What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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The only hope of the chief's mother was in what the girl's father might say to her son's proposal. Would not his pride revolt against giving his daughter to a man who would not receive his blessing in money?

Mr. Peregrine Palmer arrived, and the next day Alister called upon him.

Not unprepared for the proposal of the chief, Mercy's father had nothing to urge against it. Her suitor's name was almost an historical one, for it stood high in the home-annals of Scotland. And the new laird, who had always a vague sense of injury in the lack of an illustrious pedigree of his own to send forward, was not un willing that a man more justly treated than himself should supply the SOLATIUM to his daughter's children. He received the Macruadh, therefore, if a little pompously, yet with kindness. And the moment they were seated Alister laid his request before him.

"Mr. Palmer," he said, "I come to ask the hand of your daughter Mercy. I have not much beyond myself to offer her, but I can tell you precisely what there is."

Mr. Peregrine Palmer sat for a moment looking important. He seemed to see much to ponder in the proposal.

"Well, Macruadh," he said at length, hesitating with hum and with haw, "the thing is--well, to speak the truth, you take me a good deal by surprise! I do not know how the thing may appear to Mrs. Palmer. And then the girl herself, you will allow, ought, in a free country, to have a word in the matter! WE give our girls absolute liberty; their own hearts must guide them--that is, where there is no serious exception to be taken. Honestly, it is not the kind of match we should have chosen! It is not as if things were with you now as once, when the land was all your own, and--and--you--pardon me, I am a father--did not have to work with your own hands!"

Had he been there on any other errand the chief would have stated his opinion that it was degrading to a man to draw income from anything he would count it degrading to put his own hand to; but there was so much he might be compelled to say to the displeasure of Mr. Palmer while asking of him the greatest gift he had to bestow, that he would say nothing unpalatable which he was not compelled to say.

"My ancestors," he answered, willing to give the objection a pleasant turn, "would certainly have preferred helping themselves to the produce of lowland fields! My great-great-grandfather, scorning to ask any man for his daughter, carried her off without a word!"

I am glad the peculiarity has not shown itself hereditary," said Mr. Palmer laughing.

"But if I have little to offer, I expect nothing with her," said the chief abruptly. "I want only herself!"

"A very loverly mode of speaking! But it is needless to say no daughter of mine shall leave me without a certainty, one way or the other, of suitable maintenance. You know the old proverb, Macruadh,--'When poverty comes in at the door,'--?"

"There is hardly a question of poverty in the sense the proverb intends!" answered the chief smiling.

"Of course! Of course! At the same time you cannot keep the wolf too far from the door. I would not, for my part, care to say I had given my daughter to a poor farmer in the north. Two men, it is, I believe, you employ, Macruadh?"

The chief answered with a nod.

"I have other daughters to settle--not to mention my sons," pursued the great little man, "--but--but I will find a time to talk the matter over with Mrs. Palmer, and see what I can do for you. Meanwhile you may reckon you have a friend at court; all I have seen makes me judge well of you. Where we do not think alike, I can yet say for you that your faults lean to virtue's side, and are such as my daughter at least will be no loser by. Good morning, Macruadh."

Mr. Peregrine Palmer rose; and the chief, perplexed and indignant, but anxious not to prejudice, his very doubtful cause, rose also.

"You scarcely understand me, Mr. Palmer," he said. "On the possibility of being honoured with your daughter's hand, you must allow me to say distinctly beforehand, that I must decline receiving anything with her. When will you allow me to wait upon you again?"

"I will write. Good morning."

The interview was certainly not much to the assuagement of the chief's anxiety. He went home with the feeling that he had submitted to be patronized, almost insulted by a paltry fellow whose consequence rested on his ill-made money--a man who owed everything to a false and degrading appetite in his neighbours! Nothing could have made him put up with him but the love of Mercy, his dove in a crow's nest! But it would be all in vain, for he could not lie! Truth, indeed, if not less of a virtue, was less of a heroism in the chief than in most men, for he COULD NOT lie. Had he been tempted to try, he would have reddened, stammered, broken down, with the full shame, and none of the success of a falsehood.

For a week, he heard nothing; there seemed small anxiety to welcome him into the Palmer family! Then came a letter. It implied, almost said that some difficulty had been felt as to his reception by EVERY member of the family--which the chief must himself see to have been only natural! But while money was of no con sequence to Mr. Palmer, it was of the greatest consequence that his daughter should seem to make a good match; therefore, as only in respect of POSITION was the alliance objectionable, he had concluded to set that right, and in giving him his daughter, to restore the chief's family to its former dignity, by making over to him the Clanruadh property now in his possession by purchase. While he thus did his duty by his daughter, he hoped the Macruadh would accept the arrangement as a mark of esteem for himself. Two conditions only he would make--the first, that, as long as he lived, the shooting should be Mr. Palmer's, to use or to let, and should extend over the whole estate; the second, that the chief should assume the baronetcy which belonged to him.

My reader will regard the proposition as not ungenerous, however much the money value of the land lay in the shooting.

As Alister took leave of his mother for the night, he gave her the letter.

She took it, read it slowly, laughed angrily, smiled scornfully, wept bitterly, crushed it in her hand, and walked up to her room with her head high. All the time she was preparing for her bed, she was talking in her spirit with her husband. When she lay down she became a mere prey to her own thoughts, and was pulled, and torn, and hurt by them for hours ere she set herself to rule them. For the first time in her life she distrusted her son. She did not know what he would do! The temptation would surely be too strong for him! Two good things were set over against one evil thing--an evil thing, however, with which nobody would associate blame, an evil thing which would raise him high in the respect of everyone whose respect was not worth having!--the woman he loved and the land of his ancestors on the one side, and only the money that bought the land for him on the other!--would he hold out? He must take the three together, or have none of them! Her fear for him grew and possessed her. She grew cold as death. Why did he give her the letter, and go without saying a word? She knew well the arguments he would adduce! Henceforward and for ever there would be a gulf between them! The poor religion he had would never serve to keep him straight! What was it but a compromise with pride and self-sufficiency! It could bear no such strain! He acknowledged God, but not God reconciled in Christ, only God such as unregenerate man would have him! And when Ian came home, he would be sure to side with Alister!

There was but one excuse for the poor boy--and that a miserable one: the blinding of love! Yes there was more excuse than that: to be lord of the old lands, with the old clan growing and gathering again about its chief! It was a temptation fit to ruin an archangel! What could he not do then for his people! What could he not do for the land! And for her, she might have her Ian always at home with her! God forbid she should buy even such bliss at such a cost! She was only thinking, she said to herself, how, if the thing had to be, she would make the best of it: she was bound as a mother to do that!

But the edge of the wedge was in. She said to herself afterwards, that the enemy of her soul must have been lying in wait for her that night; she almost believed in some bodily presence of him in her room: how otherwise could she account for her fall! he must have been permitted to tempt her, because, in condemning evil, she had given way to contempt and worldly pride. Her thoughts unchecked flowed forward. They lingered brooding for a time on the joys that might be hers--the joys of the mother of a chief over territory as well as hearts. Then they stole round, and began to flow the other way. Ere the thing had come she began to make the best of it for the sake of her son and the bond between them; then she began to excuse it for the sake of the clan; and now she began to justify it a little for the sake of the world! Everything that could favour the acceptance of the offer came up clear before her. The land was the same as it always had been! it had never been in the distillery! it had never been in the brew-house! it was clean, whoever had transacted concerning it, through whatever hands it had passed! A good cow was a good cow, had she been twenty times reaved! For Mr. Palmer to give and Alister to take the land back, would be some amends to the nation, grievously injured in the money of its purchase! The deed would restore to the redeeming and uplifting influence of her son many who were fast perishing from poverty and whisky; for, their houses and crofts once more in the power of their chief, he would again be their landlord as well! It would be a pure exercise of the law of compensation! Hundreds who had gone abroad would return to replenish the old glens with the true national wealth--with men and women, and children growing to be men and women, for the hour of their country's need! These were the true, the golden crops! The glorious time she had herself seen would return, when Strathruadh could alone send out a regiment of the soldiers that may be defeated, but will not live to know it. The dream of her boys would come true! they would rebuild the old castle, and make it a landmark in the history of the highlands!

But while she stood elate upon this high-soaring peak of the dark mountains of ambition, sudden before her mind's eye rose the face of her husband, sudden his voice was in her ear; he seemed to stand above her in the pulpit, reading from the prophet Isaiah the four Woes that begin four contiguous chapters:--"Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!"--"Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices; yet I will distress Ariel."--"Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin!"--" Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the holy one of Israel, neither seek the Lord!" Then followed the words opening the next chapter:--"Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest." All this, in solemn order, one woe after the other, she heard in the very voice of her husband; in awful spiritual procession, they passed before her listening mind! She grew cold as the dead, and shuddered and shivered. She looked over the edge into the heart of a black gulf, into which she had been on the point of casting herself--say rather, down whose side, searching for an easy descent, she had already slid a long way, when the voice from above recalled her! She covered her face with her hands and wept--ashamed before God, ashamed before her husband. It was a shame unutterable that the thing should even have looked tempting! She cried for forgiveness, rose, and sought Alister's room.

Seldom since he was a man had she visited her elder son in his chamber. She cherished for him, as chief, something of the reverence of the clan. The same familiarity had never existed between them as between her and lan. Now she was going to wake him, and hold a solemn talk with him. Not a moment longer should he stand leaning over the gulf into which she had herself well nigh fallen!

She found him awake, and troubled, though not with an eternal trouble such as hers.

"I thought I should find you asleep, Alister!" she said.

"It was not very likely, mother!" he answered gently.

"You too have been tried with terrible thoughts?"

"I have been tried, but ha^ly with terrible thoughts: I know that Mercy loves me!"

"Ah, my son, my dear son! love itself is the terrible thing! It has drawn many a man from the way of peace!"

"Did it draw you and my father from the way of peace?" asked Alister.

"Not for a moment!" she answered. "It made our steps firmer in the way."

"Then why should you fear it will draw me from it? I hope I have never made you think I was not following my father and you!"

"Who knows what either of us might have done, with such a temptation as yours!"

"Either you say, mother, that my father was not so good as I think him, or that he did what he did in his own strength!"

"' Let him that thinketh '--you know the rest!" rejoined the mother.

"I don't think I am tempted to anything just now."

"There it is, you see!--the temptation so subtle that you do not suspect its character!"

"I am confident my father would have done just as I mean to do!"

"What do you mean to do?"

"Is it my own mother asks me? Does she distrust her husband and her son together?"

It began to dawn on the mother that she had fallen into her own temptation through distrust of her son. Because she-distrusted him, she sought excuse for him, and excuse had turned to all but justification: she had given place to the devil! But she must be sure about Alister! She had had enough of the wiles of Satan: she must not trust her impressions! The enemy might even now be bent on deceiving her afresh! For a moment she kept silence, then said:--

"It would be a grand thing to have the whole country-side your own again--wouldn't it, Alister?"

"It would, mother!" he answered.

"And have all your people quite under your own care?"

"A grand thing, indeed, mother!"

"How can you say then it is no temptation to you?"

"Because it is none."

"How is that?"

"I would not have my clan under a factor of Satan's, mother!"

"I do not understand you!"

"What else should I be, if I accepted the oversight of them on terms of allegiance to him! That was how he tempted Jesus. I will not be the devil's steward, to call any land or any people mine!"

His mother kissed him on the forehead, walked erect from the room, and went to her own to humble herself afresh.

In the morning, Alister took his dinner of bread and cheese in his pocket, and set out for the tomb on the hill-top. There he remained until the evening, and wrote his answer, sorely missing Ian.

He hegged Mr. Peregrine Palmer to dismiss the idea of enriching him, thanked him for his great liberality, but declared himself entirely content, and determined not to change his position. He could not and would not avail himself of his generosity.

Mr. Palmer, unable to suspect the reasons at work in the chief's mind, pleased with the genuineness of his acknowledgment, and regarding him as a silly fellow who would quixotically outdo him in magnanimity, answered in a more familiar, almost jocular strain. He must not be unreasonable, he said; pride was no doubt an estimable weakness, but it might be carried too far; men must act upon realities not fancies; he must learn to have an eye to the main chance, and eschew heroics: what was life without money! It was not as if he gave it grudgingly, for he made him heartily welcome. The property was in truth but a flea-bite to him! He hoped the Macruadh would live long to enjoy it, and make his father-in-law the great grandfather of chiefs, perpetuating his memory to ages unborn. There was more to the same effect, void neither of eloquence nor of a certain good-heartedness, which the laird both recognized and felt.

It was again his painful turn. He had now to make his refusal as positive as words could make it. He said he was sorry to appear headstrong, perhaps uncivil and ungrateful, but he could not and would not accept anything beyond the priceless gift of Mercy's hand.

Not even then did Peregrine Palmer divine that his offered gift was despised; that idea was to him all but impossible of conception. He read merely opposition, and was determined to have his way. Next time he too wrote positively, though far from unkindly:--the Macruadh must take the land with his daughter, or leave both!

The chief replied that he could not yield his claim to Mercy, for he loved her, and believed she loved him; therefore begged Mr. Peregrine Palmer, of his generosity, to leave the decision with his daughter.

The next was a letter from Mercy, entreating Alister not to hurt her father by seeming to doubt the kindness of his intentions. She assured him her father was not the man to interfere with his management of the estate, the shooting was all he cared about; and if that was the difficulty, she imagined even that might be got over. She ended praying that he would, for her sake, cease making much of a trifle, for such the greatest property in the world must be betwixt them. No man, she said, could love a woman right, who would not be under the poorest obligation to her people!

The chief answered her in the tenderest way, assuring her that if the property had been hers he would only have blessed her for it; that he was not making much ado about nothing; that pride, or unwillingness to be indebted, had nothing to do with his determination; that the thing was with him in very truth a matter of conscience. He implored her therefore from the bottom of his heart to do her best to persuade her father--if she would save him who loved her more than his own soul, from a misery God only could make him able to bear.

Mercy was bewildered. She neither understood nor suspected. She wrote again, saying her father was now thoroughly angry; that she found herself without argument, the thing being incomprehensible to her as to her father; that she could not see where the conscience of the thing lay. Her terror was, that, if he persisted, she would be driven to think he did not care for her; his behaviour she had tried in vain to reconcile with what he had taught her; if he destroyed her faith in him, all her faith might go, and she be left without God as well as without him!

Then Alister saw that necessity had culminated, and that it was no longer possi ble to hold anything back. Whatever other suffering he might cause her, Mercy must not be left to think him capable of sacrificing her to an absurdity! She must know the truth of the matter, and how it was to him of the deepest conscience! He must let her see that if he allowed her to persuade him, it would be to go about thenceforward consumed of self-contempt, a slave to the property, no more its owner than if he had stolen it, and in danger of committing suicide to escape hating his wife!

For the man without a tender conscience, cannot imagine the state to which another may come, who carries one about with him, stinging and accusing him all day long.

So, out of a heart aching with very fullness, Alister wrote the truth to Mercy. And Mercy, though it filled her with grief and shame, had so much love for the truth, and for the man who had waked that love, that she understood him, and loved him through all the pain of his words; loved him the more for daring the risk of losing her; loved him yet the more for cleaving to her while loathing the mere thought of sharing her wealth; loved him most of all that he was immaculate in truth.

She carried the letter to her father's room, laid it before him without a word, and went out again.

The storm gathered swiftly, and burst at once. Not two minutes seemed to have passed when she heard his door open, and a voice of wrathful displeasure call out her name. She returned--in fear, but in fortitude.

Then first she knew her father!--for although wrath and injustice were at home in him, they seldom showed themselves out of doors. He treated her as a willing party to an unspeakable insult from a highland boor to her own father. To hand him such a letter was the same as to have written it herself! She identified herself with the writer when she became the bearer of the mangy hound's insolence! He raged at Mercy as in truth he had never raged before. If once she spoke to the fellow again, he would turn her out of the house!

She would have left the room. He locked the door, set a chair before his writing table, and ordered her to sit there and write to his dictation. But no power on earth or under it would have prevailed to make Mercy write as her own the words that were not hers.

"You must excuse me, papa!" she said in a tone unheard from her before.

This raising of the rampart of human dignity, crowned with refusal, between him and his own child, galled him afresh.

"Then you shall be compelled!" he said, with an oath through his clenched teeth.

Mercy stood silent and motionless.

"Go to your room. By heaven you shall stay there till you do as I tell you!"

He was between her and the door.

"You need not think to gain your point by obstinacy," he added. "I swear that not another word shall pass between you and that blockhead of a chief--not if I have to turn watch-dog myself!"

He made way for her, but did not open the door. She left the room too angry to cry, and went to her own. Her fear of her father had vanished. With Alister on her side she could stand against the world! She went to her window. She could not see the cottage from it, but she could see the ruin, and the hill of the crescent fire, on which she had passed through the shadow of death. Gazing on the hill she remembered what Alister would have her do, and with her Father in heaven sought shelter from her father on earth.

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