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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat's Mine's Mine - Volume 3 - Chapter 5. Passion And Patience
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What's Mine's Mine - Volume 3 - Chapter 5. Passion And Patience Post by :paulwoodley Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1109

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What's Mine's Mine - Volume 3 - Chapter 5. Passion And Patience

VOLUME III CHAPTER V. PASSION AND PATIENCE

It was a glorious morning, and as they climbed, the lightening air made their spirits rise with their steps. Great masses of cloud hung beyond the edge of the world, and here and there towered foundationless in the sky--huge tumulous heaps of white vapour with gray shadows. The sun was strong, and poured down floods of light, but his heat was deliciously tempered by the mountain atmosphere. There was no wind--only an occasional movement as if the air itself were breathing--just enough to let them feel they moved in no vacuum, but in the heart of a gentle ocean.

They came to the hut I have already described as the one chiefly inhabited by Hector of the Stags and Bob of the Angels. It commanded a rare vision. In every direction rose some cone-shaped hill. The world lay in coloured waves before them, wild, rugged, and grand, with sheltering spots of beauty between, and the shine of lowly waters. They tapped at the door of the hut, but there was no response; they lifted the latch--it had no lock--and found neither within. Alister and Mercy wandered a little higher, to the shadow of a great stone; Christina went inside the hut and looked from its door upon the world; Ian leaned against the side of it, and looked up to the sky. Suddenly a few great drops fell--it was hard to say whence. The scattered clouds had been drawing a little nearer the sun, growing whiter as they approached him, and more had ascended from the horizon into the middle air, blue sky abounding between them. A swift rain, like a rain of the early summer, began to fall, and grew to a heavy shower. They were glorious drops that made that shower; for the sun shone, and every drop was a falling gem, shining, sparkling like a diamond, as it fell. It was a bounteous rain, coming from near the zenith, and falling in straight lines direct from heaven to earth. It wanted but sound to complete its charm, and that the bells of the heather gave, set ringing by the drops. The heaven was filled with blue windows, and the rain seemed to come from them rather than from the clouds. Into the rain rose the heads of the mountains, each clothed in its surplice of thin mist; they seemed rising on tiptoe heavenward, eager to drink of the high-born comfort; for the rain comes down, not upon the mown grass only, but upon the solitary and desert places also, where grass will never be--"the playgrounds of the young angels," Bob called them.

"Do come in," said Christina; "you will get quite wet!"

He turned towards her. She stepped back, and he entered. Like one a little weary, he sat down on Hector's old chair.

"Is anything the matter?" asked Christina, with genuine concern.

She saw that he was not quite like himself, that there was an unusual expression on his face. He gave a faint apologetic smile.

"As I stood there," he answered, "a strange feeling came over me--a foreboding, I suppose you would call it!"

He paused; Christina grew pale, and said, "Won't you tell me what it was?"

"It was an odd kind of conviction that the next time I stood there, it would not be in the body.--I think I shall not come back."

"Come back!" echoed Christina, fear beginning to sip at the cup of her heart. "Where are you going?"

"I start for Canada next week."

She turned deadly white, and put out her hands, feeling blindly after support. Ian started to his feet.

"We have tired you out!" he said in alarm, and took her by both hands to place her in the chair.

She did not hear him. The world had grown dark about her, a hissing noise was in her ears, and she would have fallen had he not put his arm round her. The moment she felt supported, she began to come to herself. There was no pretence, however, no coquetry in her faintness. Neither was it aught but misery and affection that made her lay her head on Ian's shoulder, and burst into a violent fit of weeping. Unused to real emotion, familiar only with the poverty-stricken, false emotion of conquest and gratified vanity, when the real emotion came she did not know how to deal with it, and it overpowered her.

"Oh! oh!" she cried at length between her sobs, "I am ashamed of myself! I can't help it! I can't help it! What will you think of me! I have disgraced myself!"

Ian had been far from any suspicion of the state of things, but he had had too much sorrowful experience to be able to keep his unwilling eyes closed to this new consternation. The cold shower seemed to flood his soul; the bright drops descending with such swiftness of beauty, instinct with sun-life, turned into points of icy steel that pierced his heart. But he must not heed himself! he must speak to her! He must say something through the terrible shroud that infolded them!

"You are as safe with me," he faltered, "--as safe as with your mother!"

"I believe it! I know it," she answered, still sobbing, but looking up with an expression of genuine integrity such as he had never seen on her face before. "But I AM sorry!" she went on. "It is very weak, and very, very un--un--womanly of me! But it came upon me all at once! If I had only had some warning! Oh, why did you not tell me before? Why did you not prepare me for it? You might have known what it would be to hear it so suddenly!"

More and more aghast grew Ian! What was to be done? What was to be said? What was left for a man to do, when a woman laid her soul before him? Was there nothing but a lie to save her from bitterest humiliation? To refuse any woman was to Ian a hard task; once he had found it impossible to refuse even where he could not give, and had let a woman take his soul! Thank God, she took it indeed! he yielded himself perfectly, and God gave him her in return! But that was once, and for ever! It could not be done again!

"I am very sorry!" he murmured; and the words and their tone sent a shiver through the heart of Christina.

But now that she had betrayed her secret, the pent up tide of her phantasy rushed to the door. She was reckless. Used to everything her own way, knowing nothing of disappointment, a new and ill understood passion dominating her, she let everything go and the torrent sweep her with it. Passion, like a lovely wild beast, had mastered her, and she never thought of trying to tame it. It was herself! there was not enough of her outside the passion to stand up against it! She began to see the filmy eyed Despair, and had neither experience to deal with herself, nor reticence enough to keep silence.

"If you speak to me like that," she cried, "my heart will break!--Must you go away?"

"Dear Miss Palmer,--" faltered Ian.

"Oh!" she ejaculated, with a world of bitterness in the protest.

"--do let us be calm!" continued Ian. "We shall not come to anything if we lose ourselves this way!"

The WE and the US gave her a little hope.

"How can I be calm!" she cried. "I am not cold-hearted like you!--You are going away, and I shall never see you again to all eternity!"

She burst out weeping afresh.

"Do love me a little before you go," she sobbed. "You gave me my life once, but that does not make it right to take it from me again! It only gives you a right to its best!"

"God knows," said Ian, "if my life could serve you, I should count it a small thing to yield!--But this is idle talk! A man must not pretend anything! We must not be untrue!"

She fancied he did not believe in her.

"I know! I know! you may well distrust me!" she returned. "I have often behaved abominably to you! But indeed I am true now! I dare not tell you a lie. To you I MUST speak the truth, for I love you with my whole soul."

Ian stood dumb. His look of consternation and sadness brought her to herself a little.

"What have I done!" she cried, and drawing back a pace, stood looking at him, and trembling. "I am disgraced for ever! I have told a man I love him, and he leaves me to the shame of it! He will not save me from it! he will not say one word to take it away! Where is your generosity, Ian?"

"I must be true!" said Ian, speaking as if to himself, and in a voice altogether unlike his own.

"You will not love me! You hate me! You despise me! But I will not live rejected! He brushes me like a feather from his coat!"

"Hear me," said Ian, trying to recover himself. "Do not think me insensible--"

"Oh, yes! I know!" cried Christina yet more bitterly; "--INSENSIBLE TO THE HONOUR _I DO YOU, and all that world of nothing!--Pray use your victory! Lord it over me! I am the weed under your foot! I beg you will not spare me! Speak out what you think of me!"

Ian took her hand. It trembled as if she would pull it away, and her eyes flashed an angry fire. She looked more nearly beautiful than ever he had seen her! His heart was like to break. He drew her to the chair, and taking a stool, sat down beside her. Then, with a voice that gathered strength as he proceeded, he said:--

"Let me speak to you, Christina Palmer, as in the presence of him who made us! To pretend I loved you would be easier than to bear the pain of giving you such pain. Were I selfish enough, I could take much delight in your love; but I scorn the unmanliness of accepting gold and returning silver: my love is not mine to give."

It was some relief to her proud heart to imagine he would have loved her had he been free. But she did not speak.

"If I thought," pursued Ian, "that I had, by any behaviour of mine, been to blame for this,--" There he stopped, lest he should seem to lay blame on her.--"I think," he resumed, "I could help you if you would listen to me. Were I in like trouble with you, I would go into my room, and shut the door, and tell my Father in heaven everything about it. Ah, Christina! if you knew him, you would not break your heart that a man did not love you just as you loved him."

Had not her misery been so great, had she not also done the thing that humbled her before herself, Christina would have been indignant with the man who refused her love and dared speak to her of religion; but she was now too broken for resentment.

The diamond rain was falling, the sun was shining in his vaporous strength, and the great dome of heaven stood fathomless above the pair; but to Christina the world was black and blank as the gloomy hut in which they sat. When first her love blossomed, she saw the world open; she looked into its heart; she saw it alive--saw it burning with that which made the bush alive in the desert of Horeb--the presence of the living God; now, the vision was over, the desert was dull and dry, the bush burned no more, the glowing lava had cooled to unsightly stone! There was no God, nor any man more! Time had closed and swept the world into the limbo of vanity! For a time she sat without thought, as it were in a mental sleep. She opened her eyes, and the blank of creation stared into the very heart of her. The emptiness and loneliness overpowered her. Hardly aware of what she was doing, she slid to her knees at Ian's feet, crying,

"Save me, save me, Ian! I shall go mad! Pardon me! Help me!"

"All a man may be to his sister, I am ready to be to you. I will write to you from Canada; you can answer me or not as you please. My heart cries out to me to take you in my arms and comfort you, but I must not; it would not comfort you."

"You do not despise me, then?--Oh, thank you!"

"Despise you!--no more than my dead sister! I would cherish you as I would her were she in like sorrow. I would die to save you this grief--except indeed that I hope much from it."

"Forget all about me," said Christina, summoning pride to her aid.

"I will not forget you. It is impossible, nor would I if I could."

"You forgive me then, and will not think ill of me?"

"How forgive trust? Is that an offence?"

"I have lost your good opinion! How could I degrade myself so!"

"On the contrary, you are fast gaining iuy good opinion. You have begun to be a true woman!"

"What if it should be only for--"

"Whatever it may have been for, now you have tasted truth you will not turn back!"

"Now I know you do not care for me, I fear I shall soon sink back into my old self!"

"I do care for you, Christina, and you will not sink back into your old self. God means you to be a strong, good woman--able, with the help he will give you, to bear grief in a great-hearted fashion. Believe me, you and I may come nearer each other in the ages before us by being both true, than is possible in any other way whatever."

"I am miserable at the thought of what you must think of me! Everybody would say I had done a shameless thing in confessing my love!"

"I am not in the way of thinking as everybody thinks. There is little justice, and less sympathy, to be had from everybody. I would think and judge and feel as the one, my Master. Be sure you are safe with me."

"You will not tell anybody?"

"You must trust me."

"I beg your pardon! I have offended you!"

"Not in the least. But I will bind myself by no promises. I am bound already to be as careful over you as if you were the daughter of my father and mother. Your confession, instead of putting you in my power, makes me your servant."

By this time Christina was calm. There was a great load on her heart, but somehow she was aware of the possibility of carrying it. She looked up gratefully in Ian's face, already beginning to feel for him a reverence which made it easier to forego the right to put her arms round him. And therewith awoke in her the first movement of divine relationship--rose the first heave of the child-heart toward the source of its being. It appeared in the form of resistance. Complaint against God is far nearer to God than indifference about him.

"Ian Macruadh," said Christina solemnly, and she looked him in the eyes as she said it, "how can you believe there is a God? If there were, would he allow such a dreadful thing to befall one of his creatures? How am I to blame? I could not help it!"

"I see in it his truth and goodness toward his child. And he will let you see it. The thing is between him and you."

"It will be hard to convince me it is either good or loving to make anyone suffer like this!" protested Christina, her hand unconsciously pressed on her heart; "--and all the disgrace of it too!" she added bitterly.

"I will not allow there is any disgrace," returned Ian. "But I will not try to con vince you of anything about God. I cannot. You must know him. I only say I believe in him with all my heart. You must ask him to explain himself to you, and not take it for granted, because he has done what you do not like, that he has done you a wrong. Whether you seek him or not, he will do you justice; but he cannot explain himself except you seek him."

"I think I understand. Believe me, I am willing to understand."

A few long seconds of silence followed. Christina came a little nearer. She was still on her knees.

"Will you kiss me once," she said, "as you would a little child!"

"In the name of God!" answered lan, and stooping kissed her gently and tenderly.

"Thank you!" she said; "--and now the rain is over, let us join Mercy and the chief. I hope they have not got very wet!"

"Alister will have taken care of that. There is plenty of shelter about here."

They left the cottage, drew the door close, and through the heather, sparkling with a thousand rain-drops, the sun shining hotter than ever through the rain-mist, went up the hill.

They found the other pair sheltered by the great stone, which was not only a shadow from the heat, but sloped sufficiently to be a covert from the rain. They did not know it had ceased; perhaps they did not know it had rained.

On a fine morning of the following week, the emigrants began the first stage of their long journey; the women in two carts, with their small impedimenta, the men walking--Ian with them, a stout stick in his hand. They were to sail from Greenock.

Ian and Christina met several times before he left, but never alone. No conference of any kind, not even of eyes, had been sought by Christina, and Ian had resolved to say nothing more until he reached Canada. Thence he would write things which pen and ink would say better and carry nearer home than could speech; and by that time too the first keenness of her pain would have dulled, and left her mind more capable of receiving them. He was greatly pleased with the gentle calm of her behaviour. No one else could have seen any difference toward himself. He read in her carriage that of a child who had made a mistake, and was humbled, not vexed. Her mother noted that her cheek was pale, and that she seemed thoughtful; but farther she did not penetrate. To Ian it was plain that she had set herself to be reasonable.

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