What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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When Mr. and Mrs. Palmer reached Inverness, they found they could spend a few days there, one way and another, to good purpose, for they had friends to visit as well as shopping to do. Mr. Palmer's affairs calling him to the south were not immediately pressing, and their sojourn extended itself to a full week of eight days, during which the girls were under no rule but their own. Their parents regarded them as perfectly to be trusted, nor were the girls themselves aware of any reason why they should not be so regarded.

The window of Christina's bedroom overlooked a part of the road between the New House and the old castle; and she could see from it all the ridge as far as the grove that concealed the cottage: if now they saw more of the young men their neighbours, and were led farther into the wilds, thickets, or pasturage of their acquaintance, I cannot say she had no hand in it.

She was depressed by a sense of failure; the boor, as she called him, was much too thick-skinned for any society but that of his bulls! and she had made no progress with the Valentine any more than with the Orson; he was better pleased with her ugly sister than with her beautiful self!

She would have given neither of tie men another thought, but that there was no one else with whom to do any of that huckster business called flirting, which to her had just harm enough in it to make it interesting to her. She was one of those who can imagine beauty nor enjoyment in a thing altogether right. She took it for granted that bad and beautiful were often one; that the pleasures of the world owed their delight to a touch, a wash, a tincture of the wicked in them. Such have so many crooked lines in themselves that they fancy nature laid down on lines of crookedness. They think the obliquity the beauty of the campanile, the blurring the charm of the sketch.

I tread on delicate ground--ground which, alas! many girls tread boldly, scattering much feather-bloom from the wings of poor Psyche, gathering for her hoards of unlovely memories, and sowing the seed of many a wish that they had done differently. They cannot pass over such ground and escape having their nature more or less vulgarized. I do not speak of anything counted wicked; it is only gambling with the precious and lovely things of the deepest human relation! If a girl with such an experience marry a man she loves--with what power of loving may be left such a one--will she not now and then remember something it would be joy to discover she had but dreamed? will she be able always to forget certain cabinets in her brain which "it would not do" to throw open to the husband who thinks her simple as well as innocent? Honesty and truth, God's essentials, are perhaps more lacking in ordinary intercourse between young men and women than anywhere else. Greed and selfishness are as busy there as in money-making and ambition. Thousands on both sides are constantly seeking more than their share--more also than they even intend to return value for. Thousands of girls have been made sad for life by the speeches of a man careful all the time to SAY nothing that amounted to a pledge! I do not forget that many a woman who would otherwise have been worth little, has for her sorrow found such consolation that she has become rich before God; these words hold nevertheless: "It must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!"

On a morning two days later, Christina called Mercy, rather imperiously, to get ready at once for their usual walk. She obeyed, and they set out. Christina declared she was perishing with cold, and they walked fast. By and by they saw on the road before them the two brothers walking slow; one was reading, the other listening. When they came nearer they descried in Alister's hand a manuscript volume; Ian carried an old-fashioned fowling-piece. It was a hard frost, which was perhaps the cause of Alister's leisure so early in the day.

Hearing the light steps of the girls behind them, the men turned. The laird was the first to speak. The plough and the fierce bulls not there to bewilder their judgment, the young women immediately discovered their perception in the matter of breeding to be less infallible than they had imagined it: no well bred woman could for a moment doubt the man before them a gentleman--though his carriage was more courteous and more natural than is often seen in a Mayfair drawing-room, and his English, a little old-fashioned. Ian was at once more like and more unlike other people. His manner was equally courteous, but notably stiffer: he was as much at his ease, but more reserved. To use a figure, he did not step out so far to meet them.

They walked on together.

"You are a little earlier than usual this morning, ladies!" remarked the chief.

"How do you know that, Mr. Macruadh?" rejoined Christina.

"I often see you pass--and till now always at the same hour."

"And yet we have never met before!"

"The busy and the"--he hesitated a moment--"unbusy seldom meet," said the chief.

"Why don't you say the IDLE?" suggested Christina.

"Because that would be rude."

"Why would it be rude? Most people, suppose, are more idle than busy!"

"IDLE is a word of blame; I had no right to use it."

"I should have taken you for one of those who always speak their minds!"

"I hope I do when it is required, and I have any to speak."

"You prefer judging with closed doors!"

The chief was silent: he did not understand her. Did she want him to say he did not think them idle? or, if they were, that they were quite right?

"I think it hard," resumed Christina, with a tone of injury, almost of suffering, in her voice, "that we should be friendly and open with people, and they all the time thinking of us in a way it would be rude to tell us! It is enough to make one vow never to speak to--to anybody again!"

Alister turned and looked at her. What could she mean?

"You can't think it hard," he said, "that people should not tell you what they think of you the moment they first see you!"

"They might at least tell us what they mean by calling us idle!"

"I said NOT BUSY."

"Is EVERYBODY to blame that is idle?" persisted Christina.

"Perhaps my brother will answer you that question," said Alister.

"If my brother and I tell you honestly what we thought of you when first we saw you," said Ian, "will you tell us honestly what you thought of us?"

The girls cast an involuntary glance at each other, and when their eyes met, could not keep them from looking conscious. A twitching also at the corners of Mercy's mouth showed they had been saying more than they would care to be cross-questioned upon.

"Ah, you betray yourselves, ladies!" Ian said. "It is all very well to challenge us, but you are not prepared to lead the way!"

"Girls are never allowed to lead!" said Christina. "The men are down on them the moment they dare!"

"I am not that way inclined," answered Ian. "If man or woman lead TO anything, success will justify the leader. I will propose another thing!"

"What is it?" asked Christina.

"To agree that, when we are about to part, with no probability of meeting again in this world, we shall speak out plainly what we think of each other!"

"But that will be such a time!" said Christina.

"In a world that turns quite round every twenty-four hours, it may be a very short time!"

"We shall be coming every summer, though I hope not to stay through another winter!"

"Changes come when they are least expected!"

"We cannot know," said Alister, "that we shall never meet again!"

"There the probability will be enough."

"But how can we come to a better--I mean a FAIRER opinion of each other, when we meet so seldom?" asked Mercy innocently.

"This is only the second time we have met, and already we are not quite strangers!" said Christina.

"On the other hand," said Alister, "we have been within call for more than two months, and this is our second meeting!"

"Well, who has not called?" said Christina.

The young men were silent. They did not care to discuss the question as to which mother was to blame in the matter.

They were now in the bottom of the valley, had left the road, and were going up the side of the burn, often in single file, Alister leading, and Ian bringing up the rear, for the valley was thickly strewn with lumps of gray rock, of all shapes and sizes. They seemed to have rolled down the hill on the other side of the burn, but there was no sign of their origin: the hill was covered with grass below, and with heather above. Such was the winding of the way among the stones--for path there was none--that again and again no one of them could see another. The girls felt the strangeness of it, and began to experience, without knowing it, a little of the power of solitary places.

After walking thus for some distance, they found their leader halted.

"Here we have to cross the burn," he said, "and go a long way up the other side."

"You want to be rid of us!" said Christina.

"By no means," replied Alister. "We are delighted to have you with us. But we must not let you get tired before turning to go back."

"If you really do not mind, we should like to go a good deal farther. I want to see round the turn there, where another hill comes from behind and closes up the view. We haven't anybody to go with us, and have seen nothing of the country. The men won't take us shooting; and mamma is always so afraid we lose ourselves, or fall down a few precipices, or get into a bog, or be eaten by wild beasts!"

"If this frost last, we shall have time to show you something of the country. I see you can walk!"

"We can walk well enough, and should so like to get to the top of a mountain!"

"For the crossing then!" said Alister, and turning to the burn, jumped and re-jumped it, as if to let them see how to do it.

The bed of the stream was at the spot narrowed by two rocks, so that, though there was little of it, the water went through with a roar, and a force to take a man off his legs. It was too wide for the ladies, and they stood eyeing it with dismay, fearing an end to their walk and the pleasant companionship.

"Do not be frightened, ladies," said Alister: "it is not too wide for you."

"You have the advantage of us in your dress!" said Christina.

"I will get you over quite safe," returned the chief.

Christina looked as if she could not trust herself to him.

"I will try," said Mercy.

"Jump high," answered Alister, as he sprang again to the other side, and held out his hand across the chasm.

"I can neither jump high nor far!" said Mercy.

"Don't be in a hurry. I will take you--no, not by the hand; that might slip--but by the wrist. Do not think how far you can jump; all you have to do is to jump. Only jump as high as you can."

Mercy could not help feeling frightened--the water rushed so fast and loud below.

"Are you sure you can get me over?" she asked.


"Then I will jump."

She sprang, and Alister, with a strong pull on her arm, landed her easily.

"It is your turn now," he said, addressing Christina.

She was rather white, but tried to laugh.

"I--I--I don't think I can!" she said.

"It is really nothing," persuaded the chief.

"I am sorry to be a coward, but I fear I was born one."

"Some feelings nobody can help," said Ian, "but nobody need give way to them. One of the bravest men I ever knew would always start aside if the meanest little cur in the street came barking at him; and yet on one occasion, when the people were running in all directions, he took a mad dog by the throat, and held him. Come, Alister! you take her by one arm and I will take her by the other."

The chief sprang to her side, and the moment she felt the grasp of the two men, she had the needful courage. The three jumped together, and all were presently walking merrily along the other bank, over the same kind of ground, in single file--Ian bringing up the rear.

The ladies were startled by a gun going off close behind them.

"I beg your pardon," said Ian, "but I could not let the rascal go."

"What have you killed?" his brother asked.

"Only one of my own family--a red-haired fellow!" answered Ian, who had left the path, and was going up the hill.

The girls looked, but saw nothing, and following him a few yards, came to him behind a stone.

"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed Christina, with horror in her tone, "it's a fox!--Is it possible you have shot a fox?"

The men laughed.

"And why not?" asked Alister, as if he had no idea what she could mean. "Is the fox a sacred animal in the south?"

"It's worse than poaching!" she cried.

"Hardly!" returned Alister. "No doubt you may get a good deal of fun out of Reynard, but you can't make game of him! Why--you look as if you had lost a friend! I admire his intellect, but we can't afford to feed it on chickens and lambs."

"But to SHOOT him!"

"Why not? We do not respect him here. He is a rascal, to be sure, but then he has no money, and consequently no friends!"

"He has many friends! What WOULD Christian or Mr. Sercombe say to shooting, actually shooting a fox!"

"You treat him as if he were red gold!" said the chief. "We build temples neither to Reynard nor Mammon here. We leave the men of the south to worship them!"

"They don't worship them!" said Mercy.

"Do they not respect the rich man because he is rich, and look down on the poor man because he is poor?" said Ian. "Though the rich be a wretch, they think him grand; though the poor man be like Jesus Christ, they pity him!"

"And shouldn't the poor be pitied?" said Christina.

"Not except they need pity."

"Is it not pitiable to be poor?"

"By no means. It is pitiable to be wretched--and that, I venture to suspect, the rich are oftener than the poor.--But as to master Reynard there--instead of shooting him, what would you have had us do with him?"

"Hunt him, to be sure."

"Would he like that better?"

"What he would like is not the question. The sport is the thing."

"That will show you why he is not sacred here: we do not hunt him. It would be impossible to hunt this country; you could not ride the ground. Besides, there are such multitudes of holes, the hounds would scarcely have a chance. No; the only dog to send after the fellow is a leaden one."

"There's another!" exclaimed the chief; "--there, sneaking away!--and your gun not loaded, Ian!"

"I am so glad!" said Christina. "He at least will escape you!"

"And some poor lamb in the spring won't escape him!" returned Alister.

"Lambs are meant to be eaten!" said Christina.

"Yes; but a lamb might think it hard to feed such a creature!"

"If the fox is of no good in the world," said Mercy, "why was he made?"

"He can't be of no good," answered the chief. "What if some things are, just that we may get rid of them?"

"COULD they be made just to be got rid of?"

"I said--that WE might get rid of them: there is all the difference in that. The very first thing men had to do in the world was to fight beasts."

"I think I see what you mean," said Mercy: "if there had been no wild beasts to fight with, men would never have grown able for much!"

"That is it," said Alister. "They were awful beasts! and they had poor weapons to fight them with--neither guns nor knives!"

"And who knows," suggested Ian, "what good it may be to the fox himself to make the best of a greedy life?"

"But what is the good to us of talking about such things?" said Christina. "They're not interesting!"

The remark silenced the brothers: where indeed could be use without interest?

But Mercy, though she could hardly have said she found the conversation VERY interesting, felt there was something in the men that cared to talk about such things, that must be interesting if she could only get at it. They were not like any other men she had met!

Christina's whole interest in men was the admiration she looked for and was sure of receiving from them; Mercy had hitherto found their company stupid.

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