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Book of Scottish Story
Sunset and Sunrise

"This is the evening on which, a few days ago, we agreed to walk to the bower at the waterfall, and look at the perfection of a Scottish sunset. Everything on earth and heaven seems at this hour as beautiful as our souls could desire. Come then, my sweet Anna, come along, for by the time we have reached the bower, with your gentle steps, the great bright orb will be nearly resting its rim on what you call the Ruby Mountain. Come along, and we can return before the dew has softened a single ringlet on your fair forehead." With these words, the happy husband looked kindly within his own the arm of his young English wife; and even in the solitude of his unfrequented groves, where no eye but his own now beheld her, looked with pride on the gracefulness and beauty that seemed so congenial with the single-ness and simplicity of her soul.

They reached the bower just as the western heaven was in all its glory. To them, while they stood together gazing on that glow of fire that burns without consuming, and in whose mighty furnace the clouds and the mountain-tops are but as embers, there seemed to exist no sky but that region of it in which their spirits were entranced. Their eyes saw it—their souls felt it; but what their eyes saw or their souls felt they knew not in the mystery of that magnificence. The vast black bars, the piled-up masses of burnished gold, the beds of softest saffron and richest purple, lying surrounded with continually fluctuating dyes of crimson, till the very sun himself was for moments unheeded in the gorgeousness his light had created; the show of storm, but the feeling of calm, over all that tumultuous, yet settled world of cloud, that had come floating silently and majestically together, and yet in one little hour was to be no more;—what might not beings endowed with a sense of beauty, and greatness, and love, and fear, and terror, and eternity, feel when drawing their breath together, and turning their steadfast eyes on each other's faces, in such a scene as this?

But from these high and bewildering imaginations, their souls returned insensibly to the real world in which their life lay; and, still feeling the presence of that splendid sunset, although now they looked not towards it, they let their eyes glide, in mere human happiness, over the surface of the inhabited earth. The green fields, that in all varieties of form lay stretching out before them, the hedgerows of hawthorn and sweetbrier, the humble coppices, the stately groves, and, in the distance, the dark pine-forest loading the mountain side, were all their own—and so, too, were a hundred cottages, on height or hollow, shelterless or buried in shelter, and all alike dear to their humble inmates, on account of their cheerfulness or their repose. God had given to them this bright and beautiful portion of the earth, and he had given them along with it hearts and souls to feel and understand in what lay the worth of the gift, and to enjoy it with a deep and thoughtful gratitude.

"All hearts bless you, Anna; and do you know that the Shepherd Poet, whom we once visited in his shieling, has composed a Gaelic song on our marriage, and it is now sung by many a pretty Highland girl, both in cottage and on hillside? They wondered, it is said, why I should have brought them an English lady; but that was before they saw your face, or heard how sweet may be an English voice even to a Highland ear. They love you, Anna— they would die for you, Anna; for they have seen you with your sweet body in silk and satin, with a jewel on your forehead and pearls in your hair, moving to music in your husband's hereditary hall; and they have seen you, too, in russet garb and ringlets unadorned, in their own smoky cottages, blithe and free as some native shepherdess of the hills. To the joyful and the sorrowful art thou alike dear ; and all my tenantry are rejoiced when you appear, whether on your palfrey on the heather, or walking through the hay or harvest-field, or sitting by the bed of sickness, or welcoming, with a gentle stateliness, the old withered mountaineer to his chieftain's gate."

The tears fell from the lady's eyes at these kind, loving, and joyful words; and, with a sob, she leaned her cheek on her husband's bosom. "Oh! why— why should I be sad in the midst of the undeserved goodness of God? Since the furthest back time I recollect in the darkness of infancy, I have been perfectly happy. I have never lost any dear friend, as so many others have done. My father and mother live, and love me well; blessings be upon them now, and for ever! You love me, and that so tenderly, that at times my heart is like to break. But, my husband—forgive me—pity me—but upbraid me not, when I tell you that my soul of late has often fainted within me. as now it does—for oh! husband! husband! the fear of death is upon me; and as the sun sank behind the mountain, I thought that moment of a large burial-place, and the vault in which I am to be interred."

These words gave a shock to her husband's heart, and for a few moments he knew not how to cheer and comfort her. Almost before he could speak, and while he was silently kissing her forehead, his young wife, somewhat more composedly, said, "I strive against it—I close my eyes to contain—to crush the tears that I feel gushing up from my stricken heart; but they force their way through, and my face is often ruefully drenched in solitude. Well may I weep to leave this world—thee—my parents—the rooms in which, for a year of perfect bliss, I have walked, sat, or slept in thy bosom—all these beautiful woods, and plains, and hills, which I have begun to feel every day more and more as belonging unto me, because I am thy wife. But, husband! beyond, far, tar beyond them all, except him of whose blood it is, do I weep to leave our baby that is now unborn. May it live to comfort you—to gladden your eyes when I am gone—yea, to bring tears sometimes into them, when its face or form may chance to remember you of the mother who bore it, and died that it might see the day."

The lady rose up with these words from her husband's bosom; and as a sweet balmy whispering breath of wind came from the broom on the river's bank, and fanned her cheeks, she seemed to revive from that desponding dream; and, with a faint smile, looked all round the sylvan bower. The cheerful hum of the bees, that seemed to be hastening their work among the honey-flowers before the fall of dark—the noise of the river, that had been unheard while the sun was setting—the lowing of the kine going leisurely homewards before their infant drivers—and the loud lofty song of the blackbird in his grove—these, and a thousand other mingling influences of nature, touched her heart with joy, and her eyes became altogether free from tears. Her husband, who had been deeply affected by words so new to him from her lips, seized these moments of returning peace to divert her thoughts entirely from such causeless terrors. "To this bower I brought you to show you what a Scottish landscape was, the day after our marriage; and from that hour to this, every look, smile, word, and deed of thine, has been after my own heart, except these foolish tears. But the dew will soon be on the grass— so come, my beloved—nay, I will not stir unless you smile. There, Anna! you are your beautiful self again!" And they returned, cheerful and laughing, to the Hall; the lady's face being again as bright as if a tear had never dimmed its beauty. The glory of the sunset was almost forgotten in the sweet, fair, pensive silence of the twilight, now fast glimmering on to one of those clear summer nights which divide, for a few hours, one day from another with their transitory pomp of stars.

Before midnight, all who slept awoke. It was hoped that an heir was about to be born to that ancient house ; and there is something in the dim and solemn reverence which invests an unbroken line of ancestry, that blends easily with those deeper and more awful feelings with which the birth of a human creature, in all circumstances, is naturally regarded. Tenderly beloved by all as this young and beautiful lady was, who, coming a stranger among them, and as they felt from another land, had inspired them insensibly with a sort of pity, mingling with their pride in her loveliness and virtue, it may well be thought that now the house was agitated, and that its agitation was soon spread from cottage to cottage, to a great distance round. Many a prayer, therefore, was said for her; and God was beseeched soon to make her, in His mercy, a joyful mother. No fears, it was said, were entertained for the lady's life ; but after some hours of intolerable anguish of suspense, her husband, telling an old servant whither he had gone, walked out into the open air, and in a few minutes, sat down on a tombstone, without knowing that he had entered the little churchyard, which, with the parish church, was within a few fields and groves of the house. He looked around him; and nothing but graves—graves—graves. "This stone was erected by her husband in memory of Agnes Ilford, an Englishwoman, who died in childbed, aged nineteen." The inscription was, every letter of it, distinctly legible in the moonlight; and he held his eyes fixed upon it, reading it over and over with a shudder; and then rising up and hurrying out of the churchyard, he looked back from the gate, and thought he saw a female figure all in white, with an infant in her arms, gliding noiselessly over the graves and tombstones. But he looked more steadfastly—and it was nothing. He knew it was nothing; but he was terrified, and turned his face away from the churchyard. The old servant advanced towards him, and he feared to look him in the face, lest he should know that his wife was a corpse.

"Life or death?" at length he found power to utter. "My honoured lady lives, but her son breathed only a few gasps—no heir, no heir! I was sent to tell you to come quickly to my lady's chamber."

In a moment the old man was alone, for, recovering from the torpidity of fear, his master had flown off like an arrow, and now with soft footsteps was stealing along the corridor towards the door of his wife's apartment. But as he stood within a few steps of it, composing his countenance, and strengthening his heart to behold his beloved Anna lying exhausted, and too probably ill, ill indeed,—his own mother, like a shadow, came out of the room, and not knowing that she was seen, clasped her hands together upon her breast, and lifting up her eyes with an expression of despair, exclaimed, as in a petition to God, "Oh! my poor son!—my poor son! what will become of him! She looked forward, and there was her son before her, with a face like ashes, tottering and speechless. She embraced and supported him—the old and feeble supported the young and the strong. "I am blind, and must feel my way; but help me to the bed-side, that I may sit down and kiss my dead wife. I ought to have been there, surely, when she died."

The lady was dying, but not dead. It was thought that she was insensible, but when her husband said—"Anna, Anna!" she fixed her hitherto unnotic-ing eyes upon his face, and moved her lips as if speaking, but no words were heard. He stooped down and kissed her forehead, and then there was a smile over all her face, and one word, "Farewell!" At that faint and loving voice he touched her lips with his, and he must then have felt her parting breath; for when he again looked on her face, the smile upon it was more deep, placid, steadfast, than any living smile, and a mortal silence was on her bosom that was to move no more.

They sat together, he and his mother, looking on the young, fair, and beautiful dead. Sometimes he was distracted, and paced the room raving, and with a black and gloomy aspect. Then he sat down perfectly composed, and looked alternately on the countenance of his young wife, bright, blooming, and smiling in death; and on that of his old mother, pale, withered, and solemn in life. As yet he had no distinct thoughts of himself. Overwhelming pity for one so young, so good, so beautiful, and so happy, taken suddenly away, possessed his disconsolate soul; and he would have wept with joy to see her restored to life, even although he were to live with her no more, though she were utterly to forget him; for what would that be to him, so that she were but alive! He felt that he could have borne to be separated from her by seas, or by a dungeon's walls; for in the strength of his love he would have been happy, knowing that she was a living being beneath heaven's sunshine. But in a few days is she to be buried!—And then was he forced to think upon himself, and his utter desolation, changed in a few hours from a too perfect happiness into a wretch whose existence was an anguish and a curse.

At last he could not sustain the sweet, sad, beautiful sight of that which was now lying stretched upon his marriage-bed; and he found himself passing along the silent passages, with faint and distant lamentations meeting his ear, but scarcely recognised by his mind, until he felt the fresh air, and saw the gray dawn of morning. Slowly and unconsciously he passed on into the woods, and walked on and on, without aim or object, through the solitude of awakening nature. He heard or heeded not the wide-ringing songs of all the happy birds; he saw not the wild - (lowers beneath his feet, nor the clew diamonds that glittered on every leaf of the motionless trees. The ruins of a lonely hut on the hill-side were close to him, and he sat down in stupefaction, as if he had been an exile in some foreign country. He lifted up his eyes, and the sun was rising, so that all the eastern heaven was tinged with the beautiful-ness of joy. The turrets of his own ancestral mansion were visible among the dark umbrage of its ancient grove : fair were the lawns and fields that stretched away from it towards the orient light, and one bright bend of the river kindled up the dim scenery through which it rolled. His own family estate was before his eyes, and as the thought rose within his heart, "All that I see is mine," yet felt he that the poorest beggar was richer far than he, and that in one night he had lost all that was worth possessing. He saw the church tower, and thought upon the place of graves. "There will she be buried— there will she be buried," he repeated with a low voice, while a groan of mortal misery startled the little moss-wren from a crevice in the ruin. He rose up, and the thought of suicide entered into his sick heart. He gazed on the river, and, murmuring aloud in his hopeless wretchedness, said, "Why should I not sink into a pool and be drowned? But oh! Anna, thou who wert so meek and pure on earth, and who art now bright and glorious in heaven, what would thy sainted and angelic spirit feel if I were to appear thus lost and wicked at the judgment-seat?"

A low voice reached his ear, and, looking round, he beheld his old, faithful, white-headed servant on his knees— him who had been his father's foster-brother, and who, in the privilege of age and fidelity and love to all belonging to that house, had followed him unregarded—had watched him as he wrung his hands, and had been praying for him to God while he continued sitting in that dismal trance upon that mouldering mass of ruins. "Oh! my young master, pardon me for being here. I wished not to overhear your words; but to me you have ever been kind, even as a son to his father. Come, then, with the old man back into the hall, and forsake not your mother, who is sore afraid."

They returned, without speaking, down the glens and through the old woods, and the door was shut upon them. Days and nights passed on, and then a bell tolled; and the churchyard, that had sounded to many feet, was again silent. The woods around the hall were loaded with their summer glories; the river flowed on in its brightness; the smoke rose up to heaven from the quiet cottages; and nature continued the same—bright, fragrant, beautiful, and happy. But the hall stood uninhabited; the rich furniture now felt the dust; and there were none to gaze on the pictures that graced the walls. He who had been thus bereaved went across seas to distant countries, from which his tenantry, for three springs, expected his return; but their expectations were never realised, for he died abroad. His remains were brought home to Scotland, according to a request in his will, to be laid by those of his wife; and now they rest together, beside the same simple monument.

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