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- What's Mine's Mine V3 - 20/30 -


She was weeping like a child on her shoulder. Presently she began to tremble. Mercy coaxed her into her bed, and undressing quickly, lay down beside her, and took her in her arms to make her warm. Before the morning, with many breaks of sobbing and weeping, Christina had told Mercy her story.

"I wish you would let me tell the chief!" she said. "He would know how to comfort you."

"Thank you!" said Christina, with not a little indignation. "I forgot I was talking to a girl as good as married, who would not keep my secrets any more than her own!"

She would have arisen at once to go to her own room, and the night that had brought such joy to Mercy threatened to end very sadly. She threw her arms round Christina's waist, locked her hands together, and held her fast.

"Hear me, Chrissy, darling! I am a great big huge brute," she cried. "But I was only stupid. I would not tell a secret of yours even to Alister--not for worlds! If I did, he would be nearer despising me than I should know how to bear. I will not tell him. Did I ever break my word to you, Chrissy?"

"No, never, Mercy!" responded Christina, and turning she put her arms round her.

"Besides," she went on, "why should I go to anyone for counsel? Could I have a better counsellor than Ian? Is he not my friend? Oh, he is! he is! he said so! he said so!"

The words prefaced another storm of tears.

"He is going to write to me," she sobbed, as soon as she could again speak.

"Perhaps he will love you yet, Chrissy!"

"No, no; he will never love me that way! For goodness' sake don't hint at such a thing! I should not be able to write a word to him, if I thought that! I should feel a wolf in sheep's clothing! I have done with tricks and pretendings! Ian shall never say to himself, 'I wish I had not trusted that girl! I thought she was going to be honest! But what's bred in the bone--!' I declare, Mercy, I should blush myself out of being to learn he thought of me like that! I mean to be worthy of his friendship! His friendship is better than any other man's love! I will be worthy of it!"

The poor girl burst yet again into tears--not so bitter as before, and ended them all at once with a kiss to Mercy.

"For his sake," she said, "I am going to take care of Alister and you!"

"Thank you! thank you, Chrissy! Only you must not do anything to offend papa! It is hard enough on him as it is! I cannot give up the chief to please him, for he has been a father to my better self; but we must do nothing to trouble him that we can help!"

CHAPTER XI

SOMETHING STRANGE.

Alister did not feel inclined to go home. The night was more like Mercy, and he lingered with the night, inhabiting the dream that it was Mercy's house, and she in the next room. He turned into the castle, climbed the broken steps, and sat on the corner of the wall, the blank hill before him, asleep standing, with the New House on its shoulder, and the moonlight reflected from Mercy's window under which he had so lately stood. He sat for an hour, and when he came down, was as much disinclined to go home as before: he could not rest in his chamber, with no Ian on the other side of its wall! He went straying down the road, into the valley, along the burnside, up the steep beyond it, and away to the hill-farm and the tomb.

The moon was with him all the way, but she seemed thinking to herself rather than talking to him. Why should the strange, burnt-out old cinder of a satellite be the star of lovers? The answer lies hid, I suspect, in the mysteries of light reflected.

He wandered along, careless of time, of moonset, star-shine, or sunrise, brooding on many things in the rayless radiance of his love, and by the time he reached the tomb, was weary with excitement and lack of sleep. Taking the key from where it was cunningly hidden, he unlocked the door and entered.

He started back at sight of a gray-haired old man, seated on one of the stone chairs, and leaning sadly over the fireless hearth: it must be his uncle! The same moment he saw it was a ray from the sinking moon, entering by the small, deep window, and shining feebly on the chair. He struck a light, kindled the peats on the hearth, and went for water. Returning from the well he found the house dark as before; and there was the old man again, cowering over the extinguished fire! The idea lasted but a moment; once more the level light of the moon lay cold and gray upon the stone chair! He tried to laugh at his fancifulness, but did not quite succeed. Several times on the way up, he had thought of his old uncle: this must have given the shape to the moonlight and the stone! He made many attempts to recall the illusion, but in vain. He relighted the fire, and put on the kettle. Going then for a book to read till the water boiled, he remembered a letter which, in the excitement of the afternoon, he had put in his pocket unread, and forgotten. It was from the family lawyer in Glasgow, informing him that the bank in which his uncle had deposited the proceeds of his sale of the land, was in a state of absolute and irrecoverable collapse; there was not the slightest hope of retrieving any portion of the wreck.

Alister did not jump up and pace the room in the rage of disappointment; neither did he sit as one stunned and forlorn of sense. He felt some bitterness in the loss of the hope of making up to his people for his uncle's wrong; but it was clear that if God had cared for his having the money, he would have cared that he should have it. Here was an opportunity for absolute faith and contentment in the will that looks after all our affairs, the small as well as the great.

Those who think their affairs too insignificant for God's regard, will justify themselves in lying crushed under their seeming ruin. Either we live in the heart of an eternal thought, or we are the product and sport of that which is lower than we.

"It was evil money!" said the chief to himself; "it was the sale of a birthright for a mess of pottage! I would have turned it back into the right channel, the good of my people! but after all, what can money do? It was discontent with poverty that began the ruin of the highlands! If the heads of the people had but lived pure, active, sober, unostentatious lives, satisfied to be poor, poverty would never have overwhelmed them! The highlands would have made Scotland great with the greatness of men dignified by high-hearted contentment, and strong with the strength of men who could do without!" Therewith it dawned upon Alister how, when he longed to help his people, his thoughts had always turned, not to God first, but to the money his uncle had left him. He had trusted in a fancy--no less a fancy when in his uncle's possession than when cast into the quicksand of the bank; for trust in money that is, is no less vain, and is farther from redress, than trust in money that is not. In God alone can trust repose. His heart had been so faithless that he did not know it was! He thought he loved God as the first and last, the beginning, middle, and end of all things, and he had been trusting, not in God, but in uncertain riches, that is in vile Mammon! It was a painful and humiliating discovery. "It was well," he said, "that my false deity should be taken from me! For my idolatry perhaps, a good gift has failed to reach my people! I must be more to them than ever, to make up to them for their loss with better than money!"

He fell on his knees, and thanked God for the wind that had blown cold through his spirit, and slain at least one evil thing; and when he rose, all that was left of his trouble was a lump in his throat, which melted away as he walked home through the morning air on the hills. For he could not delay; he must let his mother know their trouble, and, as one who had already received help from on high, help her to bear it! If the messenger of Satan had buffeted him, he had but broken a way for strength!

But at first he could not enjoy as he was wont the glory of the morning. It troubled him. Would a single note in the song of the sons of the morning fail because God did or would not do a thing? Could God deserve less than thanks perfect from any one of his creatures? That man could not know God who thanked him but for what men call good things, nor took the evil as from the same love! He scorned himself, and lifted up his heart. As he reached the brow of his last descent, the sun rose, and with it his soul arose and shone, for its light was come, and the glory of the Lord was risen upon it. "Let God," he said, "take from us what he will: himself he can only give!" Joyful he went down the hill. God was, and all was well!

CHAPTER XII

THE POWER OF DARKNESS.

He found his mother at breakfast, wondering what had become of him.

"Are you equal to a bit of bad news, mother?" he asked with a smile.

The mother's thoughts flew instantly to Ian.

"Oh, it's nothing about lan!" said the chief, answering her look.

Its expression changed; she hoped now it was some fresh obstacle between him and Mercy.


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