George MacDonald.

What's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"From you, Mr. Sercombe."

"Protect her, then."

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

He turned and came up with long steps, his hands in his

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

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

"I am bound to take care of her."

"And I of myself."

"Not at her expense!"

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

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

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

"I forget nothing!"

"I congratulate you."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sercombe laughed insultingly.

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

"Damn you for a coward, come on!"

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

"I have all I am likely to need."

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

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

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

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

"I see that well enough. Come on!"

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

Sercombe answered with a scornful imprecation.

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

Sercombe struck out, but did not reach his antagonist.

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

"I struck too hard!" said Ian.

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

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

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

"I wish I could be sure of that!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"To get clean out of it."

"What! cut your throats?"

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

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

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

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

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

"I don't understand you!"

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

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

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

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

"And have not begun yet!"

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

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

"You are polite!"

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

"My beast is better than your man!"

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

"Right! I do."

The brothers exchanged a look and smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Happy, happy liver!" -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I will," answered Christina.

And Ian read them the poem beginning -

"Three years she grew in sun and shower."

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"By what?" asked Alister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But that is not all. We mean the things themselves only for the
sake of what they say to us. As our sense of smell brings us news of

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldWhat's Mine's Mine — Volume 2 → online text (page 7 of 12)