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Book of Scottish Story
The Headstone


The coffin was let down to the bottom of the grave, the planks were removed from the heaped-up brink, the first rattling clods had struck their knell, the quick shovelling was over, and the long, broad, skilfully cut pieces of turf were aptly joined together, and trimly laid by the beating spade, so that the newest mound in the churchyard was scarcely distinguishable from those that were grown over by the undisturbed grass and daisies of a luxuriant spring. The burial was soon over ; and the party, with one consenting motion, having uncovered their heads in decent reverence of the place and occasion, were beginning to separate, and about to leave the churchyard.

Here some acquaintances, from distant parts of the parish, who had not had an opportunity of addressing each other in the house that had belonged to the deceased, nor in the course of the few hundred yards that the little procession had to move over from his bed to his grave, were shaking hands, quietly but cheerfully, and inquiring after the welfare of each other's families. There, a small knot of neighbours were speaking, without exaggeration, of the respectable character which the deceased had borne, and mentioning to one another little incidents of his life, some of them so remote as to be known only to the grayheaded persons of the group ; while a few yards farther removed from the spot, were standing together parties who discussed ordinary concerns, altogether unconnected with the funeral, such as the state of the markets, the promise of the season, or change of tenants; but still with a sobriety of manner and voice that was insensibly produced by the influence of the simple ceremony now closed, by the quiet graves around, and the shadow of the spire and gray walls of the house of God.

Two men yet stood together at the head of the grave, with countenances of sincere but unimpassioned grief. They were brothers, the only sons of him who had been buried. And there was something in their situation that naturally kept the eyes of many directed upon them for a longer time, and more intently, than would have been the case had there been nothing more observable about them than the common symptoms of a common sorrow. But these two brothers, who were now standing at the head of their father's grave, had for some years been totally estranged from each other, and the only words that had passed between them, during all that time, had been uttered within a few days past, during the necessary preparations for the old man's funeral.

No deep and deadly quarrel was between these brothers, and neither of them could distinctly tell the cause of this unnatural estrangement. Perhaps dim jealousies of their father's favour— selfish thoughts that will sometimes force themselves into poor men's hearts respecting temporal expectations—unaccommodating manners on both sides —taunting words that mean little when uttered, but which rankle and fester in remembrance—imagined opposition of interests, that, duly considered, would have been found one and the same— these, and many other causes, slight when single, but strong when rising up together in one baneful band, had gradually but fatally infected their hearts, till at last they who in youth had been seldom separate, and truly attached, now met at market, and, miserable to say, at church, with dark and averted faces, like different clansmen during a feud.

Surely if anything could have softened their hearts towards each other, it must have been to stand silently, side by side, while the earth, stones, and clods, were falling down upon their father's coffin. And, doubtless, their hearts were so softened. But pride, though it cannot prevent the holy affections of nature from being felt, may prevent them from being shown; and these two brothers stood there together, determined not to let each other know the mutual tenderness that, in spite of them, was gushing up in their hearts, and teaching them the unconfessed folly and wickedness of their causeless quarrel.

A headstone had been prepared, and a person came forward to plant it. The elder brother directed him how to place it—a plain stone, with a sand-glass, skull, and cross-bones, chiselled not rudely, and a few words inscribed. The young-er brother regarded the operation with a troubled eye, and said, loudly enough to be heard by several of the bystanders,

"William, this was not kind in you;— you should have told me of this. I loved my father as well as you could love him. You were the elder, and, it may be, the favourite son; but I had a right in nature to have joined you in ordering this headstone, had I not?"

During these words, the stone was sinking into the earth, and many persons who were on their way from the grave returned. For a while the elder brother said nothing, for he had a consciousness in his heart that he ought to have consulted his father's son in designing this last becoming mark of affection and respect to his memory; so the stone was planted in silence, and now stood erect, decently and simply among the other unostentatious memorials of the humble dead.

The inscription merely gave the name and age of the deceased, and told that the stone had been erected "by his affectionate sons." The sight of these words seemed to soften the displeasure of the angry man, and he said, somewhat more mildly, "Yes, we were his affectionate sons, and since my name is on the stone, I am satisfied, brother. We have not drawn together kindly of late years, and perhaps never may; but I acknowledge and respect your worth; and here, before our own friends, and before the friends of our father, with my foot above his head, I express my willingness to be on better and other terms with you, and if we cannot command love in our hearts, let us, at least, brother, bar out all unkindness."

The minister, who had attended the funeral, and had something intrusted to him to say publicly before he left the churchyard, now came forward, and asked the elder brother why he spake not regarding this matter. He saw that there was something of a cold and sullen pride rising up in his heart—for not easily may any man hope to dismiss from the chamber of his heart even the vilest guest, if once cherished there.

With a solemn and almost severe air, he looked upon the relenting man, and then, changing his countenance into serenity, said gently,—

Behold how good a thing it is.
And how becoming well,
Together such as brethren are
In unity to dwell.

The time, the place, and this beautiful expression of a natural sentiment, quite overcame a heart in which many kind, if not warm, affections dwelt; and the man thus appealed to bowed down his head and wept.

"Give me your hand, brother;" and it was given, while a murmer of satisfaction arose from all present, and all hearts felt kindlier and more humanely towards each other.

As the brothers stood fervently, but composedly, grasping each other's hands, in the little hollow that lay between the grave of their mother, long since dead, and that of their father, whose shroud was haply not yet still from the fall of dust to dust, the minister stood beside them with a pleasant countenance, and said, "I must fulfil the promise 1 made to your father on his deathbed. I must read to you a few words which his hand wrote at an hour when his tongue denied its office. I must not say that you did your duty to your old father ; for did he not often beseech you, apart from one another, to be reconciled, for your own sakes as Christians, for his sake, and for the sake of the mother who bare you, and, Stephen, who died that you might be born? When the palsy struck him for the last time, you were both absent, nor was it your fault that you were not beside the old man when he died. As long as sense continued with him here, did he think of you two, and of you two alone. Tears were in his eyes; I saw them there, and on his cheek too, when no breath came from his lips. But of this no more. He died with this paper in his hand; and he made me know that I was to read it to you over his grave. I now obey him;

"'My sons, if you will let my bones lie quiet in the grave, near the dust of your mother, depart not from my burial till, in the name of God and Christ, you promise to love one another as you used to do. Dear boys, receive my blessing.'"

Some turned their heads away to hide the tears that needed not to be hidden; and when the brothers had released each other from a long and sobbing embrace, many went up to them, and in a single word or two expressed their joy at this perfect reconcilement. The brothers themselves walked away from the churchyard, arm in arm with the minister, to the manse. On the following Sabbath they were seen sitting with their families in the same pew; and it was observed that they read together off the same Bible when the minister gave out the text, and that they sang together, taking hold of the same psalm-book. The same psalm was sung (given out at their own request), of which one verse had been repeated at their father's grave; and a larger sum than usual was on that Sabbath found in the plate for the poor, for Love and Charity are sisters. And ever after, | both during the peace and the troubles of this life, the hearts of the brothers were as one, and in nothing were they divided.


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