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
hushand 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
hurriedly repeated, and ere the third was over, Ian had discovered
Hector high on a hill on the opposite side of the burn, waving his
arms, and making eager signs to him. He stopped and set himself to
understand. Hector was pointing with energy, but it was impossible
to determine the exact direction: all that Ian could gather was,
that his presence was wanted somewhere farther on. He resumed his
walk therefore at a rapid pace, whereupon Hector pointed higher.
There on the eastern horizon, towards the north, almost down upon
the hills, Ian saw a congeries of clouds in strangest commotion,
such as he had never before seen in any home latitude--a mass of
darkly variegated vapours manifesting a peculiar and appalling
unrest. It seemed tormented by a gyrating storm, twisting and
contorting it with unceasing change. Now the gray came writhing out,
now the black came bulging through, now a dirty brown smeared the
ashy white, and now the blue shone calmly out from eternal
distances. At the season he could hardly think it a thunderstorm,
and stood absorbed in the unusual phenomenon. But again, louder and
more hurried, came the whistling, and again he saw Hector
gesticulating, more wildly than before. Then he knew that someone
must be in want of help or succour, and set off running as hard as
he could: he saw Hector keeping him in sight, and watching to give
him further direction: perhaps the ladies had got into some
When he arrived at the opening of the valley just mentioned,
Hector's gesticulations made it quite plain it was up there he must
go; and as soon as he entered it, he saw that the cloudy turmoil was
among the hills at its head. With that he began to suspect the
danger the hunter feared, and almost the same instant heard the
merry voices of the children. Running yet faster, he came in sight
of them on the other side of the stream,--not a moment too soon. The
valley was full of a dull roaring sound. He called to them as he
ran, and the children saw and came running down toward him, followed
by Mercy. She was not looking much concerned, for she thought it
only the grumbling of distant thunder. But Ian saw, far up the
valley, what looked like a low brown wall across it, and knew what
"Mercy!" he cried, "run up the side of the hill directly; you will
be drowned--swept away if you do not."
She looked incredulous, and glanced up the hill-side, but carne on
as if to cross the burn and join him.
"Do as I tell you," he cried, in a tone which few would have
ventured to disregard, and turning darted across the channel toward
Mercy did not wait his coming, but took the children, each by a
hand, and went a little way up the hill that immediately bordered
"Farther! farther!" cried Ian as he ran. "Where is Christina?"
"At the ruin," she answered.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Ian, and darted off, crying, "Up the hill
with you! up the hill!"
Christina was standing by the birch-tree in the ruin, looking down
the burn. She had heard Ian calling, and saw him running, but
suspected no danger.
"Come; come directly; for God's sake, come!" he cried. "Look up the
burn!" he added, seeing her hesitate bewildered.
She turned, looked, and came running to him, down the channel, white
with terror. It was too late. The charging water, whose front rank
was turf, and hushes, and stones, was almost upon her. The solid
matter had retarded its rush, but it was now on the point of
dividing against the rocky mound, to sweep along both sides, and
turn it into an island. Ian bounded to her in the middle of the
channel, caught her by the arm, and hurried her back to the mound as
fast as they could run: it was the highest ground immediately
accessible. As they reached it, the water broke with a roar against
its rocky base, rose, swelled--and in a moment the island was
covered with a brown, seething, swirling flood.
"Where's Mercy and the children?" gasped Christina, as the water
rose upon her.
"Safe, safe!" answered Ian. "We must get to the ruin!"
The water was halfway up his leg, and rising fast. Their danger was
but beginning. Would the old walls, in greater part built without
mortar, stand the rush? If a tree should strike them, they hardly
would! If the flood came from a waterspout, it would soon be
over--only how high it might first rise, who could tell! Such were
his thoughts as they struggled to the ruin, and stood up at the end
of a wall parallel with the current.
The water was up to Christina's waist, and very cold. Here out of
the rush, however, she recovered her breath in a measure, and showed
not a little courage. Ian stood between her and the wall, and held
her fast. The torrent came round the end of the wall from both
sides, but the encounter and eddy of the two currents rather pushed
them up against it. Without it they could not have stood.
The chief danger to Christina, however, was from the cold. With the
water so high on her body, and flowing so fast, she could not long
resist it! Ian, therefore, took her round the knees, and lifted her
almost out of the water.
"Put your arms up," he said, "and lay hold of the wall. Don't mind
blinding me; my eyes are of little use at present. There--put your
feet in my hands. Don't be frightened; I can hold you."
"I can't help being frightened!" she panted.
"We are in God's arms," returned Ian. "He is holding us."
"Are you sure we shall not be drowned?" she asked.
"No; but I am sure the water cannot take us out of God's arms."
This was not much comfort to Christina. She did not know anything
about God--did not believe in him any more than most people. She
knew God's arms only as the arms of Ian--and THEY comforted her, for
she FELT them!
How many of us actually believe in any support we do not immediately
feel? in any arms we do not see? But every help I from God; Ian's
help was God's help; and though to believe in Ian was not to believe
in God, it was a step on the road toward believing in God. He that
believeth not in the good man whom he hath seen, how shall he
believe in the God whom he hath not seen?
She began to feel a little better; the ghastly choking at her heart
was almost gone.
"I shall break your arms!" she said.
"You are not very heavy," he answered; "and though I am not so
strong as Alister, I am stronger than most men. With the help of the
wall I can hold you a long time."
How was it that, now first in danger, self came less to the front
with her than usual? It was that now first she was face to face with
reality. Until this moment her life had been an affair of
unrealities. Her selfishness had thinned, as it were vaporized,
every reality that approached her. Solidity is not enough to teach
some natures reality; they must hurt themselves against the solid
ere they realize its solidity. Small reality, small positivity of
existence has water to a dreaming soul, half consciously gazing
through half shut eyes at the soft river floating away in the
moonlight: Christina was shivering in its grasp on her person, its
omnipresence to her skin; its cold made her gasp and choke; the push
and tug of it threatened to sweep her away like a whelmed log! It is
when we are most aware of the FACTITUDE of things, that we are most
aware of our need of God, and most able to trust in him; when most
aware of their presence, the soul finds it easiest to withdraw from
them, and seek its safety with the maker of it and them. The
recognition of inexorable reality in any shape, or kind, or way,
tends to rouse the soul to the yet more real, to its relations with
higher and deeper existence. It is not the hysterical alone for whom
the great dash of cold water is good. All who dream life instead of
living it, require some similar shock. Of the kind is every
disappointment, every reverse, every tragedy of life. The true in
even the lowest kind, is of the truth, and to be compelled to feel
even that, is to be driven a trifle nearer to the truth of being, of
creation, of God. Hence this sharp contact with Nature tended to
make Christina less selfish: it made her forget herself so far as to
care for her helper as well as herself.
It must be remembered, however, that her selfishness was not the
cultivated and ingrained selfishness of a long life, but that of an
uneducated, that is undeveloped nature. Her being had not
degenerated by sinning against light known as light; it had not been
consciously enlightened at all; it had scarcely as yet begun to
grow. It was not lying dead, only unawaked. I would not be
understood to imply that she was nowise to blame--but that she was
by no means so much to blame as one who has but suspected the
presence of a truth, and from selfishness or self-admiration has
turned from it. She was to blame wherever she had not done as her
conscience had feebly told her; and she had not made progress just
because she had neglected the little things concerning which she had
promptings. There are many who do not enter the kingdom of heaven
just because they will not believe the tiny key that is handed them,
fit to open its hospitable gate.
"Oh, Mr. Ian, if you should be drowned for my sake!" she faltered
with white lips. "You should not have come to me!"
"I would not wish a better death," said Ian.
"How can you talk so coolly about it!" she cried.
"Well," he returned, "what better way of going out of the world is
there than by the door of help? No man cares much about what the
idiots of the world call life! What is it whether we live in this
room or another? The same who sent us here, sends for us out of
"Most men care very much! You are wrong there!"
"I don't call those who do, men! They are only children! I know many
men who would no more cleave to this life than a butterfly would
fold his wings and creep into his deserted chrysalis-case. I do care
to live--tremendously, but I don't mind where. He who made this room
so well worth living in, may surely be trusted with the next!"
"I can't quite follow you," stammered Christina. "I am sorry.
Perhaps it is the cold. I can't feel my hands, I am so cold."
"Leave the wall, and put your arms round my neck. The change will
rest me, and the water is already falling! It will go as rapidly as
"How do you know that?"
"It has sunk nearly a foot in the last fifteen minutes: I have been
carefully watching it, you may be sure! It must have been a
waterspout, and however much that may bring, it pours it out all at
"Oh!" said Christina, with a tremulous joyfulness; "I thought it
would go on ever so long!"
"We shall get out of it alive!--God's will be done!"
"Why do you say that? Don't you really mean we are going to be
"Would you want to live, if he wanted you to die?"
"Oh, but you forget, Mr. Ian, I am not ready to die, like you!"
"Do you think anything could make it better for you to stop here,
after God thought it better for you to go?"
"I dare not think about it."
"Be sure God will not take you away, if it be better for you to live
here a little longer. But you will have to go sometime; and if you
contrived to live after God wanted you to go, you would find
yourself much less ready when the time came that you must. But, my
dear Miss Palmer, no one can be living a true life, to whom dying is
Christina was silent. He spoke the truth! She was not worth
anything! How grand it was to look death in the face with a smile!
If she had been no more than the creature she had hitherto shown
herself, not all the floods of the deluge could have made her think
or feel thus: her real self, her divine nature had begun to wake.
True, that nature was as yet no more like the divine, than the
drowsy, arm-stretching, yawning child is like the merry elf about to
spring from his couch, full of life, of play, of love. She had no
faith in God yet, but it was much that she felt she was not worth
You are right: it was odd to hold such a conversation at such a
time! But Ian was an odd man. He actually believed that God was
nearer to him than his own consciousness, yet desired communion with
him! and that Jesus Christ knew what he said when he told his
disciples that the Father cared for his sparrows.
Only one human being witnessed their danger, and he could give no
help. Hector of the Stags had crossed the main valley above where
the torrent entered it, and coming over the hill, saw with
consternation the flood-encompassed pair. If there had been help in
man, he could have brought none; the raging torrent blocked the way
both to the village and to the chief's house. He could only stand
and gaze with his heart in his eyes.
Beyond the stream lay Mercy on the hillside, with her face in the
heather. Frozen with dread, she dared not look up. Had she moved but
ten yards, she would have seen her sister in Ian's arms.
The children sat by her, white as death, with great lumps in their
throats, and the silent tears rolling down their cheeks. It was the
first time death had come near them.
A sound of sweeping steps came through the heather. They looked up:
there was the chief striding toward them.
The flood had come upon him at work in his fields, whelming his
growing crops. He had but time to unyoke his bulls, and run for his
life. The bulls, not quite equal to the occasion, were caught and
swept away. They were found a week after on the hills, nothing the
worse, and nearly as wild as when first the chief took them in hand.
The cottage was in no danger; and Nancy got a horse and the last of
the cows from the farm-yard on to the crest of the ridge, against
which the burn rushed roaring, just as the water began to invade the
cowhouse and stable. The moment he reached the ridge, the chief set
out to look for his brother, whom he knew to be somewhere up the
valley; and having climbed to get an outlook, saw Mercy and the
girls, from whose postures he dreaded that something had befallen
The girls uttered a cry of welcome, and the chief answered, but
Mercy did not lift her head.
"Mercy," said Alister softly, and kneeling laid his hand on her.
She turned to him such a face of blank misery as filled him with
"What has happened?" he asked.
She tried to speak, but could not.
"Where is Christina?" he went on.
She succeeded in bringing out the one word "ruin."
"Is anybody with her?"
"Oh!" he returned cheerily, as if then all would be right. But a
pang shot through his heart, and it was as much for himself as for
Mercy that he went on: "But God is with them, Mercy. If he were not,
it would be bad indeed! Where he is, all is well!"
She sat up, and putting out her hand, laid it in his great palm.
"I wish I could believe that!" she said; "but you know people ARE
"Yes, surely! but if God be with them what does it matter! It is no
worse than when a mother puts her baby into a big bath."
"It is cruel to talk like that to me when my sister is drowning!"
She gave a stifled shriek, and threw herself again on her face.
"Mercy," said the chief--and his voice trembled a little, "you do
not love your sister more than I love my brother, and if he be
drowned I shall weep; but I shall not be miserable as if a mocking
devil were at the root of it, and not one who loves them better than
we ever shall. But come; I think we shall find them somehow alive
yet! Ian knows what to do in an emergency; and though you might not
think it, he is a very strong man."
She rose immediately, and taking like a child the hand he offered
her, went up the hill with him.
The girls ran before them, and presently gave a scream of joy.
"I see Chrissy! I see Chrissy!" cried one.
"Yes! there she is! I see her too!" cried the other.
Alister hurried up with Mercy. There was Christina! She seemed
standing on the water!
Mercy burst into tears.
"But where's Ian?" she said, when she had recovered herself a
little; "I don't see him!"
"He is there though, all right!" answered Alister. "Don't you see
his hands holding her out of the water?"
And with that he gave a great shout:--
"Ian! Ian! hold on, old boy! I'm coming!"
Ian heard him, and was filled with terror, but had neither breath
nor strength to answer. Along the hillside went Alister bounding
like a deer, then turning sharp, shot headlong down, dashed into the
torrent--and was swept away like a cork. Mercy gave a scream, and
ran down the hill.
He was not carried very far, however. In a moment or two he had
recovered himself, and crept out gasping and laughing, just below
Mercy. Ian did not move. He was so benumbed that to change his
position an inch would, he well knew, be to fall.
And now Hector began to behave oddly. He threw a stone, which went
in front of Ian and Christina. Then he threw another, which went
behind them. Then he threw a third, and Christina felt her hat
caught by a bit of string. She drew it toward her as fast as
numbness would permit, and found at the end a small bottle. She
managed to get it uncorked, and put it to Ian's lips. He swallowed a
mouthful, and made her take some. Hector stood on one side, the
chief on the other, and watched the proceeding.
"What would mother say, Alister!" cried Ian across the narrowing
In the joy of hearing his voice, Alister rushed again into the
torrent; and, after a fierce struggle, reached the mound, where he
scrambled up, and putting his arms round Ian's legs with a shout,
lifted the two at once like a couple of babies.
"Come! come, Alister! don't be silly!" said Ian. "Set me down!"
"Give me the girl then."
Christina turned on him a sorrowful gaze as Alister took her.
"I have killed you!" she said.
"You have done me the greatest favour," he replied.
"What?" she asked.
She burst out crying. She had not shed a tear before.
"Get on the top of the wall, Ian, out of the wet," said Alister.
"You can't tell what the water may have done to the foundations,
Alister! I would rather not break my leg! It is so frozen it would
never mend again!"
As they talked, the torrent had fallen so much, that Hector of the
Stags came wading from the other side. A few minutes more, and
Alister carried Christina to Mercy.
"Now," he said, setting her down, "you must walk."
Ian could not cross without Hector's help; he seemed to have no
legs. They set out at once for the cottage.
"How will your crops fare, Alister?" asked Ian.
"Part will be spoiled," replied the chief; "part not much the
The torrent had rushed half-way up the ridge, then swept along the
flank of it, and round the end in huge bulk, to the level on the
other side. The water lay soaking into the fields. The valley was
desolated. What green things had not been uprooted or carried away
with the soil, were laid flat. Everywhere was mud, and scattered all
over were lumps of turf, with heather, brushwood, and small trees.
But it was early in the year, and there was hope!
I will spare the description of the haste and hurrying to and fro in
the little house--the blowing of fires, the steaming pails and
blankets, the hot milk and tea! Mrs. Macruadh rolled up her sleeves,
and worked like a good housemaid. Nancy shot hither and thither on
her bare feet like a fawn--you could not say she ran, and certainly
she did not walk. Alister got Ian to bed, and rubbed him with rough
towels--himself more wet than he, for he had been rolled over and
over in the torrent. Christina fell asleep, and slept many hours.
When she woke, she said she was quite well; but it was weeks before
she was like herself. I doubt if ever she was quite as strong again.
For some days Ian confessed to an aching in his legs and arms. It
was the cold of the water, he said; but Alister insisted it was from
holding Christina so long.
"Water could not hurt a highlander!" said Alister.