What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

Home - George MacDonald - What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

Prev | Next | Contents


Events, then, because of the deeper things whence they came, seemed sorely against any cordial approach of the old and the new houses of Glenruadh. But there was a sacred enemy within the stronghold of Mr. Peregrine Palmer, and that enemy forbade him to break with the young highlanders notwithstanding the downright mode in which they had expressed their difference with him: he felt, without knowing it, ashamed of the things he had uttered; they were not such as he would wish proclaimed from the house-tops out of the midst of which rose heavenward the spire of the church he had built; neither did the fact that he would have no man be wicked on Sundays, make him feel quite right in urging young men to their swing on other days.

Christian and Sercombe could not but admire the straightforwardness of the brothers; their conventionality could not prevent them from feeling the dignity with which they acted on their convictions. The quixotic young fellows ought not to be cut for their behaviour! They could not court their society, but would treat them with consideration! Things could not well happen to bring them into much proximity!

What had taken place could not definitely influence the ideas, feelings, or opinions of the young ladies. Their father would sooner have had his hand cut off than any word said over that fuliginous dessert reach the ears of his daughters. Is it not an absolute damnation of certain evil principles, that many men would be flayed alive rather than let those they love know that they hold them? But see the selfishness of such men: each looks with scorn on the woman he has done his part to degrade, but not an impure breath must reach the ears of HIS children! Another man's he will send to the devil!

Mr. Palmer did, however, communicate something of the conversation to his wife; and although she had neither the spirit, nor the insight, nor the active purity, to tell him he was in the wrong, she did not like the young highlanders the worse. She even thought it a pity the world should have been so made that they could not be in the right.

It is wonderful how a bird of the air will carry a matter, and some vaguest impression of what had occurred alighted on the minds of the elder girls--possibly from hints supposed unintelligible, passing between Mr. Sercombe and Christian: something in the social opinions of the two highlanders made those opinions differ much from the opinions prevailing in society! Now even Mercy had not escaped some notion of things of which the air about her was full; and she felt the glow of a conscious attraction towards men--somehow, she did not know how--like old-fashioned knights errant in their relations to women.

The attachment between the brothers was unusual both in kind and degree. Alister regarded Ian as his better self, through whom to rise above himself; Ian looked up to his brother as the head of the family, uniting in himself all ancestral claims, the representative of an ordered and harmonious commonwealth. He saw in Alister virtues and powers he did not recognize in himself. His love blossomed into the deeper devotion that he only had been sent to college: he was bound to share with his elder brother what he had learned. So Alister got more through Ian than he would have got at the best college in the world. For Ian was a born teacher, and found intensest delight, not in imparting knowledge--that is a comparatively poor thing--but in leading a mind up to see what it was before incapable of seeing. It was part of the same gift that he always knew when he had not succeeded. In Alister he found a wonderful docility--crossed indeed with a great pride, against which he fought sturdily.

It is not a good sign of any age that it should find it hard to believe in such simplicity and purity as that of these young men; it is perhaps even a worse sign of our own that we should find it difficult to believe in such love between men. I am sure of this, that a man incapable of loving another man with hearty devotion, can not be capable of loving a woman as a woman ought to be loved. From each other these two kept positively nothing secret.

Alister had a great love of music, which however had had little development except from the study of the violin, with the assistance of a certain poor enough performer in the village, and what criticism his brother could afford him, who, not himself a player, had heard much good music. But Alister was sorely hampered by the fact that his mother could not bear the sound of it. The late chief was one of the few clergymen who played the violin; and at the first wail of the old instrument in the hands of his son, his widow was seized with such a passion of weeping, that Alister took the utmost care she should never hear it again, always carrying it to some place too remote for the farthest-travelling tones to reach her. But this was not easy, for sound will travel very far among the hills. At times he would take it to the room behind Annie's shop, at times to the hut occupied by Hector of the Stags: there he would not excruciate his host at least, and Rob of the Angels would endure anything for his chief. The place which he most preferred was too distant to be often visited; but there, soon after Christmas, the brothers now resolved to have a day together, a long talk, and a conference with the violin. On a clear frosty morning in January they set out, provided for a night and two days.

The place was upon an upland pasture-ground, yet in their possession: no farm was complete without a range in some high valley for the sheep and cattle in summer. On the north of this valley stood a bare hilltop, whose crest was a limestone rock, rising from the heather about twenty feet. Every summer they had spent weeks of their boyhood with the shepherds, in the society of this hill, and one day discovered in its crest a shallow cave, to which thereafter they often took their food, and the book they were reading together. There they read the English Ossian, troubled by no ignorant unbelief; and there they made Gaelic songs, in which Alister excelled, while Ian did better in English.

When Ian was at home in the university-vacations, they were fonder than ever of going to the hill. There Ian would pour out to Alister of the fullness of his gathered knowledge, and there and then they made their first acquaintance with Shakspere. Ian had bought some dozen of his plays, in smallest compass and cleanest type, at a penny a piece, and how they revelled in them the long summer evenings! Ian had bought also, in a small thick volume, the poems of Shelley: these gave them not only large delight, but much to talk about, for they were quite capable of encountering his vague philosophy. Then they had their Euclid and Virgil--and even tried their mental teeth upon Dante, but found the Commedia without notes too hard a nut for them. Every fresh spring, Ian brought with him fresh books, and these they read in their cave. But I must not forget the cave itself, which also shared in the progress of its troglodytes.

The same week in which they first ate and read in it, they conceived and began to embody the idea of developing the hollow into a house. Foraging long ago in their father's library for mental pabulum, they had come upon Belzoni's quarto, and had read, with the avidity of imaginative boys, the tale of his discoveries, taking especial delight in his explorations of the tombs of the kings in the rocks of Beban el Malook: these it was that now suggested excavation.

They found serviceable tools about the place at home, and the rock was not quite of the hardest. Not a summer, for the last seventeen years, had passed without a good deal being done, Alister working alone when Ian was away, and the cave had now assumed notable dimensions. It was called by the people uamh an ceann, the cave of the chief, and regarded as his country house. All around it was covered with snow throughout the winter and spring, and supplied little to the need of man beyond the blessed air, and a glorious vision of sea and land, mountain and valley, falling water, gleaming lake, and shadowy cliff.

Crossing the wide space where so lately they had burned the heather that the sheep might have its young shoots in the spring, the brothers stood, and gazed around with delight.

"There is nothing like this anywhere!" said Ian.

"Do you mean nothing so beautiful?" asked Alister.

"No; I mean just what I say: there is nothing like it. I do not care a straw whether one scene be more or less beautiful than another; what I do care for is--its individual speech to my soul. I feel towards visions of nature as towards writers. If a book or a prospect produces in my mind a mood that no other produces, then I feel it individual, original, real, therefore precious. If a scene or a song play upon the organ of my heart as no other scene or song could, why should I ask at all whether it be beautiful? A bare hill may be more to me than a garden of Damascus, but I love them both. The first question as to any work of art is whether it puts the willing soul into any mood at all peculiar; the second, what that mood is. It matters to me little by whom our Ossian was composed, and it matters nothing whoever may in his ignorance declare that there never was an Ossian any more than a Homer: here is a something that has power over my heart and soul, works upon them as not anything else does. I do not ask whether its power be great or small; it is enough that it is a peculiar power, one by itself; that it puts my spiritual consciousness in a certain individual condition, such in character as nothing else can occasion. Either a man or a nation must have felt to make me so feel."

They were now climbing the last slope of the hill on whose top stood their playhouse, dearer now than in their boyhood. Alister occasionally went there for a few hours' solitude, and Ian would write there for days at a time, but in general when they visited the place it was together. Alister unlocked the door and they entered.

Unwilling to spend labour on the introductory, they had made the first chamber hardly larger than the room required for opening the door. Immediately within, another door opened into a room of about eight feet by twelve, with two small windows. Its hearth was a projection from the floor of the live stone; and there, all ready for lighting, was a large pile of peats. The chimney went up through the rock, and had been the most difficult part of their undertaking. They had to work it much wider than was necessary for the smoke, and then to reduce its capacity with stone and lime. Now and then it smoked, but peat-smoke is sweet.

The first thing after lighting the fire, was to fill their kettle, for which they had to take off the snow-lid of a small spring near at hand. Then they made a good meal of tea, mutton-ham, oatcakes and butter. The only seats in the room were a bench in each of two of the walls, and a chair on each side of the hearth, all of the live rock.

From this opened two rooms more--one a bedroom, with a bed in the rock-wall, big enough for two. Dry heather stood thick between the mattress and the stone. The third room, of which they intended making a parlour, was not yet more than half excavated; and there, when they had rested a while, they began to bore and chip at the stone. Their progress was slow, for the grain was close: never, even when the snow above was melting, had the least moisture come through. For a time they worked and talked: both talked better when using their hands. Then Alister stopped, and played while Ian went on; Ian stopped next, and read aloud from a manuscript he had brought, while his brother again worked. But first he gave Alister the history of what he was going to read. It was suggested, he said, by that strange poem of William Mayne's, called "The Dead Man's Moan," founded on the silly notion that the man himself is buried, and not merely his body.

"I wish I were up to straught my banes,

And drive frae my face the cauld, dead air; I wish I were up, that the friendly rains Micht wash the dark mould frae my tangled hair!"

quoted Ian, and added,

"I thought I should like to follow out the idea, and see what ought to come of it. I therefore supposed a person seized by something of the cataleptic kind, from which he comes to himself still in the body, but unable to hold communication with the outer world. He thinks therefore that he is dead and buried. Recovering from his first horror, he reflects that, as he did not make himself think and feel, nor can cease to think and feel if he would, there must be somewhere--and where but within himself?--the power by which he thinks and feels, a power whose care it must be, for it can belong to no other, to look after the creature he has made. Then comes to him the prayer of Job, 'Oh that thou wouldst hide me in the grave till thy anger with me was past! Then wouldst thou desire to see again the work of thy hands, the creature thou hadst made! Then wouldst thou call, and I would answer.' So grandly is the man comforted thereby, that he breaks out in a dumb song of triumph over death and the grave. As its last tone dies in him, a kiss falls upon his lips. It is the farewell of the earth; the same moment he bursts the bonds and rises above the clouds of the body, and enters into the joy of his Lord."

Having thus prepared Alister to hear without having to think as well as attend, which is not good for poetry, Ian read his verses. I will not trouble my reader with them; I am sure he would not think so well of them as did Alister. What Ian desired was sympathy, not admiration, but from Alister he had both.

Few men would care to hear the talk of those two, for they had no interest in anything that did not belong to the reality of things. To them the things most men count real, were the merest phantasms. They sought what would not merely last, but must go on growing. At strife with all their known selfishness, they were growing into strife with all the selfishness in them as yet unknown. There was for them no question of choice; they MUST choose what was true; they MUST choose life; they MUST NOT walk in the way of death.

They were very near to agreeing about EVERYthing they should ask. Few men are capable of understanding such love as theirs, of understanding the love of David and Jonathan, of Shakspere to W. H., of Tennyson and Hallam. Every such love, nevertheless, is a possession of the race; what has once been is, in possibility to come, as well as in fact that has come. A solitary instance of anything great is enough to prove it human, yea necessary to humanity. I have wondered whether the man in whom such love is possible, may not spring of an altogether happy conjunction of male and female--a father and mother who not only loved each other, but were of the same mind in high things, of the same lofty aims in life, so that their progeny came of their true man-and-woman-hood. If any unaccountable disruption or discord of soul appear in a man, it is worth while to ask whether his father and mother were of one aspiration. Might not the fact that their marriage did not go deep enough, that father and mother were not of one mind, only of one body, serve to account for the rude results of some marriages of personable people? At the same time we must not forget the endless and unfathomable perpetuations of ancestry. But however these things may be, those two men, brothers born, were also brothers willed.

They ceased quarrying, and returned to the outer room. Ian betook himself to drawing figures on one of the walls, with the intention of carving them in dipped relief. Alister proceeded to take their bedding from before the fire, and prepare for the night.

Prev | Next | Contents