George MacDonald.

What's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 online

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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 Bob 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 Kob'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. Bob 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
Kob 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,

"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

"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

"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

"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

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

"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



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

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?

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldWhat's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 → online text (page 2 of 12)