« PreviousContinue »
little hut, which stood in the centre of the hamlet, and awoke its ancient and solitary inhabitant.
Unah, whom youth and age alike loved and venerated, was the characteristic oracle of a genuine Highland hamlet,-a mother in Israel.-Four generations had she seen ushered into the theatre of existence,—she had beheld as many swept from its stage. In the chamber of sickness, sorrow, or death, her presence, her consolations, and her advice, were indispensably requisite; and Ronald, as a matter of course, had resolved to awaken “old Moome,” (by which endearing appellation she was universally known,) when the stranger was brought home; but the multitudinous recollections of the fair had banished the thought, till it was recalled by the cry of the infant. Ever ready to obey the call of humanity, and to feel the sacred claim of that sacred character, “The Stranger," Moome soon arose; and, followed by her little dog, hastened to Ronald's cottage, while he bent his steps to the New Inns. And he succeeded in his embassy, though Mr. Daniel M‘Pherson, the proprietor of that great house, grumbled a good deal at having his rest broken by the wants of the canaille of Dunalbyn; for he was a man of property and fashion; had been many years a waiter in one of the great hotels in Glasgow, and a long time butler to the gentleman to whom belonged the glen of Glenalbyn. With his savings he had stocked an extensive sheep-farm, while its former numerous tenants, now on the banks of the Mohawk river," languished for their native glen.” To this he added a house of entertainment for the few travellers that chance brought to this remote district.
Ronald trudged home with his bottle of wine, regarding himself with that pleasing complacency which naturally springs from the consciousness of having performed a deed of kindness.
"This is what will do her good, thought Ronald;, “with a week's, or at most a fortnights good nursing, she will be a-foot; and then I can give her and the little one a cast over C—: she will be able to walk the rest of the way; for I warrant she is used to march.”
Ronald had assumed as a certain position, that the wandering female was the wife of a soldier, and going to Fort one at that moment undeceived him, it is probable he would have felt no inconsiderable disappointment, for it might have rendered useless the little arrangement his benevolence had formed, and just completed, as he entered his cottage.
Here is what will strengthen her heart,” said Ronald, as he held the bottle between him and the fire, admiring the rich colour of the potent elixir. "Do, dear Moome, give her some," turning to the old woman, who sat by the fire, nursing the new-born babe. Ronald stooped to look at the child ; the service he had done its mother, gave it a claim to his protection; it was in some measure the creature of his benevolence. As Ronald gazed, the mingled feelings of his kind heart became complicated beyond the simplicity of his understanding. He felt for the infant what he could neither comprehend nor explain.
"God bless the babe!-is it not a lovely boy now, Ronald :” said Moome.
“ 'Tis indeed a dainty rogue,” replied the honest Highlander; "he will be a good soldier yet, if God spare him ;” and he again urged Moome to administer the cordial.
*Och, and it is herself will surely die !" replied the old woman, speaking in a low tone, lest her words, though in a strange tongue, should be overheard by the unfortunate object of her compassion.
Ronald turned his eyes to the bed, where Mary sat watching the last emotions of nature in the convulsed frame of the wanderer. He strove to rally his spirits. The abrupt termination of the little scheme his kindness had formed for the relief of
the young female, shocked him perhaps more than her actual sufferings. He could not reconcile himself to the idea of being deprived of an opportunity to do her good.
We will, with your leave, drink her health, however," said Ronald; and from a chest he brought forth a case-bottle of “real Fairntosh;” he presented his silver-hooped quaich first to Moome, for age and rank are alike venerable and sacred in the eyes of a Highlander, and with devout energy did she bless the infant which slumbered in her lap, and with humble piety pray for the preservation of the life of the mother. A species of devotion mingles with the social orgies of the Highlanders, who, over the national beverage, will invoke with hallowed awe the memory of the dead, or with fervour implore blessings on the living.
Ronald was in the attitude of bowing to old Unah as she returned the quaich, when Mary beckoned her to bring forward the child; and she supported the sufferer, while Moome gave the infant to her feeble embrace. The powerful energies of nature lent momentary strength to her enfeebled frame, as she clasped the little babe to her bosom with all a mother's clinging fondness. The big drops of her speechless agony fell on its innocent face, while she kissed the babe, thus baptized in the tears of its mother's misery. It was the last effort of expiring nature! Moome caught the infant as it was falling from her arms. She sunk back on the pillow, her dim eyes still fixed on the child. With trembling
anxiety did Mary watch the ebb and flow of the pulse she touched. It alternately lessened, quivered, stopped, and again fluttered against the pressure of her finger. Ronald saw its movements in the countenance of his daughter. It again lessened, fluttered, and stopped ; Mary became pale; a sigh, rather felt than heard, quivered on the lips of the wanderer!
“She is gone to God!" said Moome, in the emphatic language of her country.
Mary continued to support the lifeless form of the stranger, while Ronald, his wife, and old Moome, as they encircled the bed, gazed on in silent pity. For some minutes this interesting silence was preserved inviolate,—their spirits bowed before the awful majesty of death!
The combined emotions of sorrow and terror held their feelings in painful concentration, till Mary, gently disengaging her arm, folded down the eyelids of the departed. It is a simple duty, but how powerfully can it awaken all those sympathies which link together beings of a common destiny.
“God knoweth who may perform this office for me,” said Mary. It was an appeal to every heart; the little group sat down by the bed-side; and the women wept together.
A stream of light from the candle which Ronald held, played full on the face of the departed.—“How pale!-how lovely!”claimed Mary, earnestly gazing on the corpse.
• What will become of her little orphan?" said Moome. Mary had forgotten the child. She stretched out her arms to receive him.
“Poor little fellow," cried she, as she folded him to her kind heart, “what will become of thee?” She looked to her mother; but the good woman made no answer.
We will take care of him, to be sure,” cried Ronald, firmly: for he felt the full force of Mary's imploring glance; "perhaps we may find his father; but, at any rate, it is no great matter bringing up a boy, -what signify his few potatoes more or less ?--if it were a girl indeed, that would be a different story; but since God has sent him to us, it must be for good.”—Mary's eyes sparkled with joy.
"How fortunate?” cried she; “Allan's sister, whose child died yesterday, will be so happy to suckle him; we will nurse him between us, dear Moome,--he will soon run about, and trouble nobody.” -She bent downward, and fondly kissed the little object of her solicitude.
It was still some hours from day; and they performed the last sad offices to the dead.-Mary cut off a ringlet from the soft redundance of fair hair which hung over her shoulders.—“I will keep it for her little orphan,” said she, as she placed it in her bosom.
They next examined the little packet she had brought, to see if it afforded any clue to her story. It consisted of two or three articles of apparel, and a small quantity of baby linen, all of such texture and quality as denoted the condition of their possessor to be much superior to that of a soldier's wife. On searching her pockets, they found a small case, which contained the miniature resemblance of a gentleman, dressed in a military uniform, and of uncommonly handsome appearance, who seemed about thirty years of age. Besides that, there was nothing save a few shillings, and a large embroidered pin-cushion, such as used to be made by the inhabitants of religious houses on the continent. Mary deposited these articles in a place of security.
They were now at leisure, and sufficiently composed to examine the figure of the deceased. -- " She might be about twenty-five years," said Moome. Ronald thought that impossible. Though slender, she was elegantly shaped; her complexion was singularly delicate, and even in death her countenance exhibited all those meekened charms that characterize a Madonna.
“Oh Moome! the saint-like smile which hovers on that pale face!” cried Mary.
“She has thrown off earthly cares!-She is gone to eternal rest! -Her spirit is with God!” said Moome.
“It is impossible that she could have been the wife of a soldier," sighed Mary. That delusion had existed while it was necessary: it had called forth all the latent sympathies of Mary's heart.
“Och! and I'll be sworn it was herself was the lady every inch of her, poor soul!-Look to that soft hand,” said Moome. that gentleman in the picture is her husband, no doubt.-God help him, and teach him to bear his sorrows!” continued Moome, while she put on her spectacles to examine the picture. C'nah gazed upon it, till her imagination, associating all that was lovely with a dear loved Dalt, * long since gathered to his fathers, caught fire; and she persuaded herself that it bore a strong resemblance to “Donald Dunalbyn, whom it had pleased Him to take to himself, many and many was the year since.”
Instead of adding the sírname to the Christian name of the sons of great families in the Highlands, the title is added, to distinguish them from the rest of the clan. There was many a Donald Macalbyn, but there was but one Donald Dunalbyn, the second son of Sir Norman Macalbyn; and he had been the beloved Dalt of Moome, fifty years previous to this period.
Ronald and his wife, at the entreaty of Moome, now retired to rest: Mary heaped the fire with fresh turf: and they quietly took their stations to watch the corpse, and nurse the infant, unwilling to alarm their neighbours till the day should dawn.
“WELL did I know," said Moome, " that an interment was coming to Dunalbyn;-all last night did my little Cassore bark and howl;— no doubt he was looking at it then. And was it not these eyes saw the corpse-lights go from this house to the burying-ground itself? Och! and that is a sign I never saw fail; and well did I know it was she would die, poor lady! Now, Mary, while your mother was in the cellar, and you at the peat-stack, two birds, so white and beautiful, hovered round the bed. In a twinkle they were gone; and was not that the warning spirits of the stranger and her child."
* Dalt, a foster-child. The custom of fosterage still subsists in the Isles, and some parts of the Highlands, in primitive force. By the lower classes it is clung to with undecaying zeal. It promotes their interest, flatters their pride, and forms the bond of a very endearing connexion between the poor and the rich.
“He shall not die!" cried Mary, whom these funeral bodings alarmed; and involuntarily she clapsed the fondling to her bosom.
"Nay, God forbid !” cried Moome; “ but it was very natural for the spirit of the child to company, with the spirit of the mother.” Mary readily allowed the propriety of this.—Moome knew that Highland children, especially before they are christened, are very liable to be either stolen, or changed by fairies; nay, for that matter, Lowland children were, till lately, in the same situation: but she possessed a charm against the evil designs of the fairy people, and, resolving to make sure work, immediately used it in behalf of the sleeping orphan,
“God will guard him," said Moome, as she laid down her bible, and put aside the madder of charmed water with which she had sprinkled the infant; and, seating herself, she began to entertain her youthful auditor with many a marvellous and awe-inspiring tale of ghosts, wraiths, warnings, dreams, second-sight, secondhearing, &c. &c. For nearly eighty years Moome had been familiar with these supernatural appearances, and she now spoke of them with all the calmness of philosophy. No one could have a firmer conviction of everything that favours superstitious belief; but as no man is a hero to his valet, no ghost was an object of intimidation to Moome; and she descanted with calm seriousness, while Mary sat shivering with horror.
" It was in the year Macalbyn went to France,” said Moome, beginning to relate a story of the second-sight, or more properly third-sight, which she solemnly vouched for truth, “just two days before All-hallow-eve; well can I remember it, and great reason I have;—for sure enough it was that very Hallow-eve I first knew Roban was to be mine; whom I saw as plain as I now do you, Mary, as I knitted the knots, * and his face turned to me full; however, that is not my story.-A rainy season it had been, but that night was fair and beautiful; and by the moonlight we went to cut down some barley. Well, we worked, and sung, and strove, the pipe cheering us all the while; my own uncle, Farquhar-gorm, was piper then, the present Hugh's grandfather. Well, what should we see but a man running down the hill in his shirt and philabeg, with a handkerchief tied round him, as a runner would have in those days. We guessed he came with news, and bad news sure enough they were; for old Donald-bane, at was dying; and he came to see if Rory Calgary would go see him. Now Rory, who had learned the doctoring, was to be sure a darling; besides,
* This charm is more commonly practised in Ireland than in Scotland. The maiden who peeps into futurity, as she knits the knots, repeats,
I knit this knot, this knot I knit,