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- What's Mine's Mine - 1/89 -
WHAT'S MINE'S MINE
By George MacDonald
IN THREE VOLUMES
CONTENTS OF VOL. I.
I. HOW COME THEY THERE? II. A SHORT GLANCE OVER THE SHOULDER III. THE GIRLS' FIRST WALK IV. THE SHOP IN THE VILLAGE V. THE CHIEF VI. WORK AND WAGE VII. MOTHER AND SON VIII. A MORNING CALL IX. MR. SERCOMBE X. THE PLOUGH-BULLS XI. THE FIR-GROVE XII. AMONG THE HILLS XIII. THE LAKE XIV. THE WOLVES XV. THE GULF THAT DIVIDED XVI. THE CLAN CHRISTMAS XVII. BETWEEN DANCING AND SUPPER
WHAT'S MINE'S MINE.
HOW COME THEY THERE?
The room was handsomely furnished, but such as I would quarrel with none for calling common, for it certainly was uninteresting. Not a thing in it had to do with genuine individual choice, but merely with the fashion and custom of the class to which its occupiers belonged. It was a dining-room, of good size, appointed with all the things a dining-room "ought" to have, mostly new, and entirely expensive--mirrored sideboard in oak; heavy chairs, just the dozen, in fawn-coloured morocco seats and backs--the dining-room, in short, of a London-house inhabited by rich middle-class people. A big fire blazed in the low round-backed grate, whose flashes were reflected in the steel fender and the ugly fire-irons that were never used. A snowy cloth of linen, finer than ordinary, for there was pride in the housekeeping, covered the large dining-table, and a company, evidently a family, was eating its breakfast. But how come these people THERE?
For, supposing my reader one of the company, let him rise from the well-appointed table--its silver, bright as the complex motions of butler's elbows can make it; its china, ornate though not elegant; its ham, huge, and neither too fat nor too lean; its game-pie, with nothing to be desired in composition, or in flavour natural or artificial;--let him rise from these and go to the left of the two windows, for there are two opposite each other, the room having been enlarged by being built out: if he be such a one as I would have for a reader, might I choose--a reader whose heart, not merely his eye, mirrors what he sees--one who not merely beholds the outward shows of things, but catches a glimpse of the soul that looks out of them, whose garment and revelation they are;--if he be such, I say, he will stand, for more than a moment, speechless with something akin to that which made the morning stars sing together.
He finds himself gazing far over western seas, while yet the sun is in the east. They lie clear and cold, pale and cold, broken with islands scattering thinner to the horizon, which is jagged here and there with yet another. The ocean looks a wild, yet peaceful mingling of lake and land. Some of the islands are green from shore to shore, of low yet broken surface; others are mere rocks, with a bold front to the sea, one or two of them strange both in form and character. Over the pale blue sea hangs the pale blue sky, flecked with a few cold white clouds that look as if they disowned the earth they had got so high--though none the less her children, and doomed to descend again to her bosom. A keen little wind is out, crisping the surface of the sea in patches--a pretty large crisping to be seen from that height, for the window looks over hill above hill to the sea. Life, quiet yet eager, is all about; the solitude itself is alive, content to be a solitude because it is alive. Its life needs nothing from beyond--is independent even of the few sails of fishing boats that here and there with their red brown break the blue of the water.
If my reader, gently obedient to my thaumaturgy, will now turn and cross to the other window, let him as he does so beware of casting a glance on his right towards the place he has left at the table, for the room will now look to him tenfold commonplace, so that he too will be inclined to ask, "How come these and their belongings HERE --just HERE?"--let him first look from the window. There he sees hills of heather rolling away eastward, at middle distance beginning to rise into mountains, and farther yet, on the horizon, showing snow on their crests--though that may disappear and return several times before settling down for the winter. It is a solemn and very still region--not a PRETTY country at all, but great--beautiful with the beauties of colour and variety of surface; while, far in the distance, where the mountains and the clouds have business together, its aspect rises to grandeur. To his first glance probably not a tree will be discoverable; the second will fall upon a solitary clump of firs, like a mole on the cheek of one of the hills not far off, a hill steeper than most of them, and green to the top.
Is my reader seized with that form of divine longing which wonders what lies over the nearest hill? Does he fancy, ascending the other side to its crest, some sweet face of highland girl, singing songs of the old centuries while yet there was a people in these wastes? Why should he imagine in the presence of the actual? why dream when the eyes can see? He has but to return to the table to reseat himself by the side of one of the prettiest of girls!
She is fair, yet with a glowing tinge under her fairness which flames out only in her eyes, and seldom reddens her skin. She has brown hair with just a suspicion of red and no more, and a waviness that turns to curl at the ends. She has a good forehead, arched a little, not without a look of habitation, though whence that comes it might be hard to say. There are no great clouds on that sky of the face, but there is a soft dimness that might turn to rain. She has a straight nose, not too large for the imperfect yet decidedly Greek contour; a doubtful, rather straight, thin-lipped mouth, which seems to dissolve into a bewitching smile, and reveals perfect teeth--and a good deal more to the eyes that can read it. When the mouth smiles, the eyes light up, which is a good sign. Their shape is long oval--and their colour when unlighted, much that of an unpeeled almond; when she smiles, they grow red. She has an object in life which can hardly be called a mission. She is rather tall, and quite graceful, though not altogether natural in her movements. Her dress gives a feathery impression to one who rather receives than notes the look of ladies. She has a good hand--not the doll hand so much admired of those who can judge only of quantity and know nothing of quality, but a fine sensible hand,--the best thing about her: a hand may be too small just as well as too large.
Poor mother earth! what a load of disappointing women, made fit for fine things, and running all to self and show, she carries on her weary old back! From all such, good Lord deliver us!--except it be for our discipline or their awaking.
Near her at the breakfast table sits one of aspect so different, that you could ill believe they belonged to the same family. She is younger and taller--tall indeed, but not ungraceful, though by no means beautiful. She has all the features that belong to a face--among them not a good one. Stay! I am wrong: there were in truth, dominant over the rest, TWO good features--her two eyes, dark as eyes well could be without being all pupil, large, and rather long like her sister's until she looked at you, and then they opened wide. They did not flash or glow, but were full of the light that tries to see--questioning eyes. They were simple eyes--I will not say without arriere pensee, for there was no end of thinking faculty, if not yet thought, behind them,--but honest eyes that looked at you from the root of eyes, with neither attack nor defence in them. If she was not so graceful as her sister, she was hardly more than a girl, and had a remnant of that curiously lovely mingling of grace and clumsiness which we see in long-legged growing girls. I will give her the advantage of not being further described, except so far as this--that her hair was long and black, that her complexion was dark, with something of a freckly unevenness, and that her hands were larger and yet better than her sister's.
There is one truth about a plain face, that may not have occurred to many: its ugliness accompanies a condition of larger undevelopment, for all ugliness that is not evil, is undevelopment; and so implies the larger material and possibility of development. The idea of no countenance is yet carried out, and this kind will take more developing for the completion of its idea, and may result in a greater beauty. I would therefore advise any young man of aspiration in the matter of beauty, to choose a plain woman for wife--IF THROUGH HER PLAINNESS SHE IS YET LOVELY IN HIS EYES; for the loveliness is herself, victorious over the plainness, and her face, so far from complete and yet serving her loveliness, has in it room for completion on a grander scale than possibly most handsome faces. In a handsome face one sees the lines of its coming perfection, and has a glimpse of what it must be when finished: few are prophets enough for a plain face. A keen surprise of beauty waits many a man, if he be pure enough to come near the transfiguration of the homely face he loved.
This plain face was a solemn one, and the solemnity suited the plainness. It was not specially expressive--did not look specially intelligent; there was more of latent than operative power in it--while her sister's had more expression than power. Both were lady-like; whether they were ladies, my reader may determine. There are common ladies and there are rare ladies; the former MAY be countesses; the latter MAY be peasants.
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