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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat's Mine's Mine - Volume 1 - Chapter 8. A Morning Call
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What's Mine's Mine - Volume 1 - Chapter 8. A Morning Call Post by :voltaire11 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2477

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What's Mine's Mine - Volume 1 - Chapter 8. A Morning Call

VOLUME I CHAPTER VIII. A MORNING CALL

Had Valentine known who the brothers were, or where they lived, he would before now have called to thank them again for their kindness to him; but he imagined they had some distance to go after depositing him, and had not yet discovered his mistake. The visit now paid had nothing to do with him.

The two elder girls, curious about the pretty cottage, had come wandering down the spur, or hill-toe, as far as its precincts--if precincts they may be called where was no fence, only a little grove and a less garden. Beside the door stood a milk-pail and a churn, set out to be sweetened by the sun and wind. It was very rural, they thought, and very homely, but not so attractive as some cottages in the south:--it indicated a rusticity honoured by the most unceremonious visit from its superiors. Thus without hesitation concluding, Christina, followed by Mercy, walked in at the open door, found a barefooted girl in the kitchen, and spoke pleasantly to her. She, in simple hospitality forgetting herself, made answer in Gaelic; and, never doubting the ladies had come to call upon her mistress, led the way, and the girls, without thinking, followed her to the parlour.

As they came, they had been talking. Had they been in any degree truly educated, they would have been quite capable of an opinion of their own, for they had good enough faculties; but they had never been really taught to read; therefore, with the utmost confidence, they had been passing judgment upon a book from which they had not gathered the slightest notion as to the idea or intention of the writer. Christina was of that numerous class of readers, who, if you show one thing better or worse than another, will without hesitation report that you love the one and hate the other. If you say, for instance, that it is a worse and yet more shameful thing for a man to break his wife's heart by systematic neglect, than to strike her and be sorry for it, such readers give out that you approve of wife-beating, and perhaps write to expostulate with you on your brutality. If you express pleasure that a poor maniac should have succeeded in escaping through the door of death from his haunting demon, they accuse you of advocating suicide. But Mercy was not yet afloat on the sea of essential LIE whereon Christina swung to every wave.

One question they had been discussing was, whether the hero of the story was worthy the name of lover, seeing he deferred offering his hand to the girl because she told her mother a FIB to account for her being with him in the garden after dark. "It was cowardly and unfair," said Christina: "was it not for HIS sake she did it?" Mercy did not think to say "WAS IT?" as she well might. "Don't you see, Chrissy," she said, "he reasoned this way: 'If she tell her mother a lie, she may tell me a lie some day too!'?" So indeed the youth did reason; but it occurred to neither of his critics to note the fact that he would not have minded the girl's telling her mother the lie, if he could have been certain she would never tell HIM one! In regard to her hiding from him certain passages with another gentleman, occurring between this event and his proposal, Christina judged he had no right to know them, and if he had, their concealment was what he deserved.

When the girl, who would have thought it rude to ask their names--if I mistake not, it was a point in highland hospitality to entertain without such inquiry--led the way to the parlour, they followed expecting they did not know what: they had heard of the cowhouse, the stable, and even the pigsty, being under the same roof in these parts! When the opening door disclosed "lady" Macruadh, every inch a chieftain's widow, their conventional breeding failed them a little; though incapable of recognizing a refinement beyond their own, they were not incapable of feeling its influence; and they had not yet learned how to be rude with propriety in unproved circumstances--still less how to be gracious without a moment's notice. But when a young man sprang from a couch, and the stately lady rose and advanced to receive them, it was too late to retreat, and for a moment they stood abashed, feeling, I am glad to say, like intruders. The behaviour of the lady and gentleman, however, speedily set them partially at ease. The latter, with movements more than graceful, for they were gracious, and altogether free of scroll-pattern or Polonius-flourish, placed chairs, and invited them to be seated, and the former began to talk as if their entrance were the least unexpected thing in the world. Leaving them to explain their visit or not as they saw fit, she spoke of the weather, the harvest, the shooting; feared the gentlemen would be disappointed: the birds were quite healthy, but not numerous--they had too many enemies to multiply! asked if they had seen the view from such and such a point;--in short, carried herself as one to whom cordiality to strangers was an easy duty. But she was not taken with them. Her order of civilization was higher than theirs; and the simplicity as well as old-fashioned finish of her consciousness recoiled a little --though she had not experience enough of a certain kind to be able at once to say what it was in the manner and expression of the young ladies that did not please her.

Mammon, gaining more and more of the upper hand in all social relations, has done much to lower the PETITE as well as the GRANDE MORALE of the country--the good breeding as well as the honesty. Unmannerliness with the completest self-possession, is a poor substitute for stiffness, a poorer for courtesy. Respect and graciousness from each to each is of the very essence of Christianity, independently of rank, or possession, or relation. A certain roughness and rudeness have usurped upon the intercourse of the century. It comes of the spread of imagined greatness; true greatness, unconscious of itself, cannot find expression other than gracious. In the presence of another, a man of true breeding is but faintly aware of his own self, and keenly aware of the other's self. Before the human--that bush which, however trodden and peeled, yet burns with the divine presence--the man who thinks of the homage due to him, and not of the homage owing by him, is essentially rude. Mammon is slowly stifling and desiccating Rank; both are miserable deities, but the one is yet meaner than the other. Unrefined families with money are received with open arms and honours paid, in circles where a better breeding than theirs has hitherto prevailed: this, working along with the natural law of corruption where is no aspiration, has gradually caused the deterioration of which I speak. Courtesy will never regain her former position, but she will be raised to a much higher; like Duty she will be known as a daughter of the living God, "the first stocke father of gentilnes;" for in his neighbour every man will see a revelation of the Most High.

Without being able to recognize the superiority of a woman who lived in a cottage, the young ladies felt and disliked it; and the matron felt the commonness of the girls, without knowing what exactly it was. The girls, on the other hand, were interested in the young man: he looked like a gentleman! Ian was interested in the young women: he thought they were shy, when they were only "put out," and wished to make them comfortable--in which he quickly succeeded. His unconsciously commanding air in the midst of his great courtesy, roused their admiration, and they had not been many minutes in his company ere they were satisfied that, however it was to be accounted for, the young man was in truth very much of a gentleman. It was an unexpected discovery of northern produce, and "the estate" gathered interest in their eyes. Christina did the greater part of the talking, hut both did their best to be agreeable.

Ian saw quite as well as his mother what ordinary girls they were, but, accustomed to the newer modes in manner and speech, he was not shocked by movements and phrases that annoyed her. The mother apprehended fascination, and was uneasy, though far from showing it.

When they rose, Ian attended them to the door, leaving his mother anxious, for she feared he would accompany them home. Till he returned, she did not resume her seat.

The girls took their way along the ridge in silence, till the ruin was between them and the cottage, when they burst into laughter. They were ladies enough not to laugh till out of sight, but not ladies enough to see there was nothing to laugh at.

"A harp, too!" said Christina. "Mercy, I believe we are on the top of mount Ararat, and have this very moment left the real Noah's ark, patched into a cottage! Who CAN they be?"

"Gentlefolk evidently," said Mercy, "--perhaps old-fashioned people from Inverness."

"The young man must have been to college!--In the north, you know," continued Christina, thinking with pride that her brother was at Oxford, "nothing is easier than to get an education, such as it is! It costs in fact next to nothing. Ploughmen send their sons to St. Andrew's and Aberdeen to make gentlemen of them! Fancy!"

"You must allow this case a successful one!"

"I didn't mean HIS father was a ploughman! That is impossible! Besides, I heard him call that very respectable person MOTHER! She is not a ploughman's wife, but evidently a lady of the middle class."

Christina did not count herself or her people to belong to the middle class. How it was it is not quite easy to say--perhaps the tone of implied contempt with which the father spoke of the lower classes, and the quiet negation with which the mother would allude to shopkeepers, may have had to do with it--but the young people all imagined themselves to belong to the upper classes! It was a pity there was no title in the family--but any of the girls might well marry a coronet! There were indeed persons higher than they; a duke was higher; the queen was higher--but that was pleasant! it was nice to have a few to look up to!

On anyone living in a humble house, not to say a poor cottage, they looked down, as the case might be, with indifference or patronage; they little dreamed how, had she known all about them, the respectable person in the cottage would have looked down upon THEM! At the same time the laugh in which they now indulged was not altogether one of amusement; it was in part an effort to avenge themselves of a certain uncomfortable feeling of rebuke.

"I will tell you my theory, Mercy!" Christina went on. "The lady is the widow of an Indian officer--perhaps a colonel. Some of their widows are left very poor, though, their husbands having been in the service of their country, they think no small beer of themselves! The young man has a military air which he may have got from his father; or he may be an officer himself: young officers are always poor; that's what makes them so nice to flirt with. I wonder whether he really IS an officer! We've actually called upon the people, and come away too, without knowing their names!"

"I suppose they're from the New House!" said Ian, returning after he had bowed the ladies from the threshold, with the reward of a bewitching smile from the elder, and a shy glance from the younger.

"Where else could they be from?" returned his mother; "--come to make our poor country yet poorer!"

"They're not English!"

"Not they!--vulgar people from Glasgow!"

"I think you are too hard on them, mother! They are not exactly vulgar. I thought, indeed, there was a sort of gentleness about them you do not often meet in Scotch girls!"

"In the lowlands, I grant, Ian; but the daughter of the poorest tacksman of the Macruadhs has a manner and a modesty I have seen in no Sasunnach girl yet. Those girls are bold!"

"Self-possessed, perhaps!" said Ian.

Upon the awkwardness he took for shyness, had followed a reaction. It was with the young ladies a part of good breeding, whatever mistake they made, not to look otherwise than contented with themselves: having for a moment failed in this principle, they were eager to make up for it.

"Girls are different from what they used to be, I fancy, mother!" added Ian thoughtfully.

"The world changes very fast!" said the mother sadly. She was thinking, like Rebecca, if her sons took a fancy to these who were not daughters of the land, what good would her life do her.

"Ah, mother dear," said Ian, "I have never"--and as he spoke the cloud deepened on his forehead--"seen more than one woman whose ways and manners reminded me of you!"

"And what was she?" the mother asked, in pleased alarm.

But she almost repented the question when she saw how low the cloud descended on his countenance.

"A princess, mother. She is dead," he answered, and turning walked so gently from the room that it was impossible for his mother to detain him.

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