What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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Although the subject did not again come up, Mercy had not forgotten what Ian had said about listening for the word of Nature, and had resolved to get away the first time she could, and see whether Grannie, as Ian had called her, would have anything to do with her. It were hard to say what she expected--something half magical rather than anything quite natural. The notions people have of spiritual influence are so unlike the facts, that, when it begins they never recognize it, but imagine something common at work. When the Lord came, those who were looking for him did not know him:--was he not a man like themselves! did they not know his father and mother!

It was a fine spring morning when Mercy left the house to seek an interview with Nature somewhere among the hills. She took a path she knew well, and then struck into a sheep-track she had never tried. Up and up she climbed, nor spent a thought on the sudden changes to which at that season, and amongst those hills, the weather is subject. With no anxiety as to how she might fare, she was yet already not without some awe: she was at length on her pilgrimage to the temple of Isis!

Not until she was beyond sight of any house, did she begin to feel alone. It was a new sensation, and of a mingled sort. But the slight sense of anxiety and fear that made part of it, was soon overpowered by something not unlike the exhilaration of a child escaped from school. This grew and grew until she felt like a wild thing that had been caught, and had broken loose. Now first, almost, she seemed to have begun to live, for now first was she free! She might lie in the heather, walk in the stream, do as she pleased! No one would interfere with her, no one say Don't! She felt stronger and fresher than ever in her life; and the farther she went, the greater grew the pleasure. The little burn up whose banks, now the one and now the other, she was walking, kept on welcoming her unaccustomed feet to the realms of solitude and liberty. For ever it seemed coming to meet her, hasting, running steep, as if straight out of the heaven to which she was drawing nearer and nearer. The wind woke now and then, and blew on her for a moment, as. if tasting her, to see what this young Psyche was that had floated up into the wild thin air of the hills. The incessant meeting of the brook made it a companion to her although it could not go her way, and was always leaving her. But it kept her from the utter loneliness she sought; for loneliness is imperfect while sound is by, especially a sing-sound, and the brook was one of Nature's self--playing song--instruments. But she came at length to a point where the ground was too rough to let her follow its path any more, and turning from it, she began to climb a steep ridge. The growing and deepening silence as she went farther and farther from the brook, promised the very place for her purpose on the top of the heathery ridge.

But when she reached it and looked behind her, lo, the valley she had left lay at her very feet! The world had rushed after and caught her! She had not got away from it! It was like being enchanted! She thought she was leaving it far behind, but the nature she sought to escape that she might find Nature, would not let her go! It kept following her as if to see that she fell into no snare, neither was too sternly received by the loftier spaces. She could distinguish one of the laird's men, ploughing in the valley below: she knew him by his red waistcoat! Almost fiercely she turned and made for the next ridge: it would screen her from the world she had left; it should not spy upon her! The danger of losing her way back never suggested itself. She had not learned that the look of things as you go, is not their look when you turn to go back; that with your attitude their mood will have altered. Nature is like a lobster-pot: she lets you easily go on, but not easily return.

When she gained the summit of the second ridge, she looked abroad on a country of which she knew nothing. It was like the face of an utter stranger. Not far beyond. rose yet another ridge: she must see how the world looked from that! On and on she went, crossing ridge after ridge, but no place invited her to stay and be still.

She found she was weary, and spying in the midst of some short heather a great stone, sat down, and gave herself up to the rest that stole upon her. Though the sun was warm, the air was keen, and, hot with climbing, she turned her face to it, and drank in its refreshing with delight. She looked around; not a trace of humanity was visible-nothing but brown and gray and green hills, with the clear sky over her head, and in the north a black cloud creeping up from the horizon. Another sense than that of rest awoke in her; now first in her life the sense of loneliness absolute began to possess her. And therewith suddenly descended upon her a farther something she had never known; it was as if the loneliness, or what is the same thing, the presence of her own being without another to qualify and make it reasonable and endurable, seized and held her. The silence gathered substance, grew as it were solid, and closing upon her, imprisoned her. Was it not rather that the Soul of Nature, unprevented, unthwarted by distracting influences, found a freer entrance to hers, but she, not yet in harmony with it, felt its con- tact as alien-as bondage therefore and not liberty? She was nearer than ever she had been to knowing the presence of the God who is always nearer to us than aught else. Yea, something seemed, through the very persistence of its silence, to say to her at last, and keep saying, "Here I am!" She looked behind her in sudden terror: 110 form was there. She sent out her gaze to the horizon: the huge waves of the solid earth stood up against the sky, sinking so slowly she could not see them sink: they stood mouldering away, biding their time. They were of those "who only stand and wait," fulfilling the will of him who set them to crumble till the hour of the new heavens and the new earth arrive. There was no visible life between her and the great silent mouldering hills. On her right hand lay a blue segment of the ever restless sea, but so far that its commotion seemed a yet deeper rest than that of the immovable hills.

She sat and sat, but nothing came, nothing seemed coming to her. The hope Ian had given her was not to be fulfilled! For here there was no revelation! She was not of the kind Nature could speak to!

She began to grow uncomfortable--to feel as if she had done something wrong--as if she was a child put into the corner--a corner of the great universe, to learn to be sorry for something. Certainly something was wrong with her-but what? Why did she feel so uncomfortable? Was she so silly as mind being alone? There was nothing in these mountains that would hurt her! The red deer were ^sometimes dangerous, but none were even within sight! Yet something like fear was growing in her! Why should she be afraid? Everything about her certainly did look strange, as if she had nothing to do with it, and it had nothing to do with her; but that was all! Ian Macruadh must be wrong! How could there be any such bond as he said between Nature and the human heart, when the first thing she felt when alone with her, was fear! The world was staring at her! She was the centre of a fixed, stony regard from all sides! The earth, and the sea, and the sky, were watching her! She did not like it! She would rise and shake off the fancy! But she did not rise; something held her to her thinking. Just so she would, when a child in the dark, stand afraid to move lest the fear itself, lying in wait like a tigress, should at her first motion pounce upon her. The terrible, persistent silence!--would nothing break it! And there was in herself a response to it--something that was in league with it, and kept telling her that things were not all right with her; that she ought not to be afraid, yet had good reason for being afraid; that she knew of no essential safety. There must be some refuge, some impregnable hiding-place, for the thing was a necessity, and she ought to know of it! There must be a human condition of never being afraid, of knowing nothing to be afraid of! She wondered whether, if she were quite good, went to church twice every Sunday, and read her bible every morning, she would come not to be afraid of-she did not know what. It would be grand to have no fear of person or thing! She was sometimes afraid of her own father, even when she knew no reason! How that mountain with the horn kept staring at her!

It was all nonsense! She was silly! She would get up and go home: it must be time!

But things were not as they should be! Something was required of her! Was it God wanting her to do something? She had never thought whether he required anything of her! She must be a better girl! Then she would have God with her, and not be afraid!

And all the time it was God near her that was making her unhappy. For, as the Son of Man came not to send peace on the earth but a sword, so the first visit of God to the human soul is generally in a cloud of fear and doubt, rising from the soul itself at his approach. The sun is the cloud-dispeller, yet often he must look through a fog if he would visit the earth at all. The child, not being a son, does not know his father. He may know he is what is called a father; what the word means he does not know. How then should he understand when the father comes to deliver him from his paltry self, and give him life indeed!

She tried to pray. She said, "Oh G--od! forgive me, and make me good. I want to be good!" Then she rose.

She went some little way without thinking where she was going, and then found she did not even know from what direction she had come. A sharp new fear, quite different from the former, now shot through her heart: she was lost! She had told no one she was going anywhere! No one would have a notion where to look for her! She had been beginning to feel hungry, but fear drove hunger away. All she knew was that she must not stay there. Here was nowhere; walking on she might come somewhere--that is, among human beings! So out she set on her weary travel from no-where to somewhere, giving Nature little thanks. She did not suspect that her grandmother had been doing anything for her by the space around her, or that now, by the tracklessness, the lostness, she was doing yet more. On and on she walked, climbing the one hillside and descending the other, going she knew not whither, hardly hoping she drew one step nearer home.

All at once her strength went from her. She sat down and cried. But with her tears came the thought how the chief and his brother talked of God. She remembered she had heard in church that men ought to cry to God in their troubles. Broken verses of a certain psalm came to her, saying God delivered those who cried to him even from things they had brought on themselves, and she had been doing nothing wrong! She tried to trust in him, but could not: he was as far from her as the blue heavens! True, it bent over all, but its one great eye was much too large to see the trouble she was in! What did it matter to the blue sky if she fell down and withered up to bones and dust! She well might-for here no foot of man might pass till she was a thing terrible to look at! If there was nobody where seemed to be nothing, how fearfully empty was the universe! Ah, if she had God for her friend! What if he was her friend, and she had not known it because she never spoke to him, never asked him to do anything for her? It was horrible to think it could be a mere chance whether she got home, or died there! She would pray to God! She would ask him to take her home!

A wintery blast came from the north. The black cloud had risen, and was now spreading over the zenith. Again the wind came with an angry burst and snarl. Snow carne swept upon it in hard sharp little pellets. She started up, and forgot to pray.

Some sound in the wind or some hidden motion of memory all at once let loose upon her another fear, which straight was agony. A rumour had reached the New House the night before, that a leopard had broken from a caravan, and got away to the hills. It was but a rumour; some did not believe it, and the owners contradicted it, but a party had set out with guns and dogs. It was true! it was true! There was the terrible creature crouching behind that stone! He was in every clump of heather she passed, swinging his tail, and ready to spring upon her! He must be hungry by this time, and there was nothing there for him to eat but her! By and by, however, she was too cold to be afraid, too cold to think, and presently, half-frozen and faint for lack of food, was scarce able to go a step farther. She saw a great rock, sank down in the shelter of it, and in a minute was asleep. She slept for some time, and woke a little refreshed. The wonder is that she woke at all. It was dark, and her first consciousness was ghastly fear. The wind had ceased, and the storm was over. Little snow had fallen. The stars were all out overhead, and the great night was round her, enclosing, watching her. She tried to rise, and could just move her limbs. Had she fallen asleep again, she would not have lived through the night. But it is idle to talk of what would have been; nothing could have been but what was. Mercy wondered afterwards that she did not lose her reason. She must, she thought, have been trusting somehow in God.

It was terribly dreary. Sure never one sorer needed God's help! And what better reason could there be for helping her than that she so sorely needed it! Perhaps God had let her walk into this trouble that she might learn she could not do without him! She--would try to be good! How terrible was the world, with such wide spaces and nobody in them!

And all the time, though she did not know it, she was sobbing and weeping.

The black silence was torn asunder by the report of a gun. She started up with a strange mingling of hope and terror, gave a loud cry, and sank senseless. The leopard would be upon her!

Her cry was her deliverance.

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