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LEAVES FROM THE BOOK OF THE PAST.
“The memory of the just is blessed.”
“I remember, I remember."
I REMEMBER my grandmother. Long years have passed since she went to her heavenly rest; a blessed rest, indeed, to her, after a life of suffering, toil and care. I have heard it said, that, in her youth, she was esteemed the most beautiful young lady in her native State; and to my childish eye, and to my recollection now, she was the handsomest old lady I ever saw. Her
had lost none of its lustre, nor had her complexion faded with the passing years; and if her form was somewhat bent under the weight of cares, her native dignity remained unimpaired.
The story of her marriage would vie with any romantic tale, wrought out and embellished by the hand of fiction. My grandfather, then a grave student of divinity, had many rivals in his suit to the beautiful daughter of Col. E.; and in his visits to her father's house, often met many, like himself, eager to win so fair a prize; and, among the rest, his older brother, then tutor in the college of the State. Alarmed for the result, and urged on by increasing love, he preferred his suit and was accepted, and, by motives he well knew how to urge, at last gained her consent to a clandestine marriage, which was to be, after all, only a more sure and solemn form of engagement; as he was to return to his studies for the space of two years, and she to her avocations in her father's house.
It was on a bitter cold night in the midst of Winter, that the youthful party, the bride and groom elect, with two or three trusty companions, appeared at the house of Mr. Devotion, the minister of a small town about six miles from the lady's home, and presented themselves to the venerable man to be married.
“You know my father, sir," said my grandfather, "and this is Miss E., daughter of Col. E. Here is the certificate of our publishment, and it will greatly oblige us if you will perform for us the ceremony of marriage."
The good man greeted them kindly, and appeared in no wise discomposed; though, while he rekindled the fire and secured their comfort, he was inwardly cogitating that the matter seemed not
altogether open and fair. It was strange that a son of his brother minister should come to him to be married; and still more strange that Miss E. should be there without a single member of her own family; - a daughter of so distinguished a house, to be wedded in this quiet way. However, he hinted not his suspicions, but with earnest cordi ality invited them to be seated, - regretted that an engagement would prevent his attending to them immediately, — that if they would excuse him, he would soon return; and so left them. Meantime, his resolution was taken. No telegraph or steam-car, in those days, brought ready means of communication with places distant and near; but Mr. Devotion had a faithful servant, and a swift-footed horse, and both were speedily on their way to the house of Col. E., with the following brief note :
" Colonel E.,
" Dear Sir,
“Mr. S. G., of D., and your daughter, are here to be married. Do you give your consent ?
- E. D.”
Doubtless the hours seemed long to the lovers, and to the good minister, who kept out of their sight, though he sent them in something wherewith to refresh themselves, and a message that he would soon be with them. Yet, in an incredibly short space of time, the messenger returned with the laconic, but truly noble and fatherly reply (for there was no objection to the marriage, save the youth of the parties):
No time was now lost. The solemn words were spoken, and sleigh bells sounded merrily on the frosty air, as the party returned from their ride, and one after another were safely landed at their respective homes. Months passed, and not a word had, as they supposed, betrayed their secret. The student, now perfectly secure of his prize, returned with a contented mind and new ardor to his books, intending to prepare himself for a license as soon as possible. All was apparently well, when, one day, Col. E. handed his daughter a vest, and requested her to repair a rent in it. As she was working upon it, a paper fell from the pocket, which she took up and read. It was Mr. Devotion’s note to her father, and his reply, on the night of her marriage. Confounded and overwhelmed by a sense of her own deceit, and of her father's kindness and considerate love, she could
not rest till she had found him, and confessed all, and gained his forgiveness. He was, indeed, a noble man, as not only this act, but the history of his whole life, would testify; and his erring daughter was certainly happier when all was known, and she had no sinful secret to harbor longer in her heart, from one so loving.
From the comforts and appliances of her pleasant home, my grandmother went, at the end of two years, to the town of R., to assume the duties of a minister's wife. Here she lived twenty years, and became the mother of ten children; two of whom died in infancy, and eight survived her. For the temporal good of these children she exerted every energy; but more especially for their spiritual welfare were her longings intense and earnest; and from her mouth they received the instructions necessary to their salvation. Every Sabbath she gathered them around her, and taught them faithfully from the Bible and catechism; and her prayers unceasingly ascended in their behalf. She lived to see seven of them adorning the profession of the gospel, and died in hope of meeting her remaining son at the right hand of God. But her desire for the salvation of sinners was not confined to her own children. Often have I seen her, in the last years of her life, walk her room, apparently in the utmost anguish, exclaiming, “Lost souls ! ---- lost souls ! - must there be human beings eternally lost ?" Nor shall I ever forget the impression which her grief, in view of the doom of the impenitent, made upon me; nor the fervency of her prayers for guilty men.
But my grandmother, though a devoted and consistent Christian, was one of those who was, all her life-time, in bondage to the fear of death. This was a physical and constitutional evil, which no reasoning could ever remove, and which caused her great suffering. After my grandfather's death, she came to reside with my parents ; and I well remember the last scenes of her life, and the deep interest with which we watched her approach to the grave, wondering how she would be able to receive the final summons, and whether clouds of doubt and fear would shroud her sky until the close. About three days before her death, several of the family sat singing, at the twilight hour of the Sabbath, some of the songs of Zion. She begged that we might be called into her room, and sing there. If she had any extravagant earthly delight, it had always been music; and she used to say, that before she became a Christian, her strongest motive to repentance had been that she might hear the music of heaven.
Her favorite Psalm was the twenty-third ; and I think not a week passed, after she became a member of our family, that I was not summoned to sing the familiar version of it, with her. I seem now to hear her voice, as I commenced the second verse in old Aylesbury's solemn strains,
“ If e'er I go astray,
He doth my soul reclaim.”
Say whene'er I go astray,' my child, for you certainly will." I never sing it, to this day, without appropriating from my heart her correction. But there was one verse she never sang :
“ While he affords his aid
I cannot yield to fear ;
My Shepherd 's with me there."
On the evening which I have mentioned, as we entered her chamber, she asked us, as usual, to sing " The Lord my Shepherd is.” She had been for several days so weak as to be unable to speak, and we were surprised and deeply touched, when we commenced the verse which we had never heard from her lips, to hear her sing, in her own peculiarly melodious voice, and very distinctly, every line. We looked earnestly upon each other. Was it not an indication that her life-long fears were being dissipated ? At last the dreaded hour approached. A slight, but almost constant cough indicated the accumulation of water upon the vital organs; and, understanding instinctively what it portended, with strange self-possession and presence of mind she beckoned to her bedside a favorite grandchild, who had inherited her terrors, and upon whom she feared her dying agonies might have an evil effect, and, affectionately bidding her farewell, told her to leave the room, and on no account to come in again. How mysterious are the ways of Providence ! Not one of my grandmother's children or friends, but would have begged for her a sudden, and, if possible, an unconscious change of worlds. But He judged not so. He intended that those around her, and she herself, should know the power of his sustaining grace. Ten long hours she lay in full view of the certain event, and knew there was no discharge,
" While on her breast the wave of life
Kept heaving to and fro.”
Her sufferings were fearful, and the scene terrible to those who looked on.
One after another they were brought fainting from her room, to be restored and return again, fascinated by the strange calmness and peace which, despite mortal agonies, dwelt on her brow. She often asked what time it was, and said, “Sit down, my children,— I shall wear you all out.” No tremor, no fear, no mental distress remained. Although dying, and conscious that she was dying, under circumstances peculiarly distressing; her soul abode in perfect peace. She felt the Everlasting Arms, and every look betrayed her desire to recognize, and have her children recognize the wonderful mercy of God. As she felt herself nearing the eternal shore, she repeated, with slow and difficult utterance,
“Cast me not off when strength declines,
When hoary hairs arise,
Whene'er thy servant dies."
They were her final words; but her last look told more of the divine glory for which she prayed. “Never," said her eldest son, “shall I forget the expression which dwelt in her eyes, as she grasped my hand the moment before she closed them forever. It spoke of joy unutterable ; of complete triumph. More plainly than any words, it told of her consciousness that she had reached the boundaries of time; that the sufferings of her life were ended; that the struggle, before which she had so many years trembled, was triumphantly ended, and her eternal bliss commenced.
There was no mourning in our household that night. We could not weep; we could not be sad. Praise and thanksgiving went up from every heart, and were apparent in every countenance. The sense of our loss was entirely swallowed up in the joy of her victory. We even felt like singing an exulting song,
“ Praise to the Lord ! for they are passed,
They are gone safe before ;
And heard the last storm roar.
“ Shout ! they have gained their rest at last,
The port where they would be ;
Their followers still are we."