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The Cottars of the Glen
Chapter VI

Profitable hearing in the church—Frightful death-bed—Arrangements of the hut—Jealousy—Altercation—Domestic tidiness— Gastigation.

"What thought ye o' the minister's preachin' yesterday, Saunders?" inquired a neighbour in the glen, who incidentally stept into the patriarch's house, where a number of friendly people had met for useful conversation, "What thought ye o' our minister yesterday?" "Much —very much, indeed," responded the father of the glen, "and we were just speaking on the subject when you entered." "Atweel, I thought it a very dry affair," added the man; "it produced no effect on me—not the least; I left the kirk just as I entered it!" "Dry!" said Saunders, "if the gospel be dry, then I admit the sermon was dry, but otherwise, I cannot see the pith of your statement." "The gospel!" exclaimed the man, "there are many opinions about the gospel; you will scarcely get two persons that can agree on what it is." "The mair's the pity," quoth Saunders, "the mair is the pity that there should be such ignorance among us on a subject that is of so much importance to us all—but surely if salvation by free grace through the blood and merits of the Saviour be not the gospel, I know not what it is. Now, surely our minister dwelt with great urgency on this point, and, at the same time, with very great plainness, so that even the simplest mind could take it up." "May be," said the man; "but, for my part, I got very little gude o' the discourse. You speak of plainness, but I hold plainness to be silliness, downright silliness. I like a deep sermon, something that I cannot comprehend, that shows the man." "You say you got little good—that may be —but the reason of that may be something yery different from what you suppose. You may think it lay with the preacher, or with his subject, or in the want of depth, as you insinuate; but, did it never occur to you that the reason might be entirely in yourself." "In me! how can that be? I am sure that I listened like other folk, and it may be a great deal better, for I saw some sleeping, and others carelessly staring about the church. Now, I say, I hearkened to what the minister said, and tried to comprehend him, and to get what little benefit might be going, but I came away neither dafter nor wiser for all that I heard, and I am sure if others liked to speak their mind they would tell the same tale." "That, I fear," said Saunders, "is too true. You stated just now that you likit a deep discourse, a something that you could not well comprehend—now you affirm that you could not comprehend him, then surely there must have been depth, and so one of your objections is, by your own confession, disposed of. But when you complain of the want of profit, I would seriously ask you, did you prepare yourself for profitable hearing before you went to the church, by which I mean, did you pray fervently for a blessing on the ordinances, and that the word preached might come in demonstration of the Spirit on your heart—for you know it is the office of the Spirit to take of the things that are Christ's, and to show them unto us." "I must confess," said the man, "I did not think of that, and I must acknowledge that, if the blessing was to depend on my prayers, the blessing I could not expect, for I did not pray at all. It did not occur to me that the benefit received in the church was in any measure in answer to prayer. I now see where my error lies." "Yes," replied Saunders, "and yours is not a solitary case. Multitudes enter the church in the same prayerless and irreverent manner, and after they have dreed out the time occupied by the service, they retire in even a worse condition than they entered the house of prayer. Their conversation on the way to the church, and on the road home again, is anything but suitable to the solemnity both of the day and of the ordinances." "And is this the reason, think you," said the man, "why one receives the benefit and another not?" "In a great measure it is. I do not say it is absolutely so, but, at least, this is the general rule. It is, indeed, most true that the Spirit of the Lord has often come without being asked, and brought home the word with power, as we saw in the late revival; but still, I say, it is our duty to ask that we may receive; and surely it is a small benefit that is not worth the asking. The Lord has promised His blessing, but then He has said, "for this will I be inquired of, that I may do it."

"It is remarkable to think," continued Saunders, "on the difference between a praying person coining to the church in a teachable disposition, and the person who comes prayerless and thoughtlessly: to the thoughtless everything is an offence—the minister's subject, the division of his text, the manner of his handling it, the tones of his voice, the turns of expression, his gestures, the use of certain words, his shallowness, his too great depth, his sameness, his novelties, and what not— everything is an offence, nothing for edification: to the man of an honest, prayerful heart, on the contrary, everything is good, if he comes with an open, earnest mind; in his case, the shower falls on a soft soil which drinks it in, while as it respects his discontented, captious neighbour, sitting in the same pew with him, the shower falls on the bare rock: the one profits by every opening of the mouth—the other remains like a field unblessed." "Well," said the man, "that is very much like my case, and I now perceive the cause of my restlessness in the church—my drowsiness, my wandering thoughts, my laying down my head on the weary book-board, my frequently looking at my watch, and my holding it up almost in the minister's face, to tell him to have done, and the relief which I felt when the blessing was pronounced, and when the rush was made to the door. I remember, one Sabbath, when sitting in the pew with a worthy neighbour, listening to the minister descanting on the love of God to sinners, I perceived the big tears rolling down his cheeks, while he seemed altogether unaware of the circumstances. I saw there was a difference between him and me, but I could not discern wherein it lay. He was melted—I was unmoved; he seemed to drink in every word—I felt no interest in the matter; he retired apparently happy— I was careless and moody; and on my way home I was thankful for the relief afforded by the idle and loose conversation of a batch of people with whom I mingled." "That is exactly the thing," said Saunders; "now do you think that, if you and the person you mention, had spent a while in earnest prayer in the morning, matters would not have been different?" "I certainly confess they would; and the more especially when I think on the case of the worthy man who was so deeply impressed. He must have been a man of prayer, and I know he was; for that man was no other than yourself, honest Saunders; but I was not acquainted with you then, for I was a stranger in the place; but now I know you, and I trust I shall profit in intercourse with you." "I have no remembrance," said the worthy man, "of the circumstance you mention." "Maybe not—for I judge you have often been in the same condition, and the frequency makes you forgetful of any particular instance, all of them being so much alike."

"Aye, aye," said Barbara, "I am persuaded that many people become hardened even under the ordinances of religion. These words of the apostle Paul have often struck me with a sort of terror—'We are unto God, a sweet savour of Christ in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one we are the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life.' Hech, sirce, but it is an unco judgment to be hardened under the very gospel itself."

"Yes," added William Tait, who had just stepped into the circle where the conversation was going on, "the blame is ours if we profit not, and our responsibility is the greater according to the greatness of our privileges. In coming along the glen this afternoon, I happened to call at the Waterfoot, where I found an old acquaintance, Joseph Middleton, on his death-bed! He has been a careless and irreligious man all his life. He has rarely been seen within a church for the last thirty years, and was in the habit of saying that he considered many that often attended the church, and listened to the gospel, as they called it, not one whit better than he was, but in some respects even worse; and in this way he excused himself, and laid aside all care about his soul, and now he is about to enter into eternity, and to stand before the judgment seat, the regrets which he now experiences, and his forebodings, are truly fearful. He is an unbeliever, but one who has a terrific faith in the future. I spoke to him of the Saviour, and of the pardon which is presented to the chief of sinners through the blood of the great atonement. I urged him to believe in Jesus, and to embrace the offered mercy, but all was in vain! The poor man rolled his head from side to side on his weary pillow, tormented alike in body and in soul, and could find no rest for either. His condition was heart-rending. I kneeled at his bed-side, and poured out a prayer to the Father of mercies in his behalf. He was somewhat calmed during the exercise, but in a short time his agitations and terrors returned, and we were all greatly distressed. Our worthy friend, Peter Wilson, from Dunter-cleuch, repeated many encouraging passages of Scripture, which seemed to impart some degree of composure, and I left him in the hands of pious friends and came on my way."

"Yes," said Saunders, "it is easy for people when in health and prosperity, and when the fear of death is at a distance, to talk lightly of religious matters, but when all comes to all, the case assumes a very different aspect— the dread realities of the future rise up in frightful array, and drive them to the very borders of despair! What a blessed thing is it to have the affairs of the soul all settled and secured before the last enemy approaches our bed-side, and the hasty summons given to meet God. I greatly pity poor Joseph. Many a time have I remonstrated with him, and warned him of his danger. Sometimes he took it kindly, and at other times he sneered, and seemed greatly offended. God grant that his case may be a warning to us all."

"But, William," added Saunders, "we were speaking a little before you came in of the reason why some receive so little benefit from the preaching of the word, and this we all attributed to the want of due preparation and fervent prayer." "Yes," said William, "the great defect lies there; it is not the ordinances that have failed in their power, nor the gospel that is despoiled of its due effect, it is the repulsion of a hard heart that cherishes a strong aversion to the truth in all unconverted minds; but even, in the case of not a few truly religious persons, their lack of benefit from the ordinances is to be traced to the want of conscientious prayer—prayer for the minister, prayer for the congregation, and prayer for themselves. Let a person enter the house of God direct from his closet, with a heart warm in devotional feeling, and he will not have occasion to complain that the means of grace are "wells without water, or clouds without rain."' The cottage was a place of resort to the intelligent and pious people in the glen, and this, for two reasons— the interesting conversation of the good Saunders, and the neatness and comfort within. Saunders was the oracle of the glen, and Barbara was the pattern of domestic tidiness—everything within the domicile was kept in perfect order, nothing was out of place, and all was clean, furniture and clothes, and even the clay floor was dry, and dusted all over with pure yellow sand—the walls within were white-washed, and the roof was snodly thatched with heather, so that the cottage presented an entire contrast to not a few of the others in the neighbourhood, where, on entering, all was in disorder—tables, and chairs, and stools, in regular confusion on the floor—dirt was everywhere, on their persons, on the furniture, and in their beds, and dishes standing and unassorted for hours after the last meal—children in tatters, their faces besmeared with filth, discontented, brawling, and fighting, and paying no more regard to their parents than to the screaming of the corbies that sailed across the glen in a windy day. All, however, were not of this cast, and though they did not equal Barbara's hut, they were, at least, respectable.

But the thing we would notice here is the jealousy cherished toward Barbara by the more tawdry and sluttish of the housewives in the glen. The Mrs M'Larties who could not be fashed to keep either their persons or their houses tidy, were full of envy. Nanny Telfor, one of these slatterns whose house was a model domicile—a model of confusion and filth—stept one afternoon into Barbara's orderly and cosy hut, while the fire was blazing on the hearth, the floor cleanly swept, the furniture neatly arranged, the air within as fresh as the air without, and the two daughters, Marion and Janet, the one busy sewing, and the other knitting. The sight was too much for Nanny—it was a reproof, a severe criticism on her slovenliness and disorderly habits; and she exclaimed, "Hech, sirce, but the pride o' some folk is no to be bounded!"

Barbara, who well knew what was meant, calmly replied, "I dinna see what uppishness is to be attached to cleanliness, Nanny, unless it be the praiseworthy pride of having one's house made an attractive abode for one's own family, and a comfortable resort to any worthy neighbour who may see fit to pay us a visit." "Maybe," retorted Nanny; "nae doubt, but ye think yersels the best folk in the glen, and a' our decent neighbours are looked down on by ye, but, my certes, we think oursels as gude as you any day, for a' that ye get yer heads sae high. Nae doubt but ye may get a doon-come, and it weel sets ye, and I think there will be but few to bemoan ye." "I dinna see, neighbour," rejoined Barbara, "I dinna see any just cause for a' this envy and spite that ye manifest against me and my family. I am not aware of any injury that we have done to you, or to any of the neighbours around, to call forth any such expressions of ill-will as you have now given. You grudge to see the order and neatness of our cottage, but what is to hinder you to put yours in the same condition? The burn runs past your door as it does mine, and you have only to use it for the scrubbing of your furniture, if you like to apply your hands; besides, you can easily obtain a little lime for the whitewashing of the walls, both out and in, and there is the bonny sunny brae at the end of the house, ye can bleach your clothes when you have plunged them in the tub, and rinsed them in the stream. And so, neighbour, I do not see where your means of cleanliness are in any way inferior to mine." "Ye speak brawly, in trowth," retorted Nanny; "but where have I the advantages otherwise that you have? The gude pay, mistress, the gude pay, what of that? ye hae an income like a laird." "I have only my husband's income," replied she; "his single day's wages; and I am wrongly informed if your husband's wages are not equal to mine, and, it may be, something better, considering the trade he drives; but you should know that much lies in economy, or good household management—which we wives should study as carefully as our husbands study their trade—for it is an old saying that no man will make rich if his wife will not let him."

As this discussion was going on, the woman whose rent Barbara had so kindly discharged, entered the cottage, and hearing the discourse, addressed Nanny in the following manner:—"You complain," said she, "of many things; and especially of this, that your gudeman will not stay in the house, but prefers to saunter in the woods and fields, or spends an hour in some neighbour's house. Now do you know the reason? I will tell you plainly—it is because you keep such a dirty, disorderly house; the children arc in rags; the poor things are heartless because they are not kept so tidy, nor fed so regularly, as other children; everything has a stench about your house, the foul air is ready to make one vomit; and there is yourself—how dirty and untidy you are; you are not like the rest of the wives in the glen—you are no credit to the place; and there, besides, is your temper; you had a bonny face when you were married to Andrew, and you are not uncomely yet, and would still look braw if you were snodly redd-up—but then, your temper spoils all; you speak harshly to your husband, who very ill deserves it; and as for the poor children, you drive them about as if they were brute beasts—you never speak a pleasant word to them, always scolding and giving them bad names, and in this way you harden them, and are making them the worst children in the glen. Moderate your temper, speak kindly to Andrew and the bairns, keep your person clean, mend your clothes, and the children's, scrub your house, arrange your furniture, make your home really a home, and you will need to complain no longer either of Andrew or the family; it sets you ill to come into a house of this sort, where all is comfort and kindliness, and to be going on in the insolent way you were doing when I came in."

This firm address somewhat cowed Nanny, who slunk from the house without retorting, and returned to her hut to ruminate on the castigation she had so justly merited.

Not a few in the glen profited by Barbara's domestic management. She set the example to every household, and the younger women especially became her imitators, so that cottage emulated with cottage, till a great and general improvement was discernible.

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