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Tales of the Scottish Peasantry
Margaret Clinton

She weeps not, yet often and deeply she sighs-
She never complains, but her silence implies
The composure of settled distress.


Those who confine their reading exclusively to works of fiction, and form their estimate of mankind from the information they thence derive, will, on bringing matters to the test, infallibly find themselves deceived; and those who go forth into the great world to make love, or war, or anything else, after the fashion of these works, may lay their account with disappointment. But neither of these evils can accrue from a narrative like the following, in which it has been the Writer's intention only to lay before the reader a few simple facts, with the recital of which he was himself deeply affected.

Margaret Clinton was born—the exact when and where, the narrator of her story was never told, and he never had the curiosity to inquire. Her mother died when she was very young, and the care of rearing and educating her devolved upon a married aunt, who, in conjunction with her grandmother, kindly undertook to provide for their infant relative. In about three years after the death of his wife, Margaret's father again thought proper to enter into the married state; and from that period little intercourse subsisted between him and the maternal relations of his infant daughter. But though this was the case, she could scarcely be said to feel the want of a paternal home; for her grandfather and grandmother looked upon her as all they had left of a beloved daughter who had gone before them to a better world ; while her aunt, who had never enjoyed robust health since her marriage, and in whom a sort of melancholy tenderness had been fostered by the death of two children, regarded her with an affection which could not have been surpassed had she been her own.

With these relations she passed the helpless years of infancy without suffering much from the deprivation of a mother's care. As she grew in strength and in beauty, age, with its concomitants, began to steal upon the venerable pair, so that her society and little services became to them indispensable. From the quiet and orderly seclusion in which she thus lived, a natural bashfulness of disposition, and a tinge of melancholy, which she partly inherited from her mother, had been nursed into a painfully acute sensibility. An inquisitive look would embarrass her; she could scarcely speak in the presence of strangers, and she always seemed to prefer being alone to any society save that of her dearest friends.

When she was about seventeen, her grandfather died. This was nothing extraordinary: fathers and grandfathers must die, and there are many who can forget them fast enough. But to Margaret Clinton, "in life's morning march," when the feelings are most intense, and with a temperament which gave a melancholy permanency to every emotion, the death of this aged individual, who had been to her all she could ever know of a father, was the source of deep and lasting sorrow. Still, however, her home was the same. By the last will of the old man, his youngest son, who was unmarried, was to succeed to his little farm and other effects, with the proviso that his mother should remain in the house as its mistress for the remainder of her life. He took possession accordingly. In a little while, matters went quietly on in their usual way, and the venerable patriarch, who slept with his fathers, seemed to be forgotten by all save his aged partner and Margaret, who might still be seen, on a Sabbath day, shedding a tear over his grave.

The lease of their little farm, which consisted of only a few acres, expired in less than two years after the old man's death; and as the laird did not choose to renew it, those who remained were forced to remove from a spot in which they and their fathers had been rooted for more than a century. This, too, was nothing extraordinary: people must often remove at the end of every year, and those who have hearts which "recognise no being and no spot" are certainly the happiest in such circumstances. But to Margaret Clinton, who had never before known what it was to Jlit, and whose affections—balked of their natural range by her timidity—had twined themselves around every feature and every object connected with the place, it was distressing to leave it. Her spirits drooped as the time drew near; during the preparations for removing, her colour often changed from the flush of feeling to the "paleness of fear," as the recollection of her former haunts, or the certainty that they were to be hers no longer, passed over her mind; and when she did leave this home of her happiest days, her tears flowed plentifully.

She was not, however, allowed- to sit down in idle sorrow. The fatigue of travelling, added to the infirmities of age, proved too much for her grandmother, who, after arriving at this new dwelling, was for a long period confined to bed, so that the task of nursing her, and attending to the concerns of the house, devolved wholly upon Margaret; and the constant claims on her attention thence arising, tended materially to relieve her mind from those morbid impressions which it was but too ready to receive, and permanently retain.

About this time, the uncle, who had succeeded to his grandfather's effects, formed a sort of secret attachment to a young woman in the neighbourhood of their former residence. He proposed, was accepted, and now began to make preparations for his marriage. To this, his aged parent, as she was in no state to offer objections, gave her consent, with the understanding that she was still to remain in the house, and that it was also to afford an asylum to her otherwise homeless grand-daughter.

The marriage was accordingly consummated; and this, too, was only a thing in the common course of events. Nevertheless there are some with hearts so sensitive that common occurrences, and matters which to others would be unimportant, are to them subjects of deep and distressing thought; and of these Margaret Clinton was one. To see another take her place by the fire, and to be spoken to as a lodger and a stranger in the house where she had once been as mistress, was not to be borne without some feeling of pain. The solitude in which she had been reared, and which hitherto had guarded her from the effects of the passion of love, only served to deepen every impression after it was made; and her affections were now destined to be poured forth in a stream, the stronger and the purer, perhaps, for their having been so long locked up in her own bosom.

A young man of the neighbourhood happened to see her one day as she was returning home with her weekly store of articles tor household use. "Where combustibles are lodged a single spark will often suffice to set the whole on flame. The sight was enough : and he tried in future to throw himself in her way as often as possible, never failing to behave toward her with the most marked attention. At first she seemed inclined to shun his company, and appeared rather annoyed by his advances; but the heart of woman is not constituted to resist continued kindness. In due time he found an opportunity to confess his passion, and offer her his hand. Though timid and bashful, all the gratitude and tenderness which characterise the best of her sex were in her nature; the discomfort of her present home added another powerful argument in his favour, and her consent was won. They plighted their faith; and in the prospect of being united as soon as was consistent with the circumstances of both, they were supremely happy—but it was "happiness too exquisite to last."

Shortly after this era in her life her aunt, whose health had long been delicate, became so ill as to be wholly confined to bed; and Margaret was once more called on to come and live with her, less as a protege than a sick-nurse. She went, and the enchanted dream in which she had been living was for the time dissolved by seeing one of her nearest and dearest friends withering away in the merciless gripe of consumption, and to all appearance near her journey's end.

She had scarcely been a fortnight with her aunt when her lover was taken ill with small-pox. The disease at first, though virulent, was not deemed dangerous; and no one thought of sending word to her. But in a short time alarming symptoms began to appear; and while people were consulting about the propriety of giving her notice, the rumour of his illness was handed from mouth to mouth till it at last reached her. With a heart weighed down by apprehensions for the fate of her aunt, and a frame worn out with watching night and day by her bedside, she set out on the following morning to see the object of her first and deepest affection.

After a hurried and fatiguing journey, in a hot day in June, she arrived in the vicinity of the sick man's dwelling. But as the mother of her intended bridegroom had always been inimical to the proposed connection, and as it was her house in which he lay, she did not go directly there, but bent her steps first to the habitation of a female acquaintance, who had been intrusted with the secret of the approaching marriage. This individual knew the sight which awaited her, but she wanted courage to prepare her for it; and instead of attempting to do so, she offered to accompany her to the scene of suffering. Her offer was accepted, and they went together. On entering the house, his mother quitted the apartment without bidding them welcome, and left them to introduce themselves.

When Margaret entered the apartment, her lover was lying quiet, but his terribly altered appearance might have served to appal a stouter heart than hers. Her limbs could scarcely carry her to his bedside, and when she did reach it, she stood over him, silent and motionless, while her soft hazel eyes, instead of melting, seemed to burn. For a while her very breathing seemed to have forsaken her; every sense appeared suspended, and she stood rigid, pale, and statue-like, in the astonishment of grief. At last she raised her hand to her forehead, as if to shade her burning eye-balls, and something between a shriek and a stifled groan escaped her as her consciousness returned. The sound attracted the notice of her lover: he knew her voice; and, with a desperate effort, wrenching open his eyes, turned them on her for a moment with a look of surprise and kindness. As soon as he had satisfied himself of her presence, he closed them again, and held out his hand. She took it; and heedless alike of the contagion which it might communicate, and the notice of those who were observing her, she pressed it to her lips, "and pressed and pressed again," as if her life lay there. This mark of tenderness, so unlike everything he had been accustomed to receive from her, appeared powerfully to affect the individual on whom it was bestowed. The rising blood once more reddened over his disfigured face, and he made several ineffectual attempts to speak: at last he was able to say in a low voice, "Peggy, I am dying! and I could wish you to think of me sometimes when I am gone. Yet'------He muttered something more, but the words were inarticulate. The strong emotion had increased his fever; his throat seemed to close, and he sunk reluctantly back upon the bed.

Little as he had said, his words were too many for her to whom they were addressed. As he concluded, her powerless hand dropped his. The faint red faded on her cheek and lip; she staggered backward, and would have fallen had not her friend supported her from the house.

After this short and painful interview, her shaken nerves were in no state to support her back to the dwelling of her dying aunt; and by the advice of her female friend, who again accompanied her part of the road, she went to her grandmother's, where she passed a sleepless night; and early on the morrow she returned to the house of her friend.

Whatever the state of her mind may have been, she was now doomed to experience one of those treacherous gleams of hope, which occasionally brighten a dark prospect, as a ray of sunshine may sometimes be seen shedding its lustre over the evening of a dark and stormy day, ere the world is wrapped up in a darker and more stormy night. Her stricken lover had passed the hours of darkness better than had been expected ; he had, moreover, been able to swallow a few teaspoonfuls of wine in the morning, and some faint hopes were entertained that the disease might have reached its crisis. This her humble friend made the most of. She had seen her agitation during their previous short interview; and she was afraid that her reason might be touched, or that she might sink altogether under the pressure of her own feelings, were she to see him again in his sunken state. She, therefore, endeavoured to cheer her with hopes of his recovery; and after representing in strong terms the evil which might accrue from those emotions which her presence would produce, she succeeded in persuading her to return to her aunt, without attempting to see him again.

Though her journey, with all its consequent delay's, had detained her only a night, and part of two days, the malady of her aunt had, in this short period, made fatal strides toward its termination. She just arrived in time to be recognised by the expiring woman, who took her hand, pressed it with a feeble grasp, raised her dim eyes once more to look her in the face, and died.

Real sorrow is seldom capable of playing extravagant tricks, or acting fashionable vagaries—though there is a fashion in sorrow as well as in everything else. A carelessness of praise or blame from the world, and tears shed in solitude, are its legitimate expression. Such was the grief of Margaret.

She might have now been free to go whither her heart directed; hut the confusion consequent on death, and the many ceremonies to be performed—ceremonies which custom has made it sacrilege to neglect, preparatory to depositing the dust in its last dwelling—these, together with the urgent request of the widower, "not to leave him," detained her till the funeral was over: so that it was the morning of the third day before she could set out on her return to him, on whose life her own for the time seemed to depend.

As she pursued her journey with an emaciated frame and weary feet, there was in her heart a sad contention between hopes and fears—hopes which with ignis fatuus gleam flitted quickly past; and fears which, like the cloud of night, hung heavily and dark, and weighed her spirits down with damp and gloomy foreboding. She was within a mile of the habitation which contained him; no tidings had reached her since her visit, and though she might have obtained information of him at several houses which she had passed, her lips ever refused to frame the question; and with a strange fatuity she shrank from knowing the truth, and clung with a desperate hold to the small remains of hope that existed.

The mile was diminished to less than half that distance, when she saw a young woman who belonged to the place coming directly to meet her. The truth, whatever it might be, was now about to be forced upon her, and her heart palpitated with terror lest it should be as she feared, yet wished not to believe. They met and stopped, as if by tacit consent. The unhappy girl had made an attempt to compose her looks, and collect her bewildered thoughts; and she took her part of a trifling conversation, which lasted two or three minutes, in a calm tone of voice. Still no question could she ask regarding the cause of aer journey, till the other said, in an abrupt and half-careless manner, "Ye'll hae heard o' George's death, nae doubt? an' ye'll be come to see the corpse afore the buryin'" On hearing these wortts, an ashy paleness overspread her countenance, yet, strange as it may seem, she neither trembled nor wept, nor manifested any other sign of sorrow; but after standing for a minute's space, as if she had been stunned by a violent blow, she resumed her journey without answering the young woman's interrogatory, or seeming to remember that an answer was required.

The sun gained the meridian, and was calmly sinking in the bosom of evening, ere she arrived at the house of the female friend, who accompanied her on her first visit to the deceased. Here she spoke with apparent composure of his death-; and after listening to a detailed account of his last moments, expressed a wish to see his remains before they were consigned to mother earth. Her wish was readily complied with. The lid of the coffin was lifted up, and her friend, at her request, removed the cloth which covered the face of the deceased. When this was done, she stepped round to the head of the coffin, and for some minutes leaned over it with fixed eyes. Her countenance, which was pale before, exhibited little change, and, save a momentary shudder, she showed no other sign of emotion. She then stood erect and said, in a calm tone of voice, "Ay, it's a' ower noo!" The words were uttered without being addressed to any one; and, without offering to condole with friends, or waiting for their condolence, she left the house with as much apparent composure as she had entered it.

At her grandmother's, whither she instantly returned, she appeared equally composed. This aged relative was glad to see her so little cast down, as she thought, under a trial which she had feared might prove too much for her fortitude; and thinking it might be of use still further to divert her mind, she set her to perform some little services about the house. To these services she manifested the utmost readiness; and as her uncle and his wife were absent, she went on with them for a time, as she had been wont to do when she had the sole management there. But she had already taxed her powers of concealment to the utmost; and that fortitude which hitherto had resisted the pressing claims of so many creditors, at last became bankrupt. She threw down the things which were in her hand, turned her face to the wall, and after standing thus for a few seconds, walked hurriedly to the door. The aged dame felt some misgivings as to her peace of mind, and followed her out as fast as her feeble limbs could carry her, but Margaret was nowhere to be seen. The neighbours were made acquainted with the circumstance, and a young woman, who had formerly been in her confidence, was sent out to seek her. There is a plantation immediately adjoining the site of the houses here alluded to, and to it had she fled, like a wounded fawn, to conceal her anguish from the eye of day. Here, after a short search, she was accordingly found, seated on the earth, her form more than half hidden by the depending branches of a tree, and her face buried in her hands, while tears flowed fast from under them.

It was long before she seemed to recognise the presence, or to hear the kind expostulations of her former friend. When che violence of her emotion had somewhat subsided, she seemed to observe that she was not alone, and, uncovering her face, she attempted to dry her tearful eyes with her apron; but no sooner had she raised them to meet those of her friend, than, as if recollecting the circumstances under which that face and form had last met her eye, a convulsive shudder shook every part of her frame—she bent her head suddenly down between her knees, covered her face again with both her hands, and yielded to an agony of grief. When this burst of feeling had again exhausted itself, and after being earnestly urged to "come into the house," she removed her hands slowly from her face; and while her head drooped on one side, as if its weight were too much for her to support, and the tears gushed fast from her eyes, she said, in a tone of melancholy earnestness,— "Oh! I dinna care whar I gang now!"

It could serve but little purpose to dwell on this scene of sorrow. That which gave life its charm, and, like the summer sun, made all things bright around her—that was gone for ever. Her hopes of happiness were fled—her heart was desolate.

Excessive grief, like everything else which is excessive, must soon come to an end, by either destroying itself, or all that is destructible of those on whom it preys. But it may be, and sometimes is, followed by a sedate and settled melancholy, which, though little noticed by careless eyes, may last for years, or for life. Soon after these events her tears ceased to flow in the presence of others; she made no further allusion to the subject, and in a short time her countenance had assumed a part of its wonted composure.

On the ensuing Sabbath, when her uncle, with his wife and the other friends of Margaret's deceased aunt, went to church, dressed in the garb of woe, but with only a common share of sorrow in their countenances, she walked a space behind, clad in deeper mourning than any of them, with eyes which were never raised from the earth, and a look in which her feelings were more forcibly portrayed than in the sables which she wore.

It has been said by one, whose gloomy observations on the lot of man often approximate too nearly to truth, that "misfortunes love a train," and "tread each other's heel." The quiver of Fate was not yet exhausted. Margaret Clinton was requested by her friends to sort the habiliments which had belonged to her deceased aunt; and, weak as she was from the violent shock which her nerves had sustained, she complied. But scarcely had she commenced her task, when she was overtaken with pains in the head, weariness, and loss of strength. This forced her to abandon the idea of proceeding; and " What was she to do now 1" was a question which for a time she could not answer. Here she had no one to attend to her, or even to give her a draught of cold water should she be seized with severe or protracted distress, which she foreboded was awaiting her. She had but one alternative: once more her weary limbs dragged her fainting form back to the residence of her grandmother; and there, after being confined to bed for two days by severe headache and sickness, she caught the infection of that fatal disease which had cut off her lover, and her life was considered in danger. Death was spoken of in her presence, and she spoke again of the King of Terrors without shrinking. She could even introduce the subject herself with calmness, and without manifesting any of that reluctance to die which is often observable in the young, and in those who are snatched away ere they have experienced those disappointments with which maturer years are familiar, or had an opportunity of trying those pleasures which imagination holds up so temptingly to view, and proving that they are not what they seem. Throughout she endured patiently, and was seldom heard to complain. Did she die 1 No: death comes oftener in imagination to the assistance of the playwright and the writer of tragic fiction, than in reality to those who have little or nothing left for which they would wish to live. After the disease had spent its force in the usual way, she began to recover.

The writer of these pages had an opportunity of seeing her shortly after she got better. The church where he attends sermon is situated at a short distance from the parish burying-place. Thither he occasionally went, to muse away the interval of public worship among the mansions of the dead. On the day alluded to, he wandered in that direction, as was his wont; and on entering at the gate, which stood open, he was surprised to find that a female figure had taken possession of the solitary spot before him. It was Margaret Clinton, sitting by the grave—of whom, the reader need not be told. He would have spoken, and tried to condole with her on the severe shock she had sustained; but there is something so sacred in the solitude of deep sorrow, that he felt it might be intrusive in him to "intermeddle therewith," and, stealing silently and hurriedly away, he left her—the only living thing in this " city of the dead."

Two years have now elapsed since her bereavement, and some may suppose it forgotten. Yet decide not on her memory till you have made a simple trial. Are you an old acquaintance?—speak to her and she will answer you with a smile. But mark that smile!—it grows slowly, like an exotic plant in an uncongenial clime: its decay is like its growth, gradual and slow, as if the effort which called it forth were required to keep it alive throughout; and when it has faded from a face which it had scarcely brightened, her features relax into an expression of deeper melancholy than they had previously worn; and it is only by speaking to her again that she is brought to recollect your presence.

Such was Margaret Clinton when the writer of these pages saw her last. Her affecting, but ill-narrated story, may be concluded by the following verses, which were composed, shortly after her lover's death, by one "alike to fortune and to fame unknown."

The Unmarried Widow.

O Grave! what woe is wrought by thes!
What clouded years of misery!
What loving hearts hast thou bereft!
What joyless, hopeless mourners left!

Mart Howitt.

She was not by the bed of death
To see his manly strength decay;
Or mark the last convulsive breath,
That feebly heaved his suffering clay.
No ! hands less kind, and hearts less true,
Were gather'd round his dying bed,
To watch death's shadows, as they grew
Slowly o'er his devoted head!

Yet once I saw her, with those eyes,
As bending o'er his couch she stood,—
With hopes, that vainly strove to rise,
With fears that curdled cold her blood.
Of these I saw the shadows pass
Across her eye, along her brow,
Like things seen in a magic glass—
Alas ! methinks I see them now!

Yet once again I saw her near,
Ere the black coffin lid was closed;
Even then, her dark eye shed no tear
O'er his cold limhs in death composed.
And yet—oh ! what a spectre host
That sight must wake within her brain!
Of every parted look, the ghost!
Of every perish'd smile, the pain!

There, visions of that happy time
When hearts, whose faith had long been tried,
And made hut one responsive chime,
In wedlock's bands of love are tied;
the concentred wish of years—
The long, long cherish'd dream of love—
The source of countless hopes and fears,
Lay with the winding-sheet above!

The house—the home—the happy hearth—
A husband's smile, the children's glee—
Their harmless sport, and noisy mirth,
And the embrace, caressingly,
Of him she loved, when eventide,
Which homeward bring the laden bee,
Should bring that loved one to her side,
Her heart from every care to free.

His hand to press—his eye to meet—
His frugal meal to dress with care;
To hear him talk in accents sweet—
In all his joys and woes to share:
These were her fancy's golden mine—
These were her riches—these her store;
Her heart a consecrated shrine,
With all its treasures brimming o'er!

These to her soul's enchanted cell,
At morn, or noon, or evening time,
Had come—like spirits bright that dwell
In worlds beyond the reach of crime—
To steal her from herself away,
A new and happy world revealing
Where Love ruled every smiling day,
In the unhounded flow of feeling.

That light was quench'd, that music hush'd,
In silence and in hopeless gloom;
Her visions in that hour had rush'd
All downward to their silent tomb.
With his cold shrouded corse that lay,
From whom they came, on whom they turn'd-
All perish'd—cold and pass'd away,
Like duat which hath been long inurn'd.

But though her dark eye did not swerve,
As there she gazed upon the dead,
Yet, in the trembling \>f each nerve,
The anguish of her heart I read.
The shudder, that so quickly flies
Electric o'er each arm and limb,
Speaks a far deeper grief thau eyes
Which many tears have render'd dim.

With wayward footsteps, moving alow,
And eyes upon the cold earth fix'd,
As she from thenee essay'd to go,
All faint and pale, I saw her next:
Pale were her lips, so lately red;
Her cheek had sadly changed its hue,—
The sparkle from her eye had fled,
And on her brow deep shadows grew.

A love-lorn, hope-forsaken shade,
She glided through the twilight's gloom,
As if full fain she would have made
Her nearest resting-place the tomb,—
With him to moulder side by side
In the cold chambers of the dead,
Who sought in her a living bride,
|And share in death his bridal bed.

Ay, she hath loved, ill-fated maid,
As-she can never love again,
Though her last hour be long delay'd,
And from his prey Death long refrain:
Her heart hath pour'd forth all its ruth,
And pour'd it forth, alas, in vaiu!
The faith of age, the love of youth,
And ashes in their place remain.

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