George MacDonald.

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fields far off, so those fields, or even the smell only that comes
from them, tell us of things, meanings, thoughts, intentions beyond
them, and embodied in them."

"And that is why you speak of Nature as a person?" asked Mercy.

"Whatever influences us must be a person. But God is the only real
person, being in himself, and without help from anybody; and so we
talk even of the world which is but his living garment, as if that
were a person; and we call it SHE as if it were a woman, because so
many of God's loveliest influences come to us through her. She
always seems to me a beautiful old grandmother."

"But there now! when you talk of her influences, and the liberties
she takes, I do not know what you mean. She seems to do and be
something to you which certainly she does not and is not to me. I
cannot tell what to make of it. I feel just as when our music-master
was talking away about thorough bass: I could not get hold, head or
tail, of what the man was after, and we all agreed there was no
sense in it. Now I begin to suspect there must have been too much!"

"There is no fear of her!" said Ian to himself.

"My heart told me the truth about her!" thought Alister jubilant.
"Now we shall have talk!"

"I think I can let you see into it, Miss Mercy," said Ian. "Imagine
for a moment how it would be if, instead of having a roof like 'this
most excellent canopy the air, this brave o'erhanging, this
majestical roof, fretted with golden fire,' - "

"Are you making the words, or saying them out of a book?"
interrupted Mercy.

"Ah! you don't know Hamlet? How rich I should feel myself if I had
the first reading of it before me like you! - But imagine how
different it would have been if, instead of such a roof, we had only
clouds, hanging always down, like the flies in a theatre, within a
yard or two of our heads!"

Mercy was silent for a moment, then said,

"It would be horribly wearisome."

"It would indeed be wearisome! But how do you think it would affect
your nature, your being?"

Mercy held the peace which is the ignorant man's wisdom.

"We should have known nothing of astronomy," said Christina.

"True; and the worst would have been, that the soul would have had
no astronomy - no notion of heavenly things."

"There you leave me out again!" said Mercy.

"I mean," said Ian, "that it would have had no sense of
outstretching, endless space, no feeling of heights above, and
depths beneath. The idea of space would not have come awake in it."

"I understand!" said Christina. "But I do not see that we should
have been much the worse off. Why should we have the idea of more
than we want? So long as we have room, I do not see what space
matters to us!"

"Ah, but when the soul wakes up, it needs all space for room! A
limit of thousands of worlds will not content it. Mere elbow-room
will not do when the soul wakes up!"

"Then my soul is not waked up yet!" rejoined Christina with a laugh.

Ian did not reply, and Christina felt that he accepted the
proposition, absurd as it seemed to herself.

"But there is far more than that," he resumed. "What notion could
you have had of majesty, if the heavens seemed scarce higher than
the earth? what feeling of the grandeur of him we call God, of his
illimitation in goodness? For space is the body to the idea of
liberty. Liberty is - God and the souls that love; these are the
limitless room, the space, in which thoughts, the souls of things,
have their being. If there were no holy mind, then no freedom, no
spiritual space, therefore no thoughts; just as, if there were no
space, there could be no things."

Ian saw that not even Alister was following him, and changed his

"Look up," he said, "and tell me what you see. - What is the shape
over us?"

"It is a vault," replied Christina.

"A dome - is it not?" said Mercy.

"Yes; a vault or a dome, recognizable at the moment mainly by its
shining points. This dome we understand to be the complement or
completing part of a correspondent dome on the other side of the
world. It follows that we are in the heart of a hollow sphere of
loveliest blue, spangled with light. Now the sphere is the one
perfect geometrical form. Over and round us then we have the one
perfect shape. I do not say it is put there for the purpose of
representing God; I say it is there of necessity, because of its
nature, and its nature is its relation to God. It is of God's
thinking; and that half-sphere above men's heads, with influence
endlessly beyond the reach of their consciousness, is the beginning
of all revelation of him to men. They must begin with that. It is
the simplest as well as most external likeness of him, while its
relation to him goes so deep that it represents things in his very
nature that nothing else could."

"You bewilder me," said Mercy. "I cannot follow you. I am not fit
for such high things!"

"I will go on; you will soon begin to see what I mean: I know what
you are fit for better than you do yourself, Miss Mercy. - Think
then how it would be if this blue sky were plainly a solid. Men of
old believed it a succession of hollow spheres, one outside the
other; it is hardly a wonder they should have had little gods. No
matter how high the vault of the inclosing sphere; limited at all it
could not declare the glory of God, it could only show his
handiwork. In our day it is a sphere only to the eyes; it is a
foreshortening of infinitude that it may enter our sight; there is
no imagining of a limit to it; it is a sphere only in this, that in
no one direction can we come nearer to its circumference than in
another. This infinitive sphere, I say then, or, if you like it
better, this spheric infinitude, is the only figure, image, emblem,
symbol, fit to begin us to know God; it is an idea incomprehensible;
we can only believe in it. In like manner God cannot by searching be
found out, cannot be grasped by any mind, yet is ever before us, the
one we can best know, the one we must know, the one we cannot help
knowing; for his end in giving us being is that his humblest
creature should at length possess himself, and be possessed by him."

"I think I begin," said Mercy - and said no more.

"If it were not for the outside world," resumed Ian, "we should have
no inside world to understand things by. Least of all could we
understand God without these millions of sights and sounds and
scents and motions, weaving their endless harmonies. They come out
from his heart to let us know a little of what is in it!"

Alister had been listening hard. He could not originate such things,
but he could understand them; and his delight in them proved them
his own, although his brother had sunk the shaft that laid open
their lode.

"I never heard you put a thing better, Ian!" he said.

"You gentlemen," said Mercy, "seem to have a place to think in that
I don't know how to get into! Could you not open your church-door a
little wider to let me in? There must be room for more than two!"

She was looking up at Alister, not so much afraid of him; Ian was to
her hardly of this world. In her eyes Alister saw something that
seemed to reflect the starlight; but it might have been a luminous
haze about the waking stars of her soul!

"My brother has always been janitor to me," replied Alister; "I do
not know how to open any door. But here no door needs to be opened;
you have just to step straight into the temple of nature, among all
the good people worshipping."

"There! that is what I was afraid of!" cried Mercy: "you are

"Bless my soul, Mercy!" exclaimed Christina; "what do you mean?"

"Yes," answered Ian. "If to believe that not a lily can grow, not a
sparrow fall to the ground without our Father, be pantheism, Alister
and I are pantheists. If by pantheism you mean anything that would
not fit with that, we are not pantheists."

"Why should we trouble about religion more than is required of us!"
interposed Christina.

"Why indeed?" returned Ian. "But then how much is required?"

"You require far more than my father, and he is good enough for me!"

"The Master says we are to love God with all our hearts and souls
and strength and mind."

"That was in the old law, Ian," said Alister.

"You are right. Jesus only justified it - and did it."

"How then can you worship in the temple of Nature?" said Mercy.

"Just as he did. It is Nature's temple, mind, for the worship of
God, not of herself!"

"But how am I to get into it? That is what I want to know."

"The innermost places of the temple are open only to such as already
worship in a greater temple; but it has courts into which any honest
soul may enter."

"You wouldn't set me to study Wordsworth?"

"By no means."

"I am glad of that - though there must be more in him than I see, or
you couldn't care for him so much!"

"Some of Nature's lessons you must learn before you can understand

"Can you call it learning a lesson if you do not understand it?"

"Yes - to a certain extent. Did you learn at school to work the rule
of three?"

"Yes; and I was rather fond of it."

"Did you understand it?"

"I could work sums in it."

"Did you see how it was that setting the terms down so, and working
out the rule, must give you a true answer. Did you perceive that it
was safe to buy or sell, to build a house, or lay out a garden, by
the rule of three?"

"I did not. I do not yet."

"Then one may so far learn a lesson without understanding it! All
do, more or less, in Dame Nature's school. Not a few lessons must be
so learned in order to be better learned. Without being so learned
first, it is not possible to understand them; the scholar has not
facts enough about the things to understand them. Keats's youthful
delight in Nature was more intense even than Wordsworth's, but he
was only beginning to understand her when he died. Shelley was much
nearer understanding her than Keats, but he was drowned before he
did understand her. Wordsworth was far before either of them. At the
same time, presumptuous as it may appear, I believe there are
regions to be traversed, beyond any point to which Wordsworth leads

"But how am I to begin? Do tell me. Nothing you say helps me in the

"I have all the time been leading you toward the door at which you
want to go in. It is not likely, however, that it will open to you
at once. I doubt if it will open to you at all except through

"You are a most encouraging master!" said Christina, with a light

"It was Wordsworth's bitter disappointment in the outcome of the
French revolution," continued Ian, "that opened the door to him. Yet
he had gone through the outer courts of the temple with more
understanding than any who immediately preceded him. - Will you let
me ask you a question?"

"You frighten me!" said Mercy.

"I am sorry for that. We will talk of something else."

"I am not afraid of what you may ask me; I am frightened at what you
tell me. I fear to go on if I must meet Sorrow on the way!"

"You make one think of some terrible secret society!" said

"Tell me then, Miss Mercy, is there anything you love very much? I
don't say any PERSON, but any THING."

"I love some animals."

"An animal is not a thing. It is possible to love animals and not
the nature of which we are speaking. You might love a dog dearly,
and never care to see the sun rise! - Tell me, did any flower ever
make you cry?

"No," answered Mercy, with a puzzled laugh; "how could it?"

"Did any flower ever make you a moment later in going to bed, or a
moment earlier in getting out of it?"

"No, certainly!"

"In that direction, then, I am foiled!"

"You would not really have me cry over a flower, Mr. Ian? Did ever a
flower make you cry yourself? Of course not! it is only silly women
that cry for nothing!"

"I would rather not bring myself in at present," answered Ian
smiling. "Do you know how Chaucer felt about flowers?"

"I never read a word of Chaucer."

"Shall I give you an instance?"


"Chaucer was a man of the world, a courtier, more or less a man of
affairs, employed by Edward III. in foreign business of state: you
cannot mistake him for an effeminate or sentimental man! He does not
anywhere, so far as I remember, say that ever he cried over a
flower, but he shows a delight in some flowers so delicate and deep
that it must have a source profounder than that of most people's
tears. When we go back I will read you what he says about the daisy;
but one more general passage I think I could repeat. There are
animals in it too!"

"Pray let us hear it," said Christina.

He spoke the following stanzas - not quite correctly, but supplying
for the moment's need where he could not recall: -

A gardein saw I, full of blosomed bowis,
Upon a river, in a grene mede,
There as sweetnesse evermore inough is,
With floures white, blewe, yelowe, and rede,
And cold welle streames, nothing dede,
That swommen full of smale fishes light,
With finnes rede, and scales silver bright.

On every bough the birdes heard I sing,
With voice of angell, in hir armonie,
That busied hem, hir birdes forth to bring,
The little pretty conies to hir play gan hie,
And further all about I gan espie,
The dredeful roe, the buck, the hart, and hind,
Squirrels, and beastes small, of gentle kind.

Of instruments of stringes in accorde,
Heard I so play, a ravishing swetnesse,
That God, that maker is of all and Lorde,
Ne heard never better, as I gesse,
Therewith a wind, unneth it might be lesse,
Made in the leaves grene a noise soft,
Accordant to the foules song on loft.

The aire of the place so attempre was,
That never was ther grevance of hot ne cold,
There was eke every noisome spice and gras,
Ne no man may there waxe sicke ne old,
Yet was there more joy o thousand fold,
Than I can tell or ever could or might,
There is ever clere day, and never night.

He modernized them also a little in repeating them, so that his
hearers missed nothing through failing to understand the words: how
much they gained, it were hard to say.

"It reminds one," commented Ian, "of Dante's paradise on the top of
the hill of purgatory."

"I don't know anything about Dante either," said Mercy regretfully.

"There is plenty of time!" said Ian.

"But there is so much to learn!" returned Mercy in a hopeless tone.

"That is the joy of existence!" Ian replied. "We are not bound to
know; we are only bound to learn. - But to return to my task: a man
may really love a flower. In another poem Chaucer tells us that such
is his delight in his books that no other pleasure can take him from
them -

Save certainly, when that the month of May
Is comen, and that I heare the foules sing,
And that the floures ginnen for to spring,
Farwell my booke, and my devotion!

Poor people love flowers; rich people admire them."

"But," said Mercy, "how can one love a thing that has no life?"

Ian could have told her that whatever grows must live; he could
further have told her his belief that life cannot be without its
measure of consciousness; but it would have led to more difficulty,
and away from the end he had in view. He felt also that no
imaginable degree of consciousness in it was commensurate with the
love he had himself for almost any flower. His answer to Mercy's
question was this: -

"The flowers come from the same heart as man himself, and are sent
to be his companions and ministers. There is something divinely
magical, because profoundly human in them. In some at least the
human is plain; we see a face of childlike peace and confidence that
appeals to our best. Our feeling for many of them doubtless owes
something to childish associations; but how did they get their hold
of our childhood? Why did they enter our souls at all? They are
joyous, inarticulate children, come with vague messages from the
father of all. If I confess that what they say to me sometimes makes
me weep, how can I call my feeling for them anything but love? The
eternal thing may have a thousand forms of which we know nothing

Mercy felt Ian must mean something she ought to like, if only she
knew what it was; but he had not yet told her anything to help her!
He had, however, neither reached his end nor lost his way; he was
leading her on - gently and naturally.

"I did not mean," he resumed, "that you must of necessity begin with
the flowers. I was only inquiring whether at that point you were
nearer to Nature. - Tell me - were you ever alone?"

"Alone!" repeated Mercy, thinking. " - Surely everybody has been many
times alone!"

"Could you tell when last you were alone?"

She thought, but could not tell.

"What I want to ask you," said Ian, "is - did you ever feel alone?
Did you ever for a moment inhabit loneliness? Did it ever press
itself upon you that there was nobody near - that if you called
nobody would hear? You are not alone while you know that you can
have a fellow creature with you the instant you choose."

"I hardly think I was ever alone in that way."

"Then what I would have you do," continued Ian, "is - to make
yourself alone in one of Nature's withdrawing-rooms, and seat
yourself in one of Grannie's own chairs. - I am coming to the point
at last! - Upon a day when the weather is fine, go out by yourself.
Tell no one where you are going, or that you are going anywhere.
Climb a hill. If you cannot get to the top of it, go high on the
side of it. No book, mind! nothing to fill your thinking-place from
another's! People are always saying 'I think,' when they are not
thinking at all, when they are at best only passing the thoughts of
others whom they do not even know.

"When you have got quite alone, when you do not even know the
nearest point to anybody, sit down and be lonely. Look out on the
loneliness, the wide world round you, and the great vault over you,
with the lonely sun in the middle of it; fold your hands in your
lap, and be still. Do not try to think anything. Do not try to call
up any feeling or sentiment or sensation; just be still. By and by,
it may be, you will begin to know something of Nature. I do not know
you well enough to be sure about it; but if you tell me afterwards
how you fared, I shall then know you a little better, and perhaps be
able to tell you whether Nature will soon speak to you, or not
until, as Henry Vaughan says, some veil be broken in you."

They were approaching the cottage, and little more was said. They
found Mrs. Palmer prepared to go, and Mercy was not sorry: she had
had enough for a while. She was troubled at the thought that perhaps
she was helplessly shut out from the life inhabited by the brothers.
When she lay down, her own life seemed dull and poor. These men,
with all their kindness, respect, attention, and even attendance
upon them, did not show them the homage which the men of their own
circle paid them!

"They will never miss us!" she said to herself. "They will go on
with their pantheism, or whatever it is, all the same!"

But they should not say she was one of those who talk but will not
do! That scorn she could not bear!

All the time, however, the thing seemed to savour more of spell or
cast of magic than philosophy: the means enjoined were suggestive of
a silent incantation!



It must not be supposed that all the visiting was on the part of
those of the New House. The visits thence were returned by both
matron and men. But somehow there was never the same freedom in the
house as in the cottage. The difference did not lie in the presence
of the younger girls: they were well behaved, friendly, and nowise
disagreeable children. Doubtless there was something in the absence
of books: it was of no use to jump up when a passage occurred; help
was not at hand. But it was more the air of the place, the presence
of so many common-place things, that clogged the wheels of thought.
Neither, with all her knowledge of the world and all her sweetness,
did Mrs. Palmer understand the essentials of hospitality half so
well as the widow of the late minister-chief. All of them liked, and
confessed that they liked the cottage best. Even Christina felt
something lacking in their reception. She regretted that the house
was not grand enough to show what they were accustomed to.

Mrs. Palmer seldom understood the talk, and although she sat looking
persistently content, was always haunted with a dim feeling that her
husband would not be hest pleased at so much intercourse between his
rich daughters and those penniless country-fellows. But what could
she do! the place where he had abandoned them was so dull, so
solitary! the girls must not mope! Christina would wither up without
amusement, and then good-bye to her beauty and all that depended
upon it! In the purity of her motherhood, she more than liked the
young men: happy mother she would think herself, were her daughters
to marry such men as these! The relations between them and their
mother delighted her: they were one! their hearts were together!
they understood each other! She could never have such bliss with her
sons! Never since she gave them birth had she had one such look from
either of hers as she saw pass every now and then from these to
their mother! It would be like being born again to feel herself
loved in that way! For any danger to the girls, she thought with a
sigh how soon in London they would forget the young highlanders. Was
there no possibility of securing one of them? What chance was there
of Mercy's marrying well! she was so decidedly plain! Was the idea
of marrying her into an old and once powerful family like that of
the Macruadh, to her husband inconceivable? Could he not restore its
property as the dowry of his unprized daughter! it would be to him
but a trifle! - and he could stipulate that the chief should
acknowledge the baronetcy and use his title! Mercy would then be a
woman of consequence, and Peregrine would have the Bible-honour of
being the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell
in! - Such were some of the thoughts that would come and go in the
brain of the mother as she sat; nor were they without a share in her
readiness to allow her daughters to go out with the young men: she
had an unquestioning conviction of their safety with them.

The days went by, and what to Christina had seemed imprisonment,
began to look like some sort of liberty. She had scarce come nearer
to sympathy with those whose society consoled her, but their talk
had ceased to sound repulsive. She was infinitely more than a
well-modelled waxflower, and yet hardly a growing plant. More was
needed to wake her than friends awake. It is wonderful how long the
sleeping may go with the waking, and not discover any difference
between them. But Grannie Nature was about to interfere.

The spring drew gently on. It would be long ere summer was summer
enough to show. There seemed more of the destructive in the spring
itself than of the genial - cold winds, great showers, days of steady
rain, sudden assaults of hail and sleet. Still it was spring, and at
length, one fine day with a bright sun, snow on the hills, and
clouds in the east, but no sign of any sudden change, the girls went
out for a walk, and took the younger girls with them.

A little way up the valley, out of sight of the cottage, a small
burn came down its own dell to join that which flowed through the
chiefs farm. Its channel was wide, but except in time of rain had
little water in it. About half a mile up its course it divided, or
rather the channel did, for in one of its branches there was seldom
any water. At the fork was a low rocky mound, with an ancient ruin
of no great size-three or four fragments of thick walls, within
whose plan grew a slender birch-tree. Thither went the little party,
wandering up the stream: the valley was sheltered; no wind but the
south could reach it; and the sun, though it could not make it very
warm, as it looked only aslant on its slopes, yet lighted both sides
of it. Great white clouds passed slowly across the sky, with now and
then a nearer black one threatening rain, but a wind overhead was
carrying them quickly athwart.

Ian had seen the ladies pass, but made no effort to overtake them,
although he was bound in the same direction: he preferred sauntering
along with a book of ballads. Suddenly his attention was roused by a
peculiar whistle, which he knew for that of Hector of the Stags: it
was one of the few sounds he could make. Three times it was

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