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Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life
The Elder’s Death-Bed

It was on a fierce and howling wintef day, that X was crossing the dreary moor of Auchindown, on my way to the Manse of that parish, a solitary pedestrian. The snow, which had been incessantly falling for a week past, was drifted into beautiful but dangerous wreaths, far and wide over the melancholy expanse, and the scene kept visibly shifting before me, as the strong wind that blew from every point of the compass struck the dazzling masses, and heaved them up and down in endless transformation. There was something inspiriting in the labor with which, in the buoyant strength of youth, I forced my way through the storm; and I could not but enjoy those gleamings of sun-light that ever and anon burst through some unexpected opening in the sky, and gave a character of cheerfulness, and even warmth, to the sides or summits of the stricken hills. Sometimes the wind stopped of a sudden, and then the air was as silent as the snow, not a murmur to be heard from spring or stream, now all frozen up over those high moorlands. As the momentary cessations of the sharp drill allowed my eyes to look onwards and around, I saw here and there up the little opening valleys, cottages just visible beneath the black stems of their snow-covered clumps of trees, or beside some small spot of green pasturage kept open for the sheep. These intimations of life and happiness came delightfully to me in the midst of the desolation ; and the barking of a dog, attending some shepherd in his quest on the hill, put fresh vigor into my limbs, telling me that, lonely as I seemed to be, I was surrounded by cheerful though unseen company, and that I was not the only wanderer over the snows.

As I walked along, my mind was insensibly filled with a crowd of pleasant images of rural winter-life, that helped me gladly onwards over many miles of moor. I thought of the severe but cheerful labors of the barn, the mend-ding of farm-gear by the fireside; the wheel turned by the foot of old age, less for gain than as a thrifty pastime; the skilful mother, making “auld claes look amaist as weeks the new,"— the ballad unconsciously listened to by the family all busy at their own tasks round the singing maiden; the old traditionary tale told by some wayfarer hospitably housed till the storm should blow by; the unexpected visit of neighbors on need or friendship, or the footstep of lover undeterred by snow-drifts that have buried up his flocks; — but, above all, I thought of those hours of religious worship that have not yet escaped from the domestic life of the peasantry of Scotland; of the sound of psalms that the depth of snow cannot deaden to the ear of Him to whom they are chanted, and of that sublime Sabbath-keeping, which, on days too tempestuous for the kirk, changes the cottage of the shepherd into the temple of God.

With such glad and peaceful images in my heart, I travelled along that dreary moor, with the cutting wind in my face, and my feet sinking in the snow, or sliding on the hard blue ice beneath it, as cheerfully as 1 ever walked on the dewy warmth of a summer morning, through fields of fragrance and of flowers. And now I could discern, within half an hour’s walk, before me, the spire of the church, close to which stood the Manse of my aged friend and benefactor. My heart burned within me as a sudden stream of stormy sunshine tipt it with fire; and I felt, at at moment, an inexpressible sense of the sublimity of the character of that grey-headed shepherd, who had, for fifty years, abode in the wilderness, keeping together his own happy little flock.

As I was ascending a knoll, I saw before me on horseback an old man, with his long white hairs beating against his face, who nevertheless advanced with a calm countenance against the hurricane. It was no other than vny father, of whom I had been thinking; for my father had I called him for many years; and for many years my father had he truly been. My surprise at meeting him on such a moor, on such a day, was but momentary, for I knew that he was a shepherd who cared not for the winter’s wrath. As he stopped to take my hand kindly into his, and to give his blessing to his long-expected visitor, the wind fell calm ; the whole face of the sky was softened, and brightness, like a smile, went over the blushing and crimsoned snow. The very elements seemed then to respect the hoary head of four-score ; and after our first greeting was over, when I looked around, in my affection, I felt how beautiful was winter.

“I am going,” said he, “to visit a man at the point of death; a man whom you cannot have forgotten — whose head will be missed in the kirk next Sabbath by all my congregation, a devout man, who feared God all his days, and whom, on this awful trial, God will assuredly remember. I am going, my son, to the Hazel-Glen.”

I knew well in childhood that lonely farm-house so far off among the beautiful wild green hills — and it was not likely that I had forgotten the name of its possessor. For six years’ Sabbaths I had seen the Elder in his accustomed place beneath the pulpit; and with a sort of solemn fear, had looked on his steadfast countenance during sermon, psalm, and prayer. On returning to the scenes of my infancy, I now met the pastor going to pray by his death-bed, and with the privilege which nature gives us to behold, even in their last extremity, the loving and the beloved, I turned to accompany him to the house of sorrow, resignation, and death.

And now, for the first time, I observed, walking close to the feet of his horse, a little boy of about ten years of age, who kept frequently looking up in the pastor’s face, with his blue eyes bathed in tears. A changeful expression of grief, hope, and despair, made almost pale, cheeks that otherwise were blooming in health and beauty; and I recognized, in the small features and smooth forehead of childhood, a resemblance to the aged man whom we understood was now lying on his death-bed. “They had to send his grandson for me through the snow, mere child as he is"said the minister to me, looking tenderly on the boy; “but love makes the young heart bold; and there is One who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.” I again looked on the fearless child with his rosy cheeks, blue eyes, and yellow hair, so unlike grief or sorrow, yet now sobbing aloud as if his heart would break. “I do not fear but that my grandfather will yet recover, soon as the minister has said one single prayer by his bed-side. 1 had no hope or little, as I was running by myself to the Manse over hill after hill, but I am full of hopes now that we are together; and oh! if God suffers my grandfather to recover, I will lie awake all the long winter nights blessing him for his mercy. I will rise up in the middle of the darkness, and pray to him in the cold on my naked knees!” and here his voice was choked, while he kept his eyes fixed, as if for consolation and encouragement, on the solemn and pitying countenance of the kind-hearted pious old man.

We soon left the main road, and struck off through scenery, that, covered as it was with the bewildering snow, 1 sometimes dimly and sometimes vividly remembered; our little guide keeping ever a short distance before us, and with a sagacity like that of instinct, showing us our course, of which no trace was visible, save occasionally his own little foot-prints as he had been hurrying to the Manse.

After crossing, for several miles, morass, and frozen rivulet, and drifted hollow, with here and there the top of a stone-wall peeping through the snow, or the more visible circle of a sheep-bught, we descended into the Hazel-Glen, and saw before us the solitary house of the dying Elder.

A gleam of days gone by came suddenly over my soul. The last time that 1 had been in this glen was on a day of .June, fifteen years before, a holiday, the birth-day of the king. A troop of laughing schoolboys, headed by our benign pastor, we danced over the sunny braes, and startled the linnets from their nests among the yellow broom. Austere as seemed to us the Elder’s Sabbath-face, when sitting in the kirk, we schoolboys knew that it had its week-day smiles; and we flew on the wings of joy to our annual festival of curds and cream in the farmhouse of that little sylvan world. We rejoiced in the flowers and the leaves of that long, that interminable summer-day; its memory was with our boyish hearts from June to June; and the sound of that sweet name, “ Hazel-Glen,” often came upon us at our tasks, and brought too brightly into the school-room the pastoral imagery of that mirthful solitude.

As we now slowly approached the cottage, through a deep snow-drift, which the distress within had prevented the household from removing, we saw, peeping out from the door, brothers and sisters of our little guide, who quickly disappeared; and then their mother showed herself in their stead, expressing, by her raised eyes and arms folded across her breast, how thankful she was to see, at last, the pastor, beloved in joy and trusted in trouble.

Soon as the venerable old man dismounted from his horse, our active little guide led it away into the humble stable, and we entered the cottage. Not a sound was heard but the ticking of the clock. The matron, who had silently welcomed us at the door, led us, with suppressed sighs and a face stained with weeping, into her father’s sick room, which even in that time of sore distress was as orderly as if health had blessed the house. I could not help remarking some old china ornaments on the chimney-piece; and in the window was an ever-blowing rose-tree, that almost touched the Jowly roof, and brightened that end of the apartment with its blossoms. There was something tasteful in the simple furniture; and it seemed as if grief could not deprive the hand of that matron of its careful elegance. Sickness, almost hopeless sickness, lay there, surrounded with the same cheerful and beautiful objects which health had loved; and she, who had arranged and adorned the apartment in her happiness, still kept it from disorder and decay in her sorrow.

With a gentle hand she drew the curtain of the bed, and there) supported by pillows as white as the snow that lay without) reposed the dying Elder. It was plain that the hand of God was upon him, and that his days on the earth were numbered.

He greeted his minister with a faint smile, and a slight inclination of the head, for his daughter had so raised him on the pillows, that he was almost sitting up in his bed. It'was easy to see that he knew himself to be dying, and that his soul was prepared for the great change; jet, along with the solemn resignation of a Christian, who had made his peace with God and his Saviour, there was blended on his white and sunken countenance an expression of habitual reverence for the minister of his faith; and I saw that he could not have died in peace without that comforter to pray by his death-bed.

A few words sufficed to tell who was the stranger, and the dying man, blessing roe by name, held out to me his cold, shrivelled hand in token of recognition. I took my seat at a small distance from the bed-side, and left a closer station foe. those who were more dear. The pastor sat down near his head; and by the bed, leaning on it with gentle hands, stood that matron, his daughter-in-law; a figure that would have graced and sainted a higher dwelling, and whose native beauty was now more touching in its grief. But religion upheld her whom nature was bowing down; not now for the first time were the lessons taught by her father to be put into practice, for I saw that she was clothed in deep mourning; and she behaved like the daughter of a man whose life had not been only irreproachable, but lofty, with fear and hope fighting desperately but silently in the core of her pure and pious heart.

While we thus remained in silence, the beautiful boy, who, at the risk of his life, had brought the minister of religion to the bed-side of his beloved grandfather, softly and cautiously opened the door, and, with the hoar-frost yet unmelted on his bright glistening ringlets, walked up to the pillow, evidently no stranger there. He no longer sobbed — he no longer wept — for hope had risen strongly within his innocent heart, from the consciousness of love so fearlessly exerted, and from the presence of the holy man in whose prayers he trusted, as in the intercession of some superior and heavenly nature. There he stood, still as an image in his grandfather’s eyes, that, in their dimness, fell upon him with delight. Yet, happy as was the trusting child, his heart was devoured by fear, and he looked as if one word might stir up the flood of tears that had subsided in his heart. As he crossed the dreary and dismal moors, he had thought of a corpse, a shroud, and a grave. He had been in terror, lest death should strike in his absence the old man, with whose gray hairs he had so often played ; but now he saw him alive, and felt that death was not able to tear him away from the clasps, and links, and fetters of his grandchild’s embracing love.

“If the storm do not abate,” said the sick man, after a pause, “it will be hard for my friends to carry me over the drifts to the kirk-yard.” This sudden approach to the grave, struck, as with a bar of ice, the heart of the loving boy; and, with a long and deep sigh, he fell down with his face like ashes on the bed, while the old man’s palsied right hand had just strength enough to lay itself upon his head. “Blessed be thou, my little Jamie, even for his own name’s sake who died for us on the tree f ” The mother, without terror, but with an averted face, lifted up her loving-hearted boy, now in a dead fainting fit, and carried him into an adjoining room, where he soon revived : but that child and that old man were not to be separated. In vain was he asked to go to his brothers and sisters; —pale, breathless, and shivering, he took his place as before, with eyes fixed on his grandfather’s faee, but neither weeping nor uttering a word. Terror had frozen up the blood of his heart; but his were now the only dry eyes in the room; and the pastor himself wept, albeit the grief of fourscore is seldom vented in tears.

“God has been gracious to me, a sinner,” said the dying man. "During thirty years that I have been an Elder in your kirk, never have I missed sitting there one Sabbath. When the mother of my children was taken from me — it was on a Tuesday she died — and on Saturday she was buried. We stood together when my Alice was let down into the narrow house made for all living.

On the Sabbath I joined in the public worship of God — she commanded me to do so the night before she went away. I could not join in the psalm that Sabbath, for her voice was not in the throng. Her grave was covered up, and grass and flowers grew there; so was my heart; but thou, whom, through the blood of Christ, I hope to see this night in paradise, knowest, that from that hour to this day never have I forgotten thee! ”

The old man ceased speaking, and his grandchild, now able to endure the scene — for strong passion is its own support — glided softly to a little table, and bringing a cup in which a cordial had been mixed, held it in his small soft hands to his grandfather’s lips. He drank, and then said — “Come closer to me, Jamie, and kiss me for thine own and thy father’s sake; and as the child fondly pressed his rosy lips on those of his grandfather, so white and withered, the tears fell over all the old man’s face, and then trickled down on the golden head of the child at last sobbing in his bosom.

“Jamie, thy own father has forgotten thee in thy infancy, and me in my old age; but, Jamie, forget not thou thy father nor thy mother, for that thou knowest and feel-est is the commandment of God.”

The broken-hearted boy could give no reply. He had gradually stolen closer and closer unto the loving old man, and now was lying, worn out with sorrow, drenched and dissolved in tears, in his grandfather’s bosom. His mother had sunk down on her knees, and hid her face with her hands. “Oh! if my husband knew but of this, he would never, never desert his dying father! ” —and I now knew that the Elder was praying on his death-bed for a disobedient and wicked son.

At this affecting time the minister took the family Bible on his knees, and said, “ Let us sing to the praise and glory of God, part of the fifteenth Psalm,” and he read, with a tremulous and broken voice, those beautiful verses:

Within thy tabernacle, Lord,
Who shall abide with thee?
And in thy high and holy hill
Who shall a dweller be?
The man that walketh uprightly,
And worketh righteousness,
And as he thinketh in his heart,
So doth he truth express.

The small congregation sung the noble hymn of the Psalmist to the “Plaintive martyrs, worthy of the name.” The dying man himself, ever and anon, joined in the holy music; and when it feebly died away on his quivering lips, he continued still to follow the tune with the motion of his withered hand, and eyes devoutly and humbly lifted up to heaven. Nor was the sweet voice of his loving grandchild unheard; as if the strong fit of deadly passion had dissolved in the music, he sang with a sweet and silvery voice that to a passer by had seemed that of perfect happiness — a hymn sung in joy upon its knees in gladsome childhood before it flew out among the green hills, to quiet labor or gleesome play. As that sweetest voice came from the bosom of the old man, where the singer lay in affection, and blended with his own so tremulous, never had I felt so affectingly brought before me the beginning and end of life — the cradle and the grave.

Ere the psalm was yet over, the door was opened, and a tall, fine-looking man entered, but with a lowering and dark countenance, seemingly in sorrow, in misery, and remorse. Agitated, confounded, and awe-struck by the melancholy and dirge-like music, he sat down on a chair, and looked with a ghastly face towards his father’s death-bed. When the psalm ceased, the Elder said, with a solemn voice, “My son — thou art come in time to receive thy father’s blessing. May the remembrance of what will happen in this room, before the morning again shines over the Hazel-Glen, win thee from the error of thy ways. Thou art here to witness the mercy of thy God and thy Saviour, whom thou hast forgotten.”

The minister looked, if not with a stern, yet with an upbraiding countenance, on the young man, who had not recovered his speech, and said, “William! for three years past your shadow has not darkened the door of the house of God. They who fear not the thunder, may tremble at the still small voice — now is the hour for repentance — that your father’s spirit may carry up to heaven tidings of a contrite soul saved from the company of sinners! ”

The young man, with much effort, advanced to the bed-side, and at last found voice to say, “Father, I am not without the affections of nature, and I hurried home soon as I had heard that the minister had been seen riding towards our house. I hope that you will yet recover; and, if ever I have made you unhappy, I ask your forgiveness; for though I may not think as you do on matters of religion, I have a human heart. Father, I may have been unkind, but I am not cruel. I ask your forgiveness.”

“Come nearer to me, William; kneel down by the bed-side, and let my hand find the head of my beloved son — for blindness is coming fast upon me. Thou wert my first-born, and thou art my only living son. All thy brothers and sisters are lying id the church-yard, beside her whose sweet face thine own, William, did once so much resemble. Long wert thou the joy, the pride of my soul — ay, too much the pride; for there was not in all the parish such a man, such a son, as my own William. If thy heart has since been changed, God may inspire it again with right thoughts. Could I die for thy sake— could I purchase thy salvation with the outpouring of thy father’s blood — but this the Son of God has done for thee, who hast denied him 1 I have sorely wept for thee — ay, William, when there was none near me — even as David wept for Absalom — for thee, my son, my sonI”

A long, deep groan was the only reply; but the whole body of the kneeling man was convulsed; and it was easy to see his sufferings, his contrition, his remorse, and his despair. The pastor said, with a sterner voice and austerer countenance than were natural to him, “Know you whose hand is now lying on your rebellious head? But what signifies the word father to him who has denied God, the Father of us all?” “Oh! press him not so hardly,” said the weeping wife, coming forward from a dark corner of the room, where she had tried to conceal herself in grief, fear, and shame; “Spare, Oh spare my husband — he has ever been kind to me;” and with that she knelt down beside him, with her long, soft, white arms, mournfully and affectionately laid across his neck. “Go thou, likewise, my sweet little Jamie,” said the Elder, “go even out of my bosom, and kneel down beside thy father and thy mother, so that I may bless you all at once, and with one yearning prayer.” The child did as that solemn voice commanded, and knelt down somewhat timidly by his father’s side: nor did that unhappy man decline encircling with his arm the child too much neglected, but still dear to him as his own blood, in spite of the deadening and debasing influence of infidelity.

“Put the Word of God into the hands of my son, and let him read aloud to his dying father the 25th, 2(kh, and 27th verses of the eleventh chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.” The pastor went up to the kneelers, and with a voice of pity, condolence, and pardon, said, “There was a time when none, William, could read the Scriptures better than couldest thou, — can it be that the son of my friend hath forgotten the lessons of his youth?” He had not forgotten them — there was no need for the repentant sinner to lift his eyes from the bed-side. The sacred stream of the Gospel had worn a channel in his heart, and the waters were again flowing. With a choked voice he said, “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live : And whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into world.”

“That is not an unbeliever’s voice,” said the dying man, triumphantly; “nor, William, hast thou an unbeliever’s heart. Say that thou believest in what thou hast now read, and thy father will die happy!” “I do believe ; and as thou forgivest me, so may I be forgiven by my Father who is in heaven.”

The Elder seemed like a man suddenly inspired with a new life. His faded eyes kindled — his pale cheeks glowed — his palsied hands seemed to wax strong — and his roice was clear as that of manhood in his prime, “Into thy hands, Oh God, I commit my spirit:” and so saying, he gently sunk back on his pillow; and I thought I heard a sigh. There was then a long deep silence, and the father, and mother, and child, rose from their knees, The eyes of us all were turned towards the white placid face of the figure now stretched in everlasting rest; and without lamentations, save the silent lamentations of the resigned soul, we stood around the death-bed of the Elder.

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