What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

Home - George MacDonald - What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

Prev | Next | Contents


Mr. Peregrine Palmer brooded more and more upon what he counted the contempt of the chief. It became in him almost a fixed idea. It had already sent out several suckers, and had, amongst others, developed the notion that he was despised by those from whom first of all he looked for the appreciation after which his soul thirsted--his own family. He grew therefore yet more moody, and his moodiness and distrust developed suspicion. It is scarce credible what a crushing influence the judgment he pretended to scorn, thus exercised upon him. It was not that he acknowledged in it the smallest justice; neither was it that he cared altogether for what such a fanatical fool as the chief might think; but he reflected that if one could so despise his money because of its source, there might be others, might be many who did so. At the same time, had he been sure of the approbation of all the world beside, it would have troubled him not a little, in his thirst after recognition, that any gentleman, one of family especially, however old-fashioned and absurd he might be, should look down upon him. His smouldering, causelessly excited anger, his evident struggle to throw off an oppression, and the fierce resentment of the chief's judgment which he would now and then betray, revealed how closely the offence clung to his consciousness.

Flattering himself from her calmness that Mercy had got over her foolish liking for the "boor," as he would not unfrequently style the chief, he had listened to the prayers of her mother, and submitted to her company at the dinner-table; but he continued to treat her as one who had committed a shameful fault.

That evening, the great little man could hardly eat for recurrent wrathful memories of the interview of the morning. Perhaps his most painful reflection was that he had not been quick enough to embrace the opportunity of annihilating his enemy. Thunder lowered portentous in his black brows, and not until he had drunk several glasses of wine did a word come from his lips. His presence was purgatory without the purifying element.

"What do you think that fellow has been here about this morning?" he said at length.

"What fellow?" asked his wife unnecessarily, for she knew what visitor had been shown into the study.

"The highland fellow," he answered, "that claims to do what he pleases on my property!"

Mercy's face grew hot.

"--Came actually to offer me the refusal of his land!--the merest trick to get into the house--confound him! As much as told me, if I did not buy it off-hand, I should not have the chance again! The cheek of the brute! To dare show his face in my house after trifling with my daughter's affections on the pretence that he could not marry a girl whose father was in trade!"

Mercy felt she would be false to the man she loved, and whom she knew to be true, if she did not speak. She had no thought of defending him, but simply of witnessing to him.

"I beg your pardon, papa," she said, "but the Macruadh never trifled with me. He loves me, and has not given me up. If he told you he was going to part with his land, he is going to part with it, and came to you first because he must return good for evil. I saw him from my window ride off as if he were going to meet the afternoon coach."

She would not have been allowed to say so much, had not her father been speechless with rage. This was more than he or any man could bear! He rose from the table, his eyes blazing.

"Return ME good for evil!" he exclaimed; "--a beast who has done me more wrong than ever I did in all my life! a scoundrel bumpkin who loses not an opportunity of insulting me as never was man insulted before! You are an insolent, heartless, depraved girl!--ready to sacrifice yourself, body and soul, to a man who despises you and yours with the pride of a savage! You hussey, I can scarce keep my hands off you!"

He came toward her with a threatful stride. She rose, pushed back her chair, and stood facing him.

"Strike me," she said with a choking voice, "if you will, papa; but mamma knows I am not what you call me! I should be false and cowardly if I did not speak the truth for the man to whom I owe"--she was going to say "more than to any other human being," but she checked herself.

"If the beggar is your god," said her father, and struck her on the cheek with his open hand, "you can go to him!"

He took her by the arm, and pushed her before him out of the room, and across the hall; then opening the door, shoved her from him into the garden, and flung the door to behind her. The rain was falling in torrents, the night was very dark, and when the door shut, she felt as if she had lost her eyesight.

It was terrible!--but, thank God, she was free! Without a moment's hesitation--while her mother wept and pleaded, Christina stood burning with indignation, the two little ones sat white with open mouths, and the servants hurried about scared, but trying to look as if nothing had happened--Mercy fled into the dark. She stumbled into the shrubbery several times, but at last reached the gate, and while they imagined her standing before the house waiting to be let in, was running from it as from the jaws of the pit, in terror of a voice calling her back. The pouring rain was sweet to her whole indignant person, and especially to the cheek where burned the brand of her father's blow. The way was deep in mud, and she slipped and fell more than once as she ran.

Mrs. Macruadh was sitting in the little parlour, no one but Nancy in the house, when the door opened, and in came the wild-looking girl, draggled and spent, and dropped kneeling at her feet. Great masses of long black hair hung dripping with rain about her shoulders. Her dress was torn and wet, and soiled with clay from the road and earth from the shrubbery. One cheek was white, and the other had a red patch on it.

"My poor child!" cried the mother; "what has happened? Alister is away!"

"I know that," panted Mercy. "I saw him go, but I thought you would take me in--though you do not like me much!"

"Not like you, my child!" echoed the mother tenderly. "I love you! Are you not my Alister's choice? There are things I could have wished otherwise, but--"

"Well could I wish them otherwise too!" interposed Mercy. "I do not wish another father; and I am not quite able to wish he hadn't struck me and put me out into the dark and the rain, but--"

"Struck you and put you out! My child! What did he do it for?"

"Perhaps I deserved it: it is difficult to know how to behave to a father! A father is supposed to be one whom you not only love, as I do mine, but of whom you can be proud as well! I can't be proud of mine, and don't know quite how to behave to him. Perhaps I ought to have held my peace, but when he said things that were not--not correct about Alister, misinterpreting him altogether, I felt it cowardly and false to hold my tongue. So I said I did not believe that was what Alister meant. It is but a quarter of an hour ago, and it looks a fortnight! I don't think I quite know what I am saying!"

She ceased, laid her head on Mrs. Macruadh's knee, then sank to the floor, and lay motionless. All the compassion of the woman, all the protective pride of the chieftainess, woke in the mother. She raised the girl in her arms, and vowed that not one of her house should set eyes on her again without the consent of her son. He should see how his mother cared for what was his!--how wide her arms, how big her heart, to take in what he loved! Dear to him, the daughter of the man she despised should be as the apple of her eye! They would of course repent and want her back, but they should not have her; neither should a sound of threat or demand reach the darling's ears. She should be in peace until Alister came to determine her future. There was the mark of the wicked hand on the sweet sallow cheek! She was not beautiful, but she would love her the more to make up! Thank God, they had turned her out, and that made her free of them! They should not have her again; Alister should have her!--and from the hand of his mother!

She got her to bed, and sent for Rob of the Angels. With injunctions to silence, she told him to fetch his father, and be ready as soon as possible to drive a cart to the chief's cave, there to make everything comfortable for herself and Miss Mercy Palmer.

Mercy slept well, and as the day was breaking Mrs. Macruadh woke her and helped her to dress. Then they walked together through the lovely spring morning to the turn of the valley-road, where a cart was waiting them, half-filled with oat-straw. They got in, and were borne up and up at a walking-pace to the spot Mercy knew so well. Never by swiftest coach had she enjoyed a journey so much as that slow crawl up the mountains in the rough springless cart of her ploughman lover! She felt so protected, so happy, so hopeful. Alister's mother was indeed a hiding place from the wind, a covert from the tempest! Having consented to be her mother, she could mother her no way but entirely. An outcast for the sake of her Alister, she should have the warmest corner of her heart next to him and Ian!

Into the tomb they went, and found everything strangely comfortable--the stone-floor covered with warm and woolly skins of black-faced sheep, a great fire glowing, plenty of provisions hung and stored, and the deaf, keen-eyed father with the swift keen-eared son for attendants.

"You will not mind sharing your bed with me--will you, my child?" said Mrs. Macruadh: "Our accommodation is scanty. But we shall be safe from intrusion. Only those two faithful men know where we are."

"Mother will be terribly frightened!" said Mercy.

"I thought of that, and left a note with Nancy, telling her you were safe and well, but giving no hint of where. I said that her dove had flown to my bosom for shelter, and there she should have it."

Mercy answered with a passionate embrace.

Prev | Next | Contents