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greatly; there were no more public house orgies, no fighting in the streets, very little of what they called breaking of the Sabbath, and altogether there was a marked improvement in the look of things along a good many miles of that northern shore.
Strange as it may seem, however, morality in the deeper sense, remained very much at the same low ebb as before. It is much easier to persuade men that God cares for certain observances, than that he cares for simple honesty and truth and gentleness and loving kindness. The man who would shudder at the idea of a rough word of the description commonly called swearing, will not even have a twinge of conscience after a whole morning of ill tempered sullenness, capricious scolding, villainously unfair animadversion, or surly cross grained treatment generally of wife and children! Such a man will omit neither family worship nor a sneer at his neighbour. He will neither milk his cow on the first day of the week without a Sabbath mask on his face, nor remove it while he waters the milk for his customers. Yet he may not be an absolute hypocrite. What can be done for him, however, hell itself may have to determine.
Notwithstanding their spiritual experiences, it was, for instance, no easier to get them to pay their debts than heretofore. Of course there were, and had always been, thoroughly honest men and women amongst them; but there were others who took prominent part in their observances, who seemed to have no remotest suspicion that religion had anything to do with money or money's worth--not to know that God cared whether a child of his met his obligations or not. Such fulfilled the injunction to owe nothing by acknowledging nothing. One man, when pressed, gave as a reason for his refusal, that Christ had paid all his debts. Possibly this contemptible state of feeling had been fostered by an old superstition that it was unlucky to pay up everything, whence they had always been in the habit of leaving at least a few shillings of their shop bills to be carried forward to the settlement after the next fishing season. But when a widow whose husband had left property, would acknowledge no obligation to discharge his debts, it came to be rather more than a whim. Evidently the religion of many of them was as yet of a poor sort--precisely like that of the negroes, whose devotion so far outstrips their morality.
If there had but been some one of themselves to teach that the true outlet and sedative of overstrained feeling is right action! that the performance of an unpleasant duty, say the paying of their debts, was a far more effectual as well as more specially religious mode of working off their excitement than dancing! that feeling is but the servant of character until it becomes its child! or rather, that feeling is but a mere vapour until condensed into character! that the only process through which it can be thus consolidated is well doing--the putting forth of the right thing according to the conscience universal and individual, and that thus, and thus only, can the veil be .withdrawn from between the man and his God, and the man be saved in beholding the face of his Father!
"But have patience--give them time," said Mr Graham, who had watched the whole thing from the beginning. "If their religion is religion, it will work till it purifies; if it is not, it will show itself for what it is, by plunging them into open vice. The mere excitement and its extravagance--the mode in which their gladness breaks out--means nothing either way. The man is the willing, performing being, not the feeling shouting singing being: in the latter there may be no individuality--nothing more than receptivity of the movement of the mass. But when a man gets up and goes out and discharges an obligation, he is an individual; to him God has spoken, and he has opened his ears to hear: God and that man are henceforth in communion."
These doings, however, gave--how should they fail to give?--a strong handle to the grasp of those who cared for nothing in religion but its respectability--who went to church Sunday after Sunday, "for the sake of example" as they said--the most arrogant of Pharisaical reasons! Many a screeching, dancing fisher lass in the Seaton was far nearer the kingdom of heaven than the most respectable of such respectable people! I would unspeakably rather dance with the wildest of fanatics rejoicing over a change in their own spirits, than sit in the seat of the dull of heart, to whom the old story is an outworn tale.
CHAPTER XLIX: MOUNT PISGAH
The intercourse between Florimel and Malcolm grew gradually more familiar, until at length it was often hardly to be distinguished from such as takes place between equals, and Florimel was by degrees forgetting the present condition in the possible future of the young man. But Malcolm, on the other hand, as often as the thought of that possible future arose in her presence, flung it from him in horror, lest the wild dream of winning her should make him for a moment desire its realization.
The claim that hung over him haunted his very life, turning the currents of his thought into channels of speculation unknown before. Imagine a young fisherman meditating--as he wandered with bent head through the wilder woods on the steep banks of the burn, or the little green levels which it overflowed in winter--of all possible subjects what analogy there might be betwixt the body and the soul in respect of derivation--whether the soul was traduced as well as the body?--as his material form came from the forms of his father and mother, did his soul come from their souls? or did the Maker, as at the first he breathed his breath into the form of Adam, still, at some crisis unknown in its creation, breathe into each form the breath of individual being? If the latter theory were the true, then, be his earthly origin what it might, he had but to shuffle off this mortal coil to walk forth a clean thing, as a prince might cast off the rags of an enforced disguise, and set out for the land of his birth. If the former were the true, then the wellspring of his being was polluted, nor might he by any death fling aside his degradation, or show himself other than defiled in the eyes of the old dwellers in "those high countries," where all things seem as they are, and are as they seem.
One day when, these questions fighting in his heart, he had for the hundredth time arrived thus far, all at once it seemed as if a soundless voice in the depth of his soul replied,
"Even then--should the wellspring of thy life be polluted with vilest horrors such as, in Persian legends, the lips of the lost are doomed to drink with loathings inconceivable--the well is but the utterance of the water, not the source of its existence; the rain is its father, and comes from the sweet heavens. Thy soul, however it became known to itself is from the pure heart of God, whose thought of thee is older than thy being--is its first and eldest cause. Thy essence cannot be defiled, for in him it is eternal."
Even with the thought, the horizon of his life began to clear; a light came out on the far edge of its ocean--a dull and sombre yellow, it is true, and the clouds hung yet heavy over sea and land, while miles of vapour hid the sky; but he could now believe there might be a blue beyond, in which the sun lorded it with majesty.
He had been rambling on the waste hill in which the grounds of Lossie House, as it were, dissipated. It had a far outlook, but he had beheld neither sky or ocean. The Soutars of Cromarty had all the time sat on their stools large in his view; the hills of Sutherland had invited his gaze, rising faint and clear over the darkened water at their base, less solid than the sky in which they were set, and less a fact than the clouds that crossed their breasts; the land of Caithness had lain lowly and afar, as if, weary of great things, it had crept away in tired humility to the rigours of the north; and east and west his own rugged shore had gone lengthening out, fringed with the white burst of the dark sea; but none of all these things had he noted.
Lady Florimel suddenly encountered him on his way home, and was startled by his look.
"Where have you been, Malcolm?" she exclaimed.
"I hardly ken, my leddy: somewhaur aboot the feet o' Mount Pisgah, I 'm thinkin', if no freely upo' the heid o' 't."
"That's not the name of the hill up there!"
"Ow na; yon's the Binn."
"What have you been about? Looking at things in general, I suppose."
"Na; they've been luikin' at me, I daursay; but I didna heed them, an' they didna fash me."
"You look so strangely bright!" she said, "as if you had seen something both marvellous and beautiful!"
The words revealed a quality of insight not hitherto manifested by Florimel. In truth, Malcolm's whole being was irradiated by the flash of inward peace that had visited him--a statement intelligible and therefore credible enough to the mind accustomed to look over the battlements of the walls that clasp the fair windows of the senses. But Florimel's insight had reached its limit, and her judgment, vainly endeavouring to penetrate farther, fell floundering in the mud.
"I know!" she went on: "You've been to see your lady mother!"
Malcolm's face turned white as if blasted with leprosy. The same scourge that had maddened the poor laird fell hissing on his soul, and its knotted sting was the same word mother. He turned and walked slowly away, fighting a tyrannous impulse to thrust his fingers in his ears and run and shriek.
"Where are your manners?" cried the girl after him, but he never stayed his slow foot or turned his bowed head, and Florimel wondered.
For the moment, his new found peace had vanished. Even if the old nobility of heaven might regard him without a shadow of condescension --that self righteous form of contempt--what could he do with a mother whom he could neither honour or love? Love! If he could but cease to hate her! There was no question yet of loving.
But might she not repent? Ah, then, indeed! And might he not help her to repent?--He would not avoid her. How was it that she had never yet sought him?
As he brooded thus, on his way to Duncan's cottage, and, heedless of the sound of coming wheels, was crossing the road which went along the bottom of the glen, he was nearly run over by a carriage coming round the corner of a high bank at a fast trot Catching one
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