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The Cottars of the Glen
Chapter I


Cottages in the glen—Their structure—The occupants—Old Saunders Gray—Domestic piety—Christian charity—Its effect.

In the bosom of one of the sweetest pastoral glens in the south-west of "wild traditioned Scotland," stood a cluster of cottages, of which, and of their occupants, we mean to speak. The stretch of the glen is about eight miles, in the winding length of which a limpid stream pursues its course, and gathers in its way a number of affluents on the right and on the left. These tributaries tend much to enliven the sweet scene, by means of the dark gorges which they have scooped out in their rapid descent adown the steep hills on either side. These gorges are, for the most part, choked to the brim with dark natural wood, and densely entangled copse, sprung from the stems of decayed trees that have grown on the spot, age after age. These murky ravines have their own tales and wild traditions that have clung to them time out of mind. The beautiful green heights, whose velvet slopes are dotted with the Meeting lambkins that gaily frisk around their dams, stand in towering majesty as guardians of the fairy glen.

It was in the deep bosom of this glen where stood the cottages which we have mentioned. These lowly huts were perfect specimens of the hovels of the peasantry of the olden times. The timber part was of oak, which abounded in the primeval woods of the glen, and which, it seems, every one was at liberty to appropriate as he saw fit. The couples were attached to strong beams that were deeply and firmly moored in the ground, and on the cross spars on the roof were placed rows of turf and heather, which even the modern slated roof cannot equal. The interior generally consisted of two apartments, a kitchen and a spence; while the fire of peats blazed exactly in the middle of the floor, and sent its tardy smoke in a dense column straight up through the aperture in the roof. In certain states of weather, the smoke formed a thick cloud above head, so that the joists and rafters were frequently varnished black and glossy, like a looking-glass. The comfort within, in the shivering days of winter, was much greater than, in modern times, we may be ready to suppose.

One cottage in particular to which some degree of interest was attached, was situated close on the margin of a crystal rill that purled from the steep face of the height above, and which, in great spates from the dark thunder cloud, sent its contribution in full and muddy gush down to the main stream that traversed the vale beneath. Behind, in a semi-circle, grew the old trees and brushwood which, in the winter, afforded shelter from the surly blasts that descended from the hills, and poured from the outlets of the narrow ravines with destructive force, as from the mouth of a cannon; and in the sweet months of summer, this sheltering woodland was filled with flocks of songsters, whose merry throats poured forth a flood of the sweetest melody. The cottage was one of a cluster which, in those times, were common in the glens, and even in the remote solitudes; for where, now-a-days, we find only a lonely shepherd's shieling, there were dwellings that studded the localities in every quarter. In the glen to which we now refer there were, in the last generation, nearly a hundred straggling cottages and small hamlets, whereas, at present, we cannot count above a dozen, so extensive have been the clearings within the memory of the people living. In traversing the moorlands and solitary glens, we stumble on the foundations and ruins of old buildings, the very names of which are entirely forgotten. We say the cottage was not alone; there were others near it, exactly of the same structure, and inhabited by persons of the same condition in life; so that in those simple times, and apart from towns, there was no want of sociality and neighbourly intercourse; and as we shall see in the history of the cottage, the inhabitants were orderly in their habits, and consistently Christian in their deportment.

The occupant of the cottage was a person of the name of Saunders Gray, a man well advanced in years, and a native of the glen, as his ancestors were generations before him. Till of late we could count in these glens and moorlands families, the descendants of persons who hare wonned on the same spot for hundreds of years, and others for scores on scores of years; but almost all such occupancy is now extinct. Saunders was one of the old school, as we are in the habit of terming it; but he was a substantial Christian, and well versed in the truths of the gospel. He delighted in the works of the old divines, and was a great stickler for orthodoxy. He was not too tolerant of those who did not exactly chime in with all his sentiments, but he was not uncharitable. He knew he was but a man liable to err as well as others, and that here we see only as through a glass darkly. He was firm, but not dogmatic, and could patiently listen to what might be advanced on the other side, and never allowed differences of opinion to interrupt neighbourly fellowship. He had drunk too deep into the spirit of the great Master to permit the extinguishment of the charity that thinketh no evil. No person of his acquaintance ever doubted for a moment his genuine godliness. His Nathaniel-like temper was too transparent to admit of any suspicion of his integrity, and his genuine kindness and obliging turn secured him the love of all. His deportment from his boyhood had been blameless—none could ever point to any external blot in his character, although he had his infirmities like other men. He never laid the slightest claim to perfection; and, indeed, the sense of his sinfulness, as a fallen creature, superinduced a contrition and a penitence of a more than ordinary kind. This astonished some persons who did not seem to experience so vivid a sense of the evil of sin as he entertained, which induced a friend to say to him one day, "Saunders, we are amazed that so good a man as you are should cherish such lowly thoughts of yourself." "Ah," said he, "little do you know of the evils within, for though the Lord has in mercy preserved me from any flagrant sin in the life, the unseen heart is depraved in all men, and I am no exception; and though the Lord has been pleased to renew me by His grace, and to wash away my sins in His precious blood, which was shed on the cross as an atonement for human transgression, I still have been a sinner, and am a sinner; nay, I may say with Paul, I am the chief of sinners, and if I am not saved by free grace through the great sacrifice, I am undone for ever. All my righteousness is as filthy rags in my own sight, and how much more in the sight of Him who is infinite—purity itself. My hope is all in Christ."

Saunders was a shining light, and even though he had never uttered a word on divine things, the lustre of his sanctity would have preached an impressive and a practical sermon. We cannot tell how much influence for good the life of a saintly man may shed all around him. Richard Cecil says, "that the very sight of a godly man passing along the street before his window, used to send him to his prayers." "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

The occupants of the cottage were Saunders, his wife, and two daughters. Barbara Fowler was, what in the language of those times was termed, a gracious woman— a God-fearing person who, like her husband, had been a believer in Christ from her youth. It was the mutual attraction of genuine piety, as well as of personal liking, that ultimately made them man and wife. Barbara was a pattern to all the wives in the glen, and at that time there were not a few. Her personal tidiness, and the snod and cleanly manner in which she kept her household, was the admiration of some and the envy of others. The slovenly housewives regarded the spouse of Saunders Gray, or, as he was called, Saunders of the Glen, as a standing critique on their sluttishness, which was the occasion of many reproachful whispers, and of much secret grudging and spitefulness. All this she knew, but she resolved to maintain her position, and to conduct herself in a kind and gentle manner toward all her neighbours, and more especially toward those who, she knew, were in the habit of speaking lightly of her. Her maxim was to render good for evil, and she found that this was not without its due effect, for some of her enemies ultimately became her best friends, and imitated her example in domestic matters, and, what was better far, became, through her pious conversation, decided Christians. This was eminently the case in one instance. A neighbour, named Eppie Page, a woman of a very irrasible temper, and of a somewhat fiendish disposition, and one who cherished a strong aversion to Barbara, and who distinguished herself both by word and deed as her foe—Barbara, well aware of all this, never showed the least resentment, but conducted herself in every way toward her as if she had been her friend. Eppie was born in . the glen, and her husband was a native of the same place. The cottage which they occupied stood in a pleasant nook, and they had been long its inmates, and consequently felt an ineradicable attachment to the hut and its enchanting neighbourhood. It happened that the rent due for their little cottage had not been forthcoming at the proper time, and, besides, there being an accumulation of arrears, it came to this—that they must either pay or quit the place. This was sad news; they had a numerous family; they knew not where to lay their head. At last they resolved to solicit help from their neighbours, humbling to their pride, as it might be. Their efforts, however, were in vain: the neighbours were all of them poor like themselves, and had little to spare beyond their own necessities; and even those who pretended to be their friends, showed the greatest coolness. There # was now no help for it, they must flit and leave the pleasant glen for the first time, and, perhaps, for ever. As Eppie and her husband, and the children around them, were sitting weeping before the hearth, a gentle tapping was heard at the door. "Come in," was the response, and there stood before them Barbara Gray; as if a thunderbolt had fallen at their feet, they could not have been more astonished. Eppie shook from head to foot, and that both through anger and terror; for she imagined that she whom she so bitterly traduced, had come with a charge against her before leaving the glen. Willie rose to his feet, and the children stood bathed in tears. Eppie alone continued sitting, and regarded the intruder with a malignant scowl. "I have come, dear friends," said Barbara, "I have come under the cloud of the evening to tender you some assistance in your distress, and now X have to say that you need not leave the glen if you will accept help from an old neighbour, and one who wishes you well. Here is as much as will pay your rent, and the bygone deficiencies into the bargain." Poor Eppie gazed in bewilderment—she was confounded, she was spell-bound, her heart began to swell, the tears gushed from her eyes, she covered her face with her apron, and rocked her head from side to side. At last she looked up, and exclaimed, "And all this from one whom I have so long treated as an enemy! what shall I say? God be merciful to me a sinner." "And," said Barbara, "it is just because He is merciful, and has shown mercy to me and mine, that I have been led to administer this little kindness—a kindness which is, indeed, due from one neighbour to another, when it is in our power; for, you know, the blessed Scriptures say, 'Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use and persecute you.' We have, through industry and careful management, been enabled, from time to time, to save small sums, so that when more than ordinary is needed, either by our own family, or by others of our acquaintance, we might have something to give. We heard of your distress—for my husband concurs with me in this gift—and we considered that if the case had been so with us, we would have felt the same reluctance to leave this sweet glen which our ancestors have occupied for generations before us. And now, dear friends, we make you welcome to this small sum, and we are happy that it is in our power to bestow it, for, indeed, as the great Master hath said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Eppie knew not how to answer. She felt, indeed, as if coals of fire had been heapt upon her head. The effect was irresistible—her heart was thawed into the deepest contrition. She made confessions to her benefactor, and she made confession to the Lord; and honest Barbara had the inexpressible pleasure of witnessing a whole household overcome and prostrated to the very dust by an-act of kindness from a quarter utterly unexpected— father, mother, and children were all alike changed, and Barbara returned to her home with a thousand blessings heaped upon her, and she rendered thanks to the God of providence who had enabled her to extend a benefit where it was needed.

This incident was the means of the conversion of this whole family, and the change was so striking and so permanent, that the whole glen was caught with astonishment, and, under the Divine blessing, it became the means of a spiritual awakening among the general population.


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