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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter XIII

“The silent earth
Of what it holds shall speak, and every grave
Be as a volume, shut, yet capable
Of yielding its contents to ear and eye.”—Wordsworth.

In the woods to the east of Cromarty, occupying the summit of a green insulated eminence, is the ancient burying-ground and chapel of St. Regulus. Bounding the south there is a deep narrow ravine, through which there runs a small tinkling streamlet, whose voice, scarcely heard during the droughts of summer, becomes hoarser and louder towards the close of autumn. The sides of the eminence are covered with wood, which, overtopping the summit, forms a wall of foliage that encloses the burying-ground except on the east, where a little opening affords a view of the northern Sutor over the tops of trees which have not climbed high enough to complete the fence. In this burying-ground the dead of a few of the more ancient families of the town and parish are still interred; but by far the greater part of it is occupied by nameless tenants, whose descendants are unknown, and whose bones have mouldered undisturbed for centuries. The surface is covered by a short yellow moss, which is gradually encroaching on the low flat stones of the dead, blotting out the unheeded memorials which tell us that the inhabitants of this solitary spot were once men, and that they are now dust—that they lived, and that they died, and that they shall live again.

Nearly about the middle of the burying-ground there is a low flat stone, over which time is silently drawing the green veil of oblivion. It bears date 1690, and testifies, in a rude inscription, that it covers the remains of Paul Feddes and his son John, with those of their respective wives. Concerning Paul, tradition is silent; of John Feddes, his son, an interesting anecdote is still preserved. Some time early in the eighteenth century, or rather perhaps about the close of the seventeenth, he became enamoured of Jean Gallie, one of the wealthiest and most beautiful young women of her day in this part of the country. The attachment was not mutual; for Jean’s affections were already fixed on a young man, who, both in fortune and elegance of manners, was superior, beyond comparison, to the tall red-haired boatman, whose chief merit lay in a kind brave heart, a clear head, and a strong arm. John, though by no means a dissipated man, had been accustomed to regard money as merely the price of independence, and he had sacrificed but little to the graces. His love-suit succeeded as might have been expected; the advances he made were treated with contempt; and the day was fixed on which his mistress was to be married to his rival. He became profoundly melancholy; and late on the evening which preceded the marriage-day, he was seen traversing the woods which surrounded the old castle; frequently stopping as he went, and, by wild and singular gestures, giving evidence of an unsettled mind. In the morning after he was nowhere to be found. His disappearance, with the frightful conjectures to which it gave rise, threw a gloom over the spirits of the town’s-folk, and affected the gaiety of the marriage party; it was remembered, even amid the festivities of the bridal, that John Feddes had had a kind warm heart; and it was in no enviable frame that the bride, as her maidens conducted her to her chamber, caught a glimpse of several twinkling lights that were moving beneath the brow of the distant Sutor. She could not ask the cause of an appearance so unusual; her fears too surely suggested that her unfortunate lover had destroyed himself, and that his friends and kinsfolk kept that night a painful vigil in searching after the body. But the search was in vain, though every copse and cavern, and the base of every precipice within several miles of the town, were visited; and though, during the succeeding winter, every wreath of sea-weed which the night-storms had rolled upon the beach, was approached with a fearful yet solicitous feeling scarcely ever associated with bunches of sea-weed before. Years passed away, and, except by a few friends, the kind enterprising boatman was forgotten.

In the meantime it was discovered, both by herself and the neighbours, that Jean Gallie was unfortunate in her husband. He had, prior to his marriage, when one of the gayest and most dashing young fellows in the village, formed habits of idleness and intemperance which he could not, or would not shake off; and Jean had to learn that a very gallant lover may prove a very indifferent husband, and that a very fine fellow may care for no one but himself. He was selfish and careless in the last degree; and unfortunately, as his carelessness was of the active kind, he engaged in extensive business, to the details of which he paid no attention, but amused himself with wild vague speculations, which, joined to his habits of intemperance, stripped him in the course of a few years of all the property which had belonged to himself and his wife. In proportion as his means decreased he became more worthless, and more selfishly bent on the gratification of his appetites; and he had squandered almost his last shilling, when, after a violent fit of intemperance, he was seized by a fever, which in a few days terminated in death. And thus, five years after the disappearance of John Feddes, Jean Gallie found herself a poor widow, with scarce any means of subsistence, and without one pleasing thought connected with the memory of her husband.

A few days after the interment, a Cromarty vessel was lying at anchor, before sunrise, near the mouth of the Spey. The master, who had been one of Feddes’s most intimate friends, was seated near the stem, employed in angling for cod and ling. Between his vessel and the shore, a boat appeared in the grey light of morning, stretching along the beach under a tight, well-trimmed sail. She had passed him nearly half a mile, when the helmsman slackened the sheet, which had been close-hauled, and suddenly changing the tack, bore away right before the wind. In a few minutes the boat dashed alongside. All the crew, except the helmsman, had been lying asleep upon the beams, and now started up alarmed by the shock. “ How, skipper,” said one of the men, rubbing his eyes, “ how, in the name of wonder, have we gone so far out of our course? What brings us here?” “You come from Cromarty,” said the skipper, directing his speech to the master, who, starting at the sound from his seat, flung himself half over the gunwale to catch a glimpse of the speaker. “John Feddes,” he exclaimed, “by all that is miraculous!” “You come from Cromarty, do you not?” reiterated the skipper; “Ah, Willie Mouat! is that you?”

The friends were soon seated in the snug little cabin of the vessel; and John, apparently the less curious of the two, entered, at the others’ request, into a detail of the particulars of his life for the five preceding years. “ You know, Mouat,” he said, “ how I felt and what I suffered for the last six months I was in Cromarty. Early in that period I had formed the determination of quitting my native country for ever; but I was a weak foolish fellow, and so I continued to linger, like an unhappy ghost, week after week, and month after month, hoping against hope, until the night which preceded the wedding-day of Jean Gallie. Captain Robinson was then on the coast unloading a cargo of Hollands. I had made it my business to see him; and after some little conversation, for we were old acquaintance, I broached to him my intention of leaving Scotland. It is well, said he; for friendship sake I will give you a passage to Flushing, and, if it suits your inclination, a berth in the privateer I am now fitting out for cruising along the coast of Spanish America. I find the free trade doesn’t suit me ; it has no scope. I considered his proposals, and liked them hugely. There was, indeed, some risk of being knocked on the head in the cruising affair, but that weighed little with me j I really believe that, at the time, I would as lief have run to a blow as avoided one ;—so I closed with him, and the night and hour were fixed when he should land his boat for me in the hope of the Sutors. The evening came, and I felt impatient to be gone. You wonder how I could leave so many excellent friends without so much as bidding them farewell. I have since wondered at it myself; but my mind was filled, at the time, with one engrossing object, and I could think of nothing else. Positively, I was mad. I remember passing Jean’s house on that evening, and catching a glimpse of her through the window. She was so engaged in preparing a piece of dress, which I suppose was to be worn on the ensuing day, that she didn’t observe me. I can’t tell you how I felt—indeed, I do not know; for I 'have scarcely any recollection of what I did or thought until a few hours after, when I found myself aboard Robinson’s lugger, spanking down the Firth. It is now five years since, and, in that time, I have both given and received some hard blows, and have been both poor and rich. Little more than a month ago, I left Flushing for Banff, where I intend taking up my abode, and where I am now on the eve of purchasing a snug little property.” “Nay,” said Mouat, “you must come to Cromarty.” “To Cromarty! no, that will scarcely do.” “But hear me, Feddes—Jean Gallie is a widow.” There was a long pause. “Well, poor young thing,” said John at length with a sigh, “I should feel sorry for that; I trust she is in easy circumstances?” “You shall hear.”

The reader has already anticipated Mouat’s narrative. During the recital of the first part of it, John, who had thrown himself on the back of his chair, continued rocking backwards and forwards with the best counterfeited indifference in the world.

It was evident that Jean Gallie was nothing to him. As the story proceeded, he drew himself up leisurely, and with firmness, until he sat bolt upright, and the motion ceased. Mouat described the selfishness of Jean’s husband, and his disgusting intemperance. He spoke of the confusion of his affairs. He hinted at his cruelty to Jean when he squandered all. John could act no longer—he clenched his fist and sprang from his seat. “Sit down, man,” said Mouat, “and hear me out—the fellow is dead.”—“And the poor widow?” said John. “Is, I believe, nearly destitute;—you have heard of the box of broad-pieces left her by her father?—she has few of them now.” “Well, if she hasn’t, I have; that’s all When do you sail for Cromarty?” “To-morrow, my dear fellow, and you go along with me; do you not?”

Almost any one could supply the concluding part of my narrative. Soon after John had arrived at his native town, Jean Gallie became the wife of one who, in almost every point, of character, was the reverse of her first husband; and she lived long and happily with him. Here the novelist would stop; but I write from the burying-ground of St. Regulus, and the tombstone of my ancestor is at my feet. Yet why should it be told that John Feddes experienced the misery of living too long —that, in his ninetieth year, he found himself almost alone in the world ?^ for, of his children, some had wandered into foreign parts, where they either died or forgot their father, and some he saw carried to the grave. One of his daughters remained with him, and outlived him. She was the widow of a bold enterprising man, who lay buried with his two brothers, one of whom had sailed round the world with Anson, in the depths of the ocean; and her orphan child, who, of a similar character, shared, nearly fifty years after, a similar fate, was the father of the writer.

A very few paces from the burying-ground of John Feddes, there is a large rude stone reared on two shapeless balusters, and inscribed with a brief record of the four last generations of the Lindsays of Cromarty—an old family now extinct. In its early days this family was one of the most affluent in the burgh, and had its friendships and marriages among the aristocracy of the country; but it gradually sank as it became older, and, in the year 1729, its last scion was a little ragged boy of about ten years of age, who lived with his widow mother in one of the rooms of a huge dilapidated house at the foot of the Chapel hill. Dilapidated as it was, it formed the sole remnant of all the possessions of the Lindsays. Andrew, for so the boy was called, was a high-spirited, unlucky little fellow, too careless of the school and of his book to be much a favourite with the schoolmaster, but exceedingly popular among his playfellows, and the projector of half the pieces of petty mischief with which they annoyed the village. But, about the end of the year 1731, his character became the subject of a change, which, after unfixing almost all its old traits, and producing a temporary chaos, set, at length, much better ones in their places. He broke off from his old companions, grew thoughtful and melancholy, and fond of solitude, read much in his Bible, took long journeys to hear the sermons of the more celebrated ministers of other parishes, and became the constant and attentive auditor of the clergyman of his own. He felt comfortless and unhappy. Like the hero of that most popular of all allegories, the Pilgrim’s Progress, “ he stood clothed in rags, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a burden on his back. And opening the book, he read thereon, and, as he read, he wept and trembled, and, not being able to contain himself, he broke out into a lamentable cry, saying, What shall I do ?” Indeed, the whole history of Andrew Lindsay, from the time of his conversion to his death, is so exact a counterpart of the journey of Christian, from the day on which he quitted the City of Destruction until he had entered the river, that, in tracing his course, I shall occasionally refer to the allegory; regarding it as the well-known chart of an imperfectly known country. All other allegories are mere mediums of instruction, and owe their chief merit to their transparency as such; but it is not thus with the dream of Bunyan, which, through its intrinsic interest alone, has become more generally known than even the truths which are couched under it.

Some time in the year 1732, a pious Scottish clergyman who resided in England—a Mr. Davidson of Denham, in Essex, visited some of his friends who lived in Cromarty. He was crossing the Firth at this time on a Sabbath morning, to attend the celebration of the Supper in a neighbouring church, when a person pointed out to him a thoughtful-looking little boy, who sat at the other end of the boat. “It is Andrew Lindsay,” said the person, “a poor young thing seeking anxiously after the truth.” “I had no opportunity of conversing with him,” says Mr. Davidson in his printed tract, “but I could not observe without thankfulness a poor child, on a cold morning, crossing the sea to hear the Word, without shoe or stocking, or anything to cover his head from the inclemency of the weather.” He saw him again when in church—his eyes fixed steadfastly on the preacher, and the expression of his countenance varying with the tone of the discourse. Feeling much interested in him, he had no sooner returned to Cromarty than he waited upon him at his mother’s, and succeeded in engaging him in a long and interesting conversation, which he has recorded at considerable length.

“How did it happen, my little fellow,” said he, “that you went so far from home last week to hear sermon, when the season was so cold, and you had neither shoes nor stockings?” The boy replied in a bashful, unassuming manner, That he was in that state of nature which is contrasted by our Saviour with that better state of grace, the denizens of which can alone inherit the kingdom of heaven. But, though conscious that such was the case, he was quite unaffected, he said, by a sense of his danger. He was anxious, therefore, to pursue those means by which such a sense might be awakened in him; and the Word preached was one of these. For how, he continued, unless I be oppressed by the weight of the evil which rests upon me, and the woe and misery which it must necessarily entail in the future, how can I value or seek after the only Saviour? “ But what,” said Mr. Davidson, “if God himself has engaged to work this affecting sense of sin in the heart?”—“Has he so promised?” eagerly inquired the boy. The clergyman took out his Bible, and read to him the remarkable text in John, in which our Saviour intimates the coming of the Spirit to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Andrew’s countenance brightened as he listened, and, losing his timidity in the excitement of the moment, he took the book out of Mr. Davidson’s hand, and, for several minutes, contemplated the passage in silence.

“Do you ever pray?” inquired Mr. Davidson; Andrew shut the book, and, hanging down his head, timidly replied in the negative. “What! not pray ! Do you go so far from home to attend sermons, and yet not bow the knee to God in prayer?” —“Ah!” he answered, “I do bow the knee perhaps six or seven times a day, but I cannot call that praying to God—I want the spirit of prayer ; I often ask I hardly know what, and with scarce any desire to receive; and often, when a half sense of my condition has compelled me to kneel, a vicious wandering imagination carries me away, and I rise again, not knowing what I have said.”—“Oh!” rejoined the clergyman, “only persist But tell me, was it your ordinary practice, in past years, to attend sermons as you do now?” “No, sir, quite the reverse; once or twice in a season, perhaps, I went to church, but I used to quit it through weariness ere the service was half completed.”—“And how do you account for the change?” “I cannot account for it; I only know, that formerly I had no heart to go and hear of God at any time, and that now I dare not keep away.” Mr. Davidson then inquired whether he had ever conversed on these matters with Mr. Gordon, the minister of the parish; but was asked with much simplicity, in return, what Mr. Gordon would think of a poor boy like him presuming to call on him? “I have many doubts and uncertainties,” said he, “but I am afraid to ask any one to solve them. Once, indeed, but only once, I plucked up resolution enough to inquire of a friend how I might glorify God. He bade me obey God’s commandments, for that was the way to glorify Him, and I now see the value of the advice; but I see, also, that only through faith in Jesus Christ can fallen man acquire an ability to profit by it.”

“This last answer, so much above his years,” says Mr. Davidson, “occasioned my asking him how he had become so intimately acquainted with these truths? He modestly answered, ‘I hear Mr. Gordon preach,’ as if he had said, My knowledge bears no proportion to the advantages I enjoy.” And thus ended the conference; for, after exhorting him to be much in secret prayer, and to testify to the world the excellence of what he sought after, by being a diligent scholar and a dutiful son, Mr. Davidson bade him farewell. The poor little fellow was wandering, at this period, over that middle space which lies between the devoted city and the wicket gate ; struggling at times in the deep mire of the slough, at times journeying beside the hanging hill. He had received, however, the roll from Evangelist, and saw the shining light of the wicket becoming clearer and brighter as he advanced.

About half a year from the time of this conversation, Mr. Davidson had again occasion to visit Cromarty; he called on Andrew, and Was struck, in the moment he saw him, by a remarkable change in his appearance. Formerly, the expression of his countenance, though interesting, was profoundly melancholy ; it was now lighted up by a quiet tranquil joy; and, though modest and unassuming as before, he was less timid.

He had passed the wicket. He felt he had become one of the family of God; and found a new principle implanted within him, which so operated on his affections, that he now hated the evil he had previously loved, and was enamoured of the good he had formerly rejected. Standing, as Bacon has beautifully expressed it, on the “ vantage ground of truth,” he could overlook the windings of the track on which he had lately journeyed, not knowing whither he went. “ I see,” said he to Mr. Davidson, “ that the very bent of my mind was contrary to God— especially to the way of salvation by Christ—and that I could no more get rid of this disposition through any effort of my own, than I could pull the sun out of the heavens. I see, too, that not only were all my ordinary actions tainted by sin, but that even my religious duties were sins also. And yet, out of these actions and duties, was I accumulating to myself a righteousness which I meant to barter for the favour of God; and, though he was at much pains with me in scattering the hoard in which I trusted, yet, after every fresh dispersal, would I set myself to gather anew.”—When passing the wicket, he had been shot at from the castle. He was conscious that a power, detached from his mind, had been operating upon it; for, as it fluctuated on its natural balance between gaiety and depression, he had felt this power weighing it into despair as it sunk towards the lower extreme, and urging it into presumption as it ascended towards the upper. He had seen, also, the rarities at the house of the Interpreter. Religion had communicated to him the art of thinking. It first inspired him with a belief in God, and an anxious desire to know what was his character; and, as he read his Bible, and heard sermons, his mental faculties, like the wheels of a newly-completed engine, felt for the first time the impulse of a moving power, and began to revolve. It next stirred him up to stand sentinel over the various workings of his mind, and, as he stood and pondered, he became a skilful metaphysician, without so much as knowing the name of the science. As a last step in the process, it brought him acquainted with those countless analogies by which the natural world is rendered the best of all commentaries on the moral. “ I am unable,” said he to his friend the clergyman, " to describe the state of my soul as I see it, but I am somewhat helped to conceive of it by the springs which rise by the wayside, as I pass westward from the town, along the edge of the bay. They contain only a scanty supply of water, and are matted over with grass and weeds ; but even now in August, when the fierce heat has dried up all the larger pools, that scanty supply does not fail them. On disentangling the weeds I see the water sparkling beneath. It is thus, I trust, with my heart. The life of God is often veiled in it by the rank luxuriance of evil thoughts, but, when a new manifestation draws these aside, I can catch a glimpse of what they conceal. I can hope, too, that as the love of Christ is unchangeable, this element of life will continue to spring up in my soul, however dry and arid the atmosphere which surrounds it.”

Bunyan has described a green pleasant valley, besprinkled with lilies, which lies between the palace of the virgins and the valley of the shadow of death. “It is blessed,” says he, “with an exceedingly fertile soil, and there have been many labouring men who have been fortunate enough to get estates in it.” Andrew was one of these. He was humble and unobtrusive, and but little confident in himself—a true freeman of the valley of humiliation. Though no longer the leader of his school-fellows—for he had now so little influence among them, that he could not prevail on so much as one of them to follow him—he was much happier than before. Leaving them at their wild games, he would retire to his solitudes, and there hold converse with the Deity in prayer, or seek out in meditation some of the countless parallelisms of the two great works which had been spread out before him—Creation and the Bible. He was no longer a leader even to himself. “I have been taught,” said he, “by experience, that my heart is too stubborn a thing for my own management, and so have given it up to the management of Christ.” Mr. Davidson saw him, for the last time, about the beginning of the year 1740, when he complained to him of being exposed to many sore temptations. He had met with wild beasts, and had to contend with giants—he had been astonished amid the gloom .of the dark valley, and bewildered in the mists of the enchanted ground. The interesting little tract from which I have drawn nearly all the materials of my memoir, and which at the time of its first appearance passed through several editions, and was printed more recently at Edinburgh by the publishers for the Sabbath-schools, concludes with a brief notice of this conference. The rest of Andrew’s story may be told in a few words. He lived virtuously and happily, supporting himself by the labour of his hands, without either seeking after wealth or attaining to it; he bore a good name, though not a celebrated one, and lived respected, and died regretted. It is recorded on his tombstone, in an epitaph whose only merit is its truth, that he was truly pious from a child—his whole life and conversation agreeable thereto and that his death took place in 1769, in the fiftieth year of his age.

I am aware that, in thus tracing the course of my townsman, I lay myself open to a charge of fanaticism. I shall venture, however, on committing myself still further.

One night, towards the close of last autumn, I visited the old chapel of St. Regulus. The moon, nearly at full, was riding high overhead in a troubled sky, pouring its light by fits, as the clouds passed, on the grey ruins, and the mossy, tilt-like hillocks, which had been raised ages before over the beds of the sleepers. The deep, dark shadows of the tombs seemed stamped upon the sward, forming, as one might imagine, a kind of general epitaph on the dead, but inscribed, like the handwriting on the wall, in the characters of a strange tongue. A low breeze was creeping through the long withered grass at my feet; a shower of yellow leaves came rustling, from time to time, from an old gnarled elm that shot out its branches over the burying-ground—and, after twinkling for a few seconds in their descent, silently took up their places among the rest of the departed ; the rush of the stream sounded hoarse and mournful from the bottom of the ravine, like a voice from the depths of the sepulcure ; there was a low, monotonous murmur, the mingled utterance of a thousand sounds of earth, air, and water, each one inaudible in itself; and, at intervals, the deep, hollow roar of waves came echoing from the caves of the distant promontory, a certain presage of coming tempest. I was much impressed by the melancholy of the scene. I reckoned the tombs one by one. I pronounced the names of the tenants. I called to remembrance the various narratives of their loves and their animosities, their joys and their sorrows. I felt, and there was a painful intensity in the feeling, that the gates of death had indeed closed over them, and shut them out from the world for ever. I contrasted the many centuries which had rolled away ere they had been called into existence, and the ages which had passed since their departure, with the little brief space between—that space in which the Jordan of their hopes and fears had leaped from its source, and after winding through the cares, and toils, and disappointments of life, had fallen into the Dead Sea of the grave ; and as I mused and pondered—as the flood of thought came rushing over me—my heart seemed dying within me, for I felt that, as one of this hapless race, vanity of vanity was written on all my pursuits and all my enjoyments, and that death, as a curse, was denounced against me. But there was one tomb which I had not reckoned, one name which I had not pronounced, one story which I had not remembered. I had not thought of the tomb, the name, the story of that sleeper of hope, who had lived in the world as if he were not of the world, and had died in the full belief that because God was his friend, death could not be his enemy. My eye at length rested on the burial-ground of the Lindsays, and the feeling of deep despondency which had weighed on my spirits was dissipated as if by a charm. I saw time as the dark vestibule of eternity;—the gate of death which separates the porch from the main building, seemed to revolve on its hinges, and light broke in as it opened ; for the hall beyond was not a place of gloom and horror, nor strewed, as I had imagined, with the bones of dead men. I felt that the sleeper below had, indeed, lived well; the world had passed from him as from the others, but he had wisely fixed his affections, not on the transitory things of the world, but on objects as immortal as his own soul; and as I mused on his life and his death, on the quiet and comfort of the one, and the high joy of the other, I wondered how it was that men could deem it wisdom to pursue an opposite course.—I could not, at that time, regard Lindsay as a fanatic, nor am I ashamed to confess that I have not since changed my opinion.

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