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And now, for the first time, I observed, walking close to the feet of his horse, a little boy, 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 which, 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, who, 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, looking tenderly on the boy ; “but love makes the young heart bold; and there is One who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb."
As we slowly approached the cottage, through a deep snow-drift, which the distress within had prevented the in mates 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.
A few words sufficed to say who was the stranger; and the dying man, blessing me 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 for those who were more dear. The pastor sat down near his elder's head; and by the bed, leaning on it with gentle hands, stood that matron, his daughter-in-law - a figure that would have sainted a higher dwelling, and whose native beauty was now more touching in its grief.
“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 allusion to the grave struck, as with a bar of ice, the heart of the loving bos; and with a long, 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.
“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. On the Sabbath after my Alice was let down into the narrow house made for all living, 1 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."
The old man then addressed himself to his grandchild : “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 feelest, 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 hand. “O, 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?
6. The man that walketh uprightly,
And worketh righteousness ; And, as he thinketh in his heart,
So doth he truth express."
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 shine over the Hazel-glen, win thee from the error of thy ways! Thou art here to witness the mercy of thy God, and thy Savior, whom thou hast forgotten."
The young man, with much effort, advanced to the bedside, and at last found voice to say, “Father, I am not without the affections of nature; and I hurried home the moment I heard that the minister had been seen riding towards our house. I hope that you will yet recover; and, if I have ever 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 near to me, William; kneel down by the bedside, and let my hand feel 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 in the churchyard, 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. I have sorely wept for thee, - ay, William, when there was none near me, even as David wept for Absalom — for thee, my
1 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 ? ” — “O, press him not too hardly,” said his weeping wife, coming forward from a dark corner of the room, where she tried to conceal herself in grief, fear, and shame. "Spare, O, 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 the solemn voice commanded, and knelt down, somewhat timidly, by his father's side; nor did the 'unhappy man decline encircling with his arm the child, too much neglected, bui still doar 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, 26th, and 27th verses of the 11th 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 couldst 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 up 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 read, “ Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die. Believest thou this ? She said unto him, Yea, Lord; I believe thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the 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 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 bands seemed to wax strong, and his voice was clear as that of manhood in its prime. “Into thy hands, O God, I commit my spirit” – and so saying, he gently sunk back on his pillow; - I thought I heard a sigh. There was then a long, deep silence; and the father, the mother, and the 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.
17. The Evening Cloud.
A cloud lay cradled near the setting sun,
All purely white, and tinged with crimson glow;
O'er the still radiance of the lake below.
Even in its very motion there was rest;
Wafted the traveller to the beauteous west,
To whose white robe the gleam of bliss is given ;
Right onward to the gates of heaven,