What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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Ian, the light of his mother's eyes, was gone, and she felt forsaken. Alister was too much occupied with Mercy to feel his departure as on former occasions, yet he missed him every hour of the day. Mercy and he met, but not for some time in open company, as Christina refused to go near the cottage. Things were ripening to a change.

Alister's occupation with Mercy, however, was far from absorption; the moment Ian was gone, he increased his attention to his mother, feeling she had but him. But his mother was not quite the same to him now. At times she was even more tender; at other times she seemed to hold him away from her, as one with whom she was not in sympathy. The fear awoke in him that she might so speak to some one of the Palmers as to raise an insuperable barrier between the families; and this fear made him resolve to come at once to an understanding with Mercy. The resulting difficulties might be great; he felt keenly the possible alternative of his loss of Mercy, or Mercy's loss of her family; but the fact that he loved her gave him a right to tell her so, and made it his duty to lay before her the probability of an obstacle. That his mother did not like the alliance had to be braved, for a man must leave father and mother and cleave to his wife--a saying commonly by male presumption inverted. Mercy's love he believed such that she would, without a thought, leave the luxury of her father's house for the mere plenty of his. That it would not be to descend but to rise in the true social scale he would leave her to discover. Had he known what Mr. Palmer was, and how his money had been made, he would neither have sought nor accepted his acquaintance, and it would no more have been possible to fall in love with one of his family than to covet one of his fine horses. But that which might, could, would, or should have been, affected in no way that which was. He had entered in ignorance, by the will of God, into certain relations with "the young woman," as his mother called her, and those relations had to be followed to their natural and righteous end.

Talking together over possibilities, Mr. Peregrine Palmer had agreed with his wife that, Mercy being so far from a beauty, it might not be such a bad match, would not at least be one to be ashamed of, if she did marry the impoverished chief of a highland clan with a baronetcy in his pocket. Having bought the land cheap, he could afford to let a part, perhaps even the whole of it, go back with his daughter, thus restoring to its former position an ancient and honourable family. The husband of his younger daughter would then be head of one of the very few highland families yet in possession of their ancestral acres--a distinction he would owe to Peregrine Palmer! It was a pleasant thought to the kindly, consequential, common little man. Mrs. Palmer, therefore, when the chief called upon her, received him with more than her previous cordiality.

His mother would have been glad to see him return from his call somewhat dejected; he entered so radiant and handsome, that her heart sank within her. Was she actually on the point of being allied through the child of her bosom to a distiller and brewer--a man who had grown rich on the ruin of thousands of his fellow countrymen? To what depths might not the most ancient family sink! For any poverty, she said to herself, she was prepared--but how was she to endure disgrace! Alas for the clan, whose history was about to cease--smothered in the defiling garment of ill-gotten wealth! Miserable, humiliating close to ancient story! She had no doubt as to her son's intention, although he had said nothing; she KNEW that his refusal of dower would be his plea in justification; but would that deliver them from the degrading approval of the world? How many, if they ever heard of it, would believe that the poor, high-souled Macruadh declined to receive a single hundred from his father-in-law's affluence! That he took his daughter poor as she was born--his one stipulation that she should be clean from her father's mud! For one to whom there would even be a chance of stating the truth of the matter, a hundred would say, "That's your plan! The only salvation for your shattered houses! Point them up well with the bird-lime of the brewer, the quack, or the money-lender, and they'll last till doom'sday!"

Thus bitterly spoke the mother. She brooded and scorned, raged inwardly, and took to herself dishonour, until evidently she was wasting. The chief's heart was troubled; could it be that she doubted his strength to resist temptation? He must make haste and have the whole thing settled! And first of all speak definitely to Mercy on the matter!

He had appointed to meet her the same evening, and went long before the hour to watch for her appearing. He climbed the hill, and lay down in the heather whence he could see the door of the New House, and Mercy the moment she should come out of it. He lay there till the sun was down, and the stars began to appear. At length--and even then it was many minutes to the time--he saw the door open, and Mercy walk slowly to the gate. He rose and went down the hill. She saw him, watched him descending, and the moment he reached the road, went to meet him. They walked slowly down the road, without a word spoken, until they felt themselves alone.

"You look so lovely!" said the chief.

"In the twilight, I suppose!" said Mercy.

"Perhaps; you are a creature of the twilight, or the night rather, with your great black eyes!"

"I don't like you to speak to me so! You never did before! You know I am not lovely! I am very plain!"

She was evidently not pleased.

"What have I done to vex you, Mercy?" he rejoined. "Why should you mind my saying what is true?"

She bit her lip, and could hardly speak to answer him. Often in London she had been morally sickened by the false rubbish talked to her sister, and had boasted to herself that the chief had never paid her a compliment. Now he had done it!

She took her hand from his arm.

"I think I will go home!" she said.

Alister stopped and turned to her. The last gleam of the west was reflected from her eyes, and all the sadness of the fading light seemed gathered into them.

"My child!" he said, all that was fatherly in the chief rising at the sight, "who has been making you unhappy?"

"You," she answered, looking him in the face.

"How? I do not understand!" he returned, gazing at her bewildered.

"You have just paid me a compliment--a thing you never did before--a thing I never heard before from any but a fool! How could you say I was beautiful! You know I am not beautiful! It breaks my heart to think you could say what you didn't believe!"

"Mercy!" answered the chief, "if I said you were beautiful, and to my eyes you were not, it would yet be true; for to my heart, which sees deeper than my eyes, you are more beautiful than any other ever was or ever will be. I know you are not beautiful in the world's meaning, but you are very lovely--and it was lovely I said you were!"

"Lovely because you love me? Is that what you meant?"

"Yes, that and more. Your eyes are beautiful, and your hair is beautiful, and your expression is lovely. But I am not flattering you--I am not even paying you compliments, for those things are not yours; God made them, and has given them to me!"

She put her hand in his arm again, and there was no more love-making.

"But Mercy," said the chief, when they had walked some distance without speaking, "do you think you could live here always, and never see London again?"

"I would not care if London were scratched out."

"Could you be content to be a farmer's wife?"

"If he was a very good farmer," she answered, looking up archly.

"Am I a good enough farmer, then, to serve your turn?"

"Good enough if I were ten times better. Do you really mean it, Macruadh?"

"With all my heart. Only there is one thing I am very anxious about."

"What is that?"

"How your father will take my condition."

"He will allow, I think, that it is good enough for me--and more than I deserve."

"That is not what I mean; it is that I have a certain condition to make."

"Else you won't marry me? That seems strange! Of course I will do anything you would wish me to do! A condition!" she repeated, ponderingly, with just a little dissatisfaction in the tone.

Alister wondered she was not angry. But she trusted him too well to take offence readily.

"Yes," he rejoined, "a real condition! Terms belong naturally to the giver, not the petitioner; I hope with all my heart it will not offend him. It will not offend you, I think."

"Let me hear your condition," said Mercy, looking at him curiously, her honest eyes shining in the faint light.

"I want him to let me take you just as you are, without a shilling of his money to spoil the gift. I want you in and for yourself."

"I dare not think you one who would rather not be obliged to his wife for anything!" said Mercy. "That cannot be it!"

She spoke with just a shadow of displeasure. He did not answer. He was in great dread of hurting her, and his plain reason could not fail to hurt her.

"Well," she resumed, as he did not reply, "there are fathers, I daresay, who would not count that a hard condition!"

"Of course your father will not like the idea of your marrying so poor a man!"

"If he should insist on your having something with me, you will not refuse, will you? Why should you mind it?"

Alister was silent. The thing had already begun to grow dreadful! How could he tell her his reasons! Was it necessary to tell her? If he had to explain, it must be to her father, not to her! How, until absolutely compelled, reveal the horrible fact that her father was despised by her lover! She might believe it her part to refuse such love! He trembled lest she should urge him. But Mercy, thinking she had been very bold already, also held her peace.

They tried to talk about other things, but with little success, and when they parted, it was with a sense on both sides that something had got between them. The night through Mercy hardly slept for trying to discover what his aversion to her dowry might mean. No princedom was worth contrasting with poverty and her farmer-chief, but why should not his love be able to carry her few thousands? It was impossible his great soul should grudge his wife's superiority in the one poor trifle of money! Was not the whole family superior to money! Had she, alas, been too confident in their greatness? Must she be brought to confess that their grand ways had their little heart of pride? Did they not regard themselves as the ancient aristocracy of the country! Yes, it must be! The chief despised the origin of her father's riches!

But, although so far in the direction of the fact, she had no suspicion of anything more than landed pride looking down upon manufacture and trade. She suspected no moral root of even a share in the chief's difficulty. Naturally, she was offended. How differently Christina would have met the least hint of a CONDITION, she thought. She had been too ready to show and confess her love! Had she stood off a little, she might have escaped this humiliation! But would that have been honest? Must she not first of all be true? Was the chief, whatever his pride, capable of being ungenerous? Questions like these kept coming and going throughout the night. Hither and thither went her thoughts, refusing to be controlled. The morning came, the sun rose, and she could not find rest. She had come to see how ideally delightful it was just to wait God's will of love, yet, in this her first trouble, she actually forgot to think of God, never asked him to look after the thing for her, never said, "Thy will be done!" And when at length weariness overpowered her, fell asleep like a heathen, without a word from her heart to the heart.

Alister missed Ian sorely. He prayed to God, but was too troubled to feel him near. Trouble imagined may seem easy to meet; trouble actual is quite another thing! His mother, perhaps, was to have her desire; Mercy, perhaps, would not marry a man who disapproved of her family! Between them already was what could not be talked about! He could not set free his heart to her!

When Mercy woke, the old love was awake also; let Alister's reason be what it might, it was not for her to resent it! The life he led was so much grander than a life spent in making money, that he must feel himself superior! Throned in the hearts, and influencing the characters of men, was he not in a far nobler position than money could give him? From her night of doubt and bitterness Mercy issued more loving and humble. What should she be now, she said to herself, if Alister had not taught her? He had been good to her as never father or brother! She would trust him! She would believe him right! Had he hurt her pride? It was well her pride should be hurt! Her mind was at rest.

But Alister must continue in pain and dread until he had spoken to her father. Knowing then the worst, he might use argument with Mercy; the moment for that was not yet come! If he consented that his daughter should leave him undowered, an explanation with Mercy might be postponed. When the honour of her husband was more to her than the false credit of her family, when she had had time to understand principles which, born and brought up as she had been, she might not yet be able to see into, then it would be time to explain! One with him, she would see things as he saw them! Till her father came, he would avoid the subject!

All the morning he was busy in the cornyard--with his hands in preparing new stances for ricks, with his heart in try ing to content himself beforehand with whatever fate the Lord might intend for him. As yet he was more of a Christian philosopher than a philosophical Christian. The thing most disappointing to him he would treat as the will of God for him, and try to make up his mind to it, persuading himself it was the right and best thing--as if he knew it the will of God. He was thus working in the region of supposition, and not of revealed duty; in his own imagination, and not in the will of God. If this should not prove the will of God concerning him, then he was spending his strength for nought. There is something in the very presence and actuality of a thing to make one able to bear it; but a man may weaken himself for bearing what God intends him to bear, by trying to bear what God does not intend him to bear. The chief was forestalling the morrow like an unbeliever--not without some moral advantage, I dare say, but with spiritual loss. We have no right to school ourselves to an imaginary duty. When we do not know, then what he lays upon us is NOT TO KNOW, and to be content not to know. The philosopher is he who lives in the thought of things, the Christian is he who lives in the things themselves. The philosopher occupies himself with Grod's decree, the Christian with God's will; the philosopher with what God may intend, the Christian with what God wants HIM TO DO.

The laird looked up and there were the young ladies! It was the first time Christina had come nigh the cottage since Ian's departure.

"Can you tell me, Macruadh," she said, "what makes Mrs. Conal so spiteful always? When we bade her good morning a few minutes ago, she overwhelmed us with a torrent of abuse!"

"How did you know it was abuse?"

"We understand enough of Gaelic to know it was not exactly blessing us she was. It is not necessary to know cat-language to distinguish between purring and spitting! What harm have we done? Her voice was fierce, and her eyes were like two live peats flaming at us! Do speak to her."

"It would be of no use!"

"Where's the good of being chief then? I don't ask you to make the old woman civil, but I think you might keep her from insulting your friends! I begin to think your chiefdom a sham!"

"I doubt indeed if it reaches to the tongues of the clan! But let us go and tell my mother. She may be able to do something with her!"

Christina went into the cottage; the chief drew Mercy back.

"What do you think the first duty of married people, Mercy--to each other, I mean," he said.

"To be always what they look," answered Mercy.

"Yes, but I mean actively. What is it their first duty to do towards each other?"

"I can't answer that without thinking."

"Is it not each to help the other to do the will of God?"

"I would say YES if I were sure I really meant it."

"You will mean it one day."

"Are you sure God will teach me?"

"I think he cares more to do that than anything else."

"More than to save us?"

"What is saving but taking us out of the dark into the light? There is no salvation but to know God and grow like him."

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