What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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Partly, it may be, from such incidents at the outset of their acquaintance, there was for some time no further meeting betwixt any of the chief's family and that of the new laird. There was indeed little to draw them together except common isolation. Valentine would have been pleased to show gratitude to his helpers on that stormy night, but after his sisters' account of their call, he felt not only ashamed, which was right, but ashamed to show his shame, which was a fresh shame. The girls on their part made so much of what they counted the ridiculous elements of their "adventure," that, natural vengeance on their untruthfulness, they came themselves to see in it almost only what was ridiculous. In the same spirit Mr. Sercombe recounted his adventure with Alister, which annoyed his host, who had but little acquaintance with the boundaries of his land. From the additional servants they had hired in the vicinity, the people of the New House gathered correct information concerning the people at the cottage, but the honour in which they were held only added to the ridicule they associated with them. On the other side also there was little inclination towards a pursuit of intercourse. Mrs. Macruadh, from Nancy's account and the behaviour of the girls, divined the explanation of their visit; and, as their mother did not follow it up, took no notice of it. In the mind of Mercy, however, lurked a little thorn, with the bluntest possible sting of suspicion, every time she joined in a laugh at the people of the cottage, that she was not quite just to them.

The shooting, such as it was, went on, the sleeping and the eating, the walking and the talking. Long letters were written from the New House to female friends--letters with the flourishes if not the matter of wit, and funny tales concerning the natives, whom, because of their poor houses and unintelligibility, they represented as semi-savages. The young men went back to Oxford; and the time for the return of the family to civilization seemed drawing nigh.

It happened about this time, however, that a certain speculation in which Mr. Peregrine Palmer was very materially interested, failed utterly, depriving him of the consciousness of a good many thousands, and producing in him the feeling of a lady of moderate means when she loses her purse: he must save it off something! For though he spent freely, he placed a great value on money--as well he might, seeing it gave him all the distinction which before everything else he prized. He did not know what a poor thing it is to be distinguished among men, therefore did not like losing his thousands. Having by failure sinned against Mammon, he must do something to ease the money-conscience that ruled his conduct; and the first thing that occurred to him was, to leave his wife and daughters where they were for the winter. None of them were in the least delicate; his wife professed herself fond of a country life; it would give the girls a good opportunity for practice, drawing, and study generally, and he would find them a suitable governess! He talked the matter over with Mrs. Palmer. She did not mind much, and would not object. He would spend Christmas with them, he said, and bring down Christian, and perhaps Mr. Sercombe.

The girls did not like the idea. It was so cold in the country in winter, and the snow would be so deep! they would be starved to death! But, of course--if the governor had made up his mind to be cruel!

The thing was settled. It was only for one winter! It would be a new experience for them, and they would enjoy their next SEASON all the more! The governor had promised to send them down new furs, and a great boxful of novels! He did not apprise them that he meant to sell their horses. Their horses were his! He was an indulgent father and did not stint them, but he was not going to ask their leave! At the same time he had not the courage to tell them.

He took his wife with him as far as Inverness for a day or two, that she might lay in a good stock of everything antagonistic to cold.

When father and mother were gone from the house, the girls felt LARKY. They had no wish to do anything they would not do if their parents were at home, but they had some sense of relief in the thought that they could do whatever they liked. A more sympathetic historian might say, and I am nowise inclined to contradict him, that it was only the reaction from the pain of parting, and the instinct to make the best of their loneliness. However it was, the elder girls resolved on a walk to the village, to see what might be seen, and in particular the young woman at the shop, of whom they had heard their brother and Mr. Sercombe speak with admiration, qualified with the remark that she was so proper they could hardly get a civil word out of her. She was in fact too scrupulously polite for their taste.

It was a bright, pleasant, frosty morning, perfectly still, with an air like wine. The harvest had vanished from the fields. The sun shone on millions of tiny dew-suns, threaded on forsaken spider-webs. A few small, white, frozen clouds flecked the sky. The purple heather was not yet gone, and not any snow had yet fallen in the valley. The burn was large, for there had been a good deal of rain, but it was not much darker than its usual brown of smoke-crystal. They tripped gaily along. If they had little spiritual, they had much innocent animal life, which no great disappointments or keen twinges of conscience had yet damped. They were hut human kittens--and not of the finest breed.

As they crossed the root of the spur, and looked down on the autumn fields to the east of it, they spied something going on which they did not understand. Stopping, and gazing more intently, they beheld what seemed a contest between man and beast, but its nature they could not yet distinguish. Gradually it grew plain that two of the cattle of the country, wild and shaggy, were rebelling against control. They were in fact two young bulls, of the small black highland breed, accustomed to gallop over the rough hills, jumping like goats, which Alister had set himself the task of breaking to the plough--by no means an easy one, or to be accomplished single-handed by any but a man of some strength, and both persistence and patience. In the summer he had lost a horse, which he could ill afford to replace: if he could make these bulls work, they would save him the price of the horse, would cost less to keep, and require less attention! He bridled them by the nose, not with rings through the gristle, but with nose-bands of iron, bluntly spiked inside, against which they could not pull hard without pain, and had made some progress, though he could by no means trust them yet: every now and then a fit of mingled wildness and stubbornness would seize them, and the contest would appear about to begin again from the beginning; but they seldom now held out very long. The nose-band of one of them had come off, Alister had him by a horn in each hand, and a fierce struggle was going on between them, while the other was pulling away from his companion as if determined to take to the hills. It was a good thing for them that share and coulter were pretty deep in the ground, to the help of their master; for had they got away, they would have killed, or at least disabled themselves. Presently, however, he had the nose-band on, and by force and persuasion together got the better of them; the staggy little furies gave in; and quickly gathering up his reins, he went back to the plough-stilts, where each hand held at once a handle and a rein. With energetic obedience the, little animals began to pull--so vigorously that it took nearly all the chief's strength to hold at once his plough and his team.

It was something of a sight to the girls after a long dearth of events. Many things indeed upon which they scarce cast an eye when they came, they were now capable of regarding with a little feeble interest. Nor, although ignorant of everything agricultural, were they quite unused to animals; having horses they called their own, they would not unfrequently go to the stables to give their orders, or see that they were carried out.

They waited for some time hoping the fight would begin again, and drew a little nearer; then, as by common consent, left the road, passed the ruin, ran down the steep side of the ridge, and began to toil through the stubble towards the ploughman. A sharp straw would every now and then go through a delicate stocking, and the damp soil gathered in great lumps on their shoes, but they plodded on, laughing merrily as they went.

The Macruadh was meditating the power of the frost to break up the clods of the field, when he saw the girls close to him. He pulled in his cattle, and taking off his bonnet with one hand while the other held both reins--

"Excuse me, ladies," he said; "my animals are young, and not quite broken."

They were not a little surprised at such a reception, and were driven to conclude that the man must be the laird himself. They had heard that he cultivated his own land, but had not therefore imagined him labouring in his own person.

In spite of the blindness produced by their conventional training, vulgarly called education, they could not fail to perceive something in the man worthy of their regard. Before them, on the alert toward his cattle, but full of courtesy, stood a dark, handsome, weather-browned man, with an eagle air, not so pronounced as his brother's. His hair was long, and almost black,--in thick, soft curls over a small, well-set head. His glance had the flash that comes of victorious effort, and his free carriage was that of one whom labour has nowise subdued, whose every muscle is instinct with ready life. True even in trifles, he wore the dark beard that nature had given him; disordered by the struggle with his bulls, it imparted a certain wild look that contrasted with his speech. Christina forgot that the man was a labourer like any other, but noted that he did not manifest the least embarrassment in their presence, or any consciousness of a superfluity of favour in their approach: she did not know that neither would his hired servant, or the poorest member of his clan. It was said of a certain Sutherland clan that they were all gentlemen, and of a certain Argyll clan that they were all poets; of the Macruadhs it was said they were both. As to Mercy, the first glance of the chiefs hazel eyes, looking straight into hers with genial respect, went deeper than any look had yet penetrated.

Ladies in Alister's fields were not an everyday sight. Hardly before had his work been enlivened by such a presence; and the joy of it was in his eyes, though his behaviour was calm. Christina thought how pleasant it would be to have him for a worshipping slave--so interpenetrated with her charms that, like Una's lion, he would crouch at her feet, come and go at her pleasure, live on her smiles, and be sad when she gave him none. She would make a gentleman of him, then leave him to dream of her! It would be a pleasant and interesting task in the dullness of their winter's banishment, with the days so short and the nights so unendurably long! The man was handsome!--she would do it!--and would proceed at once to initiate the conquest of him!

The temptation to patronize not unfrequently presents an object for the patronage superior to the would-be patron; for the temptation is one to which slight persons chiefly are exposed; it affords an outlet for the vague activity of self-importance. Few have learned that one is of no value except to God and other men. Miss Palmer worshipped herself, and therefore would fain be worshipped--so dreamed of a friendship de haut en bas with the country fellow.

She put on a smile--no difficult thing, for she was a good-natured girl. It looked to Alister quite natural. It was nevertheless, like Hamlet's false friends, "sent for."

"Do you like ploughing?" she asked.

Had she known the manners of the country, she would have added "laird," or "Macruadh."

"Yes I do," Alister answered; "but I should plough all the same if I did not. It has to be done."

"But why should YOU do it?"

"Because I must," laughed the laird.

What ought she to answer? Should she condole with the man because he had to work? It did not seem prudent! She would try another tack!

"You had some trouble with your oxen! We saw it from the road, and were quite frightened. I hope you are not hurt."

"There was no danger of that," answered Alister with a smile.

"What wild creatures they are! Ain't it rather hard work for them? They are so small!"

"They are as strong as horses," answered the laird. "I have had my work to break them! Indeed, I can hardly say I have done it yet! they would very much like to run their horns into me!"

"Then it MUST be dangerous! It shows that they were not meant to work!"

"They were meant to work if I can make them work."

"Then you approve of slavery!" said Mercy

She hardly knew what made her oppose him. As yet she bad no opinions of her own, though she did catch a thought sometimes, when it happened to come within her reach. Alister smiled a curious smile.

"I should," he said, "if the right people were made slaves of. I would take shares in a company of Algerine pirates to rid the social world of certain types of the human!"

The girls looked at each other. "Sharp!" said Christina to herself.

"What sorts would you have them take?" she asked.

"Idle men in particular," answered Alister.

"Would you not have them take idle ladies as well?"

"I would see first how they behaved when the men were gone."

"You believe, then," said Mercy, "we have a right to make the lower animals work?"

"I think it is our duty," answered Alister. "At all events, if we do not, we must either kill them off by degrees, or cede them this world, and emigrate. But even that would be a bad thing for my little bulls there! It is not so many years since the last wolf was killed--here, close by! and if the dogs turned to wolves again, where would they be? The domestic animals would then have wild beasts instead of men for their masters! To have the world a habitable one, man must rule."

"Men are nothing but tyrants to them!" said Christina.

"Most are, I admit."

Ere he could prevent her, she had walked up to the near bull, and begun to pat him. He poked a sharp wicked horn sideways at her, catching her cloak on it, and grazing her arm. She started back very white. Alister gave him a terrible tug. The beast shook his head, and began to paw the earth.

"It wont do to go near him," he said. "--But you needn't be afraid; he can't touch you. That iron band round his nose has spikes in it."

"Poor fellow!" said Christina; "it is no wonder he should be out of temper! It must hurt him dreadfully!"

"It does hurt him when he pulls against it, but not when he is quiet."

"I call it cruel!"

"I do not. The fellow knows what is wanted of him--just as well as any naughty child."

"How can he when he has no reason!"

"Oh, hasn't he!"

"Animals have no reason; they have only instinct!"

"They have plenty of reason--more than many men and women. They are not so far off us as pride makes most people think! It is only those that don't know them that talk about the instinct of animals!"

"Do you know them?"

"Pretty well for a man; but they're often too much for me."

"Anyhow that poor thing does not know better."

"He knows enough; and if he did not, would you allow him to do as he pleased because he didn't know better? He wanted to put his horn into you a moment ago!"

"Still it must be hard to want very much to do a thing, and not be able to do it!" said Mercy.

"I used to feel as if I could tear my old nurse to pieces when she wouldn't let me do as I wanted!" said Christina.

"I suppose you do whatever you please now, ladies?"

"No, indeed. We wanted to go to London, and here we are for the winter!"

"And you think it hard?"

"Yes, we do."

"And so, from sympathy, you side with my cattle?"


"You think I have no right to keep them captive, and make them work?"

"None at all," said Christina.

"Then it is time I let them go!"

Alister made for the animals' heads.

"No, no! please don't!" cried both the girls, turning, the one white, the other red.

"Certainly not if you do not wish it!" answered Alister, staying his step. "If I did, however, you would be quite safe, for they would not come near me. They would be off up that hill as hard as they could tear, jumping everything that came in their way."

"Is it not very dull here in the winter?" asked Christina, panting a little, but trying to look as if she had known quite well he was only joking.

"I do not find it dull."

"Ah, but you are a man, and can do as you please!"

"I never could do as I pleased, and so I please as I do," answered Alister.

"I do not quite understand you."

"When you cannot do as you like, the best thing is to like what you have to do. One's own way is not to be had in this world. There's a better, though, which is to be had!"

"I have heard a parson talk like that," said Mercy, "but never a layman!"

"My father was a parson as good as any layman. He would have laid me on my back in a moment--here as I stand!" said Alister, drawing himself to his height.

He broke suddenly into Gaelic, addressing the more troublesome of the bulls. No better pleased to stand still than to go on, he had fallen to digging at his neighbour, who retorted with the horn convenient, and presently there was a great mixing of bull and harness and cloddy earth. Turning quickly towards them, Alister dropped a rein. In a moment the plough was out of the furrow, and the bulls were straining every muscle, each to send the other into the wilds of the unseen creation. Alister sprang to their heads, and taking them by their noses forced them back into the line of the furrow. Christina, thinking they had broken loose, fled; but there was Mercy with the reins, hauling with all her might!

"Thank you, thank you!" said the laird, laughing with pleasure. "You are a friend indeed!"

"Mercy! Mercy! come away directly," cried Christina.

But Mercy did not heed her. The laird took the reins, and administering a blow each to the animals, made them stand still.

There are tender-hearted people who virtually ohject to the whole scheme of creation; they would neither have force used nor pain suffered; they talk as if kindness could do everything, even where it is not felt. Millions of human beings but for suffering would never develop an atom of affection. The man who would spare DUE suffering is not wise. It is folly to conclude a thing ought not to be done because it hurts. There are powers to be born, creations to be perfected, sinners to be redeemed, through the ministry of pain, that could be born, perfected, redeemed, in no other way. But Christina was neither wise nor unwise after such fashion. She was annoyed at finding the laird not easily to be brought to her feet, and Mercy already advanced to his good graces. She was not jealous of Mercy, for was she not beautiful and Mercy plain? but Mercy had by her PLUCK secured an advantage, and the handsome ploughman looked at her admiringly! Partly therefore because she was not pleased with him, partly that she thought a little outcry would be telling,--

"Oh, you wicked man!" she cried, "you are hurting the poor brutes!"

"No more than is necessary," he answered.

"You are cruel!"

"Good morning, ladies."

He just managed to take off his bonnet, for the four-legged explosions at the end of his plough were pulling madly. He slackened his reins, and away it went, like a sharp knife through a Dutch cheese.

"You've made him quite cross!" said Mercy.

"What a brute of a man!" said Christina.

She never restrained herself from teasing cat or puppy for her amusement--did not even mind hurting it a little. Those capable of distinguishing between the qualities of resembling actions are few. There are some who will regard Alister as capable of vivisection.

On one occasion when the brothers were boys, Alister having lost his temper in the pursuit of a runaway pony, fell upon it with his fists the moment he caught it. Ian put himself between, and received, without word or motion, more than one blow meant for the pony.

"Donal was only in fun!" he said, as soon as Alister's anger had spent itself. "Father would never have punished him like that!"

Alister was ashamed, and never again was guilty of such an outbreak. From that moment he began the serious endeavour to subjugate the pig, tiger, mule, or whatever animal he found in himself. There remained, however, this difference between them--that Alister punished without compunction, while Ian was sorely troubled at having to cause any suffering.

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