Imágenes de páginas

child was ill to persuade—for she thought on the old man lying by himself in the Shealing at the point of death—but when she saw one of the shepherds whom she knew setting off with rapid steps, her wild heart was appeased, and she endeavoured to dry up her tears. Nothing, however, could induce her to go into the parlour, or put on the young lady's clothes. She stood before the wide blazing peat and wood fire in the kitchen—and her spirits became a little better, when she had told her tale in Gaelic to so many people belonging to her own condition, and who all crowded round her with sympathizing hearts, and fixed faces, to hear every thing about poor old dy ing Lewis Cameron.

Old Lewis was well known all round the broad base of Ben-Nevis. What his age was nobody precisely knew, but it was ascertained that he could not be under ninety—and many maintained that he had outlived a hundred years. He recollected the famous old Lochiel of the first Rebellion—had fought in the strength and prime of manhood at Culloden—and had charged the French on the Heights of Abraham. He had ever since that battle been a pensioner; and although he had many wounds to show both of bullets and the bayonet, yet his iron frame had miraculously retained its strength, and his limbs much of their activity till the very last. His hair was like snow, but his face was ruddy still—and his large withered hand had still a grasp that could hold down the neck of the dying red-deer to the ground. He had lived for thirty years in a Shealing built by himself among a wild heap of sheltering rocks, and for the last five his little orphan grand-daughter, the only one of his blood alive, had been his companion in his solitude. Old Lewis was the best angler in the Highlands, and he knew all the streams, rivers, and lochs. Many thousand grouse had tumbled on the heath beneath his unerring aim; and the roe was afraid to show her face out of a thicket. But the red-deer was his delight—he had been Keeper to Lochiel once—and many a long day, from sunrise to sunset, had he stalked like a shadow over ranges of mountains till he found himself at night far away from his Shealing. He was a guide, too, to botanists, mineralogists, painters, poets, and prosers. Philosophers, men of science, lovers of the muse, hunters of the picturesque, men eager after parallel roads and vitrified forts, and town gentlemen sent from garrets to describe, for the delight and instruction of their fellow citizens, the grand features of nature—all came right to old Lewis Cameron. Many a sweat did he give them, panting in pursuitof knowledge, overthe large loose stones, and the pointed crags, and up to the middle in heather beneath the sultry sun, toiling up the perpendicular sides of hill and mountain. But, above all, he loved the young Sassenach, when, with their rifles,

they followed with him the red-deer over the bent, and were happy if, at nightfall, one pair of antlers lay motionless on the heather.

Such was old Lewis Cameron, who was now thought to be lying at the point of death. And it was not surprising that the shepherds now collected together during the storm, and indeed every person in the house felt a deep interest in the old man's fate "Aye, his hour is come—his feet will never touch the living heather again," was the expression in which they all joined. They did not fear to speak openly Defore little Flora, who was now standing beside the fire, with her long yellow hair let loose, and streaming all wet over her shoulders— for the death of the oldest man in all the glens was an event to be looked for, and the child knew as well as they did that her grandfather's hour was come. Many and many a time did she go to the window to look if the priest was coming up the glen, and at last she began to fear that the rain and the wind, which was now beginning to rise, after the hush of the thundery air, would hinder him from coming at all, and that the old man would die alone and unconfessed in his Shoaling. ''Nobody is with him—poor old man—never, never may I see him alive again—but there is no need for me to wait here—I will run home—the waters cannot be much higher than when I came down the glen." Flora now wept in passion to return to the Shoaling—and tying up that long wet yellow hair, was ready to start out into the wild and raging weather.

It happened that the minister of the parish—young Mr Gordon— was in the house, and one of the shepherds went to call him out from the parlour, that he might persuade Flora to be contented where she was, as certain death would be in her attempt to go up Glen-Nevis. He did all he could to soothe her agitation, but in vain—and as the good priest, Mr Macdonald, did not appear, he began to think that old Lewis should not be left so long on his death-bed. He therefore addressed himself to two of the most active shepherds, and asked if they had any objections to take Flora to the Shealing. They immediately rose up—on with their plaids—and took their staffs into their hands; Flora's face smiled faintly through its tears; and Mr Gordon mildly said, " What is easy to you, shepherds, cannot be difficult to me—I will go with you." The young minister was a Highlander born—and in his boyhood trod the mountains of Badenoch and Lochaber—and there was not a shepherd or huntsman far or near that could leave him behind either on level or height. So they all issued forth into the hurricane, and little Flora was as safe under their care as if she had been sitting in the kirk.

The party kept well up on the sides of the mountain, for the Nevis overflowed many parts of the Glens, and the nameless torrents, that in dry weather exist not, were tumbling down in reddened foam from every scaur. The river was often like a lake; and cliffs covered with tall birches, or a few native pines, stood islanded here and there, perhaps with a shrieking heron waiting on a high bough for the subsiding of the waters. Now a shepherd, and now the minister, took Flora in his arms, as they breasted together the rushing streams —and the child felt, that, had she been allowed to go by herself, the Nevis would have soon swept her down into the salt Linnhe Loch. In an hour all the wild part of the journey was over;—theirfeetwere on a vast heathery bosom of a hill, down which only small rills oozed out of gushing springs, and soon lost themselves again—and after a few minutes easy walking, during which Flora led the way, she turned about to the minister, and pointing with her little hand, cried, "Yonder's the Shealing, Sir—my grandfather, if alive, will bless your face at his bed-side."

Mr Gordon knew all the country well, and he had often before been at the head of Glen-Nevis. But he had never beheld it, till now, in all its glory. He stood on a bend of the river, which was seen coming down from the cataract several miles distant among its magnificent cliffs and dark pine forests. That long and final reach of the glen gleamed and thundered before him—a lurid light from the yet agitated heavens fell heavily on the discoloured flood—the mountains of heather that inclosed the glen were black as pitch in the gloom—but here and there a wet cliff shone forth to some passing gleam, as bright as a beacon. The mass of pines was ever and anon seen to stoop and heave below the storm, while the spray of that cataract went half-way up the wooded cliffs, and gave a slight tinge of beauty, with its blue and purple mist, to the grim and howling solitude. High above all—and as if standing almost in another world, was seen now the very crest of Ben-Nevis—for although fast rolling clouds, and mist, and steam, girdled his enormous sides, all vapours had left his summit, and it shot up proudly and calmly into its pure region of settled sky.

But Mr Gordon had not come here to admire the grandeur of nature—it had struck his soul as he looked and listened.—but now he was standing at the door of the Shealing. Rocks lay all around it— but it was on a small green plat of its own—and over the door, which could not be entered even by little Flora without stooping, were extended the immense antlers of an old deer, which Lewis had shot twenty years ago in the Forest of Lochiel, the largest ever seen before or since in all the Highlands. Flora came out, with eager eyes and a suppressed voice, "Come in, Sir—come in, Sir—my Father is alive, and is quite, quite sensible."

The young minister entered the Shealing—while the two shepherds lay down on their plaids below some overhanging rocks, where the ground was just as dry as the floor of a room. "Welcome—welcome, Sir—you are not just the one I have been hoping for,—but if he does not arrive till 1 am gone, I trust that, although we are of different creeds, God will receive my poor sinful soul out of your hands. You are a good pious minister of his word—Mr Gordon, I am a Catholic, and you a Protestant—but through Him who died for us we surely may alike hope to be saved. That was a sore pang, Sir—say a prayer—say a prayer."

The old man was stretched, in his Highland garb, (he had never worn another,) on a decent clean bed, that smelt sweet and fresh of the heather. His long silvery locks, of which it was thought he had for many years been not a little proud, and which had so often waved in the mountain winds, were now lying still—the fixed and sunken look of approaching death was on a face, which, now that its animation was calmed, seemed old, old, indeed—but there was something majestic in his massy bulk, stretched out beneath an inexorable power, in that Shealing little larger than a vaulted grave. He lay there like an old chieftain of the elder time—one of Ossian's heroes unfortunate in his later age—and dying ingloriously at last with a little weeping Malvina at his heather couch. The open chimney, if so it might be called, black with smoke, let in a glimmer of the sky —a small torch made of the pine-wood was burning close to the nearly extinguished peat embers, and its light had, no doubt, been useful when the shadow of the thunder-cloud darkened the little window, that consisted of a single pane. But through that single pane the eye could discern a sublime amphitheatre of woodland cliffs, and it almost seemed as if placed there to command a view of the great Cataract.

Mr Gordon prayed—while little Flora sat down on the foot of the bed, pale, but not weeping, for awe had hushed her soul. Not a word was in his prayer which might not have comforted any dying Christian, of any creed, in any part of the earth. God was taking back the life he had given, and an immortal soul was about to go to judgment. The old man had made small show of religion—but he had never violated its ordinances—and that he was a good Catholic was acknowledged, otherwise he would not have been so well beloved and kindly treated by Mr Macdonald, a man of piety and virtue. Now and then a groan came from his ample chest, and a convulsion shook all his frame—for there was no general decay of nature—some mortal malady had attacked his heart. "Bless you—bless you, my dear young boy," said the ancient white-haired image—"this is a hard struggle—a cannon ball is more merciful." Then Flora wept, and went up to his head, and wiped the big drops from his brow, and kissed him. "This is my little Flora's kiss—I am sure; but my eyes are dim, and I see thee not. My bonny roe, thou must trot away, down, when I am dead, to the low country—down to some of my friends about the Fort,—this bit Shealing will be a wild den soon—and the raven will sit upon the deer's horns when I am gone. My rifle keeps him on the cliff now—but God forgive me!—what thoughts are these for a dying man—God forgive me!"

Old Lewis Cameron sat up on his heather-bed; and looking about, said, " I cannot last long; but it comes in fits; now I have no pain. Was it not kind in that fearless creature to run down the glen in that thunder-storm? 1 was scarcely sensible when I knew, by the silence of the Shealing, that she was gone. In a little, I sat up, as I am doing now, and I saw her, through that bit window, far down the glen. I knew God would keep down the waters for her sake—she was like a sea-mew in a storm!" Flora went out, and brought in the shepherds. They were awe-struck on seeing the gigantic old man sitting up with his long white hair and ghost-like face—but he stretched out his hand to them—and they received his blessing. "Flora, give the minister and the lads some refreshment—eat and drink at my death —eat and drink at my funeral. Aye—I am a pensioner of the King's—and I will leave enough to make Auld Lewis Cameron's funeral as cheerful a ane as ever gathered together in a barn, and likewise leave Flora, there, enough to make life blithe when she is a woman." Flora brought out the goat-milk cheese, the barley-cakes, and the whisky-jar; and, old Lewis himself having blessed the meal, Mr Gordon, the shepherds, and little Flora too, sat down and ate.

Old Lewis looked at them with a smile. "My eye-sight is come back to me.—I see my Flora there as bonny as ever.—Taste the whisky, Mr Gordon—it is sma' still, and will do harm to no man. Mr Gordon, you may wonder—no, you will not wonder, to hear a dying;.man speaking thus. But God has given me meat and drink for a hundred years, and that is the last meal I shall ever bless. I look on you all as fellow Christians, now supported by the same God that fed me. Eat—drink—and be merry.—This is the very day of the month on which General Wolfe was killed—a proper day for an old soldier to die. I think I see the General lying on the ground, for I was near him as an orderly Serjeant. Several Indian warriors were by, with long black hair and outlandish dresses. 1 saw Wolfe die— and just before he died, our line gave a shout, that brought the fire into his dim eyes, for the French were flying before our bayonets; and Montcalm himself, though our General did not know that, was killed, and Quebec, next day, was ours. I remember it all like yesterday." The old man's white face kindled, and he lifted up his long sinewy arm as he spoke, but it fell down upon the bed, for its strength was gone. But he had a long interval of ease between the

« AnteriorContinuar »