George MacDonald.

What's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 online

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Poor old Buadh! God rest his soul!"

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

"Amen! It is better. - But," added Kob, "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.



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

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

"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,

"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

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

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

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

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

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

"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, 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

"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

"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

"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

"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

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

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


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.



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.

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldWhat's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 → online text (page 6 of 12)