What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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The Macruadh strode into the dark, and down the village, wasting no time in picking his way--thence into the yet deeper dark of the moorland hills. The rain was beginning to come down in earnest, but he did not heed it; he was thoroughbred, and feared no element. An umbrella was to him a ludicrous thing: how could a little rain--as he would have called it had it come down in torrents--hurt any one!

The Macruadh, as the few who yet held by the sore-frayed, fast-vanishing skirt of clanship, called him, was the son of the last minister of the parish-a godly man, who lived that which he could ill explain, and was immeasurably better than those parts of his creed which, from a sense of duty, he pushed to the front. For he held devoutly by the root of which he spoke too little, and it supplied much sap to his life and teaching--out of the pulpit. He was a genial, friendly, and by nature even merry man, always ready to share what he had, and making no show of having what he had not, either in wisdom, knowledge, or earthly goods. His father and brother had been owners of the property and chiefs of the clan, much beloved by the poor of it, and not a little misunderstood by most of the more nourishing. For a great hunger after larger means, the ambition of the mammon-ruled world, had arisen in the land, and with it a rage for emigration. The uncle of the present Macruadh did all he could to keep his people at home, lived on a couple of hundreds a year himself, and let many of his farms to his gentlemen-tacksmen, as they were called, at lower rents; but it was unavailing; one after another departed, until his land lay in a measure waste, and he grew very poor, mourning far more over his clan and his country than his poverty. In more prosperous times he had scraped together a little money, meaning it, if he could but avoid spending it in his old age, for his brother, who must soon succeed him; for he was himself a bachelor--the result of a romantic attachment and sorrow in his youth; but he lent it to a company which failed, and so lost it. At length he believed himself compelled, for the good of his people, to part with all but a mere remnant of the property. From the man to whom he sold it, Mr. Peregrine Palmer bought it for twice the money, and had still a good bargain. But the hopes of the laird were disappointed: in the sheep it fed, and the grouse it might be brought to breed, lay all its value in the market; there was no increase in the demand for labour; and more and more of the peasantry emigrated, or were driven to other parts of the country. Such was the present treatment of the land, causing human life to ebb from it, and working directly counter to the creative God.

The laird retired to the humble cottage of his brother the pastor, just married rather late in life--where every comfort love could give waited for him; but the thought that he could have done better for his people by retaining the land soon wore him out; and having made a certain disposition of the purchase-money, he died.

What remained of the property came to the minister. As for the chieftainship, that had almost died before the chief; but, reviving by union with the reverence felt for the minister, it took thereafter a higher form. When the minister died, the idea of it transmitted to his son was of a peculiarly sacred character; while in the eyes of the people, the authority of the chief and the influence of the minister seemed to meet reborn in Alister notwithstanding his youth. In himself he was much beloved, and in love the blessed rule, blessed where understood, holds, that to him that hath shall be given, he only who has being fit to receive. The love the people bore to his father, both pastor and chief, crowned head and heart of Alister. Scarce man or woman of the poor remnant of the clan did not love the young Macruadh.

On his side was true response. With a renewed and renovating conscience, and a vivid sense that all things had to be made new, he possessed an old strong heart, clinging first to his father and mother, and then to the shadow even of any good thing that had come floating down the ages. Call it a dream, a wild ideal, a foolish fancy--call it what you please, he was filled with the notion of doing something in his own person and family, having the remnant of the clan for the nucleus of his endeavour, to restore to a vital reality, let it be of smallest extent, that most ancient of governments, the patriarchal, which, all around, had rotted into the feudal, in its turn rapidly disintegrating into the mere dust and ashes of the kingdom of the dead, over which Mammon reigns supreme. There may have been youthful presumption and some folly in the notion, but it sprang neither from presumption nor folly, but from simple humanity, and his sense of the responsibility he neither could nor would avoid, as the person upon whom had devolved the headship, however shadowy, of a house, ruinous indeed, but not yet razed.

The castle on the ridge stood the symbol of the family condition. It had, however, been a ruin much longer than any one alive could remember. Alister's uncle had lived in a house on the spot where Mr. Peregrine Palmer's now stood; the man who bought it had pulled it down to build that which Mr. Palmer had since enlarged. It was but a humble affair--a great cottage in stone, much in the style of that in which the young chief now lived--only six times the size, with the one feature indispensable to the notion of a chief's residence, a large hall. Some would say it was but a huge kitchen; but it was the sacred place of the house, in which served the angel of hospitality. THERE was always plenty to eat and drink for any comer, whether he had "claim" or not: the question of claim where was need, was not thought of. When the old house had to make room for the new, the staves of the last of its half-pipes of claret, one of which used always to stand on tap amidst the peat-smoke, yielded its final ministration to humanity by serving to cook a few meals for mason and carpenter.

The property of Clanruadh, for it was regarded as clan-property BECAUSE belonging to the chief, stretched in old time away out of sight in all directions--nobody, in several, could tell exactly how far, for the undrawn boundary lines lay in regions of mist and cloud, in regions stony, rocky, desert, to which a red deer, not to say a stray sheep, rarely ascended. At one time it took in a portion at least of every hill to be seen from the spot where stood the ruin. The chief had now but a small farm, consisting of some fair soil on the slope of a hill, and some very good in the valley on both sides of the burn; with a hill-pasture that was not worth measuring in acres, for it abounded in rocks, and was prolific in heather and ling, with patches of coarse grass here and there, and some extent of good high-valley grass, to which the small black cattle and black-faced sheep were driven in summer. Beyond periodical burnings of the heather, this uplifted portion received no attention save from the mist, the snow, the rain, the sun, and the sweet air. A few grouse and black game bred on it, and many mountain-hares, with martens, wild cats, and other VERMIN. But so tender of life was the Macruadh that, though he did not spare these last, he did not like killing even a fox or a hooded crow, and never shot a bird for sport, or would let another shoot one, though the poorest would now and then beg a bird or two from him, sure of having their request. It seemed to him as if the creatures were almost a part of his clan, of which also he had to take care against a greedy world. But as the deer and the birds ranged where they would, it was not much he could do for them--as little almost as for the men and women that had gone over the sea, and were lost to their country in Canada.

Regret, and not any murmur, stirred the mind of Alister Macruadh when he thought of the change that had passed on all things around him. He had been too well taught for grumbling--least of all at what was plainly the will of the Supreme--inasmuch as, however man might be to blame, the thing was there. Personal regrets he had none beyond those of family feeling and transmitted SENTIMENT. He was able to understand something of the signs of the times, and saw that nothing could bring back the old way--saw that nothing comes back--at least in the same form; saw that there had been much that ought not to come back, and that, if patriarchal ways were ever to return, they must rise out of, and be administered upon loftier principles--must begin afresh, and be wrought out afresh from the bosom of a new Abraham, capable of so bringing up his children that a new development of the one natural system, of government should be possible with and through them. Perhaps even now, in the new country to which so many of his people were gone, some shadowy reappearance of the old fashion might have begun to take shape on a higher level, with loftier aims, and in circumstances holding out fewer temptations to the evils of the past!

Alister could not, at his years, have generated such thoughts but for the wisdom that had gone before him--first the large-minded speculation of his father, who was capable even of discarding his prejudices where he saw they might mislead him; and next, the response of his mother to the same: she was the only one who entirely understood her husband. Isobel Macruadh was a woman of real thinking-power. Her sons being but boys when their father died, she at once took the part of mediator between the mind of the father and that of his sons; and besides guiding them on the same principles, often told them things their father had said, and talked with them of things they had heard him say.

One of the chief lessons he left them wrought well for the casting out of all with which the feudal system had debased the patriarchal; and the poverty shared with the clan had powerfully helped: it was spoken against the growing talionic regard of human relations--that, namely, the conditions of a bargain fulfilled on both sides, all is fulfilled between the bargaining parties.

"In the possibility of any bargain," he had said, "are involved eternal conditions: there is relationship--there is brotherhood. Even to give with a denial of claim, to be kind under protest, is an injury, is charity without the love, is salt without the saltness. If we spent our lives in charity we should never overtake neglected claims--claims neglected from the very beginning of the relations of men. If a man say, 'I have not been unjust; I owed the man nothing;' he sides with Death--says with the typical murderer, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' builds the tombs of those his fathers slew."

In the bosom of young Alister Macruadh, the fatherly relation of the strong to the weak survived the disappearance of most of the outward signs of clan-kindred: the chieftainship was SUBLIMED in him. The more the body of outer fact died, the stronger grew in him the spirit of the relation. As some savage element of a race will reappear in an individual of it after ages of civilization, so may good old ways of thinking and feeling, modes long gone out of fashion and practice, survive and revive modified by circumstance, in an individual of a new age. Such a one will see the customs of his ancestors glorified in the mists of the past; what is noble in them will appeal to all that is best in his nature, spurring the most generous of his impulses, and stirring up the conscience that would be void of offence. When the operative force of such regards has been fostered by the teaching of a revered parent; when the influences he has left behind are nourished and tended, with thorough belief and devoted care, by her who shared his authority in life, and now bears alone the family sceptre, there can be no bound set to their possible potency in a mind of high spiritual order. The primary impulse became with Alister a large portion of his religion: he was the shepherd of the much ravaged and dwindled Macruadh-fold; it was his church, in which the love of the neighbour was intensified in the love of the relation and dependent. To aid and guard this his flock, was Alister's divine service. It was associated with a great dislike of dogma, originating in the recoil of the truth within him from much that was commonly held and taught for true.

Call the thing enthusiasm or what you will, so you believe it there, and genuine.

It was only towards the poor of a decayed clan he had opportunity of exercising the cherished relation; almost all who were not poor had emigrated before the lands were sold; and indeed it was only the poor who set store by their unity with the old head. Not a few of the clan, removed elsewhither, would have smiled degenerate, and with scorn in their amusement, at the idea of Alister's clinging to any supposed reality in the position he could claim. Among such nevertheless were several who, having made money by trade, would each have been glad enough to keep up old traditions, and been ready even to revive older, had the headship fallen to him. But in the hands of a man whom, from the top of their wealth, they regarded as but a poor farmer, they forgot all about it--along with a few other more important and older-world matters; for where Mammon gets in his foot, he will soon be lord of the house, and turn not merely Rank, his rival demon, out of doors, but God himself. Alister indeed lived in a dream; he did not know how far the sea of hearts had ebbed, leaving him alone on the mount of his vision; but he dreamed a dream that was worth dreaming; comfort and help flowed from it to those about him, nor did it fail to yield his own soul refreshment also. All dreams are not false; some dreams are truer than the plainest facts. Fact at best is but a garment of truth, which has ten thousand changes of raiment woven in the same loom. Let the dreamer only do the truth of his dream, and one day he will realize all that was worth realizing in it--and a great deal more and better than it contained. Alister had no far-reaching visions of anything to come out of his; he had, like the true man he was, only the desire to live up to his idea of what the people looked up to in him. The one thing that troubled him was, that his uncle, whom he loved so dearly, should have sold the land.

Doubtless there was pride mingled with his devotion, and pride is an evil thing. Still it was a human and not a devilish pride. I would not be misunderstood as defending pride, or even excusing it in any shape; it is a thing that must be got rid of at all costs; but even for evil we must speak the truth; and the pride of a good man, evil as it is, and in him more evil than in an evil man, yet cannot be in itself such a bad thing as the pride of a bad man. The good man would at once recognize and reject the pride of a bad man. A pride that loves cannot be so bad as a pride that hates. Yet if the good man do not cast out his pride, it will sink him lower than the bad man's, for it will degenerate into a worse pride than that of any bad man. Each must bring its own divinely-ordained consequence.

There is one other point in the character of the Macruadh which I must mention ere I pass on; in this region, and at this time, it was a great peculiarity, one that yielded satisfaction to few of the clan, and made him even despised in the strath: he hated whisky, and all the drinking customs associated with it. In this he was not original; he had not come to hate it from noting the degradation and crime that attended it, or that as poverty grew, drunkenness grew, men who had used it in moderation taking more and more as circumstances became more adverse, turning sadness into slavery: he had been brought up to hate it. His father, who, as a clergyman doing his endeavour for the welfare of his flock, found himself greatly thwarted by its deadening influences, rendering men callous not only to the special vice itself, but to worse vices as well, had banished it from his table and his house; while the mother had from their very childhood instilled a loathing of the national weakness and its physical means into the minds of her sons. In her childhood she had seen its evils in her own father: by no means a drunkard, he was the less of a father because he did as others did. Never an evening passed without his drinking his stated portion of whisky-toddy, growing more and more subject to attacks of had temper, with consequent injustice and unkindness. The recollection may have made her too sweeping in her condemnation of the habit, but I doubt it; and anyhow a habit is not a man, and we need not much condemn that kind of injustice. We need not be tender over a habit which, though not all bad, yet leads to endless results that are all bad. I would follow such to its grave without many tears!

Isobel Macruadh was one of those rare women who preserve in years the influence gained in youth; and the thing that lay at the root of the fact was her justice. For though her highland temper would occasionally burst out in hot flame, everyone knew that if she were in the wrong, she would see it and say it before any one else would tell her of it. This justice it was, ready against herself as for another, that fixed the influence which her goodness and her teaching of righteousness gained.

Her eldest child, a girl, died in infancy. Alister and Ian were her whole earthly family, and they worshipped her.

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