Scenes and Legends (5)

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CHAPTER XIV.


"Around swells money a grassy heap,
     Stan's money a sculptured stane;
 An' yet in a' this peopled field
     No being thinks but ane."—A
NON.


THE ruins of the old chapel of St. Regulus occupy the edged of a narrow projecting angle, in which the burying-ground terminates towards the east.  Accident and decay seem to have wrought their worst upon them.  The greater part of the front wall has been swallowed up piecemeal by the ravine, which, from the continual action of the stream, and the rains, and snows, of so many winters, has been gradually widening and deepening, until it has at length reached the site of the building, and is now scooping out what was once the floor.  The other walls have found enemies nearly as potent as the stream and the seasons, in the little urchins of the town, who, for the last two centuries, have been amusing themselves, generation after generation, in tearing out the stones, and rolling them down the sides of the eminence.  What is now, however, only a broken-edged ruin, and a few shapeless mounds, was, three hundred years ago, a picturesque-looking, high-gabled house, of one story, perforated by a range of narrow, slit-like windows, and roofed with ponderous grey slate.  A rude stone cross surmounted the eastern gable.  Attached to the gable which fronted the west, there was a building roofed over like the chapel, but much superior to it in its style of masonry.  It was the tomb of the Urquharts.  A single tier of hewn ashlar, with a sloping basement, and surmounted by a Gothic moulding, are now almost its only remains; but from the line of the foundation, which we can still trace on the sward, we see that it was laid out in the form of a square, with a double buttress rising at each of the angles.  The area within is occupied by a mouldy half-dilapidated vault, partially filled with bones and the rubbish of the chapel.

    A few yards farther away, and nearly level with the grass, there is an uncouth imitation of the human figure with the hands folded on the breast.  It bears the name of the "burnt cook;" and from time immemorial the children of the place spit on it as they pass.  But though tradition bears evidence to the antiquity of the practice, it gives no account of its origin, or what perhaps might prove the same thing, of the character of the poor cook; which we may infer, however, from the nature of the observance, to have been a bad one.  I find it stated by Mr. Brady in his Clavis Calendaria, that as late as the last century it was customary, in some places of England, for people to spit every time they named the devil.

    Viewed from the ruins, the tombstones of the burying-ground seem clustered together beneath the fence of trees which over-tops the eminence on the west.  I have compared them, in some of my imaginative moods, to a covey of waterfowl sleeping beside the long rank grass and rushes of a lake.  They are mostly all fashioned in that heavy grotesque style of sculpture, which, after the Reformation had pulled down both the patterns and patrons of the stone-cutter, succeeded, in this part of the country, to the lighter and more elegant style of the time of the Jameses.  The centres of the stones are occupied by the rude semblances of skulls and cross-bones, dead-bells and sand-glasses, shovels and sceptres, coffins and armorial bearings; while the inscriptions, rude and uncouth as the figures, run in continuous lines round the margins.  They tell us, though with as little variety as elegance of phrase, that there is nothing certain in life except its termination; and, taken collectively, read us a striking lesson on the vicissitudes of human affairs.  For we learn from them that we have before us the burial-place of no fewer than seven landed proprietors, none of whose families now inherit their estates.  One of the inscriptions, and but only one, has some little merit as a composition.  It is simple and modest; and may be regarded, besides, as a specimen of the language and orthography of Cromarty in the reign of Charles II.  It runs thus—


HEIR ' LYES ' AT REST ' AN ' FAITHFVL ' ONE '
WHOM ' GOD ' HAITH ' PLEASIT ' TO ' CAL ' VPON '
HIR ' LYE ' SHEE ' LIVED ' BOTH ' POOR ' AND ' IVST '
AND ' EY ' IN ' GOD ' SHEE ' PVT ' HIR ' TRVST '
GOD'S ' LAWES ' OBEYED ' TO ' SIN ' WAS ' LEATH '
NO ' DOVBT ' SHEE ' DYED ' ANE ' HAPPIE ' DATH '

IANET ' IONSTON ' 1679 '


    On the northern side of the burying-ground there is a low stone, sculptured like most of the others, but broken by some accident into three pieces.  A few stinted shrubs of broom spread their tiny branches and bright blossoms over the figures; they are obscured, besides, by rank tufts of moss and patches of lichens; but, despite of neglect and accident, enough of the inscription remains legible to tell us that we stand on the burial-place of one John Macleod, a merchant of Cromarty.  He kept, besides, the principal inn of the place.  He had an only son, a tall, and very powerful man, who was engaged, as he himself had been in his earlier days, in the free trade, and who, for a series of years, had set the officers of the revenue at defiance.  Some time late in the reign of Queen Anne, he had succeeded in landing part of a cargo among the rocks of the hill of Cromarty, and in transporting it, night after night, from the cavern in which he had first secreted it, to a vault in his father's house, which opened into the cellar.  After concealing the entrance, he had seated himself beside the old man at the kitchen fire, when two revenue-officers entered the apartment, and taking their places beside a table, called for liquor.  Macleod drew his bonnet hastily over his brow, and edging away from the small iron lamp which lighted the kitchen, muffled himself up in the folds of his dreadnought greatcoat.  His father supplied the officers.  "Where is Walter, your son?" inquired the better-dressed of the two, a tall, thin man, equipped in a three-cornered hat, and a blue coat seamed with gold lace; "I trust he does not still sail the Swacker."  "Maybe no," said the old man dryly.  "For I have just had intelligence," continued the officer, "that she was captured this morning by Captain Manton, after firing on her Majesty's flag; and it will go pretty hard, I can tell you, with some of the crew."  A third revenue-officer now entered the kitchen, and going up to the table whispered something to the others.  "Please, Mr. Macleod," said the former speaker to the innkeeper, "bring us a light, and the key of your cellar."  "And wherefore that?" inquired the old man; "show me your warrant.  What would ye do wi' the key?"  "Nay, sir, no trifling; you brought here last night three cart-loads of Geneva, and stored them up in a vault below your cellar; the key and a light."  There was no sign, however, of procuring either.  Away he continued, turning to the officer who had last entered away for a candle and a sledge-hammer!"  He was just quitting the room when the younger Macleod rose from his seat, and took his stand right between him and the door.  "Look ye, gentlemen," he said in a tone of portentous coolness, I shall take it upon me to settle this affair; you and I have met before now, and are a little acquainted.  The man who first moves out of this place in the direction of the cellar, shall never move afterwards in any direction at all."  He thrust his hand, as he spoke, beneath the folds of his greatcoat, and seemed extricating some weapon from his belt.  "In upon him, lads!" shouted out the tall officer, "devil though he be, he is but one; the rest are all captured."  In a moment, two of the officers had thrown themselves upon him; the third laid hold of his father.  A tremendous struggle ensued;—the lamp was overturned and extinguished.  The smuggler, with a Herculean effort, shook off both his assailants, and as they rushed in again to close with him, he dealt one of them so terrible a blow that he rolled, stunned and senseless, on the floor.  The elder Macleod, a hale old man, had extricated himself at the same moment, and mistaking, in the imperfect light, his son for one of the officers, and the fallen officer for his son, he seized on the kitchen poker, and just as the champion had succeeded in mastering his other opponent, he struck at him from behind, and felled him in an instant.  In less than half an hour after he was dead.  The unfortunate old man did not long survive him; for after enduring, for a few days, the horrors of mingled grief and remorse, his anguish of mind terminated in insanity, and he died in the course of the month.

    For some time after, the house he had inhabited lay without a tenant, and stories were circulated among the town's-folks of it being haunted.  One David Hood, a tailor of the place, was frightened almost out of his wits in passing it on a coarse winter night, when neither fire nor candle in the whole range of houses on either side, showed him that there was anybody awake in town but himself.  A fearful noise seemed to proceed from one of the lower rooms, as if a party of men were engaged in some desperate struggle;—he could hear the dashing of furniture against the floor, and the blows of the assailants; and after a dull hollow sound twice repeated, there was a fearful shriek, and a mournful exclamation in the voice of the deceased shopkeeper, "I have murdered my son!  I have murdered my son!"  The house was occupied, notwithstanding, some years after, though little to the comfort of the tenants.  Often were they awakened at midnight, it is said, by noises, as if every piece of furniture in the apartment was huddled into the middle of the floor, though in the morning not a chair or table would be found displaced; at times, too, it would seem as if some person heavily booted was traversing the rooms overhead; and some of the inmates, as they lay a-bed, have seen clenched fists shaken at them from outside the windows, and pale, threatening faces looking in upon them through half-open doors.  There is one of the stories which, but for a single circumstance, I should deem more authentic, not merely than any of the others, but than most of the class to which it belongs.  It was communicated to me by a sensible and honest man—a man, too, of very general information.  He saw, he said, what he seriously believed to be the apparition of the younger Macleod; but as he was a child of only six years at the time, his testimony may, perhaps, be more rationally regarded as curiously illustrative of the force of imagination at a very early age, than as furnishing any legitimate proof of the reality of such appearances.  He had a sister, a few years older than himself, who attended some of the younger members of the family, which tenanted, about sixty years ago, the house once occupied by the shopkeeper.  One Sunday forenoon, when all the inmates had gone to church except the girl and her charge, he stole in to see her, and then amused himself in wandering from room to room, gazing at the furniture and the pictures.  He at length reached one of the garrets, and was turning over a heap of old magazines in quest of the prints, when he observed something darken the door, and looking up, found himself in the presence of what seemed to be a very tall, broad-shouldered man, with a pale, ghastly countenance, and wrapt up in a brown dreadnought greatcoat.  A good deal surprised, but not at all alarmed, for he had no thought at the time that the appearance was other than natural, he stepped down stairs and told his sister that there was a "muckle big man i' the top of the house."  She immediately called in a party of the neighbours, who, emboldened by the daylight, explored every room and closet from the garrets to the cellar, but they saw neither the tall man nor the dreadnought greatcoat.

    The old enclosure of the burying-ground, which seems orginally to have been an earthen wall, has now sunk into a grassy mound, and on the southern and western sides some of the largest trees of the fence—a fine stately ash, fluted like a Grecian column, a huge elm roughened over with immense wens, and a low bushy larch with a bent twisted trunk, and weeping branches—spring directly out of it.  At one place we see a flat tombstone lying a few yards outside the mound.  The trees which shoot up on every side fling so deep a gloom over it during the summer and autumn months, that we can scarcely decipher the epitaph; and in winter it is not unfrequently buried under a wreath of withered leaves.  By dint of some little pains, however, we come to learn from the darkened and half-dilapidated inscription, that the tenant below was one Alexander Wood, a native of Cromarty, who died in the year 1690; and that he was interred in this place at his own especial desire.  His wife and some of his children have taken up their places beside him; thus lying apart like a family of hermits; while his story—which, almost too wild for tradition itself, is yet as authentic as most pieces of written history—affords a curious explanation of the circumstance which directed their choice.

    Wood was a man of strong passions, sparingly gifted with common sense, and exceedingly superstitious.  No one could be kinder to one's friends or relatives, or more hospitable to a stranger; but when once offended, he was implacable.  He had but little in his power either as a friend or an enemy—his course through the world lying barely beyond the bleak edge of poverty.  If a neighbour, however, dropped in by accident at meal-time, he would not be suffered to quit his house until he had shared with him his simple fare.  There was benevolence in the very grasp of his hand and the twinkle of his eye, and in the little set speech, still preserved by tradition, in which he used to address his wife every time an old or mutilated beggar came to the door:—"Alms, gudewife," he would say; "alms to the cripple, and the blin', and the broken-down."  When injured or insulted, however, and certainly no one could do either without being very much in the wrong, there was a toad-like malignity in his nature, that would come leaping out like the reptile from its hole, and no power on earth could shut it up again.  He would sit hatching his venom for days and weeks together with a slow, tedious, unoperative kind of perseverance, that achieved nothing.  He was full of anecdote; and, in all his stories, human nature was exhibited in only its brightest lights and its deepest shadows, without the slightest mixture of that medium tint which gives colour to its working, everyday suit.  Whatever was bad in the better class, he transferred to the worse, and vice versa; and thus not even his narratives of the supernatural were less true to nature and fact than his narratives of mere men and women.  And he dealt with the two classes of stories after one fashion—lending the same firm belief to both alike.

    In the house adjoining the one in which he resided, there lived a stout little man, a shoemaker, famous in the village for his great wit and his very considerable knavery.  His jokes were mostly practical, and some of the best of them exceedingly akin to felonies.  Poor Wood could not understand his wit, but, in his simplicity of heart, he deemed him honest, and would fain have prevailed on the neighbours to think so too.  He knew it, he said, by his very look.  Their gardens, like their houses, lay contiguous, and were separated from each other, not by a fence, but by four undressed stones laid in a line.  Year after year was the garden of Wood becoming less productive; and he had a strange misgiving, but the thing was too absurd to be spoken of, that it was growing smaller every season by the breadth of a whole row of cabbages.  On the one side, however, were the back walls of his own and his neighbour's tenements; the four large stones stretched along the other; and nothing, surely, could be less likely than that either the stones or the houses should take it into their heads to rob him of his property.  But the more he strove to exclude the idea the more it pressed upon him.  He measured and remeasured to convince himself that it was a false one, and found that he had fallen on just the means of establishing its truth.  The garden was actually growing smaller.  But how?  Just because it was bewitched!  It was shrinking into itself under the force of some potent enchantment, like a piece of plaiding in the fulling-mill.  No hypothesis could be more congenial; and he would have held by it, perhaps, until his dying day, had it not been struck down by one of those chance discoveries which destroy so many beautiful systems and spoil so much ingenious philosophy, quite in the way that Newton's apple struck down the vortices of Descartes.

    He was lying a-bed one morning in spring, about day-break, when his attention was excited by a strange noise which seemed to proceed from the garden.  Had he heard it two hours earlier, he would have wrapped up his head in the bedclothes and lain still; but now that the cock had crown, it could not, he concluded, be other than natural.  Hastily throwing on part of his clothes, he stole warily to a back window, and saw, between him and the faint light that was beginning to peep out in the east, the figure of a man, armed with a lever, tugging at the stones.  Two had already been shifted a full yard nearer the houses, and the figure was straining over a third.  Wood crept stealthily out at the window, crawled on all fours to the intruder, and, tripping up his heels, laid him across his lever.  It was his knavish neighbour the shoemaker.  A scene of noisy contention ensued; groups of half-dressed town's-folk, looming horrible in their shirts and nightcaps through the grey of morning, came issuing through the lanes and the closes; and the combatants were dragged asunder.  And well was it for the shoemaker that it happened so; for Wood, though in his sixtieth year, was strong enough, and more than angry enough, to have torn him to pieces.  Now, however, that the warfare had to be carried on by words, the case was quite reversed.

    "Neebours," said the shoemaker, who had the double advantage of being exceedingly plausible, and decidedly in the wrong, "I'm desperately ill-used this morning—desperately ill-used;—he would baith rob and murder me.  I lang jaloused, ye see, that my wee bit o' a yard was growing littler and littler ilka season; and, though no very ready to suspect folk, I just thought I would keep watch, and see wha was shifting the mark-stanes.  Weel, and I did;—late and early did I watch for main now than a fortnight; and wha did I see this morning through the back winnock but auld Sandy Wood there in his verra sark—Oh, it's no him that has ony thought o' his end!—poking the stones wig' a lang kebar, intil the very heart o' my grun'?   See," said he, pointing to the one that had not yet been moved, "see if he hasna shifted it a lang ell; and only notice the craft o' the bodie in stirring up the yird about the lave, as if they had been a' moved frae my side.  Weel, I came out and challenged him, as wha widna?—says I, Sawney my man, that's no honest; I'll no bear that; and nae mair had I time to say, when up he flew at me like a wall-cat, and if it wasna for yoursels I dare-say he would have throttled me.  Look how I am bleedin';— and only look till him—look till the canker deceitful bodie, if he has one word to put in for himsel'."

    There was truth in, at least, this last assertion; for poor Wood, mute with rage and astonishment, stood listening, in utter helplessness, to the astounding charge of the shoemaker,—almost the very charge he himself had to prefer.  Twice did he spring forward to grapple with him, but the neighbours held him back, and every time he essayed to speak, his words—massed and tangled together, like wreaths of sea-weed in a hurricane—stuck in his throat.  He continued to rage for three days after, and when the eruption had at length subsided, all his former resentments were found to be swallowed up, like the lesser craters of a volcano, in the gulf of one immense hatred.

    His house, as has been said, lay contiguous to the house of the shoemaker, and he could not avoid seeing him, every time he went out and came in—a circumstance which he at first deemed rather gratifying than otherwise.  It prevented his hatred from becoming vapid by setting it a-working at least ten times a day, as a musket would a barrel of ale if discharged into the bunghole.  Its frequency, however, at length sickened him, and he had employed a mason to build a stone wall, which, by stretching from side to side of the close, was to shut up the view, when he sickened in right earnest, and at the end of a few days found himself a-dying.  Still, however, he was possessed by his one engrossing resentment.  It mingled with all his thoughts of the past and the future; and not only was he to carry it with him to the world to which he was going, but also to leave it behind him as a legacy to his children.  Among his many other beliefs, there was a superstition, handed down from the times of the monks, that at the day of final doom all the people of the sheriffdom were to be judged on the moor of Navity; and both the judgment and the scene of it he had indissolubly associated with the shoemaker and the four stones.  Experience had taught him the importance of securing a first hearing for his story; for was his neighbour, he concluded, to be beforehand with him, he would have as slight a chance of being righted at Navity as in his own garden.  After brooding over the matter for a whole day, he called his friends and children round his bed, and raised himself on his elbow to address them.

    "I'm wearing awa, bairns and neebours," he said, "and it vexes me sair that that wretched bodie should see me going afore him.  Mind, Jock, that ye'll build the dike, and make it heigh, heigh, and stobbie on the top; and oh! keep him out o' my lykewake, for should he but step in at the door, I'll rise, Jock, frae the verra straiking-board, and do murder!  Dinna let him so muckie as look on my coffin.  I have been pondering a' this day about the meeting at Navity, and the march-staves; and I'll tell you, Jock, how we'll match him.  Bury me ayont the saint's dike on the Navity side, and dinna lay me deep.  Ye ken the bonny green hillock, spreckled o'er wi' gowans and paddock-flowers—bury me there, Jock; and yoursel', and the auld wife, may just, when your hour comes, tak up your places beside me.  We'll a' get up at the first tout—the ane helping the other; and I'se wad a I'm worth i' the warld, we'll be half-way up at Navity afore the shochlan, short-legged bodie wins o'er the dike."  Such was the dying injunction of Sandy Wood: and his tombstone still remains to testify that it was religiously attended to.  An Englishman who came to reside in the parish, nearly an age after, and to whom the story must have been imparted in a rather imperfect manner, was shocked by what he deemed his unfair policy.  The litigants, he said, should start together; he was certain it would be so in England where a fair field was all that would be given to St. Dunstan himself though he fought with the devil.  And that it might be so here, he buried the tombstone of Wood in an immense heap of clay and gravel.  It would keep him down, he said, until the little fellow would have clambered over the wall.  The town's-folk, however, who were better acquainted with the merits of the case, shovelled the heap aside; and it now forms two little hillocks which overtop the stone, and which, from the nature of the soil, are still more scantily covered with verdure than any part of the surrounding bank.


 
CHAPTER XV.


Oh! I do ponder with most strange delight
On the calm slumbers of the dead-man's night." H
ENRY K. WHITE.


WE have lingered long in the solitary burying-ground of St. Regulus; the sun hastens to its setting; and the slanting beam of red light that comes pouring in through an opening amid the trees, catches but the extreme tops of the loftier monuments, and the higher pinnacles of the ruin beyond.  There is a little bird chirping among the graves; we may hear the hum of the bee as it speeds homeward, and the low soothing murmur of the stream in the dell below all else is stillness and solitude in this field of the dead.

    There are times when, amid scenes such as the present, one can almost forget the possible, and wish that the silence were less deep.  The most contemplative of modern poets, in giving voice to a similar wish, has sublimed it into poetry.  "Would," he says of his churchyard among the hills, in the stanza I have already employed as a motto,


"Would that the silent earth
 Of what it holds could speak, and every grave
 Be as a volume, shut, yet capable
 Of yielding its contents to ear and eye."


The dead of a thousand years are sleeping at our feet; the poor peasant serf of ten centuries ago, whom the neighbouring baron could have hung up at his cottage door, with the intelligent mechanic of yesterday, who took so deep an interest in the emancipation of the negroes.  What strange stories of the past, what striking illustrations of the destiny and nature of man, how important a chronicle of the progress of society, would this solitary spot present us with, were it not that, like the mysterious volume in the Apocalypse, no man can open the book or unloose the seals thereof!  There are recollections associated with some of the more recent graves, of interest enough to show us how curious a record the history of the whole would have furnished.

    It is now well-nigh thirty years since Willie Watson returned, after an absence of nearly a quarter of a century, to the neighbouring town.  He had been employed as a ladies' shoemaker in some of the districts of the south; but no one at home had heard of Willie in the interval, and there was little known regarding him at his return, except that when he had quitted town so many years before, he was a neat-handed industrious workman, and what the elderly people called a quiet decent lad.  And he was now, though somewhat in the wane of life, even a more thorough master of his trade than before.  He was quiet and unobtrusive, too, as ever, and a great reader of serious books.  And so the better sort of the people were beginning to draw to Willie by a kind of natural sympathy; some of them had learned to saunter into his workshop in the long evenings, and some had grown bold enough to engage him in serious conversation when they met with him in his solitary walks; when out came the astounding fact—and important as it may seem, the simple-minded mechanic had taken no pains to conceal it—that, during his residence in the south country, he had laid down Presbyterianism, and become the member of a Baptist church.  There was a sudden revulsion of feeling towards him, and all the people of the town began to speak of Willie Watson as "a poor lost lad."

    The "poor lost lad," however, was unquestionably a very excellent workman; and as he made neater shoes than anybody else, the ladies of the place could see no great harm in wearing them.  He was singularly industrious, too, and indulged wearing in no extraordinary expense, except when he now and then bought a good book, or a few flower- seeds for his garden.  He was withal a single man, with only himself, and an elderly sister who lived with him, to provide for; and, what between the regularity of his gains on the one hand, and the moderation of his desires on the other, Willie, for a person of his condition, was in easy circumstances.  It was found that all the children in the neighbourhood had taken a wonderful fancy to his shop.  Willie was fond of telling them good little stories out of the Bible, and of explaining to them the prints which he had pasted on the walls.  Above all, he was anxiously bent on teaching them to read.  Some of their parents were poor, and some of them were careless; and he saw that, unless they learned their letters from him, there was little chance of their ever learning them at all.  Willie in a small way, and to a very small congregation, was a kind of missionary; and what between his stories and his pictures, and his flowers and his apples, his labours were wonderfully successful.  Never yet was school or church half so delightful to the little men and women of the place as the workshop of Willie Watson, "the poor lost lad."

    Years of scarcity came on; taxes were high, and crops not abundant; and the soldiery abroad, whom the country had employed to fight against Bonaparte, had got an appetite at their work, and were consuming a good deal of meat and corn.  The price of food rose tremendously; and many of the town's-people, who were working for very little, were not in every case secure of that little when the work was done.  Willie's small congregation began to find that the times were exceedingly bad; there were no more morning pieces among them, and the porridge was less than enough.  It was observed, however, that in the midst of their distresses Willie got in a large stock of meal, and that his sister began to bake as if she were making ready for a wedding.  The children were wonderfully interested in the work, and watched it to the end; when, lo! to their great and joyous surprise, Willie divided the whole baking among them.  Every member of the congregation got a cake; there were some who had little brothers and sisters at home who got two; and from that day forward, till times got better, none of Willie's young people lacked their morning piece.  The neighbours marvelled at Willie; and all agreed that there was something strangely puzzling in the character of the "poor lost lad."

    I have alluded to Willie's garden.  Never was there a little bit of ground better occupied; it looked like a piece of rich needlework.  He had got wonderful flowers too—flesh-coloured carnations streaked with red, and double roses of a rich golden yellow.  Even the commoner varieties—auricular and anemones, and the party-coloured polyanthus—grew better with Willie than with anybody else.  A Dutchman might have envied him his tulips, as they stood row beyond row on their elevated beds, like so many soldiers on a redoubt; and there was one mild dropping season in which two of these beautiful flowers, each perfect in its kind, and of different colours, too, sprang apparently from the same stem.  The neighbours talked of them as they would have talked of the Siamese Twins; but Willie, though it lessened the wonder, was at pains to show them that the flowers sprang from different roots, and that what seemed to be their common stem, was in reality but a green hollow sheath formed by one of the leaves.  Proud as Willie was of his flowers, and with all his humility he could not help being a little proud of them, he was yet conscientiously determined to have no miracle among them, unless, indeed, the miracle should chance to be a true one.  It was no fault of Willie's that all his neighbours had not as fine gardens as himself; he gave them slips of his best flowers, flesh-coloured carnation, yellow rose, and all; he grafted their trees for them too, and taught them the exact time for raising their tulip-roots, and the best mode of preserving them.  Nay, more than all this, he devoted whole hours at times to give the finishing touches to their parterres and borders, just in the way a drawing master lays in the last shadings, and imparts the finer touches, to the landscapes of his favourite pupils.  All seemed impressed by the unselfish kindliness of his disposition; and all agreed that there could not be a warmer-hearted or more obliging neighbour than Willie Watson, "the poor lost lad."

    Everything earthly must have its last day.  Willie was rather an elderly than an old man, and the childlike simplicity of his tastes and habits made people think of him as younger than he really was; but his constitution, never a strong one, was gradually failing; he lost strength and appetite; and at length there came a morning in which he could no longer open his shop.  He continued to creep out at noon, however, for a few days after, to enjoy himself among his flowers, with only the Bible for his companion; but in a few days more he had declined so much lower, that the effort proved too much for him, and he took to his bed.  The neighbours came flocking in; all had begun to take an interest in poor Willie; and now they had learned he was dying, and the feeling had deepened immensely with the intelligence.  They found him lying in his neat little room, with a table bearing the one beloved volume drawn in beside his bed.  He was the same quiet placid creature he had ever been; grateful for the slightest kindness, and with a heart full of love for all—full to overflowing.  He said nothing about the Kirk, and nothing about the Baptists, but earnestly did he urge his visitors to be good men and women, and to be availing themselves of every opportunity of doing good.  The volume on the table, he said, would best teach them how.  As for himself, he had not a single anxiety; the great Being had been kind to him during all the long time he had been in the world, and He was now kindly calling him out of it.  Whatever He did to him was good, and for his good, and why then should he be anxious or afraid?  The hearts of Willie's visitors were touched, and they could no longer speak or think of him as "the poor lost lad."

    A few short weeks went by, and Willie had gone the way of all flesh.  There was silence in his shop, and his flowers opened their breasts to the sun, and bent their heads to the bee and the butterfly, with no one to take note of their beauty, or to sympathize in the delight of the little winged creatures that seemed so happy among them.  There was many a wistful eye cast at the closed door and melancholy shutters by the members of Willie's congregation, and they could all point out his grave.  Yonder it lies, in the red light of the setting sun, with a carpeting of soft yellow moss spread over it.  This little recess contains, doubtless, to use Wordsworth's figure, many a curious and many an instructive volume, and all we lack is the ability of deciphering the characters; but a better or more practical treatise on toleration than that humble grave, it cannot contain.  The point has often been argued in this part of the country—argued by men with long beards, who preached bad grammar in behalf of Johanna Southcote, and by men who spoke middling good sense for other purposes, and shaved once a day.  But of all the arguments ever promulgated, those which told with best effect on the town's-people were the life and death of Willie Watson, "the poor lost lad."

    We have perused the grave of the "poor lost lad," and it turns out to be a treatise on toleration.  The grave beside it may be regarded as a ballad—a short plaintive ballad—moulded in as common a form of invention, if I may so express myself, as any, even the simplest, of those old artless compositions which have welled out from time to time from among the people.  Indeed, so simple is the story of it, that we might almost deem it an imitation, were we not assured that all the volumes of this solitary recess are originals from beginning to end.

    It was forty years last March since the Champion man-of-war entered the bay below, with her ancient suspended half-way over the deck.  Old seamen among the town's-folk, acquainted with that language of signs and symbols in which fleets converse when they meet at sea, said that either the captain or one of his officers was dead; and the town's-people, interested in the intelligence, came out by scores to gaze on the gallant vessel as she bore up slowly and majestically in the calm, towards the distant roadstead.  The sails were furled, and the anchors cast; and as the huge hull swung round to the tide, three boats crowded with men were seen to shoot off from her side, and a strain of melancholy music came floating over the waves to the shore.  A lighter shallop, with only a few rowers, pulled far a-head of the others, and as she reached the beach, the shovels and pickaxes, for which the crew relinquished their oars, revealed to the spectators more unequivocally than even the half-hoisted ensign or the music, the sad nature of their errand.  The other boats approached with muffled and melancholy stroke, and the music waxed louder and more mournful.  They reached the shore; the men formed at the water's edge round a coffin covered by a flag, and bearing a sword a-top, and then passed slowly amid the assembled crowds to the burying-ground of St. Regulus.  Arms glittered to the sun.  The echoes of the tombs and of the deep precipitous dell below were awakened awhile by unwonted music, and then by the sharp rattle of musketry; the smoke went curling among the trees, or lingered in a blue haze amid the dingier recesses of the hollow; the coffin was covered over: a few of the officers remained behind the others; and there was one of the number, a tall handsome young man, who burst out, as he was turning away, into an uncontrollable fit of weeping.  At length the whole pageant passed, and there remained behind only a darkened little hillock, with whose history no one was acquainted, but which was known for many years after as the "officer's grave."

    Twenty years went by, and the grave came to be little thought of, when a townsman, on going up one evening to the burying-ground, saw a lady in deep mourning sitting weeping beside it, and a tall handsome gentleman in middle life, the same individual who had been so much affected at the funeral, standing, as if waiting for her, a little apart.  They were brother and sister.  The storms of twenty seasons had passed over the little mossy hillock.  The deep snows had pressed upon it in winter; the dead vegetation of succeeding summers and autumns had accumulated around it, and it had gradually flattened to nearly the level of the soil.  It had become an old grave; but the grief, that for the first time was now venting itself over it, had remained fresh as at first.  There are cases, though rare, in which sorrow does not yield to time.  A mother loses her child just as its mind has begun to open, and it has learned to lay hold of her heart by those singularly endearing signs of infantine affection and regard, which show us how the sympathies of our nature, which serve to bind us to the species, are awakened to perform their labour of love with even the first dawn of intelligence.  Little missed by any one else, or at least soon to be forgotten, it passes away; but there is one who seems destined to remember it all the more vividly just because it has passed.  To her, death serves as a sort of mordant to fix the otherwise flying colours in which its portraiture had been drawn on her heart.  Time is working out around her his thousand thousand metamorphoses.  The young are growing up to maturity, the old dropping into their graves; but the infant of her affections ever remains an infant—her charge in middle life, when all her other children have left her and gone out into the world, and, amid the weakness of decay and decrepitude, the child of her old age.  There arises, however, a more enduring sorrow then even that of the mother, when, in the midst of hopes all but gratified, and wishes on the eve of fulfilment, the ties of the softer passion are rudely dissevered by death.  Feelings, evanescent in their nature, and restricted to one class of circumstances and one stage of life are uneradicably fixed through the event in the mind of the survivor.  Youth first passes away, then the term of robust and active life, and last of all, the cold and melancholy winter of old age; but through every succeeding change, until the final close, the bereaved lover remains a lover still.  Death has fixed the engrossing passion in its tenderest attitude by a sort of petrifying process; and we are reminded by the fact of those delicate leaves and florets of former creations, which a common fate would have consigned to the usual decay, but which were converted, when they died by some sudden catastrophe, into a solid marble that endures for ever.  The lady who wept this evening beside the "officer's grave," was indulging in a hopeless, enduring passion of the character described; but all that now remains of her story forms but a mere outline for the imagination to fill up at pleasure.  Her lover had been the sole heir of an ancient and affluent family; the lady herself belonged to rather a humbler sphere.  He had fixed his affections upon her when almost a boy, and had succeeded in engaging hers in turn; but his parents, who saw nothing desirable in a connexion which was to add to neither the wealth nor the honours of the family, interfered, and he was sent to sea; where a disappointed attachment, preying on a naturally delicate constitution, soon converted their fears for his marriage into regret for his death.  Did I not say truly that the "officer's grave" was a simple little ballad, moulded in one of the commonest forms of invention?

    Let us peruse one other grave ere we quit the burying-ground—the grave of Morrison the painter.  It treats of morals, like that of "the poor lost lad," but it enforces them after a different mode.  We shall find it in the strangers' corner, beside the graves of the two foreign seamen, whose bodies were cast upon the beach after a storm.   Morrison, some sixty or seventy years ago, was a tall, thin, genteel-looking young man, who travelled the country as a portrait and miniature painter.  The profession was new at the time to the north of Scotland; and the people thought highly of an artist who made likenesses that could be recognised.  But they could not think more highly of him than Morrison did of himself.  He was one of the class who mistake the imitative faculty for genius, and the ambition of rising in a genteel profession for that energy of talent whose efforts, with no higher object often than the mere pleasure of exertion, buoy up the possessor to his proper level among men.  There was a time when Morrison's pictures might be seen in almost every house—in little turf cottages even among halfpenny prints and broadsheet ballads; nor were instances wanting of their finding place among the paintings of a higher school:—some proprietor of the district retained an eccentric piper or gamekeeper in his establishment, or, like the baron of a former age, kept a fool, and Morrison had been employed to confer on all that was droll or picturesque in his appearance, the immortality of colour and canvas.  Like the painter in the fable who pleased everybody, he drew, in his serious portraits, all his men after one model, and all his women after another; but, unlike the painter, he copied from neither Apollo nor Venus.  His gentlemen had sloping shoulders and long necks, and looked exceeding grave and formidable; his ladies, on the contrary, were sweet simpering creatures, with waists almost tapering to a point, and cheeks and lips of as bright a crimson as that of the bunch of roses which they bore in their hands.

    I have said that Morrison thought more highly of his genius than even his countryfolk.  As the member of a highly liberal profession, too, he naturally enough took rank as a gentleman.  Geniuses were eccentric in those days, and gentlemen not very moral; and Morrison, in his double capacity of genius and gentleman, was skilful enough to catch the eccentricity of the one class and the immorality of the other.  He raked a little, and drank a great deal; and when in his cups said and did things which were thought very extraordinary indeed.  But though all acknowledged his genius, he was less successful in establishing his gentility.  There was, indeed, but one standard of gentility in the country at the time, and fate had precluded the painter from coming up to it; no one was deemed a gentleman whose ancestors had not been useless to the community for at least five generations.  It must be confessed, too, that some of Morrison's schemes for establishing his claims were but ill laid.  On one occasion he attended an auction of valuable furniture in the neighbouring town, and though a wanderer at the time, as he had been all his life long, and miserably poor to boot, he deemed it essential to the maintenance of his character, that, as all the other gentlemen present were bidding with spirit, he should now and then give a spirited bid too.  He warmed gradually as the sale proceeded, offered liberally for beds and carpets, and made a dead set on a valuable pianoforte.  The purchasers were sadly annoyed; and the auctioneer, who was a bit of a wag, and laboured to put down the painter by sheer force of wit, found that he had met with as accomplished a wit as himself.  Morrison lost the piano, and then fell in love with a moveable wooden house, which had served as a sort of meat preserve, and was secured by a strong lock.  "You had better examine it inside, Mr. Morrison," said the auctioneer; "in fact, the whole merit of the thing lies inside."  Morrison went in, and the auctioneer shut and locked the door.  There could not be a more grievous outrage on the feelings of a gentleman; but though the poor man went bouncing against the cruel walls of his prison like an incarcerated monkey, and grinned with uncontrollable wrath at all and sundry through its little wire-woven window, pity or succour was there none; he was kept in close durance for four long hours till the sale terminated, and found his claim to gentility not in the least strengthened when he got out.

    After living, as he best could, for about forty years, the painter took to himself a wife.  No woman should ever have thought of marriage in connexion with such a person as Morrison, nor should Morrison have ever thought of marriage in connexion with such a person as himself.  But so it was—for ladies are proverbially courageous in such matters, and Morrison could bid as dauntlessly for a wife as for a pianoforte—that he determined on marrying, and succeeded in finding a woman bold enough to accept of him for her husband.  She was a rather respectable sort of person, who had lived for many years as housekeeper in a gentleman's family, and had saved some money.  They took lodgings in the neighbouring town; Morrison showed as much spirit, and got as often drunk as before; and in little more than a twelvemonth they came to be in want.  They lingered on, however, in miserable poverty for a few months longer, and then quitted the place, leaving behind them all Mrs. Morrison's well-saved wardrobe under arrestment for debt.  The large trunk which contained it lay unopened till about five years after the poor woman had been laid in her grave, the victim of her miserable marriage; and the contents formed a strange comment on her history.  There were fine silk gowns, sadly marred by mildew, and richly flowered petticoats eaten by the moths.  There, too, were there pretty little heads of the virgin and the apostles, and beads and a crucifix of some value; the loss of which, as the poor owner had been a zealous Roman Catholic, had affected her more than the loss of all the rest.  And there, also, like the Babylonish garment among the goods of Achan, there was a packet of Morrison's letters, full of flames and darts, and all those little commonplaces of love which are used by men clever on a small scale, who think highly of their own parts, and have no true affection for any one but themselves.

    It has been told me by an acquaintance, who resided for some time in one of our northern towns, that when hurrying to his lodgings on a wet and very disagreeable winter evening, his curiosity was attracted by a red glare of light which he saw issuing through the unglazed window and partially uncovered rafters of a deserted hovel by the wayside.  He went up to it, and found the place occupied by two miserable-looking wretches, a man and woman, who were shivering over a smouldering fire of damp straw.  These were Morrison and his wife, neither of them wholly sober; for the woman had ere now broken down in character as well as in circumstances.  They had neither food nor money; the rain was dropping upon them through the roof, and the winter wind fluttering through their rags; and yet, as if there was too little in all this to make them unhappy enough, they were adding to their miseries by mutual recriminations.  The woman, as I have said, soon sank under the hardships of a life so entirely wretched; her unlucky partner survived until the infirmities of extreme old age were added to his other miseries.  It is not easy to conceive how any one who passed such a life as Morrison should have lived for the greater part of a century; and yet so it was, that, when he visited the neighbouring town for the last time, he was in his eighty-fifth year.  And never, certainly, was the place visited by a more squalid, miserable-looking creature; he resembled rather a corpse set a-walking than a living man.  He was still, however, Morrison the painter, feebly eccentric, and meanly proud: even when compelled to beg, which was often, he could not forget that he was an artist and a gentleman.  In his younger days he had skill enough to make likenesses that could be recognised; the things he now made scarcely resembled human creatures at all; but he went about pressing his services on every one who had children and spare sixpences, till he had at length well-nigh filled the town with pictures of little boys and girls, which, in every case, the little boys and girls got to themselves.  On one occasion he went into the shop of one of the town traders, and insisted on furnishing the trader with the picture of one of his daughters, a little laughing blonde, who was playing in front of the counter.  He produced his colours, and began the drawing; but the girl, after wondering at him till his work was about half finished, escaped into the street, and one of her sisters, a sober-eyed brunette, who had heard of the strange old man who was "making pictures," came running in, and took her place.  The painter held fast the intruder, and continued his drawing.  "Hold, hold, Mr. Morrison, that is another little girl you have got!" said the trader; "that is but the sister of the first."  "Heaven bless the dear sweet creature!" said Morrison, still plying the pencil, "they are so very like that there can be no mistake."

    The closing scene to poor Morrison came at last.  He left his bed one day after an illness of nearly a week, and crawled out into the street to beg.  A gentleman in passing dropped him a few coppers, and Morrison felt indignant that any one should have offered an artist less than silver.  But on second thoughts he corrected himself.  "Heaven help me!" he ejaculated, "I have been a fool all life long, and I am not wise yet!"  He crept onwards along the pavement to the house of a gentleman whom he had known thirty years before.  "I am dying," he said, "and I am desirous that you should see my body laid decently under ground; I shall be dead in less than a week."  The gentleman promised to attend the funeral; Morrison crept back to his lodgings, and was dead in less than a day.  Yonder he lies in the strangers' corner; the parish furnished the shroud and the coffin, and the gentleman whom he had invited to his burial carried his head to the grave, and paid the sexton.  There are few real stories consistently gloomy throughout.  Nature delights in strange compounds of the bizarre and the serious; and Morrison's story, like some of the old English dramas that terminate unfortunately, has a mixture of the comic in it.  And yet, notwithstanding its lighter touches, I question whether we shall be able to find a deeper tragedy among all the volumes of the churchyard.


 
CHAPTER XVI.


"Like a timeless birth, the womb of fate
 Bore a new death of unrecorded date,
 And doubtful name."—M
ONTGOMERY.


IN the history of every community there are periods of comparative quiet, when the great machine of society performs all its various movements so smoothly and regularly, that there is nothing to remind us of its being in motion.  And who has not remarked that when an unlooked-for accident sets it a-jarring, by breaking up some minor wheel or axis, there follows a whole series of disasters—pressing the one upon the other, with stroke after stroke.  We live, perhaps, in some quiet village, and see our neighbours, the inhabitants, moving noiselessly around us—the young rising up to maturity, the old descending slowly to the grave.  Death for a long series of years drafts out his usual number of conscripts from among only the weak and the aged; and there is no irregular impressment of the young and vigorous in the way of accident.  Anon, however, there succeeds a series of disasters.  One of the villagers topples over a precipice, one is engulfed in a morass, one is torn to pieces by the wheels of an engine, one perishes in fording a river, one falls by the hand of an enemy, one dies by his own.  And then in a few months, perhaps, the old order of things is again established, and all goes on regularly as before.  In the phenomena of even the inanimate world we see marks of a similar economy.  Whoever has mused for a single half hour by the side of a waterfall, must have remarked that, without any apparent change in the volume of the stream, the waters descend at one time louder and more furious, at another gentler and more subdued.  Whoever has listened to the howlings of the night wind, must have heard it sinking at intervals into long hollow pauses, and then rising and sweeping onwards, gust after gust.  Whoever has stood on the sea-shore during a tempest, must have observed that the waves roll towards their iron barrier in alternate series of greater and lesser—now fretting ineffectually against it, now thundering irresistibly over.  But between the irregularities of the inanimate world, and those of the rational, there exists one striking difference.  We may assign natural causes for the alternate rises and falls of the winds and waters; but it is not thus in most instances with those ebbs and flows, gusts and pauses, which occur in the world of man.  They set our reasonings at defiance, and we can refer them to only the will of Deity.  We can only say regarding them, that the climax is a favourite figure in the book of Providence;—that God speaks to us in His dispensations, and, in the more eloquent turns of His discourse, piles up instance upon instance with sublime and impressive profusion.

    To the people of Scotland the whole of the seventeenth century was occupied by one continuous series of suffering and disaster.  And though we can assign causes for every one of the evils which compose the series, just as we can assign causes for every single accident which befalls the villagers, or for the repeated attacks and intervening pauses of the hurricane, it is a rather different matter to account for the series itself.  In flinging a die we may chance on any one certain number as readily as on any other; but it would be a rare occurrence, indeed, should the same number turn up some eight or ten times together.  And is there nothing singular in the fact, that, for a whole century, a nation should have been invariably unfortunate in every change with which it was visited, and have met with only disaster in all its undertakings?  There turned up an unlucky number at every cast of the die.  Even when the shout of the persecutor, and the groans of his victim, had ceased to echo among our rocks and caverns, the very elements arrayed themselves against the people, and wasting famine and exterminating pestilence did the work of the priest and the tyrant.  I am acquainted with no writer who has described this last infliction of the series so graphically, and with such power, as Peter Walker in his Life of Cargill.  Other contemporary historians looked down on this part of their theme from the high places of society;—they were the soldiers of a well-victualled garrison, situated in the midst of a wasted country, and sympathized but little in the misery that approached them no nearer than the outer gate.  But it was not thus with the poor Pedlar;—he was barred out among the sufferers, and exposed to the evils which he so feelingly describes.

    One night in the month of August 1694, a cold east wind, accompanied by a dense sulphurous fog, passed over the country, and the half-filled corn was struck with mildew.  It shrank and whitened in the sun, till the fields seemed as if sprinkled with flour, and where the fog had remained longest—for in some places it stood up like a chain of hills during the greater part of the night—the more disastrous were its effects.  From this unfortunate year, till the year 1701, the land seemed as if struck with barrenness, and such was the change on the climate, that the seasons of summer and winter were cold and gloomy in nearly the same degree.  The wonted heat of the sun was withholden, the very cattle became stunted and meagre, the moors and thickets were nearly divested of their feathered inhabitants, and scarcely a fly or any other insect was to be seen even in the beginning of autumn.  November and December, and in some places January and February, became the months of harvest; and labouring people contracted diseases which terminated in death, when employed in cutting down the corn among ice and snow.  Of the scanty produce of the fields, much was left to rot on the ground, and much of what was carried home proved unfit for the sustenance of either man or beast.  There is a tradition that a farmer of Cromarty employed his children, during the whole winter of 1694, in picking out the sounder grains of corn from a blasted heap, the sole product of his farm, to serve for seed in the ensuing spring.

    In the meantime the country began to groan under famine.  The little portions of meal which were brought to market were invariably disposed of at exorbitant prices, before half the people were supplied; "and then," says Walker, "there would ensue a screaming and clapping of hands among the women."  "How shall we go home," he has heard them exclaim, "and see our children dying of hunger?—they have had no food for these two days and we have nothing to give them."  There was many "a black and pale face in Scotland;" and many of the labouring poor, ashamed to beg, and too honest to steal, shut themselves up in their comfortless houses, to sit with their eyes fixed on the floor till their very sight failed them.  The savings of the careful and industrious were soon dissipated; and many who were in easy circumstances when the scarcity came on, had sunk into abject poverty ere it passed away.  Human nature is a sad thing when subjected to the test of circumstances so trying.  As the famine increased, people came to be so wrapped up in their own sufferings, that "wives thought not of their husbands, nor husbands of their wives, parents of their children, nor children of their parents."  "And their staff of bread," says the Pedlar, "was so utterly broken, that when they ate they were neither satisfied nor nourished.  They could think of nothing but food, and being wholly unconcerned whether they went to heaven or hell, the success of the gospel came to a stand."

    The pestilence which accompanied this terrible visitation broke out in November 1694, when many of the people were seized by "strange fevers, and sore fluxes of a most infectious nature," which defied the utmost power of medicine.  "For the oldest physicians," says Walker, "had never seen the like before, and could make no help."  In the parish of West Calder, out of nine hundred "examinable persons" three hundred were swept away; and in Livingston, in a little village called the Craigs, inhabited by only six or eight families, there were thirty corpses in the space of a few days.  In the parish of Resolis whole villages were depopulated, and the foundations of the houses, for they were never afterwards inhabited, can still be pointed out by old men of the place.  So violent were the effects of the disease, that people, who in the evening were in apparent health, would be found lying dead in their houses next morning, "the head resting on the hand, and the face and arms not infrequently gnawed by the rats."  The living were wearied with burying the dead; bodies were drawn on sledges to the place of interment, and many got neither coffin nor winding-sheet.  "I was one of four," says the Pedlar, "who carried the corpse of a young woman a mile of way; and when we came to the grave, an honest poor man came and said—'You must go and help me to bury my son; he has lain dead these two days.'  We went, and had two miles to carry the corpse, many neighbours looking on us, but none coming to assist."  "I was credibly informed," he continues, "that in the north, two sisters, on a Monday morning, were found carrying their brother on a barrow with bearing-ropes, resting themselves many times, and none offering to help them."  There is a tradition that in one of the villages of Resolis the sole survivor was an idiot, whose mother had been, of all its more sane inhabitants, the last victim to the disease.  He waited beside the corpse for several days, and then taking it up on his shoulders carried it to a neighbouring village, and left it standing upright beside a garden wall.

    Such were the sufferings of the people of Scotland in the seventeenth century, and such the phenomena of character which the sufferings elicited.  We ourselves have seen nearly the same process repeated in the nineteenth, and with nearly the same results.  The study of mind cannot be prosecuted in quite the same manner as the study of matter.  We cannot subject human character, like an earth or metal, to the test of experiments which may be varied or repeated at pleasure; on the contrary, many of its most interesting traits are developed only by causes over which we have no control.  But may we not regard the whole world as an immense laboratory, in which the Deity is the grand chemist, and His dispensations of Providence a course of experiments?  We are admitted into this laboratory, both as subjects to be acted upon and as spectators; and, though we cannot in either capacity materially alter the course of the exhibition, we may acquire much wholesome knowledge by registering the circumstances of each process, and its various results.

    In the year 1817 a new and terrible pestilence broke out in a densely-peopled district of Hindustan.  During the twelve succeeding years it was "going to and fro, and walking up and down," in that immense tract of country which intervenes between British India and the Russian dominions in Europe.  It passed from province to province, and city to city.  Multitudes, "which no man could number," stood waiting its approach in anxiety and terror; a few solitary mourners gazed at it from behind.  It journeyed by the highways, and strewed them with carcases.  It coursed along the rivers, and vessels were seen drifting in the current with their dead.  It overtook the caravan in the desert, and the merchant fell from his camel.  It followed armies to the field of battle, struck down their standards, and broke up their array.  It scaled the great wall of China, forded the Tigris and the Euphrates, threaded with the mountaineer the passes of the frozen Caucasus, and traversed with the mariner the wide expanse of the Indian Ocean.  Vainly was it deprecated with the rites of every religion, exorcised in the name a very god.  The Brahmin saw it rolling onwards, more terrible than the car of Juggernaut, and sought refuge in his temple; but the wheel passed over him, and he died.  The wild Tartar raised his war-cry to scare it away, and then, rushing into a darkened corner of his hut, prostrated himself before his idol, and expired.  The dervish ascended the highest tower of his mosque to call upon Allah and the prophet; but it grappled with him ere he had half repeated his prayer, and he toppled over the battlements.  The priest unlocked his relics, and then, grasping his crucifix, hied to the bedside of the dying but, as he doled out the consolations of his faith, the pest seized on his vitals, and he sunk howling where he had kneeled.  And alas for the philosopher! silent and listless he awaited its coming; and had the fountains of the great deep been broken up, and the proud waves come rolling, as of old, over wide-extended continents, foaming around the summit of the hills, and prostrating with equal ease the grass of the field and the oak of the forest, he could not have met the inundation with a less effective resistance.  It swept away in its desolating progress a hundred millions of the human species.

    In the spring of 1831 the disease entered the Russian dominions, and in a few brief months, after devastating the inland provinces, began to ravage the shores of the Baltic.  The harbours, as is usual in the summer season, were crowded with vessels from every port of Britain: and the infection spread among the seamen.  To guard against its introduction into this country, a rigid system of quarantine was established by the Government; and the Bay of Cromarty was one of the places appointed for the reception of vessels until their term of restriction should have expired.  The whole eastern coast of Britain could not have afforded a better station; as, from the security and great extent of the bay, entire fleets can lie in it safe from every tempest, and at a distance of more than two miles from any shore.

    On a calm and beautiful evening in the month of July 1831, a little fleet of square-rigged vessels were espied in the offing, slowly advancing towards the bay.  They were borne onwards by the tide, which, when flowing, rushes with much impetuosity through the narrow opening, and, as they passed under the northern Sutor, there was seen from the shore, relieved by the dark cliffs which frowned over them, a pale yellow flag dropping from the mast-head of each.  As they advanced farther on, the tide began to recede.  The foremost was towed by her boats to the common anchoring-ground, and the burden of a Danish song, in which all the rowers joined, was heard echoing over the waves with a cadence so melancholy, that, associating in the minds of the town's-people with ideas of death and disease, it seemed a coronach of lamentation poured out over the dead and the expiring.  The other vessels threw out their anchors opposite the town;—groups of people, their countenances shaded by anxiety, sauntered along the beach; and children ran about, shouting at the full pitch of their voices that the ships of the plague had got up as far as the ferry.  As the evening darkened, little glimmering lights, like stars of the third magnitude, twinkled on the mast-heads from whence the yellow flags had lately depended; and never did astrologer experience greater dismay when gazing at the two comets, the fiery and the pale, which preceded those years of pestilence and conflagration that wasted the capital of England, than did some of the people of Cromarty when gazing at these lights.

    Day after day vessels from the Baltic came sailing up the bay, and the fears of the people, exposed to so continual a friction, began to wear out.  The first terror, however, had been communicated to the nearer parishes, and from them to the more remote; and so on it went, escorted by a train of vagabond stories, that, like felons flying from justice, assumed new aspects at every stage.  The whole country talked of nothing but Cholera and the Quarantine port.  Such of the shopkeepers of Cromarty as were most in the good graces of the countrywomen who came to town laden with the produce of the dairy and hen-cot, and return with their little parcels of the luxuries of the grocer, experienced a marked falling away in their trade.  Occasionally, however, a few of the more courageous housewives might be seen creeping warily along our streets; but, in coming in by the road which passes along the edge of the bay, they invariably struck up the hill if the wind blew from off the quarantine vessels, and, winding by a circuitous route among the fields and cottages, entered the town on the opposite side.  A lad who ran errands to a neighbouring burgh, found that few of the inhabitants were so desperately devoted to business as to incur the risk of receiving the messages he brought them; and, from the inconvenient distance at which he was held by even the less cautious, he entertained serious thoughts of providing himself with a speaking-trumpet.  Our poor fishermen, too, fared but badly in the little villages of the Firth where they went to sell their fish.  It was asserted on the very best authority, by the villagers, that dead bodies were flung out every day over the sides of the quarantine vessels, and might be seen, bloated by the water and tanned yellow by disease, drifting along the surface of the bay.  Who could eat fish in such circumstances?  There was one person, indeed, who remarked to them, that he might perhaps venture on eating a haddock or whiting; but no man in his senses, he said, would venture on eating a cod.  He himself had once found a bunch of furze in the stomach of a fish of this species, and what might not that throat contrive to swallow that had swallowed a bunch of furze?  The very fishermen themselves added to the general terror by their wild stories.  They were rowing homewards one morning, they said, in the grey uncertain light which precedes sunrise, along the rough edge of the northern Sutor, when, after doubling one of the rocky promontories which jut into the sea from beneath the crags of the hill, they saw a gigantic figure, wholly attired in white, winding slowly along the beach.  It was much taller than any man, or as Cowley would perhaps have described it, than the shadow of any man in the evening; and at intervals, after gliding round the base of some inaccessible cliff, it would remain stationary for a few seconds, as if gazing wistfully upon the sea.  No one who believed this apparition to be other than a wreath of vapour, entertained at the time the slightest doubt of its portending the visitation of some terrible pestilence, which was to desolate the country.

    About eighty or a hundred years ago the port of Cromarty was occupied, as in 1831, by a fleet performing quarantine.  Of course none of the town's-people recollected the circumstance; but a whole host of traditions connected with it, which had been imparted to them by their fathers, and had lain asleep in the recesses of some of their memories for a full half century, were awakened at this time, and sent wandering over the town, like so many ghosts.  Some one had heard it told that a crew of Cromarty fishermen had, either in ignorance or contempt of the quarantine laws, boarded one of the vessels on this occasion; and that aboard they were compelled to remain for six tedious weeks, exposed to the double, but very unequally appreciated hardship of getting a great deal to drink and very little to eat.  Another vessel had, it was said, entered the bay deeply laden; but every morning, for the time she remained there, she was seen to sit lighter on the water, and when she quitted it on her return to Flushing, she had scarcely ballast enough aboard to tender the voyage practicable.  Gin and tobacco were rife in Cromarty for twelve months thereafter.  A third vessel carried with her into the bay the disease to guard against which the quarantine had been established; and opposite the place where the fleet lately lay, there are a few little mounds on a patch of level sward, still known to children of the town as the Dutchmen's graves.  About fifty years ago, when the present harbour of Cromarty was in building, a poor half-witted man, one of the labourers employed in quarrying stone, was told one day by some of his companions, that a considerable sum of money had been deposited in this place with the bodies.  In the evening he stayed on some pretext in the quarry until the other workmen had gone home, and then repairing to the graves, with his shovel and pickaxe he laid one of them open; but, instead of the expected treasure, he found only human bones and wasted fragments of woollen cloth.  Next morning he was seized by putrid fever, and died a few days after.  Miss Seward tells similar story in one of her letters; but in the case of the Cromarty labourer no person suffered from his imprudence except himself; whereas, in the one narrated by Miss Seward, a malignant disease was introduced into a village near which the graves were opened, which swept away seventy of the inhabitants.

    In a central part of the churchyard of Nigg there is a rude undressed stone, near which the sexton never ventures to open a grave.  A wild apocryphal tradition connects the erection of this stone with the times of the quarantine fleet.  The plague, as the story goes, was brought to the place by one of the vessels, and was slowly flying along the ground, disengaged from every vehicle of infection, in the shape of a little yellow cloud.  The whole country was alarmed, and groups of people were to be seen on every eminence, watching with anxious horror the progress of the little cloud.  They were relieved, however, from their fears and the plague by an ingenious man of Nigg, who, having provided himself with an immense bag of linen, fashioned somewhat in the manner of a fowler's net, cautiously approached the yellow cloud, and, with a skill which could have owed nothing to previous practice, succeeded in enclosing the whole of it in the bag.  He then secured it by wrapping it up carefully, fold after fold, and fastening it down with pin after pin; and as the linen was gradually changing, as if under the hands of the dyer, from white to yellow, be consigned it to the churchyard, where it has slept ever since.  But to our narrative.

    The cholera was at length introduced into Britain, and shortly after into Ireland; not, however, at any of the quarantine ports, but at places where scarcely any precautions had been taken to exclude it, or any danger apprehended; much in the manner that a beleaguered garrison is sometimes surprised at some unnoticed bastion, or unnoticed angle, after the main points of attack have withstood the utmost efforts of the besiegers.  It had previously been remarked that the disease traversed the various countries which it visited, at nearly the same pace with the inhabitants.  In Persia, where there is little trade, and neither roads nor canals to facilitate intercourse, it was a whole year in passing over a distance of somewhat less than three hundred leagues; while among the more active people of Russia, it performed a journey of seven hundred in less than six months.  In Britain it travelled through the interior with the celerity of the mail, and voyaged along the coasts with the speed of the trading vessels; and in a few weeks after its first appearance, it was ravaging the metropolis of England, and the southern shores of the Firth of Forth.  It was introduced by some south country fishermen into the town of Wick, and a village of Sutherlandshire, in the month of July 1832; and from the latter place in the following August, into the fishing villages of the peninsula of Easter Ross.  It visited Inverness, Nairn, Avoch, Dingwall, Urquhart, and Resemarkie, a few weeks after.

    I shall pass hurriedly over the sad story of its ravages.  Were I to dwell on it to the extent of my information, and I know only a little of the whole, the reader might think I was misanthropically accumulating into one gloomy heap all that is terrible in the judgments of God, and all that is mean and feeble in the character of man.  The pangs of the rack, the boot, the thumbscrew—all that the Dominican or the savage has inflicted on the heretic or the white man, were realized in the tortures of this dreadful disease.  Utter debility, intense thirst, excruciating cramps of the limbs, and an unimpaired intellect, were its chief characteristics.  And the last was not the least terrible.  Amid the ruins of the body, from which it was so soon to part, the melancholy spirit looked back upon the past with regret, and on the future with terror.  Or even if the sufferer amid his fierce pain "laid hold on the hope that faileth not with what feelings must he have looked around the deserted cottage, when the friends in whom he had trusted proved unfaithful—or, more melancholy still, on the affectionate wife or the dutiful child struck down by the bedside in agonies as mortal as his own.

    In the villages of Ross the disease assumed a more terrible aspect than it had yet presented in any other part of Britain.  In the little village of Portmahomack one-fifth of the inhabitants were swept away; in the still smaller village of Inver, one-half.  So abject was the poverty of the people, that in some instances there was not a candle in any house in a whole village; and when the disease seized on the inmates in the night-time, they had to grapple in darkness with its fierce agonies and mortal terrors, and their friends, in the vain attempt to assist them, had to grope round their beds.  The infection spread with frightful rapidity.  At Inver, though the population did not much exceed a hundred persons, eleven bodies were committed to the earth, without shroud or coffin, in one day; in two days after they had buried nineteen more.  Many of the survivors fled from the village, and took shelter, some in the woods, some among the hollows of an extensive tract of sand-hills.  But the pest followed them to their hiding-places, and they expired in the open air.  Whole families were found lying dead on their cottage floor.  In one instance, an infant, the only survivor, lay grovelling on the body of its mother—the sole mourner in a charnel-house of the pestilence.  Rows of cottages, entirely divested of their inhabitants, were set on fire and burned to the ground.  The horrors of the times of Peter Walker were more than realized.  Two young persons, a lad and his sister, were seen digging a grave for their father in the churchyard of Nigg; and then carrying the corpse to it on a cart, no one venturing to assist them.  The body of a man who died in a cottage beside the ferry of Cromarty, was borne to a hole, hurriedly scooped out of a neighbouring sand-bank, by his brother and his wife.  During the whole of the preceding day, the unfortunate woman had been seen from the opposite shore, flitting around the cottage like an unhappy ghost; during the whole of the preceding night had she watched alone by the dead.  The coffin lay beside the door; the corpse in the middle of the apartment.—Never shall I forget the scene which I witnessed from the old chapel of St. Regulus on the evening of the following Sabbath.

    It was one of those lovely evenings which we so naturally associate with ideas of human enjoyment; when, from some sloping eminence, we look over the sunlit woods, fields, and cottages, of a wide extent of country, and dream that the inhabitants are as happy as the scene is beautiful.  The sky was without a cloud, and the sea without a wrinkle.  The rocks and sandhills on the opposite shore lay glistening in the sun, each with its deep patch of shadow resting by its side; and the effect of the whole, compared with the aspect which it had presented a few hours before, was as if it had been raised on its groundwork of sea and sky from the low to the high relief of the sculptor.  There were boats drawn up on the beach, and a line of houses behind; but where were the inhabitants?  No smoke rose from the chimneys; the doors and windows were fast closed; not one solitary lounger sauntered about the harbour or the shore; the inanity of death and desertion pervaded the whole scene.  Suddenly, however, the eye caught a little dark speck moving hurriedly along the road which leads to the ferry.  It was a man on horseback.  He reached the cottages of the boatmen, and flung himself from his horse; but no one came at his call to row him across.  He unloosed a skiff from her moorings and set himself to tug at the oar.  The skiff flew athwart the bay.  The watchmen stationed on the shore of Cromarty moved down to prevent her landing.  There was a loud cry passed from man to man; a medical gentleman came running to the beach, he leapt into the skiff, and laying hold of an oar as if he were a common boatman, she again shot across the bay.  A case of cholera had just occurred in the parish of Nigg.  I never before felt so strongly the force of contrast.  There is a wild poem of the present age which presents the reader with a terrible picture of a cloak of utter darkness spread over the earth, and the whole race of man perishing beneath its folds, like insects of autumn in the chills of a night of October.  There is another modern poem, less wild, but not less sublime, in which we see, as in a mirror of a magician, the sun dying in the heavens, and the evening of an eternal night closing around the last of our species.  I trust I am able in some degree to appreciate the merits of both; and yet, since witnessing the scene which I have so feebly attempted to describe, I am led to think that the earth, if wholly divested of its inhabitants, would present a more melancholy aspect, should it still retain its fertility and beauty, than if wrapped up in a pall of darkness, surrounded by dead planets and extinguished suns.



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