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The Cottagers of Glenburnie
Chapter XI. An Escape from Earthly Cares and Sorrows

MRS MASON'S apprehensions concerning the consequences of the infectious air were too effectually realised. While the farmer yet hovered on the brink of death, his wife, and Robert his second son, were both taken ill; and great reason there was to fear that the fever might go through the whole family. By means of the surgeon, who was immediately sent for, an account of Mrs Mason's distressed situation reached her friends at Gowan Brae; and no sooner were they informed of it, than the car was despatched for her, with a trusty servant, by whom Miss Mary wrote, earnestly entreating her not to permit any scruples to prevent her compliance with their request.

Mrs Mason might indeed have been well justified in leaving a house where she had not now a bed to sleep on, she having insisted upon Mrs MacClarty's occupying her's.

Had Mrs MacClarty continued in health, she would have gone without hesitation; because she saw that her cousin's mind was too full of prejudice to permit her to reap any benefit from one who had the advantage of more experience than herself; but now that the poor woman was in a state of suffering, and incapable of giving any directions, Mrs Mason would on no account leave her. Having returned a grateful answer to her friends at Gowan Brae, she dismissed their messenger, and proceeded in arranging the business of the family, with all the prudence and activity which become natural to minds that have been long accustomed to exertion. She was no longer troubled with useless visits from the neighbours, whom she had partly offended, and partly terrified, by her discourse on the nature of infection. Peter Macglashon, her great opponent, had taken to his bed on going home, and was now dangerously ill of the fever; and auld John Smith and his wife had happily been affronted by sending for the doctor. So that few now came near the house, excepting William Morison, the pale-faced stranger, whom we have already mentioned, and Peggy his wife, a very clever sensible woman. All the village indeed offered their services; and Mrs Mason, though she blamed the thoughtless custom of crowding into a sick-room, could not but admire the kindness and good nature with which all the neighbours seemed to participate in the distress of this afflicted family.

The minister and his niece were particularly attentive. The former paid Mrs Mason a daily visit; and, as often as circumstances would permit, performed the sacred offices of his function in devout and fervent prayer. The latter came in person to solicit Mrs Mison to sleep at the manse; but William Morison and his wife had anticipated her in the offer of a bed; and as their house was near at hand, she preferred going there, especially as Peggy had undertaken the management of Mrs MacClarty's dairy, and also the preparation of all the victuals. Meg and Jean were sent to assist her in these offices \ but she found them so obstinate and unmanageable, that they were rather a hindrance than a help. Nor was Grizzy of much greater use. Strong and active as she was, she seemed to feel everything a trouble that she was desired to do; and though she would have lifted a heavy burden without murmuring, grumbled sadly at being desired to rinse a few cups or basins, and still more at the fatigue of putting them in their proper places. This was, however, insisted upon by Mrs Mason, under whose directions all was preserved in order. In the attendance on the persons of the sick, she was assisted by an old woman of the village, but all the medicines were administered by her own hands. She was anxious to have Robert removed from the dark and airless passage in which he lay; but he so violently opposed the measure, that she could not get it effected, so that she was obliged to leave him to his fate, and after the third day the doctor gave little hopes of his recovery. As to his poor father, his death had been for some time hourly expected ; but towards the evening of the twenty-fourth day he appeared somewhat to revive. His senses returned; and observing Mrs Mason by his bedside, he asked her for his wife and children. On his repeating the question, Mrs Mason found herself under the painful necessity of informing him of the situation of his wife and son : to which he made no other answer, than that they were in the hands of a merciful God, and in life and death he submitted to His will.

On the minister coming in, he spoke to him in the same strain of pious resignation. ' I know,' he said, ' that my hour is at hand; but though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, knowing that the Redeemer of the world has paved the way. He will guide His flock like a shepherd, and none that believe on Him shall be lost. After much conversation of the same kind, in which he strongly evinced the faith and hope of a Christian—that faith and that hope which transforms the death-bed of the cottager into a scene of glory, on which kings and conquerors might look with envy, and in comparison of which all the grandeur of the world is contemptible —he desired to see his daughters and his little boy. They came to his bedside, and with a feeble and broken voice, he spoke to them as follows: ' My dear bairns, it is God's will that I should be taken frae you; but God can never be taken frae you, if you learn by times to put your trust in Him, and pray for His Spirit to subdue the corrupt nature in your hearts. I have grievously wronged you, I maun confess : the thought of it is heavy on my heart. For though I weel knew the corruption that was in your natures, I did not teach you to subdue it, so as to put you in the way of God's grace, which is promised to the obedient. It has pleased God to punish me for this neglect. Through the mercies of the Saviour I hope for pardon; but I canna' die in peace till I warn you of the consequences of continuing in a contentious and disobedient spirit. If it pleases God to spare my dear wife'—here his feelings overpowered him, and his voice was so choked by sobs, that it became quite inarticulate.

All remained profoundly silent; and at length the dying man so far recovered as to be about to proceed, when the door, which at his desire had been shut, flew suddenly open; and Sandy, with hasty and tremulous steps, ran in, crying, ' Hide me, hide me, mother I for God's sake find out some place to hide me in !'

'Sandy !' exclaimed the dying man, ' is it indeed my son, my son Sandy? Thank God, I sal see him ere I die, to gie him my blessing. Come, Sandy, winna ye come to me? Dinna be frightened. Ye hae cost me sair; but God kens how truly I forgie you ; come and tak' my blessing.'

Sandy uttered a deep groan ; and, hiding his facc with both hands, fell prostrate at his father's bedside. The minister raised him up and bade him take comfort.

'Comfort!' cried he, ' Oh there's nae comfort for me ; I have been the death of my father : is it not me that has brought his gray hairs wi' sorrow to the grave?'

'But your father has forgiven you,' said the minister ; ' he is ready to give you his blessing.'

'And will you bless me?' said Sandy, ' O my father, I dinna deserve your blessing; but let me ance mair hear your voice.'

'God Almighty bless you, my son, and give you a heart to serve Him, and to walk in His ways.'—' Is it not Sandy that I hear?' cried his mother, rushing to the bedside, and clasping her son in her arms; ' O Sandy, what have ye brought upon us a' ?'

There was no time to answer, for the exertion was so much beyond her strength, that she would have fallen lifeless on the ground had not her son prevented it, by clasping her to his breast. ' My mother! Have I killed my mother too !' exclaimed the affrighted youth, hanging over her with a look of inexpressible horror.

'Yes,' uttered a loud and rough voice from behind, 1 you would rather kill twenty mothers than fight the French; but (swearing a horrid oath) you shan't find it so easy to get off next time, my lad.' Two others sprung forward at the same moment, and laid hold of their prisoner, who was too much stupefied by the variety of his emotions to make any resistance, or even to utter a single word.

'Gentlemen,' said the minister, gently laying his hand upon the hand of the foremost, as it eagerly grasped the young man's shoulder, ' there is no occasion to use any violence. You are, I suppose, in the performance of your duty; and I give you my word you shall here meet with no resistance ; but in the name of the parents who gave you birth, I conjure you to act like men, and not like savage brutes.'

'We are no savages,' returned the foremost; ' we are his Majesty's soldiers, and come to execute his Majesty's orders on the body of this deserter, who will be tried and shot as sure as he stands there.'

'It may be so,' said the minister ; ' only give him a few minutes to take leave of his dying parents.'

'O my poor mother,' cried Sandy, ' must I be torn from you? what, what shall I do? Wretch that I am, it is me, me that has brought you to the grave.'

'You will indeed injure her by this agitation,' said Mrs Mason; ' carry her back to her bed ; these men will assist you in the office, for I see they are not strangers to humanity.

'God pity the poor woman,' said the corporal; ' I shall give her all the help in my power.' So saying, he would have taken her from Sandy's arms, but could not prevail on him to part with his burden, though his knees trembled under him, while he carried her through the passage to Mrs Mason's room, where she was put to bed. She instantly became delirious; and in her raving called out that the house was on fire, and that she and her children would perish in the flames ; then springing up, she caught her son by the arm, continuing to cry, ' Help, help,' in a wild and mournful voice, till her strength was exhausted, and she again sank upon her pillow. The feelings of her son may perhaps be imagined, but cannot be described: nor were any of the by-standers unaffected by the scene. Even the rough soldier, though little accustomed to the melting mood, felt all the sympathies of his nature working in his breast. He was not, however, forgetful of his duty ; for while Mrs Mason was administering a cordial to the poor mother, he drew his prisoner from the room.

On Mrs Mason's returning to the outer room she found him standing over his father's bed; his eye fixed upon the altered countenance of the dying man, who, since the entrance of the soldiers, had never shown any other sign of sensibility than the utterance of a faint groan. He was now speechless, but his hands were lifted up in the attitude of prayer. ' Come, my brethren,' said the minister, ' let us unite our prayers to those of the departing spirit. The deathbed of a good man is the porch of heaven. Angels and archangels are now joint-witnesses with us of this solemn scene. To Him in whose hands are the issues of life and death let us lift the voice of supplication, that living, we may live to Him, and dying, we may be received into His glory.'

The imposing solemnity of the scene aided the views of the venerable pastor, in making a deep impression upon his audience. His prayer, though delivered in language the most simple, had all the effects of eloquence upon the heart ; and in the breasts of the hardy veterans, touched some chords, which had, but for this adventure, lain for ever dormant. Far from hurrying away their prisoner with brutal violence, they patiently waited until he had attained some degree of composure; and then respectfully addressing the minister, they begged that he would exhort the young man not to resist them in the performance of their duty. Mr Gourlay, sensible of the reasonableness of their request, went up to Sandy, who was then gazing in speechless sorrow on his father's corpse. After speaking with him for a few minutes, he took his hand, and turning to the chief of the party,' Here, friend,' said he, ' I commit to your care this bruised reed, and I am persuaded you will treat him with humanity. Go in peace : in all circumstances perform your duty with the courage that becomes an immortal spirit; and whatever doctrine may be preached to rouse your bravery, believe me, that even in the field of battle, it is only a good man that can die with glory!

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