What's Mine's Mind - vol.1

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

Prev | Next | Contents


While they were thus busied, Ian, with his face to the wall, in the dim light of the candle by which he was making his first rough sketches, began the story of his flight from Russia. Long ere he ended, Alister came close behind him, and there stood, his bosom heaving with emotion, his eyes burning with a dry fire. Ian was perfectly composed, his voice quiet and low.

I will not give his tale in the first person; and will tell of it only as much as I think it necessary my reader should know.

Having accepted a commission of the Czar, he was placed in a post of trust in the palace.

In one apartment of it, lived an imperial princess, the burden of whose rank had not even the alleviation of society. Her disclosure of a sympathy with oppressed humanity had wakened a doubt as to her politics, and she was virtually a prisoner, restricted to a corner of the huge dwelling, and allowed to see hardly any but her women. Her father had fallen into disgrace before her, and her mother was dead of grief. All around her were spies, and love was nowhere. Gladly would she have yielded every rag of her rank, to breathe the air of freedom. To be a peasant girl on her father's land, would be a life of rapture!

She knew little of the solace books might have given her. With a mind capable of rapid development, she had been ill taught except in music; and that, alone, cannot do much for spiritual development; it cannot enable the longing, the aspiration it rouses, to understand itself; it cannot lead back to its own eternal source.

She knew no one in whom to trust, or from whom to draw comfort; her confessor was a man of the world, incapable of leading her to any fountain of living water; she had no one to tell her of God and his fatherhood, the only and perfect refuge from the divine miseries of loneliness.

A great corridor went from end to end of one of the wings of the palace, and from this corridor another passage led toward the apartment of the princess, consisting of some five or six rooms. At certain times of the day, Ian had to be at the beginning of the corridor, at the head of a huge stair with a spacious hall-like landing. Along the corridor few passed, for the attendants used a back stair and passages. As he sat in the recess of a large window, where stood a table and chair for his use, Ian one morning heard a cry--whence, he never knew--and darted along the corridor, thinking assistance might be wanted. When about halfway down, he saw a lady enter, near the end of it, and come slowly along. He stood aside, respectfully waiting till she should pass. Her eyes were on the ground, but as she came near she raised them. The sadness of them went to his heart, and his soul rushed into his. The princess, I imagine, had never before met such an expression, and misunderstood it. Lonely, rejected, too helpless even to hope, it seemed full of something she had all her life been longing for--a soul to be her refuge from the wind, her covert from the tempest, her shadow as of a great rock in the weary land where no one cared for her. She stood and gazed at him.

Ian at once perceived who she must be, and stood waiting for some expression of her pleasure. But she appeared fascinated; her eyes remained on his, for they seemed to her to be promising help. Her fascination fascinated him, and for some moments they stood thus, regarding each other. Ian felt he must break the spell. It was her part to speak, his to obey, but he knew the danger of the smallest suspicion. If she was a princess and he but a soldier on guard, she was a woman and he was a man: he was there to protect her! "How may I serve your imperial highness?" he asked. She was silent yet a moment, then said, "Your name?" He gave it. "Your nation?" He stated it. "When are you here?" He told her his hours. "I will see you again," she said, and turned and went back.

From that moment she loved him, and thought he loved her. But, though he would willingly have died for her, he did not love her as she thought. Alister wondered to hear him say so. At such a moment, and heart-free, Alister could no more have helped falling in love with her than he could help opening his eyes when the light shone on their lids. Ian, with a greater love for his kind than even Alister, and with a tenderness for womankind altogether infinite, was not ready to fall in love. Accessible indeed he was to the finest of Nature's witcheries; ready for the response as of summer lightnings from opposing horizons; all aware of loveliest difference, of refuge and mysterious complement; but he was not prone to fall in love.

The princess, knowing the ways of the house, contrived to see him pretty often. He talked to her of the hest he knew; he did what he could to lighten her loneliness by finding her books and music; best of all, he persuaded her--without difficulty--to read the New Testament. In their few minutes of conference, he tried to show her the Master of men as he showed himself to his friends; but their time together was always so short, and their anxiety for each other so great, seeing that discovery would be ruin to both, that they could not go far with anything.

At length came an occasion when at parting they embraced. How it was Ian could not tell. He blamed himself much, but Alister thought it might not have been his fault. The same moment he was aware that he did not love her and that he could not turn back. He was ready to do anything, everything in honour; yet felt false inasmuch as he had given her ground for believing that he felt towards her as he could not help seeing she felt towards him. Had it been in his power to order his own heart, he would have willed to love, and so would have loved her. But the princess doubted nothing, and the change that passed upon her was wonderful. The power of human love is next to the power of Grod's love. Like a flower long repressed by cold, she blossomed so suddenly in the sunshine of her bliss, that Ian greatly dreaded the suspicion which the too evident alteration might arouse: the plain, ordinary-looking young woman with fine eyes, began to put on the robes of beauty. A softest vapour of rose, the colour of the east when sundown sets it dreaming of sunrise, tinged her cheek; it grew round like that of a girl; and ere two months were gone, she looked years younger than her age. But Ian could never be absolutely open with her; while she, poor princess, happy in her ignorance of the shows of love, and absorbed in the joy of its great deliverance, jealoused nothing of restraint, nothing of lack, either in his words or in the caresses of which he was religiously sparing. He was haunted by the dread of making her grieve who had already grieved so much, and was but just risen from the dead.

One evening they met as usual in the twilight; in five minutes the steps of the man would be heard coming to light the lamps of the corridor, his guard would be over, and he must retire. Few words passed, but they parted with more of lingering tenderness than usual, and the princess put a little packet in his hand. The same night his only friend in the service entered his room hurriedly, and urged immediate flight: something had been, or was imagined to be discovered, through which his liberty, perhaps his life, was compromised; he must leave at once by a certain coach which would start in an hour: there was but just time to disguise him; he must make for a certain port on the Baltic, and there lie concealed until a chance of getting away turned up!

Ian refused. He feared nothing, had done nothing to be ashamed of! What was it to him if they did take his life! he could die as well as another! Anxious about the princess, he persisted in his refusal, and the coach went without him. Every passenger in that coach was murdered. He saw afterward the signs of their fate in the snow.

In the middle of the night, a company of men in masks entered his room, muffled his head, and hurried him into a carriage, which drove rapidly away.

When it stopped, he thought he had arrived at some prison, but soon found himself in another carriage, with two of the police. He could have escaped had he been so minded, but he could do nothing for the princess, and did not care what became of him. At a certain town his attendants left him, with the assurance that if he did not make haste out of the country, he would find they had not lost sight of him.

But instead of obeying, he disguised himself, and took his way to Moscow, where he had friends. Thence he wrote to his friend at St. Petersburg. Not many letters passed ere he learned that the princess was dead. She had been placed in closer confinement, her health gave way, and by a rapid decline she had gained her freedom.

All the night through, not closing their eyes till the morning, the brothers, with many intervals of thoughtful silence, lay talking.

"I am glad to think," said Alister, after one of these silences, "you do not suffer so much, Ian, as if you had been downright in love with her."

"I suffer far more," answered Ian with a sigh; "and I ought to suffer more. It breaks my heart to think she had not so much from me as she thought she had."

They were once more silent. Alister was full of trouble for his brother. Ian at length spoke again.

"Alister," he said, "I must tell you everything! I know the truth now. If I wronged her, she is having her revenge!"

By his tone Alister seemed through the darkness to see his sad smile. He was silent, and Alister waited.

"She did not know much," Ian resumed. "I thought at first she had nothing but good manners and a good heart; but the moment the sun of another heart began to shine on her, the air of another's thought to breathe upon her, the room of another soul to surround her, she began to grow; and what more could God intend or man desire? As I told you, she grew beautiful, and what sign of life is equal to that!"

"But I want to know what you mean by her having her revenge on you?" said Alister.

"Whether I loved her then or not, and I believe I did, beyond a doubt I love her now. It needed only to be out of sight of her, and see other women beside the memory of her, to know that I loved her.--Alister, I LOVE HER!" repeated Ian with a strange exaltation.

"Oh, Ian!" groaned Alister; "how terrible for you!"

"Alister, you dear fellow!" returned Ian, "can you understand no better than that? Do you not see I am happy now? My trouble was that I did not love her--not that she loved me, but that I did not love her! Now we shall love each other for ever!"

"How do you know that, Ian?"

"By knowing that I love her. If I had not come to know that, I could not have said to myself I would love her for ever."

"But you can't marry her, Ian! The Lord said there would be no marrying there!"

"Did he say there would be no loving there, Alister? Most people seem to fancy he did, for how else could they forget the dead as they do, and look so little for their resurrection? Few can be said really to believe in any hereafter worth believing in. How many go against the liking of the dead the moment they are gone-behave as if they were nowhere, and could never call them to account! Their plans do not recognize their existence; the life beyond is no factor in their life here. If God has given me a hope altogether beyond anything I could have generated for myself, beyond all the likelihoods and fulfilments around me, what can I do but give him room to verify it--what but look onward! Some people's bodies get so tired that they long for the rest of the grave; it is my soul that gets tired, and I know the grave can give that no rest; I look for the rest of more life, more strength, more love. But God is not shut up in heaven, neither is there one law of life there and another here; I desire more life here, and shall have it, for what is needful for this world is to be had in this world. In proportion as I become one with God, I shall have it. This world never did seem my home; I have never felt quite comfortable in it; I have yet to find, and shall find the perfect home I have not felt this world, even my mother's bosom to be. Nature herself is not lovely enough to satisfy me. Nor can it be that I am beside myself, seeing I care only for the will of God, not for my own. For what is madness but two or more wills in one body? Does not the 'Bible itself tell us that we are pilgrims and strangers in the world, that here we have no abiding city? It is but a place to which we come to be made ready for another. Yet I am sure those who regard it as their home, are not half so well pleased with it as I. They are always grumbling at it. 'What wretched weather!' they say. 'What a cursed misfortune!' they cry. 'What abominable luck!' they protest. Health is the first thing, they say, and cannot find it. They complain that their plans are thwarted, and when they succeed, that they do not yield the satisfaction they expected. Yet they mock at him who says he seeks a better country!--But I am keeping you awake, Alister! I will talk no more. You must go to sleep!"

"It is better than any sleep to hear you talk, Ian," returned Alister. "What a way you are ahead of me! I do love this world! When I come to die, it will tear my heart to think that this cave which you and I have dug out together, must pass into other hands! I love every foot of the earth that remains to us--every foot that has been taken from us. When I stand on the top of this rock, and breathe the air of this mountain, I bless God we have still a spot to call our own. It is quite a different thing from the love of mere land; I could not feel the same toward any, however beautiful, that I had but bought. This, our own old land, I feel as if I loved in something the same way as I love my mother. Often in the hot summer-days, lying on my face in the grass, I have kissed the earth as if it were a live creature that could return my caresses! The long grass is a passion to me, and next to the grass I love the heather, not the growing corn. I am a fair farmer, I think, but I would rather see the land grow what it pleased, than pass into the hands of another. Place is to me sacred almost as body. There is at least something akin between the love we bear to the bodies of our friends, and that we bear to the place in which we were born and brought up."

"That is all very true, Alister. I understand your feeling perfectly; I have it myself. But we must be weaned, I say only weaned, from that kind of thing; we must not love the outside as if it were the inside! Everything comes that' we may know the sender-of whom it is a symbol, that is, a far-off likeness of something in him; and to him it must lead us-the self-existent, true, original love, the making love. But I have felt all you say. I used to lie in bed and imagine the earth alive and carrying me on her back, till I fell asleep longing to see the face of my nurse. Once, the fancy turned into a dream. I will try to recall a sonnet I made the same night, before the dream came: it will help you to understand it. I was then about nineteen, I believe. I did not care for it enough to repeat it to you, and I fear we shall find it very bad."

Stopping often to recall and rearrange words and lines, Ian completed at last the following sonnet:--

"She set me on my feet with steady hand, Among the crowding marvels on her face, Bidding me rise, and run a strong man's race; Swathed mo in circumstance's swaddling band; Fed me with her own self; then bade me stand MYself entire,--while she was but a place Hewn for my dwelling from the midst of space, A something better than HER sea or land. Nay, Earth! thou bearest me upon thy back, Like a rough nurse, and I can almost feel A touch of kindness in thy bands of steel, Although I cannot see thy face, and track An onward purpose shining through its black, Instinct with prophecy of future weal.

"There! It is not much, is it?"

"It is beautiful!" protested Alister.

"It is worth nothing," said Ian, "except between you and me-and that it will make you understand my dream. That I shall never forget. When a dream does us good we don't forget it.

"I thought I was home on the back of something great and strong-I could not tell what; it might be an elephant or a great eagle or a lion. It went sweeping swiftly along, the wind of its flight roaring past me in a tempest. I began to grow frightened. Where could this creature of such awful speed be carrying me? I prayed to God to take care of me. The head of the creature turned to me, and I saw the face of a woman, grand and beautiful. Never with my open eyes have I seen such a face! And I knew it was the face of this earth, and that I had never seen it before because she carries us upon her back. When I woke, I knew that all the strangest things in life and history must one day come together in a beautiful face of loving purpose, one of the faces of the living God. The very mother of the Lord did not for a long time understand him, and only through sorrow came to see true glory. Alister, if we were right with God, we could see the earth vanish and never heave a sigh; God, of whom it was but a shimmering revelation, would still be ours!"

In the morning they fell asleep, and it was daylight, late in the winter, when Alister rose. He roused the fire, asleep all through the night, and prepared their breakfast of porridge and butter, tea, oat-cake, and mutton-ham. When it was nearly ready, he woke Ian, and when they had eaten, they read together a portion of the Bible, that they might not forget, and start the life of the day without trust in the life-causing God.

"All that is not rooted in him," Ian would say, "all hope or joy that does not turn its face upward, is an idolatry. Our prayers must rise that our thoughts may follow them."

The portion they read contained the saying of the Lord that we must forsake all and follow him if we would be his disciples.

"I am sometimes almost terrified," said Ian, "at the scope of the demands made upon me, at the perfection of the self-abandonment required of me; yet outside of such absoluteness can be no salvation. In God we live every commonplace as well as most exalted moment of our being. To trust in him when no need is pressing, when things seem going right of themselves, may be harder than when things seem going wrong. At no time is there any danger except in ourselves, and the only danger is of trusting in something else than the living God, and so getting, as it were, outside of God. Oh Alister, take care you do not love the land more than the will of God! Take care you do not love even your people more than the will of God."

They spent the day on the hill-top, and as there was no sign of storm, remained till the dark night, when the moon came to light them home.

"Perhaps when we are dead," said Alister as they went, "we may be allowed to corne here again sometimes! Only we shall not be able to quarry any further, and there is pain in looking on what cannot go on."

"It may be a special pleasure," returned Ian, "in those new conditions, to look into such a changeless cabinet of the past. When we are one with our life, so that no prayer can be denied, there will be no end to the lovely possibilities."

"So I have the people I love, I think I could part with all things else, even the land!" said Alister.

"Be sure we shall not have to part with THEM. We shall yet walk, I think, with our father as of old, where the setting sun sent the shadows of the big horse-gowans that glowed in his red level rays, trooping eastward, as if they would go round the world to meet the sun that had banished them, and die in his glory; the wind of the twilight will again breathe about us like a thought of the living God haunting our goings, and watching to help us; the stars will yet call to us out of the great night, 'Love and be fearless.' 'Be independent!' cries the world from its' great Bible of the Belly;-says the Lord of men, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.' Our dependence is our eternity. We cannot live on bread alone; we need every word of God. We cannot live on air alone; we need an atmosphere of living souls. Should we be freer, Alister, if we were independent of each other? When I am out in the world, my heart is always with mother and you. We must be constantly giving ourselves away, we must dwell in houses of infinite dependence, or sit alone in the waste of a godless universe."

It was a rough walk in the moonlight over the hills, but full of a rare delight. And while they walked the mother was waiting them, with the joy of St. John, of the Saviour, of God himself in her heart, the joy of beholding how the men she loved loved each other.

Prev | Next | Contents