What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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The next morning, soon after sunrise, the laird began to cut his barley. Ian would gladly have helped, but Alister had a notion that such labour was not fit for him.

"I had a comical interview this morning," said the chief, entering the kitchen at dinner-time. "I was out before my people, and was standing by the burn-side near the foot-bridge, when I heard somebody shouting, and looked up. There was a big English fellow in gray on the top of the ridge, with his gun on his shoulder, hollo-ing. I knew he was English by his hollo-ing. It was plain it was to me, but not choosing to be at his beck and call, I took no heed. 'Hullo, you there! wake up!' he cried. 'What should I wake up for?' I returned. 'To carry my bag. You don't seem to have anything to do! I'll give you five shillings.'"

"You see to what you expose yourself by your unconventlonalities, Alister!" said his brother, with rnock gravity.

"It was not the fellow we carried home the other night, Ian; it was one twice his size. It would take all I have to carry HIM as far!"

"The other must have pointed you out to him!"

"It was much too dark for him to know me again!"

"You forget the hall-lamp!" said Ian.

"Ah, yes, to be sure! I had forgotten!" answered Alister. "To tell the truth, I thought, when I took his shilling, he would never know me from Nebuchadnezzar: that is the one thing I am ashamed of in the affair--I did in the dark what perhaps I should not have done in the daylight!--I don't mean I would not have carried him and his bag too! I refer only to the shilling! Now, of course, I will hold my face to it; but I thought it better to be short with a fellow like that."


"'You'll want prepayment, no doubt!' he went on, putting his hand in his pocket. Those Sasunnach fellows think every highlandman keen as a hawk after their dirty money!"

"They have but too good reason in some parts!" said the mother. "It is not so bad here yet, but there is a great difference in that respect. The old breed is fast disappearing. What with the difficulty of living by the hardest work, and the occasional chance of earning a shilling easily, many have turned both idle and greedy."

"That's for you and your shilling, Alister!" said Ian.

"I confess," returned Alister, "if I had foreseen what an idea of the gentlemen of the country I might give, I should have hesitated. But I haven't begun to be ashamed yet!"

"Ashamed, Alister!" cried Ian. "What does it matter what a fellow like that thinks of you?"

"And mistress Conal has her shilling!" said the mother.

"If the thing was right," pursued Ian, "no harm can come of it; if it was not right, no end of harm may come. Are you sure it was good for mistress Conal to have that shilling, Alister? What if it be drawing away her heart from him who is watching his old child in her turf-hut? What if the devil be grinning at her from, that shilling?"

"Ian! if God had not meant her to have the shilling, he would not have let Alister earn it."

"Certainly God can take care of her from a shilling!" said Ian, with one of his strangely sweet smiles. "I was only trying Alister, mother."

"I confess I did not like the thought of it at first," resumed Mrs. Macruadh; "but it was mere pride; for when I thought of your father, I knew he would have been pleased with Alister."

"Then, mother, I am glad; and I don't care what Ian, or any Sasunnach under the sun, may think of me."

"But you haven't told us," said Ian, "how the thing ended."

"I said to the fellow," resumed Alister, "that I had my shearing to do, and hadn't the time to go with him. 'Is this your season for sheep-shearing?' said he.'We call cutting the corn shearing,' I answered, 'because in these parts we use the reaping hook.' 'That is a great waste of labour!' he returned. I did not tell him that some of our land would smash his machines like toys. 'How?' I asked. 'It costs so much more,' he said. 'But it feeds so many more!' I replied. 'Oh yes, of course, if you don't want the farmer to make a living!' 'I manage to make a living,' I said. 'Then you are the farmer?' 'So it would appear.' 'I beg your pardon; I thought--' 'You thought I was an idle fellow, glad of an easy job to keep the life in me!' 'You were deuced glad of a job the other night, they tell me!' 'So I was. I wanted a shilling for a poor woman, and hadn't one to give her without going home a mile and a half for it!' By this time he had come down, and I had gone a few steps to meet him; I did not want to seem unfriendly. 'Upon my word, it was very good of you! The old lady ought to be grateful!' he said. 'So ought we all,' I answered, '--I to your friend for the shilling, and he to me for taking his bag. He did me one good turn for my poor woman, and I did him another for his poor leg!' 'So you're quits!' said he. 'Not at all,' I answered; 'on the contrary, we are under mutual obligation.' 'I don't see the difference!--Hillo, there's a hare!' And up went his gun to his shoulder. 'None of that!' I cried, and knocked up the barrel. 'What do you mean?' he roared, looking furious. 'Get out of the way, or I'll shoot you.' 'Murder as well as poaching!' I said. 'Poaching!' he shouted. 'That rabbit is mine,' I answered; 'I will not have it killed.' 'Cool!--on Mr. Palmer's land!' said he. 'The land is mine, and I am my own gamekeeper!' I rejoined. 'You look like it!' he said. 'You go after your birds!--not in this direction though,' I answered, and turned and left him."

"You were rough with him!" said Ian.

"I did lose my temper rather."

"It was a mistake on his part."

"I expected to hear him fire," Alister continued, "for there was the rabbit he took for a hare lurching slowly away! I'm glad he didn't: I always feel bad after a row!--Can a conscience ever get too fastidious, Ian?"

"The only way to find that out is always to obey it."

"So long as it agrees with the Bible, Ian!" interposed the mother.

"The Bible is a big book, mother, and the things in it are of many sorts," returned Ian. "The Lord did not go with every thing in it."

"Ian! Ian! I am shocked to hear you!"

"It is the truth, mother."

"What WOULD your father say!"

"'He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.'"

Ian rose from the table, knelt by his mother, and laid his head on her shoulder.

She was silent, pained by his words, and put her arm round him as if to shelter him from the evil one. Homage to will and word of the Master, apart from the acceptance of certain doctrines concerning him, was in her eyes not merely defective but dangerous. To love the Lord with the love of truest obedience; to believe him the son of God and the saver of men with absolute acceptance of the heart, was far from enough! it was but sentimental affection!

A certain young preacher in Scotland some years ago, accused by an old lady of preaching works, took refuge in the Lord's sermon on the mount: "Ow ay!" answered the partisan, "but he was a varra yoong mon whan he preacht that sermon!"

Alister rose and went: there was to him something specially sacred in the communion of his mother and brother. Heartily he held with Ian, but shrank from any difference with his mother. For her sake he received Sunday after Sunday in silence what was to him a bushel of dust with here and there a bit of mouldy bread in it; but the mother did not imagine any great coincidence of opinion between her and Alister any more than between her and Ian. She had not the faintest notion how much genuine faith both of them had, or how it surpassed her own in vitality.

But while Ian seemed to his brother, who knew him best, hardly touched with earthly stain, Alister, notwithstanding his large and dominant humanity, was still in the troublous condition of one trying to do right against a powerful fermentation of pride. He held noblest principles; but the sediment of generations was too easily stirred up to cloud them. He was not quite honest in his attitude towards some of his ancestors, judging them far more leniently than he would have judged others. He loved his neighbour, but his neighbour was mostly of his own family or his own clan. He MIGHT have been unjust for the sake of his own--a small fault in the eyes of the world, but a great fault indeed in a nature like his, capable of being so much beyond it. For, while the faults of a good man cannot be such evil things as the faults of a bad man, they are more blameworthy, and greater faults than the same would be in a bad man: we must not confuse the guilt of the person with the abstract evil of the thing.

Ian was one of those blessed few who doubt in virtue of a larger faith. While its roots were seeking a deeper soil, it could not show so fast a growth above ground, He doubted most about the things he loved best, while he devoted the energies of a mind whose keenness almost masked its power, to discover possible ways of believing them. To the wise his doubts would have been his best credentials; they were worth tenfold the faith of most. It was truth, and higher truth, he was always seeking. The sadness which coloured his deepest individuality, only one thing could ever remove--the conscious presence of the Eternal. This is true of all sadness, but Ian knew it.

He overtook Alister on his way to the barley-field.

"I have been trying to find out wherein lay the falseness of the position in which you found yourself this morning," he said. "There could be nothing wrong in doing a small thing for its reward any more than a great one; where I think you went wrong was in ASSUMING your social position afterwards: you should have waited for its being accorded you. There was no occasion to be offended with the man. You ought to have seen how you must look to him, and given him time. I don't perceive why you should be so gracious to old mistress Conal, and so hard upon him. Certainly you would not speak as he did to any man, but he has been brought up differently; he is not such a gentleman as you cannot help being. In a word, you ought to have treated him as an inferior, and been more polite to him."

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