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- What's Mine's Mine - 50/89 -


"It was Wordsworth's bitter disappointment in the outcome of the French revolution," continued Ian, "that opened the door to him. Yet he had gone through the outer courts of the temple with more understanding than any who immediately preceded him.--Will you let me ask you a question?"

"You frighten me!" said Mercy.

"I am sorry for that. We will talk of something else."

"I am not afraid of what you may ask me; I am frightened at what you tell me. I fear to go on if I must meet Sorrow on the way!"

"You make one think of some terrible secret society!" said Christina.

"Tell me then, Miss Mercy, is there anything you love very much? I don't say any PERSON, but any THING."

"I love some animals."

"An animal is not a thing. It is possible to love animals and not the nature of which we are speaking. You might love a dog dearly, and never care to see the sun rise!--Tell me, did any flower ever make you cry?

"No," answered Mercy, with a puzzled laugh; "how could it?"

"Did any flower ever make you a moment later in going to bed, or a moment earlier in getting out of it?"

"No, certainly!"

"In that direction, then, I am foiled!"

"You would not really have me cry over a flower, Mr. Ian? Did ever a flower make you cry yourself? Of course not! it is only silly women that cry for nothing!"

"I would rather not bring myself in at present," answered Ian smiling. "Do you know how Chaucer felt about flowers?"

"I never read a word of Chaucer."

"Shall I give you an instance?"

"Please."

"Chaucer was a man of the world, a courtier, more or less a man of affairs, employed by Edward III. in foreign business of state: you cannot mistake him for an effeminate or sentimental man! He does not anywhere, so far as I remember, say that ever he cried over a flower, but he shows a delight in some flowers so delicate and deep that it must have a source profounder than that of most people's tears. When we go back I will read you what he says about the daisy; but one more general passage I think I could repeat. There are animals in it too!"

"Pray let us hear it," said Christina.

He spoke the following stanzas--not quite correctly, but supplying for the moment's need where he could not recall:--

A gardein saw I, full of blosomed bowis, Upon a river, in a grene mede, There as sweetnesse evermore inough is, With floures white, blewe, yelowe, and rede, And cold welle streames, nothing dede, That swommen full of smale fishes light, With finnes rede, and scales silver bright.

On every bough the birdes heard I sing, With voice of angell, in hir armonie, That busied hem, hir birdes forth to bring, The little pretty conies to hir play gan hie, And further all about I gan espie, The dredeful roe, the buck, the hart, and hind, Squirrels, and beastes small, of gentle kind.

Of instruments of stringes in accorde, Heard I so play, a ravishing swetnesse, That God, that maker is of all and Lorde, Ne heard never better, as I gesse, Therewith a wind, unneth it might be lesse, Made in the leaves grene a noise soft, Accordant to the foules song on loft.

The aire of the place so attempre was, That never was ther grevance of hot ne cold, There was eke every noisome spice and gras, Ne no man may there waxe sicke ne old, Yet was there more joy o thousand fold, Than I can tell or ever could or might, There is ever clere day, and never night.

He modernized them also a little in repeating them, so that his hearers missed nothing through failing to understand the words: how much they gained, it were hard to say.

"It reminds one," commented Ian, "of Dante's paradise on the top of the hill of purgatory."

"I don't know anything about Dante either," said Mercy regretfully.

"There is plenty of time!" said Ian.

"But there is so much to learn!" returned Mercy in a hopeless tone.

"That is the joy of existence!" Ian replied. "We are not bound to know; we are only bound to learn.--But to return to my task: a man may really love a flower. In another poem Chaucer tells us that such is his delight in his books that no other pleasure can take him from them--

Save certainly, when that the month of May Is comen, and that I heare the foules sing, And that the floures ginnen for to spring, Farwell my booke, and my devotion!

Poor people love flowers; rich people admire them."

"But," said Mercy, "how can one love a thing that has no life?"

Ian could have told her that whatever grows must live; he could further have told her his belief that life cannot be without its measure of consciousness; but it would have led to more difficulty, and away from the end he had in view. He felt also that no imaginable degree of consciousness in it was commensurate with the love he had himself for almost any flower. His answer to Mercy's question was this:--

"The flowers come from the same heart as man himself, and are sent to be his companions and ministers. There is something divinely magical, because profoundly human in them. In some at least the human is plain; we see a face of childlike peace and confidence that appeals to our best. Our feeling for many of them doubtless owes something to childish associations; but how did they get their hold of our childhood? Why did they enter our souls at all? They are joyous, inarticulate children, come with vague messages from the father of all. If I confess that what they say to me sometimes makes me weep, how can I call my feeling for them anything but love? The eternal thing may have a thousand forms of which we know nothing yet!"

Mercy felt Ian must mean something she ought to like, if only she knew what it was; but he had not yet told her anything to help her! He had, however, neither reached his end nor lost his way; he was leading her on--gently and naturally.

"I did not mean," he resumed, "that you must of necessity begin with the flowers. I was only inquiring whether at that point you were nearer to Nature.--Tell me--were you ever alone?"

"Alone!" repeated Mercy, thinking. "--Surely everybody has been many times alone!"

"Could you tell when last you were alone?"

She thought, but could not tell.

"What I want to ask you," said Ian, "is--did you ever feel alone? Did you ever for a moment inhabit loneliness? Did it ever press itself upon you that there was nobody near--that if you called nobody would hear? You are not alone while you know that you can have a fellow creature with you the instant you choose."

"I hardly think I was ever alone in that way."

"Then what I would have you do," continued Ian, "is--to make yourself alone in one of Nature's withdrawing-rooms, and seat yourself in one of Grannie's own chairs.--I am coming to the point at last!--Upon a day when the weather is fine, go out by yourself. Tell no one where you are going, or that you are going anywhere. Climb a hill. If you cannot get to the top of it, go high on the side of it. No book, mind! nothing to fill your thinking-place from auother's! People are always saying 'I think,' when they are not thinking at all, when they are at best only passing the thoughts of others whom they do not even know.

"When you have got quite alone, when you do not even know the nearest point to anybody, sit down and be lonely. Look out on the loneliness, the wide world round you, and the great vault over you, with the lonely sun in the middle of it; fold your hands in your lap, and be still. Do not try to think anything. Do not try to call up any feeling or sentiment or sensation; just be still. By and by, it may be, you will begin to know something of Nature. I do not know you well enough to be sure about it; but if you tell me afterwards how you fared, I shall then know you a little better, and perhaps be able to tell you whether Nature will soon speak to you, or not until, as Henry Vaughan says, some veil be broken in you."

They were approaching the cottage, and little more was said. They found Mrs. Palmer prepared to go, and Mercy was not sorry: she had had enough for a while. She was troubled at the thought that perhaps she was helplessly shut out from the life inhabited by the brothers. When she lay down, her own life seemed dull and poor. These men, with all their kindness, respect, attention, and even attendance upon them, did not show them the homage which the men of their own circle paid them!


What's Mine's Mine - 50/89

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