Fifty years ago, William
Percy rented a farm that consisted of about a hundred acres, and which was
situated on the banks of the Till. His wife, though not remarkable for her
management of a farm-house, was a woman of many virtues, and possessed of
a kind and affectionate heart. They had an only daughter, whose name was
Agnes; and, as she approached towards womanhood, people began to designate
her The Ross of Tillside. Her beauty was not of the kind
that dazzles or excites sudden admiration; but it grew upon the sight like
the increasing brightness of a young rainbow—its influence stole over the
soul as moonlight on the waters. It was pleasant to look upon her fair
countenance, where sweetness gave a character to beauty, mellowing it and
softening it, as though the soul of innocence there reflected its image.
Many said that no one could look upon the face of Agnes Percy and sin. Her
hair was of the lightest brown, her eyes of the softest blue, and the
lovely rose which bears the name of Maiden’s Blush is not more
delicate in the soft glow of its colouring than was the vermilion tint
upon her cheeks. She was of middle stature, and her figure might have
served a sculptor as a model. But she was good and gentle as she was
beautiful. The widow mentioned her name in her prayers—the poor blessed
Now Agnes was about
eighteen, when a young man of her own age, named Henry Cranstoun, took up
his residence for a few months in her father’s house. He was the
son of a distant relative of her mother, and was then articled as a clerk
or apprentice to a writer to the signet in Edinburgh. He also was the only
child of his parents; for though they had had eight others, he was all
that death had left them. He was the youngest son of his mother;—and there
was a time when there was no mother had greater cause to be proud of her
children. Yea, as they hand in hand, or one by one, went forth on the
Sabbath morning with their parents to their place of worship, there was
not an eye this looked not with delight or admiration on the little
Cranstouns. The neatness of their dress, the loveliness of every
countenance, the family likeness of each, the apparent affection of all,
the propriety of their demeanour, interested all who looked upon them. But
as untimely flowers, that by a returning frost are stricken-down in
beauty, so drooped, so perished, this fair and happy family. Some had said
that they were too beautiful to live; and, as they also manifested much
quickness and wisdom for their years, there were others who said to Mrs.
Cranstoun, as she was shedding their shining hair upon their brows, that
she would never comb an old head! This is a cold, cruel, and ignorant
prophecy—it has sent foreboding and unhappiness into the bosom of many a
fond mother; but, in this case, it needed not the gift of a seer to
foretell the gloomy tidings. Consumption lurked amidst the beauty that
glowed on every cheek; and seven of the fair family had fallen victims to
the progress of the insidious destroyer, till Henry alone was left. And
now, even upon him also, it seemed to have set its mark. The hollow cough
and the flushed cheek, the languidness by day and the restlessness by
night, gave evidence that the disease was there.
Change of air and less
study we’re recommended by the physicians as the only means by which Henry
might be saved; and he was sent over to Northumberland, to the house of
William Percy, his mother’s friend.
It was about that period of the year
which is spoken of as the "fall of the leaf," when Henry Cranstoun first
arzived at Tillside; William Percy had just gathered in his harvest, and
Henry met with the kindly welcome of a primitive family. The father and
mother, and their daughter, received him as one whom they were to snatch
from the hands of death. In a few days, the goat’s milk and the bracing
air, whch came with health on its wings from the adjacent mountains,
wrought a visible change in the appearance of the invalid. His cough
became more softened, his eyes less languid, his step more firm, and he
panted not as he walked. He felt returning strength flowing through his
veins—in his bosom, in the moving of his fingers, he felt it. He walked
out by the side of Agnes—she led
him by the banks of the Till, by the foot of the hills, by the woods where
the brown leaves were falling, and by the solitary glen.
Perhaps I might have said
that the presence of Agnes contributed not less than the mountain air and
the change of scenery to his restoration to health. Of this I have not
been told. Certain it is that her beauty and her gentleness had spread
their influence over his heart, as spring, with its wooing breath, awakens
the dreaming earth from its winter sleep. It was not the season when
nature calls forth the soul to love; for the cushat was silent in the
wood, the mavis voiceless on the thorn, the birds were dumb on every
spray, the wild-flowers had closed their leaves and drooped, and the
meadows lost their fragrance. But, as they wandered forth together, a lark
started up at their feet; it raised its autumn song over their heads; it
poured it in their ears. Both raised their eyes in joy towards the singing
bird; they listened to it with delight. His fingers were pressed on hers
as he heard it, as though he would have said—"How sweet it is!" But the
lustre forsook his eyes while he yet listened—he sighed, and was silent.
They returned home together, and Agnes strove to cheer him; but his
spirit was heavy, and he pressed her hand more fervently in his. The song
of the lark seemed to have touched a cord of sadness in his bosom.
Henry was heard walking backward and
forward in his room throughout the night; and on the following morning at
breakfast he put a paper into the hands of Agnes, on which was written the
THE LARK’S AUTUMNAL SONG.(INSCRIBED TO AGNES PERCY.)
Again in the heavens thy hymn is
Bird of the daring wing!
When last ye sprang from the daisied sward
Making the welkin ring,
Thy lay the dreaming buds awoke—
Thy voice the spell as winter broke
The primrose, on the mossy brae,
Burst beauteous into life and day,
And smiled to hear thee sing!
The children clapped their tiny hands;
The shout rang through their little bands,
Hailing the bird of spring!
Thy lay made earth and air rejoice,
And nature heard thee as an angel’s voice.
Again in the heavens thy hymn is
Bird of the mournful song!
A lonely daisy yet decks the sward,
The last of the summer throngs
While here and there, upon the brae,
Some primrose, languid as the ray
Of hope that vanisheth away
Upon the cheek of death,
Untimely opes its golden wings,
Mistaking, as it hears thee sing,
That thou art come to tell of spring,
And not of winter’s wrath.
But now thy strain is as one that grieves—
Thou singest the dirge of the falling leaves!
Again in the heavens thy hymn I hear,
Bird of the merry song!
Thou art ringing a lay in old winter’ s ear—
Ye bid him farrewell, and ye welcome him here —
Ye help the old man along?
Ye are singing to look on the fruits of the year
Gathered in, and in ripeness, with plenty around;
And ye pour o’er earth’s fulness a rapturous sound.
Ye are singing a strain that man should have sung—
Man with ingratitude sealed on his tongue:
At seed-time, thy joyous and hope-breathing lay,
To the ploughman was sung, as an anthem, all day,
And now at his harvest ye greet him again,
And call him to join in thy thanksgiving strain.
Agnes wept as she perused
the foreboding lines, which he had marked in what printers call Italics,
in the second stanza, by drawing a line under them. She felt interested in
the fate of Henry Cranstoun—deeply interested. We believe that, like the
gentle Desdemona, she wished that
"Heaven had made her such a
for, though the young
writer to the signet spoke not
"Of war, and broils, and
his tongue was the
interpreter of nature—he dwelt as an enthusiast on its beauties, its
mysteries, its benevolence, its glorious design, and, through all, he
"Through Nature up to Nature’s God!"
It is a common saying, "that you
cannot put an old head upon young shoulders!" but, if ever the truth of
the saying might be disputed, it was in the case of Henry Cranstoun. The
deaths of his brothers and his sisters had rested upon his young mind—they
had struck it with awe—they had made him to feel that he, too, must
die—he, indeed, felt as though the shadow of death were creeping over him;
and the thoughts and the hopes of eternity early became the companions of
his spirit. He treasured up the words of the inspired preacher, "Remember
thy Creator in the days of thy youth." He treasured them up, and he
practised them; and his deportment gave him a deeper interest in the eyes
of the Northumberland farmer and his family.
William Percy was esteemed
by his neighbours as a church-going and a good man. He was kind to his
servants; he paid every man his own; he was an affectionate husband and a
fond father; the poor turned not away murmuring from his door; and every
Sunday night he knelt with his wife and with his daughter, before their
Maker, in worship, as though it were a duty which was to be discharged but
once in seven days. Now, it was late on Saturday night when Henry
Cranstoun arrived at their house; and, on the following evening, he joined
in the devotions of the family. But Monday night came, and the supper
passed, and the Bibles were not brought. Henry inquired—
"Is it not time for
The question went to the
conscience of the farmer—he felt that before his Creator, who preserved
him, who gave him every breath he drew, he had knelt with his family but
once a-week. "Is not He the Almighty of all time and of all eternity,"
asked his conscience; "and have I not served Him as though He were Lord of
the Sabbath only? I forsake him for a week—where should I be if he left me
but for a moment?"
"Agnes, love," said he
aloud, "bring the books."
She cheerfully obeyed; and
the Bibles were laid upon the table. The psalm was read and the voice of
praise was heard; and as the hinds in the adjoining houses heard the
sound, they followed the example of their master. Hitherto, like their
employer, they had lifted their voices in thanksgiving but once a week, as
if a few minutes spent in praise and in prayer, and in the reading of a
chapter, were all that was necessary for example to a family, or for
gratitude to Him who sustained, protected, and gave them being from moment
to moment. I should not dwell upon this, were it not that there are many
good and Christian parents, who conceive that they fulfil the injunction
of "praying often with and for their children" by causing them to kneel
around them on a Sabbath night. But this certainly is a poor fulfilment of
the oath which they have taken—or which, if they have not taken, they are
equally bound to perform. I do not say that the man who daily prays with
his family will have the gratification of seeing all of them following in
his footsteps, or that all of them will think as he thinks; but he may be
of one sect, and some of them of another; yet, let them go where they
will, let them be thrown into what company they may, let temptation assail
them in every form, and absence throw its shadows over their father’s
house, yet the remembrance, the fervour, the words of a father’s prayers,
will descend upon their souls like a whisper from Heaven, kindling the
memory and awakening the conscience; and, if the child of such a man
depart into sin, the small still voice will not die in his ear. Nay, the
remembrance of the father’s voice will be heard in the son’s heart above
the song of the bacchanal, and the lowly remembered voice of psalms rise
upon his memory, making him insensible to the peal of instruments. I have
listened to the sonorous swell of the organ in the Roman church and the
Episcopal cathedral, to the chant of the choristers and the music of the
anthem, and I have been awed by the sounds; but they produced not the
feelings of peace and of reverence, I might say of religion, which are
inspired by the lowly voices of a congregated family joining together in
their hymn of praise. I have thought that such sounds, striking on the ear
of the guilty, would arrest them in their progress.
Such was the change which
Henry Cranstoun introduced into the house of his host. From that moment,
Agnes regarded him with a deeper interest, her father loved him, and her
mother looked on him as a son. But, although his mind had been early
imbued with serious impressions, he was a lover of all that was beautiful
in nature—he was warm of heart and eloquent of speech—and his form was
such as the eye of a maiden might look on with complacency.
Christmas had passed before
he left the house of his mother’s friend, and health again glowed on his
cheeks, strength revisited his frame. No one that saw Henry Cranstoun upon
his entering the house of Mr. Percy three months before, and who had not
seen him in the meanwhile, would have known him to be the same individual.
But Agnes noted no change in him. She knew that his health was now
restored; but she had begun to hope and love at the same moment, and she
had never thought that Henry would die. His eyes had ever been bright to
her—his voice ever pleasing; and her beauty, her gentleness, her sweetness
of temper, her kindness, her looks, her tones of affection, had fallen
upon his bosom, till every thought, save the thought of Agnes, was
He was to leave her
father’s house—he bade her farewell; till that moment, they had not
known how dear they were unto each other. They had never spoken of
love—and, to hearts that do love, there is little need for such
declarations. The affection of every glance, the guarded delicacy of every
action, speaks it more plainly than the impassioned eloquence of language.
True eloquence is feeling, and feeling dictates the words to be used,
pouring them forth in the full tide of the heart’s emotion; but, though
love also be feeling, it is not of that kind which makes men eloquent.
True love is dumb as true gratitude. It speaks from the glowing eye and
the throbbing bosom; from the hand passionately grasped—not from the
Henry and Agnes said
little; but they fell upon the necks of each other when they parted. She
wept, and from his eyes the tear was ready to fall. He kissed her brow,
and said that in the spring he would return.
He left Northumberland, and
his parents welcomed him as one received from the dead. He was strong and
healthy, and he alone, of all their children, seemed to have overcome the
power of the destroyer. Yet a week never passed but he wrote to his
friends, who had snatched him as from the gates of death; or rather I
should say, that he wrote to the gentle Agnes, requesting that the
expression of his gratitude might be given to her parents, until he
returned to thank them. But spring came, and with it Henry Cranstoun
returned to Tillside. Health still glowed in his eyes and beamed upon his
cheeks. He was fond of angling, and, with his rod in his hand, he sought
amusement in the gentle art; yet his favourite pastime afforded him no
pleasure, save when Agnes was by his side, and then they would sit down on
the brae-side together, with her hand in his, and the fishing-rod on the
ground, and they forgot that he had gone out to fish, until evening came,
and he returned with his creel empty.
Thus five years passed on,
and twice in every year Henry Cranstoun visited his friends in
Northumberland. He had commenced practice in Edinburgh; fair prospects
opened before him; his marriage day was fixed; and need I say that the
bride was Agnes?
The ceremony was to be
performed in the parish church which was situated about a mile from her
father’s house. Henry was only expected to arrive an hour or two before
the marriage was to take place. The bosom of fair Agnes throbbed with
tumultuous joy. Her parents gazed upon her—blessed her, and were happy.
She sat before them, arrayed, a bride for the altar. He whom she loved and
they esteemed was that day to make her his wife. Her mother gazed on her
with pride—she blessed her Agnes. Her father’s heart glowed within him.
The bridemaidens were come—Agnes was impatient, but still happy; no fear,
no doubt, had risen in her mind. She knew her Henry.
But the last hour arrived
and Henry came not. Her uneasiness increased. The servants were sent to a
neighbouring hill; but no chaise, no horseman appeared in sight. Agnes
became unhappy; paleness overspread her cheeks. The company were silent.
Her father’s watch hung over the mantle-piece, and she sat at the opposite
side of the room; yet its ticking fell upon her ears slow and heavy, as
sounds from a hammer on an anvil. Tears, which she had struggled to
conceal, now gathered in her eyes. Some evil had befallen Henry, she said,
The hour which had been
appointed for the ceremony was past; but still he came not. Her fears, her
anxiety increased, and she wept the more, refusing to be comforted. She
knew not what she feared; but her breast was filled with misery. She had
received a letter from him but three days before. She read it again—it
breathed the language of impassioned affection, but his truth she doubted
not; yet there was an incoherency, a vehemence, in some parts of the
letter, which were not like the style of Henry. A vague horror shot across
her thoughts, and her hand trembled as she laid the letter aside.
Still the servants were
dispatched to see if he approached, and at length they brought tidings
that two horsemen were riding towards the house. Agnes strove to wipe away
the tears from her eyes, but her heart yet throbbed, and others rose in
their place. The horsemen drew near the house. Those of the company who
beheld them from the windows drew back with a look of dismay. Agnes
clasped her hands together as she beheld the expression of their
countenances. The evil she apprehended was about to be revealed. The
parish clergyman and the minister of the congregation to which Mr. Percy
belonged, entered the room. She started from her seat as they entered—she
wrung her hands on her bosom—her eyes seemed fixed and motionless with
misery—her lips moved—her tongue struggled for utterance.
"Be comforted!" said one of
the reverend visitors, kindly.
"Is my Henry dead?" she
exclaimed—"is he dead?"
"He is not dead," was the
reply; "but"—and the clergyman hesitated a moment to proceed.
"His mind is dead!"
added the wretched bride, and sank back in
her mother’s arms. The dismal thought flashed upon her soul, the vague
horror that she had shrank from before became tangible—the incoherence and
vehemence of passages in his last letter were suddenly and fearfully
The tidings which the
clergymen had to communicate, her fears had already told. The mind of
Henry Cranstoun had become a wreck. A cloud fell upon his reason; and, on
the day that he was to lead his bride to the altar, he was placed an
inmate of the gloomy cells of Bedlam.
Several months had passed,
and the grief of Agnes became more tranquil, but not less deep. She
entreated permission to visit her bridegroom in the place of his
confinement, and her parents fondly endeavoured to dissuade her from her
purpose; but it became the one--the ruling wish of her heart—and they
consented. Her father accompanied her to the dreary prison-house. But I
shall not attempt to describe the heart-rending interview, nor to tell how
that iron which fettered him entered her soul. He knew her— he wept before
her as a child—he exclaimed, "My brain!—my brain!" and pressed his hand
upon his brow. Around him were strewed scraps of paper; she beheld her
name upon each; they were covered with verses of love and of wildness. But
I will not dwell upon the harrowing scene, upon the words that were
spoken, and the fitful gleams of reason that flitted across his soul, as
his eyes remained rivetted on the face he loved. But when her father, with
a faltering voice, suggested that they should depart, and took her hand to
lead her from the cell, a scream of loud and bitter agony burst from the
wretched maniac. "Agnes—Agnes!" he cried, and his wailing was as the
lamentation of a lost spirit. Anguish overpowered her, and she was borne
insensible from the cell in her father’s arms.
Seven long and dreary years
passed, and the mind of Henry was still bewildered; still was he an inmate
of the melancholy asylum, and no hope was entertained of his recovery. But
the heart of Agnes knew no change--for him she still shed the secret tear
and offered up the secret prayer.
But her father’s fortunes were altered. He had been
induced to enter into a speculation with one who deceived him, and in it
the industry of years was swallowed up and lost. He was obliged to leave
his farm, and he now resided in a small cottage in its neighbourhood.
Still there were many who sought the hand of the fair Rose of Till-side;
but she chose rather to brood over the remembrance of poor ruined Henry
than to listen to their addresses. But amongst them was a young gentleman
named Walker, whose condition was far above hers, and who for two years
had vainly sought a place in her affections. In the day of her father’s
distress, he had been his friend, and he yet sought to place him again in
a state of independence. The health of Mr. Percy, also, began to decline;
the infirmities of age were growing upon him; and the little that he had
been able to save from the wreck of his capital was wasting rapidly away.
He became melancholy with the thought that he should die a pauper, or
leave his wife and his laughter in want; and, in the presence of Agnes, he
often spoke of Mr. Walker—of the excellence of his character— of his
wealth—of what he had done for him in the midst of his misfortunes—of what
he still desired to do—and of his affection for her. She listened to her
father’s words in sorrow and in silence, and, on her pillow by night, she
wept because of them. To her the remembrance of Henry Cranstoun was dearer
than the temptations of wealth, and her heart clung to him with a
constancy which neither time, misery, nor hopelessness could shake. She
was grateful to her father’s friend for the kindness he had shown him, and
for the generosity of the proposals he had made—yet she found that she
could not love him, that her bosom had room for none but Henry.
Poverty, however, entered
her parents’ dwelling, and her father seemed drooping for lack of
nourishment which his increasing feebleness required. Her mother, too, sat
silent and melancholy, occasionally raising her eyes to her daughter’s
face, with a look that implored her to save her father. The old man had
been ordered wine daily; but their penury was now such that they could not
purchase it, and the plainest food had become scanty on their table.
Such was their situation,
and they were sitting sorrowful together, when Mr. Walker entered the
rooms He approached Agnes respectfully, he took her hand.
"Dear Agnes," he began,
"can one with so kind a heart look with indifference on the wants and the
sufferings of a father and a mother? It is in your power to make them
happy, to restore them to prosperity. For two years I have sought your
hand, without meeting one look of encouragement or one word of hope. Yet
believe me, Agnes, I admire the constancy which induces you to cherish a
hopeless passion, and reject me. If not for my sake, yet for the sake of
your poor father, for that of your fond mother, yea, for your own sake,
dearest, permit me to call you mine. I do not ask your love now; give me
but your esteem, and I will study to deserve your affection. Dear friends,
plead for me," he added, addressing her parents.
Her father laid his hand
upon hers—"Dear Agnes," said he, "your father is now a poor man—he is very
poor. I fear the hand of death is already upon me; and when I am gone, who
will provide for your poor mother—who will protect thee, my child? It is
the only wish of my heart to see you provided for, and your father would
die in peace. And oh, my Agnes, as your father’s dying request, permit me
to bestow your hand upon this generous youth."
"Save us, my sweet one!"
cried her mother, and she flung her arms around her daughter’s neck.
"It is done!" exclaimed
Agnes, bursting into tears; and she stretched out her hand to Mr. Walker.
A few weeks afterwards, and
the village bells rang a merry peal, children scattered flowers, and there
was joy on every face, save upon the face of the fair bride, who went as a
sacrifice to the altar. She heard not the words of the clergyman as he
read the ceremony. She trembled, she would have fallen to the ground, but
that the bride’s maid supported her.
The marriage party were
returning by a footpath from the church, the sorrowful bride resting on
the arm of her bridegroom. A stranger met them—he turned aside, that they
might pass. His eyes fell upon the countenance of the bride.
"O Heavens! my Agnes!"
cried the stranger, in a voice of agony.
"Henry! my Henry!" screamed
the wretched bride, and, starting from the side of the bridegroom, she
sank on the breast of the stranger.
That stranger was indeed
Henry Cranstoun. A severe illness had brought him to the verge of death,
and with his restoration to health reason was restored also. He had come
to take his bride to his bosom—he met her the bride of another. It was a
scene of misery.
"O Agnes! Agnes!" groaned
Henry, "would to Heaven I had died! You are another’s, though your heart
is mine! Farewell! Farewell!—we must meet no more! I have endured much,
but never misery like this!"
She could only exclaim,
"Henry!" and speech failed her—recollection fled. Henry Cranstoun struck
his hand upon his brow, and rushed wildly away. Agnes was conveyed to her
father’s house, as being nearer than that of her bridegroom’s. She was
laid upon her bed, she seemed unconscious of all around, and her tongue
only uttered the word "Henry." She rose not again from the bed on which
she was laid, and within a week her gentle spirit fled. The shock which
Henry had met with occasioned a relapse of the fever from which he had but
recently recovered. He was taken to the village inn. He felt that death
was about to terminate his sufferings, and when he heard of the death of
his Agnes, he requested to be buried by her side. Within three weeks he
died, and his latest wish was fulfilled—he was laid by the side of Agnes
Percy, and a rose-tree was planted over their grave.