Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

an air of melancholy courtesy, and he returned their salutes in the same manner.

In the inside of the cottage was a scene which Milkie alone could have painted, with that exquisite feeling of nature that characterizes his enchanting productions.

The body was laid in its coffin within the wooden bedstead which the young fisher had occupied while alive. At a little distance stood the father, whose rugged weather-beaten countenance, shaded by his grizzled hair, had faced many a stormy night and night-like day. He was apparently revolving his loss in his mind with that strong feeling of painful grief, peculiar to harsh and rough characters, which almost breaks forth into hatred against the world, and all that remains in it, after the beloved object is withdrawn. The old man had made the most desperate efforts to save his son, and had only been withheld by main force from renewing them, at a moment when, without the possibility of assisting the sufferer, he must himself have perished. All this apparently was boiling in his recollection. His glance was directed sidelong towards the coffin, as to an object on which he could not steadfastly look, and yet from which he could not withdraw his eyes. His answers to the necessary questions, which were occasionally put to him, were brief, harsh, and almost fierce. His family had not yet dared to address to him a word, either of sympathy or consolation. His masculine wife, virago as she was, and absolute mistress of the family, as she justly boasted herself on all ordinary occasions, was, by this great loss, terrified into silence and submission, and compelled to hide from her husband's observation the bursts of her female sorrow. As he had rejected food ever since the disaster had happened, not daring herself to approach him, she had that morning, with affectionate artifice, employed the youngest and favorite child to present her husband with some nourishment. His first action was to push it from him with an angry violence, that frightened the child; his next to snatch up the boy and devour him with kisses.

"Ye'll be a bra' fellow an ye be spared, Patie,—but ye'll never-never can be-what he was to me!-he has sailed the cobble wi' me since he was ten year auld, and there was na the like o' him drew a net betwixt this and Buchan-ness-they say folks maun submit-I shall try."

And he had been silent from that moment until compelled to answer the necessary questions we have already noticed. Such was the disconsolate state of the father.

In another corner of the cottage, her face covered by her apron, which was flung over it, sat the mother, the nature of her grief sufficiently indicated by the wringing of her hands, and the convulsive agitation of the bosom, which the covering could not conceal. Two of her gossips, officiously whispering into her ear the common-place topic of resignation under irremediable misfortune, seemed as if they were endeavoring to stun the grief which they could not console.

The sorrow of the children was mingled with wonder at the preparations they beheld around them, and at the unusual display of wheaten bread and wine, which the poorest peasant, or fisher, offers to the guests on these mournful occasions; and thus their grief for their brother's death was almost already lost in admiration of the splendor of his funeral.

But the figure of the old grandmother was the most remarkable of the sorrowing group. Seated on her accustomed chair, with her usual apathy, and want of interest in what surrounded her, she seemed every now and then mechanically to resume the motion of twirling her spindle-then to look towards her bosom for the distaff, although both had been laid aside. She would then cast her eyes about as if surprised at missing the usual implements of her industry, and appear caught by the black color of the gown in which they had dressed her, and embarrassed by the number of persons by whom she was surrounded-then, finally, she would raise her head with a ghastly look, and fix her eyes upon the bed which contained the coffin of her grand-son, as if she had at once,

and for the first time, acquired sense to comprehend her inexpressible calamity. These alternate feelings of embarrassment, wonder, and grief, seemed to succeed each other more than once upon her torpid features. But she spoke not a word, neither had she shed a tear; nor did any one of the family understand, either from look or expression, to what extent she comprehended the uncommon bustle around her. So she sat among the funeral assembly like a connecting link between the surviving mourners and the dead corpse which they bewailed-a being in whom the light of existence was already obscured by the encroaching shadow of death.

When Oldbuck entered this house of mourning, he was received by a general and silent inclination of the head, and, according to the fashion of Scotland on such occasions, wine, and spirits, and bread were offered round to the guests. Elspeth, as these refreshments were presented, surprised and startled the whole company by motioning to the person who bore them to stop; then taking a glass in her hand, she rose up, and, as the smile of dotage played upon her shriveled features, she pronounced with a hollow and tremendous voice, "Wishing a' your healths, sirs, and often may we have such merry meetings.'

All shrunk from the ominous pledge, and set down the untasted liquor with a degree of shuddering horror, which will not surprise those who know how many superstitions are still common on such occasions among the Scottish vulgar. But as the old woman tasted the liquor, she suddenly exclaimed with a sort of shriek, "What's this?-this is wine-how should there be wine in my son's house?-aye," she continued with a suppressed groan, "I mind the sorrowful cause now ;" and dropping the glass from her hand, she stood a moment gazing fixedly on the bed in which the coffin of her grand-son was deposited, and then sinking gradually into her seat, she covered her eyes and forehead with her withered and pallid hand.

[ocr errors]

At this moment the clergyman entered the cottage and received the mute and melancholy salutations of the company. He edged himself towards the unfortunate father, and seemed to endeavor to slide in a few words of condolence or of consolation. But the old man was incapable as yet of receiving either; he nodded, however, gruffly, and shook the clergyman's hand in acknowledgment of his good intentions, but was either unable or unwilling to make any verbal reply.

The minister next passed to the mother, moving along the floor as slowly, silently, and gradually, as if he had been afraid that the ground would, like unsafe ice, break beneath his feet, or that the first echo of a footstep was to dissolve some magic spell, and plunge the hut, with all its inmates, into a subterranean abyss. The tenor of what he said to the poor woman, could only be judged by her answers, as, half stifled by sobs ill repressed, and by the covering which she still kept over her countenance, she faintly answered at each pause in his speech,

"Yes, sir, yes!-Ye 're very gude,-ye 're very gude! -Nae doubt, nae doubt!-It's our duty to submit! But, O dear, my poor Steenie, the pride o' my very heart, that was sae handsome and comely, and a help to his family, and a comfort to us a', and a pleasure to a' that lookit on him!-O my bairn, my bairn! what for is thou lying there, and eh! what for am I left to greet for ye!"

There was no contending with this burst of sorrow and natural affection. Oldbuck had repeated recourse to his snuff-box, to conceal the tears which, despite of his shrewd and caustic temper, were apt to start on such occasions. The female assistants whimpered, the men held their bonnets to their faces and spoke with each other. The clergyman, meantime, addressed his ghostly consolation to the aged grandmother. At first she listened, or seemed to listen, to what he said, with the apathy of her usual unconsciousness. But as, in pressing his theme, he approached so near to her ear, that the sense of his words became distinctly intelligible to her, though

unheard by those who stood more distant, her countenance at once assumed that stern and expressive cast which characterized her intervals of intelligence. She drew up her head and body, shook her head in a manner that showed at least impatience, if not scorn, of his counsel, and waved her hand slightly, but with a gesture so expressive, as to indicate to all who witnessed it, a marked and disdainful rejection of the ghostly consolation proffered to her. The minister stepped back as if repulsed, and by lifting gently and dropping his hand, seemed to show at once, wonder, sorrow, and compassion for her dreadful state of mind. The rest of the company sympathized, and a stifled whisper went through them, to express how much her desperate and determined manner impressed them with awe and even horror.

In the meantime the funeral company was complete by the arrival of one or two persons who had been expected from Fairpoint. The wine and spirits again circulated, and the dumb show of greeting was anew interchanged. The grandame a second time took a glass in her hand, drank its contents, and exclaimed with a sort of laugh, "Ha! ha! I hae tasted wine twice in ae day. -When did I that before, think ye, cummers?-Never since," and the transient gleam of intelligence vanishing from her countenance, she set the glass down, and sunk upon the settle from whence she had risen to snatch at it.

As the general amazement subsided, Mr. Oldbuck, whose heart bled to witness what he considered as the errings of the enfeebled intellect struggling with the torpid chill of age and of sorrow, observed to the clergyman, that it was time to proceed to the ceremony. The father was incapable of giving directions, but the nearest relation of the family made a sign to the carpenter, who in such cases, goes through the duty of the undertaker, to proceed in his office. The creak of the screw-nails presently announced that the lid of the last mansion of mortality was in the act of being secured above its tenant.

« AnteriorContinuar »