MEECY CALLS ON GEANNIE.
Although the subject did not again come up, Mercy had not forgotten
what Ian had said about listening for the word of Nature, and had
resolved to get away the first time she could, and see whether
Grannie, as Ian had called her, would have anything to do with her.
It were hard to say what she expected--something half magical rather
than anything quite natural. The notions people have of spiritual
influence are so unlike the facts, that, when it begins they never
recognize it, but imagine something common at work. When the Lord
came, those who were looking for him did not know him:--was he not a
man like themselves! did they not know his father and mother!
It was a fine spring morning when Mercy left the house to seek an
interview with Nature somewhere among the hills. She took a path she
knew well, and then struck into a sheep-track she had never tried.
Up and up she climbed, nor spent a thought on the sudden changes to
which at that season, and amongst those hills, the weather is
subject. With no anxiety as to how she might fare, she was yet
already not without some awe: she was at length on her pilgrimage
to the temple of Isis!
Not until she was beyond sight of any house, did she begin to feel
alone. It was a new sensation, and of a mingled sort. But the slight
sense of anxiety and fear that made part of it, was soon overpowered
by something not unlike the exhilaration of a child escaped from
school. This grew and grew until she felt like a wild thing that had
been caught, and had broken loose. Now first, almost, she seemed to
have begun to live, for now first was she free! She might lie in the
heather, walk in the stream, do as she pleased! No one would
interfere with her, no one say Don't! She felt stronger and fresher
than ever in her life; and the farther she went, the greater grew
the pleasure. The little burn up whose banks, now the one and now
the other, she was walking, kept on welcoming her unaccustomed
feet to the realms of solitude and liberty. For ever it seemed
coming to meet her, hasting, running steep, as if straight out of
the heaven to which she was drawing nearer and nearer. The wind woke
now and then, and blew on her for a moment, as. if tasting her, to
see what this young Psyche was that had floated up into the wild
thin air of the hills. The incessant meeting of the brook made it a
companion to her although it could not go her way, and was always
leaving her. But it kept her from the utter loneliness she sought;
for loneliness is imperfect while sound is by, especially a
sing-sound, and the brook was one of Nature's self--playing
song--instruments. But she came at length to a point where the
ground was too rough to let her follow its path any more, and
turning from it, she began to climb a steep ridge. The growing and
deepening silence as she went farther and farther from the brook,
promised the very place for her purpose on the top of the heathery
But when she reached it and looked behind her, lo, the valley she
had left lay at her very feet! The world had rushed after and caught
her! She had not got away from it! It was like being enchanted! She
thought she was leaving it far behind, but the nature she sought to
escape that she might find Nature, would not let her go! It kept
following her as if to see that she fell into no snare, neither was
too sternly received by the loftier spaces. She could distinguish
one of the laird's men, ploughing in the valley below: she knew him
by his red waistcoat! Almost fiercely she turned and made for the
next ridge: it would screen her from the world she had left; it
should not spy upon her! The danger of losing her way back never
suggested itself. She had not learned that the look of things as you
go, is not their look when you turn to go back; that with your
attitude their mood will have altered. Nature is like a lobster-pot:
she lets you easily go on, but not easily return.
When she gained the summit of the second ridge, she looked abroad on
a country of which she knew nothing. It was like the face of an
utter stranger. Not far beyond. rose yet another ridge: she must see
how the world looked from that! On and on she went, crossing ridge
after ridge, but no place invited her to stay and be still.
She found she was weary, and spying in the midst of some short
heather a great stone, sat down, and gave herself up to the rest
that stole upon her. Though the sun was warm, the air was keen, and,
hot with climbing, she turned her face to it, and drank in its
refreshing with delight. She looked around; not a trace of humanity
was visible-nothing but brown and gray and green hills, with the
clear sky over her head, and in the north a black cloud creeping
up from the horizon. Another sense than that of rest awoke in her;
now first in her life the sense of loneliness absolute began to
possess her. And therewith suddenly descended upon her a farther
something she had never known; it was as if the loneliness, or what
is the same thing, the presence of her own being without another to
qualify and make it reasonable and endurable, seized and held her.
The silence gathered substance, grew as it were solid, and closing
upon her, imprisoned her. Was it not rather that the Soul of Nature,
unprevented, unthwarted by distracting influences, found a freer
entrance to hers, but she, not yet in harmony with it, felt its con-
tact as alien-as bondage therefore and not liberty? She was nearer
than ever she had been to knowing the presence of the God who is
always nearer to us than aught else. Yea, something seemed, through
the very persistence of its silence, to say to her at last, and keep
saying, "Here I am!" She looked behind her in sudden terror: 110
form was there. She sent out her gaze to the horizon: the huge waves
of the solid earth stood up against the sky, sinking so slowly she
could not see them sink: they stood mouldering away, biding their
time. They were of those "who only stand and wait," fulfilling the
will of him who set them to crumble till the hour of the new heavens
and the new earth arrive. There was no visible life between her and
the great silent mouldering hills. On her right hand lay a blue
segment of the ever restless sea, but so far that its commotion
seemed a yet deeper rest than that of the immovable hills.
She sat and sat, but nothing came, nothing seemed coming to her. The
hope Ian had given her was not to be fulfilled! For here there was
no revelation! She was not of the kind Nature could speak to!
She began to grow uncomfortable--to feel as if she had done
something wrong--as if she was a child put into the corner--a corner
of the great universe, to learn to be sorry for something. Certainly
something was wrong with her-but what? Why did she feel so
uncomfortable? Was she so silly as mind being alone? There was
nothing in these mountains that would hurt her! The red deer were
^sometimes dangerous, but none were even within sight! Yet something
like fear was growing in her! Why should she be afraid? Everything
about her certainly did look strange, as if she had nothing to do
with it, and it had nothing to do with her; but that was all! Ian
Macruadh must be wrong! How could there be any such bond as he said
between Nature and the human heart, when the first thing she felt
when alone with her, was fear! The world was staring at her! She was
the centre of a fixed, stony regard from all sides! The earth, and
the sea, and the sky, were watching her! She did not like it! She
would rise and shake off the fancy! But she did not rise; something
held her to her thinking. Just so she would, when a child in
the dark, stand afraid to move lest the fear itself, lying in wait
like a tigress, should at her first motion pounce upon her. The
terrible, persistent silence!--would nothing break it! And there was
in herself a response to it--something that was in league with it,
and kept telling her that things were not all right with her; that
she ought not to be afraid, yet had good reason for being afraid;
that she knew of no essential safety. There must be some refuge,
some impregnable hiding-place, for the thing was a necessity, and
she ought to know of it! There must be a human condition of never
being afraid, of knowing nothing to be afraid of! She wondered
whether, if she were quite good, went to church twice every Sunday,
and read her bible every morning, she would come not to be afraid
of-she did not know what. It would be grand to have no fear of
person or thing! She was sometimes afraid of her own father, even
when she knew no reason! How that mountain with the horn kept
staring at her!
It was all nonsense! She was silly! She would get up and go home: it
must be time!
But things were not as they should be! Something was required of
her! Was it God wanting her to do something? She had never thought
whether he required anything of her! She must be a better girl! Then
she would have God with her, and not be afraid!
And all the time it was God near her that was making her unhappy.
For, as the Son of Man came not to send peace on the earth but a
sword, so the first visit of God to the human soul is generally in a
cloud of fear and doubt, rising from the soul itself at his
approach. The sun is the cloud-dispeller, yet often he must look
through a fog if he would visit the earth at all. The child, not
being a son, does not know his father. He may know he is what is
called a father; what the word means he does not know. How then
should he understand when the father comes to deliver him from his
paltry self, and give him life indeed!
She tried to pray. She said, "Oh G--od! forgive me, and make me good.
I want to be good!" Then she rose.
She went some little way without thinking where she was going, and
then found she did not even know from what direction she had come. A
sharp new fear, quite different from the former, now shot through
her heart: she was lost! She had told no one she was going anywhere!
No one would have a notion where to look for her! She had been
beginning to feel hungry, but fear drove hunger away. All she knew
was that she must not stay there. Here was nowhere; walking on she
might come somewhere--that is, among human beings! So out she set
on her weary travel from no-where to somewhere, giving Nature
little thanks. She did not suspect that her grandmother had been
doing anything for her by the space around her, or that now, by the
tracklessness, the lostness, she was doing yet more. On and on she
walked, climbing the one hillside and descending the other, going
she knew not whither, hardly hoping she drew one step nearer home.
All at once her strength went from her. She sat down and cried. But
with her tears came the thought how the chief and his brother talked
of God. She remembered she had heard in church that men ought to cry
to God in their troubles. Broken verses of a certain psalm came to
her, saying God delivered those who cried to him even from things
they had brought on themselves, and she had been doing nothing
wrong! She tried to trust in him, but could not: he was as far from
her as the blue heavens! True, it bent over all, but its one great
eye was much too large to see the trouble she was in! What did it
matter to the blue sky if she fell down and withered up to bones and
dust! She well might-for here no foot of man might pass till she was
a thing terrible to look at! If there was nobody where seemed to be
nothing, how fearfully empty was the universe! Ah, if she had God
for her friend! What if he was her friend, and she had not known it
because she never spoke to him, never asked him to do anything for
her? It was horrible to think it could be a mere chance whether she
got home, or died there! She would pray to God! She would ask him to
take her home!
A wintery blast came from the north. The black cloud had risen, and
was now spreading over the zenith. Again the wind came with an angry
burst and snarl. Snow carne swept upon it in hard sharp little
pellets. She started up, and forgot to pray.
Some sound in the wind or some hidden motion of memory all at once
let loose upon her another fear, which straight was agony. A rumour
had reached the New House the night before, that a leopard had
broken from a caravan, and got away to the hills. It was but a
rumour; some did not believe it, and the owners contradicted it, but
a party had set out with guns and dogs. It was true! it was true!
There was the terrible creature crouching behind that stone! He was
in every clump of heather she passed, swinging his tail, and ready
to spring upon her! He must be hungry by this time, and there was
nothing there for him to eat but her! By and by, however, she was
too cold to be afraid, too cold to think, and presently, half-frozen
and faint for lack of food, was scarce able to go a step farther.
She saw a great rock, sank down in the shelter of it, and in a
minute was asleep. She slept for some time, and woke a little
refreshed. The wonder is that she woke at all. It was dark, and her
first consciousness was ghastly fear. The wind had ceased, and the
storm was over. Little snow had fallen. The stars were all out
overhead, and the great night was round her, enclosing, watching
her. She tried to rise, and could just move her limbs. Had she
fallen asleep again, she would not have lived through the night. But
it is idle to talk of what would have been; nothing could have been
but what was. Mercy wondered afterwards that she did not lose her
reason. She must, she thought, have been trusting somehow in God.
It was terribly dreary. Sure never one sorer needed God's help! And
what better reason could there be for helping her than that she so
sorely needed it! Perhaps God had let her walk into this trouble
that she might learn she could not do without him! She--would try to
be good! How terrible was the world, with such wide spaces and
nobody in them!
And all the time, though she did not know it, she was sobbing and
The black silence was torn asunder by the report of a gun. She
started up with a strange mingling of hope and terror, gave a loud
cry, and sank senseless. The leopard would be upon her!
Her cry was her deliverance.