What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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The Macruadh cast his mind's and his body's eye too upon the small strip of ground on the west side of the castle-ridge, between it and the tiny tributary of the strath burn which was here the boundary between the lands of the two lairds. The slope of the ridge on this side was not so steep, and before the rock sank into the alluvial soil of the valley, it became for a few yards nearly level--sufficiently so, with a little smoothing and raising, to serve for a foundation; while in front was a narrow but rich piece of ground, the bank of the little brook. Before many days were over, men were at work there, in full sight of the upper windows of the New House. It was not at first clear what they were about; but soon began to rise, plain enough, the walls of cottages, some of stone, and some of turf; Mr. Palmer saw a new village already in process of construction, to take the place of that about to be destroyed! The despicable enemy had moved his camp, to pitch it under his very walls! It filled him with the rage of defeat. The poor man who scorned him was going to be too much for him! Not yet was he any nearer to being placed alone in the midst of the earth. He thought to have rid himself of all those hateful faces, full of their chiefs contempt, he imagined, ever eyeing him as an intruder on his own land; but here instead was their filthy little hamlet of hovels growing like a fungus just under his nose, expressly to spite him! Thinking to destroy it, he had merely sent for it! When the wind was in the east, the smoke of their miserable cabins would be blown right in at his dining-room windows! It was useless to expostulate! That he would not like it was of course the chief's first reason for choosing that one spot as the site of his new rookery! The fellow had stolen a march upon him! And what had he done beyond what was absolutely necessary for the improvement of his property! The people were in his way, and he only wanted to get rid of them! And here their chief had brought them almost into his garden! Doubtless if his land had come near enough, he would have built his sty at the very gate of his shrubbery!--the fellow could not like having them so near himself!

He let his whole household see how annoying the thing was to him. He never doubted it was done purely to irritate him. Christina ventured the suggestion that Mr. Brander and not the chief was the author of the inconvenience. What did that matter! he returned. What right had the chief, as she called him, to interfere between a landlord and his tenants? Christina hinted that, evicted by their landlord, they ceased to be his tenants, and even were he not their chief, he could not be said to interfere in giving help to the destitute. Thereupon he burst at her in a way that terrified her, and she had never even been checked by him before, had often been impertinent to him without rebuke. The man seemed entirely changed, but in truth he was no whit changed: things had but occurred capable of bringing out the facts of his nature. Her mother, who had not dared to speak at the time, expostulated with her afterward.

"Why should papa never be told the truth?" objected Christina.

Her mother was on the point of replying, "Because he will not hear it," but saw she owed it to her husband not to say so to his child.

Mercy said to herself, "It is not to annoy my father he does it, but to do what he can for his people! He does not even know how unpleasant it is to my father to have them so near! It must be one of the punishments of riches that they make the sight of poverty so disagreeable! To luxury, poverty is a living reproach." She longed to see Alister: something might perhaps be done to mitigate the offence. But her father would never consent to use her influence! Perhaps her mother might!

She suggested therefore that Alister would do nothing for the sake of annoying her father, and could have no idea how annoying this thing was to him: if her mother would contrive her seeing him, she would represent it to him!

Mrs. Palmer was of Mercy's opinion regarding the purity of Alister's intent, and promised to think the matter over.

The next night her husband was going to spend at Mr. Brander's: the project might be carried out in safety!

The thing should be done! They would go together, in the hope of persuading the chief to change the site of his new village!

When it was dark they walked to the cottage, and knocking at the door, asked Nancy if the chief were at home. The girl invited them to enter, though not with her usual cordiality; but Mrs. Palmer declined, requesting her to let the chief know they were there, desirous of a word with him.

Alister was at the door in a moment, and wanted them to go in and see his mother, but an instant's reflection made him glad of their refusal.

"I am so sorry for all that has happened!" said Mrs. Palmer. "You know I can have had nothing to do with it! There is not a man I should like for a son-in-law better than yourself, Macruadh; but I am helpless."

"I quite understand," replied the chief, "and thank you heartily for your kindness. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Mercy has something she wants to speak to you about."

"It was so good of you to bring her!--What is it, Mercy?"

Without the least hesitation, Mercy told him her father's fancy that he was building the new village to spite him, seeing it could not be a pleasure to himself to have the smoke from its chimneys blowing in at door and windows as often as the wind was from the sea.

"I am sorry but not surprised your father should think so, Mercy. To trouble him is as much against my feelings as my interests. And certainly it is for no convenience or comfort to ourselves, that my mother and I have determined on having the village immediately below us."

"I thought," said Mercy, "that if you knew how it vexed papa, you would--But I am afraid it may be for some reason that cannot be helped!"

"Indeed it is; I too am afraid it cannot be helped! I must think of my people! You see, if I put them on the other side of the ridge, they would be exposed to the east wind--and the more that every door and window would have to be to the east. You know yourselves how bitterly it blows down the strath! Besides, we should there have to build over good land much too damp to be healthy, every foot of which will be wanted to feed them! There they are on the rock. I might, of course, put them on the hillside, but I have no place so sheltered as here, and they would have no gardens. And then it gives me an opportunity, such as chief never had before, of teaching them some things I could not otherwise. Would it be reasonable, Mercy, to sacrifice the good of so many poor people to spare one rich man one single annoyance, which is yet no hurt? Would it be right? Ought I not rather to suffer the rise of yet greater obstacles between you and me?"

"Yes, Alister, yes!" cried Mercy. "You must not change anything. I am only sorry my father cannot be taught that you have no ill will to him in what you do."

"I cannot think it would make much difference. He will never give you to me, Mercy. But be true, and God will."

"Would you mind letting the flag fly, Alister? I should have something to look at!"

"I will; and when I want particularly to see you, I will haul it down. Then, if you hang a handkerchief from your window, I will come to you."

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