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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat's Mine's Mine - Volume 2 - Chapter 17. In The Tomb
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What's Mine's Mine - Volume 2 - Chapter 17. In The Tomb Post by :goldsto Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1268

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What's Mine's Mine - Volume 2 - Chapter 17. In The Tomb

VOLUME II CHAPTER XVII. IN THE TOMB

The brothers had that same morning paid their visit to the tomb, and there spent the day after their usual fashion, intending to go home the same night, and as the old moon was very late in rising, to take the earlier and rougher part of the way in the twilight. Just as they were setting out, however, what they rightly judged a passing storm came on, and they delayed their departure. By the time the storm was over, it was dark, and there was no use in hurrying; they might as well stop a while, and have the moon the latter part of the way. When at length they were again on the point of starting, they thought they heard something like sounds of distress, but the darkness making search difficult and unsatisfactory, the chief thought of firing his gun, when Mercy's cry guided them to where she lay. Alister's heart, at sight of her, and at the thought of what she must have gone through, nearly stood still. They carried her in, laid her on the bed, and did what they could to restore her, till she began to come to herself. Then they left her, that she might not see them without preparation, and sat down by the fire in the outer room, leaving the door open between the two.

"I see how it is!" said Alister. "You remember, Ian, what you said to her about giving Nature an opportunity of exerting her influence? Mercy has been following your advice, and has lost her way among the hills!"

"That was so long ago!" returned Ian thoughtfully.

"Yes-when the weather was not fit for it. It is not fit now, but she has ventured!"

"I believe you are right! I thought there was some reality in her!-But she must not hear us talking about her!"

When Mercy came to herself, she thought at first that she lay where she had fallen, but presently perceived that she was covered, and had something hot at her feet: was she in her own bed? was it all a terrible dream, that she might know what it was to be lost, and think of God? .She put out her arm: her hand went against cold stone. The dread thought rushed in-that she was buried-was lying in her grave-to lie there till the trumpet should sound, and the dead be raised. She was not horrified; her first feeling was gladness that she had prayed before she died. She had been taught at church that an hour might come when it would be of no use to pray-the hour of an unbelieving death: it was of no use to pray now, but her prayer before she died might be of some avail! She wondered that she was not more frightened, for in sooth it was a dreary prospect before her: long and countless years must pass ere again she heard the sound of voices, again saw the light of the sun! She was half awake and half dreaming; the faintness of her swoon yet upon her, the repose following her great weariness, and the lightness of her brain from want of food, made her indifferent-almost happy. She could lie so a long time, she thought.

At length she began to hear sounds, and they were of human voices. She had companions then in the grave! she was not doomed to a solitary waiting for judgment! She must be in some family-vault, among strangers. She hoped they were nice people: it was very desirable to be buried with nice people!

Then she saw a reddish light. It was a fire--far off! Was she in the bad place? Were those shapes two demons, waiting till she had got over her dying? She listened:--"That will divide her between us," said one. "Yes," answered the other; "there will be no occasion to cut it! "What dreadful thing could they mean? But surely she had heard their voices before! She tried to speak, but could not.

"We must come again soon!" said one. "At this rate it will take a life-time to carve the tomb."

"If we were but at the roof of it!" said the other. "I long to tackle the great serpent of eternity, and lay him twining and coiling and undulating all over it! I dream about those tombs before ever they were broken into-royally furnished in the dark, waiting for the souls to come back to their old, brown, dried up bodies!"

Here one of them rose and came toward her, growing bigger and blacker as he came, until he stood by the bedside. He laid his hand on her wrist, and felt her pulse. It was Ian! She could not see his face for there was no light on it, but she knew his shape, his movements! She was saved!

He saw her wide eyes, two great spiritual nights, gazing up at him.

"All, you are better, Miss Mercy!" lie said cheerily. "Now you shall have some tea!"

Something inside her was weeping for joy, but her outer self was quite still. She tried again to speak, and uttered a few inarticulate sounds. Then came Alister on tip-toe, and they stood both by the bedside, looking down on her.

"I shall be all right presently!"' she managed at length to say. "I am so glad I'm not dead! I thought I was dead!"

"You would soon have been if we had not found you!" replied Alister.

"Was it you that fired the gun?"

"Yes."

"I was so frightened!"

"It saved your life, thank God! for then you cried out."

"Fright was your door out of fear!" said Ian.

"I thought it was the leopard!"

"I did bring my gun because of the leopard," said Alister.

"It was true about him then?"

"He is out."

"And now it is quite dark!"

"It doesn't signify; we'll take a lantern; I've got my gun, and Ian has his dirk!"

"Where are you going then?" asked Mercy, still confused.

"Home, of course."

"Oh, yes, of course! I will get up in a minute."

"There is plenty of time," said Ian. "You must eat something before you get up. We, have nothing but oat-cakes, I am sorry to say!"

"I think you promised me some tea!" said Mercy. "I don't feel hungry."

"You shall have the tea. When did you eat last?"

"Not since breakfast."

"It is a marvel you are able to speak! You must try to eat some oat-cake."

"I wish I hadn't taken that last slice of deer-ham!" said Alister, ruefully.

"I will eat if I can," said Mercy.

They brought her a cup of tea and some pieces of oat-cake; then, having lighted her a candle, they left her, and closed the door.

She sipped her tea, managed to eat a little of the dry but wholesome food, and found herself capable of getting up. It was the strangest bedroom! she thought. Everything was cut out of the live rock. The dressing-table might have been a sarcophagus! She kneeled by the bedside, and tried to thank God. Then she opened the door. The chief rose at the sound of it.

"I'm sorry," he said, "that we have no woman to wait on you."

"I want nothing, thank you!" answered Mercy, feeling very weak and ready to cry, but restraining her tears. "What a curious house this is!"

"It is a sort of doll's house my brother and I have been at work upon for nearly fifteen years. We meant, when summer was come, to ask you all to spend a day with us up here."

"Whhen first we went to work on it," said Ian, "we used to tell each other tales in which it bore a large share, and Alister's were generally about a lost princess taking refuge in it!"

"And now it is come true!" said Alister.

"What an escape I have had!"

"I do not like to hear you say that!" returned Ian. "You have been taken care of all the time. If you had died in the cold, it would not have been because God had forgotten you; you would not have been lost."

"I wanted to know," said Mercy, "whether Nature would speak to me. It was of no use! She never came near me!"

"I think she must have come without your knowing her," answered Ian. "But we shall have a talk about that afterwards, when you are quite rested; we must prepare for home now."

Mercy's heart sank within her--she felt so weak and sleepy! How was she to go back over all that rough mountain-way! But she dared not ask to be left-with the leopard about! He might come down the wide chimney!

She soon found that the brothers had never thought of her walking. They wrapt her in Ian's plaid. Then they took the chiefs, which was very strong, and having folded it twice lengthwise, drew each an end of it over his shoulders, letting it hang in a loop between them: in this loop they made her seat herself, and putting each as arm behind her, tried how they could all get on.

After a few shiftings and accommodations, they found the plan likely to answer. So they locked the door, and left the fire glowing on the solitary hearth.

To Mercy it was the strangest journey--an experience never to be forgotten. The tea had warmed her, and the air revived her. It was not very cold, for only now and then blew a little puff of wind. The stars were brilliant overhead, and the wide void of the air between her and the earth below seemed full of wonder and mystery. Now and then she fancied some distant sound the cry of the leopard: he might be coming nearer and nearer as they went! but it rather added to the eerie witchery of the night, making it like a terrible story read in the deserted nursery, with the distant noise outside of her brothers and sisters at play. The motion of her progress by and by became pleasant to her. Sometimes her feet would brush the tops of the heather; but when they came to rocky ground, they always shortened the loop of the plaid. To Mercy's inner ear came the sound of words she had heard at church: "He shall give his angels charge over thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone." Were not these two men God's own angels!

They scarcely spoke, except when they stopped to take breath, but went on and on with a steady, rhythmic, silent trudge. Up and down the rough hill, and upon the hardly less rough hill-road, they had enough ado to heed their steps. Now and then they would let her walk a little way, but not far. She was neither so strong nor so heavy as a fat deer, they said.

They were yet high among the hills, when the pale, withered, waste shred of the old moon rose above the upheaved boat-like back of one of the battlements of the horizon-rampart. With disconsolate face, now lost, now found again, always reappearing where Mercy had not been looking for her, she accompanied them the rest of their journey, and the witch-like creature brought out the whole character of the night. Booked in her wonderful swing, Mercy was not always quite sure that she was not dreaming the strangest, pleasantest dream. Were they not fittest for a dream, this star and moon beset night-this wind that now and then blew so eerie and wild, yet did not wake her-this gulf around, above, and beneath her, through which she was borne as if she had indeed died, and angels were carrying her through wastes of air to some unknown region afar? Except when she brushed the heather, she forgot that the earth was near her. The arms around her were the arms of men and not angels, but how far above this lower world dwelt the souls that moved those strong limbs! What a small creature she was beside them! how unworthy of the labour of their deliverance! Her awe of the one kept growing; the other she could trust with heart as well as brain; she could never be afraid of him! To the chief she turned to shadow her from Ian.

When they came to the foot of the path leading up to Mistress Conal's cottage, there, although it was dark night, sat the old woman on a stone.

"It's a sorrow you are carrying home with you, chief!" she said in Gaelic. "As well have saved a drowning man!"

She did not rise or move, but spoke like one talking by the fireside.

"The drowning man has to be saved, mother!" answered the chief, also in Gaelic; "and the sorrow in your way has to be taken with you. It won't let you pass!"

"True, my son!" said the woman; "but it makes the heart sore that sees it!"

-"Thank you for the warning then, but welcome the sorrow!" he returned. "Good night."

"Good night, chiefs sons both!" she replied. "You're your father's anyway! Did he not one night bring home a frozen fox in his arms, to warm him by his fire! But when he had warmed him-lie turned him out!"

It was quite clear when last they looked at the sky, but the moment they left her, it began to rain heavily.

So fast did it rain, that the men, fearing for Mercy, turned off the road, and went down a steep descent, to make straight across their own fields for the cottage; and just as they reached the bottom of the descent, although they had come all the rough way hitherto without slipping or stumbling--once, the chief fell. He rose in consternation; but finding that Mercy, upheld by Ian, had simply dropped on her feet, and taken no hurt, relieved himself by un- sparing abuse of his clumsiness. Mercy laughed merrily, resumed her place in the plaid, and closed her eyes. She never saw where they were going, for she opened them again only when they stopped a little as they turned into the fir-clump before the door.

"Where are we?" she asked; but for answer they carried her straight into the house.

"We have brought you to our mother instead of yours," said Alister. "To get wet would have been the last straw on the back of such a day. We will let them know at once that you are safe."

Lady Macruadh, as the highlanders generally called her, made haste to receive the poor girl with that sympathetic pity which, of all good plants, flourishes most in the Celtic heart. Mercy's mother had come to her in consternation at her absence, and the only comfort she could give her was the suggestion that she had fallen in with her sons. She gave her a warm bath,-put her to bed, and then made her eat, so preparing her for a healthful sleep. And she did sleep, but dreamed of darkness and snow and leopards.

As men were out searching in all directions, Alister, while Ian went to the New House, lighted a beacon on the top of the old castle to bring them back. By the time Ian had persuaded Mrs. Palmer to leave Mercy in his mother's care for the night, it was blazing beautifully.

In the morning it was found that Mercy had a bad cold, and could not be moved. But the cottage, small as it was, had more than one guest-chamber, and Mrs. Macruadh was delighted to have her to nurse.

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