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Wilson's Border Tales
The Seeker

Amongst the many thousand readers of these tales, there are, perhaps, few who have not observed that the object of the writer is frequently of a higher kind than that of merely contributing to their amusement. He would wish "to point a moral," while he endeavours to "adorn a tale." It is with this view that he now lays before them the history of a SEEKER. The first time he remembers hearing, or rather of noticing the term, was in a conversation with a living author respecting the merits of a popular poet, when his religious opinions being adverted to, it was mentioned that in a letter to a brother poet of equal celebrity, he described himself as a SEEKER. I was struck with the word and its application. I had never met with the fool who saith in his heart there is no God; and, though I had known many deniers of Revelation, yet a SEEKER, in the sense in which the word was applied, appeared a new character. But, on reflection, I found it an epithet applicable to thousands, and adopted it as a title to our present story

Richard Storie was the eldest son of a Dissenting minister, who had the pastoral charge of a small congregation a few miles from Hawick. His father was not what the world calls a man of talent, but he possessed what is far beyond talents—piety and humility. In his own heart he felt his Bible to be true—its words were as a lamp within him—and from his heart he poured forth its doctrines, its hopes, and consolations, to others, with a fervour and an earnestness which FAITH only can inspire. It is not the thunder of declamation, the pomp of eloquence, the majesty of rhetoric, the rounded period, and the glow of imagery, which can chain the listening soul, and melt down the heart of the unbeliever, as metals yield to the heat of the furnace. Show me the hoary-headed preacher, who carries sincerity in his very look and in his very tones, who is animated because faith inspires him, and out of the fulness of his own heart his mouth speaketh, and there is the man from whose tongue truth floweth as from the lips of an apostle; and the small still voice of conscience echoes to his words, while hope burns and the judgment becomes conviced. Where faith is not in the preacher, none will be produced in the hearer. Such a man was the father of Richard Storie. He had fulfiled his vows, and prayed with and for his children. He set before them the example of a Christian parent, and he rejoiced to perceive that that example was not lost upon them.

We pass over the earlier years of Richard Storie, as during that period he had not become a SEEKER, nor did he differ from other children of his age. There was, indeed, a thoughtfulness and sensibility about his character, but these were by no means so remarkable as to require particular notice, nor did they mark his boyhood in a peculiar degree. The truths which from his childhood he had been accustomed to hear from his father’s lips, he had never doubted; but he felt their truth as he felt his father’s love, for both had been imparted to him together. He had fixed upon the profession of a surgeon, and, at the age of eighteen, he was sent to Edinburgh to attend the classes. He was a zealous student, and his progress realized the fondest wishes and anticipations of his parent. It was during his second session that Richard was induced, by some of his fellow collegians, to become a member of a debating society. It was composed of many bold and ambitious young men, who, in the confidence of their hearts, rashly dared to meddle with things too high for them. There were many amongst them who regarded it as a proof of manliness to avow their scepticism, and who gloried in scoffing at the eternal truths which had lighted the souls of their fathers, when the darkness of death fell upon their eyelids. It is one of the besetting sins of youth to appear wise above what is written. There were many such amongst those with whom Richard Storie now associated. From them he first heard the truths which had been poured into his infant ear from his father’s lips attacked, and the tongue of the scoffer rail against them. His first feeling was horror, and he shuddered at the impiety of his friends. He rose to combat their objections and refute their arguments, but he withdrew not from the society of the wicked. Week succeeded week, and he became a leading member of the club. He was no longer filled with horror at the bold assertions of the avowed sceptic, nor did he manifest disgust at the ribald jest. As night silently and imperceptibly creeps through the air, deepening shade on shade, till the earth lies buried in its darkness, so had the gloom of Doubt crept over his mind, deepening said darkening, till his soul was bewildered in the sunless wilderness.

The members acted as chairman of the society in rotation, and, in his turn, the office fell upon Richard Storie. For the first time, he seemed to feel conscious of the darkness in which his spirit was enveloped; conscience haunted him as a hound followeth its prey; and still its small still voice whispered—

"Who sitteth in the scorner’s chair."

The words seemed burning on his memory. He tried to forget them, to chase them away—to speak of, to listen to other things; but he could not,—"Who sitteth in the scorner’s chair" rose upon his mind as if printed before him—as if he heard the words from his father’s tongue—as though they would rise to his own lips. He was troubled—his conscience smote him—the darkness in which his soul was shrouded was made visible. He left his companions—he hastened to his lodgings and wept. But his tears brought not back the light which had been extinguished within him, nor restored the hopes which the pride and the rashness of reason had destroyed. He had become the willing prisoner of Doubt and it now held him in its cold and iron grasp, struggling in despair.

Reason, or rather the sell-sufficient arrogance of fancied talent which frequently assumes its name, endeavoured to suppress the whisperings of conscience in his breast; and in such a state of mind was Richard Storie, when he was summoned to attend the deathbed of his father. It was winter, and the snow lay deep on the ground, and there was no conveyance to Hawick until the following day; but, ere the morning came, eternity might be between him and his parent. He had wandered from the doctrines that parent had taught, but no blight had yet fallen on the affections of his heart. He hurried forth on foot; and, having travelled all night in sorrow and in anxiety, before daybreak he arrived at the home of his infancy. Two of the elders of the congregation stood before the door.

"Ye are just in time, Mr. Richard," said one of them mournfully, "for he’ll no be lang now; and he has prayed earnestly that he might only be spared till ye arrived."

Richard wept aloud.

"Oh, try and compose yoursel’, dear sir," said the elder. "Your distress may break the peace with which he’s like to pass away. It’s a sair trial, nae doubt—a visitation to us a’—but ye ken, Richard, we must not mourn as those who have no hope."

"Hope!" groaned the agonized son as he entered the house. He went towards the room where his father lay—his mother and his brethren sat weeping around the bed.

"Richard!" said his afflicted mother, as she rose and flung her arms around his neck. The dying man heard the name of his first-born, his languid eyes brightened, he endeavoured to raise himself upon his pillow, he stretched forth his feeble hand—"Richard!my own Richard!" he exclaimed; "ye hae come, my son—my prayer is heard, and I can die in peace! I longed to see ye, for my spirit was troubled upon yer account—sore and sadly troubled; for there were expressions in yer last letter that made me tremble—that made me fear that the pride o’ human learning was lifting up the heart o’ my bairn, and leading his judgment into the dark paths o’ error and unbelief—but, oh! those tears are not the tears of an unbeliever!"

He sunk back exhausted. Richard trembled. He again raised his head.

"Get the books," said he, feebly, "and Richard will make worship. It is the last time we shall all join together in praise on this earth, and it will be the last time I shall hear the voice o’ my bairn in prayer, and it is long since I heard it. Sing the hymn,

‘The hour of my departure’e come,’

and read the twenty-third psalm."

Richard did as his dying parent requested; and, as he knelt by the bedside, and lifted up his voice in prayer, his conscience smote him, agony pierced his soul, and his tongue faltered. He now became a Seeker, seeking mercy and truth at the same moment: and, in the agitation of his spirit, his secret thoughts were revealed, his doubts were manifested! A deep groan issued from the dying bed. The voice of the supplicant failed him—his Amen died upon his lips—he started to his feet in confusion.

"My son! my son!" feebly cried the dying man, "ye hae lifted yer eyes to the mountains o’ vanity, and the pride o’ reason has darkened yer heart, but, as yet, it has not hardened it. O Richard! remember the last words o yer dying faither—‘Seek, and ye shall find.’ Pray with an humble and a contrite heart, and in yer last hour ye will hae, as I hae now, a licht to guide ye through the dark valley of the shadow of death."

He called his wife and his other children around him—he blessed them—he strove to comfort them—he committed them to His care, who is the Husband of the widow, and the Father of the fatherless. The lustre that lighted up his eyes for a moment, as he besought a blessing on them vanished away, his head sunk back upon his pillow, a low moan was heard, and his spirit passed into peace.

His father’s death threw a blight upon the prospects of Richard. He no longer possessed the means of prosecuting his studies; and, in order to support himself; and assist his mother, he engaged himself as tutor in the family of a gentleman in East Lothian. But there his doubts followed him, and melancholy sat upon his breast. He had thoughtlessly, almost imperceptibly, stepped into the gloomy paths of unbelief, and anxiously he groped to retrace his steps; but it was as a blind man stumbles and, in wading through the maze of controversy for a guide, his way became more intricate, and the darkness of his mind more intense. He repented that he had ever listened to the words of the scoffer, or sat in the chair of the scorner; but he had permitted the cold mists of scepticisn to gather round his mind, till even the affections of his heart became blighted by their influence. He was now a solitary man, shunning society; and at those hours when his pupils were not under his charge, he would wander alone in the wood or by the river, brooding over unutterable thoughts, and communing with despair — for he sought not, as is the manner of many, to instil the poison that had destroyed his own peace into the minds of others. He carried his punishment in his soul, and was silent—in the soul that was doubting its own existence! Of all hypochondriacs, to me the unbeliever seems the most absurd. For, can matter think, can it reason, can it doubt? Is it not the thing that doubts which distrusts its own being? Often when he so wandered, the last words of his father—"Seek, and ye shall find"—were whispered in his heart, as though the spirit of the departed breathed then over him. Then would he raise his hands his prayer rose from his solitude of the woods.

After acting about two years as tutor, he returned to Edinburgh, and completed his studies. Having, with difficulty, from the scantiness of his means, obtained his diplomas, he commenced practice in his native village. His brothers and sisters had arrived at manhood and womanhood, and his mother enjoyed a small annuity. Almost from boyhood, he had been deeply attached to Agnes Brown, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer; and about three years after he had commenced practice, she bestowed on him her hand. She was all that his heart could wish--meek, gentle, and affectionate—and her anxious love threw a gleam of sunshine over the melancholy that had settled upon his soul. Often, when he fondly gazed in her eyes, where affection beamed, the hope of immortality would flash through his bosom—for one so good, so made of all that renders virtue dear, but to be born to die and to be no more, he deemed impossible. They had been married about nine years, and Agnes had become the mother of five fair children, when, in one day, Death entered their dwelling and robbed them of two of their little ones. Their neighbours had gathered. together to comfort them, and the mother in silent anguish wept over her babes; bit the father stood tearless and stricken with grief, as though his hopes were sealed up in the coffin of his children. In his agony, he uttered words of strange meaning. The doubts of the Seeker burst forth in the accents of despair. The neighbours gazed at each other. They had before had doubts of the religious principles of Dr. Storie—now those doubts were confirmed. In the bitterness of his grief, he had spoken of the grave as the eternal prison of the dead—and of futurity and a resurrection as things he hoped for, but believed not.

His words were circulated through the village , and over the country—and, as they spread, they were exaggerated. Many began to regard him as an unsafe man to visit a deathbed, where he might attempt to rob the dying of the everlasting hope which enables them to triumph over the last enemy. His practice fell off, and the wants of the family increased. He was no longer able to maintain the appearance of respectability; his coat had assumed a melancholy hue; and he gave up assembling with his family amidst the congregation over which his father had been pastor. His circumstances aggravated the gloom of his mind; and, for a time, he became not a Seeker, but one who abandoned himself to callousness and despair. Even the affection of his wife—which knew no change, but rather increased as affliction and misfortune came upon them--with the smiles and affection of his children, became irksome. Their love increased his misery. His own house was all but forsaken, and the blacksmith’s shop became his consulting room, the village alehouse his laboratory. Misery and contempt heightened the "shadows, clouds, and darkness," which rested upon his mind. To his anguish and excitement he had now added habits of intemperance—his health became a wreck, and he sank upon his bed, a miserable and a ruined man. The shadow of death seemed lowering over him, and he lay trembling, shrinking from approach, shuddering and brooding over the cheerless, the horrible thought—annihilation! But, even then, his poor Agnes watched over him with a love stronger than death. She strove to cheer him with the thought that he would still live—that they would again be happy. "O my husband!" cried she, fondly, "yield not to despair--Seek, and ye shall find!"

"O heavens, Agnes!" exclaimed he, "I have sought! I have sought! I have been a Seeker until now; but Truth flees from me, Hope mocks me, and the terrors of Death only find me!"

"Kneel with me my children," she cried; "let us pray for mercy and peace of mind for your poor father!"—And the fond wife and her offspring knelt around the bed where her husband lay. A gleam of joy passed over the sick man’s countenance, as the voice of her supplication rose upon his ear, and a ray of hope fell upon his heart. "Amen!" he uttered as she arose; and "Amen!" responded their children.

On the bed of sickness, his heart had been humbled; he had, as it were, seen death face to face, and the nearer it approached, the stronger assurances did he feel of the immortality he had dared to doubt. He arose from his bed a new man—hope illumined, and faith began to glow in his bosom. His doubts were vanquished, his fears dispelled. He had sought, and at length found—found the joys and the hopes of the Christian. He regained the esteem of men, and again prospered; and this was the advice of the Seeker to his children—"Avoid trusting to reason when it would flatter you with your own wisdom; for it begetteth doubt—doubt, unbelief—unbelief, despair—and despair, death!"

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