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The last act which separates us forever, even from the mortal relics of the person we assemble to mourn, has usually its effects upon the most indifferent, selfish, and hard-hearted. With a spirit of contradiction, which we may be pardoned for esteeming narrow-minded, the fathers of the Scottish kirk rejected, even on this most solemn occasion, the form of an address to the Divinity, lest they should be thought to give countenance to the rituals of Rome or of England. With much better and more liberal judgment, it is the present practice of most of the Scottish clergymen, to seize this opportunity of offering a prayer and exhortation, suitable to make an impression upon the living, while they are yet in the very presence of the relics of him, whom they have but lately seen such as they themselves and who now is such as they must in their turn become. But this decent and praise-worthy practice was not adopted at the time of which I am treating, and the ceremony proceeded without any devotional exercise.
The coffir, covered with a pall, and supported upon handspikes by the nearest relatives, now only waited the father to support the head, as is customary. Two or three of these privileged persons spoke to him, but he only answered by shaking his hand and his head in token of refusal. With better intention than judgment, the friends who considered this as an act of duty on the part of the living, and of decency towards the deceased, would have proceeded to enforce their request, had not Oldbuck interfered between the distressed father and his well-mea. ning tormentors, and informed them, that he himself, as landlord and master to the deceased, “would carry his head to the grave.” In spite of the sorrowful occasion, the hearts of the relatives swelled within them at so marka ed a distinction on the part of the Laird ; and old Alison Buck, who was present, among other fish-women, swore almost aloud, “ His honor Monkbarns should never want sax warp of oysters in the season, (of which fish he was understood to be fond,) if she should gang to sea and dredge for them hersel, in the foulest wind that ever blew.” And such is the temper of the Scottish common people, that, by this instance of compliance with their customs, and respect for their persons, Mr. Oldbuck gained more popularity than by all the sums which he had yearly distributed in the parish for purposes of private or general charity.
The sad procession now moved slowly forward, preceded by the beadles, or saulies, with their batons,-niserable looking old men, tottering as if on the edge of that grave to which they were marshaling another, and clad, according to Scottish guise, with thread-bare black coats, and hunting caps decorated with rusty crape. Monkbarns would probably have remonstrated against this superfluous expense, had he been consulted; but, in doing so, he would have given more offense than he gained popularity, by condescending to perform the office of chief mourner. Of this he was quite aware, and wisely withheld rebuke, when rebuke and advice would have been equally unavailing. In truth, the Scottish peasantry are still infected with that rage for funeral ceremonial, which once distinguished the grandees of the kingdom so much, that a sumptuary law was made by the parliament of Scotland, for the purpose of restraining it; and I have known many in the lowest stations, who have denied themselves not merely the comforts, but almost the necessaries of life, in order to save such a sum of money as might enable their surviving friends to bury them like christians, as they termed it; nor could their faithful executor be prevailed upon, though equally necessitous, to turn to the use and maintenance of the living, the money vainly wasted upon the interment of the dead.
The procession to the church-yard, at about half a mile's distance, was made with the mournful solemnity usual on these occasions,—the body was consigned to its parent earth,—and when the labors of the grave-diggers had filled up the trench, and covered it with fresh sod, Mr. Oldbuck, taking his hat off, saluted the assistants, who had stood by in mournful silence, and with that adieu dispersed the mourners.
LXXIX. POST-OFFICE IN FAIRPORT.-Scott. We beg leave to transport the reader to the back parlor of the post-master's house at Fairport, where his wife, he himself being absent, was employed in assorting for delivery the letters which had come by the Edinburgh post. This is very often in country towns the period of the day when gossips find it particularly agreeable to call on the man or woman of letters, in order, from the outside of the epistles, and, if they are not belied, occasionally from the inside also, to ainuse themselves with gleaning information, or forming conjectures about the correspondence and affairs of their neighbors. Two females of this description were, at the time we mention, assisting, or impeding, Mrs. Mailsetter in her official duty.
"Preserve us, sirs,” said the butcher's wife; “there's ten, eleven,—twal letters to Tenant & Co.,--thae folk do mair business than a' the rest of the burgh.”
" Ay; but see, lass,” answered the baker's lady, " there's twa o'them faulded unco square, and sealed at the tae side, I doubt there will be protested bills in them."
“ Is there ony letters come yet for Jenny Caxon?the lieutenant's been awa' three weeks.”
“Just ane, on Tuesday was a week.”
"It wad be frae the lieutenant, then.--I never thought he wad hae lookit ower his shoulder after her.”
"Odd, here's another," quoth Mrs. Mailsetter. "A ship-letter-post-mark, Sunderland.” All rushed to seize it. “Na, na, leddies,” said Mrs. Mailsetter, “I hae had enough o' that wark—ken ye that Mr. Mailsetter got an unco rebuke frae the secretary at Edinburgh, for a complaint that was made about the letter of Aily Bisset's, that you opened, Mrs. Shortcake?
"Me opened !” answered the spouse of the chief baker of Fairport; "ye ken yoursel, madam, it just cam open o’ free will in my hand,—what could I help it?folk suld seal wi' better wax.”
“Weel, I wot that's true, too,” said Mrs. Mailsetter, who kept a shop of small wares, “and we have got some that I can honestly recommend, if ye ken ony body wanting it. But the short and lang o't is, that we'll lose the place gin there's ony mair complaints o' the kind."
“Hout, lass; the provost will take care o' that.”
" Na, na; l'll neither trust to provost nor baillie,-but I wad aye be obliging and neighborly, and I'm no again your looking at the outside of a letter neither. See, the seal has an anchor on't-he's done it wi ane o' his buttons, I'm thinking.”
"Show me! show me!" quoth the wives of the chief butcher and chief baker; and threw themselves on the supposed love-letter, like the weird sisters in Macbeth, upon the pilot's thumb, with curiosity as eager, and scarcely less malignant. Mrs. Heukbane was a tall woman, she held the epistle up between her eyes and the window. Mrs. Shortcake, a little squat personage, strained and stood a tiptoe, to have her share of the investigation.
" It's frae him, sure enough-I can read Richard Taffril on the corner, and it's written, like John Tamson's, frae end to end.”
“ Hand it lower down, madam," exclaimed Mrs. Shortcake, in a tone above the prudential whisper which their occupation required, —"hand it lower down. Die ye think naebody can read hand o'writ but yoursel?”
“Whist, whist, sirs, for God's sake," said Mrs. Mailsetter, “there's somebody in the shop"—then aloud" Look to the customers, Baby.
Baby answered from within in a shrill tone; “ It's naebody but Jenny Caxon, ma'am, to see if there's ony letters to her.”
“Tell her,” said the faithful post-mistress, winking to her compeers, “ to come back the morn at ten o'clock, and I'll let her ken; we have na bad time to sort the mail letters yet; she's aye in sic a hurry, as if her letters were o' mair consequence than the best merchant's o the town."
Poor Jenny, a girl of uncommon beauty and modesty, could only draw her cloak about her to hide the sigh of disappointment, and return meekly home to endure for another night the sickness of the heart occasioned by hope delayed.
Is There's something about a needle and a pole,” said Mrs. Shortcake, to whom her taller rival in gossiping had at length yielded a peep at the subject of their curiosity.
“Now, that's downright shamfer'," said Mrs. Heukbane, "to scorn the poor silly gait of a lassie, after he's keepet company wi her sae lang.”
“It's but o'er muckle to be doubted," echoed Mrs. Shortcake; “ to cast up to her that her father's a barber, and has a pole at his door, and that she's but a manty maker hersel! Fy, for shame!"
“ Hout, tout, leddies,” cried Mrs. Mailsetter, "ye're clean wrang-its a line out o' ane of bis sailor sangs that I have heard him sing, about being true like the needle to the pole.”
“Weel, weel, I wish it may be sae-but it does na look weel for a lassie like her to keep up a correspondence wi' ane o' the king's officers."
" I'm no denying that,” said Mrs. Mailsetter ; " but its a great advantage to the revenue of the post-office thiae love-letters.-See, here's five or six letter to Sir Arthur Wardour-maist o' them sealed wi' wafers and no wil wax—there will be a down come there, believe me.”
“Ay; they will be business letters, and no frae ony