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- What's Mine's Mine - 6/89 -


They shook hands over the counter, and the young chief took his departure.

As he stood up, he showed a fine-made, powerful frame, over six feet in height, and perfectly poised. With a great easy stride he swept silently out of the shop; nor from gait any more than look would one have thought he had been all day at work on the remnant of property he could call his own.

To a cit it would have seemed strange that one sprung from innumerable patriarchal ancestors holding the land of the country, should talk so familiarly with a girl in a miserable little shop in a most miserable hamlet; it would have seemed stranger yet that such a one should toil at the labour the soul of a cit despises; but stranger than both it would seem to him, if he saw how such a man is tempted to look down upon HIM.

If less CLEVERNESS is required for country affairs, they leave the more room for thinking. There are great and small in every class; here and there is a ploughman that understands Burns, here and there a large-minded shopkeeper, here and there perhaps an unselfish duke. Doubtless most of the youth's ancestors would likewise have held such labour unworthy of a gentleman, and would have preferred driving to their hills a herd of lowland cattle; but this, the last Macruadh, had now and then a peep into the kingdom of heaven.

CHAPTER V.

THE CHIEF.

The Macruadh strode into the dark, and down the village, wasting no time in picking his way--thence into the yet deeper dark of the moorland hills. The rain was beginning to come down in earnest, but he did not heed it; he was thoroughbred, and feared no element. An umbrella was to him a ludicrous thing: how could a little rain--as he would have called it had it come down in torrents--hurt any one!

The Macruadh, as the few who yet held by the sore-frayed, fast-vanishing skirt of clanship, called him, was the son of the last minister of the parish-a godly man, who lived that which he could ill explain, and was immeasurably better than those parts of his creed which, from a sense of duty, he pushed to the front. For he held devoutly by the root of which he spoke too little, and it supplied much sap to his life and teaching--out of the pulpit. He was a genial, friendly, and by nature even merry man, always ready to share what he had, and making no show of having what he had not, either in wisdom, knowledge, or earthly goods. His father and brother had been owners of the property and chiefs of the clan, much beloved by the poor of it, and not a little misunderstood by most of the more nourishing. For a great hunger after larger means, the ambition of the mammon-ruled world, had arisen in the land, and with it a rage for emigration. The uncle of the present Macruadh did all he could to keep his people at home, lived on a couple of hundreds a year himself, and let many of his farms to his gentlemen-tacksmen, as they were called, at lower rents; but it was unavailing; one after another departed, until his land lay in a measure waste, and he grew very poor, mourning far more over his clan and his country than his poverty. In more prosperous times he had scraped together a little money, meaning it, if he could but avoid spending it in his old age, for his brother, who must soon succeed him; for he was himself a bachelor--the result of a romantic attachment and sorrow in his youth; but he lent it to a company which failed, and so lost it. At length he believed himself compelled, for the good of his people, to part with all but a mere remnant of the property. From the man to whom he sold it, Mr. Peregrine Palmer bought it for twice the money, and had still a good bargain. But the hopes of the laird were disappointed: in the sheep it fed, and the grouse it might be brought to breed, lay all its value in the market; there was no increase in the demand for labour; and more and more of the peasantry emigrated, or were driven to other parts of the country. Such was the present treatment of the land, causing human life to ebb from it, and working directly counter to the creative God.

The laird retired to the humble cottage of his brother the pastor, just married rather late in life--where every comfort love could give waited for him; but the thought that he could have done better for his people by retaining the land soon wore him out; and having made a certain disposition of the purchase-money, he died.

What remained of the property came to the minister. As for the chieftainship, that had almost died before the chief; but, reviving by union with the reverence felt for the minister, it took thereafter a higher form. When the minister died, the idea of it transmitted to his son was of a peculiarly sacred character; while in the eyes of the people, the authority of the chief and the influence of the minister seemed to meet reborn in Alister notwithstanding his youth. In himself he was much beloved, and in love the blessed rule, blessed where understood, holds, that to him that hath shall be given, he only who has being fit to receive. The love the people bore to his father, both pastor and chief, crowned head and heart of Alister. Scarce man or woman of the poor remnant of the clan did not love the young Macruadh.

On his side was true response. With a renewed and renovating conscience, and a vivid sense that all things had to be made new, he possessed an old strong heart, clinging first to his father and mother, and then to the shadow even of any good thing that had come floating down the ages. Call it a dream, a wild ideal, a foolish fancy--call it what you please, he was filled with the notion of doing something in his own person and family, having the remnant of the clan for the nucleus of his endeavour, to restore to a vital reality, let it be of smallest extent, that most ancient of governments, the patriarchal, which, all around, had rotted into the feudal, in its turn rapidly disintegrating into the mere dust and ashes of the kingdom of the dead, over which Mammon reigns supreme. There may have been youthful presumption and some folly in the notion, but it sprang neither from presumption nor folly, but from simple humanity, and his sense of the responsibility he neither could nor would avoid, as the person upon whom had devolved the headship, however shadowy, of a house, ruinous indeed, but not yet razed.

The castle on the ridge stood the symbol of the family condition. It had, however, been a ruin much longer than any one alive could remember. Alister's uncle had lived in a house on the spot where Mr. Peregrine Palmer's now stood; the man who bought it had pulled it down to build that which Mr. Palmer had since enlarged. It was but a humble affair--a great cottage in stone, much in the style of that in which the young chief now lived--only six times the size, with the one feature indispensable to the notion of a chief's residence, a large hall. Some would say it was but a huge kitchen; but it was the sacred place of the house, in which served the angel of hospitality. THERE was always plenty to eat and drink for any comer, whether he had "claim" or not: the question of claim where was need, was not thought of. When the old house had to make room for the new, the staves of the last of its half-pipes of claret, one of which used always to stand on tap amidst the peat-smoke, yielded its final ministration to humanity by serving to cook a few meals for mason and carpenter.

The property of Clanruadh, for it was regarded as clan-property BECAUSE belonging to the chief, stretched in old time away out of sight in all directions--nobody, in several, could tell exactly how far, for the undrawn boundary lines lay in regions of mist and cloud, in regions stony, rocky, desert, to which a red deer, not to say a stray sheep, rarely ascended. At one time it took in a portion at least of every hill to be seen from the spot where stood the ruin. The chief had now but a small farm, consisting of some fair soil on the slope of a hill, and some very good in the valley on both sides of the burn; with a hill-pasture that was not worth measuring in acres, for it abounded in rocks, and was prolific in heather and ling, with patches of coarse grass here and there, and some extent of good high-valley grass, to which the small black cattle and black-faced sheep were driven in summer. Beyond periodical burnings of the heather, this uplifted portion received no attention save from the mist, the snow, the rain, the sun, and the sweet air. A few grouse and black game bred on it, and many mountain-hares, with martens, wild cats, and other VERMIN. But so tender of life was the Macruadh that, though he did not spare these last, he did not like killing even a fox or a hooded crow, and never shot a bird for sport, or would let another shoot one, though the poorest would now and then beg a bird or two from him, sure of having their request. It seemed to him as if the creatures were almost a part of his clan, of which also he had to take care against a greedy world. But as the deer and the birds ranged where they would, it was not much he could do for them--as little almost as for the men and women that had gone over the sea, and were lost to their country in Canada.

Regret, and not any murmur, stirred the mind of Alister Macruadh when he thought of the change that had passed on all things around him. He had been too well taught for grumbling--least of all at what was plainly the will of the Supreme--inasmuch as, however man might be to blame, the thing was there. Personal regrets he had none beyond those of family feeling and transmitted SENTIMENT. He was able to understand something of the signs of the times, and saw that nothing could bring back the old way--saw that nothing comes back--at least in the same form; saw that there had been much that ought not to come back, and that, if patriarchal ways were ever to return, they must rise out of, and be administered upon loftier principles--must begin afresh, and be wrought out afresh from the bosom of a new Abraham, capable of so bringing up his children that a new development of the one natural system, of government should be possible with and through them. Perhaps even now, in the new country to which so many of his people were gone, some shadowy reappearance of the old fashion might have begun to take shape on a higher level, with loftier aims, and in circumstances holding out fewer temptations to the evils of the past!

Alister could not, at his years, have generated such thoughts but for the wisdom that had gone before him--first the large-minded speculation of his father, who was capable even of discarding his prejudices where he saw they might mislead him; and next, the response of his mother to the same: she was the only one who entirely understood her husband. Isobel Macruadh was a woman of real thinking-power. Her sons being but boys when their father died, she at once took the part of mediator between the mind of the father and that of his sons; and besides guiding them on the same principles, often told them things their father had said, and talked with them of things they had heard him say.


What's Mine's Mine - 6/89

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