What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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All the gentlemen at the New House left it together, and its ladies were once more abandoned to the society of Nature, who said little to any of them. For, though she recognized her grandchildren, and did what she could for them, it was now time they should make some move towards acquaintance with her. A point comes when she must stand upon her dignity, for it is great. If you would hear her wonderful tales, or see her marvellous treasures, you must not trifle with her; you must not talk as if you could rummage her drawers and cahinets as you pleased. You must believe in her; you must reverence her; else, although she is everywhere about the house, you may not meet her from the beginning of one year to the end of another.

To allude to any aspect of nature in the presence of the girls was to threaten to bore them; and I heartily confess to being bored myself with common talk about scenery; but these ladies appeared unaware of the least expression on the face of their grand-mother. Doubtless they received some good from the aspect of things--that they could not help; there Grannie's hidden, and therefore irresistible power was in operation; but the moment they had their thoughts directed to the world around them, they began to gape inwardly. Even the trumpet and shawm of her winds, the stately march of her clouds, and the torrent-rush of her waters, were to them poor facts, no vaguest embodiment of truths eternal. It was small wonder then that verse of any worth should be to them but sounding brass and clanging cymbals. What they called society, its ways and judgments, its decrees and condemnations, its fashions and pomps and shows, false, unjust, ugly, was nearly all they cared for. The truth of things, without care for which man or woman is the merest puppet, had hitherto been nothing to them. To talk of Nature was sentimental. To talk of God was both irreverent and ill-bred. Wordsworth was an old woman; St. Paul an evangelical churchman. They saw no feature of any truth, but, like all unthinkers, wrapped the words of it in their own foolishness, and then sneered at them. They were too much of ladies, however, to do it disagreeably; they only smiled at the foolish neighbour who believed things they were too sensible to believe. It must, however, be said for them, that they had not yet refused anything worth believing--as presented to them. They had not yet actually looked upon any truth and refused it. They were indeed not yet true enough in themselves to suspect the presence of either a truth or a falsehood.

A thaw came, and the ways were bad, and they found the time hang yet heavier on their unaided hands. An intercourse by degrees established itself between Mrs. Macruadh and the well-meaning, handsome, smiling Mrs. Palmer, and rendered it natural for the girls to go rather frequently to the cottage. They made themselves agreeable to the mother, and subject to the law of her presence showed to better advantage.

With their love of literature, it was natural also that the young men should at such times not only talk about books, but occasionally read for their entertainment from some favourite one; so that now, for the first time in their lives, the young ladies were brought under direct teaching of a worthy sort--they had had but a mockery of it at school and church--and a little light began to soak through their unseeking eyes. Among many others, however, less manifest, one obstruction to their progress lay in the fact that Christina, whose percep in some directions was quick enough, would always make a dart at the comical side of anything that could be comically turned, so disturbing upon occasion the whole spiritual atmosphere about some delicate epiphany: this to both Alister and Ian was unbearable. She offended chiefly in respect of Wordsworth--who had not humour enough always to perceive what seriously meant expression might suggest a ludicrous idea.

One time, reading from the Excursion, Ian came to the verse--not to be found, I think, in later editions--

"Perhaps it is not he but some one else":--

"Awful idea!" exclaimed Christina, with sepulchral tone; "--'some one else!' Think of it! It makes me shudder! Who might it not have been!"

Ian closed the book, and persistently refused to read more that day.

Another time he was reading, in illustration of something, Wordsworth's poem, "To a Skylark," the earlier of the two with that title: when he came to the unfortunate line,--

"Happy, happy liver!"--

"Oh, I am glad to know that!" cried Christina. "I always thought the poor lark must have a bad digestion--he was up so early!"

Ian refused to finish the poem, although Mercy begged hard.

The next time they came, he proposed to "read something in Miss Palmer's style," and taking up a volume of Hood, and avoiding both his serious and the best of his comic poems, turned to two or three of the worst he could find. After these he read a vulgar rime about an execution, pretending to be largely amused, making flat jokes of his own, and sometimes explaining elaborately where was no occasion.

"Ian!" said his mother at length; "have you bid farewell to your senses?"

"No, mother," he answered; "what I am doing is the merest consequence of the way you brought us up."

"I don't understand that!" she returned.

"You always taught us to do the best we could for our visitors. So when I fail to interest them, I try to amuse them."

"But you need not make a fool of yourself!"

"It is better to make a fool of myself, than let Miss Palmer make a fool of--a great man!"

"Mr. Ian," said Christina, "it is not of yourself but of me you have been making a fool.--I deserved it!" she added, and burst into tears.

"Miss Palmer," said Ian, "I will drop my foolishness, if you will drop your fun."

"I will," answered Christina.

And Ian read them the poem beginning--

"Three years she grew in sun and shower."

Scoffing at what is beautiful, is not necessarily a sign of evil; it may only indicate stupidity or undevelopment: the beauty is not perceived. But blame is often present in prolonged undevelopment. Surely no one habitually obeying his conscience would long be left without a visit from some shape of the beautiful!

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