George MacDonald.

What's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 online

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By George MacDonald









"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.



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

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