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Since young life's morn all crimsoned gay
With hues of rosy gold,
The future bright unrollid;
I've roamed afar, but now return,
My wanderings to bewail ;
Like my own native vale.
“The world appears all bright and beautiful to you now; what will be its aspect twenty years hence ? Dark and troubled days will come when least expected. You cannot always walk amidst the golden sunshine, in blissful and untroubled joy. May the Most High be your hiding-place from the storm, and your covert from the tempest. In all your trials and sorrows may He temper the wind to the shorn lamb. Fare-thee-well !"
Such were the solemn and impressive words uttered feelingly by the venerable Dr Lyon, our parish minister, as he bade me an affectionate adieu at the gateway of the manse of Glamis, when I left, in early youth, my native Howe, to push my fortune in the great, seething, restless world beyond.
Twenty years very quickly passed away. It was on a dreary day in December 18, the snow falling fast, that I landed from the steamer at Dundee, and, being anxious to proceed immediately on my journey homeward, I started on foot late in the afternoon, no railways then, or now, existing in that part of the country, the caravan having started for the county town some two hours previously. Having ordered my luggage to be sent on after me the next day, I had no encumbrance to retard my progress, which had been so unexpectedly rapid, that I had arrived at the bye-road by Lumleyden leading to my native glen, much sooner than I had anticipated.
No sooner had I diverged from the main road than the snow ceased to fall, and the moon shone out in all her splendour. The frost set in sharp and severe, and the night became so clear that objects at a considerable distance were distinctly visible. The road lay along a wild and desolate moor, now thickly covered with the deep, crisp snow, no sound of beast or bird breaking the solemn silence which reigned around. Nature, to me, is ever more grand and impressive in her silence than in her stormy, wild, and tempestuous moods. The latter rouse our fear and terror; the former forces us to retire within ourselves, producing sedative contemplation and calm reflection, so that we imperceptibly seem linked to the spiritual world, partaking of its strange, undefined, yet sublime mysteries.
In my present circumstances, returning to my native strath after a long absence of twenty years, the most natural train of thought that could fill the mind was to ruminate and reflect on the events which had taken place, and the scenes through which I had passed in these, the most eventful years of a man's existence. The feelings which first arose in my mind were just those which most men, in the meridian of life, primarily experience on casting a retrospective glance at the past, before calmly reviewing the reasons why such and such things had taken place. I mused, for instance, on the disappointments of life, the teachery of friends, and the malignity of enemies, just as if there had not existed any overt acts on my part which might, to some extent at least, have been the secret cause of these misfortunes. And, without philosophising too much, the world and I became
gradually better friends, and I unfeignedly and repentingly felt that human nature was not so bad after all.
The nearer we approach the unseen world beyond, the deeper will be our abasement of self, and the higher the actions of our contemporaries will rise in our estimation, and this very feeling of humiliation as to our own actions, and generosity and charitableness as to the doings of others, does, in very truth, bring more real, pure, and lasting satisfaction to the mind than if we, Pharisaic-like, only thought contemptuously of our brethren of mankind, exclaiming, in the fulness of our haughty pride and self-righteousness, 'God, I thank thee, I am not as other men, or even as this publican.' After some reflection, therefore, and after having calmly reviewed the events of the last twenty years, I had worked myself very comfortably up to the conclusion that the world was not so base as some men, in their gloomy moods, would have us believe it to be, but that much elevation of thought, much purity of desire, and, consequently, much real happiness, were felt and enjoyed by the fallen sons of Adam, in this sublunary state of existence, preparatory to, and in earnest of, that purer, higher, and holier state of being on which the immortal part of man enters definitely at death.
Pursuing this train of pleasing reflection, I had arrived very nearly at the spot where my father, twenty long years before, bade his darling boy farewell. Another train of thought now took possession of my mind. What events had happened; what trials; what sorrows;
what bereavements; what secret corroding griefs had overwhelmed the spirits and wrung the hearts of those dear to me as life itself; for a long period had elapsed since I had received any intelligence from home, and I was now returning, unknown to my friends, to my paternal hearth.
Not naturally superstitious, I do not easily give way to presentiments of any kind, but, in spite of all my philosophical efforts to the contrary, a strange, indescribable sadness came over my spirits, which, deepening every instant, spell-bound
me to the spot, although with very different feelings to those which, twenty years before, had so depressed and withered the heart emotions of my soul.
Just at this instant a muircock flapped his wings immediately above me, and looking across the moor, I imagined I saw within a short distance of me the figure of a man as if in the act of removing the snow from the ground. This incident changed at once the current of thought in which I had been indulging, and, curious to know the cause of such a strange proceeding, I at once boldly proceeded to the spot where the strange unknown seemed so busily at work. Whether he had observed me approaching, or whether his object had been accomplished, I know not; but as I approached the figure muffled itself up in a flowing mantle, and strode across the heath in the direction of the little hostelrie at the opening in the glen.
I had now reached the spot where I was certain I had seen the singular apparition, and, all at once, came upon-a grave! The snow had been cleared away, and the black earth laid carefully up on either side, while a gardner's spade lay partially concealed amongst the snow. Ruminating on the strange, yet still mysterious occurrence, I mechanically took up the spade, on the handle of which were distinctly visible the letters “J. H.,” cut rudely with some blunt instrument. When I looked round the figure had disappeared ; but, as the hostelrie lay in my way, I resolved, if possible, to solve the mystery by entering the house on some pretext or another, which would lull any suspicions my sudden appearance might otherwise create.
This house stood, and still stands, alone, in one of the most uninviting, wild and desolate spots which it is possible for the imagination to conceive. On the one side stretches the
. long dreary moor, skirted on the far eastern extremity by a dark, thickly-planted (pine wood; while on the other, and immediately behind the house, rise some bleak, barren hills, on which, in summer time, a few Highland sheep manage to
pick up a scanty subsistence. To the north, and within a few hundred yards of the house, a deep, rocky gorge opens up an outlet to the sequestered glen of Ogilvy beyond. To this lone and comfortless hostelrie, therefore, did my hurried footsteps now lead me. Arrived at the door, not hesitating for a moment, I entered without waiting to be admitted. On approaching what appeared to be the kitchen, I impatiently asked for some refreshment, when a rough, stalwart fellow, who appeared to be the landlord, answered, rather gruffly
“What's yer wull ?”
I repeated my request, adding, somewhat sharply, that, being rather cold, the sooner he could let me have a drop of mountain-dew the better.
While Boniface was engaged in filling the gill-stoup, I without any ceremony, seated myself beside the blazing ingle, and, turning round, observed, for the first time, a stout, strapping fellow, in the homely garb of a comfortable countryman, seated at the extreme end of the room. His features seemed not unfamiliar to me, and, accosting him with a “Good evening, sir,” received a courteous reply, in the soft tones of a voice which at once awakened all the feelings and sympathies of my youth. Asking him to partake of my hospitality, I pondered over the circumstance until my recollection of early companions became so distinctly defined that I at last fixed on one as being the boy to the man who now sat beside me.
Forgetting altogether, for the moment, the mysterious circumstance which had attracted me to enter the house, and all the well-springs of my heart now gushing out in tender emotions, I hastily put the question whether he belonged to the village of Glamis. Evidently thrown off his guard, he at once replied that Glamis was his native village, but that he had removed to a neighbouring parish many years ago. Feeling assured I was on the right track, yet without the least idea as to the result to which my enquiries might lead, I abruptly asked whether he knew one of the name of James Howden, who, twenty years ago, was a pupil of good Mr