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- What's Mine's Mine - 20/89 -
"You want to be rid of us!" said Christina.
"By no means," replied Alister. "We are delighted to have you with us. But we must not let you get tired before turning to go back."
"If you really do not mind, we should like to go a good deal farther. I want to see round the turn there, where another hill comes from behind and closes up the view. We haven't anybody to go with us, and have seen nothing of the country. The men won't take us shooting; and mamma is always so afraid we lose ourselves, or fall down a few precipices, or get into a bog, or be eaten by wild beasts!"
"If this frost last, we shall have time to show you something of the country. I see you can walk!"
"We can walk well enough, and should so like to get to the top of a mountain!"
"For the crossing then!" said Alister, and turning to the burn, jumped and re-jumped it, as if to let them see how to do it.
The bed of the stream was at the spot narrowed by two rocks, so that, though there was little of it, the water went through with a roar, and a force to take a man off his legs. It was too wide for the ladies, and they stood eyeing it with dismay, fearing an end to their walk and the pleasant companionship.
"Do not be frightened, ladies," said Alister: "it is not too wide for you."
"You have the advantage of us in your dress!" said Christina.
"I will get you over quite safe," returned the chief.
Christina looked as if she could not trust herself to him.
"I will try," said Mercy.
"Jump high," answered Alister, as he sprang again to the other side, and held out his hand across the chasm.
"I can neither jump high nor far!" said Mercy.
"Don't be in a hurry. I will take you--no, not by the hand; that might slip--but by the wrist. Do not think how far you can jump; all you have to do is to jump. Only jump as high as you can."
Mercy could not help feeling frightened--the water rushed so fast and loud below.
"Are you sure you can get me over?" she asked.
"Then I will jump."
She sprang, and Alister, with a strong pull on her arm, landed her easily.
"It is your turn now," he said, addressing Christina.
She was rather white, but tried to laugh.
"I--I--I don't think I can!" she said.
"It is really nothing," persuaded the chief.
"I am sorry to be a coward, but I fear I was born one."
"Some feelings nobody can help," said Ian, "but nobody need give way to them. One of the bravest men I ever knew would always start aside if the meanest little cur in the street came barking at him; and yet on one occasion, when the people were running in all directions, he took a mad dog by the throat, and held him. Come, Alister! you take her by one arm and I will take her by the other."
The chief sprang to her side, and the moment she felt the grasp of the two men, she had the needful courage. The three jumped together, and all were presently walking merrily along the other bank, over the same kind of ground, in single file--Ian bringing up the rear.
The ladies were startled by a gun going off close behind them.
"I beg your pardon," said Ian, "but I could not let the rascal go."
"What have you killed?" his brother asked.
"Only one of my own family--a red-haired fellow!" answered Ian, who had left the path, and was going up the hill.
The girls looked, but saw nothing, and following him a few yards, came to him behind a stone.
"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed Christina, with horror in her tone, "it's a fox!--Is it possible you have shot a fox?"
The men laughed.
"And why not?" asked Alister, as if he had no idea what she could mean. "Is the fox a sacred animal in the south?"
"It's worse than poaching!" she cried.
"Hardly!" returned Alister. "No doubt you may get a good deal of fun out of Reynard, but you can't make game of him! Why--you look as if you had lost a friend! I admire his intellect, but we can't afford to feed it on chickens and lambs."
"But to SHOOT him!"
"Why not? We do not respect him here. He is a rascal, to be sure, but then he has no money, and consequently no friends!"
"He has many friends! What WOULD Christian or Mr. Sercombe say to shooting, actually shooting a fox!"
"You treat him as if he were red gold!" said the chief. "We build temples neither to Reynard nor Mammon here. We leave the men of the south to worship them!"
"They don't worship them!" said Mercy.
"Do they not respect the rich man because he is rich, and look down on the poor man because he is poor?" said Ian. "Though the rich be a wretch, they think him grand; though the poor man be like Jesus Christ, they pity him!"
"And shouldn't the poor be pitied?" said Christina.
"Not except they need pity."
"Is it not pitiable to be poor?"
"By no means. It is pitiable to be wretched--and that, I venture to suspect, the rich are oftener than the poor.--But as to master Reynard there--instead of shooting him, what would you have had us do with him?"
"Hunt him, to be sure."
"Would he like that better?"
"What he would like is not the question. The sport is the thing."
"That will show you why he is not sacred here: we do not hunt him. It would be impossible to hunt this country; you could not ride the ground. Besides, there are such multitudes of holes, the hounds would scarcely have a chance. No; the only dog to send after the fellow is a leaden one."
"There's another!" exclaimed the chief; "--there, sneaking away!--and your gun not loaded, Ian!"
"I am so glad!" said Christina. "He at least will escape you!"
"And some poor lamb in the spring won't escape him!" returned Alister.
"Lambs are meant to be eaten!" said Christina.
"Yes; but a lamb might think it hard to feed such a creature!"
"If the fox is of no good in the world," said Mercy, "why was he made?"
"He can't be of no good," answered the chief. "What if some things are, just that we may get rid of them?"
"COULD they be made just to be got rid of?"
"I said--that WE might get rid of them: there is all the difference in that. The very first thing men had to do in the world was to fight beasts."
"I think I see what you mean," said Mercy: "if there had been no wild beasts to fight with, men would never have grown able for much!"
"That is it," said Alister. "They were awful beasts! and they had poor weapons to fight them with--neither guns nor knives!"
"And who knows," suggested Ian, "what good it may be to the fox himself to make the best of a greedy life?"
"But what is the good to us of talking about such things?" said Christina. "They're not interesting!"
The remark silenced the brothers: where indeed could be use without interest?
But Mercy, though she could hardly have said she found the conversation VERY interesting, felt there was something in the men that cared to talk about such things, that must be interesting if she could only get at it. They were not like any other men she had met!
Christina's whole interest in men was the admiration she looked for
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