Mother and Father’s Story
From such a home came our mother, Janet Jardine Rogerson, a bright-hearted, high-spirited, patient-toiling, and altogether heroic little woman ; who, for about forty-three years, made and kept such a wholesome, independent, God-fearing, and self-reliant life for her family of five sons and six daughters, as constrains me, when I look back on it now, in the light of all I have since seen and known of others far differently situated, almost to worship her memory. She had gone with her high spirits and breezy disposition to gladden, as their companion, the quiet abode of some grand or great-grand-uncle and aunt, familiarly named in all that Dalswinton neighbourhood, “Old Adam and Eve.” Their house was on the outskirts of the moor, and life for the young girl there had not probably too much excitement But one thing had arrested her attention. She had noticed that a young stocking maker from the “Brig End,” James Paton, the son of William and Janet there, was in the habit of stealing alone into the quiet wood, book in hand, day after day, at certain hours, as if for private study and meditation. It was a very excusable curiosity that led the young bright heart of the girl to watch him devoutly reading and hear him reverently reciting (though she knew not then, it was Ralph Erskine’s “Gospel Sonnets,” which he could say by heart sixty years afterwards, as he lay on his bed of death); and finally that curiosity awed itself into a holy respect, when she saw him lay aside his broad Scotch bonnet, kneel down under the sheltering wings of some tree, and pour out all his soul in daily prayers to God. As yet they had never spoken. What spirit moved her, let lovers tell—was it all devotion, or was it a touch of unconscious love kindling in her towards the yellow-haired and thoughtful youth ? Or was there a stroke of mischief, of that teasing, which so often opens up the door to the most serious step in all our lives ? Anyhow, one day she slipped in quietly, stole away his bonnet, and hung it on a branch near by, while his trance of devotion made him oblivious of all around ; then, from a safe retreat she watched and enjoyed his perplexity in seeking for and finding it ! A second day this was repeated ; but his manifest disturbance of mind, and his long pondering with the bonnet in hand, as if almost alarmed, seemed to touch another chord in her heart —that chord of pity which is so often the prelude of love, that finer pity that grieves to wound anything nobler or tenderer than ourselves. Next day, when he came to his accustomed place of prayer, a little card was pinned against the tree just where he knelt, and on it these words :—
“She who stole away your bonnet is ashamed of what she did ; she has a great respect for you, and asks you to pray for her, that she may become as good a Christian as you.”
Staring long at that writing, he forgot Ralph Erskine for one day; taking down the card, and wondering who the writer could be, he was abusing himself for his stupidity in not suspecting that some one had discovered his retreat, and removed his bonnet, instead of wondering whether angels had been there during his prayer,—when, suddenly raising his eyes, he saw in front of old Adam’s cottage, through a lane amongst the trees, the passing of another kind of angel, swinging a milk-pail in her hand and merrily singing some snatch of old Scottish song. He knew, in that moment, by a Divine instinct, as infallible as any voice that ever came to seer of old, that she was the angel visitor that had stolen in upon his retreat—that bright-faced, clever-witted niece of old Adam and Eve, to whom he had never yet spoken, but whose praises he had often heard said and sung— “Wee Jen.” I am afraid he did pray “for her,” in more senses than one, that afternoon ; at any rate, more than a Scotch bonnet was very effectually stolen ; a good heart and true was there bestowed, and the trust was never regretted on either side, and never betrayed.
Often and often, in the genial and beautiful hours of the autumntide of their long life, have I heard my dear father tease “Jen” about her maidenly intentions in the stealing of that bonnet; and often with quick mother-wit have heard her happy retort, that had his motives for coming to that retreat been altogether and exclusively pious, he would probably have found his way to the other side of the wood, but that men who prowled about the Garden of Eden ran the risk of meeting some day with a daughter of Eve !