THE STAG'S HEAD.
Alister went straight to his brother's room, his heart bursting with
indignation. It was some time before Ian could get the story from
him in plain consecution; every other moment he would diverge into
"Hadn't you better tell your master what has happened?" at length
said Ian. "He ought to know why you curse one of your fellows so
Alister was dumb. For a moment he looked aghast.
"Ian!" he said: "You think he wants to be told anything? I always
thought you believed in his divinity!"
"Ah!" returned Ian, "but do you? How am I to imagine it, when you go
on like that in his hearing? Is it so you acknowledge his presence?"
"Oh, Ian! you don't know how it tortures me to think of that
interloper, the low brute, killing the big stag, the Macruadh
stag-and on my land too! I feel as if I could tear him in pieces.
But for him I would have killed him on the spot! It is hard if I may
not let off my rage even to you!"
"Let it off to him, Alister; he will give you fairer play than your
small brother; he understands you better than I."
"But I could not let it off to him that way!"
"Then that is not a good way. The justice that, even in imagination,
would tear and destroy and avenge, may be justice, but it is devil's
justice. Come, begin now, and tell me all quietly-as if you had read
it in a book."
"Word for word, then, with all the imprecations! "returned
Alister, a little cooler; and Ian was soon in possession of the
"Now what do you think, Ian?" said the chief, ending a recital true
to the very letter, and in a measure calm, but at various points
revealing, by the merest dip of the surface, the boiling of the
"You must send him the head, Alister," answered Ian.
"Send-what-who-I don't understand you, Ian!" returned the chief,
"Oh, well, never mind!" said Ian. "You will think of it presently!"
And therewith he turned his face to the wall, as if he would go to
It had been a thing understood betwixt the brothers, and that from
so far back in the golden haze of childhood that the beginning of
it was out of sight, that, the moment one of them turned his back,
not a word more was to be said, until he who thus dropped the
subject, chose to resume it: to break this unspoken compact would
have been to break one of the strands in the ancient bond of their
most fast brotherhood. Alister therefore went at once to his room,
leaving Ian loving him hard, and praying for him with his face to
the wall. He went as one knowing well the storm he was about to
encounter, but never before had he had such a storm to meet.
He closed the door, and sat down on the side of his bed like one
stunned. He did not doubt, yet could hardly allow he believed, that
Ian, his oracle, had in verity told him to send the antlers of his
cabrach mor, the late live type of his ancient crest, the pride of
Clanruadh, to the vile fellow of a Sasunnach who had sent out into
the deep the joyous soul of the fierce, bare mountains.
There were rushings to and fro in the spirit of Alister, wild and
terrible, even as those in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He
never closed his eyes, but fought with himself all the night, until
the morning broke. Could this thing be indeed his duty? And if not
his duty, was he called to do it from mere bravado of goodness? How
frightfully would not such an action be misunderstood by such a man!
What could he take it for but a mean currying of favour with him!
Why should he move to please such a fellow! Ian was too hard upon
him! The more he yielded, the more Ian demanded! Every time it was
something harder than the last! And why did he turn his face to
the wall? Was he not fit to be argued with! Was he one that would
not listen to reason! He had never known Ian ungenerous till now!
But all the time there lay at his door a thing calling out to be
done! The thing he did not like was always the thing he had to do!
he grumbled; but this thing he hated doing! It was abominable! What!
send the grand head, with its horns spread wide like a half-moon,
and leaning--like oaks from a precipice--send it to the man that made
it a dead thing! Never! It must not be left behind! It must go to
the grave with the fleet limbs! and over it should rise a monument,
at sight of which every friendly highlandman would say, Feiich an
cabracli mor de Clanruadli! What a mockery of fate to be exposed for
ever to the vulgar Cockney gaze, the trophy of a fool, whose boast
was to kill! Such a noble beast! Such a mean man! To mutilate his
remains for the pride of the wretch who killed him! It was too
He thought and thought-until at last he lay powerless to think any
more. But it is not always the devil that enters in when a man
ceases to think. God forbid! The cessation of thought gives
opportunity for setting the true soul thinking from another
quarter. Suddenly Alister remembered a conversation he had had
with Ian a day or two before. He had been saying to Ian that he
could not understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Whosoever shall
smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;" and was
dissatisfied with the way Ian had answered him. "You must explain it
to yourself," Ian said. He replied, "If I could do that, I should
not have to ask you." "There are many things," Ian rejoined,
"--arithmetic is one--that can be understood only in the doing of
them." "But how can I do a thing without understanding it?" objected
Alister. "When you have an opportunity of doing this very thing,"
said Ian, "do it, and see what will follow!" At the time he thought
Ian was refusing to come to the point, and was annoyingly indefinite
and illogical; but now it struck him that here was the opportunity
of which he had spoken.
"I see!" he said to himself. "It is not want of understanding that
is in the way now! A thing cannot look hateful and reasonable at the
same moment! This may be just the sort of thing Jesus meant! Even if
I be in the right, I have a right to yield my right--and to HIM I
will yield it. That was why Ian turned his face to the wall: he
wanted me to discover that here was my opportunity! How but in the
name of Jesus Christ could he have dared tell me to forgive Ruadh's
death by sending his head to his murderer! It has to be done! I've
got to do it! Here is my chance of turning the other cheek and being
hurt again! What can come of it is no business of mine! To return
evil is just to do a fresh evil! It MAY make the man ashamed of
himself! It cannot hurt the stag; it only hurts my pride, and I owe
my pride nothing! Why should not the fellow have what satisfaction
he may--something to show for his shot! He shall have the head."
Thereupon rushed into his heart the joy of giving up, of deliverance
from self; and pity, to leaven his contempt, awoke for Sercombe. No
sooner had he yielded his pride, than he felt it possible to love
the man--not for anything he was, but for what he might and must be.
"God let the man kill the stag," he said; "I will let him have the
Again and yet again swelled afresh the tide of wrath and
unwillingness, making him feel as if he could not carry out his
resolve; but all the time he knew the thing was as good as
done--absolutely determined, so that nothing could turn it aside.
"To yield where one may, is the prerogative of liberty!" he said to
himself. "God only can give; who would be his child must yield!
Abroad in the fields of air, as Paul and the love of God make me
hope, what will the wind-battling Ruadh care for his old head! Would
he not say, 'Let the man have it; my hour was come, or the Some One
would not have let him kill me!'?"
Thus argued the chief while the darkness endured--and as soon as the
morning began to break, rose, took spade and pick and great knife,
and went where Hector and Rob were watching the slain.
It was bitterly cold. The burn crept silent under a continuous
bridge of ice. The grass-blades were crisp with frost. The ground
was so hard it met iron like iron.
He sent the men to get their breakfast from Nancy: none but himself
should do the last offices for Ruadh! With skilful hand he separated
and laid aside the head--in sacrifice to the living God. Then the
hard earth rang with mighty blows of the pickaxe. The labour was
severe, and long ere the grave was deep enough, Hector and Rob had
returned; but the chief would not get out of it to give them any
share in the work. When he laid hold of the body, they did not offer
to help him; they understood the heart of their chief. Not without a
last pang that he could not lay the head beside it, he began to
shovel in the frozen clods, and then at length allowed them to take
a part. When the grave was full, they rolled great stones upon it,
that it might not be desecrated. Then the chief went back to his
room, and proceeded to prepare the head, that, as the sacrifice, so
should be the gift.
"I suppose he would like glass eyes, the ruffian!" he muttered to
himself, "but I will not have the mockery. I will fill the sockets
and sew up the eyelids, and the face shall be as of one that
Haying done all, and written certain directions for temporary
treatment, which he tied to an ear, he laid the head aside till the
All the day long, not a word concerning it passed between the
brothers; but when evening came, Alister, with a blue cotton
handkerchief in his hand, hiding the head as far as the roots of the
huge horns, asked Ian to go for a walk. They went straight to the
New House. Alister left the head at the door, with his compliments
to Mr. Sercombe.
As soon as they were out of sight of the house, Ian put his arm
through his brother's, but did not speak.
"I know now about turning the other cheek!" said Alister. "--Poor
"Leave him to the God that made the great head and nimble feet of
him," said Ian. "A God that did not care for what he had made, how
should we believe in! but he who cares for the dying sparrow, may be
trusted with the dead stag."
"Truly, yes," returned Alister.
"Let us sit down," said Ian, "and I will sing you a song I made last
night; I could not sleep after you left me."
Without reply, Alister took a stone by the wayside, and Ian one a
couple of yards from him. This was his song.