What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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SEED-PEARLS into the feeding-trough, to break the teeth of them that are there at meat. He had but lifted a corner to give them a glimpse of the Life eternal, and the girls thought him ridiculous! The human caterpillar that has not yet even begun to sicken with the growth of her psyche-wings, is among the poorest of the human animals!

But Christina was not going to give in! Her one idea of the glory of life was the subjugation of men. As if moved by a sudden impulse, she went close up to him.

"Do not be angry with me," she said, almost coaxingly, but with a visible mingling of boldness and shyness, neither of them quite assumed; for, though conscious of her boldness, she was not frightened; and there was something in the eagle-face that made it easy to look shy. "I did not mean to be rude. I am sorry."

"You mistake me," he said gently. "I only wanted you to know you misjudged my brother."

"Then, if you have forgiven me, you will let me sit for a few minutes! I am SO tired with walking in the sticky earth!"

"Do, pray, sit down," responded Ian heartily, and led the way.

But she sank gracefully at the foot of the next fir, while Mercy sat down on the bench.

"Do go on with your pipe," she said, looking up as she arranged her dress; "I am quite used to smoke. Papa would smoke in church if he dared!"

"Chrissy! You KNOW he NEVER smokes in the drawing-room!" cried Mercy, scandalized.

"I have seen him--when mamma was away."

Ian began to be a little more interested in the plain one. But what must his mother think to see them sitting there together! He could not help it! if ladies chose to sit down, it was not for him to forbid them! And there WAS a glimmer of conscience in the younger!

Most men believe only what they find or imagine possible to themselves. They may be sure of this, that there are men so different from them that no judgment they pass upon them is worth a straw, simply because it does not apply to them. I assert of Ian that neither beauty nor intellect attracted him. Imagination would entice him, but the least lack of principle would arrest its influence. The simplest manifestation of a live conscience would draw him more than anything else. I do not mean the conscience that proposes questions, but the conscience that loves right and turns from wrong.

Notwithstanding the damsel's invitation, he did not resume his pipe. He was simple, but not free and easy--too sensitive to the relations of life to be familiar upon invitation with any girl. If she was not one with whom to hold real converse, it was impossible to blow dandelions with her, and talk must confine itself to the commonplace. After gentlest assays to know what was possible, the result might be that he grew courteously playful, or drew back, and confined himself to the formal.

In the conversation that followed, he soon found the younger capable of being interested, and, having seen much in many parts of the world, had plenty to tell her. Christina smiled sweetly, taking everything with over-gentle politeness, but looking as if all that interested her was, that there they were, talking about it. Provoked at last by her persistent lack of GENUINE reception, Ian was tempted to try her with something different: perhaps she might be moved to horror! Any feeling would be a FIND! He thought he would tell them an adventure he had read in a book of travels.

In Persia, alone in a fine moonlit night, the traveller had fallen asleep on his horse, but woke suddenly, roused by something frightful, he did not know what. The evil odour all about him explained, however, his bewilderment and terror. Presently he was bumped on this side, then bumped on that; first one knee, then the other, would be struck; now the calf of one leg was caught, now the calf of the other; then both would be caught at once, and he shoved nearly over his pommel. His horse was very uneasy, but could ill help himself in the midst of a moving mass of uncertain objects. The traveller for a moment imagined himself in a boat on the sea, with a huge quantity of wrecked cargo floating around him, whence came the frequent collisions he was undergoing; but he soon perceived that the vague shapes were boxes, pannierwise on the backs of mules, moving in caravan along the desert. Of not a few the lids were broken, of some gone altogether, revealing their contents--the bodies of good Mussulmans, on their way to the consecrated soil of Mecca for burial. Carelessly shambled the mules along, stumbling as they jogged over the uneven ground, their boxes tilting from side to side, sorely shaken, some of them, in frustration of dying hopes, scattering their contents over the track--for here and there a mule carried but a wreck of coffins. On and on over the rough gravelly waste, under the dead cold moon, weltered the slow stream of death!

"You may be sure," concluded Ian, "he made haste out of the ruck! But it was with difficulty he got clear, happily to windward--then for an hour sat motionless on his horse, watching through the moonlight the long dark shadow flitting toward its far-off goal. When at length he could no longer descry it, he put his horse to his speed--but not to overtake it."

As he spoke, Mercy's eyes grew larger and larger, never leaving his face. She had at least imagination enough for that! Christina curled her pretty lip, and looked disgusted. The one at a horrible tale was horrified, the other merely disgusted! The one showed herself capable of some reception; the other did not.

"Something might be done with that girl!" thought Ian.

"Did he see their faces?" drawled Christina.

Mercy was silent, but her eyes remained fixed on him. It was Ian's telling, more than the story, that impressed her.

"I don't think he mentions them," answered Ian. "But shall I tell you," he went on, "what seems to me the most unpleasant thing about the business?"

"Do," said Christina.

"It is that the poor ghosts should see such a disagreeable fuss made with their old clothes."

Christina smiled.

"Do you think ghosts see what goes on after they are dead?" asked Mercy.

"The ghosts are not dead," said Ian, "and I can't tell. But I am inclined to think some ghosts have to stay a while and look on."

"What would be the good of that?" returned Mercy.

"Perhaps to teach them the little good they were in, or got out of the world," he answered. "To have to stick to a thing after it is dead, is terrible, but may teach much."

"I don't understand you," said Mercy. "The world is not dead!"

"Better and better!" thought Ian with himself. "The girl CAN understand!--A thing is always dead to you when you have done with it," he answered her. "Suppose you had a ball-dress crumpled and unsightly--the roses on it withered, and the tinsel shining hideously through them--would it not be a dead dress?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Then suppose, for something you had done, or for something you would not stop being, you had to wear that ball-dress till something came about--you would be like the ghosts that cannot get away.--Suppose, when you were old and wrinkled,--"

"You are very amusing, Captain Macruadh!" said Christina, with a bell-like laugh. But Ian went on.

"Some stories tell us of ghosts with the same old wrinkled faces in which they died. The world and its uses over, they are compelled to haunt it still, seeing how things go but taking no share in them beholding the relief their death is to all, feeling they have lost their chance of beauty, and are fixed in ugliness, having wasted being itself! They are like a man in a miserable dream, in which he can do nothing, but in which he must stay, and go dreaming, dreaming on without hope of release. To be in a world and have nothing to do with it, must be awful! A little more imagination would do some people good!"

"No, please!--no more for me!" said Christina, laughing as she rose.

Mercy was silent. Though she had never really thought about anything herself, she did not doubt that certain people were in earnest about something. She knew that she ought to be good, and she knew she was not good; how to be good she did not know, for she had never set herself, to be good. She sometimes wished she were good; but there are thousands of wandering ghosts who would be good if they might without taking trouble: the kind of goodness they desire would not be worth a life to hold it.

Fear is a wholesome element in the human economy; they are merely silly who would banish it from all association with religion. True, there is no religion in fear; religion is love, and love casts out fear; but until a man has love, it is well he should have fear. So long as there are wild beasts about, it is better to be afraid than secure.

The vague awe ready to assail every soul that has not found rest in its source, readier the more honest the soul, had for the first time laid hold of Mercy. The earnest face of the speaker had most to do with it. She had never heard anybody talk like that!

The lady of the house appeared, asking, with kind dignity, if they would not take some refreshment: to a highlander hospitality is a law where not a passion. Christina declined the offer.

"Thanks! we were only a little tired, and are quite rested now," she said. "How beautifully sheltered your house is!"

"On the side of the sea, yes," answered Mrs. Macruadh; "but not much on the east where we want it most. The trees are growing, however!"

When the sisters were out of sight of the cottage--

"Well!" remarked Christina, "he's a nice young man too, is he not? Exceedingly well bred! And what taste he has! He knows how to amuse ladies!"

Mercy did not answer.

"I never heard anything so disgusting!" pursued Christina.

"But," suggested Mercy, "you like to READ horrid stories, Chrissy! You said so only yesterday! And there was nothing in what he told us that oughtn't to be spoken about."

"What!--not those hideous coffins--and the bodies dropping out of them--all crawling, no doubt?"

"That is your own, Chrissy! You KNOW he did not go so far as that! If Colonel Webberly had told you the story, you would have called it charming--in fun, of course, I mean!"

But Christina never liked the argumentum ad feminam.

"I would not! You know I would not!" she exclaimed. "I do believe the girl has fallen in love with the horrid man! Of the two, I declare, I like the ploughman better. I am sorry I happened to vex him; he is a good stupid sort of fellow! I can't bear this man! How horribly he fixed his eyes on you when he was talking that rubbish about the ball-dress!"

"He was anxious to make himself understood. I know he made me think I must mind what I was about!"

"Oh, nonsense! We didn't come into this wilderness to be preached to by a lay John the Baptist! He is an ill-bred fellow!"

She would not have said so much against him, had not Mercy taken his part.

Mercy rarely contradicted her sister, but even this brief passage with a real man had roused the justice in her.

"I don't agree with you, Chrissy," she said. "He seems to me VERY MUCH of a gentleman!"

She did not venture to say all she felt, not choosing to be at absolute variance, and the threatened quarrel blew over like a shower in spring.

But some sort of impression remained from the words of Ian on the mind of Mercy, for the next morning she read a chapter in the book of Genesis, and said a prayer her mother had taught her.

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