To Her who of her palaces hath made A Home wherein the lowly Christ might dwell And off, insimple guise, beneath the shade Of
cottage roof hath found, and loved it well, A palace richer than
her own, arrayed With
heavenly peace and joy unspeakable To Her would I, far off, on
bended knees; Devotion's unskilled offering, offerthese.
Edenic Toil! who would not hope
to share Thy silken yoke and uncomplaining breast? No groan
from lungs of brass then vex'd the air, Nor beads of grime dropt
from the brow oppress'd, Mingling with bread of tears, life's
daily fare,— More sweet thy labour was than is our rest When in
the calm of Sabbath morn embower'd, And with the breath of dewy
John Tamson dwelt in Eden;—not
that place Where no
sharp weeds bestrewed the velvet floor; Where never taint of sorrow marr'd the face; Nor cripple vagrant limped from door to door;
Nor mossy fields were
stoned in deep disgrace; Nor naked feet by frosts were bitten sore; It stood—still stands—apart from Scripture story,
Somewhere not far from
Fife, or Tobermory.
On lawful days a cobbler's
craft he plied At open
door, close by the babbling street; With cunning art well-spent on brutish hide He gave heroic help to human feet,— Thence well prepared, whatever
might betide, To wade
thro' bloody fields, or blustering sleet, To tread the snow-drift, leap the moorland hag,
Or tempt the frowning
brows of mountain crag.
He was not old, but he had
crossed the line Which
bounds the middle stream from farther shore; Neighbours could see his
"croon" begin to shine,
And how the sable hair was tinged with hoar; He thumped his knee, and rax'd the resinous twine (Himself well knew) less bravely than before;
And oft would pause and
gaze on passers-by With
weary, wistful, unperceiving eye.
Yet was he blessed sevenfold in
gentle wife, Of stature small, but with enshrined soul Just
large enough to grace a lowly life, And clasp the earth in love
from pole to pole;— If Thought means Power and tears can hinder
strife, Kings felt but did not know her sweet control Not less
from cottage than Cathedral chair God hears the wrestling spirit's
These two were mated years past
three times ten, Each to the other's changeless full content;
Blithesome they took their little "but and ben," And there in
frugal peace their days were spent, Near by the echoing murmurs of
the glen Where once their lover's troth to heaven was sent, And
carrier angels came with glad accord To bless their honest toil,
their bed and board.
VII. Humble their cares and
small their household stock, Simple and few, yet of substantial
kind,— Plain dresser, chest of drawers, the eight-day clock,
Meal-kist and bookcase, food for frame and mind; Cupboard of
curious wares, a dainty flock That shyly peep'd from crystal doors
behind; Cat and canary—cage with muslin frill; Flower-pot with
moss-rose on the window-sill.
The Bible foremost, undisputed
lord, To whom all else paid reverential due; Not least, a rusty
basket-hilted sword Which some brave hand for God and Covenant
drew; Next, the broad stool whereon the cobbler bored And beat
the pliant leather old and new;— And rocking-cradle, that need
rock no more, Not in dishonour laid behind the door.
Within a score of summers, one by one Nine
bairns had come to fill that downy nest; Three died ere yet their
infant days had run One at the Cape, two dwelt in the Far West;
A maid who saw her bridal year begun Had kirkyard gowan's growing
on her breast Before it closed; a sailor lad was drown'd;
Another lost and searched for—never found.
In Israel's palmy age no godly seed Was ever
rear'd with holier fear than they Was earlier taught that God was
God indeed, Guardian of human frailty night and day, Whence
they might look for help in time of need, Whom only serve, on whom
alone might stay; And when the righteous cause was in the field
Might staunchly die, but neither spare nor yield.
The Sabbath came, for pleasure not their own;
Benignant angel from Jehovah sent, To salve the eyes, and move the
heart of stone With thankfulness, and love, and pure intent;
That seed of life might not in vain be sown,— So to their Hill of
Zion forth they went In clean attire, and of the little band
Not one drew near to God with empty hand.
XIII. Not one sat
listless in the House of Prayer, The high-back'd pew, familiar
family nook; Mother, well-pleased, would smooth her lambkin's
hair, And scent the fragrant leaf that mark'd her book; Nor
would the boys, from love and reverence, dare To tempt the solemn
father's side-long look; God spake, and all alike felt wholesome
dread What might befall to callous heart or head.
Incense more free and holier still would rise
When John and she, the priestess of the hearth, Each day renewed
their fireside sacrifice, And worshipp'd God with mingling fear and
mirth;— Like Jacob's ladder lifted to the skies, So did the
aspiring soul surmount the earth, To drink unspoken joy at
heavenly springs Amid sweet odours waft by angels' wings.
The floor swept clean, as tho' for Christ's own
feet; No sloven attitude, nor thing mislaid; Each child well
knew, with face most gravely sweet, The very fly, if buzzing noise
it made, Would be rebuked when father took his seat And took the
Book, and sang, and read, and prayed; And so God's blessing caught
them on their knees— How strong the nation built of homes like
Alas! this pious home was vacant now Of
chattering voices and of children's cares; A silent sadness on the
cobbler's brow Long since had settled almost unawares. Most kind
was she who shared his nuptial vow And proud parental joy that once
was theirs; But love will sooner stay the sunset sheen Than
brighten hope with bloom that might have been.
At eve one day of wet and wintry breeze John sat
demurely at the Book and read "Whoso shall give to drink to one of
these;" Just then a bairnly voice broke in and said, "Help a
puir wean the nicht, mem, if you please;" The pleading of a beggar
boy for bread. He tried the latch, by rarest chance not fast,
Peep'd in, his eyes with recent tears o'ercast.
Up rose the cobbler's wife, his gentle Ann, Took
in the boy and said, "What brings ye here In sic a nicht sae late,
my puir wee man?" "My mither's dead," said he with gathering tear;
"I'm cauld and hungry and my name is Dan; My mither's dead and
gane this mony a year." "But wha's your faither,—you're no left
your lane?" "My faither, mem! oh, please, I ne'er had nane."
"Nae faither!" and she eyed the little elf, The
while her bosom heaved with strange desire. With a shrewd glance
at John, her other self, She set the boy to dry before the fire,
Syne rax'd a barley bannock from the shelf; "Rae, lad, nae better
does a king require;" So whilst the lad consumed this kingly fare
They spent the interrupted hour of prayer.
Oh, saddest in a child! a worn, sad face Had
Dan, but haply nothing to forbid; No infant crimes had there their
nursing-place, Nor crafty glance was lurking 'neath the lid;
His very rags had tongues to plead his case In such a home as
this—and so they did. John's voice groan'd deep, with burden'd soul
oppress'd: "God of the fatherless, Thou knowest best!"
The Book laid by, the cobbler then began To ask
him whose he was and whence he came; But this did sore perplex our
little man— He did not know, and he was not to blame. His
memory could reach no further than A place beyond the sea he called
his hame A darling mother who had clasped him there, Patted his
dimpled cheek and stroked his hair.
That night, with no begrudging hand, they spread
A woolly couch for weary Dan to sleep; Kind sleep! the poor man's
Paradise!—his bed Of roses balmed with slumbers soft and deep,
Where thorn is not, where never tear is shed— The gate whereat so
many wail and weep; But few of all the jewelled throng pass in
To ease them of their pleasures and their sin.
Ye who by honest labour win your crust, And ye
who beg it (now more seldom found Honest as well), because, alas !
ye must,— Know that your brows with golden peace are crown'd,
Whilst Kings are bare, tho' cringing in the dust— For you, sweet
rills of sleep-provoking sound Flow evermore in Nature's vale of
rest, And rise the dreamless mansions of the blest.
Dan dropt asleep; beside him lingered long The
woman's wakeful eye and brooding heart; His tartan breeks had
suffer'd fearful wrong; No good Samaritan the healing art
Applied more deft to make the feeble strong Than she, with thread
and needle, did her part For that dear Master whom her task might
please: It may be done, thought she, to "one of these."
Beneath His guiding hand she clipped and sewed,
Her house His home, her toil a sacrament; The Christ had come into
her mean abode— It was His garment's hem o'er which she bent,
And by the touch a healing virtue flowed, A saving health to heart
and finger sent; And through her spirit swept such wondrous thrill
As High Priest yearly felt on Zion's hill.
XXV. By chance, some shred of crumpled paper
fell She looked, and turned away, and looked again; What might
it be, how dropp'd she could not tell; A while it lay, she eyed it
now and then; At last she took it up and searched it well,— A
printed leaf, and scratched with ink and pen; And lo! some hair
within the inmost fold, Two tiny locks, one black, and one like
She gazed on these and on the slumbering child,—
A stony gaze, as tho' her soul had fled; A long time gazed,
whilst many a fancy wild Flew far and near, with living folk and
dead; She frowned, she sighed, she all but wept, she smiled, A
sudden start, she rose, and reached the bed Where John a good hour
since had lain and slept,— She had a secret that might not be
He woke; he took the relics in his hand; Viewed
them with care, with wonderment not less Than she; anon the
printed leaf he scann'd; 'Twas from the Bible, nor unlike the dress
That had concealed it, tatter'd, worn, and tann'd,- What might it
mean, not he nor she could guess, But words of God scarce absent
from his mind One waking hour, were there, and underlined.
XXVIII. "I waited,"—long had served this
patient man, Motto whereby he toiled, and hoped, and thrived;
Thro' all his loss and lingering griefs it ran, From Holy Writ and
jubilant Psalm derived, Whence courage comes to hands that nothing
can, And strength to hearts of every hope deprived; The words
were these: "I waited patiently, And He to me inclined and heard
Swift as the clans by chieftain's clarion wake;
As fluttering wings by crack of huntsman's gun; As when a stone
disturbs the placid lake; As rippling songsters greet the rising
sun,— So did old echoes of remembrance break On John afresh,
with gladness full, or none, When by the sacred word which marked
this leaf Past years rushed back; and one bright day in chief:
It was the day when Rab, his youngest child, A
clever lad, well-grown, sweet-natured, good, And wise, left home,
and every prospect smiled;— There was a spot within a wayside wood
Where sire and son the parting hour beguiled With blessings hardly
breathed but understood; Their words were few, that sacred word
the last, Rab wept, and vowed that he would hold it fast.
So parted they; and many a look behind Each to
the other gave, till lost to view; Ah me! the frequent letters soon
declined; They could but murmur there was nothing new; And then
the lad slipp'd off where none could find; The old folks' joys
thereafter had been few, Save in the grace that by the Saviour's
Cross Might still prove more than victor over loss.
'Twas so this night; they both with chastened heart
Quite melted o'er the old familiar name; Their heads had long
the grey that griefs impart, And now the cheek anew was flush'd
with shame; What crime can make a mother's love depart? "Puir
Rab," said Ann, "he should hae stayed at
hame." "We'll wait," quoth John, "we'll trust the laddie's vow;
We kenna what God's will may bring, nor how."
Faith sowed the seed, and Hope went forth to reap
Harvests of joy from the well-watered lands: But when she saw "wild
oats" instead of wheat She strewed her head with dust and wrung her
hands; So did old Jacob leave, with fretful feet, The promised
soil, and tread the alien sands, Nor knew nor hoped his father's
God would save His hoary head from an unhallowed grave.
XXXIV. Now when the kindly tear had soothed her
grief Ann laid with one more look, the slips of hair, As on
God's breast, within that guardian leaf; She had a secret drawer,
she laid it there; She turned to Dan: "Gude kens thou art nae
thief; And in His ain braw time He'll mak' it bare." "We've
seen young hearts," quoth John, "made hard
as aim." "We'll dae our best, guidman—we'll keep the bairn!"
And at the cobbler's hearth from day to day This
poor lost lamb was folded, nursed, and fed; Ofttimes the minister
was heard to say He was a wondrous boy for heart and head; And
when the "master" pursed his quarter's pay, "That lad will be a
bishop yet," he said; Ann too that vision had which brightest
gleams In every Scottish peasant's pious dreams.
Ten times has Winter made the beech tree bare
Whose stalwart form beside her cottage stood; Ten times the
throstle's young high-nested there Have raised their clamorous
heads and gaped forfood; The kirk-bell rings, and to the House of
Prayer Eden ascends devoutly, as it should; The bell has ceased;
the preacher takes his place; An anxious awe broods in his pale
It was our Dan; and many strangers drew To hear
his first "discoorse " for many a mile; Among the rest, more
obvious to the view, A kilted soldier strode along the aisle; He
sat him down in the old cobbler's pew, And in the good man's face
he gazed awhile; But at the wee auld wife—for she was there— A
glance he threw as tho' he hardly dare.
"I waited" was the text; when he began The
preacher trembled, but he soon grew bold; He spoke of hope in
trickling rills that ran Thro' seer and psalmist in the days of
old; How patient Mercy waits on guilty man; How Grace can bring
the lost sheep to the fold; And home, long desolate, rings with
joyful sound: "My son was dead—was lost, and now is found!"
In stillness rapt and reverential fear They
heard; they gazed; they saw his visage glow; Spell-bound,
entranced; they felt that Presence near Who treads unseen the
sacred courts below, And salveth unused eyelids with the tear Of
saintly joy or penitential woe; Thankful, they drew a deep breath
at the close; Then, with the unction of his blessing, rose.
XL. When now the murmuring throngs retook their
way, And spoke in solemn speech their soul's delight, The
stranger said, "Gudeman, you aiblins may Give an old soldier
quarters for the night; I hoped to rest at home this Sabbath-day-
The road was long, nor is my burden light." "My cot is there,"
said John, "and nane e'er saw The puir man or the stranger turned
In twilight's lone sad hour he breathed the story
That marr'd his fair young life with rueful strains; And how he
fought for Britain's gain or glory The turban'd tribes on Indian
hills and plains; What years had pass'd, unsmiling years and gory,
Since first he followed to the bagpipe strains; How often Scotia's
onset swept the field, And Sikh and Afghan like the drunkard reel'd.
But 'War's wild din," he cried, "to me was less
Than Love's deep woes, for I had woo'd and wed— My wife! my child!
whom, if he lives, Heaven bless We parted—met no more—I fought, I
bled— They knew not mine, nor I knew their distress; I was a
captive long—they thought me dead— God help! whose comfort is
where needed most— The mother pined and died—the child was lost!"
"The preacher's text 'I waited,'" murmured John;
"Tis in my heart," the soldier cried, "not here;" He showed his
Bible where the leaf had gone; Told how his wife once gave, for
parting cheer, Two locks—like jet, like yellow gold they shone—
Her own hair and the child's; he held them dear, Dear as the
Scripture page he loved the best; Enfolded there, she sewed them
to his vest.
He bore them far, thro' many fields of strife;
He lay a-dying long, nor knew what pass'd, Nor where the trifles
treasured more than life; And when from death-like wounds he woke
at last— But now, ere he had ceased, the cobbler's wife Drew
from the secret place which held them fast The leaf, the tufts of
hair with silk entwin'd He looked, he stared on them like one
XLV. She told how in his rags the little man
Had brought them, as it seemed, across the sea; "Your bairnie's
name?" she asked him; "was it Dan?" To's feet he sprang and cried,
"Twas he! 'twas he!" While down his hardy cheek the tear-drop ran;
Living or dead, where might his darling be, Thrice in one breath
he pled with them to say. "Patience," quoth John, "you heard him
Then Dan, for he was there and heard it all,
Flew to his father's heart and firm embrace; And oh I how sweetly
then did love recall The sainted mother in the youth's pale face!
She knew that God, should hapless times befall, Would lead the
shorn Iamb to a sheltered place; The vest, torn from her soldier's
wounded side, She found it, shaped it for his child—and died.
She died, nor did her last hope seem to fail;
One friend—for friends not absent were, tho' few— A kindly
captain, heard the orphan's tale; He thought the father's kindred
once he knew Whither his good ship soon was bound to sail. The
ship went down, the home port full in view, And he, the surly
billows long had braved, Was lost. His charge, the orphan child,
And in that town, washed by the salt sea spray,
The little stranger, friendless and alone, A vagrant woman kept in
such rude way As might by loose sobriety be shown; From scanty
store in wallet day by day His bread she doled, who mostly begged
her own. Poor wastrel boy! half-homeless, till at last Blown to
the cobbler's hearth by God's rough blast.
Then said the stranger to the aged pair: "Our
God is just, and wonders He hath done; The curse I brought, by His
decree I bare; My sins of youth have found me one by one; And
now prevails the long parental prayer— My name is Rab, and I was
once your son." He tried, and tried again, but could no more;
Love could but speak with tears at Mercy's door.
It might not be in human words to tell The love
that overflowed and would not cease; Ann's joy ran from her
eyelids like a well, Crime could not crush, but made her love
increase; And when at worship on their knees they fell, "Fain
would I now," cried John, "depart in peace! Wait on the Lord! I
waited patiently, And He to me inclined, and heard my cry!"
Not far had they, thro' mists of coming years,
This aged Simeon and his spouse, to go;— In that still place where
Love her tribute rears To souls above and slumbering dust below,
Two often stand, and in their tranquil tears The lingering rays
of sunset sweetly glow; Then drooping Night, and to their lifted
eyes, The jewell'd gates of opening Paradise!
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