his heart. She had such an idea of her
superiority because of her father's wealth and fancied position,
that she at once concluded Ian dreaded rejection with scorn, for it
was not even as if he were the chief. However poor, Alister was at
least the head of a family, and might set SIR before, and BARONET
after his name--not that her father would think that much of a
dignity!--but no younger son of whatever rank, would be good enough
for her in her father's eyes! At the same time she had a choice as
well as her father, and he should find she too had a will of her
own!

"But was it not a dangerous place to be in?" she said.

"It is a little crumbly!" confessed Ian. "--That reminds me,
Alister, we must have a bout at the old walls before long!--Ever
since Alister was ten years old," he went on in explanation to
Christina, "he and I have been patching and pointing at the old
hulk--the stranded ship of our poor fortunes. I showed you, did I
not, the ship in our coat of arms--the galley at least, in which,
they say, we arrived at the island?"

"Yes, I remember.--But you don't mean you do mason's work as well as
everything else?" exclaimed Christina.

"Come; we will show you," said the chief.

"What do you do it for?"

The brothers exchanged glances.

"Would you count it sufficient reason," returned Ian, "that we
desired to preserve its testimony to the former status of our
family?"

A pang of pleasure shot through the heart of Christina. Passion is
potent to twist in its favour whatever can possibly be so twisted.
Here was an indubitable indication of his thoughts! He must make the
most of himself, set what he could against the overwhelming
advantages on her side! In the eyes of a man of the world like her
father, an old name was nothing beside new money! still an old
castle was always an old castle! and that he cared about it for her
sake made it to her at least worth something!

Ere she could give an answer, Ian went on.

"But in truth," he said, "we have always had a vague hope of its
resurrection. The dream of our boyhood was to rebuild the castle.
Every year it has grown more hopeless, and keeps receding. But we
have come to see how little it matters, and content ourselves with
keeping up, for old love's sake, what is left of the ruin."

"How do you get up on the walls?" asked Mercy.

"Ah, that is a secret!" said Ian.

"Do tell us," pleaded Christina.

"If you want very much to know,--" answered Ian, a little
doubtfully.

"I do, I do!"

"Then I suppose we must tell you!"

Yet more confirmation to the passion-prejudiced ears of Christina!

"There is a stair," Ian went on, "of which no one but our two selves
knows anything. Such stairs are common in old houses--far commoner
than people in towns have a notion of. But there would not have been
much of it left by this time, if we hadn't taken care of it. We were
little fellows when we began, and it needed much contrivance, for we
were not able to unseat the remnants of the broken steps, and
replace them with new ones."

"Do show it us," begged Christina.

"We will keep it," said Alister, "for some warm twilight. Morning is
not for ruins. Yon mountain-side is calling to us. Will you come,
Mercy?"

"Oh yes!" cried Christina; "that will be much better! Come, Mercy!
You are up to a climb, I am sure!"

"I ought to be, after such a long rest."

"You may have forgotten how to climb!" said Alister.

"I dreamed too much of the hills for that! And always the noise of
London was changed into the rush of waters."

They had dropped a little behind the other pair.

"Did you always climb your dream-hills alone?" asked Alister.

She answered him with just a lift of her big dark eyes.

They walked slowly down the road till they came to Mrs. Conal's
path, passed her door unassailed, and went up the hill.



CHAPTER V

PASSION AND PATIENCE.


It was a glorious morning, and as they climbed, the lightening air
made their spirits rise with their steps. Great masses of cloud hung
beyond the edge of the world, and here and there towered
foundationless in the sky--huge tumulous heaps of white vapour with
gray shadows. The sun was strong, and poured down floods of light,
but his heat was deliciously tempered by the mountain atmosphere.
There was no wind--only an occasional movement as if the air itself
were breathing--just enough to let them feel they moved in no
vacuum, but in the heart of a gentle ocean.

They came to the hut I have already described as the one chiefly
inhabited by Hector of the Stags and Rob of the Angels. It commanded
a rare vision. In every direction rose some cone-shaped hill. The
world lay in coloured waves before them, wild, rugged, and grand,
with sheltering spots of beauty between, and the shine of lowly
waters. They tapped at the door of the hut, but there was no
response; they lifted the latch--it had no lock--and found neither
within. Alister and Mercy wandered a little higher, to the shadow of
a great stone; Christina went inside the hut and looked from its
door upon the world; Ian leaned against the side of it, and looked
up to the sky. Suddenly a few great drops fell--it was hard to say
whence. The scattered clouds had been drawing a little nearer the
sun, growing whiter as they approached him, and more had ascended
from the horizon into the middle air, blue sky abounding between
them. A swift rain, like a rain of the early summer, began to fall,
and grew to a heavy shower. They were glorious drops that made that
shower; for the sun shone, and every drop was a falling gem,
shining, sparkling like a diamond, as it fell. It was a bounteous
rain, coming from near the zenith, and falling in straight lines
direct from heaven to earth. It wanted but sound to complete its
charm, and that the bells of the heather gave, set ringing by the
drops. The heaven was filled with blue windows, and the rain seemed
to come from them rather than from the clouds. Into the rain rose
the heads of the mountains, each clothed in its surplice of thin
mist; they seemed rising on tiptoe heavenward, eager to drink of the
high-born comfort; for the rain comes down, not upon the mown grass
only, but upon the solitary and desert places also, where grass will
never be--"the playgrounds of the young angels," Rob called them.

"Do come in," said Christina; "you will get quite wet!"

He turned towards her. She stepped back, and he entered. Like one a
little weary, he sat down on Hector's old chair.

"Is anything the matter?" asked Christina, with genuine concern.

She saw that he was not quite like himself, that there was an
unusual expression on his face. He gave a faint apologetic smile.

"As I stood there," he answered, "a strange feeling came over me--a
foreboding, I suppose you would call it!"

He paused; Christina grew pale, and said, "Won't you tell me what it
was?"

"It was an odd kind of conviction that the next time I stood there,
it would not be in the body.--I think I shall not come back."

"Come back!" echoed Christina, fear beginning to sip at the cup of
her heart. "Where are you going?"

"I start for Canada next week."

She turned deadly white, and put out her hands, feeling blindly
after support. Ian started to his feet.

"We have tired you out!" he said in alarm, and took her by both
hands to place her in the chair.

She did not hear him. The world had grown dark about her, a hissing
noise was in her ears, and she would have fallen had he not put his
arm round her. The moment she felt supported, she began to come to
herself. There was no pretence, however, no coquetry in her
faintness. Neither was it aught but misery and affection that made
her lay her head on Ian's shoulder, and burst into a violent fit of
weeping. Unused to real emotion, familiar only with the
poverty-stricken, false emotion of conquest and gratified vanity,
when the real emotion came she did not know how to deal with it, and
it overpowered her.

"Oh! oh!" she cried at length between her sobs, "I am ashamed of
myself! I can't help it! I can't help it! What will you think of me!
I have disgraced myself!"

Ian had been far from any suspicion of the state of things, but he
had had too much sorrowful experience to be able to keep his
unwilling eyes closed to this new consternation. The cold shower
seemed to flood his soul; the bright drops descending with such
swiftness of beauty, instinct with sun-life, turned into points of
icy steel that pierced his heart. But he must not heed himself! he
must speak to her! He must say something through the terrible shroud
that infolded them!

"You are as safe with me," he faltered, "--as safe as with your
mother!"

"I believe it! I know it," she answered, still sobbing, but looking
up with an expression of genuine integrity such as he had never seen
on her face before. "But I AM sorry!" she went on. "It is very weak,
and very, very un--un--womanly of me! But it came upon me all at
once! If I had only had some warning! Oh, why did you not tell me
before? Why did you not prepare me for it? You might have known what
it would be to hear it so suddenly!"

More and more aghast grew Ian! What was to be done? What was to be
said? What was left for a man to do, when a woman laid her soul
before him? Was there nothing but a lie to save her from bitterest
humiliation? To refuse any woman was to Ian a hard task; once he had
found it impossible to refuse even where he could not give, and had
let a woman take his soul! Thank God, she took it indeed! he yielded
himself perfectly, and God gave him her in return! But that was
once, and for ever! It could not be done again!

"I am very sorry!" he murmured; and the words and their tone sent a
shiver through the heart of Christina.

But now that she had betrayed her secret, the pent up tide of her
phantasy rushed to the door. She was reckless. Used to everything
her own way, knowing nothing of disappointment, a new and ill
understood passion dominating her, she let everything go and the
torrent sweep her with it. Passion, like a lovely wild beast, had
mastered her, and she never thought of trying to tame it. It was
herself! there was not enough of her outside the passion to stand up
against it! She began to see the filmy eyed Despair, and had neither
experience to deal with herself, nor reticence enough to keep
silence.

"If you speak to me like that," she cried, "my heart will
break!--Must you go away?"

"Dear Miss Palmer,--" faltered Ian.

"Oh!" she ejaculated, with a world of bitterness in the protest.

"--do let us be calm!" continued Ian. "We shall not come to anything
if we lose ourselves this way!"

The WE and the US gave her a little hope.

"How can I be calm!" she cried. "I am not cold-hearted like
you!--You are going away, and I shall never see you again to all
eternity!"

She burst out weeping afresh.

"Do love me a little before you go," she sobbed. "You gave me my
life once, but that does not make it right to take it from me again!
It only gives you a right to its best!"

"God knows," said Ian, "if my life could serve you, I should count
it a small thing to yield!--But this is idle talk! A man must not
pretend anything! We must not be untrue!"

She fancied he did not believe in her.

"I know! I know! you may well distrust me!" she returned. "I have
often behaved abominably to you! But indeed I am true now! I dare
not tell you a lie. To you I MUST speak the truth, for I love you
with my whole soul."

Ian stood dumb. His look of consternation and sadness brought her to
herself a little.

"What have I done!" she cried, and drawing back a pace, stood
looking at him, and trembling. "I am disgraced for ever! I have told
a man I love him, and he leaves me to the shame of it! He will not
save me from it! he will not say one word to take it away! Where is
your generosity, Ian?"

"I must be true!" said Ian, speaking as if to himself, and in a
voice altogether unlike his own.

"You will not love me! You hate me! You despise me! But I will not
live rejected! He brushes me like a feather from his coat!"

"Hear me," said Ian, trying to recover himself. "Do not think me
insensible--"

"Oh, yes! I know!" cried Christina yet more bitterly; "--INSENSIBLE
TO THE HONOUR _I_ DO YOU, and all that world of nothing!--Pray use
your victory! Lord it over me! I am the weed under your foot! I beg
you will not spare me! Speak out what you think of me!"

Ian took her hand. It trembled as if she would pull it away, and her
eyes flashed an angry fire. She looked more nearly beautiful than
ever he had seen her! His heart was like to break. He drew her to
the chair, and taking a stool, sat down beside her. Then, with a
voice that gathered strength as he proceeded, he said:--

"Let me speak to you, Christina Palmer, as in the presence of him
who made us! To pretend I loved you would be easier than to bear the
pain of giving you such pain. Were I selfish enough, I could take
much delight in your love; but I scorn the unmanliness of accepting
gold and returning silver: my love is not mine to give."

It was some relief to her proud heart to imagine he would have loved
her had he been free. But she did not speak.

"If I thought," pursued Ian, "that I had, by any behaviour of mine,
been to blame for this,--" There he stopped, lest he should seem to
lay blame on her.--"I think," he resumed, "I could help you if you
would listen to me. Were I in like trouble with you, I would go into
my room, and shut the door, and tell my Father in heaven everything
about it. Ah, Christina! if you knew him, you would not break your
heart that a man did not love you just as you loved him."

Had not her misery been so great, had she not also done the thing
that humbled her before herself, Christina would have been indignant
with the man who refused her love and dared speak to her of
religion; but she was now too broken for resentment.

The diamond rain was falling, the sun was shining in his vaporous
strength, and the great dome of heaven stood fathomless above the
pair; but to Christina the world was black and blank as the gloomy
hut in which they sat. When first her love blossomed, she saw the
world open; she looked into its heart; she saw it alive--saw it
burning with that which made the bush alive in the desert of
Horeb--the presence of the living God; now, the vision was over, the
desert was dull and dry, the bush burned no more, the glowing lava
had cooled to unsightly stone! There was no God, nor any man more!
Time had closed and swept the world into the limbo of vanity! For a
time she sat without thought, as it were in a mental sleep. She
opened her eyes, and the blank of creation stared into the very
heart of her. The emptiness and loneliness overpowered her. Hardly
aware of what she was doing, she slid to her knees at Ian's feet,
crying,

"Save me, save me, Ian! I shall go mad! Pardon me! Help me!"

"All a man may be to his sister, I am ready to be to you. I will
write to you from Canada; you can answer me or not as you please. My
heart cries out to me to take you in my arms and comfort you, but I
must not; it would not comfort you."

"You do not despise me, then?--Oh, thank you!"

"Despise you!--no more than my dead sister! I would cherish you as I
would her were she in like sorrow. I would die to save you this
grief--except indeed that I hope much from it."

"Forget all about me," said Christina, summoning pride to her aid.

"I will not forget you. It is impossible, nor would I if I could."

"You forgive me then, and will not think ill of me?"

"How forgive trust? Is that an offence?"

"I have lost your good opinion! How could I degrade myself so!"

"On the contrary, you are fast gaining my good opinion. You have
begun to be a true woman!"

"What if it should be only for--"

"Whatever it may have been for, now you have tasted truth you will
not turn back!"

"Now I know you do not care for me, I fear I shall soon sink back
into my old self!"

"I do care for you, Christina, and you will not sink back into your
old self. God means you to be a strong, good woman--able, with the
help he will give you, to bear grief in a great-hearted fashion.
Believe me, you and I may come nearer each other in the ages before
us by being both true, than is possible in any other way whatever."

"I am miserable at the thought of what you must think of me!
Everybody would say I had done a shameless thing in confessing my
love!"

"I am not in the way of thinking as everybody thinks. There is
little justice, and less sympathy, to be had from everybody. I would
think and judge and feel as the one, my Master. Be sure you are safe
with me."

"You will not tell anybody?"

"You must trust me."

"I beg your pardon! I have offended you!"

"Not in the least. But I will bind myself by no promises. I am bound
already to be as careful over you as if you were the daughter of my
father and mother. Your confession, instead of putting you in my
power, makes me your servant."

By this time Christina was calm. There was a great load on her
heart, but somehow she was aware of the possibility of carrying it.
She looked up gratefully in Ian's face, already beginning to feel
for him a reverence which made it easier to forego the right to put
her arms round him. And therewith awoke in her the first movement of
divine relationship--rose the first heave of the child-heart toward
the source of its being. It appeared in the form of resistance.
Complaint against God is far nearer to God than indifference about
him.

"Ian Macruadh," said Christina solemnly, and she looked him in the
eyes as she said it, "how can you believe there is a God? If there
were, would he allow such a dreadful thing to befall one of his
creatures? How am I to blame? I could not help it!"

"I see in it his truth and goodness toward his child. And he will
let you see it. The thing is between him and you."

"It will be hard to convince me it is either good or loving to make
anyone suffer like this!" protested Christina, her hand
unconsciously pressed on her heart; "--and all the disgrace of it
too!" she added bitterly.

"I will not allow there is any disgrace," returned Ian. "But I will
not try to con vince you of anything about God. I cannot. You must
know him. I only say I believe in him with all my heart. You must
ask him to explain himself to you, and not take it for granted,
because he has done what you do not like, that he has done you a
wrong. Whether you seek him or not, he will do you justice; but he
cannot explain himself except you seek him."

"I think I understand. Believe me, I am willing to understand."

A few long seconds of silence followed. Christina came a little
nearer. She was still on her knees.

"Will you kiss me once," she said, "as you would a little child!"

"In the name of God!" answered Ian, and stooping kissed her gently
and tenderly.

"Thank you!" she said; "--and now the rain is over, let us join
Mercy and the chief. I hope they have not got very wet!"

"Alister will have taken care of that. There is plenty of shelter
about here."

They left the cottage, drew the door close, and through the heather,
sparkling with a thousand rain-drops, the sun shining hotter than
ever through the rain-mist, went up the hill.

They found the other pair sheltered by the great stone, which was
not only a shadow from the heat, but sloped sufficiently to be a
covert from the rain. They did not know it had ceased; perhaps they
did not know it had rained.

On a fine morning of the following week, the emigrants began the
first stage of their long journey; the women in two carts, with
their small impedimenta, the men walking--Ian with them, a stout
stick in his hand. They were to sail from Greenock.

Ian and Christina met several times before he left, but never alone.
No conference of any kind, not even of eyes, had been sought by
Christina, and Ian had resolved to say nothing more until he reached
Canada. Thence he would write things which pen and ink would say
better and carry nearer home than could speech; and by that time too
the first keenness of her pain would have dulled, and left her mind
more capable of receiving them. He was greatly pleased with the
gentle calm of her behaviour. No one else could have seen any
difference toward himself. He read in her carriage that of a child
who had made a mistake, and was humbled, not vexed. Her mother noted
that her cheek was pale, and that she seemed thoughtful; but farther
she did not penetrate. To Ian it was plain that she had set herself
to be reasonable.



CHAPTER VI

LOVE GLOOMING.


Ian, the light of his mother's eyes, was gone, and she felt
forsaken. Alister was too much occupied with Mercy to feel his
departure as on former occasions, yet he missed him every hour of
the day. Mercy and he met, but not for some time in open company, as
Christina refused to go near the cottage. Things were ripening to a
change.

Alister's occupation with Mercy, however, was far from absorption;
the moment Ian was gone, he increased his attention to his mother,
feeling she had but him. But his mother was not quite the same to
him now. At times she was even more tender; at other times she
seemed to hold him away from her, as one with whom she was not in
sympathy. The fear awoke in him that she might so speak to some one
of the Palmers as to raise an insuperable barrier between the
families; and this fear made him resolve to come at once to an
understanding with Mercy. The resulting difficulties might be great;
he felt keenly the possible alternative of his loss of Mercy, or
Mercy's loss of her family; but the fact that he loved her gave him
a right to tell her so, and made it his duty to lay before her the
probability of an obstacle. That his mother did not like the
alliance had to be braved, for a man must leave father and mother
and cleave to his wife--a saying commonly by male presumption
inverted. Mercy's love he believed such that she would, without a
thought, leave the luxury of her father's house for the mere plenty
of his. That it would not be to descend but to rise in the true
social scale he would leave her to discover. Had he known what Mr.
Palmer was, and how his money had been made, he would neither have
sought nor accepted his acquaintance, and it would no more have been
possible to fall in love with one of his family than to covet one of
his fine horses. But that which might, could, would, or should have
been, affected in no way that which was. He had entered in
ignorance, by the will of God, into certain relations with "the
young woman," as his mother called her, and those relations had to
be followed to their natural and righteous end.

Talking together over possibilities, Mr. Peregrine Palmer had agreed
with his wife that, Mercy being so far from a beauty, it might not
be such a bad match, would not at least be one to be ashamed of, if
she did marry the impoverished chief of a highland clan with a
baronetcy in his pocket. Having bought the land cheap, he could
afford to let a part, perhaps even the whole of it, go back with his
daughter, thus restoring to its former position an ancient and
honourable family. The husband of his younger daughter would then be
head of one of the very few highland families yet in possession of
their ancestral acres--a distinction he would owe to Peregrine
Palmer! It was a pleasant thought to the kindly, consequential,
common little man. Mrs. Palmer, therefore, when the chief called
upon her, received him with more than her previous cordiality.

His mother would have been glad to see him return from his call
somewhat dejected; he entered so radiant and handsome, that her
heart sank within her. Was she actually on the point of being allied
through the child of her bosom to a distiller and brewer--a man who
had grown rich on the ruin of thousands of his fellow countrymen? To
what depths might not the most ancient family sink! For any poverty,
she said to herself, she was prepared--but how was she to endure
disgrace! Alas for the clan, whose history was about to
cease--smothered in the defiling garment of ill-gotten wealth!
Miserable, humiliating close to ancient story! She had no doubt as
to her son's intention, although he had said nothing; she KNEW that
his refusal of dower would be his plea in justification; but would
that deliver them from the degrading approval of the world? How
many, if they ever heard of it, would believe that the poor,
high-souled Macruadh declined to receive a single hundred from his
father-in-law's affluence! That he took his daughter poor as she was
born--his one stipulation that she should be clean from her
father's mud! For one to whom there would even be a chance of
stating the truth of the matter, a hundred would say, "That's your
plan! The only salvation for your shattered houses! Point them up
well with the bird-lime of the brewer, the quack, or the
money-lender, and they'll last till doom'sday!"

Thus bitterly spoke the mother. She brooded and scorned, raged
inwardly, and took to herself dishonour, until evidently she was
wasting. The chief's heart was troubled; could it be that she
doubted his strength to resist temptation? He must make haste and
have the whole thing settled! And first of all speak definitely to
Mercy on the matter!

He had appointed to meet her the same evening, and went long before
the hour to watch for her appearing. He climbed the hill, and lay
down in the heather whence he could see the door of the New House,
and Mercy the moment she should come out of it. He lay there till
the sun was down, and the stars began to appear. At length--and even
then it was many minutes to the time--he saw the door open, and
Mercy walk slowly to the gate. He rose and went down the hill. She
saw him, watched him descending, and the moment he reached the road,
went to meet him. They walked slowly down the road, without a word
spoken, until they felt themselves alone.

"You look so lovely!" said the chief.

"In the twilight, I suppose!" said Mercy.

"Perhaps; you are a creature of the twilight, or the night rather,
with your great black eyes!"

"I don't like you to speak to me so! You never did before! You know
I am not lovely! I am very plain!"

She was evidently not pleased.

"What have I done to vex you, Mercy?" he rejoined. "Why should you
mind my saying what is true?"

She bit her lip, and could hardly speak to answer him. Often in
London she had been morally sickened by the false rubbish talked to
her sister, and had boasted to herself that the chief had never paid
her a compliment. Now he had done it!

She took her hand from his arm.

"I think I will go home!" she said.

Alister stopped and turned to her. The last gleam of the west was
reflected from her eyes, and all the sadness of the fading light
seemed gathered into them.

"My child!" he said, all that was fatherly in the chief rising at
the sight, "who has been making you unhappy?"

"You," she answered, looking him in the face.

"How? I do not understand!" he returned, gazing at her bewildered.

"You have just paid me a compliment--a thing you never did
before--a thing I never heard before from any but a fool! How could
you say I was beautiful! You know I am not beautiful! It breaks my
heart to think you could say what you didn't believe!"

"Mercy!" answered the chief, "if I said you were beautiful, and to
my eyes you were not, it would yet be true; for to my heart, which
sees deeper than my eyes, you are more beautiful than any other ever
was or ever will be. I know you are not beautiful in the world's
meaning, but you are very lovely--and it was lovely I said you
were!"

"Lovely because you love me? Is that what you meant?"

"Yes, that and more. Your eyes are beautiful, and your hair is
beautiful, and your expression is lovely. But I am not flattering
you--I am not even paying you compliments, for those things are not
yours; God made them, and has given them to me!"

She put her hand in his arm again, and there was no more
love-making.

"But Mercy," said the chief, when they had walked some distance
without speaking, "do you think you could live here always, and
never see London again?"

"I would not care if London were scratched out."

"Could you be content to be a farmer's wife?"

"If he was a very good farmer," she answered, looking up archly.

"Am I a good enough farmer, then, to serve your turn?"

"Good enough if I were ten times better. Do you really mean it,
Macruadh?"

"With all my heart. Only there is one thing I am very anxious
about."

"What is that?"

"How your father will take my condition."

"He will allow, I think, that it is good enough for me--and more
than I deserve."

"That is not what I mean; it is that I have a certain condition to
make."

"Else you won't marry me? That seems strange! Of course I will do
anything you would wish me to do! A condition!" she repeated,
ponderingly, with just a little dissatisfaction in the tone.

Alister wondered she was not angry. But she trusted him too well to
take offence readily.

"Yes," he rejoined, "a real condition! Terms belong naturally to the
giver, not the petitioner; I hope with all my heart it will not
offend him. It will not offend you, I think."

"Let me hear your condition," said Mercy, looking at him curiously,
her honest eyes shining in the faint light.

"I want him to let me take you just as you are, without a shilling
of his money to spoil the gift. I want you in and for yourself."

"I dare not think you one who would rather not be obliged to his
wife for anything!" said Mercy. "That cannot be it!"

She spoke with just a shadow of displeasure. He did not answer. He
was in great dread of hurting her, and his plain reason could not
fail to hurt her.

"Well," she resumed, as he did not reply, "there are fathers, I
daresay, who would not count that a hard condition!"

"Of course your father will not like the idea of your marrying so
poor a man!"

"If he should insist on your having something with me, you will not
refuse, will you? Why should you mind it?"

Alister was silent. The thing had already begun to grow dreadful!
How could he tell her his reasons! Was it necessary to tell her? If
he had to explain, it must be to her father, not to her! How, until
absolutely compelled, reveal the horrible fact that her father was
despised by her lover! She might believe it her part to refuse such
love! He trembled lest she should urge him. But Mercy, thinking she
had been very bold already, also held her peace.

They tried to talk about other things, but with little success, and
when they parted, it was with a sense on both sides that something
had got between them. The night through Mercy hardly slept for
trying to discover what his aversion to her dowry might mean. No
princedom was worth contrasting with poverty and her farmer-chief,
but why should not his love be able to carry her few thousands? It
was impossible his great soul should grudge his wife's superiority
in the one poor trifle of money! Was not the whole family superior
to money! Had she, alas, been too confident in their greatness? Must
she be brought to confess that their grand ways had their little
heart of pride? Did they not regard themselves as the ancient
aristocracy of the country! Yes, it must be! The chief despised the
origin of her father's riches!

But, although so far in the direction of the fact, she had no
suspicion of anything more than landed pride looking down upon
manufacture and trade. She suspected no moral root of even a share
in the chief's difficulty. Naturally, she was offended. How
differently Christina would have met the least hint of a CONDITION,
she thought. She had been too ready to show and confess her love!
Had she stood off a little, she might have escaped this humiliation!
But would that have been honest? Must she not first of all be true?
Was the chief, whatever his pride, capable of being ungenerous?
Questions like these kept coming and going throughout the night.
Hither and thither went her thoughts, refusing to be controlled. The
morning came, the sun rose, and she could not find rest. She had
come to see how ideally delightful it was just to wait God's will of
love, yet, in this her first trouble, she actually forgot to think
of God, never asked him to look after the thing for her, never said,
"Thy will be done!" And when at length weariness overpowered her,
fell asleep like a heathen, without a word from her heart to the
heart.

Alister missed Ian sorely. He prayed to God, but was too troubled to
feel him near. Trouble imagined may seem easy to meet; trouble
actual is quite another thing! His mother, perhaps, was to have her
desire; Mercy, perhaps, would not marry a man who disapproved of her
family! Between them already was what could not be talked about! He
could not set free his heart to her!

When Mercy woke, the old love was awake also; let Alister's reason
be what it might, it was not for her to resent it! The life he led
was so much grander than a life spent in making money, that he must
feel himself superior! Throned in the hearts, and influencing the
characters of men, was he not in a far nobler position than money
could give him? From her night of doubt and bitterness Mercy issued
more loving and humble. What should she be now, she said to herself,
if Alister had not taught her? He had been good to her as never
father or brother! She would trust him! She would believe him right!
Had he hurt her pride? It was well her pride should be hurt! Her
mind was at rest.

But Alister must continue in pain and dread until he had spoken to
her father. Knowing then the worst, he might use argument with
Mercy; the moment for that was not yet come! If he consented that
his daughter should leave him undowered, an explanation with Mercy
might be postponed. When the honour of her husband was more to her
than the false credit of her family, when she had had time to
understand principles which, born and brought up as she had been,
she might not yet be able to see into, then it would be time to
explain! One with him, she would see things as he saw them! Till her
father came, he would avoid the subject!

All the morning he was busy in the cornyard--with his hands in
preparing new stances for ricks, with his heart in try ing to
content himself beforehand with whatever fate the Lord might intend
for him. As yet he was more of a Christian philosopher than a
philosophical Christian. The thing most disappointing to him he
would treat as the will of God for him, and try to make up his mind
to it, persuading himself it was the right and best thing--as if he
knew it the will of God. He was thus working in the region of
supposition, and not of revealed duty; in his own imagination, and
not in the will of God. If this should not prove the will of God
concerning him, then he was spending his strength for nought. There
is something in the very presence and actuality of a thing to make
one able to bear it; but a man may weaken himself for bearing what
God intends him to bear, by trying to bear what God does not intend
him to bear. The chief was forestalling the morrow like an
unbeliever--not without some moral advantage, I dare say, but with
spiritual loss. We have no right to school ourselves to an imaginary
duty. When we do not know, then what he lays upon us is NOT TO KNOW,
and to be content not to know. The philosopher is he who lives in
the thought of things, the Christian is he who lives in the things
themselves. The philosopher occupies himself with God's decree, the
Christian with God's will; the philosopher with what God may intend,
the Christian with what God wants HIM TO DO.

The laird looked up and there were the young ladies! It was the
first time Christina had come nigh the cottage since Ian's
departure.

"Can you tell me, Macruadh," she said, "what makes Mrs. Conal so
spiteful always? When we bade her good morning a few minutes ago,
she overwhelmed us with a torrent of abuse!"

"How did you know it was abuse?"

"We understand enough of Gaelic to know it was not exactly blessing
us she was. It is not necessary to know cat-language to distinguish
between purring and spitting! What harm have we done? Her voice was
fierce, and her eyes were like two live peats flaming at us! Do
speak to her."

"It would be of no use!"

"Where's the good of being chief then? I don't ask you to make the
old woman civil, but I think you might keep her from insulting your
friends! I begin to think your chiefdom a sham!"

"I doubt indeed if it reaches to the tongues of the clan! But let us
go and tell my mother. She may be able to do something with her!"

Christina went into the cottage; the chief drew Mercy back.

"What do you think the first duty of married people, Mercy--to each
other, I mean," he said.

"To be always what they look," answered Mercy.

"Yes, but I mean actively. What is it their first duty to do towards
each other?"

"I can't answer that without thinking."

"Is it not each to help the other to do the will of God?"

"I would say YES if I were sure I really meant it."

"You will mean it one day."

"Are you sure God will teach me?"

"I think he cares more to do that than anything else."

"More than to save us?"

"What is saving but taking us out of the dark into the light? There
is no salvation but to know God and grow like him."



CHAPTER VII

A GENEROUS DOWRY.


The only hope of the chief's mother was in what the girl's father
might say to her son's proposal. Would not his pride revolt against
giving his daughter to a man who would not receive his blessing in
money?

Mr. Peregrine Palmer arrived, and the next day Alister called upon
him.

Not unprepared for the proposal of the chief, Mercy's father had
nothing to urge against it. Her suitor's name was almost an
historical one, for it stood high in the home-annals of Scotland.
And the new laird, who had always a vague sense of injury in the
lack of an illustrious pedigree of his own to send forward, was not
un willing that a man more justly treated than himself should supply
the SOLATIUM to his daughter's children. He received the Macruadh,
therefore, if a little pompously, yet with kindness. And the moment
they were seated Alister laid his request before him.

"Mr. Palmer," he said, "I come to ask the hand of your daughter
Mercy. I have not much beyond myself to offer her, but I can tell
you precisely what there is."

Mr. Peregrine Palmer sat for a moment looking important. He seemed
to see much to ponder in the proposal.

"Well, Macruadh," he said at length, hesitating with hum and with
haw, "the thing is--well, to speak the truth, you take me a good
deal by surprise! I do not know how the thing may appear to Mrs.
Palmer. And then the girl herself, you will allow, ought, in a free
country, to have a word in the matter! WE give our girls absolute
liberty; their own hearts must guide them--that is, where there is
no serious exception to be taken. Honestly, it is not the kind of
match we should have chosen! It is not as if things were with you
now as once, when the land was all your own, and--and--you--pardon
me, I am a father--did not have to work with your own hands!"

Had he been there on any other errand the chief would have stated
his opinion that it was degrading to a man to draw income from
anything he would count it degrading to put his own hand to; but
there was so much he might be compelled to say to the displeasure of
Mr. Palmer while asking of him the greatest gift he had to bestow,
that he would say nothing unpalatable which he was not compelled to
say.

"My ancestors," he answered, willing to give the objection a
pleasant turn, "would certainly have preferred helping themselves to
the produce of lowland fields! My great-great-grandfather, scorning
to ask any man for his daughter, carried her off without a word!"

"I am glad the peculiarity has not shown itself hereditary," said Mr.
Palmer laughing.

"But if I have little to offer, I expect nothing with her," said the
chief abruptly. "I want only herself!"

"A very loverly mode of speaking! But it is needless to say no
daughter of mine shall leave me without a certainty, one way or the
other, of suitable maintenance. You know the old proverb,
Macruadh,--'When poverty comes in at the door,'--?"

"There is hardly a question of poverty in the sense the proverb
intends!" answered the chief smiling.

"Of course! Of course! At the same time you cannot keep the wolf too
far from the door. I would not, for my part, care to say I had given
my daughter to a poor farmer in the north. Two men, it is, I
believe, you employ, Macruadh?"

The chief answered with a nod.

"I have other daughters to settle--not to mention my sons," pursued
the great little man, "--but--but I will find a time to talk the
matter over with Mrs. Palmer, and see what I can do for you.
Meanwhile you may reckon you have a friend at court; all I have seen
makes me judge well of you. Where we do not think alike, I can yet
say for you that your faults lean to virtue's side, and are such as
my daughter at least will be no loser by. Good morning, Macruadh."

Mr. Peregrine Palmer rose; and the chief, perplexed and indignant,
but anxious not to prejudice, his very doubtful cause, rose also.

"You scarcely understand me, Mr. Palmer," he said. "On the
possibility of being honoured with your daughter's hand, you must
allow me to say distinctly beforehand, that I must decline receiving
anything with her. When will you allow me to wait upon you again?"

"I will write. Good morning."

The interview was certainly not much to the assuagement of the
chief's anxiety. He went home with the feeling that he had submitted
to be patronized, almost insulted by a paltry fellow whose
consequence rested on his ill-made money--a man who owed everything
to a false and degrading appetite in his neighbours! Nothing could
have made him put up with him but the love of Mercy, his dove in a
crow's nest! But it would be all in vain, for he could not lie!
Truth, indeed, if not less of a virtue, was less of a heroism in the
chief than in most men, for he COULD NOT lie. Had he been tempted to
try, he would have reddened, stammered, broken down, with the full
shame, and none of the success of a falsehood.

For a week, he heard nothing; there seemed small anxiety to welcome
him into the Palmer family! Then came a letter. It implied, almost
said that some difficulty had been felt as to his reception by EVERY
member of the family--which the chief must himself see to have been
only natural! But while money was of no con sequence to Mr. Palmer,
it was of the greatest consequence that his daughter should seem to
make a good match; therefore, as only in respect of POSITION was the
alliance objectionable, he had concluded to set that right, and in
giving him his daughter, to restore the chief's family to its former
dignity, by making over to him the Clanruadh property now in his
possession by purchase. While he thus did his duty by his daughter,
he hoped the Macruadh would accept the arrangement as a mark of
esteem for himself. Two conditions only he would make--the first,
that, as long as he lived, the shooting should be Mr. Palmer's, to
use or to let, and should extend over the whole estate; the second,
that the chief should assume the baronetcy which belonged to him.

My reader will regard the proposition as not ungenerous, however
much the money value of the land lay in the shooting.

As Alister took leave of his mother for the night, he gave her the
letter.

She took it, read it slowly, laughed angrily, smiled scornfully,
wept bitterly, crushed it in her hand, and walked up to her room
with her head high. All the time she was preparing for her bed, she
was talking in her spirit with her husband. When she lay down she
became a mere prey to her own thoughts, and was pulled, and torn,
and hurt by them for hours ere she set herself to rule them. For the
first time in her life she distrusted her son. She did not know what
he would do! The temptation would surely be too strong for him! Two
good things were set over against one evil thing--an evil thing,
however, with which nobody would associate blame, an evil thing
which would raise him high in the respect of everyone whose respect
was not worth having!--the woman he loved and the land of his
ancestors on the one side, and only the money that bought the land
for him on the other!--would he hold out? He must take the three
together, or have none of them! Her fear for him grew and possessed
her. She grew cold as death. Why did he give her the letter, and go
without saying a word? She knew well the arguments he would adduce!
Henceforward and for ever there would be a gulf between them! The
poor religion he had would never serve to keep him straight! What
was it but a compromise with pride and self-sufficiency! It could
bear no such strain! He acknowledged God, but not God reconciled in
Christ, only God such as unregenerate man would have him! And when
Ian came home, he would be sure to side with Alister!

There was but one excuse for the poor boy--and that a miserable one:
the blinding of love! Yes there was more excuse than that: to be
lord of the old lands, with the old clan growing and gathering again
about its chief! It was a temptation fit to ruin an archangel! What
could he not do then for his people! What could he not do for the
land! And for her, she might have her Ian always at home with her!
God forbid she should buy even such bliss at such a cost! She was
only thinking, she said to herself, how, if the thing had to be, she
would make the best of it: she was bound as a mother to do that!

But the edge of the wedge was in. She said to herself afterwards,
that the enemy of her soul must have been lying in wait for her that
night; she almost believed in some bodily presence of him in her
room: how otherwise could she account for her fall! he must have
been permitted to tempt her, because, in condemning evil, she had
given way to contempt and worldly pride. Her thoughts unchecked
flowed forward. They lingered brooding for a time on the joys that
might be hers--the joys of the mother of a chief over territory as
well as hearts. Then they stole round, and began to flow the other
way. Ere the thing had come she began to make the best of it for the
sake of her son and the bond between them; then she began to excuse
it for the sake of the clan; and now she began to justify it a
little for the sake of the world! Everything that could favour the
acceptance of the offer came up clear before her. The land was the
same as it always had been! it had never been in the distillery! it
had never been in the brew-house! it was clean, whoever had
transacted concerning it, through whatever hands it had passed! A
good cow was a good cow, had she been twenty times reaved! For Mr.
Palmer to give and Alister to take the land back, would be some
amends to the nation, grievously injured in the money of its
purchase! The deed would restore to the redeeming and uplifting
influence of her son many who were fast perishing from poverty and
whisky; for, their houses and crofts once more in the power of their
chief, he would again be their landlord as well! It would be a pure
exercise of the law of compensation! Hundreds who had gone abroad
would return to replenish the old glens with the true national
wealth--with men and women, and children growing to be men and
women, for the hour of their country's need! These were the true,
the golden crops! The glorious time she had herself seen would
return, when Strathruadh could alone send out a regiment of the
soldiers that may be defeated, but will not live to know it. The
dream of her boys would come true! they would rebuild the old
castle, and make it a landmark in the history of the highlands!

But while she stood elate upon this high-soaring peak of the dark
mountains of ambition, sudden before her mind's eye rose the face
of her husband, sudden his voice was in her ear; he seemed to stand
above her in the pulpit, reading from the prophet Isaiah the four
Woes that begin four contiguous chapters:--"Woe to the crown of
pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a
fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that
are overcome with wine!"--"Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where
David dwelt! Add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices; yet I
will distress Ariel."--"Woe to the rebellious children, saith the
Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a
covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin!"--"Woe
to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and
trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because
they are very strong; but they look not unto the holy one of Israel,
neither seek the Lord!" Then followed the words opening the next
chapter:--"Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes
shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from
the wind, and a covert from the tempest." All this, in solemn order,
one woe after the other, she heard in the very voice of her husband;
in awful spiritual procession, they passed before her listening
mind! She grew cold as the dead, and shuddered and shivered. She
looked over the edge into the heart of a black gulf, into which she
had been on the point of casting herself--say rather, down whose
side, searching for an easy descent, she had already slid a long
way, when the voice from above recalled her! She covered her face
with her hands and wept--ashamed before God, ashamed before her
husband. It was a shame unutterable that the thing should even have
looked tempting! She cried for forgiveness, rose, and sought
Alister's room.

Seldom since he was a man had she visited her elder son in his
chamber. She cherished for him, as chief, something of the reverence
of the clan. The same familiarity had never existed between them as
between her and Ian. Now she was going to wake him, and hold a
solemn talk with him. Not a moment longer should he stand leaning
over the gulf into which she had herself well nigh fallen!

She found him awake, and troubled, though not with an eternal
trouble such as hers.

"I thought I should find you asleep, Alister!" she said.

"It was not very likely, mother!" he answered gently.

"You too have been tried with terrible thoughts?"

"I have been tried, but hardly with terrible thoughts: I know that
Mercy loves me!"

"Ah, my son, my dear son! love itself is the terrible thing! It has
drawn many a man from the way of peace!"

"Did it draw you and my father from the way of peace?" asked
Alister.

"Not for a moment!" she answered. "It made our steps firmer in the
way."

"Then why should you fear it will draw me from it? I hope I have
never made you think I was not following my father and you!"

"Who knows what either of us might have done, with such a temptation
as yours!"

"Either you say, mother, that my father was not so good as I think
him, or that he did what he did in his own strength!"

"' Let him that thinketh '--you know the rest!" rejoined the mother.

"I don't think I am tempted to anything just now."

"There it is, you see!--the temptation so subtle that you do not
suspect its character!"

"I am confident my father would have done just as I mean to do!"

"What do you mean to do?"

"Is it my own mother asks me? Does she distrust her husband and her
son together?"

It began to dawn on the mother that she had fallen into her own
temptation through distrust of her son. Because she-distrusted him,
she sought excuse for him, and excuse had turned to all but
justification: she had given place to the devil! But she must be
sure about Alister! She had had enough of the wiles of Satan: she
must not trust her impressions! The enemy might even now be bent on
deceiving her afresh! For a moment she kept silence, then said:--

"It would be a grand thing to have the whole country-side your own
again--wouldn't it, Alister?"

"It would, mother!" he answered.

"And have all your people quite under your own care?"

"A grand thing, indeed, mother!"

"How can you say then it is no temptation to you?"

"Because it is none."

"How is that?"

"I would not have my clan under a factor of Satan's, mother!"

"I do not understand you!"

"What else should I be, if I accepted the oversight of them on terms
of allegiance to him! That was how he tempted Jesus. I will not be
the devil's steward, to call any land or any people mine!"

His mother kissed him on the forehead, walked erect from the room,
and went to her own to humble herself afresh.

In the morning, Alister took his dinner of bread and cheese in his
pocket, and set out for the tomb on the hill-top. There he remained
until the evening, and wrote his answer, sorely missing Ian.

He begged Mr. Peregrine Palmer to dismiss the idea of enriching him,
thanked him for his great liberality, but declared himself entirely
content, and determined not to change his position. He could not and
would not avail himself of his generosity.

Mr. Palmer, unable to suspect the reasons at work in the chief's
mind, pleased with the genuineness of his acknowledgment, and
regarding him as a silly fellow who would quixotically outdo him in
magnanimity, answered in a more familiar, almost jocular strain. He
must not be unreasonable, he said; pride was no doubt an estimable
weakness, but it might be carried too far; men must act upon
realities not fancies; he must learn to have an eye to the main
chance, and eschew heroics: what was life without money! It was not
as if he gave it grudgingly, for he made him heartily welcome. The
property was in truth but a flea-bite to him! He hoped the Macruadh
would live long to enjoy it, and make his father-in-law the great
grandfather of chiefs, perpetuating his memory to ages unborn. There
was more to the same effect, void neither of eloquence nor of a
certain good-heartedness, which the laird both recognized and felt.

It was again his painful turn. He had now to make his refusal as
positive as words could make it. He said he was sorry to appear
headstrong, perhaps uncivil and ungrateful, but he could not and
would not accept anything beyond the priceless gift of Mercy's hand.

Not even then did Peregrine Palmer divine that his offered gift was
despised; that idea was to him all but impossible of conception. He
read merely opposition, and was determined to have his way. Next
time he too wrote positively, though far from unkindly:--the
Macruadh must take the land with his daughter, or leave both!

The chief replied that he could not yield his claim to Mercy, for he
loved her, and believed she loved him; therefore begged Mr.
Peregrine Palmer, of his generosity, to leave the decision with his
daughter.

The next was a letter from Mercy, entreating Alister not to hurt her
father by seeming to doubt the kindness of his intentions. She
assured him her father was not the man to interfere with his
management of the estate, the shooting was all he cared about; and
if that was the difficulty, she imagined even that might be got
over. She ended praying that he would, for her sake, cease making
much of a trifle, for such the greatest property in the world must
be betwixt them. No man, she said, could love a woman right, who
would not be under the poorest obligation to her people!

The chief answered her in the tenderest way, assuring her that if
the property had been hers he would only have blessed her for it;
that he was not making much ado about nothing; that pride, or
unwillingness to be indebted, had nothing to do with his
determination; that the thing was with him in very truth a matter of
conscience. He implored her therefore from the bottom of his heart
to do her best to persuade her father--if she would save him who
loved her more than his own soul, from a misery God only could make
him able to bear.

Mercy was bewildered. She neither understood nor suspected. She
wrote again, saying her father was now thoroughly angry; that she
found herself without argument, the thing being incomprehensible to
her as to her father; that she could not see where the conscience of
the thing lay. Her terror was, that, if he persisted, she would be
driven to think he did not care for her; his behaviour she had tried
in vain to reconcile with what he had taught her; if he destroyed
her faith in him, all her faith might go, and she be left without
God as well as without him!

Then Alister saw that necessity had culminated, and that it was no
longer possible to hold anything back. Whatever other suffering he
might cause her, Mercy must not be left to think him capable of
sacrificing her to an absurdity! She must know the truth of the
matter, and how it was to him of the deepest conscience! He must let
her see that if he allowed her to persuade him, it would be to go
about thenceforward consumed of self-contempt, a slave to the
property, no more its owner than if he had stolen it, and in danger
of committing suicide to escape hating his wife!

For the man without a tender conscience, cannot imagine the state to
which another may come, who carries one about with him, stinging and
accusing him all day long.

So, out of a heart aching with very fullness, Alister wrote the
truth to Mercy. And Mercy, though it filled her with grief and
shame, had so much love for the truth, and for the man who had waked
that love, that she understood him, and loved him through all the
pain of his words; loved him the more for daring the risk of losing
her; loved him yet the more for cleaving to her while loathing the
mere thought of sharing her wealth; loved him most of all that he
was immaculate in truth.

She carried the letter to her father's room, laid it before him
without a word, and went out again.

The storm gathered swiftly, and burst at once. Not two minutes
seemed to have passed when she heard his door open, and a voice of
wrathful displeasure call out her name. She returned--in fear, but
in fortitude.

Then first she knew her father!--for although wrath and injustice
were at home in him, they seldom showed themselves out of doors. He
treated her as a willing party to an unspeakable insult from a
highland boor to her own father. To hand him such a letter was the
same as to have written it herself! She identified herself with the
writer when she became the bearer of the mangy hound's insolence! He
raged at Mercy as in truth he had never raged before. If once she
spoke to the fellow again, he would turn her out of the house!

She would have left the room. He locked the door, set a chair before
his writing table, and ordered her to sit there and write to his
dictation. But no power on earth or under it would have prevailed to
make Mercy write as her own the words that were not hers.

"You must excuse me, papa!" she said in a tone unheard from her
before.

This raising of the rampart of human dignity, crowned with refusal,
between him and his own child, galled him afresh.

"Then you shall be compelled!" he said, with an oath through his
clenched teeth.

Mercy stood silent and motionless.

"Go to your room. By heaven you shall stay there till you do as I
tell you!"

He was between her and the door.

"You need not think to gain your point by obstinacy," he added. "I
swear that not another word shall pass between you and that
blockhead of a chief--not if I have to turn watch-dog myself!"

He made way for her, but did not open the door. She left the room
too angry to cry, and went to her own. Her fear of her father had
vanished. With Alister on her side she could stand against the
world! She went to her window. She could not see the cottage from
it, but she could see the ruin, and the hill of the crescent fire,
on which she had passed through the shadow of death. Gazing on the
hill she remembered what Alister would have her do, and with her
Father in heaven sought shelter from her father on earth.



CHAPTER VIII

MISTRESS CONAL.


Mr. Peregrine Palmer's generosity had in part rested on the idea of
securing the estate against reverse of fortune, sufficiently
possible though not expected; while with the improvements almost in
hand, the shooting would make him a large return. He felt the more
wronged by the ridiculous scruples of the chief--in which after all,
though he could not have said why, he did not quite believe. It
never occurred to him that, even had the land been so come by that
the chief could accept a gift of it, he would, upon the discovery
that it had been so secured from the donor's creditors, at once have
insisted on placing it at their disposal.

His wrath proceeded to vent itself in hastening the realization of
his schemes of improvement, for he was well aware they would be
worse than distasteful to the Macruadh. Their first requirement was
the removal of every peasant within his power capable of violating
the sanctity of the deer forest into which he and his next neighbour
had agreed to turn the whole of their property. While the settlement
of his daughter was pending, he had seen that the point might cause
trouble unless previously understood between him and the chief; but
he never doubted the recovery of the land would reconcile the latter
to the loss of the men. Now he chuckled with wrathful chuckle to
think how entirely he had him in his power for justifiable
annoyance; for he believed himself about to do nothing but good to
THE COUNTRY in removing from it its miserable inhabitants, whom the
sentimental indulgence of their so-called chief kept contented with
their poverty, and with whom interference must now enrage him. How
he hated the whole wretched pack!

Mr. Palmer's doing of good to the country consisted in making the
land yield more money into the pockets of Mr. Brander and himself by
feeding wild animals instead of men. To tell such land-owners that
they are simply running a tilt at the creative energy, can be of no
use: they do not believe in God, however much they may protest and
imagine they do.

The next day but one, he sent Mistress Conal the message that she
must be out of her hut, goods and gear, within a fortnight. He was
not sure that the thing was legally correct, but he would risk it.
She might go to law if she would, but he would make a beginning with
her! The chief might take up her quarrel if he chose: nothing would
please Mr. Palmer more than to involve him in a law-suit, clear him
out, and send him adrift! His money might be contemptible, but the
chief should find it at least dangerous! Contempt would not stave
off a land-slip!

Mistress Conal, with a rage and scorn that made her feel every inch
a witch, and accompanied by her black cat, which might or might not
be the innocent animal the neighbours did not think him, hurried to
the Macruadh, and informed him that "the lowland thief" had given
her notice to quit the house of her fathers within a fortnight.

"I fear much we cannot help it! the house is on his land!" said the
chief sorrowfully.

"His land!" echoed the old woman. "Is the nest of the old eagle his
land? Can he make his heather white or his ptarmigan black? Will he
dry up the lochs, and stay the rivers? Will he remove the mountains
from their places, or cause the generations of men to cease from the
earth? Defend me, chief! I come to you for the help that was never
sought in vain from the Macruadh!"

"What help I have is yours without the asking," returned the chief.
"I cannot do more than is in my power! One thing only I can promise
you--that you shall lack neither food nor shelter."

"My chief will abandon me to the wolf!" she cried.

"Never! But I can only protect you, not your house. He may have no
right to turn you out at such short notice; but it could only be a
matter of weeks. To go to law with him would but leave me without a
roof to shelter you when your own was gone!"

"The dead would have shown him into the dark, ere he turned me into
the cold!" she muttered, and turning, left him.

The chief was greatly troubled. He had heard nothing of such an
intention on the part of his neighbour. Could it be for revenge? He
had heard nothing yet of his answer to Mercy! All he could do was to
represent to Mr. Palmer the trouble the poor woman was in, and let
him know that the proceeding threatened would render him very
unpopular in the strath. This he thought it best to do by letter.

It could not enrage Mr. Palmer more, but it enraged him afresh. He
vowed that the moment the time was up, out the old witch should go,
neck and crop; and with the help of Mr. Brander, provided men for
the enforcement of his purpose who did not belong to the
neighbourhood.

The chief kept hoping to hear from the New House, but neither his
letter to Mercy nor to her father received any answer. How he wished
for Ian to tell him what he ought to do! His mother could not help
him. He saw nothing for it but wait events.

Day after day passed, and he heard nothing. He would have tried to
find out the state of things at the New House, but until war was
declared that would not be right! Mr. Palmer might be seeking how
with dignity to move in the matter, for certainly the chief had
placed him in a position yet more unpleasant than his own! He must
wait on!

The very day fortnight after the notice given, about three o'clock
in the afternoon, came flying to the chief a ragged little urchin
of the village, too breathless almost to make intelligible his
news--that there were men at Mistress Conal's who would not go out
of her house, and she and her old black cat were swearing at them.

The chief ran: could the new laird be actually unhousing the aged,
helpless woman? It was the part of a devil and not of a man! As he
neared the place--there were her poor possessions already on the
roadside!--her one chair and stool, her bedding, her three-footed
pot, her girdle, her big chest, all that she could call hers in the
world! and when he came in sight of the cottage, there she was being
brought out of it, struggling, screaming, and cursing, in the grasp
of two men! Fierce in its glow was the torrent of Gaelic that rushed
from the crater of her lips, molten in the volcanic depths of her
indignant soul.

When one thinks of the appalling amount of rage exhausted by poor
humans upon wrong, the energy of indignation, whether issued or
suppressed, and how little it has done to right wrong, to draw
acknowledgment or amends from self-satisfied insolence, he
naturally asks what becomes of so much vital force. Can it fare
differently from other forces, and be lost? The energy of evil is
turned into the mill-race of good; but the wrath of man, even his
righteous wrath, worketh not the righteousness of God! What becomes
of it? If it be not lost, and have but changed its form, in what
shape shall we look for it?

"Set her down," cried the chief. "I will take care of her."

When she heard the voice of her champion, the old woman let go a
cat-like screech of triumph, and her gliding Gaelic, smoothness
itself in articulation, flowed yet firier in word, and fiercer in
tone. But the who were thus ejecting her--hangers on of the
sheriff-court in the county town, employed to give a colour of law
to the doubtful proceeding--did not know the chief.

"Oh, we'll set her down," answered one of them insolently, "--and
glad enough too! but we'll have her on the public road with her
sticks first!"

Infuriated by the man's disregard of her chief, Mistress Conal
struck her nails into his face, and with a curse he flung her from
him. She turned instantly on the other with the same argument ad
hominem, and found herself staggering on her own weak limbs to a
severe fall, when the chief caught and saved her. She struggled hard
to break from him and rush again into the hut, declaring she would
not leave it if they burned her alive in it, but he held her fast.

There was a pause, for one or two who had accompanied the men
employed, knew the chief, and their reluctance to go on with the
ruthless deed in his presence, influenced the rest. Report of the
ejection had spread, and the neighbours came running from the
village. A crowd seemed to be gathering. Again and again Mistress
Conal tried to escape from Alister and rush into the cottage.

"You too, my chief!" she cried. "You turned against the poor of your
people!"

"No, Mistress Conal," he answered. "I am too much your friend to let
you kill yourself!"

"We have orders, Macruadh, to set fire to the hovel," said one of
the men, touching his hat respectfully.

"They'll roast my black one!" shrieked the old woman.

"Small fear for him," said a man's voice from the little crowd, "if
half be true--!"

Apparently the speaker dared no more.

"Fire won't singe a hair of him, Mistress Conal," said another
voice. "You know it; he's used to it!"

"Come along, and let's get it over!" cried the leader of the
ejection-party. "It--won't take many minutes once it's well a
going, and there's fire enough on the hearth to set Ben Cruachan in
a blaze!"

"Is everything out of it?" demanded the chief.

"All but her cat. We've done our best, sir, and searched everywhere,
but he's not to be found. There's nothing else left."

"It's a lie!" screamed Mistress Conal. "Is there not a great pile of
peats, carried on my own back from the moss! Ach, you robbers! Would
you burn the good peats?"

"What good will the peats be to you, woman," said one of them not
unkindly, "when you have no hearth?"

She gave a loud wail, but checked it.

"I will burn them on the road," she said. "They will keep me a few
hours from the dark! When I die I will go straight up to God and
implore his curse upon you, on your bed and board, your hands and
tools, your body and soul. May your every prayer be lost in the wide
murk, and never come at his ears! May--"

"Hush! hush!" interposed the chief with great gentleness. "You do
not know what you are saying. But you do know who tells us to
forgive our enemies!"

"It's well for HIM to forgive," she screamed, "sitting on his grand
throne, and leaving me to be turned out of my blessed house, on to
the cold road!"

"Nannie!" said the chief, calling her by her name, "because a man is
unjust to you, is that a reason for you to be unjust to him who died
for you? You know as well as he, that you will not be left out on
the cold road. He knows, and so do you, that while I have a house
over my head, there is a warm corner in it for you! And as for his
sitting on his throne, you know that all these years he has been
trying to take you up beside him, and can't get you to set your foot
on the first step of it! Be ashamed of yourself, Nannie!"

She was silent.

"Bring out her peats," he said, turning to the bystanders; "we have
small need, with winter on the road, to waste any of God's gifts!"

They obeyed. But as they carried them out, and down to the road, the
number of Mistress Conal's friends kept growing, and a laying
together of heads began, and a gathering of human fire under
glooming eyebrows. It looked threatening. Suddenly Mistress Conal
broke out in a wild yet awful speech, wherein truth indeed was the
fuel, but earthly wrath supplied the prophetic fire. Her friends
suspended their talk, and her foes their work, to listen.

English is by no means equally poetic with the Gaelic, regarded as a
language, and ill-serves to represent her utterance. Much that seems
natural in the one language, seems forced and unreal amidst the less
imaginative forms of the other. I will nevertheless attempt in
English what can prove little better than an imitation of her
prophetic outpouring. It was like a sermon in this, that she began
with a text:--

"Woe unto them," she said--and her voice sounded like the wind among
the great stones of a hillside--"that join house to house, that lay
field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed
alone in the midst of the earth!"

This woe she followed with woe upon woe, and curse upon curse, now
from the Bible, now from some old poem of the country, and now from
the bitterness of her own heart. Then she broke out in purely native
eloquence:--

"Who art thou, O man, born of a woman, to say to thy brother,
'Depart from this earth: here is no footing for thee: all the room
had been taken for me ere thou wast heard of! What right hast thou
in a world where I want room for the red deer, and the big sheep,
and the brown cattle? Go up, thou infant bald-head! Is there not
room above, in the fields of the air? Is there not room below with
the dead? Verily there is none here upon the earth!' Who art thou, I
say, to speak thus to thy fellow, as if he entered the world by
another door than thyself! Because thou art rich, is he not also a
man?--a man made in the image of the same God? Who but God sent
him? And who but God, save thy father was indeed the devil, hath
sent thee? Thou hast to make room for thy brother! What brother of
thy house, when a child is born into it, would presume to say, 'Let
him begone, and speedily! I do not want him! There is no room for
him! I require it all for myself!' Wilt thou say of any man, 'He is
not my brother,' when God says he is! If thou say, 'Am I therefore
his keeper?' God for that saying will brand thee with the brand of
Cain. Yea, the hour will come when those ye will not give room to
breathe, will rise panting in the agony, yea fury of their need, and
cry, 'If we may neither eat nor lie down by their leave, lo, we are
strong! let us take what they will not give! If we die we but die!'
Then shall there be blood to the knees of the fighting men, yea, to
the horses' bridles; and the earth shall be left desolate because of
you, foul feeders on the flesh and blood, on the bodies and souls of
men! In the pit of hell you will find room enough, but no drop of
water; and it will comfort you little that ye lived merrily among
pining men! Which of us has coveted your silver or your gold? Which
of us has stretched out the hand to take of your wheat or your
barley? All we ask is room to live! But because ye would see the
dust of the earth on the head of the poor, ye have crushed and
straitened us till we are ready to cry out, 'God, for thy mercy's
sake, let us die, lest we be guilty of our own blood!'"

A solitary man had come down the hill behind, and stood alone
listening. It was the mover of the wickedness. In the old time the
rights of the people in the land were fully recognized; but when the
chiefs of Clanruadh sold it, they could not indeed sell the rights
that were not theirs, but they forgot to secure them for the helpless,
and they were now in the grasp of the selfish and greedy, the
devourers of the poor. He did not understand a word the woman was
saying, but he was pleased to look on her rage, and see the man who
had insulted him suffer with her. When he began to note the glances
of lurid fire which every now and then turned upon him during
Mistress Conal's speech, he scorned the indication: such poor
creatures dared venture nothing, he thought, against the mere
appearance of law. Under what he counted the chiefs contempt, he had
already grown worse; and the thought that perhaps the great world
might one day look upon him with like contempt, wrought in him
bitterly; he had not the assurance of rectitude which makes contempt
hurtless. He was crueller now than before the chief's letter to his
daughter.

When Mistress Conal saw him, she addressed herself to him directly.
What he would have felt had he understood, I cannot tell. Never in
this life did he know how the weak can despise the strong, how the
poor can scorn the rich!

"Worm!" she said, "uncontent with holding the land, eating the earth
that another may not share! the worms eat but what their bodies will
hold, and thou canst devour but the fill of thy life! The hour is at
hand when the earth will swallow thee, and thy fellow worms will eat
thee, as thou hast eaten men. The possessions of thy brethren thou
hast consumed, so that they are not! The holy and beautiful house of
my fathers,--" She spoke of her poor little cottage, but in the
words lay spiritual fact. "--mock not its poverty!" she went on, as
if forestalling contempt; "for is it not to me a holy house where
the woman lay in the agony whence first I opened my eyes to the sun?
Is it not a holy house where my father prayed morning and evening,
and read the words of grace and comfort? Is it not to me sacred as
the cottage at Nazareth to the poor man who lived there with his
peasants? And is not that a beautiful house in which a woman's ear
did first listen to the words of love? Old and despised I am, but
once I was younger than any of you, and ye will be old and decrepit
as I, if the curse of God do not cut you off too soon. My Alister
would have taken any two of you and knocked your heads together. He
died fighting for his country; and for his sake the voice of man's
love has never again entered my heart! I knew a true man, and could
be true also. Would to God I were with him! You man-trapping,
land-reaving, house-burning Sasunnach, do your worst! I care not."
She ceased, and the spell was broken. "Come, come!" said one of the
men impatiently. "Tom, you get a peat, and set it on the top of the
wall, under the roof. You, too, George!--and be quick. Peats all
around! there are plenty on the hearth!--How's the wind
blowing?--You, Henry, make a few holes in the wall here, outside,
and we'll set live peats in them. It's time there was an end to
this!"

"You're right; but there's a better way to end it!" returned one of
the clan, and gave him a shove that sent him to the ground.

"Men, do your duty!" cried Mr. Palmer from behind. "_I_ am here--to
see you do it! Never mind the old woman! Of course she thinks it
hard; but hard things have got to be done! it's the way of the
world, and all for the best."

"Mr. Palmer," said another of the clan, "the old woman has the right
of you: she and hers have lived there, in that cottage, for nigh a
hundred years."

"She has no right. If she thinks she has, let her go to the law for
it. In the meantime I choose to turn her off my land. What's mine's
mine, as I mean every man jack of you to know--chief and beggar!"

The Macruadh walked up to him.

"Pardon me, sir," he said: "I doubt much if you have a legal right
to disturb the poor woman. She has never paid rent for her hut, and
it has always been looked upon as her property."

"Then the chief that sold it swindled both me and her!" stammered
Mr. Palmer, white with rage. "But as for you who call yourself a
chief, you are the most insolent, ill-bred fellow I ever had to do
with, and I have not another word to say to you!"

A silence like that before a thunderstorm succeeded: not a man of
the clan could for the moment trust his hearing. But there is
nothing the Celtic nature resents like rudeness: half a dozen at
once of the Macruadhs rushed upon the insulter of their chief,
intent on his punishment.

"One of you touch him," cried Alister, "and I will knock him down. I
would if he were my foster-brother!"

Each eager assailant stood like a block.

"Finish your work, men!" shouted Mr. Palmer.

To do him justice, he was no coward.

"Clansmen," said the chief, "let him have his way. I do not see how
to resist the wrong without bringing more evil upon us than we can
meet. We must leave it to him who says 'Vengeance is mine.'"

The Macruadhs murmured their obedience, and stood sullenly looking
on. The disseizors went into the hut, and carried out the last of
the fuel. Then they scooped holes in the turf walls, inside to
leeward, outside to windward, and taking live peats from the hearth,
put them in the holes. A few minutes, and poor Nannie's "holy and
beautiful house" was a great fire.

When they began to apply the peats, Alister would at once have taken
the old woman away, but he dreaded an outbreak, and lingered. When
the fire began to run up the roof, Mistress Conal broke from him,
and darted to the door. Every one rushed to seize her, Mr. Palmer
with the rest.

"Blackie! Blackie! Blackie!" she shrieked like a madwoman.

While the men encumbered each other in their endeavours to get her
away, down shot the cat from the blazing roof, a fizz of fire in his
black fur, his tail as thick as his neck, an infernal howling
screech of hatred in his horrible throat, and, wild with rage and
fear, flung himself straight upon Mr. Palmer. A roar of delighted
laughter burst forth. He bawled out--and his bawl was mingled with a
scream--to take the brute off him, and his own men hurried to his
rescue; but the fury-frantic animal had dug his claws and teeth into
his face, and clung to him so that they had to choke him off. The
chief caught up Mistress Conal and carried her away: there was no
danger of any one hurting Mr. Palmer now!

He bore her on one arm like a child, and indeed she was not much
heavier. But she kept her face turned and her eyes fixed on her
burning home, and leaning over the shoulder of the chief, poured
out, as he carried her farther and farther from the scene of the
outrage, a flood of maledictory prophecy against the doers of the
deed. The laird said never a word, never looked behind him, while
she, almost tumbling down his back as she cursed with outstretched
arms, deafened him with her raging. He walked steadily down the path
to the road, where he stepped into the midst of her goods and
chattels. The sight of them diverted a little the current of her
wrath.

"Where are you going, Macruadh?" she cried, as he walked on. "See
you not my property lying to the hand of the thief? Know you not
that the greedy Sasunnach will sweep everything away!"

"I can't carry them and you too, Mistress Conal!" said the chief
gayly.

"Set me down then. Who ever asked you to carry me! And where would
you be carrying me? My place is with my things!"

"Your place is with me, Mistress Conal! I belong to you, and you
belong to me, and I am taking you home to my mother."

At the word, silence fell, not on the lips, but on the soul of the
raving prophetess: the chief she loved, his mother she feared.

"Set me down, Macruadh!" she pleaded in gentle tone. "Don't carry me
to her empty-handed! Set me down straight; I will load my back with
my goods, and bear them to my lady, and throw them at her feet."

"As soon as we get to the cottage," said the chief, striding on with
his reluctant burden, "I will send up two men with wheelbarrows to
bring them home."

"HOME, said you?" cried the old woman, and burst into the tearless
wailing of a child; "there is a home for me no more! My house was
all that was left me of my people, and it is your own that make a
house a home! In the long winter nights, when I sat by the fire and
heard the wind howl, and the snow pat, pat like the small hands of
my little brothers on the window, my heart grew glad within me, and
the dead came back to my soul! When I took the book, I heard the
spirit of my father reading through my own lips! And oh, my mother!
my mother!"

She ceased as if in despair.

"Surely, Nannie, you will be at home with your chief!" said Alister.
"My house is your house now, and your dead will come to it and be
welcome!"

"It is their chief's house, and they will!" she returned hopefully.
"They loved their chief.--Shall we not make a fine clan when we're
all gathered, we Macmadhs! Man nor woman can say I did anything to
disgrace it!"

"Lest we should disgrace it," answered the chief, "we must bear with
patience what is sent upon it."

He carried her into the drawing-room and told her story, then stood,
to the delighted amusement of his mother, with his little old sister
in his arms, waiting her orders, like a big boy carrying the baby,
who now and then moaned a little, but did not speak.

Mrs. Macruadh called Nancy, and told her to bring the tea-tray, and
then, get ready for Mistress Conal the room next Nancy's own, that
she might be near to wait on her; and thither, when warmed and fed,
the chief carried her.

But the terrible excitement had so thinned the mainspring of her
time-watch, that it soon broke. She did not live many weeks. From
the first she sank into great dejection, and her mind wandered. She
said her father never came to see her now; that he was displeased
with her for leaving the house; and that she knew now she ought to
have stayed and been burned in it. The chief reminded her that she
had no choice, but had been carried bodily away.

"Yes, yes," she answered; "but they do not know that! I must make
haste and tell them! Who can bear her own people to think ill of
her!--I'm coming! I'm coming! I'll tell you all about it! I'm an
honest woman yet!"

Another thing troubled her sorely, for which she would hear no
consolation; Blackie had vanished!--whether he was killed at the
time of his onslaught on Mr. Palmer, or was afterwards shot;
whether, disgusted with the treatment of his old home, or the memory
of what he had there suffered, he had fled the strath, and gone to
the wild cats among the hills, or back to the place which some
averred he came from, no one could tell. In her wanderings she
talked more of her cat than of anything else, and would say things
that with some would have gone far to justify the belief that the
animal was by nature on familiar terms with the element which had
yet driven him from his temporary home.

Nancy was more than uneasy at having the witch so near, but by no
means neglected her duty to her. One night she woke, and had for
some time lain listening whether she stirred or not, when suddenly
quavered through the dark the most horrible cat-cry she had ever
heard. In abject terror she covered her head, and lay shuddering.
The cry came again, and kept coming at regular intervals, but
drawing nearer and nearer. Its expression was of intense and
increasing pain. The creature whence it issued seemed to come close
to the house, then with difficulty to scramble up on the roof, where
it went on yowling, and screeching, and throwing itself about as if
tying itself in knots, Nancy said, until at last it gave a great
choking, gobbling scream, and fell to the ground, after which all
was quiet. Persuading herself it was only a cat, she tried to sleep,
and at length succeeded. When she woke in the morning, the first
thing she did was to go out, fully expecting to find the cat lying
at the foot of the wall. No cat was there. She went then as usual to
attend to the old woman. Mistress Conal was dead and cold.

The clan followed her body to the grave, and the black cat was never
seen.



CHAPTER IX

THE MARCHES.


It was plainly of no use for the chief to attempt mollifying Mr.
Palmer. So long as it was possible for him to be what he was, it
must be impossible for him to understand the conscience that
compelled the chief to refuse participation in the results of his
life. Where a man's own conscience is content, how shall he listen
to the remonstrance of another man's! But even if he could have
understood that the offence was unavoidable, that would rather have
increased than diminished the pain of the hurt; as it was, the
chief's determination must seem to Mr. Palmer an unprovoked insult!
Thus reflecting, Alister tried all he could to be fair to the man
whom he had driven to cut his acquaintance.

It was now a lonely time for Alister, lonelier than any ever before.
Ian was not within reach even by letter; Mercy was shut up from him:
he had not seen or heard from her since writing his explanation; and
his mother did not sympathize with his dearest earthly desire: she
would be greatly relieved, yea heartily glad, if Mercy was denied
him! She loved Ian more than the chief, yet could have better borne
to see him the husband of Mercy; what was wanting to the equality of
her love was in this regard more than balanced by her respect for
the chief of the clan and head of the family. Alister's light was
thus left to burn in very darkness, that it might burn the better;
for as strength is made perfect through weakness, so does the light,
within grow by darkness. It was the people that sat in darkness that
saw a great light. He was brought closer than ever to first
principles; had to think and judge more than ever of the right thing
to do--first of all, the right thing with regard to Mercy. Of giving
her up, there was of course no thought; so long as she would be his,
he was hers as entirely as the bonds of any marriage could make him!
But she owed something to her father! and of all men the patriarchal
chief was the last to dare interfere with the RIGHTS of a father.
BUT THEY MUST BE RIGHTS, not rights turned into, or founded upon
wrongs. With the first in acknowledging true, he would not be with
the last even, in yielding to false rights! The question was, what
were the rights of a father? One thing was clear, that it was the
duty, therefore the right of a father, to prevent his child from
giving herself away before she could know what she did; and Mercy
was not yet of age. That one woman might be capable of knowing at
fifteen, and another not at fifty, left untouched the necessity for
fixing a limit. It was his own duty and right, on the other hand, to
do what he could to prevent her from being in any way deceived
concerning him. It was essential that nothing should be done,
resolved, or yielded, by the girl, through any misunderstanding he
could forestall, or because of any falsehood he could frustrate. He
must therefore contrive to hold some communication with her!

First of all, however, he must learn how she was treated! It was not
only in fiction or the ancient clan-histories that tyrannical and
cruel things were done! A tragedy is even more a tragedy that it has
not much diversity of incident, that it is acted in commonplace
surroundings, and that the agents of it are commonplace persons--fathers
and mothers acting from the best of low or selfish motives.
Where either Mammon or Society is worshipped, in love, longing, or
fear, there is room for any falsehood, any cruelty, any suffering.

There were several of the clan employed about the New House of whom
Alister might have sought information; but he was of another
construction from the man of fashion in the old plays, whose first
love-strategy is always to bribe the lady's maid: the chief scorned
to learn anything through those of a man's own household. He fired a
gun, and ran up a flag on the old castle, which brought Rob of the
Angels at full speed, and comforted the heart of Mercy sitting
disconsolate at her window: it was her chiefs doing, and might have
to do with her!

Having told Rob the state of matters between him and the New House--

"I need not desire you, Rob," he concluded, "to be silent! You may
of course let your father know, but never a soul besides. From this
moment, every hour your father does not actually need you, be
somewhere on the hills where you can see the New House. I want to
learn first whether she goes out at all. With the dark you must draw
nearer the house. But I will have no questioning of the servants or
anyone employed about it; I will never use a man's pay to thwart his
plans, nor yet make any man even unconsciously a traitor."

Rob understood and departed; but before he had news for his master
an event occurred which superseded his service.

The neighbours, Mr. Peregrine Palmer and Mr. Brander, had begun to
enclose their joint estates for a deer-forest, and had engaged men
to act as curators. They were from the neighbourhood, but none of
them belonged to Strathruadh, and not one knew the boundaries of the
district they had to patrol; nor indeed were the boundaries
everywhere precisely determined: why should they be, where all was
heather and rock? Until game-sprinkled space grew valuable, who
would care whether this or that lump of limestone, rooted in the
solid earth, were the actual property of the one or the other!
Either would make the other welcome to blast and cart it away!

There was just one person who knew all about the boundaries that was
to be known; he could not in places draw their lines with absolute
assurance, but he had better grounds for his conclusions than anyone
else could have; this was Hector of the Stags. For who so likely to
understand them as he who knew the surface within them as well as
the clay-floor of his own hut? If he did not everywhere know where
the marchline fell, at least he knew perfectly where it ought to
fall.

It happened just at this time that THE MISTRESS told Hector she
would be glad of a deer, intending to cure part for winter use; the
next day, therefore,--the first of Rob of the Angels' secret
service--he stalked one across the hill-farm, got a shot at it near
the cave-house, brought it down, and was busy breaking it, when two
men who had come creeping up behind, threw themselves upon him, and
managed, well for themselves, to secure him before he had a chance
of defending himself. Finding he was deaf and dumb, one of them knew
who he must be, and would have let him go; but the other, eager to
ingratiate himself with the new laird, used such, argument to the
contrary as prevailed with his companion, and they set out for the
New House, Hector between them with his hands tied. Annoyed and
angry at being thus treated like a malefactor, he yet found
amusement in the notion of their mistake. But he found it awkward to
be unable to use that readiest weapon of human defence, the tongue.
If only his EARS AND MOUTH, as he called Rob in their own speech,
had been with him! When he saw, however, where they were taking him,
he was comforted, for Rob was almost certain to see him: wherever he
was, he was watching the New House! He went composedly along with
them therefore, fuming and snorting, not caring to escape.

When Rob caught sight of the three, he could not think how it was
that his father walked so unlike himself. He could not be hurt, for
his step was strong and steady as ever; not the less was there
something of the rhythm gone out of his motion! there was "a broken
music" in his gait! He took the telescope which the chief had lent
him, and turned it upon him. Discovering then that his father's
hands were bound behind his back, fiercest indignation overwhelmed
the soul of Rob of the Angels. His father bound like a criminal!--his
father, the best of men! What could the devils mean? Ah, they were
taking him to the New House! He shut up his telescope, laid it down
by a stone, and bounded to meet them, sharpening his knife on his
hand as he went.

The moment they were near enough, signs, unintelligible to the
keepers, began to pass between the father and son: Rob's meant that
he must let him pass unnoticed; Hector's that he understood. So,
with but the usual salutation of a stranger, Rob passed them. The
same moment he turned, and with one swift sweep of his knife,
severed the bonds of his father. The old man stepped back, and
father and son stood fronting the enemy.

"Now," said Rob, "if you are honest men, stand to it! How dared you
bind Hector of the Stags?"

"Because he is not an honest man," replied one of them.

Rob answered him with a blow. The man made at him, but Hector
stepped between.

"Say that again of my father," cried Rob, "who has no speech to
defend himself, and I will drive my knife into you."

"We are only doing our duty!" said the other. "We came upon him
there cutting up the deer he had just killed on the new laird's
land."

"Who are you to say which is the stranger's, and which the
Macruadh's? Neither my father nor I have ever seen the faces of you
in the country! Will you pretend to know the marches better than my
father, who was born and bred in the heather, and knows every stone
on the face of the hills?"

"We can't help where he was born or what he knows! he was on our
land!"

"He is the Macruadh's keeper, and was on his own land. You will get
yourselves into trouble!"

"We'll take our chance!"

"Take your man then!"

"If he try to escape, I swear by the bones of my grandfather," said
the more inimical of the two, inheritor of a clan-feud with the
Macruadhs, "I will shoot him."

Rob of the Angels burst into a scornful laugh.

"You will! will you?"

"I will not kill him; I don't want to be hanged for him! but I will
empty my shot-barrel into the legs of him! So take your chance; you
are warned!"

They had Hector's gun, and Rob had no weapon but his knife. Nor was
he inclined to use either now he had cooled a little. He turned to
his father. The old man understood perfectly what had passed between
them, and signed to Rob that he would go on to the New House, and
Rob might run and let the chief know what had happened. The same
thing was in Rob's mind, for he saw how it would favour the desires
of his chief, bringing them all naturally about the place. But he
must first go with his father on the chance of learning something.

"We will go with you," he said.

"We don't want YOU!"

"But I mean to go!--My father is not able to speak for himself!"

"You know nothing."

"I know what he knows. The lie does not grow in our strath."

"You crow high, my cock!"

"No higher than I strike," answered Rob.

In the eyes of the men Rob was small and weak; but there was
something in him notwithstanding that looked dangerous, and, though
far from cowards, they thought it as well to leave him alone.

Mercy at her window, where was her usual seat now, saw them coming,
and instinctively connected their appearance with her father's new
measures of protection; and when the men turned toward the kitchen,
she ran down to learn what she could. Rob greeted her with a smile
as he entered.

"I am going to fetch the Macruadh," he whispered, and turning went
out again.

He told the chief that at the word her face lighted up as with the
rise of the moon.

One of the maids went and told her master that they had got a
poacher in the kitchen.

Mr. Palmer's eyes lightened under his black brows when he saw the
captive, whom he knew by sight and by report. His men told him the
story their own way, never hinting a doubt as to whose was the land
on which the deer had been killed.

"Where is the nearest magistrate?" he inquired with grand severity.

"The nearest is the Macruadh, sir!" answered a highlander who had
come from work in the garden to see what was going on.

"I cannot apply to him; the fellow is one of his own men!"

"The Macruadh does what is just!" rejoined the man.

His master vouchsafed him no reply. He would not show his wrath
against the chief: it would be undignified!

"Take him to the tool-house, and lock him up till I think what to do
with him. Bring me the key."

The butler led the way, and Hector followed between his captors.
They might have been showing him to his bed-room, so calm was he:
Rob gone to fetch the chief, his imprisonment could not last!--and
for the indignity, was he not in the right!

As Mr. Palmer left the kitchen, his eye fell on Mercy.

"Go to your room," he said angrily, and turned from her.

She obeyed in silence, consoling herself that from her window she
could see the arrival of the chief. Nor had she watched long when
she saw him coming along the road with Rob. At the gate she lost
sight of them. Presently she heard voices in the hall, and crept
down the stair far enough to hear.

"I could commit you for a breach of the peace, Mr. Palmer," she
heard the chief say. "You ought to have brought the man to me. As a
magistrate I order his release. But I give my word he shall be
forthcoming when legally required."

"Your word is no bail. The man was taken poaching; I have him, and I
will keep him."

"Let me see him then, that I may learn from himself where he shot
the deer."

"He shall go before Mr. Brander."

"Then I beg you will take him at once. I will go with him. But
listen a moment, Mr. Palmer. When this same man, my keeper, took
your guest poaching on my ground, I let Mr. Sercombe go. I could
have committed him as you would commit Hector. I ask you in return
to let Hector go. Being deaf and dumb, and the hills the joy of his
life, confinement will be terrible to him."

"I will do nothing of the kind. You could never have committed a
gentleman for a mistake. This is quite a different thing!"

"It is a different thing, for Hector cannot have made a mistake. He
could not have followed a deer on to your ground without knowing
it!"

"I make no question of that!"

"He says he was not on your property."

"Says!"

"He is not a man to lie!"

Mr. Palmer smiled.

"Once more I pray you, let us see him together."

"You shall not see him."

"Then take him at once before Mr. Brander."

"Mr. Brander is not at home."

"Take him before SOME magistrate--I care not who. There is Mr.
Chisholm!"

"I will take him when and where it suits me."

"Then as a magistrate I will set him at liberty. I am sorry to make
myself unpleasant to you. Of all things I would have avoided it. But
I cannot let the man suffer unjustly. Where have you put him?"

"Where you will not find him."

"He is one of my people; I must have him!"

"Your people! A set of idle, poaching fellows! By heaven, the strath
shall be rid of the pack of them before another year is out!"

"While I have land in it with room for them to stand upon, the
strath shall not be rid of them!--But this is idle! Where have you
put Hector of the Stags?"

Mr. Palmer laughed.

"In safe keeping. There is no occasion to be uneasy about him! He
shall have plenty to eat and drink, be well punished, and show the
rest of the rascals the way out of the country!"

"Then I must find him! You compel me!"

So saying, the chief, with intent to begin his search at the top of
the house in the hope of seeing Mercy, darted up the stair. She
heard him coming, went a few steps higher, and waited. On the
landing he saw her, white, with flashing eyes. Their hands clasped
each other--for a moment only, but the moment was of eternity, not
of time.

"You will find Hector in the tool-house," she said aloud.

"You shameless hussey!" cried her father, following the chief in a
fury.

Mercy ran up the stair. The chief turned and faced Mr. Palmer.

"You have no business in my house!"

"I have the right of a magistrate."

"You have no right. Leave it at once."

"Allow me to pass."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself--making a girl turn traitor to
her own father!"

"You ought to be proud of a daughter with the conscience and courage
to turn against you!"

The chief passed Mr. Palmer, and running down the stair, joined Rob
of the Angels where he stood at the door in a group composed of the
keepers and most of the servants.

"Do you know the tool-house?" he said to Rob.

"Yes, Macruadh."

"Lead the way then. Your father is there."

"On no account let them open the door," cried Mr. Palmer. "They may
hold through it what communication they please."

"You will not be saying much to a deaf man through inch boards!"
remarked the clansman from the garden.

Mr. Palmer hurried after them, and his men followed.

Alister found the door fast and solid, without handle. He turned a
look on his companion, and was about to run his weight against the
lock.

"It is too strong," said Rob. "Hector of the Stags must open it!"

"But how? You cannot even let him know what you want!"

Rob gave a smile, and going up to the door, laid himself against it,
as close as he could stand, with his face upon it, and so stood
silent.

Mr. Palmer coming up with his attendants, all stood for a few
moments in silence, wondering at Rob: he must be holding
communication with his father--but how?

Sounds began inside--first a tumbling of tools about, then an attack
on the lock.

"Come! come! this won't do!" said Mr. Palmer, approaching the door.

"Prevent it then," said the chief. "Do what you will you cannot make
him hear you, and while the door is between you, he cannot see you!
If you do not open it, he will!"

"Run," said Mr. Palmer to the butler; "you will find the key on my
table! I don't want the lock ruined!"

But there was no stopping the thing! Before the butler came back,
the lock fell, the door opened, and out came Hector, wiping his brow
with his sleeve, and looking as if he enjoyed the fun.

The keepers darted forward.

"Stand off!" said the chief stepping between. "I don't want to hurt
you, but if you attempt to lay hands on him, I will."

One of the men dodged round, and laid hold of Hector from behind;
the other made a move towards him in front. Hector stood motionless
for an instant, watching his chief, but when he saw him knock down
the man before him, he had his own assailant by the throat in an
instant, gave him a shake, and threw him beside his companion.

"You shall suffer for this, Macruadh!" cried Mr. Palmer, coming
close up to him, and speaking in a low, determined tone, carrying a
conviction of unchangeableness.

"Better leave what may not be the worst alone!" returned the chief.
"It is of no use telling you how sorry I am to have to make myself
disagreeable to you; but I give you fair warning that I will accept
no refusal of the hand of your daughter from any but herself. As you
have chosen to break with me, I accept your declaration of war, and
tell you plainly I will do all I can to win your daughter, never
asking your leave in respect of anything I may think it well to do.
You will find there are stronger forces in the world than money.
Henceforward I hold myself clear of any personal obligation to you
except as Mercy's father and my enemy."

From very rage Mr. Palmer was incapable of answering him. Alister
turned from him, and in his excitement mechanically followed Rob,
who was turning a corner of the house. It was not the way to the
gate, but Rob had seen Mercy peeping round that same corner--anxious
in truth about her father; she feared nothing for Alister.

He came at once upon Mercy and Rob talking together. Rob withdrew
and joined his father a little way off; they retired a few more
paces, and stood waiting their chief's orders.

"How AM I to see you again, Mercy?" said the chief hurriedly. "Can't
you think of some way? Think quick."

Now Mercy, as she sat alone at her window, had not unfrequently
imagined the chief standing below on the walk, or just beyond in the
belt of shrubbery; and now once more in her mind's eye suddenly
seeing him there, she answered hurriedly,

"Come under my window to-night."

"I do not know which it is."

"You see it from the castle. I will put a candle in it."

"What hour?"

"ANY time after midnight. I will sit there till you come."

"Thank you," said the chief, and departed with his attendants.

Mercy hastened into the house by a back door, but had to cross the
hall to reach the stair. As she ran up, her father came in at the
front door, saw her, and called her. She went down again to meet the
tempest of his rage, which now broke upon her in gathered fury. He
called her a treacherous, unnatural child, with every name he
thought bad enough to characterize her conduct. Had she been to him
as Began or Goneril, he could hardly have found worse names for her.
She stood pale, but looked him in the face. Her mother came
trembling as near as she dared, withered by her terror to almost
twice her age. Mr. Palmer in his fury took a step towards Mercy as
if he would strike her. Mercy did not move a muscle, but stood ready
for the blow. Then love overcame her fear, and the wife and mother
threw herself between, her arms round her husband, as if rather to
protect him from the deed than her daughter from its hurt.

"Go to your room, Mercy," she said.

Mercy turned and went. She could not understand herself. She used to
be afraid of her father when she knew no reason; now that all the
bad in his nature and breeding took form and utterance, she found
herself calm! But the thing that quieted her was in reality her
sorrow that he should carry himself so wildly. What she thought was,
if the mere sense of not being in the wrong made one able to endure
so much, what must not the truth's sake enable one to bear! She sat
down at her window to gaze and brood.

When her father cooled down, he was annoyed with himself, not that
he had been unjust, but that he had behaved with so little dignity.
With brows black as evil, he sat degraded in his own eyes, resenting
the degradation on his daughter. Every time he thought of her, new
rage arose in his heart. He had been proud of his family autocracy.
So seldom had it been necessary to enforce his authority, that he
never doubted his wishes had but to be known to be obeyed. Born
tyrannical, the characterless submission of his wife had nourished
the tyrannical in him. Now, all at once, a daughter, the ugly one,
from whom no credit was to be looked for, dared to defy him for a
clown figuring in a worn-out rag of chieftainship--the musty
fiction of a clan--half a dozen shepherds, crofters, weavers, and
shoemakers, not the shadow of a gentleman among them!--a man who ate
brose, went with bare knees, worked like any hind, and did not dare
offend his wretched relations by calling his paltry farm his
own!--for the sake of such a fellow, with a highland twang that
disgusted his fastidious ear, his own daughter made a mock of his
authority, treated him as a nobody! In his own house she had risen
against him, and betrayed him to the insults of his enemy! His
conscious importance, partly from doubt in itself, boiled and fumed,
bubbled and steamed in the caldron of his angry brain. Not one, but
many suns would go down upon such a wrath!

"I wish I might never set eyes on the girl again!" he said to his
wife. "A small enough loss the sight of her would be, the ugly,
common-looking thing! I beg you will save me from it in future as
much as you can. She makes me feel as if I should go out of my
mind!--so calm, forsooth! so meek! so self-sufficient!--oh, quite a
saint!--and so strong-minded!--equal to throwing her father over
for a fellow she never saw till a year ago!"

"She shall have her dinner sent up to her as usual," answered his
wife with a sigh. "But, really, Peregrine, my dear, you must compose
yourself! Love has driven many a woman to extremes!"

"Love! Why should she love such a fellow? I see nothing in him to
love! WHY should she love him? Tell me that! Give me one good reason
for her folly, and I will forgive her--do anything for her!--anything
but let her have the rascal! That I WILL NOT! Take for your
son-in-law an ape that loathes your money, calls it filthy
lucre--and means it! Not if I can help it!--Don't let me see her! I
shall come to hate her! and that I would rather not; a man must love
and cherish his own flesh! I shall go away, I must!--to get rid of
the hateful face of the minx, with its selfrighteous, injured look
staring at you!"

"If you do, you can't expect me to prevent her from seeing him!"

"Lock her up in the coal-hole--bury her if you like! I shall never
ask what you have done with her! Never to see her again is all I
care about!"

"Ah, if she were really dead, you would want to see her again--after
a while!"

"I wish then she was dead, that I might want to see her again! It
won't be sooner! Ten times rather than know her married to that
beast, I would see her dead and buried!"

The mother held her peace. He did not mean it, she said to herself.
It was only his anger! But he did mean it; at that moment he would
with joy have heard the earth fall on her coffin.

Notwithstanding her faculty for shutting out the painful, her
persistent self-assuring that it would blow over, and her confidence
that things would by and by resume their course, Mrs. Palmer was in
those days very unhappy. The former quiet once restored, she would
take Mercy in hand, and reasoning with her, soon persuade her to
what she pleased! It was her husband's severity that had brought it
to this!

The accomplice of her husband, she did not understand that influence
works only between such as inhabit the same spiritual sphere: the
daughter had been lifted into a region far above all the arguments
of her mother--arguments poor in life, and base in reach.



CHAPTER X

MIDNIGHT.


Mercy sat alone but not lonely at her window. A joy in her heart
made her independent for the time of human intercourse. Life at the
moment was livable without it, for there was no bar between her and
her lover.

The evening drew on. They sent her food. She forgot to eat it, and
sat looking, till the lines of the horizon seemed grown into her
mind like an etching. She watched the slow dusk swell and
gather--with such delicate, soft-blending gradations in the birth of
night as Edwin Waugh loves to seize and word-paint. Through all its
fine evanescent change of thought and feeling she watched
unconsciously; and the growth, death, and burial of that twilight
were ever after a substratum to all the sadness and all the hope
that visited her. Through palest eastern rose, through silvery gold
and golden green and brown, the daylight passed into the shadow of
the light, and the stars, like hope in despair, began to show
themselves where they always were, and the night came on, and deeper
and deeper sank the silence. Household sound expired, and no step
came near her door. Her father had given orders, and was obeyed.
Christina has stolen indeed from her own room and listened at hers,
but hearing nor sound nor motion, had concluded it better for Mercy
as well as safer for herself, to return. So she sat the sole wakeful
thing in the house, for even her father slept.

The earth had grown vague and dim, looking as it must look to the
dead. Its oppressive solidity, its obtrusive HERENESS, dissolved in
the dark, it left the soul to live its own life. She could still
trace the meeting of earth and sky, each the evidence of the other,
but the earth was content to be and not assert, and the sky lived
only in the points of light that dotted its vaulted quiet. Sound
itself seemed asleep, and filling the air with the repose of its
slumber. Absolute silence the soul cannot grasp; therefore deepest
silence seems ever, in Wordsworth's lovely phrase, wandering into
sound, for silence is but the thin shadow of harmony--say rather
creation's ear agape for sound, the waiting matrix of interwoven
melodies, the sphere-bowl standing empty for the wine of the spirit.
There may be yet another reason beyond its too great depth or height
or strength, why we should be deaf to the spheral music; it may be
that the absolute perfection of its harmony can take to our ears but
the shape of silence.

Content and patient, Mercy sat watching.

It was just past midnight, but she had not yet lighted a candle,
when something struck the window as with the soft blow of a moth's
wing. Her heart gave a great leap. She listened breathless. Nothing
followed. It must have been some flying night-thing, though surely
too late in the year for a moth!

It came again! She dared not speak. She softly opened the window.
The darkness had thinned on the horizon, and the half-moon was
lifting a corner above the edge of the world. Something in the
shrubbery answered her shine, and without rustle of branch, quiet as
a ghost, the chief stepped into the open space. Mercy leaned toward
him and said,

"Hush! speak low."

"There is no need to say much," he answered. "I come only to tell
you that, as man may, I am with you always."

"How quietly you came! I did not hear a sound!"

"I have been two hours here in the shrubbery."

"And I not once to suspect it! You might have given me some hint! A
very small one would have been enough! Why did you not let me know?"

"It was not your hour; it is twelve but now; the moon comes to say
so. I came for the luxury of expectation, and the delight of knowing
you better attended than you thought: you knew me with you in
spirit; I was with you in the body too!"

"My chief!" she said softly. "I shall always find you nearer and
better than I was able to think! I know I do not know how good you
are."

"I am good toward you, Mercy! I love you!"

A long silence, save of shining eyes, followed.

"We are waiting for God!" said Alister at length.

"Waiting is loving," answered Mercy.

She leaned out, looking down to her heaven.

The moon had been climbing the sky, veiled in a little cloud. The
cloud vanished, and her light fell on the chief.

"Have you been to a ball?" said Mercy.

"No, Mercy. I doubt if there will be any dancing more in
Strathruadh!"

"Then why are you in court dress?"

"When should a Celt, who of all the world loves radiance and colour,
put on his gay attire? For the multitude, or for the one?"

"Thank you. Is it a compliment?--But after your love, everything
fine seems only natural!"

"In love there are no compliments; truth only walks the sacred path
between the two doors. I will love you as my father loved my mother,
and loves her still."

"I do like to see you shining! It was kind of you to dress for the
moon and me!"

"Whoever loves the truth must love shining things! God is the father
of lights, even of the lights hid in the dark earth--sapphires and
rubies, and all the families of splendour."

"I shall always see you like that!"

"There is one thing I want to say to you, Mercy:--you will not think
me indifferent however long I may be in proposing a definite plan
for our future! We must wait upon God!"

"I shall think nothing you would not have me think. A little while
ago I might have dreamed anything, for I was fast asleep. I was dead
till you waked me. If I were what girls call IN LOVE, I should be
impatient to be with you; but I love you much more than that, and do
not need to be always with you. You have made me able to think, and
I can think about you! I was but a child, and you made a woman of
me!"

"God and Ian did," said Alister.

"Yes, but through you, and I want to be worthy of you. A woman to
whom a man's love was so little comfort that she pined away and died
because she could not be married to him, would not be a wife worthy
of my chief!"

"Then you will always trust me?"

"I will. When one really knows another, then all is safe!"

"How many people do you know?" asked the chief.

She thought a moment, and with a little laugh, replied,

"You."

"Pardon me, Mercy, but I do want to know how your father treats
you!"

"We will not talk about him, please. He is my father!--and so far
yours that you are bound to make what excuse you can for him."

"That I am bound to do, if he were no father to either of us. It is
what God is always doing for us!--only he will never let us off."

"He has had no one to teach him, Alister! and has always been rich,
and accustomed to have his own way! I begin to think one punishment
of making money in a wrong manner is to be prosperous in it!"

"I am sure you are right! But will you be able to bear poverty,
Mercy?"

"Yes," she answered, but so carelessly that she seemed to speak
without having thought.

"You do not know what poverty means!" rejoined Alister. "We may have
to endure much for our people!"

"It means YOU any way, does it not? If you and poverty come
together, welcome you and your friend!--I see I must confess a
thing! Do you remember telling me to read Julius Caesar?"

"Yes."

"Do you remember how Portia gave herself a wound, that she might
prove to her husband she was able to keep a secret?"

"Yes, surely!"

"I have my meals in my room now, so I can do as I please, and I
never eat the nice things dear mother always sends me, but potatoes,
and porridge, and bread and milk."

"What IS that for, Mercy?"

"To show you I am worthy of being poor--able at least to be poor. I
have not once tasted anything VERY nice since the letter that made
my father so angry."

"You darling!"

Of all men a highlander understands independence of the KIND of
food.

"But," continued Alister, "you need not go on with it; I am quite
convinced; and we must take with thanksgiving what God gives us.
Besides, you have to grow yet!"

"Alister! and me like a May-pole!"

"You are tall enough, but we are creatures of three dimensions, and
need more than height. You must eat, or you will certainly be ill!"

"Oh, I eat! But just as you please! Only it wouldn't do me the least
harm so long as you didn't mind! It was as much to prove to myself I
could, as to you! But don't you think it must be nearly time for
people to wake from their first sleep?"

The same instant there was a little noise--like a sob. Mercy
started, and when she looked again Alister had vanished--as
noiselessly as he came. For a moment she sat afraid to move. A wind
came blowing upon her from the window: some one had opened her door!
What if it were her father! She compelled herself to turn her head.
It was something white!--it was Christina! She came to her through
the shadow of the moonlight, put her arms round her, and pressed to
her face a wet cheek. For a moment or two neither spoke.

"I heard a little, Mercy!" sobbed Christina. "Forgive me; I meant no
harm; I only wanted to know if you were awake; I was coming to see
you."

"Thank you, Chrissy! That was good of you!"

"You are a dear!--and so is your chief! I am sorry I scared him! It
made me so miserable to hear you so happy that I could not help it!
Would you mind forgiving me, dear?"

"I don't mind your hearing a bit. I am glad you should know how the
chief loves me!"

"But you must be careful, dear! Papa might pretend to take him for a
robber, and shoot him!"

"Oh, no, Chrissy! He wouldn't do that!"

"I would not be too sure! I hadn't an idea before what papa was
like! Oh what men are, and what they can be! I shall never hold up
my head again!"

With this incoherent speech, to Mercy's astonishment and
consternation she burst into tears. Mercy tried to comfort her, but
did not know how. She had seen for some time that there was a
difference in her, that something was the matter, and wondered
whether she could be missing Ian, but it was merest surmise. Perhaps
now she would tell her!

She was weeping like a child on her shoulder. Presently she began to
tremble. Mercy coaxed her into her bed, and undressing quickly, lay
down beside her, and took her in her arms to make her warm. Before
the morning, with many breaks of sobbing and weeping, Christina had
told Mercy her story.

"I wish you would let me tell the chief!" she said. "He would know
how to comfort you."

"Thank you!" said Christina, with not a little indignation. "I
forgot I was talking to a girl as good as married, who would not
keep my secrets any more than her own!"

She would have arisen at once to go to her own room, and the night
that had brought such joy to Mercy threatened to end very sadly. She
threw her arms round Christina's waist, locked her hands together,
and held her fast.

"Hear me, Chrissy, darling! I am a great big huge brute," she cried.
"But I was only stupid. I would not tell a secret of yours even to
Alister--not for worlds! If I did, he would be nearer despising me
than I should know how to bear. I will not tell him. Did I ever
break my word to you, Chrissy?"

"No, never, Mercy!" responded Christina, and turning she put her
arms round her.

"Besides," she went on, "why should I go to anyone for counsel?
Could I have a better counsellor than Ian? Is he not my friend? Oh,
he is! he is! he said so! he said so!"

The words prefaced another storm of tears.

"He is going to write to me," she sobbed, as soon as she could again
speak.

"Perhaps he will love you yet, Chrissy!"

"No, no; he will never love me that way! For goodness' sake don't
hint at such a thing! I should not be able to write a word to him,
if I thought that! I should feel a wolf in sheep's clothing! I have
done with tricks and pretendings! Ian shall never say to himself, 'I
wish I had not trusted that girl! I thought she was going to be
honest! But what's bred in the bone--!' I declare, Mercy, I should
blush myself out of being to learn he thought of me like that! I
mean to be worthy of his friendship! His friendship is better than
any other man's love! I will be worthy of it!"

The poor girl burst yet again into tears--not so bitter as before,
and ended them all at once with a kiss to Mercy.

"For his sake," she said, "I am going to take care of Alister and
you!"

"Thank you! thank you, Chrissy! Only you must not do anything to
offend papa! It is hard enough on him as it is! I cannot give up the
chief to please him, for he has been a father to my better self; but
we must do nothing to trouble him that we can help!"



CHAPTER XI

SOMETHING STRANGE.


Alister did not feel inclined to go home. The night was more like
Mercy, and he lingered with the night, inhabiting the dream that it
was Mercy's house, and she in the next room. He turned into the
castle, climbed the broken steps, and sat on the corner of the wall,
the blank hill before him, asleep standing, with the New House on
its shoulder, and the moonlight reflected from Mercy's window under
which he had so lately stood. He sat for an hour, and when he came
down, was as much disinclined to go home as before: he could not
rest in his chamber, with no Ian on the other side of its wall! He
went straying down the road, into the valley, along the burnside, up
the steep beyond it, and away to the hill-farm and the tomb.

The moon was with him all the way, but she seemed thinking to
herself rather than talking to him. Why should the strange,
burnt-out old cinder of a satellite be the star of lovers? The
answer lies hid, I suspect, in the mysteries of light reflected.

He wandered along, careless of time, of moonset, star-shine, or
sunrise, brooding on many things in the rayless radiance of his
love, and by the time he reached the tomb, was weary with excitement
and lack of sleep. Taking the key from where it was cunningly
hidden, he unlocked the door and entered.

He started back at sight of a gray-haired old man, seated on one of
the stone chairs, and leaning sadly over the fireless hearth: it
must be his uncle! The same moment he saw it was a ray from the
sinking moon, entering by the small, deep window, and shining feebly
on the chair. He struck a light, kindled the peats on the hearth,
and went for water. Returning from the well he found the house dark
as before; and there was the old man again, cowering over the
extinguished fire! The idea lasted but a moment; once more the level
light of the moon lay cold and gray upon the stone chair! He tried
to laugh at his fancifulness, but did not quite succeed. Several
times on the way up, he had thought of his old uncle: this must have
given the shape to the moonlight and the stone! He made many
attempts to recall the illusion, but in vain. He relighted the fire,
and put on the kettle. Going then for a book to read till the water
boiled, he remembered a letter which, in the excitement of the
afternoon, he had put in his pocket unread, and forgotten. It was
from the family lawyer in Glasgow, informing him that the bank in
which his uncle had deposited the proceeds of his sale of the land,
was in a state of absolute and irrecoverable collapse; there was not
the slightest hope of retrieving any portion of the wreck.

Alister did not jump up and pace the room in the rage of
disappointment; neither did he sit as one stunned and forlorn of
sense. He felt some bitterness in the loss of the hope of making up
to his people for his uncle's wrong; but it was clear that if God
had cared for his having the money, he would have cared that he
should have it. Here was an opportunity for absolute faith and
contentment in the will that looks after all our affairs, the small
as well as the great.

Those who think their affairs too insignificant for God's regard,
will justify themselves in lying crushed under their seeming ruin.
Either we live in the heart of an eternal thought, or we are the
product and sport of that which is lower than we.

"It was evil money!" said the chief to himself; "it was the sale of
a birthright for a mess of pottage! I would have turned it back into
the right channel, the good of my people! but after all, what can
money do? It was discontent with poverty that began the ruin of the
highlands! If the heads of the people had but lived pure, active,
sober, unostentatious lives, satisfied to be poor, poverty would
never have overwhelmed them! The highlands would have made Scotland
great with the greatness of men dignified by high-hearted
contentment, and strong with the strength of men who could do
without!" Therewith it dawned upon Alister how, when he longed to
help his people, his thoughts had always turned, not to God first,
but to the money his uncle had left him. He had trusted in a
fancy--no less a fancy when in his uncle's possession than when cast
into the quicksand of the bank; for trust in money that is, is no
less vain, and is farther from redress, than trust in money that is
not. In God alone can trust repose. His heart had been so faithless
that he did not know it was! He thought he loved God as the first
and last, the beginning, middle, and end of all things, and he had
been trusting, not in God, but in uncertain riches, that is in vile
Mammon! It was a painful and humiliating discovery. "It was well,"
he said, "that my false deity should be taken from me! For my
idolatry perhaps, a good gift has failed to reach my people! I must
be more to them than ever, to make up to them for their loss with
better than money!"

He fell on his knees, and thanked God for the wind that had blown
cold through his spirit, and slain at least one evil thing; and when
he rose, all that was left of his trouble was a lump in his throat,
which melted away as he walked home through the morning air on the
hills. For he could not delay; he must let his mother know their
trouble, and, as one who had already received help from on high,
help her to bear it! If the messenger of Satan had buffeted him, he
had but broken a way for strength!

But at first he could not enjoy as he was wont the glory of the
morning. It troubled him. Would a single note in the song of the
sons of the morning fail because God did or would not do a thing?
Could God deserve less than thanks perfect from any one of his
creatures? That man could not know God who thanked him but for what
men call good things, nor took the evil as from the same love! He
scorned himself, and lifted up his heart. As he reached the brow of
his last descent, the sun rose, and with it his soul arose and
shone, for its light was come, and the glory of the Lord was risen
upon it. "Let God," he said, "take from us what he will: himself he
can only give!" Joyful he went down the hill. God was, and all was
well!



CHAPTER XII

THE POWER OF DARKNESS.


He found his mother at breakfast, wondering what had become of him.

"Are you equal to a bit of bad news, mother?" he asked with a smile.

The mother's thoughts flew instantly to Ian.

"Oh, it's nothing about Ian!" said the chief, answering her look.

Its expression changed; she hoped now it was some fresh obstacle
between him and Mercy.

"No, mother, it is not that either!" said Alister, again answering
her look--with a sad one of his own, for the lack of his mother's
sympathy was the sorest trouble he had. "It is only that uncle's
money is gone--all gone."

She sat silent for a moment, gave a little sigh, and said,

"Well, it will all be over soon! In the meantime things are no worse
than they were! His will be done!"

"I should have liked to make a few friends with the mammon of
unrighteousness before we were turned out naked!"

"We shall have plenty," answered the mother, "--God himself, and a
few beside! If you could make friends with the mammon, you can make
friends without it!"

"Yes, that is happily true! Ian says it was only a lesson for the
wise and prudent with money in their pockets--a lesson suited to
their limited reception!"

As they spoke, Nancy entered.

"Please, laird," she said, "Donal shoemaker is wanting to see you."

"Tell him to come in," answered the chief.

Donal entered and stood up by the door, with his bonnet under his
arm--a little man with puckered face, the puckers radiating from or
centering in the mouth, which he seemed to untie like a money-hag,
and pull open by means of a smile, before he began to speak. The
chief shook hands with him, and asked how he could serve him.

"It will not be to your pleasure to know, Macruadh," said Donal,
humbly declining to sit, "that I have received this day notice to
quit my house and garden!"

The house was a turf-cottage, and the garden might grow two bushels
and a half of potatoes.

"Are you far behind with your rent?"

"Not a quarter, Macruadh."

"Then what does it mean?"

"It means, sir, that Strathruadh is to be given to the red deer, and
the son of man have nowhere to lay his head. I am the first at your
door with my sorrow, but before the day is over you will have--"

Here he named four or five who had received like notice to quit.

"It is a sad business!" said the chief sorrowfully.

"Is it law, sir?"

"It is not easy to say what is law, Donal; certainly it is not
gospel! As a matter of course you will not be without shelter, so
long as I may call stone or turf mine, but things are looking bad!
Things as well as souls are in God's hands however!"

"I learn from the new men on the hills," resumed Donal, "that the
new lairds have conspired to exterminate us. They have discovered,
apparently, that the earth was not made for man, but for rich men
and beasts!" Here the little man paused, and his insignificant face
grew in expression grand. "But the day of the Lord will come," he
went on, "as a thief in the night. Vengeance is his, and he will
know where to give many stripes, and where few.--What would you have
us do, laird?"

"I will go with you to the village."

"No, if you please, sir! Better men will be at your door presently
to put the same question, for they will do nothing without the
Macruadh. We are no more on your land, great is our sorrow, chief,
but we are of your blood, you are our lord, and your will is ours.
You have been a nursing father to us, Macruadh!"

"I would fain be!" answered the chief.

"They will want to know whether these strangers have the right to
turn us out; and if they have not the right to disseize, whether we
have not the right to resist. If you would have us fight, and will
head us, we will fall to a man--for fall we must; we cannot think to
stand before the redcoats."

"No, no, Donal! It is not a question of the truth; that we should be
bound to die for, of course. It is only our rights that are
concerned, and they are not worth dying for. That would be mere
pride, and denial of God who is fighting for us. At least so it
seems at the moment to me!"

"Some of us would fain fight and have done with it, sir!"

The chief could not help smiling with pleasure at the little man's
warlike readiness: he knew it was no empty boast; what there was of
him was good stuff.

"You have a wife and children, Donal!" he said; "what would become
of them if you fell?"

"My sister was turned out in the cold spring," answered Donal, "and
died in Glencalvu! It would be better to die together!"

"But, Donal, none of yours will die of cold, and I can't let you
fight, because the wives and children would all come on my hands,
and I should have too many for my meal! No, we must not fight. We
may have a right to fight, I do not know; but I am sure we have at
least the right to abstain from fighting. Don't let us confound
right and duty, Donal--neither in thing nor in word!"

"Will the law not help us, Macruadh?"

"The law is such a slow coach! our enemies are so rich! and the
lawyers have little love of righteousness! Most of them would see
the dust on our heads to have the picking of our bones! Stick nor
stone would be left us before anything came of it!"

"But, sir," said Donal, "is it the part of brave men to give up
their rights?"

"No man can take from us our rights," answered the chief, "but any
man rich enough may keep us from getting the good of them. I say
again we are not bound to insist on our rights. We may decline to do
so, and that way leave them to God to look after for us."

"God does not always give men their rights, sir! I don't believe he
cares about our small matters!"

"Nothing that God does not care about can be worth our caring about.
But, Donal, how dare you say what you do? Have you lived to all
eternity? How do you know what you say? GOD DOES care for our
rights. A day is coming, as you have just said, when he will judge
the oppressors of their brethren."

"We shall be all dead and buried long before then!"

"As he pleases, Donal! He is my chief. I will have what he wills,
not what I should like! A thousand years I will wait for my rights
if he chooses. I will trust him to do splendidly for me. No; I will
have no other way than my chief's! He will set everything straight!"

"You must be right, sir! only I can't help wishing for the old
times, when a man could strike a blow for himself!"

With all who came Alister held similar talk; for though they were
not all so warlike as the cobbler, they keenly felt the wrong that
was done them, and would mostly, but for a doubt of its rectitude,
have opposed force with force. It would at least bring their case
before the country!

"The case is before a higher tribunal," answered the laird; "and
one's country is no incarnation of justice! How could she be, made
up mostly of such as do not love fair play except in the abstract,
or for themselves! The wise thing is to submit to wrong."

It is in ordering our own thoughts and our own actions, that we have
first to stand up for the right; our business is not to protect
ourselves from our neighbour's wrong, but our neighbour from our
wrong. This is to slay evil; the other is to make it multiply. A man
who would pull out even a mote from his brother's eye, must first
pull out the beam from his own eye, must be righteous against his
own selfishness. That is the only way to wound the root of evil. He
who teaches his neighbour to insist on his rights, is not a teacher
of righteousness. He who, by fulfilling his own duties, teaches his
neighbour to give every man the fair play he owes him, is a
fellow-worker with God.

But although not a few of the villagers spoke in wrath and
counselled resistance, not one of them rejoiced in the anticipation
of disorder. Heartily did Rob of the Angels insist on peace, but his
words had the less force that he was puny in person, and, although
capable of great endurance, unnoted for deeds of strength. Evil
birds carried the words of natural and righteous anger to the ears
of the new laird; no good birds bore the words of appeasement: he
concluded after his kind that their chief countenanced a determined
resistance.

On all sides the horizon was dark about the remnant of Clanruadh.
Poorly as they lived in Strathruadh, they knew no place else where
they could live at all. Separated, and so disabled from making
common cause against want, they must perish! But their horizon was
not heaven, and God was beyond it.

It was a great comfort to the chief that in the matter of his clan
his mother agreed with him altogether: to the last penny of their
having they must help their people! Those who feel as if the land
were their own, do fearful wrong to their own souls! What grandest
opportunities of growing divine they lose! Instead of being
man-nobles, leading a sumptuous life until it no longer looks
sumptuous, they might be God-nobles--saviours of men, yielding
themselves to and for their brethren! What friends might they not
make with the mammon of unrighteousness, instead of passing hence
into a region where no doors, no arms will be open to them! Things
are ours that we may use them for all--sometimes that we may
sacrifice them. God had but one precious thing, and he gave that!

The chief, although he saw that the proceedings of Mr. Palmer and
Mr. Brander must have been determined upon while his relation to
Mercy was yet undeclared, could not help imagining how differently
it might have gone with his people, had he been married to Mercy,
and in a good understanding with her father. Had he crippled his
reach toward men by the narrowness of his conscience toward God? So
long as he did what seemed right, he must regret no consequences,
even for the sake of others! God would mind others as well as him!
Every sequence of right, even to the sword and fire, are God's care;
he will justify himself in the eyes of the true, nor heed the
judgment of the false.

One thing was clear--that it would do but harm to beg of Mr. Palmer
any pity for his people: it would but give zest to his rejoicing in
iniquity! Something nevertheless must be determined, and speedily,
for winter was at hand.

The Macruadh had to consider not only the immediate accommodation of
the ejected but how they were to be maintained. Such was his
difficulty that he began to long for such news from Ian as would
justify an exodus from their own country, not the less a land of
bondage, to a home in the wilderness. But ah, what would then the
land of his fathers without its people be to him! It would be no
more worthy the name of land, no longer fit to be called a
possession! He knew then that the true love of the land is one with
the love of its people. To live on it after they were gone, would be
like making a home of the family mausoleum. The rich "pant after the
dust of the earth on the head of the poor," but what would any land
become without the poor in it? The poor are blessed because by their
poverty they are open to divine influences; they are the buckets set
out to catch the rain of heaven; they are the salt of the earth! The
poor are to be always with a nation for its best blessing, or for
its condemnation and ruin. The chief saw the valleys desolate of the
men readiest and ablest to fight the battles of his country. For the
sake of greedy, low-minded fellows, the summons of her war-pipes
would be heard in them no more, or would sound in vain among the
manless rocks; from sheilin, cottage, or clachan, would spring no
kilted warriors with battle response! The red deer and the big sheep
had taken the place of men over countless miles of mountain and moor
and strath! His heart bled for the sufferings and wrongs of those
whose ancestors died to keep the country free that was now expelling
their progeny. But the vengeance had begun to gather, though neither
his generation nor ours has seen it break. It must be that offences
come, but woe unto them by whom they come!



CHAPTER XIII.

THE NEW STANCE.


The Macruadh cast his mind's and his body's eye too upon the small
strip of ground on the west side of the castle-ridge, between it and
the tiny tributary of the strath burn which was here the boundary
between the lands of the two lairds. The slope of the ridge on this
side was not so steep, and before the rock sank into the alluvial
soil of the valley, it became for a few yards nearly level--sufficiently
so, with a little smoothing and raising, to serve for a foundation;
while in front was a narrow but rich piece of ground, the bank of the
little brook. Before many days were over, men were at work there, in
full sight of the upper windows of the New House. It was not at first
clear what they were about; but soon began to rise, plain enough, the
walls of cottages, some of stone, and some of turf; Mr. Palmer saw a
new village already in process of construction, to take the place of
that about to be destroyed! The despicable enemy had moved his camp,
to pitch it under his very walls! It filled him with the rage of
defeat. The poor man who scorned him was going to be too much for
him! Not yet was he any nearer to being placed alone in the midst of
the earth. He thought to have rid himself of all those hateful faces,
full of their chiefs contempt, he imagined, ever eyeing him as an
intruder on his own land; but here instead was their filthy little
hamlet of hovels growing like a fungus just under his nose, expressly
to spite him! Thinking to destroy it, he had merely sent for it!
When the wind was in the east, the smoke of their miserable cabins
would be blown right in at his dining-room windows! It was useless
to expostulate! That he would not like it was of course the chief's
first reason for choosing that one spot as the site of his new
rookery! The fellow had stolen a march upon him! And what had he
done beyond what was absolutely necessary for the improvement of
his property! The people were in his way, and he only wanted to get
rid of them! And here their chief had brought them almost into his
garden! Doubtless if his land had come near enough, he would have
built his sty at the very gate of his shrubbery!--the fellow could
not like having them so near himself!

He let his whole household see how annoying the thing was to him. He
never doubted it was done purely to irritate him. Christina ventured
the suggestion that Mr. Brander and not the chief was the author of
the inconvenience. What did that matter! he returned. What right had
the chief, as she called him, to interfere between a landlord and
his tenants? Christina hinted that, evicted by their landlord, they
ceased to be his tenants, and even were he not their chief, he could
not be said to interfere in giving help to the destitute. Thereupon
he burst at her in a way that terrified her, and she had never even
been checked by him before, had often been impertinent to him
without rebuke. The man seemed entirely changed, but in truth he was
no whit changed: things had but occurred capable of bringing out the
facts of his nature. Her mother, who had not dared to speak at the
time, expostulated with her afterward.

"Why should papa never be told the truth?" objected Christina.

Her mother was on the point of replying, "Because he will not hear
it," but saw she owed it to her husband not to say so to his child.

Mercy said to herself, "It is not to annoy my father he does it, but
to do what he can for his people! He does not even know how
unpleasant it is to my father to have them so near! It must be one
of the punishments of riches that they make the sight of poverty so
disagreeable! To luxury, poverty is a living reproach." She longed
to see Alister: something might perhaps be done to mitigate the
offence. But her father would never consent to use her influence!
Perhaps her mother might!

She suggested therefore that Alister would do nothing for the sake
of annoying her father, and could have no idea how annoying this
thing was to him: if her mother would contrive her seeing him, she
would represent it to him!

Mrs. Palmer was of Mercy's opinion regarding the purity of Alister's
intent, and promised to think the matter over.

The next night her husband was going to spend at Mr. Brander's: the
project might be carried out in safety!

The thing should be done! They would go together, in the hope of
persuading the chief to change the site of his new village!

When it was dark they walked to the cottage, and knocking at the
door, asked Nancy if the chief were at home. The girl invited them
to enter, though not with her usual cordiality; but Mrs. Palmer
declined, requesting her to let the chief know they were there,
desirous of a word with him.

Alister was at the door in a moment, and wanted them to go in and
see his mother, but an instant's reflection made him glad of their
refusal.

"I am so sorry for all that has happened!" said Mrs. Palmer. "You
know I can have had nothing to do with it! There is not a man I
should like for a son-in-law better than yourself, Macruadh; but I
am helpless."

"I quite understand," replied the chief, "and thank you heartily for
your kindness. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Mercy has something she wants to speak to you about."

"It was so good of you to bring her!--What is it, Mercy?"

Without the least hesitation, Mercy told him her father's fancy that
he was building the new village to spite him, seeing it could not be
a pleasure to himself to have the smoke from its chimneys blowing in
at door and windows as often as the wind was from the sea.

"I am sorry but not surprised your father should think so, Mercy. To
trouble him is as much against my feelings as my interests. And
certainly it is for no convenience or comfort to ourselves, that my
mother and I have determined on having the village immediately below
us."

"I thought," said Mercy, "that if you knew how it vexed papa, you
would--But I am afraid it may be for some reason that cannot be
helped!"

"Indeed it is; I too am afraid it cannot be helped! I must think of
my people! You see, if I put them on the other side of the ridge,
they would be exposed to the east wind--and the more that every door
and window would have to be to the east. You know yourselves how
bitterly it blows down the strath! Besides, we should there have to
build over good land much too damp to be healthy, every foot of
which will be wanted to feed them! There they are on the rock. I
might, of course, put them on the hillside, but I have no place so
sheltered as here, and they would have no gardens. And then it gives
me an opportunity, such as chief never had before, of teaching them
some things I could not otherwise. Would it be reasonable, Mercy, to
sacrifice the good of so many poor people to spare one rich man one
single annoyance, which is yet no hurt? Would it be right? Ought I
not rather to suffer the rise of yet greater obstacles between you
and me?"

"Yes, Alister, yes!" cried Mercy. "You must not change anything. I
am only sorry my father cannot be taught that you have no ill will
to him in what you do."

"I cannot think it would make much difference. He will never give
you to me, Mercy. But be true, and God will."

"Would you mind letting the flag fly, Alister? I should have
something to look at!"

"I will; and when I want particularly to see you, I will haul it
down. Then, if you hang a handkerchief from your window, I will come
to you."



CHAPTER XIV

THE PEAT-MOSS.


For the first winter the Clanruadh had not much to fear--hardly more
than usual: they had their small provision of potatoes and meal, and
some a poor trifle of money. But "Lady Macruadh" was anxious lest
the new cottages should not be quite dry, and gave a general order
that fires were to be burned in them for some time before they were
occupied: for this they must use their present stock of dry peats,
and more must be provided for the winter. The available strength of
the clan would be required to get the fresh stock under cover before
the weather broke.

The peat-moss from which they cut their fuel, was at some distance
from the castle, on the outskirts of the hill-farm. It was the
nearest moss to the glen, and the old chief, when he parted with so
much of the land, took care to except it, knowing well that his
remaining people could not without it live through a winter. But as,
of course, his brother, the minister, who succeeded him, and the
present chieftain, had freely allowed all the tenants on the land
sold to supply themselves from it as before, the notion had been
generated that the moss was not part of the chief's remaining
property.

When the report was carried to Mr. Peregrine Palmer, that the
tenants Mr. Brander and he were about to eject, and who were in
consequence affronting him with a new hamlet on the very verge of
his land, were providing themselves with a stock of fuel greatly in
excess of what they had usually laid in for the winter--that in fact
they were cutting large quantities of peat, besides the turf for
their new cottages; without making the smallest inquiry, or
suspecting for a moment that the proceeding might be justifiable, he
determined, after a brief consultation with men who knew nothing but
said anything, to put a stop to the supposed presumption.

A few of the peats cut in the summer had not yet been removed, not
having dried so well as the rest, and the owners of some of these,
two widows, went one day to fetch them home to the new village,
when, as it happened, there were none of the clan besides in the
moss.

They filled their creels, helped each other to get them on their
backs, and were setting out on their weary tramp home, when up rose
two of Mr. Palmer's men, who had been watching them, cut their ropes
and took their loads, emptied the peats into a moss-hag full of
water, and threw the creels after them. The poor women poured out
their wrath on the men, telling them they would go straight to the
chief, but were answered only with mockery of their chief and
themselves. They turned in despair, and with their outcry filled the
hollows of the hills as they went, bemoaning the loss of their peats
and their creels, and raging at the wrong they had received. One of
them, a characterless creature in the eyes of her neighbours,
harmless, and always in want, had faith in her chief, for she had
done nothing to make her ashamed, and would go to him at once: he
had always a word and a smile and a hand-shake for her, she said;
the other, commonly called Craftie, was unwilling: her character did
not stand high, and she feared the face of the Macruadh.

"He does not like me!" said Craftie.

"When a woman is in trouble," said the other, "the Macruadh makes no
questions. You come with me! He will be glad of something to do for
you."

In her confidence she persuaded her companion, and together they
went to the chief.

Having gathered courage to appear, Craftie needed none to speak:
where that was the call, she was never slow to respond.

"Craftie," said the chief, "is what you are telling me true?"

"Ask HER," answered Craftie, who knew that asseveration on her part
was not all-convincing.

"She speaks the truth, Macruadh," said the other. "I will take my
oath to it."

"Your word is enough," replied the chief, "--as Craftie knew when
she brought you with her."

"Please, laird, it was myself brought Craftie; she was not willing
to come!"

"Craftie," said the chief, "I wish I could make a friend of you! But
you know I can't!"

"I do know it, Macruadh, and I am sorry for it, many is the good
time! But my door never had any latch, and the word is out before I
can think to keep it back!"

"And so you send another and another to back the first! Ah, Craftie!
If purgatory don't do something for you, then--!"

"Indeed and I hope I shall fall into it on my way farther, chief!"
said Craftie, who happened to be a catholic.

"But now," resumed the chief, "when will you be going for the rest
of your peats?"

"They're sure to be on the watch for us; and there's no saying what
they mightn't do another time!" was the indirect and hesitating
answer.

"I will go with you."

"When you please, then, chief."

So the next day the poor women went again, and the chief went with
them, their guard and servant. If there were any on the watch, they
did not appear. The Macruadh fished out their creels, and put them
to dry, then helped them to fill those they had borrowed for the
occasion. Returning, he carried now the one, now the other creel, so
that one of the women was always free. The new laird met them on the
road, and recognized with a scornful pleasure the chief bending
under his burden. That was the fellow who would so fain be HIS
son-in-law!

About this time Sercombe and Valentine came again to the New House.
Sercombe, although he had of late had no encouragement from
Christina, was not therefore prepared to give her up, and came "to
press the siege." He found the lady's reception of him so far from
cordial, however, that he could not but suspect some new adverse
influence. He saw too that Mercy was in disgrace; and, as Ian was
gone, concluded there must have been something between them: had the
chief been "trying it on with" Christina? The brute was always
getting in his way! But some chance of serving him out was certain
to turn, up!

For the first suitable day Alister had arranged an expedition from
the village, with all the carts that could be got together, to bring
home as many peats as horses and men and women could together carry.
The company was seen setting out, and report of it carried at once
to Mr. Palmer; for he had set watch on the doings of the clan.
Within half an hour he too set out with the messenger, accompanied
by Sercombe, in grim delight at the prospect of a row. Valentine
went also, willing enough to see what would happen, though with no
ill will toward the chief. They were all furnished as for a day's
shooting, and expected to be joined by some of the keepers on their
way.

The chief, in view of possible assault, had taken care that not one
of his men should have a gun. Even Hector of the Stags he requested
to leave his at home.

They went in little groups, some about the creeping carts, in which
were the older women and younger children, some a good way ahead,
some scattered behind, but the main body attending the chief, who
talked to them as they went. They looked a very poor company, but
God saw past their poverty. The chief himself, save in size and
strength, had not a flourishing appearance. He was very thoughtful:
much lay on his shoulders, and Ian was not there to help! His
clothes, all their clothes were shabby, with a crumpled, blown-about
look--like drifts, in their many faded colours, of autumnal leaves.
They had about them all a forgotten air--looked thin and wan like a
ghostly funeral to the second sight--as if they had walked so long
they had forgotten how to sleep, and the grave would not have them.
Except in their chief, there was nothing left of the martial glance
and gait and show, once so notable in every gathering of the
Clanruadh, when the men were all soldiers born, and the women were
mothers, daughters, and wives of soldiers. Their former stately
grace had vanished from the women; they were weather-worn and bowed
with labour too heavy for their strength, too long for their
endurance; they were weak from lack of fit human food, from lack of
hope, and the dreariness of the outlook, the ever gray spiritual
horizon; they were numbed with the cold that has ceased to be felt,
the deadening sense of life as a weight to be borne, not a strength
to rejoice in. But they were not abject yet; there was one that
loved them--their chief and their friend! Below their level was a
deeper depth, in which, alas, lie many of like heart and, passions
with them, trodden into the mire by Dives and his stewards!

The carts were small, with puny horses, long-tailed and
droop-necked, in harness of more rope than leather. They had a look
of old men, an aspect weirdly venerable, as of life and labour
prolonged after due time, as of creatures kept from the grave and
their last sleep to work a little longer. Scrambling up the steep
places they were like that rare sea-bird which, unable to fly for
shortness of wing, makes of its beak a third leg, to help it up the
cliff: these horses seemed to make fifth legs of their necks and
noses. The chief's horses alone, always at the service of the clan,
looked well fed, well kept, and strong, and the clan was proud of
them.

"And what news is there from Ian?" asked an old man of his chief.

"Not much news yet, but I hope for more soon. It will be so easy to
let you hear all his letters, when we can meet any moment in the
barn!"

"I fear he will be wanting us all to go after the rest!" said one of
the women.

"There might be a worse thing!" answered her neighbour.

"A worse thing than leave the hills where we were born?--No! There
is no worse for me! I trust in God I shall be buried where I grew
up!"

"Then you will leave the hills sure enough!" said the chief.

"Not so sure, Macruadh! We shall rest in our graves till the
resurrection!" said an old man.

"Only our bodies," returned Alister.

"Well, and what will my body be but myself! Much I would make of
myself without my body! I will stay with my body, and let my soul
step about, waiting for me, and craving a shot at the stags with the
big branches! No, I won't be going from my own strath!"

"You would not like to be left in it alone, with none but unfriendly
Sasunnachs about you--not one of your own people to close your
eyes?"

"Indeed it would not be pleasant. But the winds would be the same;
and the hills would be the same; and the smell of the earth would be
the same; and they would be our own worms that came crawling over me
to eat me! No; I won't leave the strath till I die--and I won't
leave it then!"

"That is very well, John!" said the woman; "but if you were all day
with your little ones--all of them all day looking hunger in your
face, you would think it a blessed country wherever it was that gave
you bread to put in their mouths!"

"And how to keep calling this home!" said another. "Why, it will
soon be everywhere a crime to set foot on a hill, for frightening of
the deer! I was walking last month in a part of the county I did not
know, when I came to a wall that went out of my sight, seeming to go
all round a big hill. I said to myself, 'Is no poor man to climb to
heaven any more?' And with that I came to a bill stuck on a post,
which answered me; for it said thus: 'Any well-dressed person, who
will give his word not to leave the path, may have permission to go
to the top of the hill, by applying to--'--I forget the name of the
doorkeeper, but sure he was not of God, seeing his door was not to
let a poor man in, but to keep him out!"

"They do well to starve us before they choke us: we might else fight
when it comes to the air to breathe!"

"Have patience, my sons," said the chief. "God will not forget us."

"What better are we for that? It would be all the same if he did
forget us!" growled a young fellow shambling along without shoes.

"Shame! Shame!" cried several voices. "Has not God left us the
Macruadh? Does he not share everything with us?"

"The best coat in the clan is on his own back!" muttered the lad,
careless whether he were heard or not.

"You scoundrel!" cried another; "yours is a warmer one!"

The chief heard all, and held his peace. It was true he had the best
coat!

"I tell you what," said Donal shoemaker, "if the chief give you the
stick, not one of us will say it was more than you deserved! If he
will put it into my hands, not to defile his own, I will take and
give it with all my heart. Everybody knows you for the idlest
vagabond in the village! Why, the chief with his own hands works ten
times as much!"

"That's how he takes the bread out of my mouth--doing his work
himself!" rejoined the youth, who had been to Glasgow, and thought
he had learned a thing or two.

The chief recovered from his impulse to pull off his coat and give
it him.

"I will make you an offer, my lad," he said instead: "come to the
farm and take my place. For every fair day's work you shall have a
fair day's wages, and, for every bit of idleness, a fair thrashing.
Do you agree?"

The youth pretended to laugh the thing off, but slunk away, and was
seen no more till eating time arrived, and "Lady Macruadh's"
well-filled baskets were opened.

"And who wouldn't see a better coat on his chief!" cried the little
tailor. "I would clip my own to make lappets for his!"

They reached the moss. It lay in a fold of the hills, desert and
dreary, full of great hollows and holes whence the peat had been
taken, now filled with water, black and terrible,--a land hideous by
day, and at night full of danger and lonely horror. Everywhere stood
piles of peats set up to dry, with many openings through and
through, windy drains to gather and remove their moisture. Here and
there was a tuft of dry grass, a bush of heather, or a few
slender-stalked, hoary heads of CANNACH or cotton-grass; it was a
land of devoted desolation, doing nothing for itself, this bountiful
store of life and warmth for the winter-sieged houses of the strath.

They went heartily to work. They cut turf for their walls and peats
for their fires; they loaded the carts from the driest piles, and
made new piles of the fresh wet peats they dug. It was approaching
noon, and some of the old women were getting the food out of "my
lady's" baskets, when over the nearest ridge beyond rose men to the
number of seven, carrying guns. Rob of the Angels was the first to
spy them. He pointed them out to his father, and presently they two
disappeared together. The rest went on with their work, but the
chief could see that, stooping to their labour, they cast upward and
sidelong glances at them, reading hostility in their approach.
Suddenly, as by common consent, they all ceased working, stood
erect, and looked out like men on their guard. But the chief making
them a sign, they resumed their labour as if they saw nothing.

Mr. Peregrine Palmer had laid it upon himself to act with becoming
calmness and dignity. But it would amaze most people to be told how
little their order is self-restraint, their regular conduct their
own--how much of the savage and how little of the civilized man
goes to form their being--how much their decent behaviour is owing
to the moral pressure, like that of the atmosphere, of the laws and
persons and habits and opinions that surround them. Witness how
many, who seemed respectable people at home, become vulgar,
self-indulgent, ruffianly, cruel even, in the wilder parts of the
colonies! No man who has not, through restraint, learned not to need
restraint, but be as well behaved among savages as in society, has
yet become a true man. No perfection of mere civilization kills the
savage in a man: the savage is there all the time till the man pass
through the birth from above. Till then, he is no certain
hiding-place from the wind, no sure covert from the tempest.

Mr. Palmer was in the worst of positions as to protection against
himself. Possessed of large property, he owed his position to evil
and not to good. Not only had he done nothing to raise those through
whom he made his money, but the very making of their money his, was
plunging them deeper and deeper in poverty and vice: his success was
the ruin of many. Yet was he full of his own imagined importance--or
had been full until now that he felt a worm at the root of his
gourd--the contempt of one man for his wealth and position. Well
might such a man hate such another--and the more that his daughter
loved him! All the chief's schemes and ways were founded on such
opposite principles to his own that of necessity they annoyed him at
every point, and, incapable of perceiving their true nature, he
imagined his annoyance their object and end. And now here was his
enemy insolently daring, as Mr. Palmer fully believed, to trespass
in person on his land!

Add to all this, that here Mr. Peregrine Palmer was in a place whose
remoteness lightened the pressure of conventional restraints, while
its wildness tended to rouse all the old savage in him--its very
look suggesting to the city-man its fitness for an unlawful deed for
a lawful end. Persons more RESPECTABLE than Mr. Palmer are capable
of doing the most wicked and lawless things when their selfish sense
of their own right is uppermost. Witness the occasionally iniquitous
judgments of country magistrates in their own interest--how they
drive law even to cruelty!

"Are you not aware you are trespassing on my land, Macruadh?" cried
the new laird, across several holes full of black water which
obstructed his nearer approach.

"On the contrary, Mr. Palmer," replied the chief, "I am perfectly
aware that I am not!"

"You have no right to cut peats there without my permission!"

"I beg your pardon: you have no right to stand where you speak the
words without my permission. But you are quite welcome."

"I am satisfied there is not a word of truth in what you say,"
rejoined Mr. Palmer. "I desire you to order your people away at
once."

"That I cannot do. It would be to require their consent to die of
cold."

"Let them die! What are they to me--or to anybody! Order them off,
or it will be the worse for them--and for you too!"

"Excuse me; I cannot."

"I give you one more warning. Go yourself, and they will follow."

"I will not."

"Go, or I will compel you."

As he spoke, he half raised his gun.

"You dare not!" said the chief, drawing himself up indignantly.

Together Mr. Palmer and Mr. Sercombe raised their guns to their
shoulders, and one of them fired. To give Mr. Palmer the benefit of
a doubt, he was not quite at home with his gun, and would use a
hair-trigger. The same instant each found himself, breath and
consciousness equally scant, floundering, gun and all, in the black
bog water on whose edge he had stood. There now stood Rob of the
Angels, gazing after them into the depth, with the look of an
avenging seraph, his father beside him, grim as a gratified Fate.

Such a roar of rage rose from the clansmen with the shot, and so
many came bounding with sticks and spades over the rough ground,
that the keepers, knowing, if each killed his two men, they would
not after escape with their lives, judged it more prudent to wait
orders. Only Valentine came running in terror to the help of his
father.

"Don't be frightened," said Rob; "we only wanted to wet their
powder!"

"But they'll be drowned!" cried the lad, almost weeping.

"Not a hair of them!" answered Rob. "We'll have them out in a
moment! But please tell your men, if they dare to lift a gun, we'll
serve them the same. It wets the horn, and it cools the man!"

A minute more, and the two men lay coughing and gasping on the
crumbly bank, for in their utter surprizal they had let more of the
nasty soft water inside than was good for them. With his first
breath Sercombe began to swear.

"Drop that, sir, if you please," said Rob, "or in you go again!"

He began to reply with a volley of oaths, but began only, for the
same instant the black water was again choking him. Might Hector of
the Stags have had his way, he would have kept there the murderer of
AN CABRACH MOR till he had to be dived for. Rob on his part was
determined he should not come out until he gave his word that he
would not swear.

"Come! Come!" gasped Sercombe at length, after many attempts to get
out which, the bystanders easily foiled--"you don't mean to drown
me, do you?"

"We mean to drown your bad language. Promise to use no more on this
peat-moss," returned Rob.

"Damn the promise you get from me!" he gasped.

"Men must have patience with a suffering brother!" remarked Rob, and
seated himself, with a few words in Gaelic which drew a hearty laugh
from the men about him, on a heap of turf to watch the unyielding
flounder in the peat-hole, where there was no room to swim. He had
begun to think the man would drown in his contumacy, when his ears
welcomed the despairing words--

"Take me out, and I will promise anything."

He was scarcely able to move till one of the keepers gave him
whisky, but in a few minutes he was crawling homeward after his
host, who, parent of little streams, was doing his best to walk over
rocks and through bogs with the help of Valentine's arm, chattering
rather than muttering something about "proper legal fashion."

In the mean time the chief lay shot in the right arm and chest, but
not dangerously wounded by the scattering lead.

He had lost a good deal of blood, and was faint--a sensation new to
him. The women had done what they could, but that was only binding
his arm, laying him in a dry place, and giving him water. He would
not let them recall the men till the enemy was gone.

When they knew what had happened they were in sad trouble--Rob of
the Angels especially that he had not been quick enough to prevent
the firing of the gun. The chief would have him get the shot out of
his arm with his knife; but Rob, instead, started off at full speed,
running as no man else in the county could run, to fetch the doctor
to the castle.

At the chief's desire, they made a hurried meal, and then resumed
the loading of the carts, preparing one of them for his transport.
When it was half full, they covered the peats with a layer of dry
elastic turf, then made on that a bed of heather, tops uppermost;
and more to please them than that he could not walk, Alister
consented to be laid on this luxurious invalid-carriage, and borne
home over the rough roads like a disabled warrior.

They arrived some time before the doctor.



CHAPTER XV

A DARING VISIT.


Mercy soon learned that some sort of encounter had taken place
between her father's shooting party and some of the clan; also that
the chief was hurt, but not in what manner--for by silent agreement
that was not mentioned: it might seem to put them in the wrong! She
had heard enough, however, to fill her with anxiety. Her window
commanding the ridge by the castle, she seated herself to watch that
point with her opera-glass. When the hill-party came from behind the
ruin, she missed his tall figure amongst his people, and presently
discovered him lying very white on one of the carts. Her heart
became as water within her. But instant contriving how she could
reach him, kept her up.

By and by Christina came to tell her she had just heard from one of
the servants that the Macruadh was shot. Mercy, having seen him
alive, heard the frightful news with tolerable calmness. Christina
said she would do her best to discover before the morning how much
he was hurt; no one in the house seemed able to tell her! Mercy, to
avoid implicating her sister, held her peace as to her own
intention.

As soon as it was dark she prepared to steal from the house,
dreading nothing but prevention. When her dinner was brought her,
and she knew they were all safe in the dining-room, she drew her
plaid over her head, and leaving her food untasted, stole half down
the stair, whence watching her opportunity between the comings and
goings of the waiting servants, she presently got away unseen, crept
softly past the windows, and when out of the shrubbery, darted off
at her full speed. Her breath was all but gone when she knocked at
the drawing-room door of the cottage.

It opened, and there stood the mother of her chief! The moment Mrs.
Macruadh saw her, leaving her no time to say a word, she bore down
upon her like one vessel that would sink another, pushing her from
the door, and pulling it to behind her, stern as righteous Fate.
Mercy was not going to be put down, however: she was doing nothing
wrong!

"How is the Macruadh, please?" she managed to say.

"Alive, but terribly hurt," answered his mother, and would have
borne her out of the open door of the cottage, towards the latch of
which she reached her hand while yet a yard from it. Her action
said, "Why WILL Nancy leave the door open!"

"Please, please, what is it?" panted Mercy, standing her ground.
"How is he hurt?"

She turned upon her almost fiercely.

"This is what YOU have done for him!" she said, with right
ungenerous reproach. "Your father fired at him, on my son's own
land, and shot him in the chest."

"Is he in danger?" gasped Mercy, leaning against the wall, and
trembling so she could scarcely stand.

"I fear he is in GREAT danger. If only the doctor would come!"

"You wouldn't mind my sitting in the kitchen till he does?"
whispered Mercy, her voice all but gone.

"I could not allow it. I will not connive at your coming here
without the knowledge of your parents! It is not at all a proper
thing for a young lady to do!"

"Then I will wait outside!" said Mercy, her quick temper waking in
spite of her anxiety: she had anticipated coldness, but not
treatment like this! "There is one, I think, Mrs. Macruadh," she
added, "who will not find fault with me for it!"

"At least he will not tell you so for some time!"

The door had not been quite closed, and it opened noiselessly.

"She does not mean me, mother," said Alister; "she means Jesus
Christ. He would say to you, LET HER ALONE. He does not care for
Society. Its ways are not his ways, nor its laws his laws. Come in,
Mercy. I am sorry my mother's trouble about me should have made her
inhospitable to you!"

"I cannot come in, Alister, if she will not let me!" answered Mercy.

"Pray walk in!" said Mrs. Macruadh.

She would have passed Mercy, going toward the kitchen, but the
TRANCE was narrow, and Mercy did not move.

"You see, Alister, I cannot!" she insisted. "That would not please,
would it?" she added reverently. "Tell me how you are, and I will
go, and come again to-morrow."

Alister told her what had befallen, making little of the affair, and
saying he suspected it was an accident.

"Oh, thank you!" she said, with a sigh of relief. "I meant to sit by
the castle wall till the doctor came; but now I shall get back
before they discover I am gone."

Without a word more, she turned and ran from the house, and reached
her room unmissed and unseen.

The next was a dreary hour--the most painful that mother and son had
ever passed together. The mother was all this time buttressing her
pride with her grief, and the son was cut to the heart that he
should have had to take part against his mother. But when the doctor
came at length, and the mother saw him take out his instruments, the
pride that parted her from her boy melted away.

"Forgive me, Alister!" she whispered; and his happy kiss comforted
her repentant soul.

When the small operations were over, and Alister was in bed, she
would have gone to let Mercy know all she could tell her. But she
must not: it would work mischief in the house! She sat down by
Alister's bedside, and watched him all night.

He slept well, being in such a healthful condition of body that his
loss of blood, and the presence of the few shot that could not be
found, did him little harm. He yielded to his mother's entreaties to
spend the morning in bed, but was up long before the evening in the
hope of Mercy's coming, confident that his mother would now be like
herself to her. She came; the mother took her in her arms, and
begged her forgiveness; nor, having thus embraced her, could she any
more treat her relation to her son with coldness. If the girl was
ready, as her conduct showed, to leave all for Alister, she had
saved her soul alive, she was no more one of the enemy!

Thus was the mother repaid for her righteous education of her son:
through him her pride received almost a mortal blow, her justice
grew more discriminating, and her righteousness more generous.

In a few days the chief was out, and looking quite himself.



CHAPTER XVI

THE FLITTING.


The time was drawing nigh when the warning of ejection would
doubtless begin to be put in force; and the chief hearing, through
Rob of the Angels, that attempts were making to stir the people up,
determined to render them futile: they must be a trick of the enemy
to get them into trouble! Taking counsel therefore with the best of
the villagers, both women and men, he was confirmed in the idea that
they had better all remove together, before the limit of the
earliest notice was expired. But his councillors agreed with him
that the people should not be told to get themselves in readiness
except at a moment's notice to move. In the meantime he pushed on
their labour at the new village.

In the afternoon preceding the day on which certain of the clan were
to be the first cast out of their homes, the chief went to the
village, and going from house to house, told his people to have
everything in order for flitting that very night, so that in the
morning there should not be an old shoe left behind; and to let no
rumour of their purpose get abroad. They would thus have a good
laugh at the enemy, who was reported to have applied for military
assistance as a precautionary measure. His horses should be ready,
and as soon as it was dark they would begin to cart and carry, and
be snug in their new houses before the morning!

All agreed, and a tumult of preparation began. "Lady Macruadh" came
with help and counsel, and took the children in charge while the
mothers bustled. It was amazing how much had to be done to remove so
small an amount of property. The chief's three carts were first
laden; then the men and women loaded each other. The chief took on
his hack the biggest load of all, except indeed it were Hector's. To
and fro went the carts, and to and fro went the men and women, I
know not how many journeys, upheld by companionship, merriment,
hope, and the clan-mother's plentiful provision of tea, coffee,
milk, bread and butter, cold mutton and ham--luxurious fare to all.
As the sun was rising they closed every door, and walked for the
last time, laden with the last of their goods, out of the place of
their oppression, leaving behind them not a cock to crow, a peat to
burn, or a scrap that was worth stealing--all removed in such order
and silence that not one, even at the New House, had a suspicion of
what was going on. Mercy, indeed, as she sat looking from her window
like Daniel praying toward Jerusalem, her constant custom now, even
when there was no moon to show what lay before her, did think she
heard strange sounds come faintly through the night from the valley
below--even thought she caught shadowy glimpses of a shapeless,
gnome-like train moving along the road; but she only wondered if the
Highlands had suddenly gifted her with the second sight, and these
were the brain-phantasms of coming events. She listened and gazed,
but could not be sure that she heard or saw.

When she looked out in the morning, however, she understood, for the
castle-ridge was almost hidden in the smoke that poured from every
chimney of the new village. Her heart swelled with joy to think of
her chief with all his people under his eyes, and within reach of
his voice. From her window they seemed so many friends gathered to
comfort her solitude, or the camp of an army come to set her free.

Hector and Rob, with one or two more of the clan, hid themselves to
watch those who came to evict the first of the villagers. There were
no military. Two sheriff's officers, a good many constables, and a
few vagabonds, made up the party. Rob's keen eye enabled him to
distinguish the very moment when first they began to be aware of
something unusual about the place; he saw them presently halt and
look at each other as if the duty before them were not altogether
CANNY. At no time would there be many signs of life in the poor
hamlet, but there would always be some sounds of handicraft, some
shuttle or hammer going, some cries of children weeping or at play,
some noises of animals, some ascending smoke, some issuing or
entering shape! They feared an ambush, a sudden onslaught. Warily
they stepped into the place, sharply and warily they looked about
them in the street, slowly and with circumspection they opened door
after door, afraid of what might be lurking behind to pounce upon
them at unawares. Only after searching every house, and discovering
not the smallest sign of the presence of living creature, did they
recognize their fool's-errand. And all the time there was the new
village, smoking hard, under the very windows, as he chose himself
to say, of its chief adversary!



CHAPTER XVII

THE NEW VILLAGE.


The winter came down upon them early, and the chief and his mother
had a sore time of it. Well as they had known it before, the poverty
of their people was far better understood by them now. Unable to
endure the sight of it, and spending more and more to meet it, they
saw it impossible for them to hold out. For a long time their
succour had been draining if not exhausting the poor resources of
the chief; he had borne up in the hope of the money he was so soon
to receive; and now there was none, and the need greater than ever!
He was not troubled, for his faith was simple and strong; but his
faith made him the more desirous of doing his part for the coming
deliverance: faith in God compels and enables a man to be
fellow-worker with God. He was now waiting the judgment of Ian
concerning the prospects of the settlers in that part of Canada to
which he had gone, hoping it might help him to some resolve in view
of the worse difficulties at hand.

In the meantime the clan was more comfortable, and passed the winter
more happily, than for many years. First of all, they had access to
the chief at any moment. Then he had prepared a room in his own
house where were always fire and light for such as would read what
books he was able to lend them, or play at quiet games. To them its
humble arrangements were sumptuous. And best of all, he would, in
the long dark fore-nights, as the lowland Scotch call them, read
aloud, at one time in Gaelic, at another in English, things that
gave them great delight. Donal shoemaker was filled with joy
unutterable by the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If only this state
of things could be kept up--with Ian back, and Mercy married to the
chief! thought the mother. But it was not to be; that grew plainer
every day.

Mr. Palmer would gladly have spent his winter elsewhere, leaving his
family behind him; but as things were, he could not leave them, and
as certain other things were, he did not care to take them to
London. Besides, for them all to leave now, would be to confess
defeat; and who could tell what hurt to his forest might not follow
in his absence from the cowardly hatred of the peasants! He was
resolved to see the thing out. But above all, he must keep that
worthless girl, Mercy, under his own eye!

"That's what comes of NOT drinking!" he would say to himself; "a man
grows as proud as Satan, and makes himself a curse to his
neighbours!"

Then he would sigh like a man ill-used and disconsolate.

Both Mercy and the chief thought it better not to venture much, but
they did occasionally contrive to meet for a few minutes--by the
help of Christina generally. Twice only was Mercy's handkerchief
hung from the window, when her longing for his voice had grown
almost too strong for her to bear. The signal brought him both times
through the wild wintry storm, joyous as a bird through the summer
air. Once or twice they met just outside the gate, Mercy flying like
a snow-bird to the tryst, and as swiftly back through the keen blue
frost, when her breath as she ran seemed to linger in the air like
smoke, and threaten to betray her.

At length came the much desired letter from Ian, full of matter for
the enabling of the chief's decision.

Two things had long been clear to Alister--that, even if the ground
he had could keep his people alive, it certainly could not keep them
all employed; and that, if they went elsewhere, especially to any
town, it might induce for many, and ensure for their children, a
lamentable descent in the moral scale. He was their shepherd, and
must lose none of them! therefore, first of all, he must not lose
sight of them! It was now clear also, that the best and most
desirable thing was, that the poor remnant of the clan should leave
their native country, and betake themselves where not a few of their
own people, among them Lachlan and Annie, would welcome them to
probable ease and comfort. There he would buy land, settle with
them, and build a village. Some would cultivate the soil under their
chief; others would pursue their trades for the good of the
community and themselves!

And now came once more the love of land face to face with the love
of men, and in the chief's heart paled before it. For there was but
one way to get the needful money: the last of the Macruadh property
must go! Not for one moment did it rouse a grudging thought in the
chief: it was for the sake of the men and women and children whose
lives would be required of him! The land itself must yield, them
wings to forsake it withal, and fly beyond the sea!



CHAPTER XVIII

A FRIENDLY OFFER


It was agreed between mother and son to submit the matter to Ian,
and if he should, be of the same mind, at once to negotiate the sale
of the land, in order to carry the clan to Canada. They wrote
therefore to Ian, and composed themselves to await his answer.

It was a sorrowful thing to Alister to seem for a moment to follow
the example of the recreant chiefs whose defection to feudalism was
the prelude to their treachery toward their people, and whose
faithlessness had ruined the highlands. But unlike Glengarry or
"Esau" Reay, he desired to sell his land that he might keep his
people, care for them, and share with them: his people safe, what
mattered the acres!

Reflecting on the thing, he saw, in the case of Ian's approval of
the sale, no reason why he should not show friendliness where none
was expected, and give Mr. Peregrine Palmer the first chance of
purchase. He thought also, with his usual hopefulness, that the time
might come when the clan, laying its savings together, would be able
to redeem its ancient homesteads, and then it might be an advantage
that they were all in the possession of one man. Such things had
been, and might be again! The Lord could bring again the captivity
of Clanruahd as well as that of Zion!

Two months passed, and they had Ian's answer--when it was well on
into the spring, and weather good for a sea-voyage was upon its way.
Because of the loss of their uncle's money, and the good prospect of
comfort in return for labour, hard but not killing, Ian entirely
approved of the proposal. From that moment the thing was no longer
discussed, but how best to carry it out. The chief assembled the
clan in the barn, read his brother's letter, and in a simple speech
acquainted them with the situation. He told them of the loss of the
money to which he had looked for the power to aid them; reminded
them that there was neither employment nor subsistence enough on the
land--not even if his mother and he were to live like the rest of
them, which if necessary they were quite prepared to do; and stated
his resolve to part with the remnant of it in order to provide the
means of their migrating in a body to Canada, where not a few old
friends were eager to welcome them. There they would buy land, he
said, of which every man that would cultivate it should have a
portion enough to live upon, while those with trades should have
every facility for following them. All, he believed, would fare well
in return for hard work, and they would be in the power of no man.
There was even a possibility, he hoped, that, if they lived and
laboured well, they might one day buy back the home they had left;
or if not they, their sons and daughters might return from their
captivity, and restore the house of their fathers. If anyone would
not go, he would do for him what seemed fair.

Donal shoemaker rose, unpuckered his face, slackened the
purse-strings of his mouth, and said,

"Where my chief goes, I will go; where my chief lives, I will live;
and where my chief is buried, God grant I may be buried also, with
all my family!"

He sat down, covered his face with his hands, and wept and sobbed.

One voice rose from all present:

"We'll go, Macruadh! We'll go! Our chief is our home!"

The chief's heart swelled with mingled gladness and grief, but he
answered quietly,

"Then you must at once begin your preparations; we ought not to be
in a hurry at the last."

An immediate stir, movement, bustle, followed. There was much
talking, and many sunny faces, over which kept sweeping the clouds
of sorrow.

The next morning the chief went to the New House, and desired to see
Mr. Palmer. He was shown into what the new laird called his study.
Mr. Palmer's first thought was that he had come to call him to
account for firing at him. He neither spoke nor advanced a step to
meet him. The chief stood still some yards from him, and said as
pleasantly as he could,--

"You are surprised to see me, Mr. Palmer!"

"I am."

"I come to ask if you would like to buy my land?"

"Already!" said Mr. Palmer, cast on his enemy a glare of victory,
and so stood regarding him. The chief did not reply.

"Well!" said Mr. Palmer.

"I wait your answer," returned the chief.

"Did it never strike you that insolence might be carried too far?"

"I came for your sake more than my own," rejoined the chief, without
even a shadow of anger. "I have no particular desire you should take
the land, but thought it reasonable you should have the first
offer."

"What a dull ox the fellow must take me for!" remarked the new laird
to himself. "It's all a dodge to get into the house! As if he would
sell ME his land! Or could think I would hold any communication with
him! Buy his land! It's some trick, I'll lay my soul! The infernal
scoundrel! Such a mean-spirited wretch too! Takes an ounce of shot
in the stomach, and never says 'What the devil do you mean by it?' I
don't believe the savage ever felt it!"

Something like this passed with thought's own swiftness through the
mind of Mr. Palmer, as he stood looking the chief from head to foot,
yet in his inmost person feeling small before him.

"If you cannot at once make up your mind," said Alister, "I will
give you till to-morrow to think it over."

"When you have learned to behave like a gentleman," answered the new
laird, "let me know, and I will refer you to my factor."

He turned and rang the hell. Alister bowed, and did not wait for the
servant.

It must be said for Mr. Palmer, however, that that morning Christina
had positively refused to listen to a word more from Mr. Sercombe.

In the afternoon, Alister set out for London.



CHAPTER XIX

ANOTHER EXPULSION.


Mr. Peregrine Palmer brooded more and more upon what he counted the
contempt of the chief. It became in him almost a fixed idea. It had
already sent out several suckers, and had, amongst others, developed
the notion that he was despised by those from whom first of all he
looked for the appreciation after which his soul thirsted--his own
family. He grew therefore yet more moody, and his moodiness and
distrust developed suspicion. It is scarce credible what a crushing
influence the judgment he pretended to scorn, thus exercised upon
him. It was not that he acknowledged in it the smallest justice;
neither was it that he cared altogether for what such a fanatical
fool as the chief might think; but he reflected that if one could so
despise his money because of its source, there might be others,
might be many who did so. At the same time, had he been sure of the
approbation of all the world beside, it would have troubled him not
a little, in his thirst after recognition, that any gentleman, one
of family especially, however old-fashioned and absurd he might be,
should look down upon him. His smouldering, causelessly excited
anger, his evident struggle to throw off an oppression, and the
fierce resentment of the chief's judgment which he would now and
then betray, revealed how closely the offence clung to his
consciousness.

Flattering himself from her calmness that Mercy had got over her
foolish liking for the "boor," as he would not unfrequently style
the chief, he had listened to the prayers of her mother, and
submitted to her company at the dinner-table; but he continued to
treat her as one who had committed a shameful fault.

That evening, the great little man could hardly eat for recurrent
wrathful memories of the interview of the morning. Perhaps his most
painful reflection was that he had not been quick enough to embrace
the opportunity of annihilating his enemy. Thunder lowered
portentous in his black brows, and not until he had drunk several
glasses of wine did a word come from his lips. His presence was
purgatory without the purifying element.

"What do you think that fellow has been here about this morning?" he
said at length.

"What fellow?" asked his wife unnecessarily, for she knew what
visitor had been shown into the study.

"The highland fellow," he answered, "that claims to do what he
pleases on my property!"

Mercy's face grew hot.

"--Came actually to offer me the refusal of his land!--the merest
trick to get into the house--confound him! As much as told me, if I
did not buy it off-hand, I should not have the chance again! The
cheek of the brute! To dare show his face in my house after trifling
with my daughter's affections on the pretence that he could not
marry a girl whose father was in trade!"

Mercy felt she would be false to the man she loved, and whom she
knew to be true, if she did not speak. She had no thought of
defending him, but simply of witnessing to him.

"I beg your pardon, papa," she said, "but the Macruadh never trifled
with me. He loves me, and has not given me up. If he told you he was
going to part with his land, he is going to part with it, and came
to you first because he must return good for evil. I saw him from my
window ride off as if he were going to meet the afternoon coach."

She would not have been allowed to say so much, had not her father
been speechless with rage. This was more than he or any man could
bear! He rose from the table, his eyes blazing.

"Return ME good for evil!" he exclaimed; "--a beast who has done me
more wrong than ever I did in all my life! a scoundrel bumpkin who
loses not an opportunity of insulting me as never was man insulted
before! You are an insolent, heartless, depraved girl!--ready to
sacrifice yourself, body and soul, to a man who despises you and
yours with the pride of a savage! You hussey, I can scarce keep my
hands off you!"

He came toward her with a threatful stride. She rose, pushed back
her chair, and stood facing him.

"Strike me," she said with a choking voice, "if you will, papa; but
mamma knows I am not what you call me! I should be false and
cowardly if I did not speak the truth for the man to whom I
owe"--she was going to say "more than to any other human being," but
she checked herself.

"If the beggar is your god," said her father, and struck her on the
cheek with his open hand, "you can go to him!"

He took her by the arm, and pushed her before him out of the room,
and across the hall; then opening the door, shoved her from him into
the garden, and flung the door to behind her. The rain was falling
in torrents, the night was very dark, and when the door shut, she
felt as if she had lost her eyesight.

It was terrible!--but, thank God, she was free! Without a moment's
hesitation--while her mother wept and pleaded, Christina stood
burning with indignation, the two little ones sat white with open
mouths, and the servants hurried about scared, but trying to look as
if nothing had happened--Mercy fled into the dark. She stumbled into
the shrubbery several times, but at last reached the gate, and while
they imagined her standing before the house waiting to be let in,
was running from it as from the jaws of the pit, in terror of a
voice calling her back. The pouring rain was sweet to her whole
indignant person, and especially to the cheek where burned the brand
of her father's blow. The way was deep in mud, and she slipped and
fell more than once as she ran.

Mrs. Macruadh was sitting in the little parlour, no one but Nancy in
the house, when the door opened, and in came the wild-looking girl,
draggled and spent, and dropped kneeling at her feet. Great masses
of long black hair hung dripping with rain about her shoulders. Her
dress was torn and wet, and soiled with clay from the road and earth
from the shrubbery. One cheek was white, and the other had a red
patch on it.

"My poor child!" cried the mother; "what has happened? Alister is
away!"

"I know that," panted Mercy. "I saw him go, but I thought you would
take me in--though you do not like me much!"

"Not like you, my child!" echoed the mother tenderly. "I love you!
Are you not my Alister's choice? There are things I could have
wished otherwise, but--"

"Well could I wish them otherwise too!" interposed Mercy. "I do not
wish another father; and I am not quite able to wish he hadn't
struck me and put me out into the dark and the rain, but--"

"Struck you and put you out! My child! What did he do it for?"

"Perhaps I deserved it: it is difficult to know how to behave to a
father! A father is supposed to be one whom you not only love, as I
do mine, but of whom you can be proud as well! I can't be proud of
mine, and don't know quite how to behave to him. Perhaps I ought to
have held my peace, but when he said things that were not--not
correct about Alister, misinterpreting him altogether, I felt it
cowardly and false to hold my tongue. So I said I did not believe
that was what Alister meant. It is but a quarter of an hour ago, and
it looks a fortnight! I don't think I quite know what I am saying!"

She ceased, laid her head on Mrs. Macruadh's knee, then sank to the
floor, and lay motionless. All the compassion of the woman, all the
protective pride of the chieftainess, woke in the mother. She raised
the girl in her arms, and vowed that not one of her house should set
eyes on her again without the consent of her son. He should see how
his mother cared for what was his!--how wide her arms, how big her
heart, to take in what he loved! Dear to him, the daughter of the
man she despised should be as the apple of her eye! They would of
course repent and want her back, but they should not have her;
neither should a sound of threat or demand reach the darling's ears.
She should be in peace until Alister came to determine her future.
There was the mark of the wicked hand on the sweet sallow cheek! She
was not beautiful, but she would love her the more to make up! Thank
God, they had turned her out, and that made her free of them! They
should not have her again; Alister should have her!--and from the
hand of his mother!

She got her to bed, and sent for Rob of the Angels. With injunctions
to silence, she told him to fetch his father, and be ready as soon
as possible to drive a cart to the chief's cave, there to make
everything comfortable for herself and Miss Mercy Palmer.

Mercy slept well, and as the day was breaking Mrs. Macruadh woke her
and helped her to dress. Then they walked together through the
lovely spring morning to the turn of the valley-road, where a cart
was waiting them, half-filled with oat-straw. They got in, and were
borne up and up at a walking-pace to the spot Mercy knew so well.
Never by swiftest coach had she enjoyed a journey so much as that
slow crawl up the mountains in the rough springless cart of her
ploughman lover! She felt so protected, so happy, so hopeful.
Alister's mother was indeed a hiding place from the wind, a covert
from the tempest! Having consented to be her mother, she could
mother her no way but entirely. An outcast for the sake of her
Alister, she should have the warmest corner of her heart next to him
and Ian!

Into the tomb they went, and found everything strangely
comfortable--the stone-floor covered with warm and woolly skins of
black-faced sheep, a great fire glowing, plenty of provisions hung
and stored, and the deaf, keen-eyed father with the swift keen-eared
son for attendants.

"You will not mind sharing your bed with me--will you, my child?"
said Mrs. Macruadh: "Our accommodation is scanty. But we shall be
safe from intrusion. Only those two faithful men know where we are."

"Mother will be terribly frightened!" said Mercy.

"I thought of that, and left a note with Nancy, telling her you were
safe and well, but giving no hint of where. I said that her dove had
flown to my bosom for shelter, and there she should have it."

Mercy answered with a passionate embrace.



CHAPTER XX

ALISTER'S PRINCESS.


Ten peaceful days they spent in the cave-house. It was cold
outside, but the clear air of the hill-top was delicious, and inside
it was warm and dry. There were plenty of books, and Mercy never
felt the time a moment too long. The mother talked freely of her
sons, and of their father, of the history of the clan, of her own
girlhood, and of the hopes and intentions of her sons.

"Will you go with him, Mercy?" she asked, laying her hand on hers.

"I would rather be his servant," answered Mercy, "than remain at
home: there is no life there!"

"There is life wherever there is the will to live--that is, to do
the thing that is given one to do," said the mother.

In writing she told Alister nothing of what had happened: he might
hurry home without completing his business! Undisturbed by fresh
anxiety, he settled everything, parted with his property to an old
friend of the family, and received what would suffice for his
further intents. He also chartered a vessel to take them over the
sea, and to save weariness and expense, arranged for it to go
northward as far as a certain bay on the coast, and there take the
clan on board.

When at length he reached home, Nancy informed him that his mother
was at the hill-house, and begged he would go there to her. He was a
good deal perplexed: she very seldom went there, and had never
before gone for the night! and it was so early in the season! He set
out immediately.

It was twilight when he reached the top of the hill, and no light
shone from the little windows of the tomb.

That day Mercy had been amusing her protectress with imitations, in
which kind she had some gift, of certain of her London acquaintance:
when the mother heard her son's approaching step, a thought came to
her.

"Here! Quick!" she said; "Put on my cap and shawl, and sit in this
chair. I will go into the bedroom. Then do as you like."

When the chief entered, he saw the form of his mother, as he
thought, bending over the peat-fire, which had sunk rather low: in
his imagination he saw again the form of his uncle as on that night
in the low moonlight. She did not move, did not even look up. He
stood still for a moment; a strange feeling possessed him of
something not being as it ought to be. But he recovered himself with
an effort, and kneeling beside her, put his arms round her--not a
little frightened at her continued silence.

"What is the matter, mother dear?" he said. "Why have you come up to
this lonely place?"

When first Mercy felt his arms, she could not have spoken if she
would--her heart seemed to grow too large for her body. But in a
moment or two she controlled herself, and was able to say--sufficiently
in his mother's tone and manner to keep up the initiated misconception:

"They put me out of the house, Alister."

"Put you out of the house!" he returned, like one hearing and
talking in a dream. "Who dared interfere with you, mother? Am I
losing my senses? I seem not to understand my own words!"

"Mr. Palmer."

"Mr. Palmer! Was it to him I sold the land in London? What could he
have to do with you, mother? How did they allow him to come near the
house in my absence? Oh, I see! He came and worried you so about
Mercy that you were glad to take refuge from him up here!--I
understand now!"

He ended in a tone of great relief: he felt as if he had just
recovered his senses.

"No, that was not it. But we are going so soon, there would have
been no good in fighting it out. We ARE going soon, are we not?"

"Indeed we are, please God!" replied the chief, who had relapsed
into bewilderment.

"That is well--for you more than anybody. Would you believe it--the
worthless girl vows she will never leave her mother's house!"

"Ah, mother, YOU never heard her say so! I know Mercy better than
that! She will leave it when I say COME. But that won't be now. I
must wait, and come and fetch her when she is of age."

"She is not worthy of you."

"She is worthy of me if I were twenty times worthier! Mother,
mother! What has turned you against us again? It is not like you to
change about so! I cannot bear to find you changeable! I should have
sworn you were just the one to understand her perfectly! I cannot
bear you should let unworthy reasons prejudice you against
anyone!--If you say a word more against her, I will go and sit
outside with the moon. She is not up yet, but she will be
presently--and though she is rather old and silly, I shall find her
much better company than you, mother dear!"

He spoke playfully, but was grievously puzzled.

"To whom are you talking, Alister?--yourself or a ghost?"

Alister started up, and saw his mother coming from the bedroom with
a candle in her hand! He stood stupefied. He looked again at the
seated figure, still bending over the fire. Who was it if not his
mother?

With a wild burst of almost hysteric laughter, Mercy sprang to her
feet, and threw herself in his arms. It was not the less a new
bewilderment that it was an unspeakably delightful change from the
last. Was he awake or dreaming? Was the dream of his boyhood come
true? or was he dreaming it on in manhood? It was come true! The
princess was arrived! She was here in his cave to be his own!

A great calm and a boundless hope filled the heart of Alister. The
night was far advanced when he left them to go home. Nor did he find
his way home, but wandered all night about the tomb, making long
rounds and still returning like an angel sent to hover and watch
until the morning. When he astonished them by entering as they sat
at breakfast, and told them how he had passed the night, it thrilled
Mercy's heart to know that, while she slept and was dreaming about
him, he was awake and thinking about her.

"What is only dreaming in me, is thinking in you, Alister!" she
said.

"I was thinking," returned Alister, "that as you did not know I was
watching you, so, when we feel as if God were nowhere, he is
watching over us with an eternal consciousness, above and beyond our
every hope and fear, untouched by the varying faith and fluctuating
moods of his children."

After breakfast he went to see the clergyman of the parish, who
lived some miles away; the result of which visit was that in a few
days they were married. First, however, he went once more to the New
House, desiring to tell Mr. Palmer what had been and was about to be
done. He refused to see him, and would not allow his wife or
Christina to go to him.

The wedding was solemnized at noon within the ruined walls of the
old castle. The withered remnant of the clan, with pipes playing,
guns firing, and shouts of celebration, marched to the cave-house to
fetch thence the bride. When the ceremony was over, a feast was
ready for all in the barn, and much dancing followed.

When evening came, with a half-moon hanging faint in the limpid
blue, and the stars looking large through the mist of ungathered
tears--those of nature, not the lovers; with a wind like the breath
of a sleeping child, sweet and soft, and full of dreams of summer;
the mountains and hills asleep around them like a flock of
day-wearied things, and haunted by the angels of Rob's visions--the
lovers, taking leave only of the mother, stole away to walk through
the heavenly sapphire of the still night, up the hills and over the
rushing streams of the spring, to the cave of their rest--no ill
omen but lovely symbol to such as could see in the tomb the porch of
paradise. Where should true lovers make their bed but on the
threshold of eternity!



CHAPTER XXI

THE FAREWELL.


A month passed, and the flag of their exile was seen flying in the
bay. The same hour the chief's horses were put to, the carts were
loaded, their last things gathered. Few farewells had to be made,
for the whole clan, except two that had gone to the bad, turned out
at the minute appointed. The chief arranged them in marching column.
Foremost went the pipes; the chief, his wife, and his mother, came
next; Hector of the Stags, carrying the double-barrelled rifle the
chief had given him, Rob of the Angels, and Donal shoemaker,
followed. Then came the women and children; next, the carts, with a
few, who could not walk, on the top of the baggage; the men brought
up the rear. Four or five favourite dogs were the skirmishers of the
column.

The road to the bay led them past the gate of the New House. The
chief called a halt, and went with his wife to seek a last
interview. Mr. Peregrine Palmer kept his room, but Mrs. Palmer bade
her daughter a loving farewell--more relieved than she cared to
show, that the cause of so much discomfort was going so far away.
The children wept. Christina bade her sister good-bye with a
hopeless, almost envious look: Mercy, who did not love him, would
see Ian! She who would give her soul for him was never to look on
him again in this world!

Kissing Mercy once more, she choked down a sob, and whispered,

"Give my love--no, my heart, to Ian, and tell him I AM trying."

They all walked together to the gate, and there the chief's mother
took her leave of the ladies of the New House. The pipes struck up;
the column moved on.

When they came to the corner which would hide from them their native
strath, the march changed to a lament, and with the opening wail,
all stopped and turned for a farewell look. Men and women, the chief
alone excepted, burst into weeping, and the sound of their
lamentation went wandering through the hills with an adieu to every
loved spot. And this was what the pipes said:

We shall never see you more, Never more, never more! Till the sea be
dry, and the world be bare, And the dews have ceased to fall, And
the rivers have ceased to run, We shall never see you more, Never
more, never more!

They stood and gazed, and the pipes went on lamenting, and the women
went on weeping.

"This is heathenish!" said Alister to himself, and stopped the
piper.

"My friends," he cried, in Gaelic of course, "look at me: my eyes
are dry! Where Jesus, the Son of God, is--there is my home! He is
here, and he is over the sea, and my home is everywhere! I have lost
my land and my country, but I take with me my people, and make no
moan over my exile! Hearts are more than hills. Farewell Strathruadh
of my childhood! Place of my dreams, I shall visit you again in my
sleep! And again I shall see you in happier times, please God, with
my friends around me!"

He took off his bonnet. All the men too uncovered for a moment, then
turned to follow their chief. The pipes struck up Macrimmon's
lament, Till an crodh a Dhonnachaidh (TURN THE KINE, DUNCAN). Not
one looked behind him again till they reached the shore. There, out
in the bay, the biggest ship any of the clan had ever seen was
waiting to receive them.

When Mr. Peregrine Palmer saw that the land might in truth be for
sale, he would gladly have bought it, but found to his chagrin that
he was too late. It was just like the fellow, he said, to mock him
with the chance of buying it! He took care to come himself, and not
send a man he could have believed!

The clan throve in the clearings of the pine forests. The hill-men
stared at their harvests as if they saw them growing. Their many
children were strong and healthy, and called Scotland their home.

In an outlying and barren part of the chief's land, they came upon
rock oil. It was so plentiful that as soon as carriage became
possible, the chief and his people began to grow rich.

News came to them that Mr. Peregrine Palmer was in difficulties, and
desirous of parting with his highland estate. The chief was now able
to buy it ten times over. He gave his agent in London directions to
secure it for him, with any other land conterminous that might come
into the market. But he would not at once return to occupy it, for
his mother dreaded the sea, and thought to start soon for another
home. Also he would rather have his boys grow where they were, and
as men face the temptations beyond: where could they find such
teaching as that of their uncle Ian! Both father and uncle would
have them ALIVE before encountering what the world calls LIFE.

But the Macruadh yet dreams of the time when those of the clan then
left in the world, accompanied, he hopes, by some of those that went
out before them, shall go back to repeople the old waste places, and
from a wilderness of white sheep and red deer, make the mountain
land a nursery of honest, unambitious, brave men and strong-hearted
women, loving God and their neighbour; where no man will think of
himself at his brother's cost, no man grow rich by his neighbour's
ruin, no man lay field to field, to treasure up for himself wrath
against the day of wrath.

THE END.





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