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Tales of the Scottish Peasantry
The Stranger

O Woman! in our hours of ease
Uncertain, coy, and ill to please,
And variable as the shade
By the light quivering aspen made,
When pain and sickness wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!

Sir Walter Scott.

In the southern part of an obscure country parish, in one of the midland counties of Scotland, there is a deep ravine called "The Rasp-berry Den." At the head of it a spring of limpid water bubbles up, producing a stream which traverses its bottom for the whole length—here fretting and brawling, with angry din, among the rough pebhles—and there

--------in pools as clear as glass,
Kissing, with easy whirls, the bordering grass.

After escaping from this narrow gorge, it traverses corn fields and way-sides, for nearly half a mile, and then loses itself in a lake.

On one side the den has been ploughed to the very margin of the stream. But the other, which is as steep as an earthen bank can well be, offering but little temptation to the agriculturist, has been allowed to remain in a state of nature. Thu primrose peeps forth in the early spring time; and the raspberry bushes, from which it derives its name, mingle with the darker green, and gayer blossoms, of the tall broom which luxuriates along the bank—offering to holiday ramblers a delightful shade from the rays of the summer sun. There, as it chanced, on the afternoon of a beautiful summer's Sabbath day, sat together an individual of either sex whom the ripe raspberries had lured to the spot.

In a certain sense of the word, both might be said to be young, yet not alike in youth. The maid could scarcely be more than eighteen, and the other was at least twenty-six. What were they?, does the reader ask. Nothing very extraordinary—neither heroes nor heroines—princes, nor people of illustrious lineage; but common folk, and come of common parents. The one was the daughter of a laborious widower, whose mother had died when she was yet an infant, and she now kept her father's house. The other was a farm-servant on the next estate, and a native of a different county.

The two beings whom we have just introduced had frequently met before; a manly figure, a ready wit, and au honesty of purpose easily discovered, in the one; and an unobtrusive feminine beauty, gentleness of manner, and sensibility of heart, the prevailing attributes of the other, had given birth to mutual esteem.

Their conversation turned upon the things of another world —the sermon, and other familiar topics—then changed, as conversations must, till at last they talked of the affections and passions of the human heart—its deceit, disappointments, and sorrows. This was a dangerous subject for those at the age of at least one of the parties, perhaps for both. A strange feeling, which showed itself in her countenance, almost overpowered the half girlish heart of Emily; and the other, as he looked on her, felt embarrassed, he knew not how. He thought of love —of domestic comfort—of the affections of woman, and the happiness of those who are fortunate enough to possess them— and so absorbing were his thoughts, that he had nearly forgotten to speak. The emotions of both appeared to grow too strong for utterance; and their observations became shorter, less connected, and less frequent.

In this lapse of conversation, Emily remarked that she had often felt as if she could confide in those around her: and yet she had seen others so often deceived, and been so often deceived herself, that she never could speak her thoughts with freedom; and thus she had been under the necessity of keeping them, whether pleasing or painful, for the most part to herself.

"They do not deserve to be trusted," said her companion, taking her hand as he spoke; while the tone of his voice, and a sudden flush in his countenance, bespoke the depth of his emotion. "Yet there is at least one honest heart," he continued, "which you might trust if ever you should need a friend; and believe me when I say that I would be proud to be thus trusted. Hark !" he added after a short pause, and pressing her hand close to his bosom as he spoke—"hark! it beats high at the thought."

She made no effort at resistance—she was a stranger to art— tier heart was full—and her hand was passive. They sat for some time in silence. He pressed her hand yet more close; then, as if impelled by a feeling which he could not control, he raised it to his lips, and kissed it with tremulous tenderness. But ere his emotion could have subsided, he suddenly dropped her hand, rose hurriedly, and said he must leave her. He had only proceeded a few steps, however, when he turned to look again. Emily sat motionless as a statue, and her eyes were fixed on him with a look which went to his heart. Their glance sank to the ground with the quickness of lightning the moment they met his; but they had already told too much. His step faltered, and he stopped. He was in love — he acknowledged it to himself; and he began slowly and hesitatingly to retrace the few onward steps which he had made, with the intention of declaring it, and conjuring her, by all that was sacred, to promise that she would yet be his wife. Already he had drawn in his breath to speak; but emotion choked his utterance, and he stood speechless. Previous to this period, his head had been filled with schemes of ambition which were incompatible with marriage. There was a struggle between the passions in his bosom, and, ashamed of standing still and saying nothing, he once more moved slowly away.

Both went home that evening with hearts full,' and neither slept; so that, after a night of restlessness, when morning came, the recollection, or rather the feeling, of "those deep and burning moments" were alike fresh in either heart. But ere evening came again there was a difference between them. Emily had learned to conceal her emotion, to subdue all outward signs of inward grief, and to laugh and talk as usual. Her companion had nearly supplanted his by day-dreams of the wealth and the name he would make in the world. Love and ambition seldom exist long together—and ere a week had elapsed a dim reminiscence was all that remained with him of those once warm feelings. He carefully avoided her company; for he had learned his own weakness, and determined not to trust his cherished dreams of future eminence with such temptation. With Emily it was otherwise. To have known that her affection was returned—that she was beloved by him, and to have heard him say as much, would have consummated her utmost wishes. As the stream wears its channel the deeper for being confined by its banks, her affection had only concentrated itself for being narrowed by the bounds of concealment. Hopes and fears fed it alternately, and uncertainty fanned the secret flame. Wherefore is it that the warmest and best affections so seldom meet a suitable return?

The year wore by, and Emily removed with her father to a distance of many miles, leaving behind her that magnet to which her soul still turned with the quivering fervour of first love. After another year she saw him again in a public market; but then he regarded her with the look of a stranger.

Thus it is with the different sexes. With man love is a feeling which overflows his heart only at intervals; and, though its sway may be despotic for the time, the thousand pursuits of his life; the every-day projects to which his attention is called; the cares and the bustle to which he is continually engaged,—to these, soon or late, it must yield, and he is left again-a free agent. But with woman, love is a component part of her existence—one of the elements of her being. She was sent into the world to love, and to be beloved; and constancy, which. even reason cannot change, is too often a feature in her character.

Years rolled on and Emily was forgotten; though she could not so readily forget. She heard nothing of the man to whom she had unconsciously given her heart—who had been her happiness and her heaven for a few brief moments; and of whom, despite herself, she still continued to think. Notwithstanding, she also knew the ridicule which is so often and undeservedly heaped upon old maids, and the helpless condition to which single women among the lower orders are often reduced in the decline of life—their dependence upon the charity of friends, and frequently on the still colder charity of the parish, for a wretched home and a scanty subsistence. She knew all this; and to avoid such scenes of misery and wretchedness she had reconciled herself to the idea of becoming the wife of another—any one, in short, who could .offer her the prospect of a comfortable home. But even in this she seemed destined to be unfortunate; for, though she was not without lovers, they one by one gradually dropped off without assigning any reason. That she was beautiful they all confessed; that her deportment was modest and becoming they could not deny. But somehow there was a something awanting to fix their affections; and what that something was they could not tell—it was her heart, which was already another's. This being the case, the only effect produced by her beauty was somewhat similar to that of a frozen lake when the smooth ice is, as it were, kindled into flame by reflecting the light of the sun. Every one can admire the brilliancy and splendour of such a scene, though no one would care for breaking the ice and plunging in, conscious as he must be that cold water awaited him beneath. Emily could speak of love as she had heard others speak—she could reflect the language, so to speak, as ice reflects light; but for- all save one the cold water was beneath. The bright spirit of affection failed to sparkle in her eye—the heart sent no fresh colour to her cheek—the mighty charm was awanting.

There are some who suppose it quite possible for a woman, by the mere fascination of her face and person, to. keep love alive in one of the other sex for any length of time. Instances of this kind may have occurred, but they are rare. Man is a calculating being, and even where he is most disinterested he always expects something in return. His benevolence is the hire of gratitude, paid in advance; his generosity is bestowed to buy fame; his friendship is conferred that he may have friends; and his heart, when he gives it, is only given in exchange for another. His love may live long upon little, and Hope may feed it for a time with fantasies of its own forming; but deprive it of that little, and those fantasies, and the sentiment will soon cease to exist, though the dregs which it often leaves behind it,—regret, shame, indignation, despair—either or all of these may, in effect, resemble it so closely as to he mistaken for it by the individual himself.

Emily, after various flittings, now lived in a house on the outskirts of a small village, or rather group of houses, called the Grange, in the immediate neighbourhood of the extensive Limeworks of P------. Most of the young women here were weavers; and Emily, from necessity or some other reason, had also "learned the loom." From the proximity of the Lime-works, many of these female artisans had sweethearts among those who were employed in blasting and burning the rock; and this being the case, it was to be expected that they should take a sort of interest in the gossip and whatever else was going on in the quarries. But Emily, though among them, was not of their number. She had reached her twenty-fourth year with her heart still faithful to its first impression; and at this age, early as it was, she had wholly abandoned the thought of marriage.

While matters stood thus, a sort of sensation was given to the place, and a fresh subject for conversation afforded, by the arrival of a new workman at the quarries. He had been brought from a distance by the master quarryman, and received high wages for the purpose of introducing an improved method of blasting the rock. He was a stout, well-built man, muscular and handsome; and though computed to he nearly thirty years of age, his looks, which were not the worse for wear, were such as to procure him very general admiration among the female part of this little community. Those who had conversed with him said he was quick-witted, affable, and obliging. But what served to give a double interest to his arrival, and make him ten times more spoken of than otherwise he would have been, was the circumstance of his being silent as to his friends and connections, and his former place of residence; he had not oven told his name, and no one as yet had ventured to inquire it of him. This mystery, it was surmised by the more discerning part of the community, he kept up merely for the purpose of making a wonder. And if such were his intention, he perfectly succeeded; for the Stranger, as he was called, with all his sayings and doings, became the subject of more frequent conversation and conjecture than King Solomon would have been, though he had come hack with a cart-load of wisdom in his train. He had told that he was not married; and more than one of the young women, while they manifested no small anxiety and wonderment about his parentage and the place of his nativity, had already formed designs upon his heart, and wished secretly for opportunities of becoming acquainted with the Stranger. If any two of them met, ten to one but the Stranger was, if not the first, at least the second or third word which was spoken; in short, the Stranger seemed to have possessed them with a sort of mania.

Emily saw and heard all this without any anxiety or wonder about the matter; and of the young women of the Grange she alone had not seen him. "What was the Stranger to her?"

On the forenoon of the fourth day from his arrival, as he was employed in driving a charge, the powder ignited, and it went off, throwing him, along with several large fragments of rock, into the air., After the smoke and dust had cleared away, he was found lying, apparently lifeless, on a heap of sharp splinters and loose stones at some distance. He soon began to breathe; but his head, face, and other parts of his body, were so fearfully scorched, and the blood flowed with such rapidity from a number of deep wounds, that there was scarcely any hopes of his surviving beyond an hour at most. His fellow-workmen, however, made what haste they could to remove him from the cairn on which he had been thrown; and that he might not "die in the fields like a beast," as they expressed it, one of the stoutest of them, after wrapping a mat around him to prevent the blood from smearing his clothes, took the corpse-like figure on his back, and they proceeded in a body to the Grange. The house in which Emily lived happened to be the nearest, and to it they brought him. So convinced were they of the hopelessness of his case, that they had deemed it unnecessary to send for medical assistance. But as fortune would have it, just as they brought the bloody, mangled, and scarcely breathing form of the Stranger up to the door, a surgeon chanced to pass, who kindly offered to examine and dress his wounds, which done, he retired, promising to return on the morrow to see what would be the issue.

From the moment the Stranger was brought in, Emily had taken a deep interest in his fate. Dismay, surprise, and sympathy, were portrayed in the countenances of all who were present; and in these feelings she was only a participator with the others. But her heart beat violently with some unwonted and strong emotion, as he was laid on the bed; and after the surgeon, and most of his fellow-labourers had left him—when his moanings intermitted, and he sunk into a state of comparative quiet — she watched his troubled rest and heavy breathing with an anxiety as intense as if he had been her brother. And ever and anon, as the sigh of pain convulsed his bosom, or the shade of increased suffering passed over his swollen and distorted countenance, her silent but earnest prayer would ascend to the throne on high, to plead with Him who sitteth thereon, for the recovery of the Stranger.

After a few hours of that stupor which had been occasioned l<y the complete exhaustion of nature, he awoke in a state of mind similar to what may be supposed of one awaking from a trance, or—if such a thing could be—from the dead. All was confusion and chaos. The deprivation of sense had been so sudden, and his brain so much stunned by the concussion, that he could recall nothing distinctly. A sense of pain, and a confused recollection of a stupifying shock, blended with a dim idea of his having been far from home, and among strangers, was all he possessed. He had been, moreover, totally blind from the moment at which the explosion happened, and, consequently, could obtain no information from sight of what was passing. In this strange state, he at last found strength to inquire "what had befallen him, and where he was?" But how was the interest which Emily had taken in him increased, and the wild beat of her heart renewed, when in these accents, now tremulous and weak, she recognised the same voice which had once told her, in tones of emotion never to be forgotten, "that there was at least one honest heart which she might trust." Alas the change! She had been but too rash and ready to trust; and now the man who could forego the faith and the affection of a heart worth more than all he had to give in exchange, was thrown upon her care in such a state that a single rude breath would have sufficed to extinguish the feeble flickerings of life's taper in his bosom, and leave him a prey for the worms to fatten on.

If he had been regarded with feelings of sisterly affection when he was a stranger, now that he was known, he was watched and nursed with all the tenderness and care with which a mother watches and nurses her sick infant. His case was an extraordinary one, and as such excited general sympathy. Cordials, to prevent nature from sinking under the pain he endured, and clothes to keep him warm in his exhausted and almost bloodless condition, were contributed in abundance by the people around; and the Stranger was cared for as if he had been the patriarch of the place.

In a few days the surgeon, who had visited him regularly from the time of his misfortune, pronounced him free from fever, and in a fair way of recovery. The swelling, too, of his head and face, began to abate a little, and he could partially open his eyelids. On the following day, the surgeon, after examining them, gave it as his opinion, that though they might continue weak for a time, they would ultimately recover from the injury they had sustained. When he heard this, his spirits seemed to be relieved from the burden which hitherto had pressed on them—the fear that though he might live, he would be an object for life; and a bright expression grew upon his countenance, as he raised his dim eyes, for the first time, to that face and form, which was again hending over him, as if to be satisfied of the truth of what the surgeon had said.

Though he was now considered out of danger, he still continued to suffer acute pain; and as lying in one position often became irksome, Emily would sometimes sit behind him for hours supporting him in bed, with his head resting on her bosom, and her hands thrown across his breast, to keep the clothes close about him. One day as she sat there, after heaving a deep sigh, he once more took her hand, but he took it with feelings widely different from those with which he had grasped it on a former occasion. Then he was an object of general admiration among women. The symmetry of his form, and the healthy hue of his manly countenance, secured to him their favour wherever he came, and he' felt confident of success wherever he might choose to apply as a suitor. But his heart was the theatre of ambitious schemes; and though neither dead to feeling, nor deaf to the voice of nature, he was too busy to appreciate the worth of woman's love, or to relish the soft endearments of domestic affection. Such was he, and such were his hopes and prospects then. But now, his ambitious schemes had vanished—death had been before his eyes, and the grim phantom had hunted them out of sight. He was feeble as a child—his face ploughed with scars—his vanity subdued— with much in his appearance to excite pity, and nothing to draw the admiring gaze, or fascinate the heart of a female. And in this state, he felt that the care and- tenderness of Emily were worth more than worlds to him; and he would have given worlds, had he been possessed of them, in exchange for the prospect of living and dying beside her. He knew that she had once loved him : her look had told it—a look which his weakness had summoned from the oblivion in which it had long lain, and again placed before him with accusing accuracy. But how could she endure the idea of such a wreck as he now was for her future husband? The question staggered him. Though he had fancied himself more than equal to the task, for a time he could find no words to tell her that his only hope of happiness lay with her. And at last, when he could speak—in broken and unconnected sentences, such as have ever formed the language of the deepest and most heartfelt affection, and in faltering tones, such as have often been found more eloquent in woman's ear, than all the tropes and figures of speech put together—when he could speak, she was silent. But though she did not answer him in words, he felt the wild beat of her heart at his back, and did not drop her hand, but continued to hold and press it, and entreat her to pity, if she could not love him, till the maid, with deep blushes, and in tones as tremulous as his own, had promised to be the wife of the Stranger.

His recovery, though slow, was perfect. His looks, though considerably injured, are still the index of his heart; and when his face, brightened with the beam of affection, is turned on the woman who is now his wife, to her it seems to possess all the beauty she could wish, and even more than its former fascination. They live together blessed in the reciprocity of love, which has stood the test of years and intimate acquaintance—that test of all others the most trying; rich in reflected smiles and mutual confidence ; and strangers only to the curse which prevents many people from being happy, because they cannot be miserable in a fashionable way.

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