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,