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Book of Scottish Story
The Minister's Beat


“A man he was to all the country dear.
………………………………………..
“Even children followed with endearing wile,
And plucked his gown, to share the good man’s smile.”
- Goldsmith

"I am just about to make a round of friendly visits," said the minister; "and as far as our roads lie together, you will perhaps go with me. You are a bad visitor, I know, Mr Frank; but most of my calls will be where forms are unknown, and etiquette dispensed with."

I am indeed a bad visitor, which, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, means no visitor at all; but I own the temptation of seeing my worthy friend’s reception, and the hope of coming in for a share of the cordial welcome he was sure to call forth, overcame my scruples; especially as in cottages and farm-steadings there is generally something to be learned even during a morning call; —some trait of unsophisticated nature to be smiled at, or some sturdy lesson of practical wisdom to be treasured for future use.

We had not ridden far when my companion, turning up a pretty rough cart-road leading to a large farmhouse on the right, said, with an arch smile,—"I love what our superstitious forefathers would esteem a lucky beginning even to a morning’s ride, and am glad ours commences with a wedding visit. Peter Bandster has taken a wife in my absence, and I must go and call him to account for defrauding me of the ploy. Have you heard anything, Mr Francis, about the bride ?"

More than I could, wish, thinks I to myself; for my old duenna, who indemnifies herself for my lack of hospitality by assiduous frequentation of all marriages, christenings, and gossipings abroad, had deaved me for the last three weeks with philippics about this unlucky wedding. The folly of Peter in marrying above his own line; the ignorance of the bride, who scarce knew lint-yarn from tow, or bere from barley; her unpardonable accomplishments of netting purses and playing on the spinnet; above all, her plated candlesticks, flounced gown, and fashionable bonnet, had furnished Hannah with inexhaustible matter for that exercise of the tongue, which the Scots call "rhyming,” and the English "ringing the changes;" to which, as to all other noises, custom can alone render one insensible.

I had no mind to damp the minister’s benevolent feelings towards the couple, and contented myself with answering, that I heard the bride was both bonnie and braw. The good man shook his head. "We have an old proverb, and a true one," said he, ‘a bonnie bride is sune buskit;’ but I have known gawdy butterflies cast their painted wings, and become excellent housewives in the end. ”

"But there stands Peter—no very blithe bridegroom, methinks” said I, as my eye rested on the tall and usually jolly young farmer, musing disconsolately in his cattle-yard over what appeared to be the body of a dead cow. He started on seeing the minister, as if ashamed of his sorrow or its cause, and came forward to meet us, struggling to adapt his countenance a little better to his circumstances.

"Well, Peter,”` said the mimster, frankly extending his hand, "and so I am to wish you joy ! I thought when I gave you your name, five-and-twenty years ago, if it pleased God to spare me, to have given you your helpmate also; but what signifies it by whom the knot is tied, if true love and the blessing of God go with it? Nay, never hang your head, Peter; but tell me, before we beat up the young gudewife’s quarters, what you were leaning over so wae-like when we rode forward.”

"’Od, sir," cried Peter, reddening up, "it wasna the value o’ the beast, though she was the best cow in my rnother’s byre, but the way I lost her, that pat me a wee out o’ tune. My Jessie (for I maunna ca’ her gudewife, it seems, nor mistress neither) is an ill guide o’ kye, ay, and what’s waur, o’ lasses. We had a tea-drinking last night, nae doubt, as new-married folk should; and what for no?—I’se warrant my mither had them too in her daft days. But she didna keep the house asteer the hale night wi’ fiddles and dancin’, and it neither New Year nor Hansel Monday; nor she didna lie in her bed till aught or nine o’clock, as my Jess does; na, nor yet”—

"But what has all this to do with the loss of your cow, Peter?”

"
Ower muckle, sir; ower muckle. The lasses and lads liket reels as weel as their mistress, and whisky a hantle better. They a’ sleepit in, and mysel among the lave. Nae mortal ever lookit the airt that puir Blue Bell was in, and her at the very calving ; and this morning, when the byre-door was opened, she was lying stiff and stark, wi’ a dead calf beside her. It’s no the cow, sir (though it was but the last market I had the offer o’ fifteen pund for her), it’s the thought that she was sae sair neglected amang me, and my Jess, and her tawpies o’ lasses.”

"Come, come, Peter," said the good minister, "you seem to have been as much to blame as the rest; and as for your young town bride, she rnaun creep, as the auld wives say, before she can gang. Country thrift can no more be learnt in a day than town breeding; and of that your wife, they say, has her share.”

"Ower muckle, may be,” was the half-muttered reply, as he marshalled us into the house. The “ben” end of the old-fashioned farm-house, which, during the primitive sway of Peter’s mother, had exhibited the usual decorations of an aumrie, a clock, and a pair of press-beds, with a clean swept ingle, and carefully sanded floor, had undergone a metamorphosis not less violent than some of Ovid’s or Harlequin’s. The "aumrie” had given place to a satin-wood work-table, the clock to a mirror, and the press-beds (whose removal no one could regret) to that object of Hannah’s direst vituperations —the pianoforte; while the fire-place revelled in all the summer luxury of elaborately twisted shavings, and the once sanded floor was covered with an already soiled and faded carpet, to whose delicate colours Peter, fresh from the clay furrows, and his two sheep-dogs dripping from the pond, had nearly proved equally fatal.

In this ‘sanctum sanctorum’ sat the really pretty bride, in all the dignity of outraged feeling which ignorance of life and a lavish perusal of romances could inspire, on witnessing the first cloud on her usually good-natured husband’s brow. She hastily cleared up her ruffled looks, gave the minister a cordial, though somewhat affected welcome, and dropped me a curtsey which twenty years rustication enabled me very inadequately to return.

The good pastor bent on this new lamb of his fold a benignant yet searching glance, and seemed watching where, amid the fluent small talk which succeeded, he might edge in a word of playful yet serious import to the happiness of the youthful pair. The bride was stretching forth her hand with all the dignity of her new station, to ring the bell for cake and wine, when Peter (whose spleen was evidently waiting for a vent), hastily starting up, cried out, "Mistress! if ye’re ower grand to serve, the minister yoursel, there’s ane ’ill be proud to do’t. There shall nae quean fill a glass for him in this house while it ca’s me master. My mither wad hae served him on her bended knees, gin he wad hae let her; and ye think it ower muckle to bring ben the bridal bread to him! Oh, Jess, Jess! I canna awa wi’ your town ways and town airs. ”

The bride coloured and pouted ; but there gathered a large drop in her eye, and the pastor hailed it as an earnest of future concession. He took her hand kindly, and put it into Peter’s not reluctant one. "‘ Spring showers make May flowers,’ my dear lassie, says the old proverb, and I trust out o’ these little clouds will spring your future happiness. You, Jessy, have chosen an honest, worthy, kind-hearted, country husband whose love will be well worth the sacrifice of a few second-hand graces. And you, Peter, have taken, for better and for worse, a lassie, in whose eye, in spite of foreign airs, I read a heart to be won by kindness. Bear and forbear, my dear bairns—let each be apter to yield than the other to exact. You are both travelling to a better country; see that ye fall not out by the way.”

The bride by this time was sobbing, and Peter’s heart evidently softened. So leaving the pair to seal their reconciliation in this favourable mood, the good minister and I mounted our horses, and rode off without further parley.

We were just turning the corner of the loan to regain the high road, when a woman from a cottage in an adjoining field came running to intercept us. There was in her look a wildness bordering on distraction, but it was evidently of no painful kind. She seemed like one not recovered from the first shock of some delightful surprise, too much for the frail fabric of mortality to bear without tottering to its very foundations. The minister checked his horse, whose bridle she grasped convulsively, panting partly from fatigue and more from emotion, endeavouring, but vainly, to give utterance to the tidings with which her bosom laboured. Twice she looked up, shook her head, and was silent; then with a strong effort faltered out,—"He’s come back !—the Lord be praised for it!”

"Who is come back, Jenny?” said the pastor, in the deepest tone of sympathy,—"Is it little Andrew, ye mean?”

"Andrew!  echoed the matron, with an expression of contempt, which at any other time this favourite grand-child would have been very far from calling forth" Andrew— ! —Andrew’s faither, I mean my ain first-born son Jamie, that I wore mournings for till they would wear nae langer, and thought lying fifty fathoms down in solid ice, in yon wild place Greenland, or torn to pieces wi’ savage bears, like the mocking bairns in Scripture,—he’s yonder !" said she, wildly pointing to the house; "he’s yonder, living, and living like; and oh, gin ye wad come, and maybe speak a word in season to us, we might be better able to praise the Lord, as is His due."

We turned our horses’ heads, and followed her as she ran, or rather flew, towards the cottage with the instinct of some animal long separated from its offspring. The little boy before mentioned ran out to hold our horses, and whispered as the minister stooped to stroke his head, “Daddy’s come hame frae the sea.”

The scene within the cottage battles description. The old mother, exhausted with her exertion, had sunk down beside her son on the edge of the bed on which he was sitting, where his blind and bed-rid father lay, and clasped his withered hands in speechless prayer. His lips continued to move, unconscious of our presence, and ever and anon he stretched forth a feeble arm to ascertain the actual vicinity of his long-mourned son. On a low stool, before the once gay and handsome, but now frost-nipt and hunger-worn mariner, sat his young wife, her hand firmly clasped in his, her fixed eye riveted on his countenance, giving no other sign of life than a convulsive pressure of the former, or a big drop descending unwiped from the latter ; while her unemployed hand was plucking quite mechanically the badge of widowhood from her duffle cloak, which (having just reached home as her husband knocked at his father’s door) was yet lying across her knee.

The poor sailor gazed on all around him with somewhat of a bewildered air, but most of all upon a rosy creature between his knees, of about a year and a half old, born just after his departure, and who had only learned the sad word "Daddy,” from the childish prattle of his older brother Andrew, and his sisters. Of these, one had been summoned, wild and barelegged, from the herding, the other, meek and modest, from the village school. The former, idle and intractable, half shrunk in fear of her returned parent’s well-remembered strictness; the other, too young not to have forgotten his person, only wondered whether this was the Father in heaven of whom she had heard so often. She did not think it could be so, for there was no grief or trouble there, and this father looked as if he had seen much of both.

Such was the group to whose emotions, almost too much for human nature, our entrance gave a turn.

"Jamie," said the good pastor (gently pressing the still united hands of the mariner and his faithful Annie), "you are welcome back from the gates of death and the perils of the deep. Well is it said, that they who go down to the sea in ships see more of the wonders of the Lord than other men; but it was not from storm and tempests alone that you have been delivered, —cold and famine, want and nakedness-wildbeasts to devour, and darkness to dismay ;—these have been around your dreary path—but He that was with you was mightier than all that were against you ; and you are returned a living man to tell the wondrous tale. Let us praise the Lord, my friends, for His goodness, and His wonderful works to the children of men.” We all knelt down and joined in the brief but fervent prayer that followed. The stranger’s heartfelt sigh of sympathy mingled with the pastor’s pious orisons, with the feeble accents of decrepitude, the lisp of wondering childhood, the soul-felt piety of rescued manhood, and the deep, unutterable gratitude of a wife and mother’s heart !

For such high-wrought emotions prayer is the only adequate channel. They found vent in it, and were calmed and subdued to the level of ordinary intercourse. The minister kindly addressed Jamie, and drew forth, by his judicious questions, the leading features of that marvellous history of peril and privations, endured by the crew of a Greenland ship detained a winter in the ice, with which all are now familiar, but
of which a Parry or a Franklin can perhaps alone appreciate the horrors. They were related with a simplicity that did them ample justice.

"I never despaired, sir,” said the hardy mariner; "we were young and stout. Providence, aye when at the warst, did us some gude turn, and this kept up our hearts. We had mostly a’ wives or mithers at hame, and kent that prayers wadna be wanting for our safety; and little as men may think o’ them on land, or even at sea on a prosperous voyage,—a winter at the Pole makes prayers precious. We had little to do but sleep; and oh, the nights were lang! I was aye a great dreamer; and, ye maunna be angry, sir (to the minister), the seeing Annie and the bairns amaist ilka time I lay down, and aye braw and buskit, did mair to keep up my hopes than a’ the rest. I never could see wee Jamie, though," said he, smiling, and kissing the child on his knee; "I saw a cradle weel enough; but the face o’ the bit creature in’t I never could mak out, and it vexed me; for whiles I thought my babe was dead, and whiles I feared it had never been born; but God be praised he’s here, and no that unlike mysel neither."

"Annie!" said the minister, gently loosing her renewed grasp of Jamie’s hand, " you are forgetting your duty as a gudewife—we maun drink to Jamie’s health and happiness ere we go—we’ll steal a glass or two out of old Andrew’s cordial bottle; a drop of this day’s joy will be better to him than it a’.”

"Atweel, that’s true," said the old father, with a distinctness of utterance, and acuteness of hearing, he had not manifested for many months. The bottle was brought, the health of the day went round ; I shook the weather-beaten sailor warmly by the hand, and begging leave to come and hear more of his story at a fitter season, followed the minister to the door.

"Andrew," said he, giving the little patient equerry a bright new sixpence, "teIl your daddy I gave you this for being a dutiful son to your mother when he was at the sea.”

The child’s eye glistened as he ran into the cottage to execute the welcome command, and we rode oft, our hearts too full for much communication.

END OF CHAPTER ONE


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