What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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It must not be supposed that all the visiting was on the part of those of the New House. The visits thence were returned by both matron and men. But somehow there was never the same freedom in the house as in the cottage. The difference did not lie in the presence of the younger girls: they were well behaved, friendly, and nowise disagreeable children. Doubtless there was something in the absence of books: it was of no use to jump up when a passage occurred; help was not at hand. But it was more the air of the place, the presence of so many common-place things, that clogged the wheels of thought. Neither, with all her knowledge of the world and all her sweetness, did Mrs. Palmer understand the essentials of hospitality half so well as the widow of the late minister-chief. All of them liked, and confessed that they liked the cottage best. Even Christina felt something lacking in their reception. She regretted that the house was not grand enough to show what they were accustomed to.

Mrs. Palmer seldom understood the talk, and although she sat looking persistently content, was always haunted with a dim feeling that her hushand would not be hest pleased at so much intercourse between his rich daughters and those penniless country-fellows. But what could she do! the place where he had abandoned them was so dull, so solitary! the girls must not mope! Christina would wither up without amusement, and then good-bye to her beauty and all that depended upon it! In the purity of her motherhood, she more than liked the young men: happy mother she would think herself, were her daughters to marry such men as these! The relations between them and their mother delighted her: they were one! their hearts were together! they understood each other! She could never have such bliss with her sons! Never since she gave them birth had she had one such look from either of hers as she saw pass every now and then from these to their mother! It would be like being born again to feel herself loved in that way! For any danger to the girls, she thought with a sigh how soon in London they would forget the young highlanders. Was there no possibility of securing one of them? What chance was there of Mercy's marrying well! she was so decidedly plain! Was the idea of marrying her into an old and once powerful family like that of the Macruadh, to her husband inconceivable? Could he not restore its property as the dowry of his unprized daughter! it would be to him but a trifle!--and he could stipulate that the chief should acknowledge the baronetcy and use his title! Mercy would then be a woman of consequence, and Peregrine would have the Bible-honour of being the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in!--Such were some of the thoughts that would come and go in the brain of the mother as she sat; nor were they without a share in her readiness to allow her daughters to go out with the young men: she had an unquestioning conviction of their safety with them.

The days went by, and what to Christina had seemed imprisonment, began to look like some sort of liberty. She had scarce come nearer to sympathy with those whose society consoled her, but their talk had ceased to sound repulsive. She was infinitely more than a well-modelled waxflower, and yet hardly a growing plant. More was needed to wake her than friends awake. It is wonderful how long the sleeping may go with the waking, and not discover any difference between them. But Grannie Nature was about to interfere.

The spring drew gently on. It would be long ere summer was summer enough to show. There seemed more of the destructive in the spring itself than of the genial--cold winds, great showers, days of steady rain, sudden assaults of hail and sleet. Still it was spring, and at length, one fine day with a bright sun, snow on the hills, and clouds in the east, but no sign of any sudden change, the girls went out for a walk, and took the younger girls with them.

A little way up the valley, out of sight of the cottage, a small burn came down its own dell to join that which flowed through the chiefs farm. Its channel was wide, but except in time of rain had little water in it. About half a mile up its course it divided, or rather the channel did, for in one of its branches there was seldom any water. At the fork was a low rocky mound, with an ancient ruin of no great size-three or four fragments of thick walls, within whose plan grew a slender birch-tree. Thither went the little party, wandering up the stream: the valley was sheltered; no wind but the south could reach it; and the sun, though it could not make it very warm, as it looked only aslant on its slopes, yet lighted both sides of it. Great white clouds passed slowly across the sky, with now and then a nearer black one threatening rain, but a wind overhead was carrying them quickly athwart.

Ian had seen the ladies pass, but made no effort to overtake them, although he was bound in the same direction: he preferred sauntering along with a book of ballads. Suddenly his attention was roused by a peculiar whistle, which he knew for that of Hector of the Stags: it was one of the few sounds he could make. Three times it was hurriedly repeated, and ere the third was over, Ian had discovered Hector high on a hill on the opposite side of the burn, waving his arms, and making eager signs to him. He stopped and set himself to understand. Hector was pointing with energy, but it was impossible to determine the exact direction: all that Ian could gather was, that his presence was wanted somewhere farther on. He resumed his walk therefore at a rapid pace, whereupon Hector pointed higher. There on the eastern horizon, towards the north, almost down upon the hills, Ian saw a congeries of clouds in strangest commotion, such as he had never before seen in any home latitude--a mass of darkly variegated vapours manifesting a peculiar and appalling unrest. It seemed tormented by a gyrating storm, twisting and contorting it with unceasing change. Now the gray came writhing out, now the black came bulging through, now a dirty brown smeared the ashy white, and now the blue shone calmly out from eternal distances. At the season he could hardly think it a thunderstorm, and stood absorbed in the unusual phenomenon. But again, louder and more hurried, came the whistling, and again he saw Hector gesticulating, more wildly than before. Then he knew that someone must be in want of help or succour, and set off running as hard as he could: he saw Hector keeping him in sight, and watching to give him further direction: perhaps the ladies had got into some difficulty!

When he arrived at the opening of the valley just mentioned, Hector's gesticulations made it quite plain it was up there he must go; and as soon as he entered it, he saw that the cloudy turmoil was among the hills at its head. With that he began to suspect the danger the hunter feared, and almost the same instant heard the merry voices of the children. Running yet faster, he came in sight of them on the other side of the stream,--not a moment too soon. The valley was full of a dull roaring sound. He called to them as he ran, and the children saw and came running down toward him, followed by Mercy. She was not looking much concerned, for she thought it only the grumbling of distant thunder. But Ian saw, far up the valley, what looked like a low brown wall across it, and knew what it was.

"Mercy!" he cried, "run up the side of the hill directly; you will be drowned--swept away if you do not."

She looked incredulous, and glanced up the hill-side, but carne on as if to cross the burn and join him.

"Do as I tell you," he cried, in a tone which few would have ventured to disregard, and turning darted across the channel toward her.

Mercy did not wait his coming, but took the children, each by a hand, and went a little way up the hill that immediately bordered the stream.

"Farther! farther!" cried Ian as he ran. "Where is Christina?"

"At the ruin," she answered.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Ian, and darted off, crying, "Up the hill with you! up the hill!"

Christina was standing by the birch-tree in the ruin, looking down the burn. She had heard Ian calling, and saw him running, but suspected no danger.

"Come; come directly; for God's sake, come!" he cried. "Look up the burn!" he added, seeing her hesitate bewildered.

She turned, looked, and came running to him, down the channel, white with terror. It was too late. The charging water, whose front rank was turf, and hushes, and stones, was almost upon her. The solid matter had retarded its rush, but it was now on the point of dividing against the rocky mound, to sweep along both sides, and turn it into an island. Ian bounded to her in the middle of the channel, caught her by the arm, and hurried her back to the mound as fast as they could run: it was the highest ground immediately accessible. As they reached it, the water broke with a roar against its rocky base, rose, swelled--and in a moment the island was covered with a brown, seething, swirling flood.

"Where's Mercy and the children?" gasped Christina, as the water rose upon her.

"Safe, safe!" answered Ian. "We must get to the ruin!"

The water was halfway up his leg, and rising fast. Their danger was but beginning. Would the old walls, in greater part built without mortar, stand the rush? If a tree should strike them, they hardly would! If the flood came from a waterspout, it would soon be over--only how high it might first rise, who could tell! Such were his thoughts as they struggled to the ruin, and stood up at the end of a wall parallel with the current.

The water was up to Christina's waist, and very cold. Here out of the rush, however, she recovered her breath in a measure, and showed not a little courage. Ian stood between her and the wall, and held her fast. The torrent came round the end of the wall from both sides, but the encounter and eddy of the two currents rather pushed them up against it. Without it they could not have stood.

The chief danger to Christina, however, was from the cold. With the water so high on her body, and flowing so fast, she could not long resist it! Ian, therefore, took her round the knees, and lifted her almost out of the water.

"Put your arms up," he said, "and lay hold of the wall. Don't mind blinding me; my eyes are of little use at present. There--put your feet in my hands. Don't be frightened; I can hold you."

"I can't help being frightened!" she panted.

"We are in God's arms," returned Ian. "He is holding us."

"Are you sure we shall not be drowned?" she asked.

"No; but I am sure the water cannot take us out of God's arms."

This was not much comfort to Christina. She did not know anything about God--did not believe in him any more than most people. She knew God's arms only as the arms of Ian--and THEY comforted her, for she FELT them!

How many of us actually believe in any support we do not immediately feel? in any arms we do not see? But every help I from God; Ian's help was God's help; and though to believe in Ian was not to believe in God, it was a step on the road toward believing in God. He that believeth not in the good man whom he hath seen, how shall he believe in the God whom he hath not seen?

She began to feel a little better; the ghastly choking at her heart was almost gone.

"I shall break your arms!" she said.

"You are not very heavy," he answered; "and though I am not so strong as Alister, I am stronger than most men. With the help of the wall I can hold you a long time."

How was it that, now first in danger, self came less to the front with her than usual? It was that now first she was face to face with reality. Until this moment her life had been an affair of unrealities. Her selfishness had thinned, as it were vaporized, every reality that approached her. Solidity is not enough to teach some natures reality; they must hurt themselves against the solid ere they realize its solidity. Small reality, small positivity of existence has water to a dreaming soul, half consciously gazing through half shut eyes at the soft river floating away in the moonlight: Christina was shivering in its grasp on her person, its omnipresence to her skin; its cold made her gasp and choke; the push and tug of it threatened to sweep her away like a whelmed log! It is when we are most aware of the FACTITUDE of things, that we are most aware of our need of God, and most able to trust in him; when most aware of their presence, the soul finds it easiest to withdraw from them, and seek its safety with the maker of it and them. The recognition of inexorable reality in any shape, or kind, or way, tends to rouse the soul to the yet more real, to its relations with higher and deeper existence. It is not the hysterical alone for whom the great dash of cold water is good. All who dream life instead of living it, require some similar shock. Of the kind is every disappointment, every reverse, every tragedy of life. The true in even the lowest kind, is of the truth, and to be compelled to feel even that, is to be driven a trifle nearer to the truth of being, of creation, of God. Hence this sharp contact with Nature tended to make Christina less selfish: it made her forget herself so far as to care for her helper as well as herself.

It must be remembered, however, that her selfishness was not the cultivated and ingrained selfishness of a long life, but that of an uneducated, that is undeveloped nature. Her being had not degenerated by sinning against light known as light; it had not been consciously enlightened at all; it had scarcely as yet begun to grow. It was not lying dead, only unawaked. I would not be understood to imply that she was nowise to blame--but that she was by no means so much to blame as one who has but suspected the presence of a truth, and from selfishness or self-admiration has turned from it. She was to blame wherever she had not done as her conscience had feebly told her; and she had not made progress just because she had neglected the little things concerning which she had promptings. There are many who do not enter the kingdom of heaven just because they will not believe the tiny key that is handed them, fit to open its hospitable gate.

"Oh, Mr. Ian, if you should be drowned for my sake!" she faltered with white lips. "You should not have come to me!"

"I would not wish a better death," said Ian.

"How can you talk so coolly about it!" she cried.

"Well," he returned, "what better way of going out of the world is there than by the door of help? No man cares much about what the idiots of the world call life! What is it whether we live in this room or another? The same who sent us here, sends for us out of here!"

"Most men care very much! You are wrong there!"

"I don't call those who do, men! They are only children! I know many men who would no more cleave to this life than a butterfly would fold his wings and creep into his deserted chrysalis-case. I do care to live--tremendously, but I don't mind where. He who made this room so well worth living in, may surely be trusted with the next!"

"I can't quite follow you," stammered Christina. "I am sorry. Perhaps it is the cold. I can't feel my hands, I am so cold."

"Leave the wall, and put your arms round my neck. The change will rest me, and the water is already falling! It will go as rapidly as it came!"

"How do you know that?"

"It has sunk nearly a foot in the last fifteen minutes: I have been carefully watching it, you may be sure! It must have been a waterspout, and however much that may bring, it pours it out all at once."

"Oh!" said Christina, with a tremulous joyfulness; "I thought it would go on ever so long!"

"We shall get out of it alive!--God's will be done!"

"Why do you say that? Don't you really mean we are going to be saved?"

"Would you want to live, if he wanted you to die?"

"Oh, but you forget, Mr. Ian, I am not ready to die, like you!" sobbed Christina.

"Do you think anything could make it better for you to stop here, after God thought it better for you to go?"

"I dare not think about it."

"Be sure God will not take you away, if it be better for you to live here a little longer. But you will have to go sometime; and if you contrived to live after God wanted you to go, you would find yourself much less ready when the time came that you must. But, my dear Miss Palmer, no one can be living a true life, to whom dying is a terror."

Christina was silent. He spoke the truth! She was not worth anything! How grand it was to look death in the face with a smile!

If she had been no more than the creature she had hitherto shown herself, not all the floods of the deluge could have made her think or feel thus: her real self, her divine nature had begun to wake. True, that nature was as yet no more like the divine, than the drowsy, arm-stretching, yawning child is like the merry elf about to spring from his couch, full of life, of play, of love. She had no faith in God yet, but it was much that she felt she was not worth anything.

You are right: it was odd to hold such a conversation at such a time! But Ian was an odd man. He actually believed that God was nearer to him than his own consciousness, yet desired communion with him! and that Jesus Christ knew what he said when he told his disciples that the Father cared for his sparrows.

Only one human being witnessed their danger, and he could give no help. Hector of the Stags had crossed the main valley above where the torrent entered it, and coming over the hill, saw with consternation the flood-encompassed pair. If there had been help in man, he could have brought none; the raging torrent blocked the way both to the village and to the chief's house. He could only stand and gaze with his heart in his eyes.

Beyond the stream lay Mercy on the hillside, with her face in the heather. Frozen with dread, she dared not look up. Had she moved but ten yards, she would have seen her sister in Ian's arms.

The children sat by her, white as death, with great lumps in their throats, and the silent tears rolling down their cheeks. It was the first time death had come near them.

A sound of sweeping steps came through the heather. They looked up: there was the chief striding toward them.

The flood had come upon him at work in his fields, whelming his growing crops. He had but time to unyoke his bulls, and run for his life. The bulls, not quite equal to the occasion, were caught and swept away. They were found a week after on the hills, nothing the worse, and nearly as wild as when first the chief took them in hand. The cottage was in no danger; and Nancy got a horse and the last of the cows from the farm-yard on to the crest of the ridge, against which the burn rushed roaring, just as the water began to invade the cowhouse and stable. The moment he reached the ridge, the chief set out to look for his brother, whom he knew to be somewhere up the valley; and having climbed to get an outlook, saw Mercy and the girls, from whose postures he dreaded that something had befallen them.

The girls uttered a cry of welcome, and the chief answered, but Mercy did not lift her head.

"Mercy," said Alister softly, and kneeling laid his hand on her.

She turned to him such a face of blank misery as filled him with consternation.

"What has happened?" he asked.

She tried to speak, but could not.

"Where is Christina?" he went on.

She succeeded in bringing out the one word "ruin."

"Is anybody with her?"


"Oh!" he returned cheerily, as if then all would be right. But a pang shot through his heart, and it was as much for himself as for Mercy that he went on: "But God is with them, Mercy. If he were not, it would be bad indeed! Where he is, all is well!"

She sat up, and putting out her hand, laid it in his great palm.

"I wish I could believe that!" she said; "but you know people ARE drowned sometimes!"

"Yes, surely! but if God be with them what does it matter! It is no worse than when a mother puts her baby into a big bath."

"It is cruel to talk like that to me when my sister is drowning!"

She gave a stifled shriek, and threw herself again on her face.

"Mercy," said the chief--and his voice trembled a little, "you do not love your sister more than I love my brother, and if he be drowned I shall weep; but I shall not be miserable as if a mocking devil were at the root of it, and not one who loves them better than we ever shall. But come; I think we shall find them somehow alive yet! Ian knows what to do in an emergency; and though you might not think it, he is a very strong man."

She rose immediately, and taking like a child the hand he offered her, went up the hill with him.

The girls ran before them, and presently gave a scream of joy.

"I see Chrissy! I see Chrissy!" cried one.

"Yes! there she is! I see her too!" cried the other.

Alister hurried up with Mercy. There was Christina! She seemed standing on the water!

Mercy burst into tears.

"But where's Ian?" she said, when she had recovered herself a little; "I don't see him!"

"He is there though, all right!" answered Alister. "Don't you see his hands holding her out of the water?"

And with that he gave a great shout:--

"Ian! Ian! hold on, old boy! I'm coming!"

Ian heard him, and was filled with terror, but had neither breath nor strength to answer. Along the hillside went Alister bounding like a deer, then turning sharp, shot headlong down, dashed into the torrent--and was swept away like a cork. Mercy gave a scream, and ran down the hill.

He was not carried very far, however. In a moment or two he had recovered himself, and crept out gasping and laughing, just below Mercy. Ian did not move. He was so benumbed that to change his position an inch would, he well knew, be to fall.

And now Hector began to behave oddly. He threw a stone, which went in front of Ian and Christina. Then he threw another, which went behind them. Then he threw a third, and Christina felt her hat caught by a bit of string. She drew it toward her as fast as numbness would permit, and found at the end a small bottle. She managed to get it uncorked, and put it to Ian's lips. He swallowed a mouthful, and made her take some. Hector stood on one side, the chief on the other, and watched the proceeding.

"What would mother say, Alister!" cried Ian across the narrowing water.

In the joy of hearing his voice, Alister rushed again into the torrent; and, after a fierce struggle, reached the mound, where he scrambled up, and putting his arms round Ian's legs with a shout, lifted the two at once like a couple of babies.

"Come! come, Alister! don't be silly!" said Ian. "Set me down!"

"Give me the girl then."

"Take her!"

Christina turned on him a sorrowful gaze as Alister took her.

"I have killed you!" she said.

"You have done me the greatest favour," he replied.

"What?" she asked.

"Accepted help."

She burst out crying. She had not shed a tear before.

"Get on the top of the wall, Ian, out of the wet," said Alister.

"You can't tell what the water may have done to the foundations, Alister! I would rather not break my leg! It is so frozen it would never mend again!"

As they talked, the torrent had fallen so much, that Hector of the Stags came wading from the other side. A few minutes more, and Alister carried Christina to Mercy.

"Now," he said, setting her down, "you must walk."

Ian could not cross without Hector's help; he seemed to have no legs. They set out at once for the cottage.

"How will your crops fare, Alister?" asked Ian.

"Part will be spoiled," replied the chief; "part not much the worse."

The torrent had rushed half-way up the ridge, then swept along the flank of it, and round the end in huge bulk, to the level on the other side. The water lay soaking into the fields. The valley was desolated. What green things had not been uprooted or carried away with the soil, were laid flat. Everywhere was mud, and scattered all over were lumps of turf, with heather, brushwood, and small trees. But it was early in the year, and there was hope!

I will spare the description of the haste and hurrying to and fro in the little house--the blowing of fires, the steaming pails and blankets, the hot milk and tea! Mrs. Macruadh rolled up her sleeves, and worked like a good housemaid. Nancy shot hither and thither on her bare feet like a fawn--you could not say she ran, and certainly she did not walk. Alister got Ian to bed, and rubbed him with rough towels--himself more wet than he, for he had been rolled over and over in the torrent. Christina fell asleep, and slept many hours. When she woke, she said she was quite well; but it was weeks before she was like herself. I doubt if ever she was quite as strong again. For some days Ian confessed to an aching in his legs and arms. It was the cold of the water, he said; but Alister insisted it was from holding Christina so long.

"Water could not hurt a highlander!" said Alister.

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