Copyright
George MacDonald.

What's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 online

. (page 4 of 12)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldWhat's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 → online text (page 4 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


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


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldWhat's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 → online text (page 4 of 12)