What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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The winter came down upon them early, and the chief and his mother had a sore time of it. Well as they had known it before, the poverty of their people was far better understood by them now. Unable to endure the sight of it, and spending more and more to meet it, they saw it impossible for them to hold out. For a long time their succour had been draining if not exhausting the poor resources of the chief; he had borne up in the hope of the money he was so soon to receive; and now there was none, and the need greater than ever! He was not troubled, for his faith was simple and strong; but his faith made him the more desirous of doing his part for the coming deliverance: faith in God compels and enables a man to be fellow-worker with God. He was now waiting the judgment of Ian concerning the prospects of the settlers in that part of Canada to which he had gone, hoping it might help him to some resolve in view of the worse difficulties at hand.

In the meantime the clan was more comfortable, and passed the winter more happily, than for many years. First of all, they had access to the chief at any moment. Then he had prepared a room in his own house where were always fire and light for such as would read what books he was able to lend them, or play at quiet games. To them its humble arrangements were sumptuous. And best of all, he would, in the long dark fore-nights, as the lowland Scotch call them, read aloud, at one time in Gaelic, at another in English, things that gave them great delight. Donal shoemaker was filled with joy unutterable by the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If only this state of things could be kept up--with Ian back, and Mercy married to the chief! thought the mother. But it was not to be; that grew plainer every day.

Mr. Palmer would gladly have spent his winter elsewhere, leaving his family behind him; but as things were, he could not leave them, and as certain other things were, he did not care to take them to London. Besides, for them all to leave now, would be to confess defeat; and who could tell what hurt to his forest might not follow in his absence from the cowardly hatred of the peasants! He was resolved to see the thing out. But above all, he must keep that worthless girl, Mercy, under his own eye!

"That's what comes of NOT drinking!" he would say to himself; "a man grows as proud as Satan, and makes himself a curse to his neighbours!"

Then he would sigh like a man ill-used and disconsolate.

Both Mercy and the chief thought it better not to venture much, but they did occasionally contrive to meet for a few minutes--by the help of Christina generally. Twice only was Mercy's handkerchief hung from the window, when her longing for his voice had grown almost too strong for her to bear. The signal brought him both times through the wild wintry storm, joyous as a bird through the summer air. Once or twice they met just outside the gate, Mercy flying like a snow-bird to the tryst, and as swiftly back through the keen blue frost, when her breath as she ran seemed to linger in the air like smoke, and threaten to betray her.

At length came the much desired letter from Ian, full of matter for the enabling of the chief's decision.

Two things had long been clear to Alister--that, even if the ground he had could keep his people alive, it certainly could not keep them all employed; and that, if they went elsewhere, especially to any town, it might induce for many, and ensure for their children, a lamentable descent in the moral scale. He was their shepherd, and must lose none of them! therefore, first of all, he must not lose sight of them! It was now clear also, that the best and most desirable thing was, that the poor remnant of the clan should leave their native country, and betake themselves where not a few of their own people, among them Lachlan and Annie, would welcome them to probable ease and comfort. There he would buy land, settle with them, and build a village. Some would cultivate the soil under their chief; others would pursue their trades for the good of the community and themselves!

And now came once more the love of land face to face with the love of men, and in the chief's heart paled before it. For there was but one way to get the needful money: the last of the Macruadh property must go! Not for one moment did it rouse a grudging thought in the chief: it was for the sake of the men and women and children whose lives would be required of him! The land itself must yield, them wings to forsake it withal, and fly beyond the sea!

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