What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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The dancing began about six o'clock, and at ten it was time for supper. It was readjr, but there was no room for it except the barn; the dancing therefore had to cease for a while, that the table might again be covered. The ladies put on their furs and furry boots and gloves, and went out into the night with the rest.

The laird and Christina started together, but, far from keeping at her side, Alister went and came, now talking to this couple, now to that, and adding to the general pleasure with every word he spoke. Ian and Mercy walked together, and as often as the chief left her side, Christina joined them. Mrs. Palmer stayed with their hostess; her husband took the younger children by the hand; Mr. Sercombe and Christian sauntered along in the company, talking now to one, now to another of the village girls.

All through the evening Christina and Mercy noted how instantly the word of the chief was followed in the smallest matter, and the fact made its impression on them; for undeveloped natures in the presence of a force, revere it as POWER--understanding by POWER, not the strength to create, to harmonize, to redeem, to discover the true, to suffer with patience; but the faculty of having things one's own vulgar, self-adoring way.

Ian had not proposed to Mercy that they should walk together; but when the issuing crowd had broken into twos and threes, they found themselves side by side. The company took its way along the ridge, and the road eastward. The night was clear, and like a great sapphire frosted with topazes--reminding Ian that, solid as is the world under our feet, it hangs in the will of God. Mercy and he walked for some time in silence. It was a sudden change from the low barn, the dull candles, and the excitement of the dance, to the awful space, the clear pure far-off lights, and the great stillness. Both felt it, though differently. There was in both of them the quest after peace. It is not the banished demon only that wanders seeking rest, but souls upon souls, and in ever growing numbers. The world and Hades swarm with them. They long after a repose that is not mere cessation of labour: there is a positive, an active rest. Mercy was only beginning to seek it, and that without knowing what it was she needed. Ian sought it in silence with God; she in crepitant intercourse with her kind. Naturally ready to fall into gloom, but healthy enough to avoid it, she would rush at anything to do--not to keep herself from thinking, for she had hardly begun to think, but to escape that heavy sense of non-existence, that weary and restless want which is the only form life can take to the yet unliving, those who have not yet awakened and arisen from the dead. She was a human chicken that had begun to be aware of herself, but had not yet attacked the shell that enclosed her: because it was transparent, and she could see life about her, she did not know that she was in a shell, or that, if she did not put forth the might of her own life, she was sealing herself up, a life in death, in her antenatal coffin. Many who think themselves free have never yet even seen the shell that imprisons them--know nothing of the liberty wherewith the Lord of our life would set them free. Men fight many a phantom when they ought to be chipping at their shells. "Thou art the dreamer!" they cry to him who would wake them. "See how diligent we are to get on in the world! We labour as if we should never go out of it!" What they call the world is but their shell, which is all the time killing the infant Christ that houses with them.

Ian looked up to the sky, and breathed a deep breath. Mercy looked up in his face, and saw his strangely beautiful smile.

"What are you thinking of, Captain Macruadh?" she said.

"I was thinking," he answered, "that perhaps up THERE"--he waved his arm wide over his head--"might he something like room; hut I doubt it, I doubt it!"

Naturally, Mercy was puzzled. The speech sounded quite mad, and yet he could not be mad, he had danced so well! She took comfort that her father was close behind.

"Did you never feel," he resumed, "as if you could not anyhow get room enough?"

"No," answered Mercy, "never."

Ian fell a thinking how to wake in her a feeling of what he meant. He had perceived that one of the first elements in human education is the sense of space--of which sense, probably, the star-dwelt heaven is the first awakener. He believed that without the heavens we could not have learned the largeness in things below them, could not, for instance, have felt the mystery of the high-ascending gothic roof--for without the greater we cannot interpret the less; and he thought that to have the sense of largeness developed might be to come a little nearer to the truth of things, to the recognition of spiritual relations.

"Did you ever see anything very big?" he asked.

"I suppose London is as big as most things!" she answered, after a moment.

"Did you ever see London?" he asked.

"We generally live there half the year."

"Pardon me; I did not ask if you had ever been to London," said Ian; "I asked if you had ever seen London."

"I know the west end pretty well."

"Did it ever strike you as very large?"

"Perhaps not; but the west end is only a part of London."

"Did you ever see London from the top of St. Paul's?"


"Did you ever see it from the top of Hampstead heath?"

"I have been there several times, but I don't remember seeing London from it. We don't go to London for the sights."

"Then you have not seen London!"

Mercy was annoyed. Ian did not notice that she was, else perhaps he would not have gone on--which would have been a pity, for a little annoyance would do her no harm. At the same time the mood was not favourable to receiving any impression from the region of the things that are not seen. A pause followed.

"It is so delightful," said Ian at length, "to come out of the motion and the heat and the narrowness into the still, cold greatness!"

"You seemed to be enjoying yourself pretty well notwithstanding, Captain Macruadh!"

"What made you think so?" he asked, turning to her with a smile.

"You were so merry--not with me--you think me only a stupid lowland girl; but the other young persons you danced with, laughed very much at things you said to them."

"You are right; I did enjoy myself. As often as one comes near a simple human heart, one's own heart finds a little room."

Ere she knew, Mercy had said--

"And you didn't find any room with me?"

With the sound of her words her face grew hot, as with a furnace-blast, even in the frosty night-air. She would have covered what she had said, but only stammered. Ian turned, and looking at her, said with a gentle gravity--

"You must not be offended with me! I must answer you truly.--You do not give me room: have you not just told me you never longed for any yourself?"

"One ought to be independent!" said Mercy, a little nettled.

"Are you sure of that? What is called independence may really be want of sympathy. That would indicate a kind of loneliness anything but good."

"I wish you would find a less disagreeable companion then!--one that would at least be as good as nobody! I am sorry I don't know how to give you room. I would if I could. Tell me how."

Again Ian turned to her: was it possible there were tears in her voice? But her black eyes were flashing in the starlight!

"Did you ever read Zanoni?" he asked.

"I never heard of it. What is it?"

"A romance of Bulwer's."

"My father won't let us read anything of Bulwer's. Does he write very wicked books?"

"The one I speak of," said Ian, "is not wicked, though it is full of rubbish, and its religion is very false."

Whether Mercy meant to take her revenge on him with consciously bad logic, I am in doubt.

"Captain Macruadh! you astonish me! A Scotchman speak so of religion!"

"I spoke of the religion in that book. I said it was false--which is the same as saying it was not religion."

"Then religion is not all true!"

"All true religion is true," said Ian, inclined to laugh like one that thought to catch an angel, and had clutched a bat! "I was going on to say that, though the religion and philosophy of the book were rubbish, the story was fundamentally a grand conception. It puzzles me to think how a man could start with such an idea, and work it out so well, and yet be so lacking both in insight and logic. It is wonderful how much of one portion of our nature may be developed along with so little of another!"

"What is the story about?" asked Mercy.

"What I may call the canvas of it, speaking as if it were a picture, is the idea that the whole of space is full of life; that, as the smallest drop of water is crowded with monsters of hideous forms and dispositions, so is what we call space full of living creatures,--"

"How horrible!"

"--not all monsters, however. There are among them creatures not altogether differing from us, but differing much from each other,--"

"As much as you and I?"

"--some of them lovely and friendly, others frightful in their beauty and malignity,--"

"What nonsense!"

"Why do you call it nonsense?"

"How could anything beautiful be frightful?"

"I ought not to have said BEAUTIFUL. But the frightfullest face I ever saw ought to have been the finest. When the lady that owned it spoke to me, I shivered."

"But anyhow the whole thing is nonsense!"

"How is it nonsense?"

"Because there are no such creatures."

"How do you know that? Another may have seen them though you and I never did!"

"You are making game of me! You think to make me believe anything you choose!"

"Will you tell me something you do believe?"

"That you may prove immediately that I do not believe it!" she retorted, with more insight than he had expected. "--You are not very entertaining!"

"Would you like me to tell you a story then?"

"Will it be nonsense?"


"I should like a little nonsense."

"You are an angel of goodness, and as wise as you are lovely!" said Ian.

She turned upon him, and opened wide at him her great black eyes, in which were mingled defiance and question.

"Your reasoning is worthy of your intellect. When you dance," he went on, looking very solemn, "your foot would not bend the neck of a daisy asleep in its rosy crown. The west wind of May haunts you with its twilight-odours; and when you waltz, so have I seen the waterspout gyrate on the blue floor of the Mediterranean. Your voice is as the harp of Selma; and when you look out of your welkin eyes-- no! there I am wrong! Allow me!--ah, I thought so!--dark as Erebus!--But what!"

For Mercy, perceiving at last that he was treating her like the silliest of small girls, lost her patience, and burst into tears.

"You are dreadfully rude!" she sobbed.

Ian was vexed with himself.

"You asked me to talk nonsense to you, Miss Mercy! I attempted to obey you, and have done it stupidly. But at least it was absolute nonsense! Shall I make up for it by telling you a pretty story?"

"Anything to put away that!" answered Mercy, trying to smile.

He began at once, and told her a wonderful tale--told first after this fashion by Bob of the Angels, at a winter-night gathering of the women, as they carded and spun their wool, and reeled their yarn together. It was one well-known in the country, but Rob had filled it after his fancy with imaginative turns and spiritual hints, unappreciable by the tall child of seventeen walking by Ian's side. There was not among the maidens of the poor village one who would not have understood it better than she. It took her fancy notwithstanding, partly, perhaps, from its unlikeness to any story she had ever heard before. Her childhood had been starved on the husks of new fairy-tales, all invention and no imagination, than which more unnourishing food was never offered to God's children.

The story Ian told her under that skyful of stars, was as Rob of the Angels had dressed it for the clan matrons and maidens, only altered a very little for the ears of the lowland girl.

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