Events, then, because of the deeper things whence they came, seemed
sorely against any cordial approach of the old and the new houses of
Glenruadh. But there was a sacred enemy within the stronghold of Mr.
Peregrine Palmer, and that enemy forbade him to break with the young
highlanders notwithstanding the downright mode in which they had
expressed their difference with him: he felt, without knowing it,
ashamed of the things he had uttered; they were not such as he would
wish proclaimed from the house-tops out of the midst of which rose
heavenward the spire of the church he had built; neither did the
fact that he would have no man be wicked on Sundays, make him feel
quite right in urging young men to their swing on other days.
Christian and Sercombe could not but admire the straightforwardness
of the brothers; their conventionality could not prevent them from
feeling the dignity with which they acted on their convictions. The
quixotic young fellows ought not to be cut for their behaviour! They
could not court their society, but would treat them with
consideration! Things could not well happen to bring them into much
What had taken place could not definitely influence the ideas,
feelings, or opinions of the young ladies. Their father would sooner
have had his hand cut off than any word said over that fuliginous
dessert reach the ears of his daughters. Is it not an absolute
damnation of certain evil principles, that many men would be flayed
alive rather than let those they love know that they hold them? But
see the selfishness of such men: each looks with scorn on the woman
he has done his part to degrade, but not an impure breath must reach
the ears of HIS children! Another man's he will send to the devil!
Mr. Palmer did, however, communicate something of the conversation
to his wife; and although she had neither the spirit, nor the
insight, nor the active purity, to tell him he was in the wrong, she
did not like the young highlanders the worse. She even thought it a
pity the world should have been so made that they could not be in
It is wonderful how a bird of the air will carry a matter, and some
vaguest impression of what had occurred alighted on the minds of the
elder girls--possibly from hints supposed unintelligible, passing
between Mr. Sercombe and Christian: something in the social opinions
of the two highlanders made those opinions differ much from the
opinions prevailing in society! Now even Mercy had not escaped some
notion of things of which the air about her was full; and she felt
the glow of a conscious attraction towards men--somehow, she did not
know how--like old-fashioned knights errant in their relations to
The attachment between the brothers was unusual both in kind and
degree. Alister regarded Ian as his better self, through whom to
rise above himself; Ian looked up to his brother as the head of the
family, uniting in himself all ancestral claims, the representative
of an ordered and harmonious commonwealth. He saw in Alister virtues
and powers he did not recognize in himself. His love blossomed into
the deeper devotion that he only had been sent to college: he was
bound to share with his elder brother what he had learned. So
Alister got more through Ian than he would have got at the best
college in the world. For Ian was a born teacher, and found
intensest delight, not in imparting knowledge--that is a
comparatively poor thing--but in leading a mind up to see what it
was before incapable of seeing. It was part of the same gift that he
always knew when he had not succeeded. In Alister he found a
wonderful docility--crossed indeed with a great pride, against
which he fought sturdily.
It is not a good sign of any age that it should find it hard to
believe in such simplicity and purity as that of these young men; it
is perhaps even a worse sign of our own that we should find it
difficult to believe in such love between men. I am sure of this,
that a man incapable of loving another man with hearty devotion, can
not be capable of loving a woman as a woman ought to be loved. From
each other these two kept positively nothing secret.
Alister had a great love of music, which however had had little
development except from the study of the violin, with the assistance
of a certain poor enough performer in the village, and what
criticism his brother could afford him, who, not himself a player,
had heard much good music. But Alister was sorely hampered by the
fact that his mother could not bear the sound of it. The late chief
was one of the few clergymen who played the violin; and at the first
wail of the old instrument in the hands of his son, his widow was
seized with such a passion of weeping, that Alister took the utmost
care she should never hear it again, always carrying it to some
place too remote for the farthest-travelling tones to reach her. But
this was not easy, for sound will travel very far among the hills.
At times he would take it to the room behind Annie's shop, at times
to the hut occupied by Hector of the Stags: there he would not
excruciate his host at least, and Rob of the Angels would endure
anything for his chief. The place which he most preferred was too
distant to be often visited; but there, soon after Christmas, the
brothers now resolved to have a day together, a long talk, and a
conference with the violin. On a clear frosty morning in January
they set out, provided for a night and two days.
The place was upon an upland pasture-ground, yet in their
possession: no farm was complete without a range in some high valley
for the sheep and cattle in summer. On the north of this valley
stood a bare hilltop, whose crest was a limestone rock, rising from
the heather about twenty feet. Every summer they had spent weeks of
their boyhood with the shepherds, in the society of this hill, and
one day discovered in its crest a shallow cave, to which thereafter
they often took their food, and the book they were reading together.
There they read the English Ossian, troubled by no ignorant
unbelief; and there they made Gaelic songs, in which Alister
excelled, while Ian did better in English.
When Ian was at home in the university-vacations, they were fonder
than ever of going to the hill. There Ian would pour out to Alister
of the fullness of his gathered knowledge, and there and then they
made their first acquaintance with Shakspere. Ian had bought some
dozen of his plays, in smallest compass and cleanest type, at a
penny a piece, and how they revelled in them the long summer
evenings! Ian had bought also, in a small thick volume, the poems of
Shelley: these gave them not only large delight, but much to talk
about, for they were quite capable of encountering his vague
philosophy. Then they had their Euclid and Virgil--and even tried
their mental teeth upon Dante, but found the Commedia without notes
too hard a nut for them. Every fresh spring, Ian brought with him
fresh books, and these they read in their cave. But I must not
forget the cave itself, which also shared in the progress of its
The same week in which they first ate and read in it, they conceived
and began to embody the idea of developing the hollow into a house.
Foraging long ago in their father's library for mental pabulum, they
had come upon Belzoni's quarto, and had read, with the avidity of
imaginative boys, the tale of his discoveries, taking especial
delight in his explorations of the tombs of the kings in the rocks
of Beban el Malook: these it was that now suggested excavation.
They found serviceable tools about the place at home, and the rock
was not quite of the hardest. Not a summer, for the last seventeen
years, had passed without a good deal being done, Alister working
alone when Ian was away, and the cave had now assumed notable
dimensions. It was called by the people uamh an ceann, the cave of
the chief, and regarded as his country house. All around it was
covered with snow throughout the winter and spring, and supplied
little to the need of man beyond the blessed air, and a glorious
vision of sea and land, mountain and valley, falling water, gleaming
lake, and shadowy cliff.
Crossing the wide space where so lately they had burned the heather
that the sheep might have its young shoots in the spring, the
brothers stood, and gazed around with delight.
"There is nothing like this anywhere!" said Ian.
"Do you mean nothing so beautiful?" asked Alister.
"No; I mean just what I say: there is nothing like it. I do not care
a straw whether one scene be more or less beautiful than another;
what I do care for is--its individual speech to my soul. I feel
towards visions of nature as towards writers. If a book or a
prospect produces in my mind a mood that no other produces, then I
feel it individual, original, real, therefore precious. If a scene
or a song play upon the organ of my heart as no other scene or song
could, why should I ask at all whether it be beautiful? A bare hill
may be more to me than a garden of Damascus, but I love them both.
The first question as to any work of art is whether it puts the
willing soul into any mood at all peculiar; the second, what that
mood is. It matters to me little by whom our Ossian was composed,
and it matters nothing whoever may in his ignorance declare that
there never was an Ossian any more than a Homer: here is a something
that has power over my heart and soul, works upon them as not
anything else does. I do not ask whether its power be great or
small; it is enough that it is a peculiar power, one by itself; that
it puts my spiritual consciousness in a certain individual
condition, such in character as nothing else can occasion. Either a
man or a nation must have felt to make me so feel."
They were now climbing the last slope of the hill on whose top stood
their playhouse, dearer now than in their boyhood. Alister
occasionally went there for a few hours' solitude, and Ian would
write there for days at a time, but in general when they visited the
place it was together. Alister unlocked the door and they entered.
Unwilling to spend labour on the introductory, they had made the
first chamber hardly larger than the room required for opening the
door. Immediately within, another door opened into a room of about
eight feet by twelve, with two small windows. Its hearth was a
projection from the floor of the live stone; and there, all ready
for lighting, was a large pile of peats. The chimney went up through
the rock, and had been the most difficult part of their undertaking.
They had to work it much wider than was necessary for the smoke, and
then to reduce its capacity with stone and lime. Now and then it
smoked, but peat-smoke is sweet.
The first thing after lighting the fire, was to fill their kettle,
for which they had to take off the snow-lid of a small spring near
at hand. Then they made a good meal of tea, mutton-ham, oatcakes and
butter. The only seats in the room were a bench in each of two of
the walls, and a chair on each side of the hearth, all of the live
From this opened two rooms more--one a bedroom, with a bed in the
rock-wall, big enough for two. Dry heather stood thick between the
mattress and the stone. The third room, of which they intended
making a parlour, was not yet more than half excavated; and there,
when they had rested a while, they began to bore and chip at the
stone. Their progress was slow, for the grain was close: never, even
when the snow above was melting, had the least moisture come
through. For a time they worked and talked: both talked better when
using their hands. Then Alister stopped, and played while Ian went
on; Ian stopped next, and read aloud from a manuscript he had
brought, while his brother again worked. But first he gave Alister
the history of what he was going to read. It was suggested, he said,
by that strange poem of William Mayne's, called "The Dead Man's
Moan," founded on the silly notion that the man himself is buried,
and not merely his body.
"I wish I were up to straught my banes,
And drive frae my face the cauld, dead air;
I wish I were up, that the friendly rains
Micht wash the dark mould frae my tangled hair!"
quoted Ian, and added,
"I thought I should like to follow out the idea, and see what ought
to come of it. I therefore supposed a person seized by something of
the cataleptic kind, from which he comes to himself still in the
body, but unable to hold communication with the outer world. He
thinks therefore that he is dead and buried. Recovering from his
first horror, he reflects that, as he did not make himself think and
feel, nor can cease to think and feel if he would, there must be
somewhere--and where but within himself?--the power by which he
thinks and feels, a power whose care it must be, for it can belong
to no other, to look after the creature he has made. Then comes to
him the prayer of Job, 'Oh that thou wouldst hide me in the grave
till thy anger with me was past! Then wouldst thou desire to see
again the work of thy hands, the creature thou hadst made! Then
wouldst thou call, and I would answer.' So grandly is the man
comforted thereby, that he breaks out in a dumb song of triumph over
death and the grave. As its last tone dies in him, a kiss falls upon
his lips. It is the farewell of the earth; the same moment he bursts
the bonds and rises above the clouds of the body, and enters into
the joy of his Lord."
Having thus prepared Alister to hear without having to think as well
as attend, which is not good for poetry, Ian read his verses. I will
not trouble my reader with them; I am sure he would not think so
well of them as did Alister. What Ian desired was sympathy, not
admiration, but from Alister he had both.
Few men would care to hear the talk of those two, for they had no
interest in anything that did not belong to the reality of things.
To them the things most men count real, were the merest phantasms.
They sought what would not merely last, but must go on growing. At
strife with all their known selfishness, they were growing into
strife with all the selfishness in them as yet unknown. There was
for them no question of choice; they MUST choose what was true; they
MUST choose life; they MUST NOT walk in the way of death.
They were very near to agreeing about EVERYthing they should ask.
Few men are capable of understanding such love as theirs, of
understanding the love of David and Jonathan, of Shakspere to W. H.,
of Tennyson and Hallam. Every such love, nevertheless, is a
possession of the race; what has once been is, in possibility to
come, as well as in fact that has come. A solitary instance of
anything great is enough to prove it human, yea necessary to
humanity. I have wondered whether the man in whom such love is
possible, may not spring of an altogether happy conjunction of male
and female--a father and mother who not only loved each other, but
were of the same mind in high things, of the same lofty aims in
life, so that their progeny came of their true man-and-woman-hood.
If any unaccountable disruption or discord of soul appear in a man,
it is worth while to ask whether his father and mother were of one
aspiration. Might not the fact that their marriage did not go deep
enough, that father and mother were not of one mind, only of one
body, serve to account for the rude results of some marriages of
personable people? At the same time we must not forget the endless
and unfathomable perpetuations of ancestry. But however these things
may be, those two men, brothers born, were also brothers willed.
They ceased quarrying, and returned to the outer room. Ian betook
himself to drawing figures on one of the walls, with the intention
of carving them in dipped relief. Alister proceeded to take their
bedding from before the fire, and prepare for the night.