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The Cottagers of Glenburnie
Chapter XII. The Doctrine of Liberty and Equality


THE morning of the day on which the farmer was to be buried was rendered remarkable by the uncommon denseness of an autumnal fog. To Mrs Mason's eye it threw a gloom over the face of nature; nor, when it gradually yielded to the influence of the sun, and slowly retiring from the valley, hung as if rolled into masses midway upon the mountains, did the changes thus produced excite any admiration. Still, wherever she looked, all seemed to wear the aspect of sadness. As she passed from Morison's to the house of mourning, the shocks of yellow corn, spangled with dew-drops, appeared to her to stand as mementoes of the vanity of human hopes, and the inutility of human labours. The cattle, as they went forth to pasture, lowing as they went, seemed as if lamenting, that the hand which fed them was at rest; and even the robin-red-breast, whose cheerful notes she had so often listened to with pleasure, now seemed to send forth a song of sorrow expressive of dejection and woe.

The house of the deceased was already filled with female guests; the barn was equally crowded with men; and all were, according to the custom of the country, banqueted at the expense of the widow ami orphans, whose misfortunes they all the while very heartily deplored. Mrs Mason's presence imposed silence upon the women; but, in the barn, the absence of Sandy, who ought to have presided at his father's funeral, was freely descanted on, and the young man either blamed or pitied, according to the light in which his conduct happened to be viewed. Various reports concerning him were whispered through the throng; but of his actual situation, all were evidently ignorant. Amid rumours so various and contradictory, none knew what to believe; all, however, agreed in lamenting, that so respectable a man as the farmer, having two sons grown up to manhood, should nevertheless have his head laid in the grave by a little boy. The poor child, on whom the office of chief mourner thus devolved, looked grave and sad; but he was rather bewildered than sorrowful, and in the midst of the tears which he shed felt an emotion of pleasure from the novelty of the scene.

At length Mr Gourlay rose, and all was hushed in silence. Every heart joined in the solemn prayer, in which the widow and the orphans were recommended to the throne of grace. The bier was then lifted. From the garden, to which she had retired apart from the crowd, Mrs Mason viewed the solemn procession, which, as the rocks reverberated the dismal note of the church-bell, tolling at measured intervals, slowly proceeded to the destined habitation of the dead. Casting her eyes upon the rustic train who followed, she could not help contrasting the outward circumstances of this solemnity with those that had attended the last event of a similar nature in which she had been interested. She had seen her noble master conducted to the grave in all the splendour befitting his high station. Many were the lofty plumes that adorned his stately hearse; rich and brilliant were the banners and trophies that waved over it. Horses and their riders clad in all the insignia of woe (the horse and the rider being equal strangers to the sentiment), had lent their imposing influence to the spectacle, while a long train of empty carriages, distinguished by coronets and armorial bearings, gave notice to the gazers, that the dust which was about to be consigned to worms was of high and illustrious descent. But there neither friend nor neighbour were to be seen. There, with the exception of a few faithful servants, all the actors in the solemnity were engaged in performing a part in which they had no interest.

Here all were interested. The hoary-headed elders, who had the place of honour next the corpse, thought, as they looked at it, on the unblemished life of him who had been so long their associate in such duties; and wept for the man in whom they hoped their children's children would have found a friend. The distant farmers, who had bought and sold with him, paid the tribute that was due to his character and integrity; while those with whom he had lived in the constant intercourse of kindness and good neighbourhood, betrayed, in their countenances, the sorrow of their hearts.

She continued to gaze after the mourners, till an angle of the wall of the churchyard intercepted her view; soon after all was still. The last toll of the bell died away upon the distant hills, and gave place to a silence particularly solemn and impressive. It denoted the conclusion of that ceremony which returns dust to dust. 'Where now,' thought she, 'are the distinctions of rank? Where those barriers which, in this world, separate man from man? Even here sorrow embalms the memory of the righteous alone. When selfishness is silent, the heart pays its tribute to nought but worth. Why, then, should those of lowly station envy the trappings of vanity, that are but the boast of a moment, when, by piety and virtue, they may attain a distinction so much more lasting and glorious ? To the humble and the lowly are the gates of Paradise thrown open. Nor is there any other path which leads to them, but that which the gospel points out to all. In that path may the grace of God enable me to walk; so that my spirit may join the spirits of the sanctified—the innumerable host, that ' out of every tribe, and nation, and language, shall meet together before the throne of the Eternal, to worship, and give praise, and honour, and glory, to Him that liveth for ever and ever.'

From these solemn meditations Mrs Mason was called to witness the reading of the farmer's will. He had performed the duty of an honest man in making it while he was in perfect health ; wisely thinking that if he deferred it till the hour of sickness he might then neither have the ability nor inclination to give his mind to worldly cares.

To his wife he bequeathed a free cottage in the village, and an annuity which he considered equal to her wants. To each of his younger children he left the sum of forty pounds, and to his eldest son the farm, burthened with the above provision for the rest of the family. In case the elder son should choose to go abroad, or enter into business, the farm was to go to the second, and the elder to have only a younger child's portion. By a clause in the will the widow was to retain possession of the farm till the Candlemas after her husband's death. So much more consideration had this humble cottager for the feelings of a wife than is often shown in the settlements of the rich and great!

The minister, who read the will, addressed himself in finishing it to the friends and neighbours who were present, and proposed that they should alternately lend their assistance in managing the business of the harvest for the widow and her family. The proposal was readily agreed to by the men; while Mrs Mason, on her part, cheerfully undertook the superintendence of the household work and dairy, until her cousin should be so far recovered as to be able to resume the task.

As soon as all the strangers were dismissed, Mrs Mason informed her cousin of the arrangements that had been made, with which she appeared perfectly satisfied. Depressed by grief and sickness, she still considered her recovery as hopeless, and submitted to her fate with that species of quiescence which is often a substitute for the true spirit of resignation.


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