Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 3

--It strikes an awe
And terror on my aching sight; the tombs
And monumental caves of death look cold,
And shoot a chillness to the trembling heart.
Mourning Bride.

Notwithstanding the impatience of my conductor, I could not forbear to
pause and gaze for some minutes on the exterior of the building, rendered
more impressively dignified by the solitude which ensued when its
hitherto open gates were closed, after having, as it were, devoured the
multitude which had lately crowded the churchyard, but now, enclosed
within the building, were engaged, as the choral swell of voices from
within announced to us, in the solemn exercises of devotion. The sound of
so many voices united by the distance into one harmony, and freed from
those harsh discordances which jar the ear when heard more near,
combining with the murmuring brook, and the wind which sung among the old
firs, affected me with a sense of sublimity. All nature, as invoked by
the Psalmist whose verses they chanted, seemed united in offering that
solemn praise in which trembling is mixed with joy as she addressed her
Maker. I had heard the service of high mass in France, celebrated with
all the _e'clat_ which the choicest music, the richest dresses, the most
imposing ceremonies, could confer on it; yet it fell short in effect of
the simplicity of the Presbyterian worship. The devotion in which every
one took a share seemed so superior to that which was recited by
musicians as a lesson which they had learned by rote, that it gave the
Scottish worship all the advantage of reality over acting.

As I lingered to catch more of the solemn sound, Andrew, whose impatience
became ungovernable, pulled me by the sleeve--"Come awa', sir--come awa';
we maunna be late o' gaun in to disturb the worship; if we bide here the
searchers will be on us, and carry us to the guard-house for being idlers
in kirk-time."

Thus admonished, I followed my guide, but not, as I had supposed, into
the body of the cathedral. "This gate--this gate, sir," he exclaimed,
dragging me off as I made towards the main entrance of the
building--"There's but cauldrife law-work gaun on yonder--carnal
morality, as dow'd and as fusionless as rue leaves at Yule--Here's the
real savour of doctrine."

So saying, we entered a small low-arched door, secured by a wicket, which
a grave-looking person seemed on the point of closing, and descended
several steps as if into the funeral vaults beneath the church. It was
even so; for in these subterranean precincts,--why chosen for such a
purpose I knew not,--was established a very singular place of worship.

Conceive, Tresham, an extensive range of low-browed, dark, and twilight
vaults, such as are used for sepulchres in other countries, and had long
been dedicated to the same purpose in this, a portion of which was seated
with pews, and used as a church. The part of the vaults thus occupied,
though capable of containing a congregation of many hundreds, bore a
small proportion to the darker and more extensive caverns which yawned
around what may be termed the inhabited space. In those waste regions of
oblivion, dusky banners and tattered escutcheons indicated the graves of
those who were once, doubtless, "princes in Israel." Inscriptions, which
could only be read by the painful antiquary, in language as obsolete as
the act of devotional charity which they employed, invited the passengers
to pray for the souls of those whose bodies rested beneath. Surrounded by
these receptacles of the last remains of mortality, I found a numerous
congregation engaged in the act of prayer. The Scotch perform this duty
in a standing instead of a kneeling posture--more, perhaps, to take as
broad a distinction as possible from the ritual of Rome than for any
better reason; since I have observed, that in their family worship, as
doubtless in their private devotions, they adopt, in their immediate
address to the Deity, that posture which other Christians use as the
humblest and most reverential. Standing, therefore, the men being
uncovered, a crowd of several hundreds of both sexes, and all ages,
listened with great reverence and attention to the extempore, at least
the unwritten, prayer of an aged clergyman,* who was very popular in the

* I have in vain laboured to discover this gentleman's name, and the
period of his incumbency. I do not, however, despair to see these points,
with some others which may elude my sagacity, satisfactorily elucidated
by one or other of the periodical publications which have devoted their
pages to explanatory commentaries on my former volumes; and whose
research and ingenuity claim my peculiar gratitude, for having discovered
many persons and circumstances connected with my narratives, of which I
myself never so much as dreamed.

Educated in the same religious persuasion, I seriously bent my mind to
join in the devotion of the day; and it was not till the congregation
resumed their seats, that my attention was diverted to the consideration
of the appearance of all around me.

At the conclusion of the prayer, most of the men put on their hats or
bonnets, and all who had the happiness to have seats sate down. Andrew
and I were not of this number, having been too late of entering the
church to secure such accommodation. We stood among a number of other
persons in the same situation, forming a sort of ring around the seated
part of the congregation. Behind and around us were the vaults I have
already described; before us the devout audience, dimly shown by the
light which streamed on their faces through one or two low Gothic
windows, such as give air and light to charnel-houses. By this were seen
the usual variety of countenances which are generally turned towards a
Scotch pastor on such occasions, almost all composed to attention, unless
where a father or mother here and there recalls the wandering eyes of a
lively child, or disturbs the slumbers of a dull one. The high-boned and
harsh countenance of the nation, with the expression of intelligence and
shrewdness which it frequently exhibits, is seen to more advantage in the
act of devotion, or in the ranks of war, than on lighter and more
cheerful occasions of assemblage. The discourse of the preacher was well
qualified to call forth the various feelings and faculties of his

Age and infirmities had impaired the powers of a voice originally strong
and sonorous. He read his text with a pronunciation somewhat
inarticulate; but when he closed the Bible, and commenced his sermon, his
tones gradually strengthened, as he entered with vehemence into the
arguments which he maintained. They related chiefly to the abstract
points of the Christian faith,--subjects grave, deep, and fathomless by
mere human reason, but for which, with equal ingenuity and propriety, he
sought a key in liberal quotations from the inspired writings. My mind
was unprepared to coincide in all his reasoning, nor was I sure that in
some instances I rightly comprehended his positions. But nothing could be
more impressive than the eager enthusiastic manner of the good old man,
and nothing more ingenious than his mode of reasoning. The Scotch, it is
well known, are more remarkable for the exercise of their intellectual
powers, than for the keenness of their feelings; they are, therefore,
more moved by logic than by rhetoric, and more attracted by acute and
argumentative reasoning on doctrinal points, than influenced by the
enthusiastic appeals to the heart and to the passions, by which popular
preachers in other countries win the favour of their hearers.

Among the attentive group which I now saw, might be distinguished various
expressions similar to those of the audience in the famous cartoon of
Paul preaching at Athens. Here sat a zealous and intelligent Calvinist,
with brows bent just as much as to indicate profound attention; lips
slightly compressed; eyes fixed on the minister with an expression of
decent pride, as if sharing the triumph of his argument; the forefinger
of the right hand touching successively those of the left, as the
preacher, from argument to argument, ascended towards his conclusion.
Another, with fiercer and sterner look, intimated at once his contempt of
all who doubted the creed of his pastor, and his joy at the appropriate
punishment denounced against them. A third, perhaps belonging to a
different congregation, and present only by accident or curiosity, had
the appearance of internally impeaching some link of the reasoning; and
you might plainly read, in the slight motion of his head, his doubts as
to the soundness of the preacher's argument. The greater part listened
with a calm, satisfied countenance, expressive of a conscious merit in
being present, and in listening to such an ingenious discourse, although
perhaps unable entirely to comprehend it. The women in general belonged
to this last division of the audience; the old, however, seeming more
grimly intent upon the abstract doctrines laid before them; while the
younger females permitted their eyes occasionally to make a modest
circuit around the congregation; and some of them, Tresham (if my vanity
did not greatly deceive me), contrived to distinguish your friend and
servant, as a handsome young stranger and an Englishman. As to the rest
of the congregation, the stupid gaped, yawned, or slept, till awakened by
the application of their more zealous neighbours' heels to their shins;
and the idle indicated their inattention by the wandering of their eyes,
but dared give no more decided token of weariness. Amid the Lowland
costume of coat and cloak, I could here and there discern a Highland
plaid, the wearer of which, resting on his basket-hilt, sent his eyes
among the audience with the unrestrained curiosity of savage wonder; and
who, in all probability, was inattentive to the sermon for a very
pardonable reason--because he did not understand the language in which it
was delivered. The martial and wild look, however, of these stragglers,
added a kind of character which the congregation could not have exhibited
without them. They were more numerous, Andrew afterwards observed, owing
to some cattle-fair in the neighbourhood.

Such was the group of countenances, rising tier on tier, discovered to my
critical inspection by such sunbeams as forced their way through the
narrow Gothic lattices of the Laigh Kirk of Glasgow; and, having
illuminated the attentive congregation, lost themselves in the vacuity of
the vaults behind, giving to the nearer part of their labyrinth a sort of
imperfect twilight, and leaving their recesses in an utter darkness,
which gave them the appearance of being interminable.

I have already said that I stood with others in the exterior circle, with
my face to the preacher, and my back to those vaults which I have so
often mentioned. My position rendered me particularly obnoxious to any
interruption which arose from any slight noise occurring amongst these
retiring arches, where the least sound was multiplied by a thousand
echoes. The occasional sound of rain-drops, which, admitted through some
cranny in the ruined roof, fell successively, and splashed upon the
pavement beneath, caused me to turn my head more than once to the place
from whence it seemed to proceed, and when my eyes took that direction, I
found it difficult to withdraw them; such is the pleasure our imagination
receives from the attempt to penetrate as far as possible into an
intricate labyrinth, imperfectly lighted, and exhibiting objects which
irritate our curiosity, only because they acquire a mysterious interest
from being undefined and dubious. My eyes became habituated to the gloomy
atmosphere to which I directed them, and insensibly my mind became more
interested in their discoveries than in the metaphysical subtleties which
the preacher was enforcing.

My father had often checked me for this wandering mood of mind, arising
perhaps from an excitability of imagination to which he was a stranger;
and the finding myself at present solicited by these temptations to
inattention, recalled the time when I used to walk, led by his hand, to
Mr. Shower's chapel, and the earnest injunctions which he then laid on me
to redeem the time, because the days were evil. At present, the picture
which my thoughts suggested, far from fixing my attention, destroyed the
portion I had yet left, by conjuring up to my recollection the peril in
which his affairs now stood. I endeavoured, in the lowest whisper I could
frame, to request Andrew to obtain information, whether any of the
gentlemen of the firm of MacVittie & Co. were at present in the
congregation. But Andrew, wrapped in profound attention to the sermon,
only replied to my suggestion by hard punches with his elbow, as signals
to me to remain silent. I next strained my eyes, with equally bad
success, to see if, among the sea of up-turned faces which bent their
eyes on the pulpit as a common centre, I could discover the sober and
business-like physiognomy of Owen. But not among the broad beavers of the
Glasgow citizens, or the yet broader brimmed Lowland bonnets of the
peasants of Lanarkshire, could I see anything resembling the decent
periwig, starched ruffles, or the uniform suit of light-brown garments
appertaining to the head-clerk of the establishment of Osbaldistone and
Tresham. My anxiety now returned on me with such violence as to overpower
not only the novelty of the scene around me, by which it had hitherto
been diverted, but moreover my sense of decorum. I pulled Andrew hard by
the sleeve, and intimated my wish to leave the church, and pursue my
investigation as I could. Andrew, obdurate in the Laigh Kirk of Glasgow
as on the mountains of Cheviot, for some time deigned me no answer; and
it was only when he found I could not otherwise be kept quiet, that he
condescended to inform me, that, being once in the church, we could not
leave it till service was over, because the doors were locked so soon as
the prayers began. Having thus spoken in a brief and peevish whisper,
Andrew again assumed the air of intelligent and critical importance, and
attention to the preacher's discourse.

While I endeavoured to make a virtue of necessity, and recall my
attention to the sermon, I was again disturbed by a singular
interruption. A voice from behind whispered distinctly in my ear, "You
are in danger in this city."--I turned round, as if mechanically.

One or two starched and ordinary-looking mechanics stood beside and
behind me,--stragglers, who, like ourselves, had been too late in
obtaining entrance. But a glance at their faces satisfied me, though I
could hardly say why, that none of these was the person who had spoken to
me. Their countenances seemed all composed to attention to the sermon,
and not one of them returned any glance of intelligence to the
inquisitive and startled look with which I surveyed them. A massive round
pillar, which was close behind us, might have concealed the speaker the
instant he uttered his mysterious caution; but wherefore it was given in
such a place, or to what species of danger it directed my attention, or
by whom the warning was uttered, were points on which my imagination lost
itself in conjecture. It would, however, I concluded, be repeated, and I
resolved to keep my countenance turned towards the clergyman, that the
whisperer might be tempted to renew his communication under the idea that
the first had passed unobserved.

My plan succeeded. I had not resumed the appearance of attention to the
preacher for five minutes, when the same voice whispered, "Listen, but do
not look back." I kept my face in the same direction. "You are in danger
in this place," the voice proceeded; "so am I--meet me to-night on the
Brigg, at twelve preceesely--keep at home till the gloaming, and avoid

Here the voice ceased, and I instantly turned my head. But the speaker
had, with still greater promptitude, glided behind the pillar, and
escaped my observation. I was determined to catch a sight of him, if
possible, and extricating myself from the outer circle of hearers, I also
stepped behind the column. All there was empty; and I could only see a
figure wrapped in a mantle, whether a Lowland cloak, or Highland plaid, I
could not distinguish, which traversed, like a phantom, the dreary
vacuity of vaults which I have described.

I made a mechanical attempt to pursue the mysterious form, which glided
away and vanished in the vaulted cemetery, like the spectre of one of the
numerous dead who rested within its precincts. I had little chance of
arresting the course of one obviously determined not to be spoken with;
but that little chance was lost by my stumbling and falling before I had
made three steps from the column. The obscurity which occasioned my
misfortune, covered my disgrace; which I accounted rather lucky, for the
preacher, with that stern authority which the Scottish ministers assume
for the purpose of keeping order in their congregations, interrupted his
discourse, to desire the "proper officer" to take into custody the causer
of this disturbance in the place of worship. As the noise, however, was
not repeated, the beadle, or whatever else he was called, did not think
it necessary to be rigorous in searching out the offender, so that I was
enabled, without attracting farther observation, to place myself by
Andrew's side in my original position. The service proceeded, and closed
without the occurrence of anything else worthy of notice.

As the congregation departed and dispersed, my friend Andrew exclaimed,
"See, yonder is worthy Mr. MacVittie, and Mrs. MacVittie, and Miss Alison
MacVittie, and Mr. Thamas MacFin, that they say is to marry Miss Alison,
if a' bowls row right--she'll hae a hantle siller, if she's no that

My eyes took the direction he pointed out. Mr. MacVittie was a tall,
thin, elderly man, with hard features, thick grey eyebrows, light eyes,
and, as I imagined, a sinister expression of countenance, from which my
heart recoiled. I remembered the warning I had received in the church,
and hesitated to address this person, though I could not allege to myself
any rational ground of dislike or suspicion.

I was yet in suspense, when Andrew, who mistook my hesitation for
bashfulness, proceeded to exhort me to lay it aside. "Speak till
him--speak till him, Mr. Francis--he's no provost yet, though they say
he'll be my lord neist year. Speak till him, then--he'll gie ye a decent
answer for as rich as he is, unless ye were wanting siller frae
him--they say he's dour to draw his purse."

It immediately occurred to me, that if this merchant were really of the
churlish and avaricious disposition which Andrew intimated, there might
be some caution necessary in making myself known, as I could not tell how
accounts might stand between my father and him. This consideration came
in aid of the mysterious hint which I had received, and the dislike which
I had conceived at the man's countenance. Instead of addressing myself
directly to him, as I had designed to have done, I contented myself with
desiring Andrew to inquire at Mr. MacVittie's house the address of Mr.
Owen, an English gentleman; and I charged him not to mention the person
from whom he received the commission, but to bring me the result to the
small inn where we lodged. This Andrew promised to do. He said something
of the duty of my attending the evening service; but added with a
causticity natural to him, that "in troth, if folk couldna keep their
legs still, but wad needs be couping the creels ower through-stanes, as
if they wad raise the very dead folk wi' the clatter, a kirk wi' a
chimley in't was fittest for them."

Sir Walter Scott