Far Above Rubies

       George MacDonald / Romance & Love

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Far Above Rubies Produced by David Garcia, Jonathan Ingram, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team.



Hector Macintosh was a young man about five-and-twenty, who, with theproclivities of the Celt, inherited also some of the consequentdisabilities, as well as some that were accidental. Among the rest wasa strong tendency to regard only the ideal, and turn away from anyauthority derived from an inferior source. His chief delight lay in theattempt to embody, in what seemed to him the natural form of verse, thethoughts in him constantly moving at least in the direction of theideal, even when he was most conscious of his inability to attain to theutterance of them. But it was only in the retirement of his own chamberthat he attempted their embodiment; of all things, he shrank from anycommunion whatever concerning these cherished matters. Nor, indeed, hadhe any friends who could tempt him to share with them what seemed to himhis best; so that, in truth, he was intimate with none. His mind woulddwell much upon love and friendship in the imaginary abstract, but ofneither had he had the smallest immediate experience. He had cherishedonly the ideals of the purest and highest sort of either passion, andseemed to find satisfaction enough in the endeavor to embody such inhis verse, without even imagining himself in communication with anyvisionary public. The era had not yet dawned when every scribbler isconsumed with the vain ambition of being recognized, not, indeed, aswhat he is, but as what he pictures himself in his secret sessions ofthought. That disease could hardly attack him while yet his veryimaginations recoiled from the thought of the inimical presence of astranger consciousness. Whether this was modesty, or had its hidden basein conceit, I am, with the few insights I have had into his mind, unableto determine.

That he had leisure for the indulgence of his bent was the result of hispeculiar position. He lived in the house of his father, and was in hisfather's employment, so that he was able both to accommodate himself tohis father's requirements and at the same time fully indulge his ownespecial taste. The elder Macintosh was a banker in one of the largercounty towns of Scotland--at least, such is the profession and positionthere accorded by popular consent to one who is, in fact, only abank-agent, for it is a post involving a good deal of influence and ayet greater responsibility. Of this responsibility, however, he hadallowed his son to feel nothing, merely using him as a clerk, andleaving him, as soon as the stated hour for his office-work expired,free in mind as well as body, until the new day should make a freshclaim upon his time and attention. His mother seldom saw him except atmeals, and, indeed, although he always behaved dutifully to her, therewas literally no intercommunion of thought or feeling between them--afact which probably had a good deal to do with the undeveloped conditionin which Hector found, or rather, did not find himself. Occasionally hismother wanted him to accompany her for a call, but he avoided yieldingas much as possible, and generally with success; for this was one of theclaims of social convention against which he steadily rebelled--the moredeterminedly that in none of his mother's friends could he take thesmallest interest; for she was essentially a commonplace becauseambitious woman, without a spark of aspiration, and her friends were ofthe same sort, without regard for anything but what was--or, at least,they supposed to be--the fashion. Indeed, it was hard to understand howHector came ever to be born of such a woman, although in truth she wasof as pure Celtic origin as her husband--only blood is not spirit, andthat is often clearly manifest. His father, on the other hand, was notwithout some signs of an imagination--quite undeveloped, indeed, and,I believe, suppressed by the requirements of his business relations.At the same time, Hector knew that he cherished not a little indignationagainst the insolence of the good Dr. Johnson in regard to both Ossianand his humble translator, Macpherson, upholding the genuineness ofboth, although unable to enter into and set forth the points of theargument on either side. As to Hector, he reveled in the ancienttraditions of his family, and not unfrequently in his earlier youth hadmade an attempt to re-embody some of its legends into English, vain asregarded the retention of the special airiness and suggestiveness oftheir vaguely showing symbolism, for often he dropped his pen with asigh of despair at the illusiveness of the special aroma of the Celticimagination. For the rest, he had had as good an education as Scotlandcould in those days afford him, one of whose best features was thenegative one that it did not at all interfere with the natural course ofhis inborn tendencies, and merely developed the power of expressinghimself in what manner he might think fit. Let me add that he had a goodconscience--I mean, a conscience ready to give him warning of the leasttendency to overstep any line of prohibition; and that, as yet, he hadnever consciously refused to attend to such warning.

Another thing I must mention is that, although his mind was constantlyhaunted by imaginary forms of loveliness, he had never yet been what iscalled _in love_. For he had never yet seen anyone who evenapproached his idea of spiritual at once and physical attraction. He wascontent to live and wait, without even the notion that he was waitingfor anything. He went on writing his verses, and receiving the reward,such as it was, of having placed on record the thoughts which had cometo him, so that he might at will recall them. Neither had he any thoughtof the mental soil which was thus slowly gathering for the possiblegrowth of an unknown seed, fit for growing and developing in that sameunknown soil.

One day there arrived in that cold Northern city a certain cold,sunshiny morning, gay and sparkling, and with it the beginning of what,for want of a better word, we may call his fate. He knew nothing of itsapproach, had not the slightest prevision that the divinity had thatmoment put his hand to the shaping of his rough-hewn ends. It was earlyOctober by the calendar, but leaves brown and spotted and dry layalready in little heaps on the pavement--heaps made and unmadecontinually, as if for the sport of the keen wind that now scatteredthem with a rush, and again, extemporizing a little evanescentwhirlpool, gathered a fresh heap upon the flags, again to rush asunder,as in direst terror of the fresh-invading wind, determined yet again toscatter them, a broken rout of escaping fugitives. Along the pavement,seemingly in furtherance of the careless design of the wind, a girl wentheedlessly scushling along among the unresting and unresisting leaves,making with her rather short skirt a mimic whirlwind of her own. Hereyes were fixed on the ground, and she seemed absorbed in anxiousthought, which thought had its origin in one of the commonest causes ofhuman perplexity--the need of money, and the impossibility of devising ascheme by which to procure any. It was but a few weeks since her fatherhad died, leaving behind him such a scanty provision for his widow andchild that only by the utmost care and coaxing were they able from thefirst to make it meet their necessities. Nor, indeed, would it have beenpossible for them to subsist had not a brother of the widow supplementedtheir poor resources with an uncertain contingent, whose continuance hewas not able to secure, or even dared to promise.

At the present moment, however, it was not anxiety as to their ownaffairs that occupied the mind of Annie Melville, near enough as thatmight have lain; it was the unhappy condition in which the imprudence ofa school-friend--almost her only friend--had involved herself by herhasty marriage with a man who, up to the present moment, had shown nofaculty for helping himself or the wife he had involved in his fate, andwho did not know where or by what means to procure even the bread ofwhich they were in immediate want.

Now Annie had never had to suffer hunger, and the idea that hercompanion from childhood should be exposed to such a fate was what shecould not bear. Yet, for any way out of it she could see, it would haveto be borne. She might possibly, by herself going without, have givenher a good piece of bread; but then she would certainly share it withher foolish husband, and there would be little satisfaction in that!They had already arrived at a stage in their downward progress when notgold, or even silver, but bare copper, was lacking as the equivalent forthe bread that could but keep them alive until the next rousing of thehunger that even now lay across their threshold. And how could she, inher all but absolute poverty, do anything? Her mother was but one paceor so from the same goal, and would, as a mother must, interfere toprevent her useless postponement of the inevitable. It was clear shecould do nothing--and yet she could ill consent that it should be so.

When her father almost suddenly left them alone, Annie was alreadyacting as assistant in the Girls' High School--but, alas! without anyrecognition of her services by even a promise of coming payment. Shelived only in the hope of a small salary, dependent on her definiteappointment to the office. To attempt to draw upon this hope would be toimperil the appointment itself. She could not, even for her friend, riskher mother's prospects, already poor enough; and she could not helpperceiving the hopelessness of her
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