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- What's Mine's Mine - 70/89 -
The chief answered with a nod.
"I have other daughters to settle--not to mention my sons," pursued the great little man, "--but--but I will find a time to talk the matter over with Mrs. Palmer, and see what I can do for you. Meanwhile you may reckon you have a friend at court; all I have seen makes me judge well of you. Where we do not think alike, I can yet say for you that your faults lean to virtue's side, and are such as my daughter at least will be no loser by. Good morning, Macruadh."
Mr. Peregrine Palmer rose; and the chief, perplexed and indignant, but anxious not to prejudice, his very doubtful cause, rose also.
"You scarcely understand me, Mr. Palmer," he said. "On the possibility of being honoured with your daughter's hand, you must allow me to say distinctly beforehand, that I must decline receiving anything with her. When will you allow me to wait upon you again?"
"I will write. Good morning."
The interview was certainly not much to the assuagement of the chief's anxiety. He went home with the feeling that he had submitted to be patronized, almost insulted by a paltry fellow whose consequence rested on his ill-made money--a man who owed everything to a false and degrading appetite in his neighbours! Nothing could have made him put up with him but the love of Mercy, his dove in a crow's nest! But it would be all in vain, for he could not lie! Truth, indeed, if not less of a virtue, was less of a heroism in the chief than in most men, for he COULD NOT lie. Had he been tempted to try, he would have reddened, stammered, broken down, with the full shame, and none of the success of a falsehood.
For a week, he heard nothing; there seemed small anxiety to welcome him into the Palmer family! Then came a letter. It implied, almost said that some difficulty had been felt as to his reception by EVERY member of the family--which the chief must himself see to have been only natural! But while money was of no con sequence to Mr. Palmer, it was of the greatest consequence that his daughter should seem to make a good match; therefore, as only in respect of POSITION was the alliance objectionable, he had concluded to set that right, and in giving him his daughter, to restore the chief's family to its former dignity, by making over to him the Clanruadh property now in his possession by purchase. While he thus did his duty by his daughter, he hoped the Macruadh would accept the arrangement as a mark of esteem for himself. Two conditions only he would make--the first, that, as long as he lived, the shooting should be Mr. Palmer's, to use or to let, and should extend over the whole estate; the second, that the chief should assume the baronetcy which belonged to him.
My reader will regard the proposition as not ungenerous, however much the money value of the land lay in the shooting.
As Alister took leave of his mother for the night, he gave her the letter.
She took it, read it slowly, laughed angrily, smiled scornfully, wept bitterly, crushed it in her hand, and walked up to her room with her head high. All the time she was preparing for her bed, she was talking in her spirit with her husband. When she lay down she became a mere prey to her own thoughts, and was pulled, and torn, and hurt by them for hours ere she set herself to rule them. For the first time in her life she distrusted her son. She did not know what he would do! The temptation would surely be too strong for him! Two good things were set over against one evil thing--an evil thing, however, with which nobody would associate blame, an evil thing which would raise him high in the respect of everyone whose respect was not worth having!--the woman he loved and the land of his ancestors on the one side, and only the money that bought the land for him on the other!--would he hold out? He must take the three together, or have none of them! Her fear for him grew and possessed her. She grew cold as death. Why did he give her the letter, and go without saying a word? She knew well the arguments he would adduce! Henceforward and for ever there would be a gulf between them! The poor religion he had would never serve to keep him straight! What was it but a compromise with pride and self-sufficiency! It could bear no such strain! He acknowledged God, but not God reconciled in Christ, only God such as unregenerate man would have him! And when Ian came home, he would be sure to side with Alister!
There was but one excuse for the poor boy--and that a miserable one: the blinding of love! Yes there was more excuse than that: to be lord of the old lands, with the old clan growing and gathering again about its chief! It was a temptation fit to ruin an archangel! What could he not do then for his people! What could he not do for the land! And for her, she might have her Ian always at home with her! God forbid she should buy even such bliss at such a cost! She was only thinking, she said to herself, how, if the thing had to be, she would make the best of it: she was bound as a mother to do that!
But the edge of the wedge was in. She said to herself afterwards, that the enemy of her soul must have been lying in wait for her that night; she almost believed in some bodily presence of him in her room: how otherwise could she account for her fall! he must have been permitted to tempt her, because, in condemning evil, she had given way to contempt and worldly pride. Her thoughts unchecked flowed forward. They lingered brooding for a time on the joys that might be hers--the joys of the mother of a chief over territory as well as hearts. Then they stole round, and began to flow the other way. Ere the thing had come she began to make the best of it for the sake of her son and the bond between them; then she began to excuse it for the sake of the clan; and now she began to justify it a little for the sake of the world! Everything that could favour the acceptance of the offer came up clear before her. The land was the same as it always had been! it had never been in the distillery! it had never been in the brew-house! it was clean, whoever had transacted concerning it, through whatever hands it had passed! A good cow was a good cow, had she been twenty times reaved! For Mr. Palmer to give and Alister to take the land back, would be some amends to the nation, grievously injured in the money of its purchase! The deed would restore to the redeeming and uplifting influence of her son many who were fast perishing from poverty and whisky; for, their houses and crofts once more in the power of their chief, he would again be their landlord as well! It would be a pure exercise of the law of compensation! Hundreds who had gone abroad would return to replenish the old glens with the true national wealth--with men and women, and children growing to be men and women, for the hour of their country's need! These were the true, the golden crops! The glorious time she had herself seen would return, when Strathruadh could alone send out a regiment of the soldiers that may be defeated, but will not live to know it. The dream of her boys would come true! they would rebuild the old castle, and make it a landmark in the history of the highlands!
But while she stood elate upon this high-soaring peak of the dark mountains of ambition, sudden before her mind's eye rose the face of her husband, sudden his voice was in her ear; he seemed to stand above her in the pulpit, reading from the prophet Isaiah the four Woes that begin four contiguous chapters:--"Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!"--"Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices; yet I will distress Ariel."--"Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin!"--" Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the holy one of Israel, neither seek the Lord!" Then followed the words opening the next chapter:--"Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest." All this, in solemn order, one woe after the other, she heard in the very voice of her husband; in awful spiritual procession, they passed before her listening mind! She grew cold as the dead, and shuddered and shivered. She looked over the edge into the heart of a black gulf, into which she had been on the point of casting herself--say rather, down whose side, searching for an easy descent, she had already slid a long way, when the voice from above recalled her! She covered her face with her hands and wept--ashamed before God, ashamed before her husband. It was a shame unutterable that the thing should even have looked tempting! She cried for forgiveness, rose, and sought Alister's room.
Seldom since he was a man had she visited her elder son in his chamber. She cherished for him, as chief, something of the reverence of the clan. The same familiarity had never existed between them as between her and lan. Now she was going to wake him, and hold a solemn talk with him. Not a moment longer should he stand leaning over the gulf into which she had herself well nigh fallen!
She found him awake, and troubled, though not with an eternal trouble such as hers.
"I thought I should find you asleep, Alister!" she said.
"It was not very likely, mother!" he answered gently.
"You too have been tried with terrible thoughts?"
"I have been tried, but ha^ly with terrible thoughts: I know that Mercy loves me!"
"Ah, my son, my dear son! love itself is the terrible thing! It has drawn many a man from the way of peace!"
"Did it draw you and my father from the way of peace?" asked Alister.
"Not for a moment!" she answered. "It made our steps firmer in the way."
"Then why should you fear it will draw me from it? I hope I have never made you think I was not following my father and you!"
"Who knows what either of us might have done, with such a temptation as yours!"
"Either you say, mother, that my father was not so good as I think him, or that he did what he did in his own strength!"
"' Let him that thinketh '--you know the rest!" rejoined the mother.
"I don't think I am tempted to anything just now."
"There it is, you see!--the temptation so subtle that you do not suspect its character!"
"I am confident my father would have done just as I mean to do!"
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