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Book of Scottish Story
The Shealing

An enormous thunder-cloud had lam all day over Ben-Nevis, shrouding its summit in thick darkness, blackening it sides and base, wherever they were beheld from the surrounding country, with masses of deep shadow, and especially flinging down a weight of gloom upon that magnificent Glen that bears the same name with the Mountain, till now the afternoon was like twilight, and the voice of all the streams was distinct in the breathlessness of the vast solitary hollow. The inhabitants of all the straths, vales, glens, and dells, round and about the Monarch of Scottish mountains, had, during each successive hour, been expecting the roar of thunder and the deluge of rain ; but the huge conglomeration of lowering clouds would not rend asunder, although it was certain that a calm blue sky could not be restored till all that dreadful assemblage had melted away into torrents, or been driven off by a strong wind from the sea. All the cattle on the hills, and on the hollows, stood still or lay down in their fear,—-the wild deer sought m herds the shelter of the pine-covered cliffs—the raven hushed his hoarse croak in some grim, cavern, and the eagle left the dreadful silence of the upper heavens. Now and then the shepherds looked from their huts, while the shadow of the thunder-clouds deepened the hues of their plaids and tartans; and at every creaking of the heavy branches of the pines, or wide-armed oaks in the solitude of their inaccessible birth place, the hearts of the lonely dwellers quaked, and they lifted up their eyes to see the first wide flash—the disparting of the masses of darkness——and paused to hear the long loud rattle of heaven s artillery shaking the foundation of the everlasting mountains. But all was yet silent.

The peal came at last, and it seemed as if an earth-quake had smote the silence. Not a tree—-not a blade of grass-moved, but the blow stunned, as it were, the heart of the solid globe. Alien was there a low, wild, whispering, wailing voice, as of many spirits au joining together from every point of heaven,—it led away - and then the rushing of rain was heard through the darkness; and, in a few minutes, down came all the mountain torrents in their power, and the sides of all the steeps were suddenly sheeted, far and wide, with waterfalls. The element of water was let loose to run its rejoicing race—and that of fire lent it illumination, whether sweeping in floods along the great open straths or tumbling in cataracts from cliffs overhanging the eagle's eyrie.

Great rivers were suddenly flooded——and the little mountain rivulets, a few minutes before only silver threads, and in whose fairy basins the minnow played, were now scarcely fordable to shepherds' feet. It was time for the strongest to take shelter, and none now would have liked to issue from it; for while there was real danger to life and limb in the many raging torrents, and in the lightning's flash, the imagination and the soul themselves were touched with awe in the long resounding glens, and beneath the savage scowl of the angry sky. It was such a storm as becomes an sera among the mountains; and it was felt that before next morning there would be a loss of lives—not only among the beasts that perish, but among human beings overtaken by the wrath of that irresistible ternpest.

It was not a time to be abroad; yet all by herself was hastening down Ben-Nevis, from a Shealing far up the River, a little Girl, not more than twelve years of age—in truth, a very child. Cirief and fear, not for herself, but for another, bore her along as upon wings, through the storm; she crossed rivulets from which, on any other occasion, she would have turned back trembling; and she did not even hear many of the crashes of thunder that smote the smoking hills. Some-tunes at a fiercer flash of lightning she just lifted her hand to her dazzled eyes, and then, unappalled, hurried on through the hot and sulphureous air. Had she been a maiden of that tender age from village or city, her course would soon have been fatally stopt short; but she had been born among the hills, had first learned to walk among the heather, holding by its blooming branches, and many and many a solitary mile had she tripped, young as she was, over moss and moor, glen and mountain, even like the roe that had its lair in the coppice beside her own beloved Shealing.

She had now reached the gateway of the beautiful .hereditary Mansion of the Camerons—-and was passing by, when she was observed from the windows, and one of the shepherds who had all come down from the mountain-heights, and were collected together, (not without a quech of the mountain-dew, or water of life,) in a large shed, was sent out to bring the poor Girl instantly into the house. She was brought back almost by force, and then it was seen that she was in tears. Her sweet face was indeed all dripping with ram, but there was other moisture in her fair blue eyes, and when she was asked to tell her story, she could scarcely speak. At last she found voice to say, "That old Lewis Cameron, her grandfather, was dying—that he could scarcely speak when she left him in the Shealing—and that she had been running as fast as she could to Fort William for the Priest." "Come, my good little Flora, with me into the parlour—and one of the shepherds will go for Mr Macdonald—you would be drowned in trying to cross that part of the road where the Nevis swirls over it out of the Salmon Pool—come and I will put some dry clothes on you —-you are just about the size of my own Lilias." The child was ill to persuade—for she thought on the old Man lying by himself in the Shealing at the point of death—but "when she saw one of the shepherds whom she knew setting off with rapid steps, her wild heart was appeased, and she endeavoured to dry up her tears. Nothing, however, could induce her to go into the parlour, or put on the young lady s clothes. She stood before the wide blazing peat and wood fire in the kitchen—and her spirits became a little better, when she had told her tale in Gaelic to so many people belonging to her own condition, and who all crowded round her with sympathizing hearts, and fixed faces, to hear every thing about poor old dying Lewis Cameron.

Old Lewis was well known all round the broad base 'of Ben-Nevis. What his age was nobody precisely knew, but it was ascertained that he could not be under ninety—and many maintained that he had outlived an hundred years. He recollected the famous old Lochiel of the first Rebellion——had fought in the strength and prune of manhood at Culloden—-and had charged the French on the Heights of Abraham. He had ever since that battle been a pensioner; and although he had many wounds to show both of bullets and the bayonet, yet his iron frame had miraculously retained its strength, and his limbs much of their activity till the very last. His hair was like snow, but his face was ruddy still—and his large withered hand had still a grasp that could hold down the neck of the dying red deer to the ground. He had lived for thirty years in a Shealing built by himself among a wild heap of sheltering rocks, and for the last five his little orphan grand-daughter, the only one of his blood alive, had been his companion m his solitude. Old Lewis was the best angler in the Highlands, and he knew all the streams, rivers, and lochs. Many thousand grouse had tumbled on the heath beneath his. unerring aim; and the roe was afraid to show her face out of a thicket. But the red deer was his delight—he had been keeper to Lochiel once, and many a long day, from sunrise to sunset, had he stalked like a shadow over ranges of mountains till he found him-self at night far away from his Shealing. He was a guide too to botanists, mineralogists, painters, and prosers. Philosophers, men of science, lovers of the muse, hunters of the picturesque, men eager after parallel roads and vitrified forts, and town gentlemen sent from garrets to describe, for the delight and instruction of their fellow citizens, the grand features of nature—all came right to old Lewis Cameron. Many a sweat did he give them, panting in pursuit of knowledge, over the large loose stones, and the pointed; crags, and up to the middle m heather beneath the sultry sun, toiling up the perpendicular sides of hill and mountain. But, above all, he. loved the young Sassenach, when, with their rifles, they followed with him the red deer over the bent, and were happy if, at nightfall, one pair of antlers lay motionless on the heather.

Such was old Lewis Cameron, who was now thought to be lying at the point of death. And it was not surprising that the shepherds now collected together during the storm, and indeed every person in the house felt a deep interest in the old man's fate. "Aye, his hour is come—his feet will never touch the living heather again," was the expression m which they all joined. They did not fear to speak openly before little Flora, who was now standing beside the fire, with her long yellow hair let loose, and streaming all wet over her shoulders—for the death of the oldest man in all the glens was an event to be looked for, and the child knew as well as they did that her grandfather's hour was come. Many and many a time did she go to the window to look, if the priest was coming up the glen, and at last she began to fear that the rain and the wind, which was now beginning to rise, after the hush of the thundery air, would hinder him from coming at all, and that the old Man would die alone and unconfessed m his Shealing. "Nobody is with him—poor old Man—never, never may I see him alive again—but there is no need for me to wait here—I will run home—the waters cannot be much higher than when I came down the glen." Flora now wept in passion to return to the Shealing —and tying up that long wet yellow hair, was ready to start out into the wild and raging weather.

It happened that the Minister of the parish—young Mr Gordon—was in the house, and one of the shepherds went to call him out from the parlour, that he might persuade Flora to be contented where she was, as certain death would be in her attempt to go up Glen-Nevis. He did all he could to soothe her agitation, but in vain—and as the good priest, Mr Macdonald, did not appear, he began to think that old Lewis should not be left so long on his death-bed. He therefore addressed himself to two of the most active shepherds, and asked if they had any objections to take Flora to the Shealing. They immediately rose up—on with their plaids——and took their starts into their hands; Flora's face smiled faintly through its tears; and Mr Gordon mildly said, "What is easy to you, shepherds, cannot be difficult to me——I will go with you." The young minister was a Highlander born—had in his boyhood trod the mountains of Badenoch and Lochaber——and there was not a shepherd or huntsman far or near that could leave him behind either on level or heighyt. So they all issued forth into the hurricane, and little Flora was as safe under their care as if she had been sitting in the kirk.

The party kept well up on the sides of the mountain for the Nevis overflowed many parts of the Glens, and the nameless torrents, that in dry weather exist not, were tumbling down in reddened foam from every scaur. The river was often like a lake; and cliffs covered with tall birches, or a few native pines, stood islanded here and there, perhaps with a shrieking heron waiting on a high bough for the subsiding of the waters. Now a shepherd, and now the minister, took Flora in his arms, as they breasted together the rushing streams—and the child felt, that had she been allowed to go by herself, the Nevis would have soon swept her down into the salt Linnhe Loch. In an hour all the wild part of the journey was over;—their feet were on a vast heathery bosom of a hill, down which only small rills oozed out of gushing springs, and soon lost themselves again—and after a few minutes easy walking, during which Flora led the way, she turned about to the minister, and pointing with her little hand, cried, "Yonder's the Shealing, Sir—my grandfather, if alive, will bless your face at his bed-side."

Mr Gordon knew all the country well, and he had often before been at the head of Glen-Nevis. But he had never beheld it, till now, in all its glory. He stood on a bend of the river, which was seen coming down from the cataract several miles distant among its magnificent cuffs and dark pine forests. That long and final reach of the glen gleamed and thundered before him—a lurid light from the yet agitated heavens fell heavily on the discoloured flood—the mountains of heather that inclosed the glen were black as pitch in the gloom—but here and there a wet cliff shone forth to some passing gleam, as bright as a beacon. The mass of pines was ever and anon seen to stoop and heave below the storm while the spray of that cataract went half-way up the wooded cliffs, and gave a slight tinge of beauty, with its blue and purple mist, to the grim and howling solitude. High above all—and as if standing almost as another world, was seen now the very crest of Ben-Nevis—for although fast-rolling clouds, and mist, and steam, girdled his enormous sides, all vapours had lett Ins summit, and it shot up proudly and calmly into its pure region of settled sky.

But Mr Gordon had not come here to admire the grandeur of nature—It had struck his soul as he looked and listened—but now he was standing at the door of the Shealing. Rocks lay all around it—but it was on a small green plat of its own—and over the door, which could not be entered even by little Flora without stooping, was extended the immense antlers of an old deer, which Lewis had shot twenty years ago in the Forest of Lochiel, the largest ever seen before or since in all the Highlands. Flora came .out, with eager eyes and a suppressed voice, "Come in, Sir-come in, Sir—my Father is alive, and is quite; quite sensible."

The young minister entered the Shealing—while the two shepherds lay down on .their plaids below some overhanging rocks, where the ground was just as dry as the floor of a room. "Welcome—welcome, Sir, you are not just the one, I have been hoping for,—but if he does not arrive till I am gone, I trust that, although we are of different creeds, God will receive my poor sinful soul out of your hands. You are a good pious minister of his word Mr Gordon, I am a Catholic, and you a Protestant—but through Him who died for us we surely may alike hope to be saved. That was a sore pang, Sir—say a prayer—say a prayer."

The old Man was stretched, in his Highland garb, (he had never worn another,) on a decent clean bed, that smelt sweet and fresh on the heather. His long silvery locks, of which it was thought he had for many years been not a little proud, and which had so often waved in the mountain winds, were now lying still— the fixed and sunken look of approaching death was on a face, which, now that its animation was calmed, seemed old, old, indeed—but there was something majestic in ins massy bulk, stretched out beneath an inexorable power, in that Shealing little larger than a vaulted grave. He lay there like an old chieftain of the elder time—one of Ossian's heroes unfortunate in his later age—and dying ingloriously at last with a little weeping Malvina at his heather couch. The open chimney, if so it might be called, black with smoke, let in a glimmer of the sky, a small torch made of the pine-wood was burning close to the nearly extinguished peat embers, and its light hail, no doubt, been useful when the shadow of the thunder-cloud darkened the little window, that consisted of a single pane. But through that single pane the eye could discern a sublime amphitheatre of woodland cliffs, and it almost seemed as if placed there to command a view of the great cataract.

Mr Gordon prayed—while little Flora sat down on the foot of the bed, pale, but not weeping, for awe had hushed her soul. Not a word was in his prayer which might not have comforted any dying Christian, of any creed, in any part of the earth. God was taking back the life he had given, and an immortal soul was about to go to judgment. The old man had made small show of religion—but he had never violated its ordinances'—and that he was a good Catholic was acknowledged, otherwise he would not have been so well beloved and kindly treated by Mr Macdonald, a man of piety and virtue. Now and then a groan came from his ample chest, and a convulsion shook all his frame —tor there was no general decay of nature——some mortal malady had attacked his heart. "Bless you.— bless you—my dear young boy," said the ancient white haired image—"this is a hard struggle—a cannon ball is more merciful. Then Flora wept, and went up to his head, and wiped the big drops from his brow, and kissed, him. "This is my little Flora's kiss"—I am sure; but my eyes are dim, and I see thee not. My bonny roe, thou must trot away down, when I am dead, to the low country—down to some of my friends about the Fort,—this bit Shealing .will be a wild den soon—and the raven will sit upon the deer's horns when I am gone. My rifle keeps him on the cliff now—but God forgive me!—what thoughts are these for a dying man—God forgive me!"

Old Lewis Cameron sat up on his heather-bed; and, looking about, said, I cannot last long; but it comes in fits; now I have no pain. Was it not kind in that fearless creature to run down the glen in that thunder-storm? I was scarcely sensible when I knew, by the silence of the Shealing, that she was gone. In a little, I sat up, as I am doing now, and I saw her, through that bit window, far down the glen. I knew God would keep down the waters for' her sake, she was like a sea-mew in a storm! Flora went out, and brought in the shepherds. They were awe-struck on seeing the gigantic old man sitting up with his long white hair and ghostlike face—but he stretched out his hand, to them-—and they received his blessing. "Flora, give the minister and the lads some refreshment—eat and drink at my death—eat and drink, at my funeral. Aye—I am a pensioner of the King's—and I will leave enough to make Auld Lewis Cameron a Funeral as cheerful a ane as ever gathered together in a barn, and likewise leave Flora, there, enough to make life blythe when she is a woman." Flora brought out the goat-milk cheese, the barley cakes, and the whisky jar; and, old Lewis himself having blessed the meal, Mr Gordon, the shepherds, and little Flora too, sat down and ate.

Old Lewis looked at them with a smile. "My eyesight is come back to me.—I see my Flora there as bonny as ever.— Taste the whisky, Mr Gordon—it is sma' still, and will do harm to no man. Mr Gordon, you may wonder—no, you will not wonder, to hear a dying man speaking thus. But God has given me meat and drink for a hundred years, and that is the last meal I shall ever bless. I look on you all as fellow Christians, now supported by the same God that fed me. Eat——drink-—and be merry.——This is the very day of the month on which General Wolfe was killed—a proper day for an old soldier- to die. I think I see the General lying on the ground, for I was near him as an orderly Serjeant. Several Indian warriors were by, with long black hair and outlandish dresses. I saw. Wolfe die—-and just before he died, our line gave a shout, that brought the fire into his dim eyes, for the French were flying before our bayonets; and Montcalm himself, though our General did not know that, was killed, and Quebec, next day, was ours. I remember it all like yesterday." The old man's white face kindled, and he lifted up his long sinewy arm as he spoke, but it fell down upon the bed, for its strength was gone. But he had a long interval at ease between the paroxysms, and his soul, kindling, over the recollections of his long life, was anxious to hold communion till the very last, with those whose fathers he had remembered children. His was a long look back through the noise arid the silence of several generations. "Great changes, they say, are going on all over the world now. I have seen some myself in my day—but oh my heart is sad, to think on the changes in the Highlands themselves. Glens that could once have sent out a hundred bayonets, belong entirely now to some fat Lowland grazier. Confound such policy, says auld Lewis Cameron," With these words he fell back, and lay exhausted on his heather-bed. "Hamish Fraser, take the pipes, and gang out on the green, and play 'Lochiel's awa' to France'. That tune made many a bluidy hand on that day—the Highlanders were broken—when Donald Fraser, your grandfather, blew up 'Lochicls awa' to France.' He was sitting on the ground-with a broken leg, and och but the Camerons were red wild with shame and anger, and in a twinkling there was a cry that might have been heard frae them to the top of Ben-Nevis, and five hundred bayonets were brought down to the charge, till the Mounseers cried out for quarter. But we gi'ed them nane—for our souls were up, and we were wet-shod in bluid. I was among the foremost wi my broad-sword, and cut them down on baith sides o me like windle-straes. A broadsword was ance a deadly weapon in these hands, but they are stiff now, and lying by my side just like the stone image o' that man in Elgin church-yard on a Tomb-stane."

Hamish Fraser did as he was desired—and the wild sound of that martial instrument filled the great Glen from stream to sky, and the echoes rolled round and round the mountain-tops, as if the bands of fifty regiments were playing a prelude to battle. "Weel blawn and weel fingered baith"' quoth old Lewis, "the chiel plays just like his grandfather."

The music ceased, and Hamish Fraser, on coming back into the Shealing, said, "I see two men on horseback coming up the glen—one is on a white horse."

"Aye—blessed be God that is the good priest——now will I die in peace. My last earthly thoughts are gone by—he will show me the Salvation. of Christ—the road that leadeth to Eternal life. My dear son— good Mr Gordon—I felt happy in your prayers and exhortation but the minister of my own holy religion is at hand——and it is pleasant to die in the faith of one's forefathers. When he comes—you will leave us by ourselves—even my little Flora will go with you into the air for a little. The rain—is it not over and gone? And I hear no wind——only the voice of streams."

The sound of horses' feet was now on the turf before the door of the Shealing—and Mr Macdonald came m with a friend. The dying man looked towards his Priest with a happy countenance, and blessed him in the name of God—of Christ—and of his blessed Mother the undefiled Virgin. Then he uttered a few indistinct words addressed to the person who accompanied him—and there was silence in the Shealing.

"I was from home when the messenger came to my house—but he found me at the house of Mr Christie the Clergyman of the English Church at Fort-William, and he would not suffer me to come up the glen. alone—so you now see him along with me, Lewis." The dying man said, "This indeed is Christian Charity. Here, in a lonely Shealing, by the death-bed of a poor old man, are standing three Ministers of God-each of a different persuasion—a Catholic—an Episcopal—and a Presbyter—All of you have been kind to me for several years—and now you are all anxious for the salvation of my soul. God has indeed, been merciful to me a sinner."

The Catholic Priest was himself an old man—although thirty years younger than poor Lewis Cameron—and he was the faithful Shepherd of a small flock. He was revered by all who knew him for the apostolical fervour of his faith, the simplicity of his manners, and the blamelessness of his life. A humble man among the humble, and poor in spirit in the huts of the poor. But he had one character in the Highland glens, where he was known only as the teacher and comforter of the souls of his little nock—and another in the wide world, where his name was not undistinguished among those of men gifted with talent and rich in erudition. He had passed his youth in foreign countries—but had returned to the neighbourhood of his birth-place as his life was drawing towards a close, and for several years had resided in that wild region, esteeming his lot, although humble, yet high, and through him a few sinners were made repentant, and resignation brought by his voice to the dying bed.

With this good man had come to the lonely Shealing Mr Christie, the Episcopalian Clergyman, who had received his education in an English University, and brought to the discharge of his duties in this wild region a mind cultivated by classical learning, and rich in the literature and philosophy of Greece and. Rome. Towards him, a very young person, the heart of the .old Priest had warmed on their very first meeting; and they really loved each other quite like father and son. The character of Mr Gordon, although unlike theirs in almost all respects, was yet not uncongenial. His strong native sense, his generous feelings, his ardent zeal, were all estimated fry them as they deserved; and while he willingly bowed to their superior talents and acquirements, he maintained an equality with them both, in that devotion to his sacred duties, and Christian care of the souls of his rock, without which a minister can neither be respectable nor happy. In Knowledge of the character, customs, modes of thinking and feeling, and the manners of the people, he was greatly superior to both his friends; and his advice, although always given with diffidence, and never but when asked, was most useful to them, in the spiritual guidance of their own flock.

His friendly and truly Christian intercourse having subsisted for several years between these three ministers of religion, the blessed effects of it were visible, and were deeply and widely felt in the hearts of the inhabitants of this district. All causes of jealousy, dislike, and disunion, seemed to vanish into air, between people of these different persuasions, when they saw the true regard which they whom they most honoured and revered thus cherished for one another; and when the ordinary unthinking prejudices were laid aside, from which springs so much embitterment of the very blood, an appeal was then made, and seldom in vain, to deeper feelings in the heart, and nobler principles in the understanding, which otherwise would have remained inoperative. Thus the dwellers in the glens and on the mountains, without ceasing to love and delight in their own mode of worship, and without losing a single hallowed association that clung to the person of the Minister of God, to the walls of the house m which he was worshipped, to the words in which the creature humbly addressed the Creator, or to the ground in which they were all finally to be laid at rest, yet all lived and died in mutual toleration and peace. Nor could there be a more affecting example of this than what was now seen even in the low and lonely Shealing of poor old Lewis Cameron. His breath had but a few gasps more to make—but his Shealing was blessed by the presence of those men whose religion, different as it was in many outward things, and often made to be so fatally different in essentials too, was now one and the same, as they stood beside that death-bed, with a thousand torrents sounding through the evening air, and overshadowed in their devotion by the gloom of that stupendous Mountain.

All but the grey-haired Priest now left the Shealing, and sat down together in a beautiful circlet of green, inclosed with small rocks most richly ornamented by nature, even in this stormy clime, with many a graceful plant and blooming flower, to which the art .of old Lewis and his Flora had added blossoms from the calmer gardens at the Fort. These and the heather perfumed the air for the rain, though dense and strong, had not shattered a single spray, and every leaf and .every bloom lifted itself cheerfully up begemed with large quivering diamond drops. There sat the silent party while death was dealing with old Lewis, and the man of God giving comfort to his penitent spirit. They were waiting the event in peace and even little Flora, elevated by the presence of these holy men, whose office seemed now so especially sacred, and cheered by their fatherly kindness to herself, sat in the middle of .the group, and scarcely shed a tear.

In a little while, Mr Macdonald came out from the Shealing, and beckoned on one of them to approach. They did so, one after the other, and thus singly took their last farewell of the ancient man. His agonies and strong convulsions were all over—he was now blind——but he seemed to hear the voices still, and to be quite sensible. .Little Flora was the last to go in-—and she staid the longest. She came out sobbing, as if her heart would break, for she had kissed his cold lips, from which there was no breath, and his eyelids that fell not down over the dim orbs. "He is dead—he' is dead!" said the child; and she went and sat down, with her face hidden by her hands, on a stone at some distance from the rest, a little birch tree hanging its limber sprays over her head, and as the breeze touched them, letting down its clear dew-drops on her yellow hair. As she sat there, a few goats, for it was now the hour of evening when they came to be milked from the high cliffy pastures, gathered round her; and her pet lamb, which had been frisking unheeded among the heather, after the hush of the storm, went bleating up to the sobbing Shepherdess, and laid its head on her knees.

The evening had sunk down upon the glen, but the tempest was over, and though the torrents had not yet begun to subside, there was now a strong party, and no danger in their all journeying homewards together. One large star arose in heaven—and a wide white glimmer over a breaking mass of clouds told that the moon was struggling through, and in another hour, if the upper current of air flowed on, would, be apparent. No persuasion could induce little Flora to leave the Shealing—and Hamish Fraser was left to sit with her all night beside the dead. So the company departed—and as they descended into the great Glen, they heard the wild wail of the pipe, mixing with the sound of the streams and the moaning of cliffs and caverns. It was Hamish Fraser pouring out a Lament on the green before the Shealing——a mournful but martial tune which the old soldier had loved, and which, if there were any superstitious thoughts in the soul of him who was playing, might be supposed to soothe the spirit yet lingering in the dark hollow of his native Mountains.

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