WILSON'S TALES OF THE BORDERS
AND OF SCOTLAND.
HISTORICAL, TRADITIONARY, & IMAGINATIVE.
WITH A GLOSSARY.
ONE OF THE ORIGINAL EDITORS AND CONTRIBUTORS.
WALTER SCOTT, 14 PATERNOSTER SQUARE
THE DOOM OF SOULIS, _(JOHN MACKAY WILSON)_
HARDEN'S REVENGE, _(ALEXANDER LEIGHTON)_
THE PHYSIOGNOMIST'S TALE, _(OLIVER RICHARDSON)_
THE GOOD MAN OF DRYFIELD, _(ALEXANDER CAMPBELL)_
THE SURGEON'S TALES, _(ALEXANDER LEIGHTON)_
THE CHERRY-STONE THE HENWIFE THE ARTIST
THE BRIDE, _(JOHN MACKAY WILSON)_
THE HENPECKED MAN, _(JOHN MACKAY WILSON)_
MORTLAKE.--A LEGEND OF MERTON, _(JAMES MAIDMENT)_
THE SERJEANT'S TALES, _(JOHN HOWELL)_
THE BEGGAR'S CAMP
LEEIN JAMIE MURDIESTON, _(ALEXANDER CAMPBELL)_
DUNCAN M'ARTHUR, _(ALEXANDER CAMPBELL)_
WILSON'S TALES OF THE BORDERS, AND OF SCOTLAND.
THE DOOM OF SOULIS.
"They roll'd him up in a sheet of lead-- A sheet of lead for a funeral pall; They plunged him in the caldron red, And melted him--lead, and bones, and all."--LEYDEN.
A Gazetteer would inform you that Denholm is a village beautifully situated near the banks of the Teviot, about midway between Jedburgh and Hawick, and in the Parish of Cavers; and perhaps, if of modern date, it would add, it has the honour of being the birth-place of Dr. Leyden. However, it was somewhat early on a summer morning, a few years ago, that a young man, a stranger, with a fishing-rod in his hand, and a creel fastened to his shoulders, entered the village. He stood in the midst of it, and, turning round--"This, then," said he, "is the birth-place of Leyden--the son of genius--the martyr of study--the friend of Scott!"
Few of the villagers were astir; and at the first he met--who carried a spade over his shoulder, and appeared to be a ditcher--he inquired if he could show him the house in which the bard and scholar was born.
"Ou, ay, sir," said the man, "I wat I can; I'll show ye that instantly, and proud to show you it, too."
"That is good," thought the stranger; "the prophet is dead, but he yet speaketh--he hath honour in his own country."
The ditcher conducted him across the green, and past the end of a house, which was described as being the school-house, and was newly built, and led him towards a humble building, the height of which was but a single storey, and which was found occupied by a millwright as a workshop. Yet, again, the stranger rejoiced to find that the occupier venerated his premises for the poet's sake, and that he honoured the genius of him who was born in their precincts.
"Dash it!" said the stranger, quoting the habitual phrase of poor Leyden, "I shall fish none to-day."
[Footnote 1: This was a common expression of Leyden's, and, perhaps, was in some degree expressive of his headlong and determined character.]
And I wonder not at his having so said; for it is not every day that we stand beneath the thatch-clad roof--or any other roof--where was born one whose name time will bear written in undying characters on its wings, until those wings droop in the darkness of eternity.
The stranger proceeded up the Teviot, oftentimes thinking of Leyden, of all that he had written, and occasionally repeating passages aloud. He almost forgot that he had a rod in his hand--his eyes did anything but follow the fly, and, I need hardly say, his success was not great.
About mid-day, he sat down on the green bank in solitariness, to enjoy a sandwich, and he also placed by his side a small flask, containing spirits, which almost every angler, who can afford it, carries with him. But he had not sat long, when a venerable-looking old man saluted him with--
"Here's a bonny day, sir."
The old man stood as he spoke. There was something prepossessing in his appearance he had a weatherbeaten face, with thin white hair, blue eyes, that had lost somewhat of their former lustre, his shoulders were rather bent; and he seemed a man who was certainly neither rich nor affluent, but who was at ease with the world, and the world was at ease with him.
They entered into conversation, and they sat down together. The old man appeared exactly one of those characters whom you will occasionally find fraught with the traditions of the Borders, and still tainted with, and half believing in, their ancient superstitions. I wish not to infer that superstition was carried to a greater height of absurdity on the Borders than in other parts of England and Scotland, nor even that the inhabitants of the North were as remarkable in early days for their superstitions, as they now are for their intelligence; for every nation had its superstitions, and I am persuaded that most of them might be traced to a common origin. Yet, though the same in origin, they change their likeness with the character of a nation or district. People unconsciously made their superstitions to suit themselves, though their imaginary effects still terrified them. There was, therefore, a something characteristic in the fables of our forefathers, which fables they believed as facts. The cunning deceived the ignorant--the ignorant were willing to deceive themselves; and what we now laugh at as the clever trick of a _hocus-pocus_ man, was, scarce more than a century ago, received as a miracle--as a thing performed by the hand of the "prince of the powers of the air." Religion without knowledge, and still swaddled in darkness, fostered their idle fear; yea, there are few superstitions, though prostituted by wickedness, that did not owe their existence to some glimmering idea of religion. They had not seen the lamp which lightens the soul, and leadeth it to knowledge; but having perceived its far-off reflection, plunged into the quagmire of error--and hence proceeded superstition.
But I digress into a descant on the superstitions of our fathers, nor should I have done so, but that it is impossible to write a Border tale of the olden time without bringing them forward, and, when I do so, it is not with the intention of instilling into the minds of my readers the old idea of sorcery, witchcraft, and visible spirits, but of showing what was the belief and conduct of our forefathers. Therefore, without further comment, I shall cut short these remarks, and simply observe, that the thoughts of the young stranger still running upon Leyden, he turned to the elder, after they had sat together for some time, and said--
"Did you know Dr. Leyden, sir?"
"Ken him!" said the old man; "fifty year ago, I've wrought day's wark beside his father for months together."
They continued their conversation for some time, and the younger inquired of the elder if he were acquainted with Leyden's ballad of "Lord Soulis."
"Why, I hae heard a verse or twa o' the ballad, sir," said the old man; "but I'm sure everybody kens the story. However, if ye're no perfectly acquaint wi' it, I'm sure I'm willing to let ye hear it wi' great pleasure; and a remarkable story it is--and just as true, sir, ye may tak my word on't, as that I'm raising this bottle to my lips."
So saying, the old man raised the flask to his mouth, and, after a regular fisher's draught, added--
"Weel, sir, I'll let ye hear the story about Lord Soulis:--You have no doubt heard of Hermitage Castle, which stands upon the river of that name, at no great distance from Hawick. In the days of the great and good King Robert the Bruce, that castle was inhabited by Lord Soulis. He was a man whose very name spread terror far and wide; for he was a tyrant and a sorcerer. He had a giant's strength, an evil eye, and a demon's heart, and he kept his _familiar_ locked in a chest. Peer and peasant became pale at the name of Lord Soulis. His hand smote down the strong, his eye blasted the healthy; he oppressed the poor, and he robbed the rich. He ruled over his vassals with a rod of iron. From the banks of the Tweed, the Teviot, and the Jed, with their tributaries, to beyond the Lothians, an incessant cry was raised against him to heaven and to the king. But his life was protected by a charm, and mortal weapons could not prevail against him."
[Footnote 2: He was also proprietor of Eccles, in Berwickshire, and, according to history, was seized in the town of Berwick; but tradition saith otherwise.]
[Footnote 3: There is, perhaps, no superstition more widely diffused than the belief in the fascination of an evil eye, or a malignant glance; and, I am sorry to say, the absurdity has still its believers.]
[Footnote 4: Each sorcerer was supposed to have his familiar spirit, that accompanied him; but Soulis was said to keep his locked in a chest.]
The seriousness with which the narrator said this, showed that he gave full credit to the tradition, and believed in Lord Soulis as a sorcerer.
"He was a man of great stature, and his person was exceeding powerful. He had also royal blood in his veins, and laid claim to the crown of Scotland, in opposition to the Bruce. But two things troubled him: and the one was, to place the crown of Scotland on his head; the other, to possess the hand of a fair and rich, maiden, named Marion, who was about to wed with Walter, the young heir of Branxholm, the stoutest and the boldest youth on all the wide Borders. Soulis was a man who was not only of a cruel heart, but it was filled with forbidden thoughts; and, to accomplish his purpose, he went down into the dungeon of his castle, in the dead of night, that no man might see him perform the 'deed without a name.' He carried a small lamp in his hand, which threw around a lurid light, like a glow-worm in a sepulchre; and as he went, he locked the doors behind him. He carried a cat in his arms; behind him a dog followed timidly, and before him, into the dungeon, he drove a young bull, that had 'never nipped the grass.' He entered the deep and the gloomy vault, and, with a loud voice, he exclaimed--
"'Spirit of darkness! I come!
"He placed the feeble lamp upon the ground, in the middle of the vault; and with a pick-axe, which he had previously prepared, he dug a pit, and buried the cat alive; and as the poor suffocating creature mewed, he exclaimed the louder--
"'Spirit of darkness! come!'
"He then leaped upon the grave of the living animal, and, seizing the dog by the neck, he dashed it violently against the wall, towards the left corner where he stood, and, unable to rise, it lay howling long and piteously on the floor. Then did he plunge his knife into the throat of the young bull, and, while its bleatings mingled with the howling of the dying dog, amidst what might be called the blue darkness of the vault, he received the blood in the palms of his hands, and he stalked around the dungeon, sprinkling it in circle, and crying with a loud voice--
"'Spirit of darkness! hear me!'
"Again he digged a pit, and, seizing the dying animal, he hurled it into the grave, feet upwards; and again he groaned, while the sweat stood on his brow, 'Come, spirit! come!'
[Footnote 5: These are the recorded practices which sorcerers resorted to, when they wished to have a _glimpse_ of _invisible_ spirits.]
"He took a horse-shoe, which had lain in the vault for years, and which was called, in the family, the _spirit's shoe_, and he nailed it against the door, so that it hung obliquely; and, as he gave the last blow to the nail, again he cried--'Spirit, I obey thee! come!'
[Footnote 6: In the account of the trial of Elizabeth Bathgate, wife of Alexander Pae, maltman in Eyemouth, one of the accusations in the indictment against her was, that she had "ane horse-schoe in ane darnet and secriet pairt of your dur, keepit by you thairopoun, as ane devilish meanis and instructions from the devill." But the superstitions of the Borders, which it is necessary to illustrate in these Tales, as exemplifying the character of our forefathers, are more particularly dwelt upon, and their absurdity unmasked, in the Tales entitled, "Betty Bathgate, the Witch of Eyemouth;" "Peggy Stoddart, the Witch of Edlingham;" and "The Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh."]
"Afterwards, he took his place in the middle of the floor, and nine times he scattered around him a handful of salt, at each time exclaiming--
"Then did he strike thrice nine times with his hand upon a chest which stood in the middle of the floor, and by its foot was the pale lamp, and at each blow he cried--
"'Arise, spirit! arise!'
"Therefore, when he had done these things, and cried twenty-and-seven times, the lid of the chest began to move, and a fearful figure, with a red cap upon its head, and which resembled nothing in heaven above, or on earth below, rose, and, with a hollow voice, inquired--
[Footnote 7: Red-cap is a name given to spirits supposed to haunt castles.]
[Footnote 8: In the proceedings regarding Sir George Maxwell, it is gravely set forth, that the voice of evil spirits is "rough and goustie;" and, to crown all, Lilly, in his "Life and Times," informs us, that they speak Erse; and, adds he, "when they do so, it's like Irishmen, much in the throat!"]
"'What want ye, Soulis?'
"'Power, spirit! power!' he cried, 'that mine eyes may have their desire, and that every weapon formed by man may fall scatheless on my body, as the spent light of a waning moon!'
"'Thy wish is granted, mortal!' groaned the fiend; 'to-morrow eve, young Branxholm's bride shall sit within thy bower, and his sword return bent from thy bosom, as though he had dashed it against a rock. Farewell! invoke me not again for seven years, nor open the door of the vault, but then knock thrice upon the chest, and I will answer thee. Away! follow thy course of sin, and prosper; _but beware of a coming wood_!'
"With a loud and sudden noise, the lid of the massy chest fell, and the spirit disappeared, and from the floor of the vault issued a deep sound, like the reverbing of thunder. Soulis took up the flickering lamp, and, leaving the dying dog still howling in the corner, whence he had driven it, he locked the iron door, and placed the huge key in his bosom.
"In the morning, his vassals came to him, and they preyed him on their bended knees that he would lessen the weight of their hard bondage; but he laughed at their prayers, and answered them with stripes. He oppressed the widow, and persecuted the fatherless; he defied the powerful, and trampled on the weak. His name spread terror wheresoever it was breathed, and there was not in all Scotland a man more feared than the Wizard Soulis, the Lord of Hermitage.
"He rode forth in the morning, with twenty of his chosen men behind him; and wheresoever they passed the castle or the cottage, where the occupier was the enemy of Soulis, or denied his right to the crown, they fired the latter, destroyed the cattle around the former, or he sprinkled upon them the dust of a dead man's hand, that a murrain might come amongst them.
[Footnote 9: If legitimacy could have been proved on the part of the grandmother of Lord Soulis, he certainly was a nearer heir to the crown than either Bruce or Baliol.]
"But, as they rode by the side of the Teviot, he beheld fair Marion, the betrothed bride of young Walter, the heir of Branxholm, riding forth with her maidens, and pursuing the red-deer.
"'By this token, spirit!' muttered Soulis, joyously, 'thou hast not lied--to-night young Branxholm's bride shall sit within my bower!'
"He dashed the spur into the side of his fleet steed, and, although Marion and her attendants forsook the chase, and fled, as they perceived him, yet, as though his _familiar_ gave speed to his horse's feet, in a few seconds he rode by the side of Marion, and, throwing out his arm, he lifted her from the saddle, while her horse yet flew at its fastest speed, and continued its course without its fair rider. She screamed aloud, she struggled wildly, but her attendants had fled afar off, and her strength was feeble as an insect's web in his terrible embrace. He held her upon the saddle before him--
"'Marion!--fair Marion!' said the wizard and ruffian lover, 'scream not--struggle not--be calm, and hear me. I love thee, pretty one!--I love thee!' and he rudely raised her lips to his. 'Fate hath decreed thou shalt be mine, Marion, and no human power shall take thee from me. Weep not--strive not. Hear ye not, I love thee--love thee fiercely, madly, maiden, as a she-wolf doth its cubs. As a river seeketh the sea, so have I sought thee, Marion, and now, thou art mine--fate hath given thee unto me, and thy fair cheek shall rest upon a manlier bosom than that of Branxholm's beardless heir.' Thus saying, and still grasping her before him, he again plunged his spurs into his horse's sides, and he and his followers rode furiously towards Hermitage Castle.
"He locked the gentle Marion within a strong chamber, he
'Woo'd her as the lion woos his bride.'
And now she wept, she wrung her hands, she tore her raven hair before him, and it hung dishevelled over her face and upon her shoulders. She implored him to save her, to restore her to liberty; and again finding her tears wasted and her prayers in vain, she defied him, she invoked the vengeance of Heaven upon his head; and, at such moments, the tyrant and the reputed sorcerer stood awed and stricken in her presence. For there is something in the majesty of virtue, and the holiness of innocence, as they flash from the eyes of an injured woman, which deprives guilt of its strength, and defeats its purpose, as though Heaven lent its electricity to defend the weak.
"But, wearied with importunity, and finding his threats of no effect, on the third night that she had been within his castle, he clutched her in his arms, and, while his vassals slept, he bore her to the haunted dungeon, that the spirit might throw its spell over her, and compel her to love him. He unlocked the massy door. The faint howls of the dog were still heard from the corner of the vault. He placed the lamp upon the ground. He still held the gentle Marion to his side, and her terror had almost mastered her struggles. He struck his clenched hand upon the huge chest--he cried aloud, 'Spirit! come forth!'
"Thrice he repeated the blow--thrice he uttered aloud his invocation. But the spirit arose not at his summons. Marion knew the tale of his sorcery--she knew and believed it--and terror deprived her of consciousness. On recovering, she found herself again in the strong chamber where she had been confined, but Soulis was not with her. She strove to calm her fears, she knelt down and told her beads, and she begged that her Walter might be sent to her deliverance.
"It was scarce daybreak when the young heir of Branxholm, whose bow no man could bend, and whose sword was terrible in battle, with twice ten armed men, arrived before Hermitage Castle, and demanded to speak with Lord Soulis. The warder blew his horn, and Soulis and his attendants came forth and looked over the battlement.
"'What want ye, boy,' inquired the wizard chief, 'that, ere the sun be risen, ye come to seek the lion in his den?'
"'I come,' replied young Walter, boldly, 'in the name of our good king, and by his authority, to demand that ye give into my hands, safe and sound, my betrothed bride, lest vengeance come upon thee.'
"'Vengeance, beardling!' rejoined the sorcerer; 'who dare speak of vengeance on the house of Soulis?--or whom call ye king? The crown is mine--thy bride is mine, and thou also shalt be mine; and a dog's death shalt thou die for thy morning's boasting.'
"'To arms!' he exclaimed, as he disappeared from the battlement, and within a few minutes a hundred men rushed from the gate.
"Sir Walter's little band quailed as they beheld the superior force of their enemies, and they were in dread also of the sorcery of Soulis. But hope revived within them when they beheld the look of confidence on the countenance of their young leader, and thought of the strength of his arm, and the terror which his sword spread.
"As hungry tigers spring upon their prey, so rushed Soulis and his vassals upon Sir Walter and his followers. No man could stand before the sword of the sorcerer. Antagonists fell as impotent things before his giant strength. Even Walter marvelled at the havoc he made, and he pressed forward to measure swords with him. But, ere he could reach him, his few followers who had escaped the hand of Soulis and his host fled, and left him to maintain the battle single-handed. Every vassal of the sorcerer, save three, pursued them; and against these three, and their charmed lord, young Walter was left to maintain the unequal strife. But, as they pressed around him, 'Back!' cried Soulis, trusting to his strength and to his charm; 'from my hand alone must Branxholm's young boaster meet his doom. It is meet that I should give his head as a toy to my bride, fair Marion.'
"'Thy bride, fiend!' exclaimed Sir Walter; 'thine!--now perish!' and he attacked him furiously.
"'Ha! ha!' cried Soulis, and laughed at the impetuosity of his antagonist, while he parried his thrusts; 'take rushes for thy weapon, boy; steel falls feckless upon me.'
"'Vile sorcerer!' continued Walter, pressing upon him more fiercely, 'this sword shall sever thy enchantment.'
"Again Soulis laughed; but he found that his contempt availed him not, for the strength of his enemy was equal to his own, and, in repelling his fierce assaults, he almost forgot the charm which rendered his body invulnerable. They fought long and desperately, when one of the followers of Soulis, suddenly and unobserved, thrusting his spear into the side of Sir Walter's horse, it reared, stumbled, and fell, and brought him to the ground.
"'An arrow-schot!' exclaimed Soulis. 'Wherefore, boy, didst thou presume to contend with me?' And suddenly springing from his horse, he pressed his iron heel upon the breast of his foe, and turning also the point of his sword towards his throat, 'Thou shalt not die yet,' said he; and turning to the three attendants who had not followed in the pursuit, he added, 'Hither--bind him fast and sure.' Then did the three hold him on the ground, and bind his hands and his feet, while Soulis held his naked sword over him.
[Footnote 10: When cattle died suddenly, it was believed to be by an arrow-shot--that is, shot or struck down by the invisible dart of a sorcerer.]
"'Coward and wizard!' exclaimed Walter, as they dragged him within the gate, 'ye shall rue this foul treachery.'
"'Ha! ha! vain boasting boy!' returned Soulis, 'thou indeed shalt rue thy recklessness.'
"He caused his vassals to bear Walter into the strong chamber where fair Marion was confined, and, grasping him by the neck, while he held his sword to his breast, he dragged him towards her, and said, sternly, 'Consent thee now, maiden, to be mine, and this boy shall live; refuse, and his head shall roll before thee on the floor as a plaything.'
"'Monster!' she exclaimed, and screamed aloud, 'would ye harm my Walter?'
"'Ha! my Marion!--Marion!' cried Walter, struggling to be free. And, turning his eyes fiercely upon Soulis--'Destroy me fiend,' he added, 'but harm not her.'
"'Think on it, maiden,' cried the sorcerer, raising his sword; 'the life of thy bonny bridegroom hangs upon thy word. But ye shall have until midnight to reflect on it. Be mine, then, and harm shall not come upon him or thee; but a man shall be thy husband, and not the boy whom he hath brought to thee in bonds.'
"'Beshrew thee, vile sorcerer!' rejoined Walter. 'Were my hands unbound, and unarmed as I am, I would force my way from thy prison, in spite of thee and thine!'
"Soulis laughed scornfully, and again added, 'Think on it, fair Marion.'
"Then did he drag her betrothed bridegroom to a corner of the chamber, and ordering a strong chain to be brought, he fettered him against the wall; in the same manner, he fastened her to the opposite side of the apartment--but the chains with which he bound her were made of silver.
"When they were left alone, 'Mourn not, sweet Marion,' said Walter, 'and think not of saving me--before to-morrow our friends will be here to thy rescue; and, though I fall a victim to the vengeance of the sorcerer, still let me be the bridegroom of thy memory.'
"Marion wept bitterly, and said that she would die with him.
"Throughout the day, the spirit of Lord Soulis was troubled, and the fear of coming evil sat heavy on his heart. He wandered to and fro on the battlements of his castle, anxiously looking for the approach of his retainers, who had followed in pursuit of the followers of Branxholm's heir. But the sun set, and the twilight drew on, and still they came not; and it was drawing towards midnight when a solitary horseman spurred his jaded steed towards the castle gate. Soulis admitted him with his own hand into the courtyard; and, ere the rider had dismounted, he inquired of him hastily, and in a tone of apprehension--
"'Where be thy fellows, knave? and why come alone?'
"'Pardon me, my lord,' said the horseman, falteringly, as he dismounted; 'thy faithful bondsman is the bearer of evil tidings.'
"'Evil, slave!' exclaimed Soulis, striking him as he spoke; 'speak ye of evil to me! What of it?--where are thy fellows?'
"The man trembled and added--'In pursuing the followers of Branxholm, they sought refuge in the wilds of Tarras, and being ignorant of the winding paths through its bottomless morass, horses and men have been buried in it--they who sank not fell beneath the swords of those they had pursued, and I only have escaped.'
"'And wherefore did ye escape, knave?' cried the fierce sorcerer; 'why did ye live to remind me of the shame of the house of Soulis?' And, as he spoke, he struck the trembling man again.
"He hurried to the haunted dungeon, and again performed his incantations, with impatience in his manner and fury in his looks. Thrice he violently struck the chest, and thrice he exclaimed, impetuously--
"'Spirit! come forth!--arise and speak with me!'
"The lid was lifted up, and a deep and angry voice said, 'Mortal! wherefore hast thou summoned me before the time I commanded thee? Was not thy wish granted? Steel shall not wound thee--cords bind thee--hemp hang thee--nor water drown thee. Away!'
"'Stay!' exclaimed Soulis--'add, nor fire consume me!'
"'Ha! ha!' cried the spirit, in a fit of horrid laughter, that made even the sorcerer tremble. '_Beware of a coming wood!_' And, with a loud clang, the lid of the chest fell, and the noise as of thunder beneath his feet was repeated.
"'Beware of a coming wood!' muttered Soulis to himself; 'what means the fiend?'
"He hastened from the dungeon without locking the door behind him, and as he hurried from it, he drew the key from his bosom, and flung it over his left shoulder, crying 'Keep it, spirit!'
"He shut himself up in his chamber to ponder on the words of his familiar, and on the extirpation of his followers; and he thought not of Marion and her bridegroom until daybreak, when, with a troubled and a wrathful countenance, he entered the apartment where they were fettered.
"'How now, fair maiden,' he began; 'hast thou considered well my words?--wilt thou be my willing bride, and let young Branxholm live? or refuse, and look thy fill on his smooth face as his head adorns the point of my good spear?'
"'Rather than see her thine,' exclaimed Walter, 'I would thou shouldst hew me in pieces, and fling my mangled body to your hounds.'
"'Troth! and 'tis no bad thought,' said the sorcerer; 'thou mayest have thy wish. Yet, boy, ye think that I have no mercy: I will teach thee that I have, and refined mercy too. Now, tell me truly, were I in thy power as thou art in mine, what fate would ye award to Soulis?'
"'Then truly,' replied Walter, 'I would hang thee on the highest tree in Branxholm Woods.'
"'Well spoken, young Strong-bow,' returned Soulis; 'and I will show thee, though ye think I have no mercy, that I am more merciful than thou.' Ye would choose for me the highest tree, but I shall _give thee the choice of the tree from which you may prefer your body to hang_, and from whose top the owl may sing its midnight song, and to which the ravens shall gather for a feast. And thou, pretty face,' added he, turning to Marion, 'sith you will not, even to save him, give me thine hand, i'faith, if I may not be thy husband, I will be thy priest, and celebrate your marriage, for I will bind your hands together, and ye shall hang on the next branch to him.'
"'For that I thank thee,' said the undaunted maiden.
"He then called together his four remaining armed men, and placing halters round the necks of his intended victims, they were dragged forth to the woods around the Hermitage, where Walter was to choose the fatal tree.
"Now a deep mist covered the face of the earth, and they could perceive no object at the distance of half a bow-shot before them; and ere he had approached the wood where he was to carry his merciless project into execution--
"'The wood comes towards us!' exclaimed one of his followers.
"'What!--_the wood comes!_' cried Soulis, and his cheek became pale, and he thought on the words of the demon--'_Beware of a coming wood!_'--and, for a time, their remembrance, and the forest that seemed to advance before him, deprived his arm of strength, and his mind of resolution, and before his heart recovered, the followers of the house of Branxholm, to the number of fourscore, each bearing a tall branch of a rowan-tree in their hands, as a charm against his sorcery, perceived, and raising a loud shout, surrounded him.
[Footnote 11: It is probable that the legend of the "_coming wood_," referred to in the traditions respecting Lord Soulis, is the same as that from which Shakspere takes Macbeth's charm--
"Till Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane."
The circumstances are similar.]
"The cords with which the arms of Marion and Walter were bound were instantly cut asunder. But, although the odds against him were as twenty to one, the daring Soulis defied them all. Yea, when his followers were overpowered, his single arm dealt death around.
"Now, there was not a day passed that complaints were not brought to King Robert, from those residing on the Borders, against Lord Soulis, for his lawless oppression, his cruelty, and his wizard-craft. And, one day, there came before the monarch, one after another, some complaining that he had brought diseases on their cattle, or destroyed their houses by fire, and a third, that he had stolen away the fair bride of Branxholm's heir, and they stood before the king, and begged to know what should be done with him. Now, the king was wearied with their importunities and complaints, and he exclaimed, peevishly and unthinkingly, '_boil him, if you please, but let me hear no more about him_.' But,
"'It is the curse of kings to be attended By slaves that take their humour for a warrant;'
and, when the enemies of Soulis heard these words from the lips of the king, they hastened away to put them in execution; and with them they took a wise man, one who was learned in breaking the spells of sorcery, and with him he carried a scroll, on which was written the secret wisdom of Michael the Wizard; and they arrived before Hermitage Castle, while its lord was contending single-handed against the retainers of Branxholm, and their swords were blunted on his buckler, and his body received no wounds. They struck him to the ground with their lances; and they endeavoured to bind his hands and his feat with cords, but his spells snapped them asunder as threads.
[Footnote 12: Dr. Leyden represents this personage as being "True Thomas, Lord of Ersylton;" but the Rhymer was dead before the time fixed by tradition of the death of Lord Soulis, which took place in the time of Robert the Bruce, who came to the crown in 1308, and the Rhymer was dead before 1299, for in that year his son and heir granted a charter to the convent of Soltra, and in it he describes himself _Filius et hæves Thomæ Rymour de Erceldon_.]
"'Wrap him in lead,' cried the wise man, 'and boil him therewith, according to the command of the king, for water and hempen cords have no power over his sorcery.'
"Many ran towards the castle, and they tore the lead from the turrets, and they held down the sorcerer, and rolled the sheets around him in many folds, till he was powerless as a child, and the foam fell from his lips in the impotency of his rage. Others procured a caldron, in which it was said many of his incantations were performed, and the cry was raised--
"'Boil him on the Nine-stane rig!'
"And they bore him to where the stones of the Druids are to be seen till this day, and the two stones are yet pointed out from which the caldron was suspended. They kindled piles of faggots beneath it, and they bent the living body of Soulis within the lead; and thrust it into the caldron, and, as the flames arose, the flesh and the bones of the wizard were consumed in the boiling lead. Such was the doom of Soulis.
"The king sent messengers to prevent his hasty words being carried into execution, but they arrived too late.
"In a few weeks there was mirth, and music, and a marriage feast in the bowers of Branxholm, and fair Marion was the bride."
From a state of high civilisation, it is curious to look back upon the manners and modes of life of our ancestors of barbarous times; and the contrast never can be presented in stronger hues than in the picture of the lives of the old Borderers, who so completely realised Hobbes' theory of the beginning of society (fighting and stealing for their daily bread), and that of the quiet, sedate men of industry and peace of these days, whose blood never rises beyond the degree of the heat of a money-making ambition. A shiver comes over us, when we read of the son killed in a feud, carried in to his mother a corpse; of the father of a family, and the laird of many broad acres, laid before his weeping wife and children, the dead victim of a strife with his next neighbour; of families rendered houseless and homeless, often by a marauding kinsman; of the never-ceasing turmoil, strife, cruelty, and revenge, of the whole inhabitants of that distracted part of our country. We read, pause, tremble, and hug ourselves in the happy thought that we have been born in more auspicious times, when the sword is turned into the ploughshare, the castle into the granary, and the fire of enmity softened and changed into the fervour of love and friendship. Yet, alas! if we carry our thoughts farther, how little may we have to felicitate ourselves on in the pictured contrast? Rudeness has its evils; but is civilisation without them? If the household of the Border chief was begirt with dangers of rieving and spoliation, the domestic _lares_ kept it free from the inebriated and demoralised son, whom the genius of civilisation sends from the city haunts of pollution, to lift his hand against his parent. If the _ingenium perfervidum_, of a roving life carried the husband from the arms of the wife, perhaps to be brought home a corpse, she seldom witnessed in him the victim of any of the thousand civilised crimes which render the common thief, the fraudulent bankrupt, the swindler, the gambler, the disloyal-spouse, the drunkard, worse than dead to her. If a well-directed revenge might deprive the inmates of the turret of a rude home, the strength was, at least, free from the inroads of the messenger or poinder, whose warrant has a crueller edge than the falchion of an enemy. We advocate not the cause of robbery, though dignified by the name of war or revenge, or coloured by the hues of a chivalric spirit of daring; but, when we look around us, and see how much civilisation has accomplished for our bodies and our intellects, and how little for our hearts or our morals, we hesitate to condemn our ancestors for crimes which they were taught to believe as virtues, to attribute to them an unhappiness which they viewed as the mere chance of war, and to laud the civilised doings of our own times, when the criminal has not the excuse of a want of proper education to palliate his offences against the laws of his country. We are led into these remarks by some rising reminiscences of the doings of old Wat Scott of Harden, the most gnarled, most crooked, and sturdiest stem of the tree of that old family. He lived in the fifteenth century, the hottest period of Border warfare, and occupied the old seat of the family, Harden Castle--a place of considerable strength, situated on the beetling brink of a dark and precipitous dell, not far from the river Borthwick, and facing a small rivulet which brawled past to meet the larger stream. The place was suitable to the castle and its possessor; for the stronghold contained in security the sturdy riever, and the glen was a species of _massy more_ for the cattle which he _made_ his own upon the good old legitimate principle of _might_, so much despised in these days of statutory legislation, when the acts of Parliament extend to twenty times the size of the Bible.
Many anecdotes and stories have been recorded of Walter Scott of Harden; and we ourselves, we believe, have, in prior parts of our work, noticed him favourably. There can be little doubt, indeed, that he was a perfect man--that is, according to the estimate of qualities in the times in which he lived, as gallant in love as he was bold in war; and surely, letting the latter rest on his undisputed fame, the former could not be better proved than by his having, when still a fine bold riever, wooed and won the "Flower of Yarrow," Mary Scott, the daughter of Philip Scott of Dryhope--a young maiden, whose poetical appellation, expressive as it is, would go small way in carrying to the minds of those curious in beauties the perfections she enjoyed from nature. Of the manner in which Harden conducted his operations on the heart of this famous beauty, it may be difficult now to speak with that certainty which is applicable to his seizure and appropriations of his neighbours' live stock generally; but, judging from the analogy of the boldness of his other exploits, and from the circumstance that his father-in-law stipulated in the marriage-contract that he was "to find Harden in horse meat and man's meat, at his tower of Dryhope, for a year and a day, but that (as five barons pledge), at the expiry of that period, his son-in-law should remove _without attempting to continue in possession by force_," it may be presumed that the riever was not, in this instance, lost or forgotten in the lover. Old Dryhope _knew_ him from the early fame he had acquired; and, while he had no objection to give him the Flower of Yarrow for his wife, he saw the necessity of providing against the occurrence which would, in all likelihood, have taken place, of Walter taking up his residence at Dryhope Tower, and becoming laird, at the same time that he kept a firm hold of Harden and his other lands. The spirit of _appropriation_, in short, was so strong and overpowering in the heart of the bold chief, that, as was frequently alleged of him, it was dangerous to let him sit down on a creepy stool belonging, to a _bona fide_ proprietor; for three minutes' occupancy seemed to produce in him all the effects of the long positive prescription; and he never looked at an article of man's making, or nature's production, without considering whether it were a moveable or a fixture.
[Footnote 13: The contract is extant in the charter-chest of the present representative. Neither Harden nor the Flower of Yarrow could write their names.--ED.]
The only period of Harden's life in which his peculiar notions of _meum_ and _tuum_ were lost sight of, was during the sweet moon of his marriage with Mary Scott. For one lunation, the poor Border proprietors were safe; and, if the Harden motto, _Cornua reparabit Phoebe_, had any meaning in it, it was the only moon of his life that did not light him forth to commit some depredation. His marriage, with the slight exception already stated, had no such effect in modifying his appropriating spirit, as marriages now-a-days produce on reclaimed rogues or roués, for Mary Scott although the fairest of all the fair women of her time, had the same relish for cooking other people's kye, that her husband Walter felt in bringing them home. There was not a wife in all the Borders that served up "the feast of spurs" to her lord with greater regularity, and more attention to the rules of proper hussyskep, than the Flower of Yarrow. If Walter came in crying for supper--
"Haste ye, my dame--what cheer the night? I look to see your table dight; For I hae been up since peep o' light, Driving the dun deer merrilie"--
Her reply was just as spirited and ready;--
"Are ye sae keen set, Wat? 'Tis weel-- I'faith, ye'll find a dainty meal; For it's a' o' the guid Rippon steel, And ye maun digest it manfullie."
The spirit of the riever, inborn, and strengthened by education and example, became, in the case of Harden, as it did in that of many a one else of the Border lairds, a regular household duty; and perhaps a more peaceable husband than he might have felt a difficulty in resisting the authority of so fair a governess as Mary Scott.
In the course of a long period, occupied by Harden in his daily duty and pastime of overturning the rights of moveable property--and sure he must have been a happy man whose hobby was his duty--his helpmate bore him no fewer than six sons, who inherited the spirit of their father, and the beauty of their mother. They came all to man's estate, and there was not one of them who disgraced the principles of education which their father took so much care to instil into them, as well by precept as by the example daily laid before them, of levying black mail, and keeping the dark glen well filled with the cattle of their neighbours. It was the ambition of Harden that each of his sons should be an independent proprietor, who might rieve, in after times, on his own account; and, at the time when our story properly begins, he could count four fine properties which he intended for the inheritance of four of the six youths. Two remained to be provided for, and a point soon came to be mooted at the fireside of Harden Castle--how two fitting lairdships might be acquired for them, so that it might never come to be said, by posterity, that Wat of Harden was unable to steal, or win by power or purchase, a good domain for every one of the sons of the Flower of Yarrow. The great difficulty, of course, lay in the nature of the thing to be acquired, because, unhappily, an estate could not be carried away; and there had already begun to be introduced a practice on the Borders of regulating the rights of land by pieces of parchment skins, whereby the outside of a sheep--a creature itself easily conveyable--was made to vest a right in the land on which it grazed. No doubt, the charter chest might be carried away, and Walter had courage enough to enable him to accomplish that object; but still there remained many difficulties in the way; doubles of the charters were apt to make their appearance at a future day, and the best fire that could be produced at Harden Castle was not sufficient to burn out the vestiges of proprietorship which the sword of its master could so easily overturn.
As his years increased, the anxiety of the old laird waxed stronger and stronger on the subject which lay nearest to his heart. He had often cast his eye on the property of Gilmanscleugh, not far distant; and he had even counted the broad acres, to ascertain if they would make a suitable inheritance for one of his sons. It belonged, also, to a family of Scotts--a circumstance that increased its peculiar fitness for the purpose he had so long cherished, as his son would still be a Scott of Gilmanscleugh, and the injustice of the appropriation would be diminished, by his being chief of the clan, and having a species of superiority over its proprietor. By an unfortunate agreement of tempers, the two families had long remained on a sort of friendly footing; and Harden had never been able to bring about such a feud as might give him a pretext for denouncing Gilmanscleugh at head-quarters, when he might have got the envied property forfeited, and a grant of it to himself. No doubt, he had often taken from Gilmanscleugh his kye, but what neighbour had been fortunate enough to escape, and what victim of his cupidity dared to resent an injury where resentment would have brought upon his head an evil a thousand times greater than that attempted to be avenged? It was even a species of favour conferred on a small proprietor to have a theft committed upon him by old Harden, because he was generally sure to be protected against more unscrupulous aggressors by the old lion, who liked to preserve what he himself might come to require; and so Gilmanscleugh, like many others, had suffered meekly the contributions laid upon him--for the double object of retaining his old chief's friendship, and preserving the rest of his stock from the hands of the other marauders, who were continually roaming about to take whatever they could violently lay hands upon. The situation of Harden was, therefore, that of the wolf in the fable; but he had never yet been able to come to the resolution of asserting that the lamb had rendered the descending water muddy to him who drank further up the stream. On this important subject he did not disdain to take the advice of Mary, who could see no reason, any more than Walter himself, why the chief of the Scotts should not be able to provide a landed portion for two of his sons, when the whole of Liddesdale and the Debateable Land contained so much good ground lying ready for the taking. She, moreover, was also partial to Gilmanscleugh, and only lamented that it was not large enough to form two good properties; though that, of course, was no reason why it should not be taken, _quantum et quale_, for one of her sons, leaving the other to be provided for by some other estate out of the many that lay around them.
"By my faith, Mary," said Walter, "if Gilmanscleugh had four legs to it, it should not be long the property of its present master."
"And if my Walter had the arms he used to have," replied she, "it should not be long ere it was Harden's. My power hath faded. Formerly, if the Flower of Yarrow had asked Harden to give her Gilmanscleugh for a jointure, it would have been hers ere next morn heard the cock crow in Harden glen, but years bring fears."
"Not to Harden, Mary, love. He knoweth not the meaning of the vile word. Your dished spurs make me as sharp-set now, as they did when the cook was the fairest maid in Yarrow. It is these sheep-skin rights, lass, that prevent me from bestowing Gilmanscleugh on one of our sons."
[Footnote 14: Mary Scott is well known to have been as famous for the cooking of spurs as for her beauty.]
"She who cooks Rippon steel, Wat, needeth a fire," replied she. "Charters will burn. I'll give ye the spurs, if ye'll give me the parchment. It will roast one of Gilmanscleugh's kye."
"But I have no cause of quarrel, Mary," said Harden.
"If I were to swear on the altar at Melrose," replied she, laughing, "that Harden, wishing cows, asked for a cause, there wouldn't a simpleton on the Borders believe my oath. Where be thy wits, Wat? What better cause of quarrel need ye now than you ever did--a good hanger?"
"You would not have me kill my kinsman, Mary, to get his lands for our son? By the moon of our armorials, I've slain enough. Nothing now will make me take a man's life but anger, unless he be an Englishman, and then I'll do it for love."
"There is no use for killing," rejoined she, "I'll give ye the steel feast in the morning, and set ye forth for Gilmanscleugh kine. Take them all, with the pet lamb that frisks before the door, on the green lea, and if this do not make Scott complain, I had no title to be called the Flower of Yarrow. If he complain, ye want no more. Ranshakle the house, bring me the parchment rights, and I'll have a fire 'bleezing bonnilie.' One who hath cooked spurs may cook parchment."
"But there may be copies, Mary--doubles o' the rights," said Wat.
"Aweel, my fire's big enough," answered she. "I've seen ye take fivescore o' sheep in one night, and the deil's in't if ye cannot take two skins."
"Good faith, but thou'rt the Flower o' the Yarrow rievers, Mary! Now, tell me where I shall get a property for our remaining son?"
"Gilmanscleugh may serve them both," replied she.
These last words were spoken by Mary as she went out of the room; and Walter, having no opportunity of asking what she meant (though, indeed, she meant nothing more than that the property might be large enough to serve both), continued to mutter the words for a time, with a view to ask her for an explanation.
"Gilmanscleugh may serve them both," he repeated. "The woman hath gone mad. It is not enough for one of them. Has she lost the spirit of our house, and brought down her ambition to a mailing? By my faith, Dryhope itself will make up the deficiency; and, if nothing else can be got, Dryhope shall be taken for my youngest."
After this manner old Walter ruminated on the unexplained statement of his wife; and, by repeating it again and again, roused the pride that lay at the bottom of his heart, and made him wax even angry with the wife of his bosom, and she the Flower of Yarrow, and the mother of his six sons. But, angry as he was, he was also weary, having been hunting in the forest during the day; and he went to sleep, muttering, as he struggled ineffectually with the drowsy god, some oaths peculiar to himself, and to the effect that, take Gilmanscleugh when he chose, it should not suffice for the portion of two sons.
In the morning he awoke, but did not forget the statement of Mary, that had given a momentary impulse to his bile, and, repairing to the breakfast-room, he found there his six sons and his wife, who, from some fugitive indications of face and manner, appeared to be engaged in some by-plot, in which she was the exclusive actor. Her original beauty, which acquired for her the poetical soubriquet by which she was so well known, still vindicated a place among the ravages of advanced ago, and her spirit, in place of falling with her bodily strength, had increased, and was continually breaking forth in expressions of vivacity and humour, which sustained the heart of the old chief, and made her the sun of the domestic circle which she had so long graced with her beauty. She was now in the very height of her most delightful occupation--serving up with her own hands the morning meal of her brave Wat and her six gallant sons, the parallel of whom, for make and manhood, might not again be found in broad Scotland. So happy was she, and so full of the joyous and soul-cheering fire of a woman's humour, that the six youths sat and looked at her with mute expressions of sons whose filial eyes saw, in the Flower of Yarrow, more beauties of mind and person than even exuberant nature had bestowed; and old Wat himself smiled as he gazed upon her, and finally relinquished his _malice prepense_, which had been urging him forward to ask her for an explanation of what she had said on the previous evening--that Gilmanscleugh would suffice for a portion to the two sons of proud Harden. The parties sat down to the morning meal; and as the old chief took off the cover of the first dish, a loud laugh, in which he heartily joined, announced the fulfilment of the spirited dame's promise of the previous evening, for there was nothing beneath it but a pair of spurs, made of shining Rippon steel, and presenting, in their sharp rowels, little power of assuaging the hunger of the youths, who had been hunting in the neighbouring dells, and could have eat, as the saying goes, the horse behind the saddle. Harden knew the meaning of the manoeuvre; for he recollected the statement of the dame, that she would present to him the feast of spurs, to send him to Gilmanscleugh for a portion to her sons, and, nothing loth to receive the sharp hint, he exhibited, through his rough growling laugh, the fire and keenness of his rieving spirit, which was now to be gratified by the luxury of an adventure.
"What game shall these Rippon rowels prick us to, Mary?" cried the chief, still laughing.
"A good portion for our youngest," replied she; "the broad acres of Gilmanscleugh, and all the kye thereon, and eke the kist that holds the parchment; which last is to be placed in my safe keeping."
"And why not for our _two_ youngest?" rejoined Harden, recollecting with a slight bitterness mixed with his good humour, her former statement. "May not Gilmanscleugh serve both of our unprovided sons? What right have the sons of the Flower of Yarrow to more than the half of what hath served one Scott of Gilmanscleugh? By my faith, Mary! if I had not so good a breakfast before me, I would quarrel with my Flower for her depreciation of the honour of Harden, and were it not for that contract thy father wheedled out of me, I'd seize Dryhope in revenge."
"And forfeit the five pledges," replied she, laughing. "But, Wat, had we not better measure Gilmanscleugh first, before we quarrel about its proportions."
"I have driven too many of his cattle over it to Harden Glen, not to know the breadth of it," said he, keeping up the humour. "But come, my boys, we shall take a better gauge of its dimensions to-day. Harden never rieves by day; but the light of the sun tells us best what the moon may light us to."
And having breakfasted on something more substantial than the dish of spurs, the old laird, and his sons were prepared to sally forth to take a survey of Gilmanscleugh's flock, with a view to those ulterior operations which might have the effect of precipitating its unlucky proprietor into such a quarrel with his sturdy superior as might afford the latter a pretext for carrying his object of ambition into effect. To cover their proceedings, they took with them their hunting-graith, without forgetting the stirrup-cup, or rather without being allowed, by the provident solicitude of the spirited dame, to forget that essential preparative to a Borderer's forth-going, whether he was bent on hunting, rieving, or wooing. Mounted on their strong shaggy garrons, with bows slung over their shoulders, swords by their sides, and the accompaniment of two wolf-dogs of great size and strength, and a number of stag-hounds, all yelling around, till their voices awakened the sleeping echoes of the glen, and formed a rugged harmony with the long shrill winding of the hunter-horns, they presented in the features of the group, that mixture of the war and the chase, sport and spoliation, which marked all the roving parties of that extraordinary period and still more extraordinary place. The mother of six such sons had presented to her a fair subject of exultation in the party that stood before her; and her eye, which still retained the blue light of that of the Flower of Yarrow, spoke the pride which swelled her bosom, as it passed, in laughing intelligence, from one fair face and manly person to another.
"It was as a hunter I first saw you, Walter, from Dryhope Tower," said she; "and he who hunted for a wife, may well hunt for a portion to her children."
"If I bring down Gilmanscleugh," replied Wat, laughing, "it will be a higher quarry than the Flower of Yarrow."
"You thought not so then, Wat," rejoined she, in the same spirit; "but love giveth way to ambition. That day thou callest Gilmanscleugh thine own, I will busk me again, as I once busked thy bonny bride, and put thy once-cherished Flower of Yarrow in fair competition with the broad acres of Gilmanscleugh. By my troth, thou wouldst be a bold man to prefer the new love to the old."
"I would not give thee, woman," rejoined he, "for all Branxholm's wide domains, with the whole of Ettrick Forest to boot; so hold thy peace, and apply thee to thy hussyskep; for, by my sword, we will come home hungry men."
And old Wat's horn sounded again among the hills. The signal for starting was well known, and away they dashed down the steep, with that speed which the Borderers always exhibited--a consequence, perhaps, of the habit of getting off with their booty in the fear of a rescue. They were soon out of the sight of the fond dame, who long afterwards sat at the small window on the east side of the tower, listening to the notes of the horn, as they reverberated among the heights, and died away like the parting notes of mountain spirits that seek their dark recesses in the opening morn. A true Borderer's wife, she never feared for the result of an expedition of either hunting or harrying; and, as yet, a prosperous fate, by saving her husband and her six sons from the dangers to which their mode of life exposed them, had visited her with no cause of a wife's sorrow or a mother's affliction. But such was her heroic spirit, that, much as she loved these objects of her affection, she could have acted the Spartan dame over the dead body of the dearest among them, and quelled the bursting heart with the thought that he had died nobly in the vocation to which his fate had called him. It was not that habit had worn out the ordinary solicitude of the female heart; for, if custom had recognised the actions of a rieving female in the affair of moveable property as well as of moveable hearts, we dare to be bold enough to say that Mary Scott would have been as famous as an amazon scaumer, as she was as the Flower of Yarrow. Many an expedition she had planned; and it was often more easy for Harden to satisfy himself as to the number of good cattle he might lodge in the glen, than it was to come up to the expectations of his better half, who, as the ballad says, if he had brought her less than ten, would not have "roosed his braverie." Nor was Harden's wife singular in the possession of these unfeminine feelings of Border heroism; for, as women are generally seen to take on the hues and complexions of the minds of their lords, the Border dames were generally remarkable for the spirit with which they applauded the deeds of their husbands, and the fortitude with which they bore the consequences, often lamentably tragic, which resulted from the wild life they were habituated to lead. In her present situation, Mary Scott thought only of the fair property of Gilmanscleugh, which she conceived so well suited for the heirloom of her two sons that still wanted provisions; and she had already in her mind's eye the bickering flame that was to consume the parchment rights, and roast the oxen that would serve for the celebration of the new acquisition to the wealth and property of Harden.
Meanwhile the hunting troop spread through the surrounding woods, sounding their horns, but caring less for the dun deer of the Scotch hills than for the black cattle of Gilmanscleugh. They had not proceeded far, being still within the limits of Harden's lands, when they heard the hunting-horn of some party in the distance; and the old chief immediately despatched one of his sons--whom he styled the Forester, from his love of the sports of woodcraft--to prick his garron forward, and ascertain who it was that had the hardihood to drive the dun deer so near to Harden's glen. The young man obeyed, and as he proceeded, he found that the huntsman, whoever he was, had, probably from hearing the sounds of the approaching chief, retired to the westward, with a view to avoid the coming party. This construction on his conduct was the first thought that arose on the mind of young Harden, and it came with the suspicion that the sound of the stranger's horn indicated no other a visitor to the Harden woods than that very Gilmanscleugh against whom his father and mother had been nourishing the schemes which might contribute to the gratification of their ambition. With these thoughts came another--viz., that he, the young Harden, who was one of the unprovided sons for whom Gilmanscleugh was intended, would contribute to the satisfaction of both his father and mother, if he made short work of the projected scheme, and, by urging the proprietor of the envied property to a quarrel and battle, got quit of him by a bilbo thrust, and thus settle in an instant an affair which apparently occupied a great deal more thought than it was entitled to. The idea brought a whole train of the most delightful cogitations that had ever yet fired his young fancy. He would anticipate the views of his father; set off by contrast the simplicity of his own act--a simple extension of the sword-arm--with the intricate machinery of his parents' scheme of ambition; enjoy the surprise of his father and the wonder of his mother when he told them that he had, by an unlucky quarrel, killed Gilmanscleugh, and asked, with affected simplicity, what would become of the property? show himself the best of the six sons of Harden, and worthy of the best smile of the Flower of Yarrow. The accumulation of rising thoughts and stirring feelings inflamed his mind; and, striking deep the rowels into his garron's side, he pricked forward at the rate of a quick gallop, with the wolf-dog Grim bounding before him, baying forth a deep yell, and his tongue hanging half-a-foot over his bloodthirsty jaws. He kept his pace for a considerable time, and was already far from his father's party, when he saw Gilmanscleugh's dog, also a wolf-hound, and known to him by the peculiarity of his colour, being almost white, bounding away to the left--in the track, doubtless, of his master. The moment the dogs perceived each other in the breathless, foaming condition into which their race had inflamed them, they closed in a fell struggle, and made the wood ring with the sounds of their wrath. Gilmanscleugh heard the affray, and returned to save his favourite hound from the jaws of Harden's, which was so famous throughout the forest, that no animal of its species, or indeed of any other in the wood, could stand before it. Coming up, he struck the fierce animal of his chief; and young Harden, coming from behind, upbraided him for assaulting his dog, in such terms of galling abuse that the insulted man turned and laid his hand on his sword. The act was followed by a similar movement on the part of the Forester--in another moment they were engaged in fight, and the period of a minute did not pass away before the young and beautiful son of Harden lay upon the ground, a bleeding corpse!
"Ho, for Gilmanscleugh!" cried the victor, as he sheathed his bloody sword, and saw all the danger of his situation. "Ho, for Gilmanscleugh! and that without blast o' horn; for every tree o' Harden woods will rise up to avenge the death o' the Flower o' Yarrow's favourite son!"
And he struck his horse's sides, and urged him forward, calling out for his dog Wolf, who was as anxious to get out of the clutches of Grim, as his master was to get out of the reach of Harden.
"Wolf! Wolf!" he cried, as he turned round. "For Gilmanscleugh--hame--hame--ho! I have killed a dun deer to-day, whose umbles will tell the seer a sad tale o' our house, and whose corbin bane will bring mony a Harden corbie to Gilmanscleugh."
But Wolf was too firmly in the fangs of Grim; and now Harden's horn was sounding in shrill tones in the hollows, announcing to the unfortunate victor the near approach of the fierce chief, but no longer awaking the ear of the victim, who lay already stiff among the green leaves of the forest. The dogs were still fast, and he must spend as much time in disengaging them as would bring the father of the slain youth to the scene of his sorrow and revenge, or he must braid on with the top-speed of his favourite Sorrel, and leave his dog an evidence of the deed, that, if traced to him, would bring ruin on his home, his wife, and his children, and all the retainers of Gilmanscleugh. Springing off, and nerved with the force of despair, he flung himself on the wrestling dogs, and laying hold of the throat of Harden's, he clutched it with such strength that the animal opened his jaws, gasping for breath, and turning up his eyeballs beneath the lids, fell on his side; but his revengeful opponent, no sooner free from the gripe which had bound him, seized Grim in his turn; and Gilmanscleugh saw before him an alternation of a process of choking that would consume more than his hurrying moments. There was not an instant for deliberation: seizing his sword, he stuck it into the heart of the dog, and, detaching Wolf, sprung to his saddle, and flew through the forest with the speed of light; while his faithful animal, seeing no longer life in his enemy, forsook his prey and his revenge, and bounded away after his flying master. But too much time had, unfortunately for Gilmanscleugh, been already lost in disengaging the dogs; for the twang of a bow announced to him, as he hurried on, that a messenger more fleet than Sorrel was after him, and, looking round, he saw his faithful attendant fall to the ground, with a long shaft quivering in his smoking side.
"There is my king's evidence left behind me," muttered he, as he stuck the rowels deeper in the sides of his horse. "Wae to Gilmanscleugh when Harden has to avenge the death o' a son slain by his arm! Braid on, good Sorrel, to a flaming stable, and carry your master to what may be sune a lordless ha'!"
The speed of his horse soon took him out of the reach of Harden and his sons--but not before they had seen him in the act of flight, and brought down his dog by an arrow sent from the unerring hand of the old chief's namesake. On coming up to the place where his favourite lay extended dead on the ground, with his face upturned to heaven, and, though partly covered by his bonnet's plume that had fallen down in the flight, displaying too evidently the rigid muscles of death, his father and his brothers uttered a loud cry of astonishment and grief, and ran to satisfy themselves of the terrible truth, that the beautiful youth was indeed dead. The satisfaction was easy and ready: enough of blood lay in a pool by his side to have carried in its stream two young lives; and a single glance at his pale face struck the mind with the palsy which death in the human countenance so strangely produces. His sword, firmly grasped in his hand, told also a part of the story, which was eked out by the body of the dead Grim and that of his lifeless antagonist, which one of the sons had brought to the place where the group stood, and looked at each other in mute grief. But that was only for a moment. The heavy, tear-filled eye of sorrow of the father changed in an instant, and flashed forth the fire of revenge, and, as every one of his five sons clutched their swords, loud cries rent the air--"Ho! for Gilmanscleugh with the sword and the fire-faggot!" So entirely were the fiery youths led away by the impulse of the new feeling, that they had all remounted their garrons, clanging their drawn swords, and uttering their deep-mouthed cries, without reflecting for a moment that the body of the dead youth had to be disposed of, and that all their party was not able to take Gilmanscleugh Tower, and put its inmates to the sword.
"Hold! ho! my brave sons!" cried the father, as the fire of his revenge beamed through his tears. "Why this hurry? A hundred years would not cool our fire, and a sudden revenge lacketh the fulness of satisfaction. We must take home the body of my dead son to his mother. It will be her duty to swathe it and to lay it out. It is the first time she hath had this work to do; and, as she does it, she will recollect her words of yestreen when she said that Gilmanscleugh would serve for both of my sons. Too true, alas! Gilmanscleugh hath satisfied one; Gilmanscleugh shall satisfy the other."
The youths, burning as they were for satisfaction, saw the necessity of agreeing to the recommendation of their father; and, dismounting again, they lifted the stiff body from among the clotted grass, and, wrapping it in a mantle, laid it over the backs of two of their horses, and proceeded in mournful procession towards home, where Mary Scott as yet sat at the castle window indulging in the meditation to which the expedition of her husband and her sons had given rise. The sounds of the horn that had struck her ear had long ceased, and she pictured to herself the bold party scouring over Gilmanscleugh, the intended inheritance of her son, the Forester, the best beloved of her, as he was of his father, for boldness, filial affection, and beauty. She did not expect them till the evening was far gone, and then it would be her duty and greatest delight to prepare for them the cheerful bickering fire, and the warm refreshing meal, and welcome them to their home and their pleasures with her accustomed looks of satisfaction, her well-chosen words of good-humour, and her questions of success, put in such form as might afford the opportunity of recounting their deeds of arms or woodcraft. Many a time had she enjoyed these highest pleasures of the dutiful wife, affectionate mother, and spirited companion; and there was yet time and opportunity in store for her to enjoy them again with undiminished relish. Casting her eyes over the side of the glen, she saw the procession of her husband and five sons, with the dead body of the sixth, coming slowly along the middle of the dell. This was not the way in which old Wat of Harden usually returned to his castle; there were no cattle driven before him, no winding of his horn among the hills, no whoop of triumph from his rough throat. The slow tread of the horses' feet, as they paced the sod, came upon her ear with a dead, hollow sound; and her heart became busy with its mystic divinations, before her eye could trace all the details of the unusual scene. But feature by feature of this first representation of a mother's bereavement opened gradually on her view; she ran over the faces of her sons and that of her husband, and soon distinguished the beloved victim; the expressions of the countenances of the bearers told her the extent of the calamity, if the form of the extended body, where Death sat triumphant, and gave forth those indications of his presence which cannot be misunderstood, had left any doubt on her mind that her fair Forester was no more. But her griefs knew no feminine paroxysms, the strength of her nerves enabled her to contemplate even the scene of a dead son with that strange calmness which the strongest feeling can draw from the depths of the mental constitution, as its cover and panoply in the hour of nature's greatest need. As the procession approached, she saw Harden draw his hand over his eyes, and the sobs of the youths fell on her ear. Yet she descended with firmness to meet a sight which, contemplated by a mother, is perhaps the most harrowing that can be exhibited to mortal eye--a dead son, and that son her hope and pride. At the entrance she met her husband, who took her hand, and, as he held it, waved to the conductors to pause in their progress.
"Let them come in, Wat," said she. "I know all--my Forester is dead. Come forward, my sons, and let me see him who was once my pride, and tell me what cruel cause hath reft me of my boy."
The sons came forward, and, taking the body by the head and feet, carried it into the tower, where, having placed it, they stood around, silently looking on what was, an hour before, their beloved brother, in the heyday of youth and beauty.
"Who hath done this deed?" inquired the mother, as she looked on the pale face of her son, with feelings too deep for tears.
"Gilmanscleugh," answered Walter.
The word operated like electricity on the minds of the sons, as they stood silently looking at the corpse. Revenge had for a moment been clouded by grief, and the talismanic influence of the name of the destroyer drew aside the vapours, and exposed again the fiery sun of their resentment. A simultaneous movement carried their hands to their swords, and every face was turned to the door; but the eye of old Walter, looking askance through a bush of shaggy grey brows, watched keenly every motion; and, as they rushed out to raise the cry of destruction to Gilmanscleugh and its master, he called them back, and hurried them into a side-room with grated windows and a strong door, where were contained, as in a stronghold, the title-deeds of Harden, and other valuable things which required security. "Let us consult, my bold youths, let us consult," he said, as he pushed the last one in; and the moment they were all fairly enclosed, he turned the key in the lock, and put it into his pocket.
"Give me the Forester's bloody doublet," he cried to his wife, "with the hole made by Gilmanscleugh's sword in the right breast."
"What mean ye, Wat?" answered Mary, as, lifting her eyes from the face of the corpse, she noticed these extraordinary proceedings on the part of her husband. "Why do you lock up our five sons, when vengeance calls them to Gilmanscleugh? and why ask ye for the bloody vest, which should be the pennon to fly over the smoking ruins of the destroyer's tower? If you are to stop revenge, lock up the mother with her sons; for my heart beats with the pulsations of man's courage, and I will cease to feel as a woman till this blood be avenged. If thou wilt not lead on our sons to Gilmanscleugh, let me undertake the task; and mark well the issue of a woman's foray, when a son's bloody doublet hangs on the point of the spear."
"Recollect ye not your words, Mary?" answered Wat, hurriedly. "Said ye not that Gilmanscleugh would serve for both our sons? That one lying there is satisfied; by the powers of revenge, the other shall not be disappointed. The doublet! come, wife, the doublet!--and see that you give our sons meat enough, through the west hole of the strong-room, to keep their blood warm and their hearts glowing for three days. Let our dead Forester lie there for that time; but turn his head to Gilmanscleugh. The doublet! come, quick!"
Mary could not understand the meaning of these words; but she well knew that the resolutions of her husband, when determined, were founded on prudence and principle, and beyond the affecting capabilities of mortal man; so she proceeded to take from the body of her son the doublet, which was stained with blood, and perforated in the right breast by the sword which had deprived him of life. Having removed it, she handed it to Walter, who, holding it up to the light, looked through the hole, and, with that strange mixture of a peculiar humour with the deepest seriousness of human nature for which he was remarkable, declared, with a grim smile, that he saw through it the lands of Gilmanscleugh, and the Harden arms over the door of the old tower; then, wrapping up the vestment, he hurried to the outer court, and, binding it to the front of his saddle, mounted, and clapping spurs to his horse, was, in a few moments, away at a hard gallop over the hills.
Confused by these abrupt and incomprehensible proceedings, Mary had not been able to make the necessary effort to get an explanation, though it is doubtful if all her entreaties would have been successful in wringing from the determined and cunning old chief what were his intentions. Returning to the apartment where the dead body lay, she found there a duty which would occupy the time till her husband returned--in watching the corpse of her beloved Forester, and tracing in his rigid, pallid features the traces of those expressions of his beautiful face which used to extend so much influence over the hearts of his father and mother, and bring love to him from all sides on the rapid wings of sympathetic attraction. On one side lay the corpse she had to watch; at the other were her five remaining sons, enclosed as prisoners, and prevented from executing the revenge with which she burned, or extending to her the comforting and assuasive assistance of their presence and conversation. As she looked on the face of the corpse, she heard the impatient murmurings of her sons, who, burning to get forth to satisfy the yearnings of their hearts, demanded of her, through a small opening in the door, what was the intention of their father in thus keeping them from so just and necessary an object as the vindication of the honour of Harden, and the taking of blood for blood.
"We shall not be balked of our revenge, mother," cried the youngest. "The Forester's blood cries more loudly than the voice of our father. Call the retainers, and break open the door, that we may get free. Haste, good mother!"
"Haste! haste!" added other voices.
"I cannot disobey Harden's commands," replied she, "though the face of this fair corpse seems to beckon me to the satisfaction of a mother's heart, at the price of a wife's rebellion. My Forester's glazed eyes are fixed on me, and say, 'Open, and let my brothers free, that my blood may be avenged.' I cannot obey. Three days you must remain there--three days must the Forester lie in his shroud--then will Harden be back, and he will bring with him the bloody doublet to hang on the point of your spears."
"Whither is our father gone?" rejoined the impatient youths.
"I know not, but these were his words," replied she. "I am to watch my Forester's body, and feed you through the west bole, for three days."
"We cannot survive three days unrevenged, mother," said another. "We will take on ourselves the responsibility of release. Send us Wat's John, and he will break down this door. Bethink ye, good mother, that Gilmanscleugh may fly, and the Forester's ghost may wander for twenty moons in Harden's Glen, upbraiding his five brothers for not avenging his death."
"I cannot disobey your father," again said she.
"Then we will force our freedom, mother," cried the third son.
"Disobedient boy, say not the word," answered she. "Wait the three days, and, if you will, nurse during that time your fire; for, if I am not deceived, your father will require of you as much avenging wrath as you have to bestow, when his horn sounds again his return to Harden."
With difficulty did Mary prevail on the impetuous youths to refrain from an effort to effect their freedom. For the three appointed days, she sat in the room by the side of her dead son; and at every meal-hour she handed in the food necessary for the sustenance of her prisoners. Nor did she conceive that she had any title to rest from her watchful labour, or to cease her care of the dead body, even during the hours of night, till she saw his death avenged. The midnight lamp was regularly trimmed, and hung upon the wall, that its glimmering flame might fall upon the pale face of the youth, as he lay rolled up in the shroud which his mother had prepared for him, while sitting by the bier. At the solemn hour of midnight, she sat silent and sad, looked now in the face of the dead, listened to hear if any sound of a horn without announced the approach of her husband, or of a messenger from him, and then inclined her ear, to catch the broken words of revenge muttered by her sons in their sleep, or the strains of mournful lamentations for the death of their brother, which the energy of their grief forced from them at those intervals when their revenge was overcome by the more intense feeling. Groans and sighs, muttered oaths, sobs, and expressions of impatience, mixed or separate, told continually the workings of their minds. The speech of the dreamer was often mixed with the conversation of those awake; but so well acquainted was the mother with the sounds of their voices, that she could distinguish the one from the other. The question was often put by one who slept--"Are the three days past yet?" and those awake gave him the answer he could not hear. Then some of them seemed to clutch his neighbour in his dreams, and call out, that he had now caught him, and would avenge on him the death of the Forester, accompanying his speech with a struggle, as if he were in the act of stabbing Gilmanscleugh. Another would call to the mother, to know the hour; and, when she told him that it was midnight, or an hour past midnight, he would sigh deeply, as if he felt the hours of the three days winged with lead. Then again, a victim of nightmare groaned with fear, at the vision of the Forester's ghost, and cried, that it would not have long to walk the glen, for that the three days were fast on the wing. The shrill scream of a passing eagle or solitary owl, wakening those who slumbered in a half sleep, was mistaken for their father's horn, and an appeal to the mother was required to rectify the mistake. All these things passed in her hearing, and threw a gloom over her mind, which was not relieved by the look which she every moment stole at the dead face, as it shone white as the shroud in the light of the lamp: but she stood the trial, and continued her watch. The beam of a deadly revenge indicated the steadfastness with which she adhered to her resolution never to rest till she knew that Gilmanscleugh had expiated by his life the murder of her son.
Since the departure of Harden, no intelligence had come from him; and so strange had been his conduct when he went away, that his wife had often to combat the rising thought, that the fate of his favourite son had unsettled his intellects, and driven him away from the scene of his loss, in some wild dream of superstitious retribution. The locking up of his sons was the very reverse of the conduct which his revengeful nature might have dictated; and the taking with him the bloody doublet, through the sword-hole in which he declared he saw the lands of Gilmanscleugh his own, was far more like the act of a madman, than that of one who had duties to perform to himself, to his wife and children, on that sorrowful occasion, more serious and difficult than he had ever yet been called upon to fulfil. These thoughts rising throughout the dark night, when her ears were pained by the strange noises proceeding from the excitement of her sons, and her eye had nothing to rest on but the dead body of him who lay stretched by her side, stung her with anguish, and filled her heart with boding anticipations of terror. The third night was on the wing; and, though twelve o'clock had passed, there was no appearance of her husband. Her sons had become more than ordinarily restless, and said that, if their father did not make his appearance in the morning, they would disregard all authority, and call to the retainers to break down the door with battle-axes, and set them at liberty. She heard them in silence, and trembled to communicate to them the thoughts that had been passing through her mind as to the sanity and safety of their father. In a little, the restless prisoners began to fall over into their troubled sleep, and the moon, newly risen, sent in through the small windows a bright beam, that lay on the face of the corpse. She had wrought up her mind almost to a conviction that her husband had, in a fit of madness, thrown himself into the Borthwick, or otherwise committed suicide, and figured to her diseased fancy his body placed alongside of her son's, and with that same pale beam resting on it, and exhibiting to her the features which she had so long looked on with delight, made rigid by the grasp of death. Every sound was now hushed, with the exception of the occasional broken mutterings of her sons, and the notes of the winged inhabitants of the upper parts of the tower, who cawed their hoarse omens to the midnight wanderer in the forest. Every thought that rose in her mind was charged with a double portion of awe; and cold shivers, in opposition to her efforts to be firm, ran over her from head to heel, and precipitated her farther and farther into the depths of her fancied evils. Superstition might have borrowed a thousand aids from the circumstances in which she was placed; but, though she was beyond the influence of the direct operation of that power, the thoughts of evil which she had some reason for indulging, borrowed a part of their dark hue from the clouds in which the mystic goddess is generally enshrined: the individual would indeed have been more than woman who could have sat in the situation in which she was placed, and measured her evils with the gauge of calm reason.
While sunk in these gloomy reflections, a shrill blast of a horn reverberated among the hills. "That is our father's horn!" cried the sons, who awoke with the sound; and Mary herself knew the signal of the approach of her husband. She rose from the side of the corpse, and, looking forth from the window, saw, by the moon's light, Harden himself hastening towards the tower. In a moment he bounded from his horse, and in another he appeared before his wife.
"To horse! to horse! my sons!" he shouted, as he came forward. "Now for Gilmanscleugh, with the fire and the sword of Harden's revenge!"
A loud shout from the chamber where the sons lay announced the relief which this statement brought to their frenzied minds. The door was opened, and the prisoners were set at liberty. Without waiting for refreshment, the old chief, having cast a look on the dead body, hurried with his liberated sons to the court, where every retainer was summoned to attend his master. A large party was assembled in a very short time, and, with the moon as their guide, the cavalcade, making the castle ring with Harden's war-cry, issued with rapid steps out of the ballium, and took the road to Gilmanscleugh. They arrived at the place of their destination while the moon shone still clear in the heavens; and Harden's sons observed that their father now took no precautions, as was usual in his night attacks, to prevent the assailed party from knowing his approach. He marched them silently, deliberately, and boldly up in front of the tower of Gilmanscleugh, where Scott, who had fondly imagined that his act had not been traced to him, was residing in a security that had been daily increasing, but was now so soon to be ended. The whole party were ranged in front of the devoted tower, and Harden's horn was sounded for entrance. Scott appeared at the window, and asked the pleasure of Harden, and the purpose of his call at that unusual hour, though he well knew to what he owed the fearful visit.
"I have a paper, under the king's hand, to read to thee, Gilmanscleugh," replied Harden.
"We had better read it in the mornin," replied Scott. "Our lights are out in the tower. I will wait ye at yer ain time; but let it be in the licht o' day."
"The moon is Harden's time," rejoined the chief. "If thou wilt not let us in to read it, here, in the light of this torch, brought for the occasion, thou shalt hear the words of majesty. I am only the royal commissioner, and must do my duty."
The torch was held up, and Harden calling forth one of his retainers, who had been a clerk in a convent, ordered him to read a royal charter which he put into his hands. The man obeyed, and read the document which purported, in the few words of these old land rights, that the king, for the love and favour he bore to Walter Scott of Harden, had conveyed and settled upon him and his heirs the lands, tower, and appurtenances of Gilmanscleugh, which formerly belonged to William Scott, but had fallen to the crown by escheat, in consequence of the constructive rebellion of the said William Scott, in killing the son of Harden, known by the name of the Forester, when engaged in hunting on his father's lands. The charter gave, in addition, full power to the said Walter Scott to take immediate possession of the property, and to adopt all necessary steps for ejecting the former proprietor and his family from the same.
"Thou hast heard read the king's writ," cried the chief. "What sayest thou to the royal authority? I come here peaceably to demand the possession of Gilmanscleugh. If you will consent to depart, and give me up the key of the tower, I will pass my honour for the safety of thee and thine. If not, I will enforce the king's authority. Take a quarter-of-an-hour to decide. I will wait the decision."
This announcement produced surprise on all hands, as well to the unhappy proprietor, who was to be deprived of his lands that had come to him from his ancestors, as to the sons of Harden, who were to be deprived of that species of revenge they had burned for, and considered to be the only one suited to the occasion which called for it--the life of the slayer. While Gilmanscleugh retired to consider of the proposal, the sons of Harden crowded round him, and implored him to retract his condition of extending safety to the person of the murderer of their brother. The old chief--who had already counted all the advantages and disadvantages of the bargain, and saw how much better were the broad acres of Gilmanscleugh, which the king had given him for the loss of his son, than the life of its master, which, although he took, he could make nothing of, seeing that it would vanish in the act of capture--replied calmly, to their warm entreaties, that the lands were his revenge, and a very good revenge, too; but he promised them that, if Scott did not immediately comply with his request, they would have their pleasure of him and his whole household, to kill, or wound, or burn, or hang, as they chose. This addition roused the spirits and restored the hopes of the sons, who could not suppose that a man would give up his property in the easy manner anticipated by their father. Yet so it turned out; for in a short time Scott appeared again, and stated that, upon condition of him and his household being permitted to go forth safe and free, he would instantly deliver to him the key of the tower. The bargain was struck; and in a short time the extraordinary scene was witnessed of a whole family leaving the home of their fathers on a quarter-of-an-hour's notice, and wandering away to beg a habitation and a meal from those who were their dependants. Scott's wife had in her arms a sucking child, and three other children held by her garments, and cried bitterly as they passed on through the fierce troop, who looked the daggers of a disappointed revenge. A sister of his wife's tended a sickly son of Scott's, who was borne forth on a board carried by two of his retainers; and there was seen, hobbling along, with a long piked staff in her hand, the laird's mother, who had gone to Gilmanscleugh sixty years before, and born in it seven sons and three daughters. Then came Scott himself, with the keys in his hand, at the sight of whom Harden's sons moved involuntarily forward, as the instinctive desire of revenge for a moment overcame the command of their father. The keys were handed forth in dead silence; and the servants of the ejected laird wiped their eyes as they beheld the melancholy scene. They wandered slowly and reluctantly away. Harden looked back as the last of them were disappearing in the wood. "Revenge enough," he muttered--"revenge enough, and to spare." He then entered and took possession of the tower, in which he left as many of his men as were sufficient to guard it. He then returned with his sons and a part of his troop to Harden, where he found Mary Scott still sitting by the side of her dead son, in conformity with a custom among the Borderers, derived from the land of Odin, that the corpse of a murdered relative should not be committed to the earth till his death was avenged. She looked up in the face of Harden as he entered, and the blue eye of the Flower of Yarrow searched wistfully for tokens of a deed of stern retribution. Such is the power of custom and education, that one of the fairest of women, who, if she had lived in the nineteenth century, might have been a Lady Fanny, and shrunk, according to fashion, from the sight of a murdered worm, deemed it necessary, from duty, and felt it as consonant to the feelings of her sex, to look her disappointment at not observing, on the clothes or arms of her husband and sons, the signs of a wrong righted by blood.
"Is it thus that Harden comes, with bright steel and unsullied clothes, from the house of the murderer of his fairest son?" cried she. "Look at that corpse, and blush deep as the crimson that dyes the lily-lire of our boy. Is there no vengeance, Walter? Is there no satisfaction, my sons?"
"Whether, Mary," replied Harden, "would you accept a charter to the lands of Gilmanscleugh to Harden and his heirs for ever, or the life's blood of its master, as a satisfaction for the death of our boy who lies there, killed by his hand?"
"I would rather enjoy the lands," replied she, "and let the murderer enjoy, if he can, the life that is spared to him. Our revenge is double; for, while life may be painful to him, the lands will yield us pleasure in after years."
"Here, then," said he, "is a charter to the lands of Gilmanscleugh"--holding out the parchment. "I got it from the king as my satisfaction; and now we may indeed say, as you strangely predicted, that Gilmanscleugh hath served both of our sons."
On the following day, the unfortunate son of Harden was buried; and, long afterwards, the lands of Gilmanscleugh remained in the family under the name of Harden's Revenge.
THE PHYSIOGNOMIST'S TALE.
Hill and valley were clad in the cold and glistening mantle of winter, and the snow floated softly, though chillingly, against the cheek of a young and apparently weary traveller, who was plodding his way along the high road towards Annan. He was a youth of about nineteen, tall and good-looking, apparently of the labouring class, and carried a small bundle on a stick over his shoulder. I happened to be walking homewards in the same direction, and had been for some time watching him with great interest--my attention having been excited by his handsome and intelligent countenance, and by the expression of deep and settled sorrow which clouded it. Absorbed in the gloom of his own thoughts, he seemed not to heed the cold, and bleak, and desolate scene around him; or perhaps it might be more congenial to his feelings than the brightest landscape of summer; for who has not felt, in the first hours of grief and deprivation, a morbid seeking after, and clinging to, objects which serve to cherish and keep alive our feelings of gloom and depression? He started, as if awakened from a dream, when I addressed him with some trifling remark upon the weather; but there was something in the tone of his voice, when he answered me, which increased my prepossession in his favour. After some trifling conversation, I took an opportunity to remark, and to express my sympathy for, his evident dejection, at the same time hinting my wish to know the cause of it, and, if possible, to remove it. Many of my readers will no doubt think this sudden and uncalled-for interest in a perfect stranger romantic and injudicious; but I have rather Quixotic opinions on many subjects, and, among others, is a love of judging of character by countenance; and if I choose to run the risk of "paying for my whistle," I do but follow in the footsteps of wiser and better men. Events proved, as the reader will learn in the course of this story, that in this instance, at least, my judgment had not deceived me. The young man was evidently affected by the interest which I seemed to feel in him; and, after some little hesitation, said, with a strong Roxburghshire accent, "I feel grateful for your kindness, sir; yours is the first friendly voice I have heard since I left home, and the accents of sympathy fall as soft upon the wounded spirit as the snow-flakes on the warm ground, melting as they fall."
We were now close to my gate, and I invited the lad to enter and refresh himself. This offer he accepted with the warmest thanks; and when seated by the comfortable fire in the kitchen, from which I dismissed for a short time my only servant, he told me the simple tale of his sorrows. I am not enough of a Scotchman to attempt to do justice to his national dialect; so much the better, perhaps, for my English readers; but I fear that what I gain in fluency I shall lose in expression. His name, he said, was Dalzell; he was the son of a respectable and thriving merchant in Kelso, who had given him, in his early years, the best education the place afforded, with the view of preparing him, at a future day, for the ministry; but before he was fifteen years old, his father, who was commonly reputed wealthy, died insolvent, and his mother and he were left in a state of utter destitution. Grief for the loss of her husband, combined with anxiety of mind, occasioned by the unexpected change in her circumstances, shortened the days of his beloved mother, and he was left in the world alone. A neighbouring farmer, pitying his distress, took him into his service, and treated him with the greatest kindness and consideration. In this place he had remained nearly four years, and had every reason to think that his master looked upon him more in the light of a friend than a servant. He had done his duty faithfully and conscientiously, because it _was_ his duty; but he was not happy; his thoughts were constantly reverting to former days, and to his blighted prospects, and he began to feel thoroughly discontented and disgusted with his menial situation, when, all at once, a powerful and absorbing feeling, like Aaron's serpent, swallowed all the rest. He loved! In the moments when his impatient spirit most winced beneath the yoke of servitude, light as it was, one glance at the bright blue eye and winning smile of Grace Douglas was sufficient to chase the cloud from his brow, and to cheer his heart with the thought that he had still something worth living for. She was his master's only daughter, just seventeen, and as bright and beautiful a creature as ever the eye of a lover rested upon. Even her beauty, however, would have failed in making any impression on the senses of the gloomy and discontented youth, had not the better feelings of his heart been excited by her tender sympathy. She knew his story; and, by her silent and unobtrusive attentions, showed her pity for his misfortunes. Her tones of kindness invested her, in his opinion, with a charm beyond mere beauty; his proud heart was melted, and his long-pent-up affections were lavished upon this new object with a violence that alarmed himself. It was not long before he was awakened to the consciousness that his love was returned; but that consciousness, blissful as it seemed at first, only gave additional bitterness to his reflections, when he thought of the difference in their respective situations. Poor, friendless, and dependent, a labourer working for his daily bread, how could he hope to gain the wealthy farmer's consent to a union with his daughter? and without _that_ consent, she had said that, much as she loved him, she never would be his. Prompt and impetuous, his resolution was soon adopted; he could not bear suspense, and was determined to put an end to it at once. He told his master all; told him that he could not bear to deceive him; that he loved his daughter, but that he was well aware it would be madness and presumption in him, situated as he was at present, to hope for his approval of his passion; that he could not live in the presence of the object of his hopeless affection; but that he meant to depart, and to endeavour, by his own exertions in some other sphere of life, to remove what he hoped was the only bar to his wishes--his poverty; his birth and education, he said, were equal to her own, and he trusted that his master had never had occasion to think otherwise than well of his private character. The good farmer was much surprised and affected by this disclosure, and, in reply, spoke in the warmest terms of commendation of his young friend; but said that, as a prudent father, he could not think of giving his consent to a union which the want of means might render an unhappy one to both parties; and that, much as he esteemed him, and grieved as he would be to part with him, he perfectly agreed as to the propriety and necessity of his departure. Next day, followed by the tears and good wishes of all the inmates of the farm, he left the house, a sorrowful but a sanguine wanderer. He had met his mistress before his departure; their parting was sad and tender. He vowed unwavering constancy and attachment, but would not accept an offered pledge of the same kind from her, leaving her free, he said, to think of or forget him. He told her he felt he was meant for better things; that brighter days would come; and that then he would return to prove that he was worthy of her. His intention, he said, was to go to sea; he had always a secret liking for it; and in the war which was now raging, he had no doubt that opportunities of distinguishing himself would present themselves. He was determined to do his duty steadily and perseveringly; her image would be ever present with him, to cheer him in the hour of danger, and to nerve him to exertion. With such a prize in view, he said, he felt confident in his own resolution, and was sanguine in his hope that fortune would eventually smile upon him.
Such was the simple and affecting tale of the wayfarer. I was as much pleased with the modest, yet firm and determined manner in which he expressed himself, as with the narrative itself. I did not attempt to dissuade him from his purpose, but, on the contrary, urged him to persevere. I told him of the many gallant commanders who had distinguished themselves in the naval annals of their country, and who had risen to rank and fame from as humble a condition as his own. It was with the greatest difficulty I persuaded him to accept of pecuniary assistance to help him on his journey, and then only on the score of its being a loan, which, if he lived, he could at some future time repay.
"I shall never forget your kindness to a friendless stranger, sir," said he, as he grasped my hand at parting. "To have met with such an unexpected friendship at my first outset, I may well consider a favourable omen; and I trust that the recollection of it will act as an additional incentive to prove myself worthy of it."
Years passed on, and I heard nothing further of my interesting acquaintance. In the meantime, I had become a husband and father; and my wife, to whom I had related the story of the young adventurer, felt equally interested with myself in his welfare, and we used often to speculate as to his probable fate. Ten years after the rencounter with which my story commences, I was sitting reading to my wife in the drawing-room, after breakfast, when we were startled by a knock at the front-door, followed by the servant's announcement that a gentleman wished to speak to me. I desired that he might be shown up-stairs, and hastened to meet him, thinking it was one of my neighbours, from whom I expected a visit. But what was my surprise when a tall, handsome man, with dark, sunburnt features, and whose person was quite strange to me, grasped my hand, and shook it most cordially, at the same time smiling as he watched the doubting scrutiny of my gaze, as a faint recollection of his features crossed my mind.
"I see you are puzzled, my dear sir," said he; "you do not remember me."
"I have a confused idea of having seen features like yours before," said I; "but where or when I cannot at this moment recall to my recollection."
"I do not wonder at your not remembering _me_," replied he, "but your disinterested kindness made an impression on a grateful heart, which neither time nor change have weakened. I am, or rather was, the boy Dalzell--the poor, friendless, desolate wanderer, whom you cheered with your benevolence, and animated by your advice. Do you remember me now?"
"I do--I do," said I, returning his warm grasp; "and most happy am I to see you again, and to see you thus; for I perceive that your sanguine hopes have not been disappointed, and that you have risen from your humble station to one more worthy of you."
"Fortune has indeed favoured me beyond my deserts," answered he. "I told you that my having met so kind a friend at my outset was a fortunate omen; it proved so. I entered the service as a boy before the mast; I am now a lieutenant in His Majesty's navy."
"I congratulate you with all my heart; but your modesty must not attribute your success to good fortune alone, there must have been merit likewise to deserve it. But I forget; I have a new acquaintance to introduce to you--my wife; a new acquaintance, but an old friend, I can assure you; for she has long been acquainted with, and felt interested in, your story."
My wife cordially welcomed him, and expressed her gratification at his return home in health and happiness.
"Alas, madam!" said he, "happiness, I fear, is as far from me as ever. I told my kind friend there, that I felt confident fortune would smile upon me: I was then a sanguine boy. Fortune _has_ smiled upon me; I have risen from the humble station in which I commenced my career; I have gained for myself rank and competency; and I am now a disappointed man--the hope that cheered me on in my career is blighted. I returned to the home in which I had left all that was most dear to me in life: I found it deserted; my old master was dead--died in poverty; and Grace--my Grace, was gone, no one knew whither."
We were both too much shocked at first by this announcement to be able to express our sympathy; but, on reflection, I expressed my conviction that there was no cause for serious alarm; that, while there was life, there was hope; and that no doubt he would, ere long, succeed in gaining some intelligence which would lead to the discovery of the orphan's retreat. I told him I would write to some friends in the neighbourhood of Kelso, who would, I was sure, be happy to exert themselves in making the necessary inquiries; and that I was able and willing to accompany him as soon as he thought proper, to assist him in his search. He was much gratified by the offer of my services, which he seemed inclined to avail himself of immediately.
"No, no, my friend," said I; "we have too lately found you, to part with you so easily. You must stay with us a few days at least, until I receive answers from Kelso, and afterwards, when we have succeeded in the object of our search, make this house your home till you have one of your own."
At first he seemed rather impatient at the delay; but gradually became more tranquillised and cheerful. He gratefully accepted my offer of extended hospitality, and pleased us by the frankness with which he seemed immediately to take us at our word, and to feel himself at home. We were both delighted with him; his manners were as pleasing as his conversation was entertaining. On my requesting him to favour us with an account of his adventures since we parted, he replied, "No one has a better claim than yourself, my dear sir, to be informed of the progress of an adventure of which you witnessed and cheered the commencement; but I feel an unwillingness to commence a story, the hero of which is the narrator, who, to do justice to it, must speak more of himself than is either seemly or agreeable."
"Oh," said I, "do not allow your modesty to stand in the way of our enjoyment. Speak fully and freely, in the consciousness that you are talking to friends, who will be pleased with the narration of the most trifling incidents connected with one in whose fate they have always felt the warmest interest."
He bowed, and without further preface commenced as follows:--"After I left you, I made the best of my way to London, and from thence to Portsmouth, where I volunteered on board the Dareall frigate, fitting out for the Cape station. I was asked if I wanted to ship as an able or ordinary seaman, and replied that I had never been at sea, but that I was active and willing. The lieutenant seemed pleased with my appearance and with my answer. 'You're just the lad for us, then,' said he; 'if you're active and willing, we'll soon make you _able_. I like the cut of your jib, my lad; and, if you perform as well as you promise, I've no doubt you'll make a smart fellow yet. Here, Telford,' said he to a boatswain's mate standing near, 'I give this youngster into your charge; make a man of him.'
"'Ay, ay, sir. Come along, young blowhard,' said he, 'as the first leaftennan has trusted your edicashun to me, we must saw wood at once, and see what we can make of that block of yourn. Can you handle a marlinspike?'
"'Can you reef or steer, or heave the lead?'
"'Then what the devil _can_ you do?'
"'I can read and write, and keep accounts.'
"'Oh, ho!--a reg'lar long-shore gemman!--the makings of a sea-lawyer! And so you can't do nothin' but read and write?'
"'Yes, there's one thing I can do, and am determined to do--to learn everything you will take the trouble to teach me. _You_ knew nothing before you were taught--how can you expect _me_ to do so?'
"'Well, there's reason in that, anyhow,' said he; 'and if so be you pays attention, why, there's no saying but we may see _you_ a bosun's mate some o' these days. But I say, young un, make your number. The poor gulpin doesn't understand me'--(this was said half aside). 'What's your name?'
"'Dalzell! Dalzell!' said he; 'blow'd if that isn't a Kelso name! Where d'ye hail from, eh?--where d'ye come from?'
"'Ay, that's as plain as the nose on your face, whenever you open your mouth. Now, nobody would never go for to doubt me to be an Englishman by my lingo. But I'll tell you a bit of a secret--I'm a Scotchman born and bred.'
"'Well, I can tell you a secret too, if you'll promise not to tell it.'
"'Speak on, youngster. I'll never blab till you give me leave. I'm as silent as the ship's bell, as never speaks till it's tolled.'
"'Well, then, _Telford's_ a Kelso name, as well as Dalzell. Many a penny-bap have I bought, when I was at school, at old Jamie Telford's; and, if I'm not mistaken, I'm speaking to his son.'
"'Did you know the old boy? Bless his old heart! Well, you're right for once in your life, my boy; but how the devil did you find me out?'
"'I've often heard the old man talk of his son Tom, the boatswain's mate; and your name and your talking of Kelso together made me fancy you must be the man.'
"'Well, that beats cock-fighting! Give us your hand, my hearty! I'll stick to you through thick and thin, for the sake of the old town and them as lives in it, and if I don't, call me a liar, that's all, and see what I'll give you. But who are _your_ people? I suppose that's part o' the secret you were going to tell me?'
"'It was; and you will keep it?'
"'In coorse; didn't I tell you so afore?'
"I then told him my story, which he heard with great attention, and which evidently increased his respect for me. 'I have often heard tell of your father,' said he, 'and for his sake I'll do all I can for his son. I liked the looks of you before--I like you ten times better now; it shan't be my fault if you don't larn your duty. I'll live to see you an _admiral_ yet--who knows? You're right, however, to keep your story secret, for some o' these devil's limbs would be jeering about your being a gemman in a cog, as they calls it, come to sea to wear out his old toggery.'
"The good-hearted fellow kept his promise. Never had scholar a more zealous and indefatigable teacher, and never had teacher a pupil more anxious to avail himself of his advantages. We were detained for nearly three weeks, and I made the most of my opportunities. During the day, my friend Telford employed all his leisure time in initiating me into the mysteries of knotting and splicing, and in teaching me the names and uses of the various ropes; and at night, when there were none to laugh at my awkward exhibitions, he encouraged me to go aloft, and to learn to make active use of my hands and feet. When we went on shore on liberty, he used to hire a boat, and teach me how to handle the oar: in fact, my kind instructor neglected no means of teaching me how to make myself useful. My whole heart and soul were in the matter, and my progress was proportionably rapid; and I was cheered on to redoubled exertion by the kind encouragement of the first lieutenant, who complimented Telford highly on his success. Before the ship sailed, I was on a par, as to qualifications, with many who, without a similar stimulus to exertion, had been some time at sea. I could hand, reef, and--no, I couldn't steer--but I knew all the marks on the lead-line, and had often taken a sly cast. I was constantly on the watch for instruction, always on the alert to start forward when any particular duty was required, and, by evincing a habitual desire to do my duty actively and well, I soon gained ground in the opinion of my superiors. The caterer of the midshipman's mess had been disappointed in his servant, and wished to promote me to that _high_ honour. I thanked him heartily for his kind intentions, but declined his offer; as I wished, I said, to learn my duty as _seaman_. This coming to the ears of the first lieutenant, increased his good-will towards me. 'We shall make something of that young man yet,' said he. A circumstance occurred a few days before we sailed, fortunate in its results as far as concerned me, but which might have terminated fatally. The captain's son, one of our midshipmen, a fine boy of thirteen, had been forward on the forecastle with some orders, and, in returning aft again, stopped to look over the gangway. How the accident happened I know not, but he lost his balance, and toppled over into the water. The men were below at supper at the time, but I happened to have just come on deck, and had passed him to go forward, when I heard the plunge, and, turning round, missed him from the deck. I instantly surmised what had happened, and, raising the cry of 'A man overboard!' I dashed over after him. There was a strong tide running, and objects were indistinct in the dusk of the evening, but I fortunately caught sight of him, and reached him just in time, for he was sinking. By dint of great exertion, I contrived to support him while I edged down to a buoy, some distance astern, to which we clung till taken off by a boat from the frigate. The captain, who was on board at the time, thanked and praised me before the whole ship's company for my gallantry, as he was pleased to call it, in saving the life of his son; and the boy, after whispering to his father, came up to me, and presenting me with his watch, begged that I would accept it as a mark of his gratitude. I have it still. From that day, both father and son behaved with the most marked kindness to me, and took every opportunity of showing their good-will. For some weeks after we sailed for the Cape: nothing particular occurred beyond the regular routine of duty; but, at the end of that time, the captain wanted some one to assist his secretary, and the word was passed round the decks by the master-at-arms, for those who were good writers among the crew, to send in specimens of their penmanship. I was one of the candidates. Our specimens were sent to the captain, and all the writers were ordered aft.
"'Who is the writer of this specimen?' said the captain, pointing to mine.
"'I am, sir.'
"'And is the motto your own?' (It was, 'When a man's foot is on the first step of the ladder, he should never rest till he reach the top.')
"'Indeed!--you seem to try to act on that principle. Go on as well as you have begun, and there is no telling where you may stop. In the meantime, you may act as assistant to my secretary.' He then called the first lieutenant, Mr Barlow, and walked up and down the deck with him some time; after which Mr Barlow beckoned to me to come to him:--'Dalzell,' said he, 'Captain Edwards and myself have both had reason to be satisfied with you since you joined the ship, and, as you have proved yourself to be qualified to assist his clerk, we wish to keep you separate from the ship's company, and to allow you to mess with the midshipmen, if they have no objection.'
"I felt a flushing of the cheek and a fluttering of the heart. I felt that _the first step of the ladder_ was under my foot.
"'I hope they can make no objection to me on account of character, sir; and my birth and education place me nearly on an equality with them.'
"'Ah! how came you to be here then? You took to bad courses, I suppose, and so your friends sent you to sea, to reclaim you: was that it?'
"'No, sir. Misfortune and necessity brought me here, united with the love of the profession of a sailor. It is a duty, however, which I owe to you as well as myself, on the present occasion, to appear in my true colours; and to tell you a tale which I would otherwise have kept secret, and which is only known to myself and my kind friend and townsman, Telford, the boatswain's mate.' I then proceeded to relate to him what I have already told you. Both the captain and Mr Barlow appeared to be much interested in my narrative, and were pleased to compliment me upon my independence of spirit, and the clear and distinct manner in which I expressed myself. 'After this,' said Captain Edwards, 'there can be no bar to your messing with the young gentlemen, as I suppose you have no objection to their hearing your story?'
"'None whatever, sir.'
"'Begging your pardon, Captain Frederick,' said Mr Barlow; 'I know a midshipman's berth too well, and he may tell of his birth and his misfortunes; but let him know the love, sir, and you'll never hear the end of it.'
"'I daresay you're quite right, Mr Barlow. Dalzell, I have no doubt you will be discreet in your communications, for your own sake.'
"That same day I was admitted into the midshipmen's mess, and was treated by them with the greatest kindness and consideration. My life was now a comparatively easy one, as I had hardly any duty to perform, except that of writing; but I determined in my own mind, if possible, to prove myself as quick as a clerk as I had endeavoured to do as a sailor. I was fortunate enough, in my new capacity, not only to please my immediate superior, but to add to the captain's good opinion of me. One stormy night, as we were nearing the Cape, I was letting go some rope on the poop, the hands having been called out to reef topsails, when something fell heavily upon the deck almost close to my feet. The night was so dark that I could not distinguish what it was; but I thought that a coil of rope, or something of that kind, had been thrown out of the top by the motion of the ship, and I began to feel about, to discover what it might be. My hand touched something soft and warm, and at the same time I heard a faint groan. I immediately gave the alarm, and a quartermaster brought up a lantern, by the light of which we discovered the lifeless body of young Hawkins, one of our midshipmen. He had been up furling the mizzen-royal, had lost his footing, and been precipitated to the deck. Poor fellow! he never spoke again--that groan had been his last. A few days after his death, the captain called the hands out, and told me, before them all, that he had entered me on the ship's books as midshipman, as a reward for my good behaviour; and he had no doubt that the same high sense of duty which had been the means of raising me to the quarterdeck would incite me to do credit to the appointment. He then told the ship's company to obey my orders for the future as their officer, and then dismissed them. I was immediately surrounded by the midshipmen, all of whom cordially congratulated me upon my appointment, and resolved to have a jollification on the occasion. I was much amused with my old friend Telford, who took the earliest opportunity of touching his hat to me, and calling me Mr Dalzell.
"'Why, Telford, what makes you so distant?' said I, offering my hand at the same time.
"'No, sir, thank ye,' said he; 'I knows my place better nor that. If so be you likes to give us your flipper down in your cabin, well and good; but not here, sir--not afore the people--'twould look too free-and-easy like. I'm plain Tom Telford still; but you've got a handle to your name now, Mr Dalzell.'
"My messmates laughed heartily, and Tom was desired to come down to the berth, where he shook me heartily by the hand, and wished me all manner of success, and then tossed off a tumbler of strong grog in the most approved fashion: nose invisible--eyes raised heavenward--out-stretched little finger--gurgling noise in the throat, ending with a suffocating gasp of enjoyment, and a sweeping over his mouth with the cuff of his jacket.
"I pass over a number of trifling incidents in my naval career, and shall proceed at once to the sad catastrophe by which I was deprived of my kind friend and benefactor, the captain, and of most of those with whom I had passed so many happy days. We were lying at anchor in Table Bay, one fine afternoon in November, the 4th of the month. The weather was perfectly calm, but there was a heavy swell, and clouds had been for some time gathering to the northward, and many of our weather-Solomons predicted a storm. In the midshipmen's berth, however, there were no croakers. It was the eve of the 'Gunpowder Plot,' and many a tale was told of boyish pranks, and of the bonfires and fireworks of schoolboy days. There was no care for the future, no anticipation of evil; all was life, and thoughtlessness, and mirth. Alas! alas! how little did we think what one day might bring forth! At daylight of the 5th, it was blowing a heavy gale from the northward, a quarter from which there is no shelter in Table Bay. The sea came tumbling in in long and heavy surges, and the ship plunged deeply and violently. The hands were called out at ten o'clock--'Down yards and masts!' The fore and main yards were lowered, and the topmasts were struck, and the ship, relieved by the removal of so much top weight, rode more easily. At noon, so little apprehension was felt for the effects of the storm, that a salute was fired in commemoration of the day. The gale gradually increased in violence; and at half-past twelve, after a heavy pitch, the cry was heard, 'The small bower has parted!'--'Let go the sheet!' was the order in reply, followed by the heavy plunge of the anchor. Such a mountainous sea was running at this time, that every soul on board seemed to anticipate the fatal result that followed. The ship was pitching bows under, shipping green seas over all--the sky was murky black--vivid flashes of lightning burst from it almost incessantly--and the loud rattling of the thunder, every now and then, was heard far above the howling of the gale and the roaring of the sea. Every eye was fixed in eager anxiety on the cables, which every now and then were buried in the sea, and then, as the ship rose to the swell, were seen far ahead of her, high above the surface of the water, stiff and rigid as bars of iron.
"I know not how it happened, but, amid all the uproar around me, surrounded by faces which spoke but too plainly fears for the result, and conscious that our danger was imminent, I felt a kind of unnatural buoyancy of spirits, a secret conviction that, whatever might happen, I should escape unhurt. Telford stared at me, and muttered, 'The lad's fey, as they used to say in the North.' At two o'clock, the best bower cable parted, and the spare anchor was let go, but the cable went almost immediately. Our danger was now most imminent; our sole dependence was on our sheet cable; and it was evident to all on board that _that_ could not long resist the heavy strain. Our ensign was now hoisted, union downward, that well-known signal of extreme distress; and the mournful booming of our guns seemed to our excited imaginations to be the knell of our passing minutes. At seven o'clock, a cry was heard, which, like an electric shock, was passed from one end of the ship to the other in a moment, stunning the most daring spirits with its dreaded import. The sheet cable had parted, and the ship was at the mercy of the wind and sea. An order was now given for every man to provide for his own safety, and a scene of the greatest confusion ensued. For about ten minutes, the ship continued to drive before the wind, and then struck, with a dreadful crash, upon a reef of rocks, broadside to the shore. The main and mizzen masts were immediately cut away, and the foremast soon after went by the board. To add to our horrors, the gun-room was discovered to be on fire, and in a short time the smoke came eddying up from the different hatchways in such volumes as to prevent any communication with the lower deck. Feeble would have been the efforts of man in opposing the devouring flame; but here, element was fighting against element, and the sea claimed the mastery; the vast bodies of water which were constantly dashing over the ship effected, in about ten minutes, what no human exertion could have performed, and we were saved from a fiery, to anticipate a watery death. The scene on board the wreck was now awful in the extreme; every sea that broke over her swept away new victims; and those who were left clinging to life with the energy of despair, shuddered, as they missed their companions, in the anticipation of their own approaching doom. Several of the crew, maddened by the horror of a slow and lingering death, plunged desperately into the jaws of their watery tomb, to put an end at once to their suspense; and others, in a vain attempt to reach the shore, were carried out to sea by the eddy, and perished miserably, crying in vain for help from their helpless shipmates. About half-past nine, the poop was washed away, and forming a large raft, afforded a flattering prospect of deliverance. Seventy or eighty of the crew jumped overboard, and, by great exertion, contrived to reach it. We who remained on board watched their motions with intense anxiety, and, for the moment, forgot our own danger in the contemplation of theirs. An involuntary shout burst from us, when we saw them reaching the raft in safety, and borne onwards towards the shore; but, alas! a heavy sea struck the floating wreck when only a short distance from the beach, and, turning it over and over, engulfed all its wretched occupants.
"'Poor fellows!' said Telford, who was clinging to the ring-bolts by my side, 'their cruise is up! They've reached their anchorage, and we may get our ground-tackle ready as soon as we like!'
"'Oh no!' replied I; 'while there's life there's hope, Telford. Keep up your heart, man--we shall weather this bout yet.'
"'Heaven in its mercy grant that _you_ may, Mr Dalzell! but there is a weight on _my_ heart, a dark feeling that my hour has come. I shall never see the bonny banks of Tweed again--never, never! If you should live, sir, to get back to Kelso, tell my good old father----'
"'Hold on for your life!' shouted I, as a giant sea came rushing and roaring towards the wreck.
"It burst over us; and when, gasping and half-suffocated, I was able to open my eyes, I looked round--my poor companion was gone. A dark body was visible, for a moment, on the surface of the sea, some forty yards distant, and that was the last I saw of my kind friend Telford. Soon after this, the wreck gave a heavy lurch towards the shore, and then, as the sea receded, rolled back again, and separated into three parts. I caught hold of some part of the floating wreck, and, after being repeatedly washed off, and recovering my station, I contrived to lash myself securely to it, and then exhausted nature found relief in insensibility. When I recovered, I found myself lying on the beach, surrounded by the bodies of my unfortunate shipmates, and, raising myself on my knees, I breathed a silent thanksgiving to Heaven for my almost miraculous escape. Hearing a faint groan near me, I groped my way towards the spot whence the sound proceeded--the night was very dark, but a flash of lightning revealed to me the object of my search. It was the body of a seaman stretched upon his back--the right arm extended on the sand, and the left covering the face. At first I thought it was a corpse that lay before me, so stiff, so cold, so motionless did it seem to be; but, on putting my hand on the breast, I felt the pulsation of the heart, and in a few moments low stifled moanings were heard, like those of a person labouring under the influence of nightmare. I spoke to the sleeper, but without receiving any answer; but, the muttering still continuing, I shook him gently.
"'Holloa!' shouted he, as he started to his feet.
"What was my surprise and delight, when I recognised the voice of Telford, whom I thought I had seen swallowed up by the waves.
"'Telford!' said I, 'is that you?'
"'Why, who else should it be?' replied he; 'eh, old boy, who else should it be?'
"To my great surprise, I now perceived that my poor shipmate was half-seas-over, as we call it.
"'Telford.' said I, 'do you not know me?'
"'Oh, Mr Dalzell! I ax your pardon; I didn't know it was you, seeing that all cats are grey alike in the dark. I've had a reglar snooze; but I hope I may never snooze again, if I'm to have such another dream.'
"'What have you been dreaming about?'
"'Why, sir, I dreamed I was a-drowning, and that I was going down, down, down, when I heard your voice calling out, 'Come, Telford, I'm not an admiral yet;' and with that you took me by the cuff of the neck, and then I opened my eyes, and you had a hold o' me, sure enough. But d--n--ax your pardon, sir,' said he, fumbling about; 'but it's enough to make a parson swear.'
"'Why, what's the matter?'
"'Why, sir, I've lost my call; no wonder my pipe's put out.'
[Footnote 15: Silver whistle, used by the boatswain and his mates.]
"'Is that all? You may thank Heaven you did not lose your life. You had little hope of saving it when we last parted.'
"'Indeed! why, then, it can't have been a dream, after all. Blowed if I don't think I'm a little crazy in my upper works; my head is all in a whirl, and there's fifty thousand sparks dancing before my eyes. I say, Mr Dalzell, what was that you said about losing life, and all that gammon? Ax your pardon, sir--hopes no offence,' continued he, laying his hand with drunken familiarity upon my shoulder. 'Holloa! why, you're as wet as a half-wrung swab, and I'm not much better myself! What's the meaning of that?'
"'Why, the meaning of it is, that we have both had a most providential escape from drowning. You must be crazy, indeed, if you have already forgot the sad events of the last few hours. When you were swept off the wreck of the poor old Dareall, I little expected to see you again. I could almost have sworn that I saw you go down.'
"'The wreck!--ay, I remember it all now! Providential escape, _indeed_. Only think of a man, as my old father used to say, putting an enemy into his mouth to steal away his brains! I had clean forgotten all about it. Howsoever, I'll take my 'davy I was so full of water, that, afore I knowed what I was about, I took rum enough in to make me a _tumbler_--ha, ha!'
"'You seem to treat the matter very lightly, Telford; I see nothing laughable in it.'
"'Why, Lord love your honour, when the grog's in, the wit's out, you know, as the old song says.'
"'But where did you get the grog? You were sober enough, and sad enough, goodness knows, when we parted; and how did you escape?'
"'Why, your honour, I rode ashore on the back of a breaker, and, as soon as I landed, I knocked my horse on the head, and found a drop of capital rum inside, and, as I was devilish cold and wet, I made a little too free with it mayhap.'
[Footnote 16: Breaker--a small cask.]
"'Well, well, it's fortunate it's no worse. Can you walk, do you think? We had better make the best of our way to the town.'
"'Walk!--to be sure I can, your honour, though perhaps I may steer a little wild or so; but, if you'll heave ahead, I'll follow in your wake, and then you won't be so apt to notice me if I give a yaw now and then.'
"We soon fell in with a party of light dragoons, by whom we were most kindly welcomed, and who assisted us in making our way to Cape Town. We afterwards heard that these gallant fellows had greatly distinguished themselves during that awful night by their humane daring; forcing their horses into the surf, to rescue the struggling survivors of the crew, many of whom would have perished but for their timely aid. In the town, we met with several of our unfortunate shipmates, to whom and to ourselves the inhabitants behaved with the greatest kindness and attention. At daylight next morning, a mournful sight presented itself; and we then ascertained the full extent of our sad loss. The whole line of beach was thickly strewed with dead bodies, and fragments of the wreck. There were only four officers and about fifty men saved--three of the lieutenants, the purser, surgeon, and two midshipmen, were fortunately on shore at the time of the accident; all the rest of the officers, and about three hundred and fifty seamen, perished. Three waggon-loads of corpses were taken to a place near the hospital, and interred; and about one hundred bodies, dreadfully mangled, were buried in one large pit on the beach, near where they were found. The body of my kind friend, the captain, was never recovered, but those of the other officers were interred, the Sunday following, with military honours. So ended my unfortunate outset in the Dareall. The survivors of her crew were drafted into other ships, and the officers were sent home by the first opportunity. I afterwards joined the Sunbeam frigate, and in due course of time got my promotion in her. As soon as she was paid off, I hastened to Kelso, fondly hoping there to find the prize, the hopes of obtaining which had for years cheered me onwards. You know how I have been disappointed. And now, my kind friends, the story of my adventures is ended."
"Oh," said I, "you have told us the _story_, but not the _whole_ story; you have still an account to give of your cruise in the Sunbeam; do not flatter yourself you are going to escape so easily."
"You must excuse me, my dear sir; I am not accustomed to act as my own trumpeter; when Telford comes, he may take the office upon himself."
"What became of that poor fellow? He must be a rough diamond."
"Rough enough; but as good-hearted a fellow, and as fine a specimen of his class, as ever lived. I wonder he has not been here before this time, for I told him I meant to come here; and he said he would give you 'a hail' as he went past, to let you know I was coming. I suppose he has 'hove to,' as he would call it, by the way."
"But how does he know the place?"
"Oh, he knew the neighbourhood from my description of it immediately; and, said he, 'if I make his number when I get there, some one will tell me where he hangs out.'"
"Well, I shall be glad to see him whenever he comes. Anna, my love," said I to my wife, "Mr Dalzell will be ready, I daresay, to do justice to your luncheon whenever it makes its appearance."
We were comfortably seated at the table, discussing our strawberries and cream, when the sound of a loud shrill whistle thrilled through our ears, followed by a rough hoarse voice, bellowing words which my wife and I could not understand. We both started from our seats, and ran to the window, which was open to admit the cool air, though the blind was down to exclude the sun. Dalzell sat still, and burst out laughing. On drawing up the blind, we saw a stout, dark-looking man, with an open and cheerful countenance, dressed like a sailor. His little shining tarpaulin hat was _flapped_ down upon the back of his head, and his long black hair hung in curls about his forehead and ears. His left arm was "absent without leave" from his empty sleeve, and in his right hand he held the little silver pipe which had caused all the commotion.
"Ax your pardon, sir," said he, touching his hat, when he saw me; "I made bold to call the hands out to muster, to see if one Leaftennan Dalzell would answer to his name. Hopes no offence, sir."
"Ah, Telford, my fine fellow, how are you?" said Dalzell, peeping over our shoulders.
"God bless your honour!" said he, respectfully raising his hat; "I'm as pleased to hear the sound of your voice as if it were the pipe to grog."
"That's saying a great deal, Tom. Why, you sway about _now_ as if you were a little top-heavy."
"Oh no, your honour; I've only been freshening the nip once or twice, and my bread-basket's a little empty."
[Footnote 17: Sailor's term for taking a dram.]
"Well, come in, Tom," said I, "and we'll try to fill it for you."
Tom was soon established in a comfortable berth in the kitchen, and did ample justice to the good cheer which was placed in abundance before him. As soon as he had good time to shake his cargo into its place, he was summoned into the parlour. At first he demurred a little to change his quarters, saying that he was more in his own place in the galley than in the cabin; but his reluctance was overcome when he saw spirits and water precede him. When he came in, he stood in the doorway, making sundry bobbing attempts at a bow, twirling his hat round and round, and looking as bashful as a young maiden.
[Footnote 18: Kitchen.]
"Come in, Tom," said I. "Sit down, and tell us all your adventures."
Tom, however, was too polite a man, in his own way, to sit down in the presence of his officer, till the lieutenant said--
"Come, come, Tom, bring yourself to an anchor at once."
Thus authorised, he plumped into a chair, and, putting his hat under it, carefully deposited there a large quid of tobacco, which he dislodged from its snug quarters in his left cheek.
"Now, Tom, carry on," said Mr Dalzell.
"Why, your honour," said Tom, slyly glancing at the table, "I'm in no spirits for spinning a yarn just now."
I laughed, and filled a tumbler with whisky and water, to which Tom paid his respects with evident satisfaction.
"Mr Dalzell has told us," said I, "of your escape from the wreck of the Dareall--and a wonderful one it was."
"You _may_ say that," replied he; "I never had such a narrow squeak in my life."
"But tell us something about yourself, and Mr Dalzell. I suppose you have been in action together?"
"Action!--Lord love ye, sir, we were hardly ever out of it! If I were to tell you all, I'd have nothing else to do for the next week. I always said I'd live to see him an admiral, and I say so still; and if ever man deserved a flag, there sits the man, for a braver officer and a better seaman never trod a plank, though I says it as shouldn't say it, seeing as how I first taught him to reef and steer."
"Come, come, Tom," interrupted Dalzell, "if you are going to spin such a yarn as that, the sooner you cut it the better."
"Ax your honour's pardon, but I must speak. Didn't you save my life in that 'ere action with the Flower-de-louce? Haven't you been the best friend to me I ever had? Haven't you often saved me from the gangway when I've dipped my whiskers too deep into the grog-kid? And can I sit quiet with such a glass as this before me?" emptying the tumbler as he spoke.
"Well, that's enough, Tom. If you're so fond of your grog, you had better get on with your story as fast as you can, for not a drop more shall you taste till you have finished."
"But, bless your heart, sir, how am I to begin? I'm like a marine adrift on a grating, or an ass in a hay-field. I've got lots o' yarns to tell, but I don't know which way to turn myself among them."
"Well," said Dalzell, "I'll go and take a walk, and leave you to your own devices;" and he left the room.
"Now, your honour," said Tom, addressing me, "I'll tell you a famous trick our captain sarved the Johnny Croppös. He was a dashing fellow that, and never stuck at nuffen: a reglar fire-eater--'ud face the devil himself. We was a-cruising off the coast of France, when the look-out hails the deck--'A strange sail ahead!' Well, there was crack on everything, below and aloft--clear ship for action--beat to quarters, and all that; and we were soon near enough to see a snug, business-looking craft, brig-rigged, standing to the westward under easy sail. So we fired a gun to leeward, and hoisted English colours, and she did the same, and hauled her wind to join us. When she came within hail, we found she was an English privateer, and the captain of her said he had something of consequence to tell our commander, and he was ordered to come on board. Well, the news soon spread over the ship, that the privateer had seen two French merchantmen at anchor under the guns of a small battery; that he was not strong enough to cut them out himself, and that he had hailed a king's ship the day before to tell her so, but he was not believed.
[Footnote 19: Nautical for "Crapaud"--nickname for the French.]
"'Well,' says our captain, says he, 'I'll have a slap at them at all events.'
"'I'll lead the way, sir, if you'll allow me.'
"'But'--and here they went into the cabin with the first luff; and, after staying there for some time, out they comes, and the captain of the privateer jumps into his boat, and shoves off.
"'You understand?' shouted the skipper to him.
"Our captain looked as pleased as Punch, and we all saw there was something in the wind. The privateer stood to the French coast under easy sail, and we followed in her wake. Word was passed for volunteers for a cutting-out job, and there wasn't a man o' the ship's company as didn't come forward; but they couldn't all go--that was sartain; and there was many a long face amongst those that were not chosen; but the others, you'd a-thought they were going to a _hop_ at the point, they were so pleased at the thoughts o' the fun. Well, when we'd got well in sight o' the land, the privateer made all sail, and shaped a course along the coast, and we cracked on in chase; but then we put a drag over the bows to keep us astarn, and though we made a great show, we didn't gain upon her. We all wondered at this strange move, but we wondered still more when we saw French colours flying from our peak, and heard the orders given to fire the bow-chasers, but to aim wide o' the mark. We saw the shot drop into the water, first on the one quarter, then on the other, of the privateer; but devil a one struck her; and she, with her English colours flying, kept peppering away at us with her starn-chasers; but her shot, like ours, all fell wide of the mark. By this time we were well in with the shore, and could see two fine large merchant ships lying at anchor close under the guns of a small battery near the town, which lined the beach of a snug bay. The privateer immediately hauled her wind off the coast, as if afeared o' the guns o' the battery, and we did the same. We could see the beach crowded with people hurrying to look at the running fight between the French frigate, as they thought (she had been one once), and the English privateer. Well, this game lasted for some time; lots o' smoke and noise, for we yawed two or three times to give her a broadside, and to let her get away from us, till at last we gave it up for a bad job, and bore up under easy sail for the bay we had before seen. We stood in, clued all up, and came to an anchor with a very short scope of cable, and brought to, all ready for weighing again. The boats were lowered and manned, and a few jollies were stowed away in the starn-sheets out o' sight. The beach was crowded with people anxious to hear the news; even the swaddies, except two or three sentries, deserted the battery, now that all danger was past, as they thought. Well, the gig pulled towards the shore, just to amuse the Frenchmen, while another boat pulled directly to the battery, and, in quarter less no time, the sentries were knocked down, and the guns were tumbled off their carriages--there were lots o' crowbars and handspikes in the boat. Meantime, two other boats boarded the merchantmen, and afore you could say Jack Robinson, their crews, never dreaming of the English, were secured, their cables cut, and the boats towing them out, without a single shot being fired, or a man hurt. By this time the topsails were at the masthead aboard the frigate, and the anchor weighed, and she stood quietly out of the bay, and hove to. The French ensign was then hauled down, and with three roaring cheers from our ship's company, the red flag of Old England was run up in its stead. In a short time crews were put on board the prizes, the boats were hoisted in, and we shaped our course for the Channel. What do you think o' that now, sir, for a clever move?"
[Footnote 20: Marines.]
[Footnote 21: Soldiers.]
"Capital, capital! I never heard a better. But what part of the play did Mr Dalzell and you act?"
"Oh, I says nuthen. I knows who was the first officer to mount the battery, and who was the man as trod upon his heels; but that is neither here nor there. Kelso for ever! says I. I says nuthen."
I could not help laughing at Tom's expressive "nuthens."
"Kelso for ever, indeed!" said I. "Then the two Kelso men were foremost, eh?"
"It's of no use denying it, sir, or making a secret of what's no secret at all. I believe that job was the 'casion of Mr Dalzell's having a swab tacked to his shoulder."
"A swab!--what's a swab?"
"It's what you long-shore gemmen calls an appleeat, I believe, sir; a bunch o' gold yarns a leaftennan wears on his shoulder."
[Footnote 22: Epaulette.]
"Oh, ay! I understand."
"Oh, how pleased he was when he got his commission some time after; and pleased was I to see his happy face, for I knowed he was a-thinking of the bonny lass he left behind him at Kelso. I hope he'll soon take her in tow now for life."
Great was the sorrow the good-hearted fellow expressed, when I told him of Dalzell's disappointment. He swore he would find Grace Douglas, if she were above ground; and that he would leave no means untried, as long as he had health and strength to persevere.
"Well, but how did you lose your arm, Tom?"
"Oh, your honour, it was in that 'ere action with the Flower-de-louce. We were blazing away at each other as hard as we could lather, and I had jumped into the main-chains to do something I was ordered, when, crack! a musket-ball strikes me on the arm, and I fell overboard as helpless as a sucking-pig; and I'd have gone down like a pig of lead, if Leaftennan Dalzell hadn't banged overboard after me, and supported me to the rudder chains, where we hung till they gave us a rope. Long life to him! says I--I lost my arm, but I got a pension, and we both on us got lots o' prize money."
At this point of Tom's yarn, Mr Dalzell called to me through the window--
"Here are some young visiters coming, Mr Thomson."
I looked out, and replied--
"Oh, they are my two boys. I forgot to tell you that I am a father as well as a husband. The little fellows have been with their nurse, spending the forenoon at my sister's--the house you see there, through the trees. Let us go and meet them."
And out we all sallied, Tom bringing up the rear. As we approached them, the nurse, who was talking and playing with the children, looked up, and, seeing Dalzell, uttered a faint scream, and turned deadly pale.
"Holloa!" said I, hurrying towards her; "what is the matter with the girl?"
My companion, however, was beforehand with me. He rushed past me, caught her in his arms, and, calling her his "dear, dear Grace," kissed her pale cheek till the blood mantled rosy red upon it again; while she murmured, "Dear Edward, then you have not forgot your Grace?"
It was quite a romantic scene altogether, with a slight touch of the ludicrous. There was the girl hanging on Dalzell's arm, half-fainting, her head hanging back, her bonnet off, and her long, fair hair floating in the breeze; while hysterical sobs of joy burst from her every now and then; my little George roaring might and main, and sobbing out, "Naughty man! bite Nelly;" Dalzell, pale and agitated, alternately kissing her cheek and hugging her to his bosom; my wife crying; Tom Telford whirling round and round, waving his hat over his head, and flourishing his empty sleeve in the air; and I, the most sensible person in the group, standing staring in delighted astonishment at this pleasing and unexpected denouement. After the first excitement occasioned by this unlooked-for meeting was over, we all returned to the house, eager to hear Grace Douglas's account of her adventures.
Before she begins, however, I must beg the reader's patience till I relate how she happened to be in my service. About a twelvemonth before, my wife was obliged to part with her nurserymaid, in consequence of her repeated acts of misconduct; and, not being able to replace her in the neighbourhood, she begged me to advertise for one in the public prints. In answer to this advertisement, a young and very lovely woman presented herself, whose appearance immediately prepossessed us in her favour. Her manners were mild and gentle, and such as were little to be expected in one in her rank of life. When asked for a character, she replied that she had never been in service; that she was an orphan, and had none to recommend her; that, if we liked to try her, she hoped and trusted she would give us satisfaction--at least no endeavour should be wanting on her part. She declined giving any account of her family, merely saying that adverse circumstances had obliged her to resort to this means of seeking a subsistence. _She_ did not care about wages; all that she wished for was protection and a comfortable home. My wife, much as she was pleased with her appearance and manner, was unwilling to make what she considered the dangerous experiment of engaging an unknown character; but I overruled her objections, in which I was materially assisted by mamma's darling, little George, who, attracted by the mild countenance and sweet voice of the stranger, clung to her side, and cried for her to remain. My wife could not resist the appeal; and Ellen Stewart, as she wished to be called, became one of our family, and soon proved herself worthy of our confidence. The substance of her previous history, as she related it to Dalzell, was as follows:--
A succession of bad crops, and of unfortunate farming speculations, had obliged her father to give up the farm in which they had so long lived happily together. His health had been long declining; and, when he died, she was left almost destitute. She had a maternal aunt, who was willing and anxious to share with her her trifling pittance; but she was determined not to be a burden on one who was hardly able to support herself. At this time our advertisement met her eye, and she immediately hastened to answer it--resolved, under an assumed name, to submit to the duties of a menial station, which she was sure, if her poor but proud aunt were let into the secret, she would indignantly oppose. She had written to her aunt, to assure her of her welfare, but without disclosing the name of her place of abode. She had had, before her father died, two very eligible offers of marriage, which she rejected; for she felt sure, she said, that her own Edward would return. Three weeks afterwards, the long-tried constancy of the lovers was rewarded--mutually rewarded; for they were worthy of each other. I had the pleasure of giving away the bride; and honest Tom enjoyed an extra glass of his favourite grog on the occasion, by way of "wetting his commission," as he called it--Dalzell having installed him as a kind of Jack-of-all-trades in his new establishment. The only drawback to his perfect happiness was, that he never lived to see his master an admiral.
THE GOOD MAN OF DRYFIELD.
"To Let, the Mansion-house of Dryfield. This is a small, genteel, self-contained house, beautifully situated on the banks of the Clyde, with large garden and seven acres of fine arable land attached. Rent moderate. Premises will be shown, and other particulars given, by Mr Pentland, farmer, Minnigrain, near Dryfield, who is also empowered to transact all matters relative to the letting of the house and grounds."
Such, good reader, was an advertisement that appeared in the "Caledonian Mercury" some six-and-twenty years ago. Well, but what on earth has an advertisement of this sort to do with the Border Tales? Patience, kind friend--patience; and, as a certain humorous song--whose title we have forgotten--says, "you shall hear." This advertisement, commonplace as it may seem, possessed some interest for me at the time it appeared; for at that very moment I was commissioned, by a friend then resident in Jamaica, but who was contemplating an immediate return to his native country, to look out for exactly such a place as that described in the announcement above quoted.
Having some recollection of the place myself, which I had casually seen several years before, as I passed on the top of the mail, I felt convinced that it was precisely such a residence as my friend desired. Under this impression, I determined on paying Dryfield a visit, and making a personal survey of the premises. Conform thereto, the following morning found me on the top of the mail. In six hours afterwards, I was at Minnigrain, and in the presence of its worthy occupant, Mr Pentland. He was a decent, substantial-looking farmer--plain and unsophisticated in his manners, intelligent, and shrewd, with a spice of humour about him which he seemed to have some difficulty in controlling.
Having mentioned to Mr Pentland the purpose of my visit, and my wish to take a look of Dryfield and its premises, he instantly accompanied me thither--having previously provided himself with a couple of keys: one to procure us access to the garden, through which it was necessary to pass to reach the house; the other to admit us to the house itself.
Our way lay through a romantic wood, that grew on a steep bank overhanging the Clyde, and which was traversed by various winding paths. Having taken one of these, we soon threaded the little forest, and, emerging at its western side, found ourselves on a green lawn, at the further end of which stood the mansion-house of Driffel, as it was more shortly pronounced by the natives. It was a compact and comfortable-looking house, but had evidently been long untenanted. Everything around it was running to waste. The honeysuckle, with which its walls had been clothed, had fallen from its fastenings, and was idly sweeping the footpath below; the flower-plats in front were over-run with weeds; the garden was uncropped; and shrubs, bushes, and trees were revelling in an unprofitable luxuriance. Everything, in short, bespoke neglect, and the absence of a presiding care and taste.
"The house does not seem to have been tenanted for a long time, Mr Pentland?" said I, as we walked towards the house.
"'Deed, it's a gey while since there was what ye may ca' a reglar tenant in't," replied my companion. "We hae had families, from time to time, for a month or twa in the summer season, but nae reglar tenant since Mr Darsy himsel left, and that's gaun noo in ten years since."
"Is Mr Darsy dead?"
"Ou no! He gaed abroad for the benefit o' his health--him and his man Ramsay. He was to hae been back in six months, but he has never returned yet. But I'm sure the blessin o' the poor and the needcessitous'll follow the worthy man wherever he goes."
"He was a benevolent man, was he?"
"That he was, sir. Just ane o' the best men breathin. Some folk thocht him a wee whimsical now and then; but his heart was in the richt place. He had just five hunner a-year; and I'm sure he gied awa three o't in charity, if he gied a saxpence."
"No; he never was married. It's said that he was ance crossed in love in his younger days; but whether this be sae or no, I dinna ken. There was naebody lived here wi' him but an auld maiden sister, his man Ramsay, and twa servant lasses. His sister's dead; and it's thocht it was partly her death that sent him awa frae Dryfield; for they war just extraordinar attached to ane anither. Just to show you, sir, how worthy a man he is," continued Mr Pentland, "the rent o' this property is, by his orders, to be handed owre to the minister, for the use o' the poor o' the parish."
Just as the conversation had reached this point, we reached the door of the house. Mr Pentland inserted the key, but found some difficulty in turning the lock, from its having become stiff and rusted through disuse. While he was engaged in alternately coaxing and forcing the obstinate bolt, my attention was attracted by an inscription on the stone over the doorway. This inscription was in part concealed by some straggling branches of honeysuckle which had broken loose from their fastenings, and were hanging over it. These I removed with the end of my stick, and having done so, read--
"To balance fortune by a just expense, Join with economy magnificence."
The quotation I remembered was from Pope, and thought it rather a peculiar sort of taste that had placed it where I now saw it.
By this time, Mr Pentland had succeeded in opening the door; and we entered. I found the house to be an excellent one--well finished, commodious, and judiciously arranged.
Having gone through all the rooms, we finished our survey by a visit to the kitchen. On entering this apartment, the first thing that caught my eye was a small board over the fireplace, on which, in gilt letters on a black ground, were the following lines:--
"To worth or want, well-weigh'd, be bounty given And ease, or emulate the care of Heaven; Whose measure full o'erflows on human race, Mend Fortune's fault, and justify her grace."
"What!" said I, "Pope again?"
Mr Pentland smiled. "Ou ay, sir," he at length said, "Mr Darsy had an awfu wark wi' Pope; and so had his man Ramsay. It was that brocht them first thegither, and it's maistly that has keepit them thegither ever since, nearly thirty year. Mr Darsy was aye gi'ein us screeds o' Pope; and onybody that could quote Pope to him was sure to win his favour, and to get a' the assistance he could gie them in whatever way they micht want it. It was a queer conceit o' his; and mony a time the worthy man was imposed on, by designin folk, through the medium o' this fancy. When ony o' that kind wanted his assistance, they had naething ado but get twa or three lines o' Pope by heart, come to him wi' a lang face, and tak an opportunity o' slippin out the lines, and their business was done. I've seen him actually shed tears when he was quotin his favourite author. He was just clean crazed about him. He made me a present o' the 'Essay on Man,' and gied me nae rest, nicht or day, till I got every line o't by heart."
"But he did you a good service in that, my friend," said I: "it is a noble poem--full of fine thoughts, beautifully expressed."
"Nae doot o't," replied Mr Pentland: "I like the poem weel, and think as much o' Pope as ony man. He is a great philosopher, as well as a great poet; but my excellent friend, Mr Darsy, just carried the thing a wee owre far. His admiration o' him, or rather his constant and open expression of that admiration, bordered on the ridiculous: it amounted to a weakness--although, in other respects, Mr Darsy was a man of great good sense. I've heard him and his man Ramsay--for he's just as great an admirer o' Pope as his master--firin quotations at ane anither for an hour thegither. Indeed they never spoke for five minutes without exchangin a couplet or twa, and seldom conversed on onything else but the merits o' Pope."
In this sketch of the worthy proprietor of Dryfield, I thought I recognised--what I always took much delight in contemplating--an original character; and this was one of the best sort--a compound of oddity and benevolence. What had just been told me of him was enough to excite my curiosity, but far from being enough to gratify it. This, however, I hoped circumstances would yet effect for me; for, feeling amused by Mr Darsy's peculiarities, and interested by his worth, I determined on learning all about him that I could; and ample opportunity for doing so was subsequently afforded me.
Having expressed to Mr Pentland my satisfaction with the house, and my wish to take it, he proposed that we should adjourn to his residence, and there settle the transaction by missive. We did so; and when the business was concluded, Mr Pentland kindly suggested that, as the day was now far advanced, I had better remain with him all night, and return home the following morning with the first coach. To this proposal, seeing that it would afford me an opportunity of learning something more of Mr Darsy, I at once agreed, and was soon after put in possession, by my good host, Mr Pentland, of some particulars regarding that gentleman, which I have thought might not be found unamusing.
"Of Mr Darsy's early history," said Mr Pentland, who, at my request, began an account of his late worthy neighbour immediately after the dinner-cloth had been drawn, "I do not know much. He was bred, originally, I believe, for the church, but never took orders; for what reason I am ignorant; but have heard it alleged, that it was owing to an extreme diffidence of nature, which shrank at the idea of speaking in public.
"Fortunately, his circumstances, although far from being affluent, were such as to enable him to yield to this timidity; and I am not sure that he ever adopted any regular profession in lieu of the one he abandoned. He bought Dryfield about twenty years since, when he also came to reside there; and it was then my acquaintance with him began. From that period till his departure for France, we lived in the closest intimacy and friendship; and during all that period I never heard or saw anything of him but what redounded to his honour. To quote his own favourite author--for he set us a' a-quoting Pope--
'Him portion'd maids, apprenticed orphans, bless'd-- The young who labour, and the old who rest.'
He was truly the Man of Ross in all that is kind and benevolent."
"Oh, say," said I, smiling--
'Oh, say, what sums that generous hand supply-- What mines to swell that boundless charity?'"
My kind host laughed heartily, and readily replied--
"'Of debts and taxes, wife and children clear, This man possess'd five hundred pounds a-year.
"Such a sum, or one thereabouts, was, in truth, all his dependance; yet the good he did with it was amazing.
"When Mr Darsy came first to our neighbourhood, his family consisted of his sister only, and one servant-maid; and it is probable it would never have received any addition, but for the circumstance which added Sandy Ramsay to the establishment--as original a character as his master. Sandy was a sort of general jobber of country work--a good hand at cutting drains, clipping hedges, and felling and thinning timber, making and erecting wooden railings, &c. &c.
"But, besides, and better than all this, Sandy was a learned man. He read a great deal, and was not a little vain of his acquisitions in this way. He was, however, a lively, good-natured little fellow, and very generally liked, notwithstanding that he gave himself out for a philosopher, and looked very grave and wise when he was asserting his pretensions to that character, or when he thought those pretensions were either overlooked or denied.
"Such was Sandy Ramsay, and such was the person whom Mr Darsy found one morning, shortly after his arrival at Dryfield, working at a wooden railing at a little distance from the house.
"'Good morning, honest man,' said Mr Darsy, approaching him with that kindly familiarity of manner which distinguished all his intercourse with his inferiors.
"'Guid mornin, sir,' replied Sandy, resting on the wooden mallet with which he was driving the rails. 'Grand wather for the country, sir.'
"'Excellent,' rejoined Mr Darsy. 'The crops in this neighbourhood look uncommonly well, and I think we shall have both an early and a plentiful harvest. Thanks be to God!'
"'Yes, sir, as ye say, thank God for't,' replied Sandy. 'There's a reasonable prospect o' baith peace and plenty in the country; and, as Pope says,
'This day be bread and peace my lot; All else beneath the sun, Thou knowest if best bestow'd or not; And let thy will be done!'
"'Ah, Pope, my friend!' said Mr Darsy, his eye sparkling with delight. 'So you are conversant with Pope, are you?'
"'A wee bit, sir; his works form the staple o' my readin. I admire baith his poetry and his philosophy.'
"'Ah, indeed! Well, do you know, I like that,' replied Mr Darsy. 'I'm one of Pope's worshippers, too; he is my guide, philosopher, and friend--
'Correct with spirit, eloquent with ease, Intent to reason, or polite to please.'
"'Yes, sir; and, better still,' replied Sandy, 'he
'Turn'd the tuneful art From sounds to things, from fancy to the heart.'
"'And,' shouted Mr Darsy, in ecstasy--
'For Wit's false mirror held up Nature's light-- Show'd erring Pride _whatever is, is right_.'
"'And,' exclaimed Sandy, energetically, and waving his hand aloft, in the excitation of his feelings, as he spoke--
'That reason, passion, answer one great aim; That true self-love and social are the same.'
"Mr Darsy, striking his stick emphatically on the ground--
'That virtue only makes our bliss below, And all our knowledge is ourselves to know.'
"Having thus finished the concluding part of the 'Essay on Man' between them, Mr Darsy, with a gracious and benevolent smile, held out his hand to Sandy, seized that of the latter, and shook it with cordial warmth. From that moment, notwithstanding the disparity of their social position, they were sworn friends.
"In a short time after this, Mr Darsy proposed to Sandy to enter his service, at a fixed rate of wages, to look after his garden, and be otherwise generally useful. To this proposal the latter readily assented; and they have been together ever since, quoting Pope to one another daily, and daily descanting on the merits of their favourite author.
"Having now got an able and active assistant in Sandy Ramsay, and one who had a very competent knowledge of agricultural affairs, Mr Darsy determined on cultivating the few acres of ground which he had bought along with the house of Dryfield. His resolution before had been to let them; but he now bethought him of keeping them in his own hands. These lands had been allowed to run to waste by the former proprietor, who was a great speculator in everything, and in every way, where there was no chance of remuneration. One of these speculations was, to build, at various intervals, over the grounds alluded to, a number of fantastic tower-like structures, for a purpose which none could guess, and which was wholly unknown to all but the contriver himself.
"Whatever the purpose was, however, for which these towers were erected, they were never applied to it. Some other whim struck the noddle of the speculator, and they were allowed (most of them only half-built) to fall into ruins--an eyesore to look at, and an encumbrance to the ground.
"These stone-and-lime vagaries Mr Darsy now determined on removing, and of applying the surrounding lands to their proper use. Full of this design, which had suddenly struck him one day as he was out walking, he hastened, on his return, to the garden where Ramsay was at work, and told him of his intentions.
"'I shall have all these lands laid down in corn, Sandy,' said Mr Darsy.
"'Richt, sir, richt,' replied the former, thrusting his spade into the ground, and resting his elbow on the apex of the upright handle. 'Quite richt, too.'
"'Another year,' said Mr Darsy--
'Another _year_ shall see the golden ear Embrown the slope, and nod on the parterre; Deep harvests bury all his pride has plann'd, And laughing Ceres reassume the land.'
"'Yes, sir,' replied Sandy--
''Tis use alone that sanctifies expense, And splendour borrows all her rays from sense.'
"'No doubt of it, Sandy,' said Mr Darsy. 'Beautiful sentiment, and admirably expressed.'
"The project of cultivating the land having been thus settled by the assistance of Pope, Sandy was instructed to look out for the necessary means, proper implements, and, first and most important of all, a pair of good stout draught horses. This last want of Mr Darsy's was one that soon became known throughout the country; and, as Mr Darsy was always reckoned a liberal and punctual man to deal with, he had soon abundance of offers; and they were not a whit the less numerous, perhaps, that he was thought to be no great judge of the article he wanted.
"Amongst those whose ears Mr Darsy's want of a pair of horses reached, was a certain dealer in horse-flesh, of the name of William Craig, as great a rascal as Scotland perhaps ever had the honour of producing; but he was withal a pleasant knave, and always cheated with the greatest good-humour imaginable. The smile was never off his countenance, excepting when he saw it for his interest to look grave, and then he could put on a face of sympathy and sentiment that it would break your heart to look at. He was, in short, a most plausible and most accomplished scoundrel--clever, and well-informed.
"On hearing that Mr Darsy wanted a couple of horses, and that he had already rejected several that had been offered him--
"'I'll try my hand on him,' said Willie; 'and if I dinna fix him, blame me.'
"'Do you mean by gi'ein him a fair bargain, Willie?' inquired the friend to whom he had made the boast above quoted.
"'Never did that in my life to onybody, and I'm no gaun to begin now,' replied Willie.
"'Then, how do you propose to fix him, Willie, as ye ca't?'
"'Leave that to me,' said the honest horse-jockey. 'I'll do him owre as clean's a leek. I'll _trot_ him out as cleverly as I ever did ony beast wi' four legs. I hae the secret o' him.'
"'What do you ca' the secret o' him, Willie? What do you mean by that?'
"'Aha, lad! How's your mother?' replied Willie, laughing, and touching the side of his nose emphatically with the point of his forefinger. 'I'll keep my thumb on that till I hae tried it.'
"On that very afternoon, Willie posted off to Dryfield with a couple of horses on which he had practised every secret of his art to give them a passable appearance. On one of the horses Willie himself was mounted; the other he led by a halter; and, thus disposed, arrived at a swinging trot at Mr Darsy's. That gentleman had seen his approach from a window, and, guessing the purpose of his visit, was now at the door to receive him.
"Willie touched his hat:--
"'Heard, sir, that ye war in want o' a pair o' guid workin beasts,' said Willie, 'and hae broucht ye twa prime anes here to look at. No a bonnier or better pair between this and Johnny Groat's, and just a real bargain as to price.'
"'Why, my good fellow, I certainly do want a couple of good draught horses,' replied Mr Darsy, eyeing Willie's bargain with a scrutinising look; for he had already been so often the subject of attempted imposition in the way of horse-dealing, that he could not help entertaining suspicions of the intentions of every one who approached him for such a purpose. 'I certainly do want a couple of good draught horses,' he said; 'but really, being no great judge myself, and some attempts having been made to take me in, I--I----'
"'Feth, I weel believe that, sir,' interposed Willie. 'It's just incredible the villany that's practised in this trade o' ours. Some men hae nae conscience, and wad sell their very souls for gould--gould--gould--that curse o' the human race, that some think was
'Sent to keep the fools in play, For some to heap and some to throw away. But _I_, who think more highly of our kind (And surely Heaven and _I_ are of a mind), Opine that Nature, as in duty bound, Deep hid the shining mischief under ground.'
That's my opinion, sir,' continued Willie; 'and I houp ye'll excuse the liberty I hae taen o' gi'ein ye't in poetry, but Pope comes tricklin' aff my tongue, whether I will or no, just like water aff a dyuck's back.'
"'Excuse ye, my friend!' said the astonished and delighted Mr Darsy, with a gracious smile. 'My dear sir, your quotation requires no apology. It is appropriate, and to the purpose. A fine idea--tersely and pithily expressed. The man, sir, who studies Pope as he ought to be studied, and who acts on the principles he inculcates, will infallibly secure
'What nothing earthly gives or can destroy-- The soul's calm sunshine, and the heartfelt joy.'
"'Yes, sir,' replied Willie:--
'Say, in pursuit of profit and delight, Who risk the most--that take wrong means, or right, Of vice or virtue, whether blest or curst; Which meets contempt, or which compassion first; Count all the advantage prosperous vice attains-- 'Tis but what virtue flies from and disdains.'
"'It is, it is!' shouted Mr Darsy, in ecstasy. 'Enough, my dear sir, enough,' he said, extending his hand to Willie, while a tear of emotion glistened in his eye. 'Come into the house, and take a little refreshment, and let us see if we cannot make a bargain about these horses. They look very well, and, I daresay, will suit my purpose.'
"'Just the very thing, sir, ye may depend on't,' replied Willie, who had now dismounted, and was holding both horses by the halters. 'There's that black ane, I'm unco sweer to part wi't; but the want o' siller gars a puir man mak mony a sacrifice baith to his interest and to his feelins. O' that black horse, sir, I may safely say there's no his match in the county; yet I daurna, nor wadna, ask his price for him, for it wad be considered just an imposition.'
"'But, my good friend,' interposed Mr Darsy, 'I hope you do not think that I would take advantage of you in any way--that I would avail myself of the urgency of your necessities, to give you less than the just value of your horse. God forbid! You shall have his price, be that what it may.'
"'Oh, I'm no misdootin that, sir, no the least; but----'
"'I say, my friend, by the way' (here again interrupted Mr Darsy, as they approached the house, being now within a few yards of the door), 'be so good as make no allusion to Pope in the presence of my sister, whom you will likely see; for she, poor woman, has just as little philosophy about her as the rest of her sex. "Woman and fool," you know--
'Woman and fool are both too hard to hit; For true no-meaning puzzles more than wit.'
"Willie smiled. 'No far wrang, sir, I daresay. It's, I doot, owre true.'
"'She's a good, kind-hearted creature,' resumed Mr Darsy; 'but if there be any one thing on earth that she abhors above all other things, it is Pope. She cannot endure his name, ever since she read his "Characters of Women;" but you and I, my friend, know that there is more truth in that essay than her sex would willingly allow.
'In men we various ruling passions find; In women, two almost divide the kind. Those, only fix'd, they first and last obey-- The love of pleasure, and the love of sway.'
"Having now reached the house, Mr Darsy desired Willie to remain a minute in charge of the horses, until he went for his factotum, Sandy Ramsay, whom he wished to see the animals, and whose judgment he meant to consult, as to their purchase. Sandy he found, as usual, in the garden.
"'Here is a decent, honest, well-informed, and intelligent man, Sandy,' said Mr Darsy, 'with a pair of horses for sale, which I wish you to come and look at.'
"'What ca' they him, sir?' inquired Sandy.
"'Why, I don't know; I didn't ask his name,' replied Mr Darsy.
"'I hope it's no Willie Craig,' said the former, drawing on his coat; 'for he's a slippery chiel, Willie; an' I wadna say that even my caution wad be a match for his cunning.'
"'Whether his name be Craig or not, I do not know,' replied Mr Darsy; 'but this I do know, that he seems to be a very intelligent and conscientious man. He is a great admirer of our favourite author, Sandy, and quotes him with great propriety and facility; and of such a man I would not willingly believe any ill.
"'He quotes Pope, sir, does he?' exclaimed Sandy. 'Then, sir, he's just the man. That's Willie Craig, beyond a' manner o' doot; and the biggest rogue this day in Scotland.'
"'Come, come, Sandy,' said Mr. Darsy, a little severely, shocked at the idea of a rogue quoting Pope, and disbelieving the existence of such a moral incongruity--'come, come, Sandy,' he said, 'you judge too harshly; you speak unguardedly. The man is, I doubt not, a very honest man; and "an honest man," you know, Sandy, "is the noblest work of God."'
"'I've seen that disputed, sir,' said Sandy; 'an' I think, after a' wi' some success. A man of great parts an' genius is surely a nobler creature than a'.'
"'I'm grieved, Sandy, to find your moral perceptions so weak,' here interrupted Mr Darsy. 'Don't you see, or rather will you not see, that----'
"'I really canna see, sir,' interrupted Sandy, in his turn 'that----'
"'Well, but let me explain myself,' again interrupted Mr Darsy; and, having at length obtained this permission, he went on to expound the disputed text, after his own views of its bearings.
"Sandy replied; Mr Darsy rejoined; and a hot dispute, of a good half-hour's continuance, ensued between master and man, on the moral points involved in the quotation; such disputes, by the way, being a frequent occurrence between them; for, although they agreed most cordially on the general merits of Pope, there were many minute points--some as to the meaning of passages; others as to their morality--on which they differed, as on the present occasion, and on which they spoke for hours on end.
"To return to the instance just now under notice: they were thus engaged--that is, settling the moral bearing of the quotation above given--and so earnest in their employment, as to be totally oblivious of everything else--and, amongst the rest, Willie Craig and his horses--when Miss Darsy came running into the garden, just as her brother had begun a new section of his defence of Pope, with--
"'Pope, sir--I say Pope distinctly means----'
"'Gracious heaven, Mr Darsy!' exclaimed Miss Sarah, 'are you at that odious Pope again? Have you forgotten that there has been a man with two horses waiting on you for this half-hour past? It is too bad--too bad, Mr Darsy.'
"'I acknowledge it, my dear--I acknowledge it,' replied the benevolent and good-natured Popite, smiling kindly on his sister; 'but I am sure the honest man will forgive me when I tell him the cause.'
"'Will he?' said his sister. 'I should rather think he will consider it an aggravation of the offence.'
"'There you are wrong, Sarah, my dear,' rejoined Mr Darsy; 'for the man understands these things.'
"'What!' exclaimed his sister, in alarm; 'does _he_ quote Pope, too? Do horse-jockeys quote Pope?'
"'And why not, my dear?' said Mr Darsy, gladly seizing on this general query to avoid making any discoveries on the particular one. 'Why not, my dear? Why may not a horse-jockey understand and appreciate Pope as well as any other man? There is nothing to hinder him.'
"'Oh, certainly not,' replied Miss Darsy; 'but oh! if he was dosed with Pope as I am--if he had Pope! Pope! ringing in his ears night and day, in all situations and on all occasions, as I have--he would grow sick, sick, at the very name.'
"'Ah, Sarah, Sarah!' replied her brother, smiling--
'Believe me--good as well as ill-- Woman's at best----
"'Pope again!' screamed Miss Darsy, putting her fingers in her ears, and rushing distractedly away from her Pope-mad brother.
"The latter looked after her with a smile of pity, and perhaps a very slight matter of contempt mingled with it, and began again, and finished with additional emphasis, the quotation in which he had been interrupted. Then, turning to Sandy--
"'Let us go and take a look at this honest man's horses, Sandy,' he said. 'We have used him rather ill, after all; but I'll explain.'
"In the next minute the parties had met, and the first thing Mr Darsy did was to explain to Willie, as he had proposed to do, the reason of his absence.
"'A' richt, sir--a' richt,' replied Willie, graciously. 'There's far frae bein ony harm dune; and, besides, your excuse is a guid ane, although ye had been an hour langer.'
"Willie, at the special request of Sandy Ramsay, now proceeded to put his horses through their paces; and, while the former was at a little distance in the performance of this duty--'Is that the man you meant, Sandy?' said Mr Darsy.
"'I dinna ken him by sight, sir--only by repute,' replied Sandy; 'but, if he quotes Pope to you, he maun be the man, for he's a cunning scoundrel, and doubtless kens you're fond o' the little crooked poet.'
"'Sandy, Sandy, you have a scurrilous tongue,' said Mr Darsy. 'You'll find the man prove an honest one, I have no doubt, and will, I am sure, feel then ashamed of what you are now saying to his prejudice.'
"'Maybe, sir; but I'll be surer o' my man after I hae heard a quotation or twa, and still surer after ye hae bocht the horses; for if he doesna _do_ ye, he's most assuredly no Willie Craig.'
"Here the conversation was interrupted by the return of the horse-dealer, who approached them, leading one of his horses at a full trot. Both animals having been subjected to this display--
"'Now, my good friend,' said Mr Darsy, 'what's your price?'
"'Why, then, juist to be at a word wi' ye, sir,' replied Willie, taking off his hat with one hand, and scratching his head with the other, 'I'll take thirty guineas for the black ane, and twenty for the brown; and I'm sure that's a dead bargain--juist throwing the cattle awa. It's no a month since I was offered forty guineas in my loof for that black beast, but I wasna sae hard pressed for siller then as I'm noo, and I refused it.'
"'Sandy,' said Mr Darsy, turning to the farmer, 'what do you say to these prices? You have some knowledge of horses.'
"'I say, sir, that, as near as I can guess, they're juist aboot the dooble o' what they ocht to be. That black horse, if I'm no mista'en, is broken-winded, and 'll be dead lame in a week; and the brown ane's no a grain better.'
"Willie looked at Mr Darsy with a smile of conscious integrity, and of calm contempt at once of the slander and the judgment of the slanderer. The unsuspecting Mr Darsy returned the look, attributing Sandy's decision to prejudice.
"'Come now, Sandy,' said the farmer, 'forget that you have any interest to serve in this matter, and deal fairly between man and man.'
"'But it's no between man and man, sir,' said Sandy; 'it's between man and a horse-jockey; and it's weel kent that's no a fair match. It wad tak the deil himsel to deal wi' a horse-couper.'
"Willie smiled again the smile of conscious innocence; and, turning to Mr. Darsy, said--
"'I rather think ye will agree wi' me, sir, that
'Honour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part'--
and he looked expressively at Sandy--
_there_ all the honour lies.'
"'Unquestionably,' replied Mr Darsy, 'it is
'Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow; The rest is all but leather and prunello.'
"'Yes, sir,' said Willie--
'For modes of faith, let graceless zealots fight, His can't be wrong whose life is in the right.'
"'Certainly not--certainly not,' exclaimed Mr Darsy, in raptures.
'One self-approving hour whole years outweighs Of stupid starers, and of loud hurrahs.'
"'Nae denyin't,' said Willie; 'and to a' wha doot it, I wad say--
Know, then, this truth (enough for man to know), Virtue alone is happiness below.'
And, as he repeated the last line, he laid his hand with solemn emphasis on his heart.
"This last quotation did Willie's business.
"'Come, come,' said Mr Darsy, shedding tears of delight, and taking Willie by the arm to conduct him into the house, 'let us settle this small matter at once, and off hand. Just say at once, my friend, the lowest sum you really will take for these horses, and they are mine. Sandy there is a well-meaning man, but he has his prejudices, as we all have.'
"'Weel then, sir, juist to be at a word wi' ye,' replied Willie, 'I'll tak nine-and-twenty guineas for the black horse, and nineteen for the brown ane; and if that's no a bargain, I never gied or got ane in my life.'
"'They're no worth the half o't, I manteen,' exclaimed Sandy, energetically.
"'Hush, Sandy, hush, man,' said Mr Darsy. 'I'm sure the horses are a fair bargain. This honest man would never ask more than they are worth.'
"'Wadna he, feth? said Sandy, with a satirical smile. 'Sir, I'm thinkin ye'll fin out that before ye're a week aulder. Wait ye till the horses hae been twa days in the plough, and ye'll see whether he has asked mair than the worth o' them or no. I wadna trust him farrer than I could throw a bull by the tail.'
"'Sandy, Sandy,' exclaimed Mr Darsy, in a deprecating tone, 'you have really a scandalous tongue. Have you forgot that beautiful verse in the universal prayer--
'Teach me to feel another's wo; To hide the fault I see; That mercy I to others show, That mercy show to me.'
"'That's a' very weel, sir; but I canna agree to hide the _cheat_ I see--that's a different sort o' thing a'thegither.'
"'Sandy,' said Mr Darsy, in a still more angry tone, 'I really will hear no more of this.' And thus rebuked, Sandy said no more; he saw it would be useless.
"Leaving the latter in charge of the horses, Mr Darsy and Willie now went into the house; and there the latter received the price of his cattle, together with a comfortable refection, during which he and his host kept up a running fire of quotations from Pope.
"The former, as the reader will recollect, had cautioned the latter not to make any allusion to the author just named in the hearing of his sister; and this caution Willie observed. He took care to make no quotations while she was present; but he had not been put on his guard against her overhearing them, and the consequence was, that some of them were made in a tone so emphatically loud, that she did overhear them, even from the distance of an adjoining apartment. Perhaps few else than Miss Sarah could have discerned what were the words so spoken; but _her_ ears were so sensitively alive to the language of the abhorred Pope, that she at once recognised them; and on doing so, immediately sent for her brother to come and speak with her, for she had known him to have been repeatedly swindled by Pope-quoters before, some of whom had committed a scrap or two to memory for the express purpose.
"'James,' said Miss Sarah, on his coming into the apartment where she was,'I hear that man quoting Pope. Now, James, I beg you'll be on your guard; for you may depend upon it he intends to cheat you. Recollect how often you have been taken in by Pope-quoters. There was the man that borrowed five pounds from you, on the strength of a quotation; there was the man that got your name to a fifty-pound bill, of which you had afterwards to pay every farthing, through precisely a similar claim on your bounty--for he had no other; then there was the fellow whom you recommended to the wood-merchants, and who forged a bill on his employers; then there were the silver spoons that you bought from the packman, and that turned out to be pewter and tin--all because they quoted Pope; then there was----But it would take me a week to go over half the impositions of which you have been the victim, through that detested and detestable Pope.'
"To this tirade poor Mr Darsy listened with the utmost patience and meekness, while a smile of good-nature, blended with an expression of pity for his sister's blindness to the merits of the poet, played on his intelligent and benevolent countenance.
"'Well, Sarah, my dear,' he said, when his sister had done speaking, 'if I have been taken in by these people, as I am willing enough to allow I have, whether does the shame and disgrace lie with them or me?'
"'I do not know, James, where the shame and disgrace lie,' said his sister; 'but I have a pretty good guess, and so have you, where the loss does. But all that I have to say, just now, James, is--be on your guard in your dealings with this Pope-quoting horse-couper.'
"Mr Darsy was about to come out with a quotation in reply--he had a very apt one at his finger ends--but, recollecting that this would only further irritate his sister, he made a violent effort, and suppressed it, and merely said, with his usual benevolent smile, 'I'll take care, Sarah, my dear; I'll take care.' And, saying this, he left the apartment, and, rejoined Willie Craig, who soon after took his leave, with his money in his pocket, and a good dose of whisky punch under his belt.
"On leaving the house, Willie came accidentally across Sandy Ramsay, who was at the moment in the act of yoking the black horse to a cart.
"'Ye hae gotten a prime beast there, Sandy,' said Willie.
"'If we hae, I'm thinkin we hae paid as weel for him,' replied the latter dryly. 'I'm dootin ye hae saft-saped the master to some purpose. Ye hae come Pope owre him, as ither folks hae dune before ye.'
"Willie smiled significantly, clapped his finger to his nose, and walked on without vouchsafing any other reply.
"'What horse is that, Sandy?' said Mr Darsy on the forenoon of the second day after Willie Craig's visit, as the former approached the house, leading an old grey, lame beast by the halter.
"'Do ye no ken him, sir?' replied Sandy, with an ominous smile.
"'No,' rejoined Mr Darsy, gravely.
"'Indeed, it's little wonder. This is Willie Craig's _black_ horse, but your grey ane.'
"'What do you mean, Sandy?' said Mr Darsy, in a tone of alarm. 'You don't mean to say that that's my horse, my black horse?'
"'It's a' that's for him, sir?' replied Sandy. 'A shower o' rain's made a' the difference. It has washed him into what ye see him--made him as grey as an auld rat. But his change o' colour's no the warst o't. See, he hasna a leg to staun upon, and every teeth that was in his head's faun oot. There they are, every ane.' And Sandy pulled a handful of horse-teeth out of his pocket. 'I hurried him hame out o' the plough,' continued Sandy, 'before he wad fa' in pieces a'thegither, as I expected every moment he wad do.'
"Mr Darsy held up his hands in amazement at this most extraordinary metamorphosis of his famous black charger, and muttered an ejaculation of surprise at the very strange occurrence, but said nothing for a few seconds. Although he said nothing, however, he felt a good deal; not for the pecuniary loss it involved--for that he did not care--but for the credit of the admirers of Pope. His sister, too--what would she say to it? Here was another instance of imposition chargeable against his adored author, to add to the long list of which she was already in possession. It was an awkward affair. He would ten times rather that the price of the horse had been thrown into the sea; and this he would cheerfully have done, had the alternative been put in his power. But there was no help for it.
"'Sandy,' said Mr Darsy, after musing for a moment on the astounding deception which had just come to light, 'I'll tell you what it is, regarding this very strange affair. I think it very possible--nay, very likely--that the man Craig has been himself imposed upon with this horse, and that he knew nothing of its defects; for I cannot believe that so decent, intelligent, and well-informed a man as he is, could be guilty of such villany as this. I cannot believe it. Now, then, Sandy, I'll tell you what you'll do--you'll take the brown horse----'
"'Wi, your leave, sir, I'll no do that, for yon beast's no chancy to come near, let alane to ride. He's the maist vicious brute I ever saw, and 'll neither hap, stap, nor win. I dinna think ye'll ever get ony guid o' him.'
"'God bless me!' exclaimed Mr Darsy, confounded at this additional misfortune; 'he seemed quiet enough when brought here by Craig.'
"'Nae doot o't, he did,' replied Sandy; 'and heaven knows hoo the scoundrel managed it! But he's a very different thing noo, I can tell ye, sir.'
"'Dear me! that's really odd,' said Mr Darsy. 'Well, then, Sandy, I'll tell you what you'll do: you'll go to our good neighbour Mr Pentland, and get the loan of a pony from him, and ride over the length of Craig's--he lives, you know, at Longlane; it's only about nine miles distant--and tell him what has taken place; and I have no doubt he will at once refund the money, or, at any rate, give us other horses instead of those we have bought. He, indeed, said he would do the former, if we found anything wrong with them within a month.'
"'Catch him there, sir, if ye can,' said Sandy. 'The deil a bodle o' the price he'll ever gi'e back. He's no sae saft in the horn as that. He wad promise ye, I ha'e nae doot--he promises the same thing to every ane he sells a horse to; but whar's the man ever got a penny back frae Willy Craig, for a' that? I would gie half-a-croon mysel to see him.'
"'Well, well, but do you just try him, Sandy,' said Mr Darsy; 'and I have no doubt you will find all turn out right, notwithstanding of appearances.'
"Thus summarily enjoined, Sandy obtained the loan of a pony, mounted, and set off for Longlane, to have an interview with Willie Craig on the subject of his master's purchase.
"Willie was standing at the door of his own house when Sandy approached; and, knowing well what he came about, would have retreated; but it was too late. He was seen; and, aware of this, he kept his ground manfully, and resolved to face out fearlessly the coming storm, as he had done many a one of a similar kind before. On Sandy's approach, Willie, thrusting his hands into his breeches-pockets, and bursting into a loud laugh, hailed his coming visiter with--
'Come, then, my friend! my genius! come along!'
"'Ay, I'll come along,' replied Sandy, angrily; 'and maybe to your cost.
"'Awake, my St John!' shouted Willie--
'Awake, my St John! leave all meaner things To low ambition, and the pride of kings; Let us (since life can little more supply), Than just to look about us, and to die----'
"'Come, come, Willie, nane o' yer blarney for me,' said Sandy, now dismounting. 'Ye're no gaun to saft-sape me that way. What kind o' horses were they ye selt us?
"'Just the very pick o' the country,' replied Willie, coolly.
"'Ay, if ye mean the warst,' said Sandy. 'But to come to the point at ance--I'm sent here, Willie, by Mr Darsy--although I ken weel it's a fruitless errand--to tell ye that yer horses hae turned oot to be no worth their hides; that yer black ane has changed to a dirty grey wi' a shower o' rain, and is dead lame; and that the brown ane'll neither work in plough nor cart.'
"'Dear me, Sandy, ye surprise me!' replied Willie, with a look of amazement as like the genuine as it was possible for any man to assume.
"'Maybe I do,' said Sandy; 'but I hardly believe it. However, this being the case, my master has sent me to say that he expects you'll refund him the siller, as ye promised, or find him ither twa horses worth the amount, in their stead.'
"'Whee-ee-ee-ou!' whistled Willie. 'Is that the next o't? Weel, I didna think your maister was sae unreasonable a man as that comes to, Sandy; but there's a heap o' queer folk in this world.'
"'My feth! there's that,' said the latter; 'and some o' them no far aff.'
"'As lang's _ye're_ sae near, ye may say that, Sandy,' replied Willie; 'but to gie ye an answer to Mr Darsy, tell him, wi' my compliments, Sandy, that there's a truth among Pope's maxims that he doesna seem to hae fan oot. Tell him, wi' my best respects, that, in
'Spite of pride, in erring reason's spite, One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.
Tell ye him _that_, Sandy, and I'm sure he'll be perfectly satisfied.'
"'Do ye no mean to refund the money, then?' inquired Sandy.
"'Deil a cowrie,' said Willie.
"'Nor to gie him ither horses in exchange?'
"'No a hoof.'
"'Weel, then, _ye_ are an infernal scoundrel--that's a' I hae to say,' replied Sandy, remounting his pony, and starting off on his return home.
"On arriving at Dryfield, Sandy hastened to Mr Darsy's apartment, to inform him of the result of his mission, but, on opening the door, drew hastily back again, on finding a stranger in the room.
"'Come in--come in, Sandy,' said Mr Darsy, on observing the former retreating. 'This gentleman will excuse your intrusion; for he is a
'Friend to truth! of soul sincere, In action faithful, and in honour clear.'
"It might be so--of this we shall be better able to judge by and by; but the reader will think with us, we have little doubt, that this was saying rather too much of an acquaintance of half-an-hour; for no longer had the stranger been known to him by whom he was thus so highly complimented. Mr Darsy's visitor was, or at least represented himself to be, an itinerant preacher, who, aware, as he said, of that gentleman's benevolence and hospitality, had taken the liberty of calling on him as he passed on his pious vocation. This account of himself and calling, he wound up with a very apt quotation from Pope; and, we need hardly add, that it was to this circumstance he was mainly indebted for the rapid progress he had made in Mr Darsy's affections.
"To return to our story:--On Mr Darsy's repeating the couplet above quoted, the stranger, who was a decent, quiet, elderly man, dressed in somewhat rusty blacks, smiled at the compliment, and looked graciously on Sandy, as if at once to assure him that he need be under no restraint on his account, and that he was, in truth, the worthy person which Mr Darsy had represented him to be. Thus encouraged, Sandy entered the apartment; and, at Mr Darsy's request, told the result of his mission. On hearing it, the worthy man merely shook his head, and said--
"'Well, well, Sandy, there's no help for it. We must just take better care next time.'
"He then explained to the stranger gentleman the nature of the transaction. The good man was horrified, held up his hands in amazement, and recited, with much feeling and solemnity--
'The good must merit God's peculiar care; But who but God can tell us who they are!'
"'Ah, who indeed?' said Mr Darsy, smiling. 'There is the difficulty.'
"'Ay, there, indeed, it is,' said the stranger, smiling in his turn. 'Who but God can tell the pure from the impure of heart? Who but he separate the tares from the wheat, the corn from the chaff? None else, indeed, my respected friend'--looking benevolently on Mr Darsy.
"'My dear sir,' replied the latter, emphatically, and taking his benevolent looking visiter by the hand, to mark his deep sense of the truths which he delivered--'my dear sir,' he said, adding no more in words, but _looking_ the remainder of the sentence, which, when translated, said--'you speak well and wisely.' After a moment--'My good sir!' exclaimed Mr Darsy, glancing at his visiter's shoes, which appeared much travel-soiled, 'I suspect you have had a long walk to-day. You seemed fatigued. Now, you will take a little of something or other--a glass or two of wine, or a little brandy, or something of that sort, till dinner is ready.'
"'You are too good--too good, my very excellent and much-respected friend,' replied the stranger; 'but,' he added, with a subdued yet significant look, 'there are other men of Ross than he whom Pope celebrated. There are others--
'Whose causeway parts the vale with shady rows, Whose seats the weary traveller repose.'
"This couplet, which was given in a mild and gentle tone, was so palpably directed to Mr Darsy, that he could not avoid seeing its intended application to himself; and, seeing this, he shook his head and smiled a disclaimer.
"'My good friend,' he said, 'I have but slender pretension to any portion of that noble character, so masterly drawn by the immortal bard of Twickenham; yet do I agree with what the poet elsewhere says, that
'All fame is foreign but of true desert-- Plays round the head, but comes not to the heart-- One self-approving hour whole years outweighs Of stupid starers and of loud hurrahs; And more true joy Marcellus, exiled, feels, Than Cæsar with a senate at his heels.'
"The stranger smiled, bowed, and looked benevolently on his host.
"'Beautiful--beautiful!' he exclaimed, in a tone of rapture. 'How terse--how forcible! Yet, Mr Darsy, there are those--ay, there are those who say that Pope is no poet!'
"Mr Darsy smiled grimly.
"'I have heard,' he said, 'that there are such monsters in human shape; but I have never been so unfortunate as to meet with one of them. If I did, I do not know what I should do. I think I should murder the Goth off-hand. I believe I should. No human patience could stand against such heresy--such blasphemy, as I may call it.'
"Mr Darsy now rung the bell, and desired the servant to put some wine and brandy on the table. The order was immediately complied with, and the two Popites forthwith drew in.
"'Wine or brandy, my dear sir?' said Mr Darsy.
"'Why,' said the gentle stranger, who, by the way, had given in his name as Claythorn--'why,' he said, with a quiet, pleasant smile, 'I will take a little brandy, if you please. Wine doesn't agree with me. I find the alcohol safer.'
"'Then help yourself, my dear friend,' replied Mr Darsy; and Mr Darsy's friend did help himself, and that with a liberality which was rather surprising in one of his cloth; although it would not have surprised any one who had studied and drawn the proper conclusion from the appearance of his nose, which was of a bright, luminous red. Having finished his first jorum, Mr Darsy pressed his dear friend to another tifter; and his dear friend, nothing loth, did as he was desired; presenting satisfactory evidence, that a love of Pope and of brandy-and-water were perfectly compatible, doubt it who might. Opened up by the benign influence of the alcohol, the itinerant preacher now began to give Pope by the yard. Before, he had dealt him out sparingly--in bits and fragments: he now gave whole pages on end, to the inexpressible delight of his entertainer, who, having been induced, by the rarity of the occasion--the meeting with so enthusiastic an admirer of his beloved bard--to take a glass or two of wine extra, gave as ample measure in return.
"The conversation between the two Popites was thus reduced to nothing--only a word or two now and then; the rest was entirely made up of quotations. While Mr Darsy and his guest were thus employed, a servant came to announce that dinner was on the table. Both immediately rose to their feet. When they had done so, Mr Darsy took the preacher by the hand, and said, in an under tone--
"'Now, my dear good friend, when you go down stairs you will see my sister. She will dine with us. A good creature as ever lived--an excellent creature. But--but--I am ashamed to say it. The fact is, and you know it, my dear friend, that
'Good, as well as ill, Woman's at best a contradiction still.'
"'My sister, in short, my dear friend, has no fancy for our adored bard. I can't account for it; but so it is. Therefore, if you will just be so good as say nothing about him while she is present, it will be as well. No quotations, you understand. We'll have our revenge for this restraint when she retires. We will resume the subject then, my dear sir,' added Mr Darsy, slapping his guest, in a friendly and jocose way, on the shoulder, as he spoke. 'We'll have a night of it; and I'll smuggle down _his_ works from my library, and we will glance them over together when we've got the room to ourselves. That will be a treat, eh?'
"Thus cautioned as to his conduct in the presence of Mr Darsy's sister, Mr Claythorn descended to the dining-room with his host. Not a word--not the most distant allusion to Pope--escaped either of the two gentlemen; so that, whatever Miss Darsy's suspicions of the case might be--and she certainly looked as if she had some suspicions of it--nothing transpired to give her assurance of the fact. On her retiring, however, the pent-up sluices of the Popites were thrown open, and out there rushed two impetuous streams of poetry; sometimes blending, sometimes alternating, and sometimes running counter to each other. Mr Darsy was delighted--more than delighted with his friend; for he had never, in the whole course of his life, met with one who could quote his favourite author with such facility and at such length, as the guest whom he was now entertaining; neither had he ever met with one who had so deep, so thorough a reverence for the mighty moral poet.
"This was altogether, in short, one of the happiest nights he had ever spent in his life. At its close, Mr Darsy accompanied his guest--who he insisted should remain with him all night--to his bedroom, and parted from him there with a very apt quotation, to which his friend replied with another no less felicitous, which he delivered in a very feeling and impressive manner. On the following morning--
"'What keeps your reverend friend, brother?' said Miss Darsy, somewhat sneeringly--for she had strong suspicions of the stranger's being a Popite--as she sat at the breakfast-table, waiting the appearance of that person, before proceeding to discharge the duties of the morning meal.
"'Really, my dear, I don't know,' replied Mr Darsy. 'The poor man is fatigued, I daresay; and we sat up rather late last night.'
"'Ay, brother, I fancy you found him a very pleasant intelligent companion,' said Miss Darsy, with a look and tone of peculiar meaning.
"What this meaning was, Mr Darsy perfectly understood. He knew that his sister was at once insinuating her suspicions of the stranger's Popism, and driving at a discovery of the fact. Aware of this, and by no means desirous of coming to an explanation on the subject, Mr Darsy, without noticing his sister's remark, said he would 'just step up-stairs to see what was keeping Mr Claythorn,' and deliver himself (but of this he said nothing) of a happy quotation which had occurred to him, and which he thought would form an exceedingly appropriate greeting.
"He entered his friend's bedroom; there was no movement. He drew aside the curtains; the bed was unoccupied. The Pope-quoter had decamped. He was off; and off, too, were a dozen silver spoons and a small gold watch; all of which property had been unguardedly left in the room in which he slept."
Here ended my good host's (Mr Pentland) anecdotes and sketch of the worthy proprietor of Dryfield; but, he added, he could give as much more of the same kind, if I chose, as would fill half-a-dozen volumes. I thanked him, and said that I would rest content with what he had been kind enough to give me, in the meantime; but that, if the readers of the "Border Tales"--for which, I told him, I intended these memorabilia--desired any more, I should, perhaps, take the liberty of applying to him again.
THE SURGEON'S TALES.
I have always been anxious to avoid giving publicity to details of my profession which might harrow the feelings of mankind--than which, I believe, nothing is more easy of accomplishment by those who are, as I am, in the daily exercise of painful operations on the human body. Pain has been gifted to man as an inheritance, so ample, in so many forms and complexions, in so many directions, that we have only to think, and we feel it--we have only to look, and we see it--we have only to speak or act, and we rouse it. Yet so wonderfully are we constituted, that we do not hate it more than we _love_ it; while we are all engaged in the general endeavours to banish it and conceal it, we have such a craving appetite for it, in the second-hand form of narrative, that we gloat over pictures of suffering with the feelings of an epicure, and seek and call for the stimulus of sighs, and groans, and tears, with an avidity only equalled by our desire of personal happiness. A final cause might be traced in this extraordinary feature of the human mind, if we were curious to know the ways of the Almighty, the modes he has had recourse to, to fit us for life, and prepare us for death; but this is not my object, nor, while I continue to draw pictures from life--charged with a moral that may instruct, truth that may edify, or results that may show there is good in evil, and wonderful deliverances from apparently irremediable wo--is it my desire to minister to the mysterious appetite for sorrow, according to its wants, or the abilities which a long experience might enable me to exercise with greater effect than many sensitive minds might approve.
Some time ago, I had been on a visit to a neighbouring town, where I had been called to give my professional advice to a patient who had more faith to place in me than in his neighbouring practitioners. I was returning in the stage-coach, along with a number of other passengers, when my attention was directed to a poor woman sitting by me, with a young girl in her lap, apparently in great distress. The face of the invalid, who appeared to be about twelve years of age, was covered by a white napkin, which her mother, with a careful hand, lifted from time to time, to see how her daughter (for such she turned out to be) was affected by the motion of the vehicle. Two or three people around, from the same town, and who seemed to know the history of the pair, evinced a greater degree of anxiety and curiosity about the state of the poor girl than might have been expected from an ordinary case of illness. They spoke to each other in a low tone; and I could hear my own name mentioned in such a manner as indicated plainly that they did not know me. Though I had not been a professional man, and had not had my curiosity roused by the mention of my name, I could not have refrained from inquiring into the state of the little victim of so much disease, and the object of so much solicitude. Turning round, I asked the mother if she would allow me to remove the napkin, and look at her whose face it covered. She assented with a ready, anticipative willingness; and I lifted softly the white covering. The sight was extraordinary, even to me, who was in the habit of daily seeing strange faces, strangely marked by the powers of the fell fiends that feed on the lacerated feelings of pain-stricken mortals. The girl, though twelve years of age, was reduced to the size and weight of a child of half her little period of life. Her face was as white as the snow-coloured covering which shaded it; her eyelids were closed, as if she were in a deep slumber; her lips, wide apart, were as white as her cheek; and, notwithstanding of the change in all the natural lineaments of her countenance, there was such a regularity, or rather beauty of outline, lying in the calmness and composure of what one of fancy might conceive of a sleeping sylph, that I felt my sympathies more strongly roused by what may be termed the poetical accidents of the patient, than could have been effected by the mere aspect of a cruel disease.
As I sat looking at the face of the half-lifeless being, and musing a little on the supposed nature of her complaint, previously to an inquiry at her mother for the particulars of her case, I saw rise, on a sudden, and as if by the power of some heart-born impulse, a feeling throughout all the fine, attenuated muscles, that changed the angelic quietness of her countenance into the shrinking and contorted motions of a pain that seemed to bring despair on its wings, as a colleague to strike as soon as its own pang was inflicted. I could see, also, that there was mixed with the expression of pain an indication of terror, as if the poor victim apprehended some onset of the enemy that had already laid her so low, similar to what she had been already in the habit of experiencing. In an instant it came: the whole chest, throat, and face were grasped by a convulsive spasm, and a cough, shrill and piercing, as if the breath passed with difficulty through the windpipe, accompanied by the long drawback of apparent croop, that sounded like the yell of a strangling dog, struck our ears, and produced a feeling of consternation among those who were as yet better acquainted with her extraordinary case than I was. I had never experienced anything of the same kind; for the symptoms that separated her complaint, whatever it was, from the most painful diseases of the windpipe known to us, were at first sight apparent. The sound prevented me from getting intelligence from her mother, who was, besides, under such alarm and anxiety, that she paid little attention to those around her. The rattling of the coach was a great aggravation of the attack; and the noise of a grating wheel, not unlike that wrung from the poor victim, mixed with it, and rendered the scene frightful. After lasting about ten minutes, the harrowing symptoms stopped suddenly; in a few minutes, I saw again before me the same placid countenance, with the closed eyelids, and the same lifeless appearance I had witnessed before the attack came on.
I now got an account from the mother of the cause of her daughter's distress. About two months previously, the girl had been eating cherries; and one of the stones having been involuntarily thrown back into her throat, she had endeavoured to prevent the operation of swallowing it, from a fear that it would injure her, and thus produced an irregular action among the muscles of deglutition, which precipitated the hard substance into the windpipe. The first effects of this accident were grievous in the extreme; for the sensibility of that exquisitely tender part of the body roused the muscles to efforts of expectoration, and brought on fits of the most intense coughing, which lasted until the strength of the body having failed, the irritability of the passage died, through the pure inanition of the exhausted system. Every energy prostrated, she would be for a time quiet, until the _pabulum_ of the irritability was again supplied by the mysterious operation of nature, when the same painful spasms of the muscles were renewed, with another long fit of coughing--every re-drawn breath forcing its way with a shrill sound, and suggesting the fear that she was every moment on the eve of being choked. This was again succeeded by a calm, to be followed by a similar exacerbation; and thus was her life reduced to an alternation of agony and rest without peace; and all the time the reductive process of famine (for she could scarcely swallow a morsel without the greatest pain) went on, till she was reduced to a perfect skeleton. Having been the pride of her parents, as well from her beauty as her amiable mind and manners, she was watched night and day with a solicitude scarcely less painful than her own dreadful condition; and, as both the doctors of the small town seemed irresolute as to the course to be pursued, the victim was left lying on her back, and suffering those violent and incessant attacks, for the period of six weeks, without any effectual effort being made for her relief. At last, however, the urgent nature of the case, which interested almost all the inhabitants of the place, forced the medical men to try, at last, the only evident operation that could be of any service; and an incision was made into the windpipe, with a view to get hold of the stone. Whether it was that they had calculated on wrong data, in regard to the locality of the peccant and cruel intruder, or whether the operation was otherwise unskilfully performed, I know not; but the result was, that, after putting her to so intolerable pain, they were obliged to sew up the opening they had made, and again resign her to her miserable fate. Many of the neighbours got angry at this issue, and blamed the surgeons; but no one would lend a helping hand to pay the expense of bringing a more successful operator to the spot; so that all was vain reproof, with still the same fate to the interesting sufferer. At last, the mother, who could stand no longer the appalling sight of her daughter suffering worse than a thousand deaths, while a remedy on earth could be found, had come to the resolution of travelling by the coach to the residence of one who might, by an extensive experience, be supposed to be able to yield relief; and, having got a letter of introduction to Dr ---- (myself), she was thus far on her way to my residence.
I heard the poor woman's story; and, when I took the letter from her, and told her that I was the individual she was travelling to, I could discover that her face was on the instant lighted up with hope; even the poor sufferer on her knee lifted up her eyelids, and fixed her clear blue eyes on my face with a piteous supplication that I shall never forget. I told the mother that she should have come to me long before; but that she was not yet too late--for that I had strong hopes of being able to extricate the stone, and restore her child to health. My words fell on the ear of the patient; and I could see by the tear in her eye--the only indication she could give of her gratitude--for she was under a continual terror of moving a single muscle of her face--that she understood perfectly what I said. The passengers seemed to be as much moved as those more nearly interested, and turned their eyes on me as if I had been one gifted beyond ordinary mortals with the means of benefiting mankind. We got forward, luckily, without another attack of the ruthless foe that haunted the innocent victim with such unremitting hatred; and, on our arrival at our place of destination, I made arrangements for the mother and daughter being lodged in a friend's house not far from my own, that my patient might be as much as possible under my eye, until I deemed it a proper time (for she required strength) to perform the operation which I meditated.
I considered well what I had to do, and had no doubt of my success; but I was met by some untoward disadvantages. I found that there was no possibility of imparting to her strength--the incessant reductive workings of her spasms counteracting all my energies in this direction, and compelling me to a speedy application of my means of salvation. The prior wound had not been sufficiently cured, and the pain she had suffered under the mangling hands of her first tormentors left such a vivid impression on the tortured mind of the sufferer, that, anxious as she was to get the stone extracted, and to breathe again freely the air of heaven, she shuddered at the thought of being subjected to the knife of the operator. I used every seductive artifice to soothe her fears; I showed her the small instrument with which I would give her peace and health, and painted to her fancy the happiness she would again enjoy in romping among the green fields as in former days, freed from the terror of the slightest motion that now enslaved her. She lay and heard me, opened her eyes, sighed, and shut them again with a slight shake of her head, and a shudder, as if all arguments had failed; then, as I rose, threw after me a look of supplication, as if she wished me to try again to bring her to the point of resolution to free herself from the dreaded enemy that held her so firmly and securely in his grasp. She little knew that she was utterly powerless to resist--a child might have held her hands, while the operation was performed, against her will; but I wished to avoid compulsion; though I feared that, if she would not consent, I would be necessitated, from the gradual decay of the little remaining strength she had, to save her quickly, against her own fears of the means of her salvation.
In the afternoon of the same day I had appointed to perform the operation against her will, her mother came to me and said that the invalid had made signs to her that she would now submit herself to my power. I lost no time in getting my assistants, and waiting upon her before the resolution should depart; but, what was my disappointment to find that she had, in the meantime, been seized with an attack of coughing, so much more serious than any she yet had, that I expected every moment to see her die of suffocation. Her mother sat beside her, weeping and looking on her with an expression of agony; and the little sufferer presented to me such an appearance of emaciation and weakness, that I doubted if I could venture to touch her with a knife, even if her relentless foe allowed her once more to escape for a little time. The coughing and spasms again ceased; but she lay as one dead. I could scarcely feel a pulse in her, and her pale, beautiful face was as calm and benign as if she had been soothed by a divine aspiration, in place of being tortured the moment before by an agony that twisted every muscle of her countenance. She lay in this state about ten minutes, at the end of which time she again opened her eyes, and made a faint sign to her mother that she was prepared. I lost no time. In a moment I had made the incision; and so well had I calculated the locality of the stone, that I was able to seize it on the very first insertion of the nippers. I drew it out, and held it up to her eye. The sight of it operated like magic. She started up on her feet, and, running a few paces, while the blood flowed plentifully down her white throat, clapped her hands, and cried, "It's out--it's out!" She would have fallen instantly, for the impulse that had overcome her weakness was like a shock from a galvanic battery, that moves, and in an instant leaves all dead as before. I seized her, just as she was falling; and, having placed her again on the sofa, sewed up the wound. Before I left her, I saw her breathing freely the unobstructed air. Her blue eye was illuminated with joy; and such was the immediate effect of giving a free passage to the breath of life, that one might have marked the rapid change of returning health going on throughout her whole system. In a short time she recovered, and returned home.
I saw this interesting patient three years afterwards--a fine, blooming young woman.
I have often made observations on that extraordinary disease, hypochondria; and chiefly on the cases where it presents the phasis of a false conception of the existing condition of external circumstances affecting the patient, accompanied by a terror of their operation on his fortunes and prosperity. These are common. I conceive that they argue a lesser derangement of the cerebral functions, than where there occurs a total overturn of the conception of personal identity; and the conviction of _self_ passes into a belief that the patient is actually something else than himself--nay, something else than a man at all, and even something else than an organised being. In both cases, there is, of course, a false conviction, and so far they range under the same head; yet, as the conception of identity is among the first, and strongest, and steadiest of all the states or acts of the mind, it may be presumed to require a stronger deranging impulse to effect the overthrow of an idea that often remains unimpaired amidst the very wrecks of the intellect, than to produce those conditions of ordinary partial derangement of the rational or perceptive powers which daily come under our observation. Yet--and it is a curious feature of these pitiful states of the diseased mind, and one that argues ill for the superiority of man over the passing humours of a fluctuating temperament--wherever there is a false conception of identity, passing into an idea that the patient is something different from himself, he becomes an involuntary humorist; and, while the ordinary maniac brings tears to the eyes of the shuddering beholders, he, in his character of an animal or piece of inert matter, produces nothing but a tickling sensation of exquisite ludicrousness, passing often into broad laughter, certainly the greatest enemy of pity. Now, I approach a case of this kind with feelings entirely different; and, while I thus confess that I can contemplate no state of derangement but with pity, I shall leave a grave narrative of an extraordinary instance of false conviction--true in all its details--to be read and relished according to the fancies and humours of the public.
[Footnote 23: We understand that another case of human incubation occurred, somewhere about the Crosscauseway or Simon Square, of Edinburgh, in Dr Gregory's time.--ED.]
In a large old land of houses in ---- Street, commonly known by the name of the Ark, and occupied by a number of small families in the lower grade of society, an old woman, Margaret B----, had lived for many years, chiefly upon the bounty of a noble family in the country, whom she had served in the capacity of poulterer--_vulgariter_, henwife. She had been for some time ailing; and I was requested by those who took an interest in her, to pay her occasionally a visit, in the course of my professional rounds in the neighbourhood of her dwelling. I could discover, for a time, no marked complaint about her. Living lonely, she had fallen into a lowness of spirits, which, as one of her neighbours informed me, was most effectually removed or ameliorated for a time, by a recurrence to the remembered employments of her former years. She was, in particular, curiously addicted to thinking and speaking of her former extensive establishment of fowls at ---- House; and made reference to speckled favourites by special name, as if she had treated them by distinctions of superiority, beauty, and utility, after the manner of fond mothers, who indulge a habit of fantastic favouritism among their children. I myself noticed this garrulous peculiarity; but, accustomed to all manner of eccentricities, as well healthy as morbid, I attributed her freaks to a foolish fancy, that sought for food among the cherished recesses of a fond memory of the past. By degrees, however, she underwent a considerable change; falling into moods of silent melancholy, which lasted for days, and rising from them to luxuriate, with a fervour that engrossed her whole soul, on the favourite theme, which seemed to present every day new attractions for her moody mind.
As I passed one day along the passage that led to her humble dwelling, her nearest neighbour, a favourite gossip, met me, and whispered, secretly and mysteriously, into my ear, that old Margaret, as she called her, had been, during the whole day, occupied with the regulation of an imagined establishment of her old favourites, the hens. She had been calling them to her by name; using all the technicalities of the domestic fowler's vocabulary; driving some of the more forward away, and endearingly encouraging the backward favourites to participate in the meal of scattered barley she threw upon the floor. The woman added, that she feared she was mad, and yet she laughed at the symptoms of her imputed insanity. I went forward, and, on opening the door, saw good evidence of the truth of my informant's story in the grain that lay about in every direction; but the occupation was gone, the industrious fowler had sunk into a fit of melancholy, and sat, with a drooping head and heavy eye, looking into the fire. She was dogged and silent; and, though I touched gently the irritable chord, I got no response: the illusion was gone, and had left nothing in her mind but the darkness of a morbid melancholy which I possessed no secret to remove.
This state of gloom lasted, I understood--for I could not get her visited in the meantime--for three days, during which she scarcely spoke to her neighbours, whose curiosity, roused by her previous conduct, supplied the place of the kindness which ought to have stimulated charitable attentions. At the end of that time, she awoke from her dream, and spoke with her accustomed sense on any subject that was started in her presence; but during the night she was heard again busy in her old occupation of feeding her feathered family; and several of the neighbours had even been at the pains to leave their beds, and listen to her one-sided dialogue and strange proceedings, as a matter of intense curiosity. I got a second report of these acts from the same neighbours, and very properly set the patient down for one of those unfortunate beings, too common in our land, who are afflicted with temporary derangement, which sometimes shows itself in the form of a fancied presence of some familiar object, and a passing into a condition or position occupied in some prior part of the life of the afflicted individual. These objects are too common to excite in us any particular curiosity; and, having made a report to those interested in her that I feared she was subject to temporary fits of insanity, I left to them the choice of the ordinary expedients in such cases.
Some weeks afterwards, the neighbour whom I had formerly seen, called and told me that the patient had not been attended to as her situation required, and that she had passed into a new condition, so extraordinary and incredible, that she could not trust her tongue to tell it to a rational being, and therefore urged me to come and witness for the truth of what no mortal would otherwise believe, by the evidence of my eyes. I asked her to explain what she meant; but she replied by a laugh, and went away, stating, that, unless I visited her soon, I might lose one of the most strange sights I had ever witnessed in the course of all my extended and long practice. I had seen so much of the wild vagaries of distempered minds, so many metamorphoses of fancied identities, and such extraordinary instances of imaginary metempsychoses, and other freaks in lunatics, that I felt no more curiosity on the subject of the woman's excited report than I do in ordinary cases; but, in about an hour afterwards, I found leisure to call and make a proper judgment of what might, after all, be a matter exaggerated by the clouds of ignorance.
As I proceeded up the stair, and along the passage, I observed several heads peeping out at me, and heard titters and whispers in all directions, as if the neighbours were all a-tiptoe with curiosity to enjoy the doctor's surprise at what he was to behold. The woman who had called me came running out from the middle of three or four old gossips like herself, and, holding away her head to conceal a suppressed laugh, perhaps mixed with a little affected shame, led the way before me to the patient's room. I was grave all the while, as becomes my profession; and I was besides displeased, as I ever am, when I see the misfortunes of my fellow-creatures made the subject of ill-timed mirth, merely because the most dreadful of all the visitations of man puts on grotesque appearances and ludicrous impersonations of fantastic characters.
When I entered, I observed no one in the room. The patient's seat by the fire was empty. A strange noise met my ear--"Cluck, cluck, cluck!" which the woman requested me to pause and listen to. It seemed to me a human imitation of the sounds of the feathered mother of a young brood in our barn-yards. I was astonished, and felt my curiosity rise as high as my conductress might desire. She proceeded to a dark corner of the room, where I saw a large tub half-filled with straw, with the poor victim sitting in it, in such a position that her head and shoulders only could be observed. I now ascertained that the strange sounds came from the occupant of the old seat of Diogenes; yet still my understanding was at fault. I stood and gazed at the spectacle before me, while my conductress seemed to enjoy my perplexity, and I heard the repressed laughter of those in the passage who had come near enough to listen to our proceedings.
"That is a strange seat, Margaret," said I. "What means this?"
I was answered by a repetition of the same extraordinary sounds--"Cluck, cluck, cluck!"
I looked gravely at the neighbour for a serious explanation. I could see no humour in the melancholy indications of drivelling madness, and added a stern expression to the gravity with which I intended to subdue a cruel and ill-timed levity. The woman felt awed and abashed, but it was only for a moment; she stooped down, and, putting her hands among the straw upon which the invalid sat, pulled out a couple of eggs. A louder repetition of the sounds, "cluck, cluck," followed, as if the incubator felt an instinctive parental anger at the temerity of the spoiler of her inchoate progeny. To satisfy her humour, the woman replaced the eggs, and the cluck ceased.
[Footnote 24: The reader may be here reminded of the well-known case of the confessor to the French King. He was long under the delusion of being a cock; he tried to fly, perched upon cross rafters, picked minced meat out of a wooden trencher, and crowed regularly every morning.--ED.]
"There are two dozen of these beneath her," said the woman. "Lord ----'s gamekeeper brought them in to her four days ago, to serve for food to her. I saw her go out for the straw, and she borrowed the tub from me. She built her nest on the night afterwards, and she commenced sitting there immediately when it was completed, so that she has already sat three days and nights. We heard the 'cluck' through the partition; and, upon coming in, found her as you now see her."
"Has she got any food?" said I, with a still graver aspect, as I saw my informant watching for a smile to repay her for her extraordinary information, and keep her in countenance.
"Nothing but some peas of barley," replied the woman, with something of seriousness assumed with great difficulty. "See here."
And she pointed to a small cup placed by the side of the tub, in which some of the grain mentioned was contained, and alongside of it a small vessel of water.
The truth was now fully apparent. A false conviction of as extraordinary a nature as I had yet witnessed had taken entire possession of the invalid's mind. It was not difficult, on ordinary and vulgar data, to account for the peculiar turn of the malady in the case of this woman, because all her life had been spent among fowls; yet I must bear my professional testimony to the fact, that, among the many instances of false conceptions of identity I had previously witnessed, and have since seen, I never knew a case where the peculiarity of the conviction had any relation whatever to the prior habits of mind or body of the invalid. The deranging power, whatever it is, has often no respect to pre-existing habits or associations; but, on the contrary, seems to delight in a capricious triumph over all the ordinary acts of the mind, and delights to introduce an imagined form and character as widely opposed as the antipodes to the prior conceptions of the unfortunate individual. The case before me was, therefore, in this respect interesting; for, as to the grotesque conditions of the fancied change, though calculated to produce an extraordinary effect on vulgar minds, I looked upon them, philosophically, as only another instance of the endless variety of melancholy changes to which our frail natures are exposed.
I proceeded to ask my informant if any means had been taken to draw the invalid from her position, and got for answer, that several of the neighbours had come in and endeavoured to prevail upon her to renounce her charge; but that, having failed in their efforts, they had on several occasions removed her by force, and in opposition to strenuous struggles, and extraordinary sounds of mixed anger and pitiful sorrow. No sooner, however, were their backs turned, than she _flew_ to her seat, and manifested the greatest satisfaction by peculiar noises, at being again reinstated in her charge of her inchoate brood, which she was terrified would, by growing cold, be deprived of the principle of vitality she was busy in communicating to them. I tested, by my own efforts, her instinctive force of affection, by taking her by the arms and endeavouring to remove her; but she sent up such a pitiful cry, mixed with her imitative cluck and cackle, that I let her go, as much through a sudden impulse of fear as from an inability to lift her by the power of my arms. I then put down my hand to remove some of the eggs, but was in an instant attacked as fiercely as if the invalid had in reality been the creature she fancied herself to be; and the manner of the attack was so true to the habits of the feathered mother, that, even in the midst of my philosophy and concern for the unhappy being, I trembled for my professional gravity. She had fancied that the protuberance on her face was a beak, and used that organ with such effect, that, on missing my hand, she darted the fancied organ of defence on the corner of the tub, and produced a stream of blood, which I required to quench by the vulgar but effectual mode of placing down her back the key of the door. During all the struggle, the "cluck, cluck" was kept up, accompanied with a shaking of her clothes, as if she had been raising the feathers to evidence farther for her instinctive anger.
I now left this unhappy individual to the charge of the woman, with a recommendation (I could do nothing more) to endeavour to get her weaned from her situation and habit. Two or three of my brother practitioners having heard the circumstances, visited her during that afternoon, and witnessed, as they informed me, the same symptoms that had been seen by me. Two days afterwards, I visited her again, having, in the meantime, written to Lord ----'s steward an account of the state of the family's poor _protegé_, with some advices as to how she ought to be disposed of. I found her still in the same position, and if possible more determined to defend her brittle charge. I expressed to the attendant some surprise that a human being should have been allowed to remain so long in a predicament which seemed to throw some discredit upon our vindicated superiority over the lower animals; but she answered me by stating that the patient had become so fierce and vindictive, when an attempt was made to remove her from the tub, or to take the eggs from under her, that every one was afraid to go near her. A prejudice had, moreover, taken possession of the neighbours, that she was under the power of some evil spirit; and those who ventured to look at her, as she sat clucking over her charge, gratified their intense curiosity by putting their heads in at the door. As I approached her, I saw plainly that a fiercer spirit had taken possession of her, probably from the attempts that had been made to displace her, and overcome her extraordinary instinct. Her eyes glanced as if fired by the impulse of strong anger, and her "cluck" sounded with a wilder and more unearthly sound than when I saw her before; but she spoke not a word, and, indeed, since ever she had betaken herself to the nest, she had been heard to utter no other sounds than those that are peculiar to the bird she personated. These symptoms imparted to her a most impressive and terrific aspect, altogether incompatible with any feeling of the ludicrous. I have seen mad people in every mood; and, although I have observed them assume attitudes and looks more suggestive, of course, of the terror of personal injury, I am quite free to confess, that I never saw any one whose appearance was so productive of those indefinable feelings of pity, fear, and awe, so often roused within the walls of an asylum. Nature was not only changed--it was overturned; human feelings represented the instincts of the brutes that perish; and the organs, motions, and attitudes of our species, were made to subserve, with an intense anxiety that was painful to behold, the impulses of creatures in the lowest grade of creation. I confess that my feelings were, on this occasion, harrowed; and, if I were to search for any feature in the spectacle before me, more than another, that tended to produce in me this effect, I would say that it was the hideous intensity of the instinctive anxiety that beamed in her dull sullen eye, as I proceeded forward to the place where she covered and defended her charge, aided by the horrid interminable cluck that ground my ears with its unnatural sound.
I was obliged to leave her again, still in the same predicament; for the woman declared that she, for her part, would not again meddle with her, unless assisted by her neighbours; and they, possessed of the terror of the evil spirit, would not approach her. I got her, however, to promise to give her some meat; but this, she said, was of no easy accomplishment, for the invalid was possessed of the idea that nothing ought to be eaten by one in her "particular situation," but what a hen might pick up in its bill and swallow. She had discarded broth and butcher-meat; and the few crumbs she had picked up off a platter that had been placed before her would not suffice to keep in her life.
That same evening, an extraordinary scene took place in the house of this demented creature. I had not been informed that she had any near relations; but it happened that, when she was still in the same extraordinary position, an only son, a fine open-hearted fellow, a sailor, who had been absent from her for seven years, arrived, buoyant with hope, and fired with desire to see his mother happy and well. Good heavens! what a sight was presented to him! I witnessed not the harrowing meeting; but the old neighbour was present, and attempted an inadequate description of it to me. She did not know her son; and when he approached her, to greet her with a son's love, she exhibited the same symptoms of fury, and clucked the dreadful sounds of her defensive anger in his agonised ear. What he saw, and what he heard, opened up to him the hideous mystery. He rushed out of the house, and had not again returned.
Next day, the butler of the family who took charge of her called on me. I accompanied him to the house, when one or two of the neighbours were prevailed upon to lend their assistance in getting her removed by force. The scene that followed was an extraordinary one. She resisted them to the last; as the struggle increased, her eye became more fiery, and her unearthly screams more loud and discordant--passing through all the notes of an incensed hen-mother, and attaining, at times, to the harsh scream which one may have heard from that feathered biped, when separated from her brood, and pursued by a band of urchins. The task of mere removal was not a difficult one, and was soon accomplished. Some curious observer examined the eggs, and found that not one of them was broken, so carefully had she performed her supposed duty of incubation. If she had sat the requisite time, there is not a doubt they would have been duly and legitimately hatched.
Such are the details of this extraordinary case. It is needless to say that it may transcend human belief. That is nothing, because belief is too much regulated by experience. I waited on the poor woman afterwards. The idea haunted her for about two months, and then gave place to some other wild conceptions, that in their turn gave way to others of a more rational character. Her son returned, and saw, with pleasure, the change that had taken place upon his parent. Latterly she became perfectly rational; but, if any one alluded in the remotest degree to her position in the tub, she shuddered with horror, and evaded the subject, as if it had terrors too dreadful to be borne.
In the course of my practice, I have paid some attention to the effects of the two great stimulants, whisky and tobacco, on the bodies and habits of the votaries of excitement. There is a great difference in the action of the two substances; and I know no more curious subject for the investigation of the metaphysical physician, than the analysis of the various effects upon the mind produced by all the stimulating narcotics which are used by man, for the purpose of yielding pleasure or mitigating pain. I have myself committed to paper some thoughts upon this subject, which may yet see the light; and many of the conclusions I have deduced from my reasoning and experience, may be found to be curious, as well as instructive. I have found, for instance, that people of sanguine temperaments are greater drinkers than smokers; and those of a dull, phlegmatic cast are greater smokers than drinkers. A man that smokes will almost always drink; but a man that drinks will not always, nor indeed often, smoke. The two habits are often found combined in the same individual; but it is, notwithstanding, a fact, that, if the smoker and drinker could always command the spirit, he would very seldom or ever trouble himself with the other. I am led into these remarks by a case that occurred in my practice not very long ago, where the two habits joined in an extraordinary manner their baneful influences in closing the mortal career of one of those unfortunate votaries.
I was first called to William G----, a very ingenious artist, when he lay under a severe attack of what we call _delirium tremens_, or temporary insanity, produced by, or consisting of (for the proximate cause is often the disease itself), highly irritated nerves, the consequence of a succession of drinking fits. I found that he had been "on the ball," as they say, for three weeks, during which time he had drunk forty-two bottles of strong whisky. Like many other people of genius, whose fits of inspiration (for artists have those fits as well as poets) make them work to excess, and leave them, as they wear out, the victims of ennui and lassitude, he was in the habit of applying himself to his business with too much assiduity, for the period, generally, of about a month. Exhausted by the excitement of thought and invention kept up too long, he fell regularly down into a state of dull lethargy, which seemed to be painful to him. He felt as if there was a load upon his brain. A sense of duty stung him, after a few days' idleness, poignantly; and, while he writhed under the sting of the sharp monitor, he felt that _he could not_ obey the behest of the good angel; and yet could not explain the reason of his utter powerlessness and incapacity for work. If he had allowed this state, which is quite natural, and not difficult of explanation, to remain unalleviated by stimulants for a day or two, he would have found that, as the brain again collected energy, he would have been relieved by the _vis medicatrix_ of nature herself; but he had no patience for that; and drink was, accordingly, his refuge and relief. The first glass he took was fraught with the most direful power--it threw down the floodgates of a struggling resolution; the relief of the new and artificial impulse raised his spirits: another application inflamed his mind; and then bottle after bottle was thrown into the furnace, until the drink-fever laid him up, and brought upon him the salutary nausea which overcame the rebellious desire. This system had continued for more than ten years. He had been gradually getting worse and worse; and, latterly, he had resigned himself to the cognate influence of the narcotic weed.
When I got an account of this young man--for he was still comparatively young--and saw some of the exquisite pieces of workmanship, both in sculpture and painting, he had executed, I felt a strong interest in his fate. He was, indeed, one example out of many, where I had contemplated, with tears that subdued my professional apathy, genius, commonly supposed to be the rarest, if not the highest gift of mortals, working out, by some power inherent in itself, the ruin of the body, mind, and morals of its possessor. This victim I saw lying under the fell power of one of the most frightful of diseases, brought on by his own intemperance; and not far from his bed lay a half-finished Scripture-piece--a work which, if finished, would have brought him money and fame. He presented the ordinary appearances of his complaint. Emaciated and pale, he laboured under that union of ague and temporary madness which _delirium tremens_ exhibits. All the motions of his nerves seemed to have been inverted; those servants of the will had got a new master, which kept them, by his diabolical power, in continual action. His arms were continually in motion, aiming at some object present or ideal; but, instead of making direct for it, vibrating in sudden snatches backward and forward; his legs were also in continual agitation, kicking up the bedclothes, then being stretched forth, as if held by a spasm; and his eyes, red and fiery, seemed to fly from object to object, as if the vision of a thing burned the orbs, and made them roll about for a resting-place. Thousands of _muscæ volitantes_, or the imaginary flies that swarm round the heads of victims of this complaint, tormented him by their ideal presence, and kept his snatching, quivering hands in continual play, till, by seizing the bed-posts, he seemed, though only for a moment, to get a relief from his restlessness. He knew no one; and sudden burning thoughts flashing upon his heated brain, wrung from him jabbering exclamations, containing intensive words of agony or mirth. The rest of his convulsed muscles was only purchased at the expense of such a morbid increase of the sense of hearing, that the scratch of a pin on the wall pained him as much as if the operation had been performed on his brain--a symptom often so strongly marked in regular brain-fever, and often detected in this last stage of the drunkard's disease. The sense of the pupil of the eye was of the same morbid character. A stream of light produced in him a scream, suggesting the analogy of the sound of the night-bird, the owl, when light is suddenly let into a nest among the young brood. The delights of life, sunbeam and sound, were transformed into poisons; so that his own vivid pictures, or the most melodious of songs, would have produced a convulsive spasm. Food was nauseous to him, and water swallowed by gulps, in the intervals of spasms, was all that could be taken without pain, to quench the burning fires within.
Such is a faithful picture of a disease produced by ardent spirits. I recommend it to the votaries of intemperance. The moment I saw the patient, I knew his disease; and the particulars furnished to me by an old woman who kept his house only corroborated my opinion. The remedies in such cases are well known to us, and were instantly applied. He remained in the same state nearly all the next day; but began to show symptoms of recovery on the morning following. Nature prevailed, and he got gradually better; having, while his weakness was on him, a strong _antipathy_ to ardent spirits--a symptom of the drunkard I have often observed. The interest I felt in him made me call often; and I had a long conversation with him on the philosophy and _morale_ of his intemperance. He went himself to the very depths of the subject; and I found, what I have often done in regard to other drunkards, that no one knew better the predisposing causes, the resisting energies, the consequences--everything connected with the fearful vice; but all his philosophy ended, as these often do, in the melancholy sentence, that "there are powers within us greater than reason or philosophy."
After the fearful attack he had had, he remained sober for about a month, and got a great length with his Scripture-piece. I called often to see his progress, to inspirit him in a continuation of his efforts, and support him in his self-denial. Matters seemed to be progressing well, and I hinted as much to his housekeeper; but she shook her head, and replied, calmly, "that she had seen the same scene acted, ten times a-year, for ten years." She added, "that he would break out again in a day or two;" and accordingly, on the next day, I discovered he had begun to lag in his work, to draw deep sighs, and to exhibit a listlessness, all premonitory signs of a relapse. Knowing that he was at times a smoker, I suggested to him the trial of tobacco, at this critical period. He said he had tried that remedy before; but acknowledged that perhaps he had not carried it far enough. I therefore set him agoing; advising him to keep to it steadily, for I had succeeded once before, in a very extreme case, in drawing out the one vice by the other--undoubtedly a lesser. So he began well, and persevered for about a week, during which time he had also got pretty well on with his work, having finished in that time two of the most difficult heads in the whole piece.
I had now some greater hopes of him, and told the housekeeper to do what she could to aid me in my efforts. Two days afterwards I called, and met the old woman at the door. She shook her head ominously as I passed her. I opened the door, and went in. On a chair opposite to his picture sat the artist, with his pallet in his left hand--the brush had fallen from his right--his head was hung over the back of the chair, and his cravatless neck bent almost to breaking. Beside him sat a bottle empty; there was no glass beside it. I took up the vessel, and smelled it. It had been filled with whisky. I now looked at the picture. It was destroyed. His burin had been drawn over it like a mop, and dashed backwards and forwards, as if he had taken a spite at it, and been determined to put an end in one moment to the work of six months!
There was now no occasion for a doctor; a drunkard fairly broken out is far beyond our help or care. I left him, and told the housekeeper to call and tell me when the fit was over. She did so; and I called again. I found him sitting on the same chair, perfectly sober, but so thin and wan, that he seemed like one taken from that place "where one inheriteth creeping things, and beasts, and worms." His languid bloodshot eye was fixed on the picture, and tears were stealing down his white cheeks. When I entered, he held his hands up to his face, to cover the shame that mantled on his cheek, and deep sobs heaved his bosom. I was moved, and sat down beside him without speaking a word.
"O God!" he exclaimed, "what am I to do with myself? Is there no remedy against this vice?--has the great Author of our being thus left us with an inheritance of reason, and a power that sits like a cockatrice on our brains, and laughs at the God-sent gift? See--see the fruit of six months' hard labour! I expected fame from that, and money. I would have got both. The fiend has triumphed. When I awoke from my dream, I heard his laugh behind the canvas. I am undone."
And he wrung his hands like a demented person, and sobbed bitterly. I was still silent; for any words I could have uttered would have destroyed the impressiveness of the scene before me. When I had allowed the sensation of remorse to sink deeper into him, I spoke:--
"I am glad that you have wrought this destruction," said I. "You have produced an antidote to your own poison--let it work. I have no medicines in my laboratory that have half the efficacy of that once splendid emanation of your genius--now the monument of your folly, and to be, as I hope, the prophylactic to save you from ruin and death."
"Ah, God help me! it is a dear medicine," groaned he. "I feel that I never can produce such a work again."
And he hung down his head, as if the blackest cloud that covers hope had thrown over him its dark shadow. I again observed silence, and he remained with his head on his breast for several minutes, without exhibiting a symptom of life beyond the deep sigh that raised his ribs.
"You must hang that picture upon the wall," said I. "It is the most valuable you ever painted. Look at it daily, and, before the sun goes down, begin another on the same subject."
My words produced no effect upon him, and indeed I knew that he was in a condition that entirely excluded external aid to his revolving thoughts. He was in the pit of dejection, which lies on the far side of the elevation of factitious excitement--a place of darkness, where the scorpions of conscience sting to madness, and every thought that rises in the gloomy, bewildered mind appears like a ghost that walks at midnight over open graves and bones of the dead. To some, these spectres have spoken in such a way as to rouse the dormant principles of energetic amendment, that lie beyond the reach of precept, or even that of conscience; but to the greater part of mankind this place of wailing and gnashing of teeth yields nothing but an agony that only tends to make them climb again the delusive mount from which they had fallen, though only again to be precipitated into the dreadful abode where, in the end, _they must die_. I knew that words had no effect upon my patient. I rose accordingly, and left him to the unmitigated horrors of his situation, in the expectation that he might be one of the few that derive from it good. I had no fear of his falling again, immediately, into another fit; for the period of nausea was only begun, and he was safe in the keeping of a rebelling stomach, whatever he might be in that of burning conscience.
He remained, as his housekeeper told me, in that state of depression for two days, often recurring to the monument of his folly, the destroyed Scripture-piece; weeping over it, and ejaculating wild professions of amendment, clenched by oaths in which the blessed name of God was made the guarantee of the strength of a resolution which the demon of his vice was standing with glaring eyes ready to overturn. I have no faith in outspoken resolves of wordy declamation: not sure of ourselves, we fortify our weak resolutions through the ear and the eye, by spoken and written adjurations, and promises of amendment. After the medicine of dejection had wrought its utmost effect, I waited upon him. He was arrayed in melancholy and gloom: but the agony of the lowest pit was gone, and he stood on a dangerous middle place, between a temporary fulfilment of his resolutions and a relapse. With a patient of this sort I never _continue_ a system of argumentation and disputation. I am satisfied it does injury; for it reaches the moral sore only to irritate it, and an argument surmounted, or sworn resolution vanquished, is a triumph and a _pabulum_ to the spirit of the foe greater than years of domination. I told him, what he confessed frankly, that he stood, for a day or two, on the dangerous ground from which he had so often fallen, and requested him authoritatively, as if I had assumed the reins of his judgment which he had thrown over the back of his passions, to begin instantly another painting, and try once more the American weed. Command sometimes, persuasion never, succeeds with a drunkard. He set about stretching his canvas, and put on the first coat of the foundation of his picture. I told him I would call again in a week; but that, as it was not a part of my profession to reclaim drunkards, I would discontinue my efforts in his behalf, if I found that, at the end of that time, he had swerved from his resolution. The sense of degradation in the mind of these lost votaries of intemperance, while it inclines the unhappy individuals often to resign themselves to the command (from which, however, they often break) of those they respect, responds keenly to the manifestations of disregard and loss of esteem with which they are visited in consequence of their failing. He felt strongly the manner of my treatment, and I thought and observed even tears working for vent from his still bloodshot eyes.
"You, and all good men, have a privilege to despise him who has not the approval of his own conscience," he said. "I could bear your persuasive reproof; but the thought that I have rendered myself unworthy of the trouble of one I esteem, to save me from the ruin I have madly prepared for myself, sends me to that deep pit of despair, from which I have even now struggled to get free. You saved me from death; and I was no sooner cured than I plunged headlong again into the gulf from which my disease was derived. I have made myself an ingrate, and a beggar; spurned your advice, and destroyed the work from which I expected honour and reward. I see myself as through a microscope, and you have diminished me still farther. Heaven help me!"
"You have powers within you, sir," replied I, with affected sternness, "through the medium of which you might have surveyed yourself as through the telescope; and your size would not have been greater than that potential moral magnitude to which you might long ere now have arrived, and which is still within your own power. I exhort not--I leave you to yourself.--_In te omne recumbit._"
"I know it, I know it," he cried, with a swelling throat. "My ruin or my salvation lies within my own breast. For ten years I have resolved, and re-resolved; and it is only three days since I destroyed that picture, and rose with fiery eyes and a burning heart to survey the consequences of my vice. O God! where is this to end? You saw what I suffered when extended on that bed, racked with pain; my brain on fire; my intellect overturned; my muscles twisted by spasms; my eyes and ears tortured by imaginary sights and sounds; with conscience in the back-ground, waiting till reason should bring to the avenging angel its victim. In that every mortal on earth might have found a lesson, but a drunkard. I found none. The very fire of my fever filled my soul with a thirst which precipitated me again deeper than ever in my old sin. I have got my senses again; and my bloodshot eyes have surveyed, and shall survey, that sad monument of my vice and folly--that child of my dreams, with which my pregnant fancy travailed with a delightful pain; and to which my fond hopes of honour, wealth, and happiness were directed--now, alas! dead--killed by my rebellious hand. From that dead body I have extracted a virtue which, with the powers of the amulet, shall guard me more effectually than the lesson of my bodily agony from further destruction. Believe me, sir. Aid me once again. If I fail this time, discard me for ever."
As he finished, he hung his head over the chair, and covered his face with his hands, to hide from me his agonised face. I told him that it was my intention to try what effect the destroyed picture would have upon him.
"You have made a fair beginning," said I. "Persevere--keep to the new picture to-morrow and to-morrow. I shall call in a week."
"You shall find me at work, and an altered man," he said; and a blush came over his face, as he tried to open some subject to me of a delicate nature. "I--I have for some time thought," he continued, "that the way in which I live--a bachelor, with few domestic enjoyments--has a part of the blame of this horrid vice that has taken possession of my soul. Had I a wife, my sensibilities would be fed, my ennui relieved, my home made comfortable, and my ardour for my profession keeping my mind in the delightful bondage of fancy, I might thus satisfy all the cravings of my feelings, and be independent of the liquid fire and the envenomed weed."
"You are a perfect Æsculapius," replied I. "Had I lectured to you for a week from the manual of Galen, I could not have suggested a better medicine; but, mark you, I know not if you have properly described the manner of its operation. A wife will do all for you that you have described; but there is a greater virtue in her; and that is, that she _ought_ to produce in you a salutary terror of making her unhappy. This is a part of love--and I know no greater conservative element of the pure passion. If you fall again into your old habits, you will render an innocent individual miserable; and that thought ought to make you fly the poison as if it were distilled from the herbs of Medea or Circe."
"Oh, I feel it, I feel it," he replied; "and am thankful to you for the suggestion. Like Pygmalion, I fell in love with a face that I sculptured last year. Every line I chiselled was engraven on my heart, and I have dreamed of her ever since. She is herself an artist, and paints beautifully. Our sympathies are kindred; and, though I never declared my passion, from a fear that my bad reputation for inebriety may have reached her, I have _looked_ it, and have reason to think that I may succeed."
"Try," said I; "and I shall then have every hope of you."
I left him, and heard some time afterwards that he had married a very pretty young lady, the daughter of an old artist that lived in the same town. It was not, however, (as I understood), till he had made a solemn promise and _oath_ to the old gentleman, who was possessed of some eccentricities, that he would renounce his habit of drinking, that the young female artist was yielded to him. I felt still the same interest in the man of genius, and called shortly after the marriage, to see how his _medicine_ had wrought. I found him as happy as the day was long. His picture was going on even during the honeymoon, and seemed to reflect a part of the sweet luminary's glory. The young wife, who was really pretty, and imbued with a strong love of both the artist and his art, looked over his shoulder as he proceeded with his work. I was delighted with the couple, and told him that the moment he had finished the picture he was occupied with, I wished him to give me a portrait of "the Doctor." He promised; and I left them, in the confidence--at times interfered with by my experience of the insidious power of the demon--that he would never again have recourse to his old habit.
"To go to see a cousin" is, as all married people know, a very pretty and very usual mode of keeping up the flame of love in the hearts of the young worshippers of Hymen. Mrs G---- went, accordingly (so I learned at a future period), to see a friend who lived in the country. The artist was left again by himself, and promised to his loving wife, who left him with a kiss of true affection, that he would have the piece he was engaged on finished by the time she returned, when he was to commence with my portrait.
"Never fear, Maria," he said, as he embraced her. "You have made me a new man. God bless you for it! I am happy now. Oh, that blessed thought, so opportunely confirmed by Dr ----! I shall paint him like an angel for it."
And, laughing through his tears, he again kissed her, and she left the house with the intention of returning in a week, with an affection increased, and the satisfaction of seeing the painting imbued with all the glory of his high genius.
I was, in the meantime, and while these love matters were going on, engaged in the pursuits of my profession. I knew nothing of them, but wished them happy, and thought all was right. I was sitting, after a day's labour, in my study. It was about eleven o'clock at night. I was startled by the artist's old housekeeper, who burst in upon me in great terror. Her eyes were absolutely starting from their sockets; and she stood before me with her mouth open, but without being able, for a time, to utter a syllable.
"What is the matter?" said I.
"Come to my master, for heaven's sake!" she cried, after some struggles of the throat. "He is vomiting fire."
"What can the woman mean?" said I, as I took up my hat, and hastened to the victim.
I soon found a sufficient explanation. The poor artist was lying on his back on the floor. There were a great number of empty bottles scattered _per aversionem_ round him. A blue, flickering flame was burning in his mouth, which was as black as a piece of coal. His eyeballs were turned up, and convulsive movements shook his frame. I was at no loss for the cause. A tobacco-pipe and a candle were beside him. After he had filled his stomach with whisky for six days, and drunk no fewer than thirteen bottles, he had, in endeavouring to light his pipe, set fire to the spirit that lay on his lips and in his mouth--the flame sought its way down the pharynx till it came to the full body of liquid in his stomach, and all was, in a moment, on fire. I need not dwell on the issue of this case. The poor artist was dead in an hour. Where was his resolution? This is no overcharged picture of the effects of drunkenness.
Fifty years ago, William Percy rented a farm that consisted of about a hundred acres, and which was situated on the banks of the Till. His wife, though not remarkable for her management of a farmhouse, was a woman of many virtues, and possessed of a kind and affectionate heart. They had an only daughter, whose name was Agnes; and, as she approached towards womanhood, people began to designate her the _Rose of Till-side_. Her beauty was not of the kind that dazzles or excites sudden admiration; but it grew upon the sight like the increasing brightness of a young rainbow--its influence stole over the soul as moonlight on the waters. It was pleasant to look upon her fair countenance, where sweetness gave a character to beauty, mellowing it and softening it, as though the soul of innocence there reflected its image. Many said that no one could look upon the face of Agnes Percy and sin. Her hair was of the lightest brown, her eyes of the softest blue, and the lovely rose which bears the name of _Maiden's Blush_ is not more delicate in the soft glow of its colouring than was the vermilion tint upon her cheeks. She was of middle stature, and her figure might have served a sculptor as a model. But she was good and gentle as she was beautiful. The widow mentioned her name in her prayers--the poor blessed her.
Now, Agnes was about eighteen, when a young man of her own age, named Henry Cranstoun, took up his residence for a few months in her father's house. He was the son of a distant relative of her mother, and was then articled as a clerk or apprentice to a writer to the signet in Edinburgh. He also was the only child of his parents; for, though they had had eight others, he was all that death had left them. He was the youngest son of his mother; and there was a time when there was no mother had greater cause to be proud of her children. Yea, as they hand in hand, or one by one, went forth on the Sabbath morning with their parents to their place of worship, there was not an eye that looked not with delight or admiration on the little Cranstouns. The neatness of their dress, the loveliness of every countenance, the family likeness of each, the apparent affection of all, the propriety of their demeanour, interested all who looked upon them. But as untimely flowers, that by a returning frost are stricken down in beauty, so drooped, so perished, this fair and happy family. Some had said that they were too beautiful to live; and, as they also manifested much quickness and wisdom for their years, there were others who said to Mrs Cranstoun, as she was shedding their shining hair upon their brows, that she would never comb an old head! This is a cold, cruel, and ignorant prophecy; it has sent foreboding and unhappiness into the bosom of many a fond mother; but, in this case, it needed not the gift of a seer to foretell the gloomy tidings. Consumption lurked amidst the beauty that glowed on every cheek; and seven of the fair family had fallen victims to the progress of the insidious destroyer, till Henry alone was left. And now, even upon him also, it seemed to have set its mark. The hollow cough and the flushed cheek, the languidness by day and the restlessness by night, gave evidence that the disease was there.
Change of air and less study were recommended by the physicians, as the only means by which Henry might be saved; and he was sent over to Northumberland, to the house of William Percy, his mother's friend.
It was about that period of the year which is spoken of as the "fall of the leaf," when Henry Cranstoun first arrived at Till-side. William Percy had just gathered in his harvest, and Henry met with the kindly welcome of a primitive family. The father and mother, and their daughter, received him as one whom they were to snatch from the hands of death. In a few days, the goat's milk, and the bracing air, which came with health on its wings from the adjacent mountains, wrought a visible change in the appearance of the invalid. His cough became more softened, his eyes less languid, his step more firm, and he panted not as he walked. He felt returning strength flowing through his veins--in his bosom, in the moving of his fingers, he felt it. He walked out by the side of Agnes--she led him by the banks of the Till, by the foot of the hills, by the woods where the brown leaves were falling, and by the solitary glen.
Perhaps I might have said that the presence of Agnes contributed not less than the mountain air and the change of scenery to his restoration to health. Of this I have not been told. Certain it is that her beauty and her gentleness had spread their influence over his heart, as spring, with its wooing breath, awakens the dreaming earth from its winter sleep. It was not the season when nature calls forth the soul to love; for the cushat was silent in the woods, the mavis voiceless on the thorn, the birds were dumb on every spray, the wild-flowers had closed their leaves and drooped, and the meadows lost their fragrance. But, as they wandered forth together, a lark started up at their feet; it raised its autumn song over their heads; it poured it in their ears. Both raised their eyes in joy towards the singing bird; they listened to it with delight. His fingers were pressed on hers as he heard it, as though he would have said--"How sweet it is!" But the lustre forsook his eyes while he yet listened--he sighed, and was silent. They returned home together, and Agnes strove to cheer him; but his spirit was heavy, and he pressed her hand more fervently in his. The song of the lark seemed to have touched a chord of sadness in his bosom.
Henry was heard walking backward and forward in his room throughout the night; and on the following morning at breakfast he put a paper into the hands of Agnes, on which was written the following rhymes:--
THE LARK'S AUTUMNAL SONG.
(INSCRIBED TO AGNES PERCY.)
Again in the heavens thy hymn is heard, Bird of the daring wing! When last ye sprang from the daisied sward, Making the welkin ring, Thy lay the dreaming buds awoke-- Thy voice the spell of winter broke-- The primrose, on the mossy brae, Burst beauteous into life and day, And smiled to hear thee sing! The children clapp'd their tiny hands; The shout rang through their little bands, Hailing the bird in spring! Thy lay made earth and air rejoice, And nature heard thee as an angel's voice. Again in the heavens thy hymn is heard, Bird of the mournful song! A lonely daisy yet decks the sward, The last of the summer throng. While here and there, upon the brae, Some primrose, _languid as the ray Of hope that vanisheth away Upon the cheek of death_, Untimely opes its golden wing, Mistaking, as it hears thee sing, That thou art come to tell of spring, And not of winter's wrath. But now thy strain is as one that grieves-- Thou singest the dirge of the falling leaves! Again in the heavens thy hymn I hear, Bird of the merry song! Thou art ringing a lay in old winter's ear-- Ye bid him farewell, and ye welcome him here-- Ye help the old man along! Ye are singing to look on the fruits of the year Gather'd in, and in ripeness, with plenty around; And ye pour o'er earth's fulness a rapturous sound. Ye are singing a strain that man should have sung-- Man with ingratitude seal'd on his tongue: At _seed-time_, thy joyous and _hope-breathing_ lay, To the ploughman was sung, as an anthem, all day, And now at his _harvest_ ye greet him again, And call him to join in thy _thanksgiving_ strain.
Agnes wept as she perused the foreboding lines, which he had marked in what printers call Italics, in the second stanza, by drawing a line under them. She felt interested in the fate of Henry Cranstoun--deeply interested. We believe that, like the gentle Desdemona, she wished that
"Heaven had made her such a man;"
for, though the young writer to the signet spoke not
"Of war, and broils, and battles,"
his tongue was the interpreter of nature--he dwelt as an enthusiast on its beauties, its mysteries, its benevolence, its glorious design; and, through all, he would point
"Through nature up to nature's God!"
It is a common saying, "that you cannot put an old head upon young shoulders!" but, if ever the truth of the saying might be disputed, it was in the case of Henry Cranstoun. The deaths of his brothers and his sisters had rested upon his young mind--they had struck it with awe--they had made him to feel that he, too, must die--he, indeed, felt as though the shadow of death were creeping over him; and the thoughts and the hopes of eternity early became the companions of his spirit. He treasured up the words of the inspired preacher, "Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth." He treasured them up, and he practised them; and his deportment gave him a deeper interest in the eyes of the Northumberland farmer and his family.
William Percy was esteemed by his neighbours as a church-going and a good man. He was kind to his servants; he paid every man his own; he was an affectionate husband and a fond father; the poor turned not away murmuring from his door; and every Sunday night he knelt with his wife and with his daughter, before their Maker, in worship, as though it were a duty which was to be discharged but once in seven days. Now, it was late on Saturday night when Henry Cranstoun arrived at their house; and, on the following evening, he joined in the devotions of the family. But Monday night came, and the supper passed, and the Bibles were not brought. Henry inquired--
"Is it not time for worship?"
The question went to the conscience of the farmer--he felt that before his Creator, who preserved him, who gave him every breath he drew, he had knelt with his family but once a-week. "Is not He the Almighty of all time and of all eternity?" asked his conscience; "and have I not served Him as though He were Lord of the Sabbath only? I forsake him for a week--where should I be if He left me but for a moment?"
"Agnes, love," said he aloud, "bring the books."
She cheerfully obeyed, and the Bibles were laid upon the table. The psalm was read, and the voice of praise was raised; and as the hinds in the adjoining houses heard the sound, they followed the example of their master. Hitherto, like their employer, they had lifted their voices in thanksgiving but once a-week, as if a few minutes spent in praise and in prayer, and in the reading of a chapter, were all that was necessary for example to a family, or for gratitude to Him who sustained, protected, and gave them being from moment to moment. I should not dwell upon this, were it not that there are many good and Christian parents who conceive that they fulfil the injunction of "praying often with and for their children," by causing them to kneel around them on a Sabbath night. But this, certainly, is a poor fulfilment of the oath which they have taken--or which, if they have not taken, they are equally bound to perform. I do not say that the man who daily prays with his family will have the gratification of seeing all of them following in his footsteps, or that all of them will think as he thinks; but he may be of one sect, and some of them of another; yet, let them go where they will--let them be thrown into what company they may--let temptation assail them in every form, and absence throw its shadows over their father's house--yet the remembrance, the fervour, the words of a father's prayers, will descend upon their souls like a whisper from heaven, kindling the memory and awakening the conscience; and if the child of such a man depart into sin, the small still voice will not die in his ear. Nay, the remembrance of the father's voice will be heard in the son's heart above the song of the bacchanal, and the lowly remembered voice of psalms rise upon his memory, making him insensible to the peal of instruments. I have listened to the sonorous swell of the organ in the Roman church and the Episcopal cathedral, to the chant of the choristers and the music of the anthem, and I have been awed by the sounds; but they produced not the feelings of peace and of reverence--I might say of religion--which are inspired by the lowly voices of a congregated family joining together in their hymn of praise. I have thought that such sounds, striking on the ear of the guilty, would arrest them in their progress.
Such was the change which Henry Cranstoun introduced into the house of his host. From that moment, Agnes regarded him with a deeper interest, her father loved him, and her mother looked on him as a son. But, although his mind had been early imbued with serious impressions, he was a lover of all that was beautiful in nature--he was warm of heart and eloquent of speech--and his form was such as the eye of a maiden might look on with complacency.
Christmas had passed before he left the house of his mother's friend, and health again glowed on his cheeks, strength revisited his frame. No one that saw Henry Cranstoun upon his entering the house of Mr Percy three months before, and who had not seen him in the meanwhile, would have known him to be the same individual. But Agnes noted no change in him. She knew that his health was now restored; but she had begun to hope and love at the same moment, and she had never thought that Henry would die. His eyes had ever been bright to her--his voice ever pleasing; and her beauty, her gentleness, her sweetness of temper, her kindness, her looks, her tones of affection, had fallen upon his bosom, till every thought, save the thought of Agnes, was banished.
He was to leave her father's house: he bade her _farewell_. Till that moment, they had not known how dear they were unto each other. They had never spoken of love; and, to hearts that do love, there is little need for such declarations. The affection of every glance, the guarded delicacy of every action, speaks it more plainly than the impassioned eloquence of language. True eloquence is feeling, and feeling dictates the words to be used, pouring them forth in the full tide of the heart's emotion; but, though love also be feeling, it is not of that kind which makes men eloquent. True love is dumb as true gratitude. It speaks from the glowing eye and the throbbing bosom; from the hand passionately grasped--not from the tongue.
Henry and Agnes said little; but they fell upon the necks of each other when they parted. She wept, and from his eyes the tear was ready to fall. He kissed her brow, and said that in the spring he would return.
He left Northumberland, and his parents welcomed him as one received from the dead. He was strong and healthy, and he alone, of all their children, seemed to have overcome the power of the destroyer. Yet a week never passed but he wrote to his friends, who had snatched him as from the gates of death; or rather, I should say, that he wrote to the gentle Agnes, requesting that the expression of his gratitude might be given to her parents, until he returned to thank them. But spring came; and with it Henry Cranstoun returned to Till-side. Health still glowed in his eyes, and beamed upon his cheeks. He was fond of angling, and, with his rod in his hand, he sought amusement in the gentle art; yet his favourite pastime afforded him no pleasure, save when Agnes was by his side, and then they would sit down on the brae-side together, with her hand in his, and the fishing-rod on the ground, and they forgot that he had gone out to fish, until evening came, and he returned with his creel empty.
Thus five years passed on, and twice in every year Henry Cranstoun visited his friends in Northumberland. He had commenced practice in Edinburgh; fair prospects opened before him; his marriage-day was fixed; and need I say that the bride was Agnes?
The ceremony was to be performed in the parish church, which was situated about a mile from her father's house. Henry was only expected to arrive an hour or two before the marriage was to take place. The bosom of fair Agnes throbbed with tumultuous joy. Her parents gazed upon her, blessed her, and were happy. She sat before them, arrayed, a bride for the altar. He whom she loved and they esteemed was that day to make her his wife. Her mother gazed on her with pride--she blessed her Agnes. Her father's heart glowed within him. The bridemaidens were come--Agnes was impatient, but still happy; no fear, no doubt, had risen in her mind. She knew her Henry.
But the last hour arrived, and Henry came not. Her uneasiness increased. The servants were sent to a neighbouring hill; but no chaise, no horseman, appeared in sight. Agnes became unhappy; paleness overspread her cheeks. The company were silent. Her father's watch hung over the mantelpiece, and she sat at the opposite side of the room; yet its ticking fell upon her ears slow and heavy, as sounds from a hammer on an anvil. Tears, which she had struggled to conceal, now gathered in her eyes. Some evil had befallen Henry, she said, and wept.
The hour which had been appointed for the ceremony was past; but still he came not. Her fears, her anxiety, increased, and she wept the more, refusing to be comforted. She knew not what she feared; but her breast was filled with misery. She had received a letter from him but three days before. She read it again--it breathed the language of impassioned affection, but his truth she doubted not; yet there was an incoherency, a vehemence, in some parts of the letter, which were not like the style of Henry. A vague horror shot across her thoughts, and her hand trembled, as she laid the letter aside.
Still the servants were despatched to see if he approached, and at length they brought tidings that two horsemen were riding towards the house. Agnes strove to wipe away the tears from her eyes, but her heart yet throbbed, and others rose in their place. The horsemen drew near the house. Those of the company who beheld them from the windows drew back with a look of dismay. Agnes clasped her hands together, as she beheld the expression of their countenances. The evil she apprehended was about to be revealed. The parish clergyman and the minister of the congregation to which Mr Percy belonged entered the room. She started from her seat as they entered--she wrung her hands on her bosom--her eyes seemed fixed and motionless with misery--her lips moved--her tongue struggled for utterance.
"Be comforted!" said one of the reverend visiters, kindly.
"Is my Henry dead?" she exclaimed--"is he dead?"
"He is not dead," was the reply; "but----" and the clergyman hesitated a moment to proceed.
"_His mind is dead!_" added the wretched bride, and sank back in her mother's arms. The dismal thought flashed upon her soul; the vague horror that she had shrunk from before became tangible--the incoherence and vehemence of passages in his last letter were suddenly and fearfully interpreted.
The tidings which the clergyman had to communicate, her fears had already told. The mind of Henry Cranstoun had become a wreck. A cloud fell upon his reason; and, on the day that he was to lead his bride to the altar, he was placed an inmate of the gloomy cells of Bedlam.
Several months had passed, and the grief of Agnes became more tranquil, but not less deep. She entreated permission to visit her bridegroom in the place of his confinement, and her parents fondly endeavoured to dissuade her from her purpose; but it became the one--the ruling wish of her heart--and they consented. Her father accompanied her to the dreary prison-house. But I shall not attempt to describe the heartrending interview, nor to tell how the iron which fettered him entered her soul. He knew her--he wept before her as a child--he exclaimed, "My brain!--my brain!" and pressed his hand upon his brow. Around him were strewed scraps of paper; she beheld her name upon each; they were covered with verses of love and of wildness. But I will not dwell upon the harrowing scene, upon the words that were spoken, and the fitful gleams of reason that flitted across his soul, as his eyes remained riveted on the face he loved. But when her father, with a faltering voice, suggested that they should depart, and took her hand to lead her from the cell, a scream of loud and bitter agony burst from the wretched maniac. "Agnes--Agnes!" he cried; and his wailing was as the lamentation of a lost spirit. Anguish overpowered her, and she was borne insensible from the cell in her father's arms.
Seven long and dreary years passed, and the mind of Henry was still bewildered; still was he an inmate of the melancholy asylum, and no hope was entertained of his recovery. But the heart of Agnes knew no change--for him she still shed the secret tear and offered up the secret prayer.
But her father's fortunes were altered. He had been induced to enter into a speculation with one who deceived him, and in it the industry of years was swallowed up and lost. He was obliged to leave his farm, and he now resided in a small cottage in its neighbourhood. Still there were many who sought the hand of the fair Rose of Till-side; but she chose rather to brood over the remembrance of poor ruined Henry than to listen to their addresses. But amongst them was a young gentleman named Walker, whose condition was far above hers, and who for two years had vainly sought a place in her affections. In the day of her father's distress, he had been his friend, and he yet sought to place him again in a state of independence. The health of Mr Percy, also, began to decline; the infirmities of age were growing upon him; and the little that he had been able to save from the wreck of his capital was wasting rapidly away. He became melancholy with the thought that he should die a pauper, or leave his wife and his daughter in want; and, in the presence of Agnes, he often spoke of Mr Walker--of the excellence of his character--of his wealth--of what he had done for him in the midst of his misfortunes--of what he still desired to do--and of his affection for her. She listened to her father's words in sorrow and in silence, and, on her pillow by night, she wept because of them. To her the remembrance of Henry Cranstoun was dearer than the temptations of wealth, and her heart clung to him with a constancy which neither time, misery, nor hopelessness could shake. She was grateful to her father's friend for the kindness he had shown him, and for the generosity of the proposals he had made--yet she found that she could not love him, that her bosom had room for none but Henry.
Poverty, however, entered her parents' dwelling, and her father seemed drooping for lack of nourishment which his increasing feebleness required. Her mother, too, sat silent and melancholy, occasionally raising her eyes to her daughter's face, with a look that implored her to save her father. The old man had been ordered wine daily; but their penury was now such that they could not purchase it, and the plainest food had become scanty on their table.
Such was their situation, and they were sitting sorrowful together, when Mr Walker entered the room. He approached Agnes respectfully, he took her hand.
"Dear Agnes," he began, "can one with so kind a heart look with indifference on the wants and the sufferings of a father and a mother? It is in your power to make them happy, to restore them to prosperity. For two years I have sought your hand, without meeting one look of encouragement or one word of hope. Yet believe me, Agnes, I admire the constancy which induces you to cherish a hopeless passion, and reject me. If not for my sake, yet for the sake of your poor father, for that of your fond mother, yea, for your own sake, dearest, permit me to call you mine. I do not ask your love now; give me but your esteem, and I will study to deserve your affection. Dear friends, plead for me," he added, addressing her parents.
Her father laid his hand upon hers--"Dear Agnes," said he, "your father is now a poor man--he is very poor. I fear the hand of death is already upon me; and when I am gone, who will provide for your poor mother--who will protect thee, my child? It is the only wish of my heart to see you provided for, and your father would die in peace. And oh, my Agnes, as your father's dying request, permit me to bestow your hand upon this generous youth."
"Save us, my sweet one!" cried her mother, and she flung her arms around her daughter's neck.
"It is done!" exclaimed Agnes, bursting into tears; and she stretched out her hand to Mr Walker.
A few weeks afterwards, and the village bells rang a merry peal, children scattered flowers, and there was joy on every face, save upon the face of the fair bride, who went as a sacrifice to the altar. She heard not the words of the clergyman as he read the ceremony. She trembled, she would have fallen to the ground, but that the bridesmaid supported her.
The marriage party were returning by a footpath from the church, the sorrowful bride resting on the arm of her bridegroom. A stranger met them--he turned aside, that they might pass. His eyes fell upon the countenance of the bride.
"O Heavens! my Agnes!" cried the stranger, in a voice of agony.
"Henry! my Henry!" screamed the wretched bride, and, starting from the side of the bridegroom, she sank on the breast of the stranger.
That stranger was indeed Henry Cranstoun. A severe illness had brought him to the verge of death, and with his restoration to health reason was restored also. He had come to take his bride to his bosom--he met her the bride of another. It was a scene of misery.
"O Agnes! Agnes!" groaned Henry, "would to Heaven I had died! You are another's, though your heart is mine! Farewell! Farewell!--we must meet no more! I have endured much, but never misery like this!"
She could only exclaim, "Henry!" and speech failed her--recollection fled. Henry Cranstoun struck his hand upon his brow, and rushed wildly away. Agnes was conveyed to her father's house, as being nearer than that of her bridegroom's. She was laid upon her bed, she seemed unconscious of all around, and her tongue only uttered the word "Henry." She rose not again from the bed on which she was laid, and within a week her gentle spirit fled. The shock which Henry had met with occasioned a relapse of the fever from which he had but recently recovered. He was taken to the village inn. He felt that death was about to terminate his sufferings, and when he heard of the death of his Agnes, he requested to be buried by her side. Within three weeks he died, and his latest wish was fulfilled--he was laid by the side of Agnes Percy, and a rose-tree was planted over their grave.
THE HENPECKED MAN.
Every one has heard the phrase, "_Go to Birgham!_" which signifies much the same as bidding you go to a worse place. The phrase is familiar not only on the Borders, but throughout all Scotland, and has been in use for more than five hundred years, having taken its rise from Birgham being the place where the Scottish nobility were when they dastardly betrayed their country into the hands of the first Edward; and the people, despising the conduct and the cowardice of the nobles, have rendered the saying, "_Go to Birgham!_" an expression of contempt until this day. Many, however, may have heard the saying, and even used it, who know not that Birgham is a small village, beautifully situated on the north side of the Tweed, about midway between Coldstream and Kelso; though, if I should say that the village itself is beautiful, I should be speaking on the wrong side of the truth. Yet there may be many who have both heard the saying and seen the place, who never heard of little Patie Crichton, the bicker-maker. Patie was of diminutive stature, and he followed the profession (if the members of the _learned professions_ be not offended at my using the term) of a cooper, or bicker-maker, in Birgham for many years. His neighbours used to say of him, "The puir body's henpecked."
Patie was in the habit of attending the neighbouring fairs with the water-cogs, cream-bowies, bickers, piggins, and other articles of his manufacture. It was Dunse fair, and Patie said he "had done extraordinar' weel--the sale had been far beyond what he expeckit." His success might be attributed to the circumstance that, when out of the sight and hearing of his better half, for every bicker he sold, he gave his customers half-a-dozen jokes into the bargain. Every one, therefore, liked to deal with little Patie. The fair being over, he retired with a crony to a public-house in the Castle Wynd, to crack of old stories over a glass, and inquire into each other's welfare. It was seldom they met, and it was as seldom that Patie dared to indulge in a single glass; but, on the day in question, he thought they could manage another gill, and another was brought. Whether the sight of it reminded him of his domestic miseries, and of what awaited him at home, I cannot tell; but, after drinking another glass, and pronouncing the spirits excellent, he thus addressed his friend:--
"Ay, Robin" (his friend's name was Robin Roughead), "ye're a happy man--ye're maister in your ain hoose, and ye've a wife that adores and _obeys_ ye; but I'm nae better than naebody at my ain fireside. I'll declare I'm waur: wife an' bairns laugh at me--I'm treated like an outlan' body an' a fule. Though without me they micht gang an' beg, there is nae mair respeck paid to me than if I were a pair o' auld bauchels flung into a corner. Fifteen years syne I couldna believed it o' Tibby, though onybody had sworn it to me. I firmly believe that a guid wife is the greatest blessin that can be conferred upon a man upon this earth. I can imagine it by the treasure that my faither had in my mither; for, though the best may hae _words_ atween them occasionally, and I'm no saying that they hadna, yet they were just like passin showers, to mak' the kisses o' the sun upon the earth mair sweet after them. Her whole study was to please him and to mak' him comfortable. She was never happy but when he was happy; an' he was just the same wi' her. I've heard him say that she was worth untold gold. But, O Robin! if I think that a guid wife is the greatest blessin a man can enjoy, weel do _I_ ken that a scoldin, domineerin wife is his greatest curse. It's a terrible thing to be snooled in your ain house--naebody can form an idea o't but they wha experience it.
"Ye remember whan I first got acquainted wi' Tibby, she was doing the bondage work at Riselaw. I first saw her coming out o' Eccles kirk ae day, and I really thocht that I had never seen a better-faured or a more gallant-looking lass. Her cheeks were red and white like a half-ripe strawberry, or rather, I should say, like a cherry; and she seemed as modest and meek as a lamb. It wasna very lang until I drew up; and, though she didna gie me ony great encouragement at first, yet, in a week or twa, after the ice was fairly broken, she became remarkably ceevil, and gied me her oxter on a Sunday. We used to saunter about the loanings, no saying meikle, but unco happy; and I was aye restless whan I was out o' her sight. Ye may guess that the shoemaker was nae loser by it during the six months that I ran four times a-week, wet or dry, between Birgham and Riselaw. But the term-time was drawing nigh, and I put the important question, and pressed her to name the day. She hung her head, and she seemed no to ken weel what to say; for she was sae mim and sae gentle then, that ye wad hae said 'butter wadna melt in her mouth.' And when I pressed her mair urgently--
"'I'll just leave it to yersel, Peter,' says she.
"I thocht my heart wad louped out at my mouth. I believe there never was a man sae beside himsel wi' joy in this warld afore. I fairly danced again, and cut as many antics as a merryandrew. 'O Tibby,' says I,
'I'm owre happy now!--Oh, haud my head! This gift o' joy is like to be my dead.'
"'I hope no, Peter,' said she; 'I wad rather hae ye to live than dee for me.'
"I thocht she was as sensible as she was bonny, and better natured than baith.
"Weel, I got the house set up, the wedding-day cam, and everything passed owre as agreeably as onybody could desire. I thocht Tibby turning bonnier and bonnier. For the first five or six days after the weddin, everything was '_hinny_,' and '_my love_,' and '_Tibby, dear_,' or '_Peter, dear_.' But matters didna stand lang at this. It was on a Saturday nicht, I mind, just afore I was gaun to drap work, that three or four acquaintances cam into the shop to wush me joy, and they insisted I should pay off for the weddin. Ye ken I never was behint hand; and I agreed that I wad just fling on my coat and step up wi' them to Orange Lane. So I gaed into the house and took down my market coat, which was hangin behint the bed; and after that I gaed to the kist to tak out a shilling or twa; for, up to that time, Tibby had not usurped the office of Chancellor o' the Exchequer. I did it as cannily as I could; but she had suspected something, and heard the jinkin o' the siller.
"'What are ye doing, Patie?' says she; 'whar are ye gaun?'
"I had never heard her voice hae sic a sound afore, save the first time I drew up to her, when it was rather sharp than agreeable.
"'Ou, my dear,' says I, 'I'm just gaun up to Orange Lane a wee while.'
"'To Orange Lane!' says she; 'what in the name o' fortune's gaun to tak ye there?'
"'O hinny,' says I, 'it's just a neebor lad or twa that's drapped in to wush us joy, and, ye ken, we canna but be neebor-like.'
"'Ay! the sorrow joy them!' says she, 'and neebor too!--an' how meikle will that cost ye?'
"'Hoot, Tibby,' says I, for I was quite astonished at her, 'ye no understand things, woman.'
"'No understand them!' says she; 'I wish to guidness that ye wad understand them though! If that's the way ye intend to mak the siller flee, it's time there were somebody to tak care o't.'
"I had put the silver in my pocket, and I was gaun to the door mair surprised than I can weel express, when she cried to me--
"'Mind what ye spend, and see that ye dinna stop.'
"'Ye need be under nae apprehensions o' that, hinny,' said I, wishing to pacify her.
"'See that it be sae,' cried she, as I shut the door.
"I joined my neebors in a state of greater uneasiness o' mind than I had experienced for a length o' time. I couldna help thinkin but that Tibby had rather early begun to tak the upper hand, and it was what I never expected from her. However, as I was saying, we went up to Orange Lane, and we sat doun, and ae gill brocht on anither. Tibby's health and mine were drunk; we had several capital sangs; and, I daresay, it was weel on for ten o'clock afore we rose to gang awa. I was nae mair affected wi' drink than I am at this moment. But, somehow or ither, I was uneasy at the idea o' facing Tibby. I thought it would be a terrible thing to quarrel wi' her. I opened the door, and, bolting it after me, slipped in, half on the edge o' my fit. She was sitting wi' her hand at her haffit by the side o' the fire, but she never let on that she either saw or heard me--she didna speak a single word. If ever there was a woman
'Nursing her wrath to keep it warm,'
it was her that nicht. I drew in a chair, and, though I was half-feared to speak--
"'What's the matter, my pet?' says I--'what's happened ye?'
"But she sat looking into the fire, and never let on she heard me. 'E'en's ye like, Meg Dorts,' thought I, as Allan Ramsay says; but I durstna say it, for I saw that there was a storm brewing. At last, I ventured to say again--
"'What ails ye, Tibby, dear?--are ye no weel?'
"'Weel!' cried she--'wha can be weel? Is this the way ye mean to carry on? What a time o' nicht is this to keep a body to, waiting and fretting on o' ye, their lane? Do you no think shame o' yoursel?'
"'Hoot, woman,' says I, 'I'm surprised at ye; I'm sure ye hae naething to mak a wark about--it's no late yet.'
"'I dinna ken what ye ca' late,' said she; 'it wadna be late amang yer cronies, nae doubt; but if it's no late, it's early, for I warrant its mornin.'
"'Nonsense!' says I.
"'Dinna tell me it's nonsense,' said she, 'for I'll be spoken to in na sic way--I'll let you ken that. But how meikle has it cost ye? Ye wad be treating them, nae doubt--and how meikle hae ye spent, if it be a fair question?'
"'Toots, Tibby!' said I, 'whar's the cause for a' this? What great deal could it cost me?'
"'But hair by hair makes the carle's head bare,' added she--'mind ye that; and mind ye that ye've a house to keep aboon your head noo. But, if ye canna do it, I maun do it for ye--sae gie me the key o' that kist--gie me it instantly; and I'll tak care how ye gang drinkin wi' ony body and treatin them till mornin again.'
"For the sake o' peace I gied her the key; for she was speakin sae loud that I thocht a' the neebors wad hear--and she had nae suner got it, than awa she gaed to the kist and counted every shilling. I had nae great abundance then mair than I've now; and--
"'Is that a' ye hae?' said she; 'an' yet ye'll think o' gaun drinkin and treatin folk frae Saturday nicht till Sabbath mornin! If this is the life ye intend to lead, I wush to guidness I had ne'er had onything to say to ye.'
"'And if this is the life ye intend to lead me,' thought I, 'I wush the same thing.'
"But that was but the beginnin o' my slavery. From that hour to this she has continued on from bad to worse. No man livin can form an idea o' what I've suffered but mysel. In a mornin, or rather, I may say, in a forenoon, for it was aye nine or ten o'clock afore she got up, she sat doun to her tea and white scones and butter, while I had to be content wi' a scrimpit bicker o' brose and sour milk for kitchen. Nor was this the warst o't; for, when I cam in frae my wark for my breakfast, mornin after mornin, the fire was black out; and there had I, before I could get a bite to put in my mouth, to bend doun upon my knees and blaw it, and blaw it, till I was half-blind wi' ashes--for we hadna a pair o' bellowses; and there wad she lie grumblin a' the time, ca'in me useless _this_, and useless _that_; and I just had to put up wi' it. But, after our first bairn was born, she grew far warse, and I becam mair and mair miserable every day. If I had been sleeping through the nicht, and the bairn had begun a kickin, or whingin--then she was at the scoldin, and I was sure to be started out o' my sleep wi' a great drive atween the shouthers, and her crying--
"'Get up, ye lazy body, ye--get up, and see what's the maiter wi' this bairn.'
"An' this was the trade half-a-dizen o' times in a nicht.
"At last, there was ae day, when a' that I had dune was simply saying a word about the denner no bein ready, and afore ever I kenned whar I was, a cracky-stool that she had bought for the bairn cam fleein across the room, and gied me a dirl on the elbow, that made me think my arm was broken. Ye may guess what a stroke it was, when I tell ye I couldna lift my hand to my head for a week to come. Noo, the like o' that, ye ken, was what mortal man couldna stand.
"'Tibby,' said I, and I looked very desperate and determined, 'what do ye mean by this conduct? By a' that's gracious, I'll no put up wi' it ony langer!'
"'Ye'll no put up wi' it, _ye cratur_!' said she; 'if ye gie me ony mair o' yer provocation, I'll pu' yer lugs for ye--wull ye put up wi' that?'
"It was terrible for a man to hear his ain wife ca' him _a cratur_!--just as if I had been a monkey or a laupdoug!
"'O ye disdainfu' limmer,' thought I; 'but if I could humble your proud spirit, I wad do it!' Weel, there was a grand new ballant hawkin about the country at the time--it was ca'd 'Watty and Meg'--ye have nae doubt seen't. Meg was just such a terrible termagant as my Tibby; and I remembered the perfect reformation that was wrought upon her by Watty's bidding her farweel, and threatenin to list. So it just struck me that I wad tak a leaf out o' the ballant. Therefore, keeping the same serious and determined look, for I was in no humour to seem otherwise--'Tibby,' says I, 'there shall be nae mair o' this. But I will gang and list this very day, and ye'll see what will come owre ye then--ye'll maybe repent o' yer conduct whan it's owre late.'
"'List! ye _totum_ ye!' said she; 'do ye say _list_?' and she said this in a tone and wi' a look o' derision that gaed through my very soul. 'What squad will ye list into?--what regiment will tak ye? Do ye intend to list for a fifer laddie?' And as she said this, she held up her oxter, as if to tak me below't.
"I thought I wad hae drapped doun wi' indignation. I could hae strucken her, if I durst. Ye observe I am just five feet twa inches and an eighth, upon my stokin-soles. That is rather below the army standard--and I maun say it's a very foolish standard; for a man o' my height stands a better chance to shoot anither than a giant that wad fire owre his head. But she was aware that I was below the mark, and my threat was of no avail; so I had just to slink awa into the shop, rubbin my elbow.
"But the cracky-stool was but the beginnin o' her drivin; there wasna a week after that but she let flee at me whatever cam in the way, whenever I by accident crossed her cankered humour. It's a wonder that I'm in the land o' the living; for I've had the skin peeled off my legs--my arms maistly broken--my head cut, and ither parts o' my body a' black and blue, times out o' number. I thought her an angel whan I was courtin her; but, O Robin! she has turned out--I'll no say what--an adder!--a teeger!--a she fury!
"As for askin onybody into the house, it's a thing I durstna do for the life that's in my body. I never did it but ance, and that was whan an auld schulefellow, that had been several years in America, ca'ed at the shop to see me. After we had cracked a while--
"'But I maun see the wife, Patie,' says he.
"Whether he had heard aboot her behaviour or no, I canna tell; but, I assure ye, his request was onything but agreeable to me. However, I took him into the house, and I introduced him wi' fear and tremblin.
"'Tibby, dear,' said I--and I dinna think I had ca'ed her _dear_ for ten years afore--'here's Mr W----, an auld schulefellow o' mine, that's come a' the way frae America, an' ca'ed in to see ye.'
"'Ye're aye meetin wi' auld schulefellows, or some set or ither, to tak ye aff yer wark,' muttered she, sulkily, but loud enough for him to hear.
"I was completely at a loss what to do or say next; but, pretending as though I hadna heard her, I said, as familiarly and kindly as I could, though my heart was in a terrible swither--'Bring out the bottle, lass.'
"'Bottle!' quo' she, 'what bottle?--what does the man mean?--has he pairted wi' the little sense that he ever had?' But had ye seen her as she said this!--I've seen a cloud black when driven wi' a hurricane, and I've seen it awfu' when roarin in the agony o' thunder; but never did I see onything that I was mair in fear o' than my wife's face at that moment. But, somehow or ither, I gathered courage to say--'Hoots, woman, what's the use o' behavin that way? I'm sure ye ken weel aneugh it's the speerit bottle.'
"'The speerit bottle!' cried she, wi' a scream; 'and when was there a speerit bottle within this door? Dinna show yoursel aff to your American freend for a greater man than ye are, Patie. I think, if wi' a' that ye bring in I get meat and bits o' duds for your bairns, I do very weel.'
"This piece o' impudence completely knocked me stupid, for, wad ye believe it, Robin, though she had lang driven a' my freends frae about the house, yet never did ony o' _her_ freends ca'--and that was maistly every Sunday, and every Coldstream market-day--but there was the bottle out frae the cupboard, which she aye kept under lock and key; and a dram, and a bit short-bread nae less, was aye and to this day handed round to every ane o' them. They hae discovered that it's worth while to make Patie the bicker-maker's a half-way house. But, if I happen to be in when they ca', though she pours out a fu' glass a-piece for them, she takes aye guid care to stand in afore me when she comes to me, between them and me, so that they canna see what she is doing, or how meikle she pours out; and, I assure ye, it is seldom a thimblefu' that fa's to my share, though she hauds the bottle lang up in her hand--mony a time, no a weetin; and again and again have I shoved my head past her side, and said, 'Your health, Mrs So-and-so'--or, 'Yours, Mr Such-a-thing,' wi' no as meikle in my glass as wad droun a midge. Or, if I was sae placed that she durstna but, for shame, fill a glass within half-an-inch o' the tap or sae, she wad gie me a look, or a wink, or mak a motion o' some kind, which weel did I ken the meanin o', and which was the same as saying--'Drink it if ye daur!' O Robin, man! it's weel for ye that no kens what it is to be a footba' at your ain fireside. I daresay, my freend burned at the bane for me; for he got up, and--
"'I wish you good-day, Mr Crichton,' said he; 'I have business in Kelso to-night yet, and can't stop.'
"I was perfectly overpowered wi' shame; but it was a relief to me when he gaed awa--and I slipped out after him, and into the shop again.
"But Tibby's isna the only persecution that I hae to put up wi'; for we hae five bairns, and she's brought them a' up to treat me as she does hersel. If I offer to correct them, they cry out--'I'll tell my mither!'--and frae the auldest to the youngest o' them, when they speak aboot me, it is _he_ did this, or _he_ did that--they for ever talk o' me as _him!--him!_ I never got the name o' _faither_ frae ane o' them--and it's a' her doings. Now, I just ask ye simply if ony faither would put up wi' the like o' that! But I maun put up wi't. If I were offering to lay hands upon them for't, I am sure and persuaded she wad raise a' Birgham about me--my life wadna be safe where she is--but, indeed, I needna say that, for it never is.
"But there is ae thing that grieves me beyond a' that I hae mentioned to ye. Ye ken my mither, puir auld body, is a widow now. She is in the seventy-sixth year o' her age, and very frail. She has naebody to look after her but me--naebody that has a natural right to do it; for I never had ony brothers, as ye ken; and, as for my twa sisters, I daresay they have just a sair aneugh fecht wi' their ain families, and as they are at a distance, I dinna ken how they are situated wi' their guidmen--though I maun say for them, they send her a stane o' oatmeal, an ounce o' tobacco, or a pickle tea and sugar, now and then, which is very likely as often as they hae it in their power; and that is a great deal mair than I'm _allowed_ to do for her--me that has a right to protect and maintain her. A' that she has to support her is fifteenpence a-week aff the parish o' Mertoun. O Robin, man!--Robin, man!--my heart rugs within me, when I talk to you about this. A' that I hae endured is naething to it! To see my puir auld mither in a state o' starvation, and no to be allowed to gie her a saxpence! O Robin, man!--Robin, man!--is it no awfu'? When she was first left destitute, and a widow, I tried to break the maiter to Tibby, and to reason wi' her.
"'O Tibby, woman!' said I, 'I'm very distressed. Here's my faither laid in the grave, and I dinna see what's to come o' my mither, puir body--she is auld, and she is frail--she has naebody to look after or provide for her but me.'
"'You!' cried Tibby--'you! I wush ye wad mind what ye are talkin about! Ye have as many dougs, I can tell ye, as ye hae banes to pike! Let your mither do as ither widows hae done afore her--let the parish look after her.'
"'O Tibby, woman!' said I; 'but if ye'll only consider--the parish money is very sma', and, puir body, it will mak her heart sair to receive a penny o't; for she weel kens that my faither would rather hae dee'd in a ditch than been behauden to either a parish or an individual for a saxpence.'
"'An' meikle they hae made by their pride,' said Tibby. 'I wush ye wud haud your tongue.'
"'Ay, but Tibby,' says I, for I was nettled mair than I durst show it, 'but she has been a guid mother to me, and ye ken yoursel that she's no been an ill _guid-mother_ to ye. She never stood in the way o' you an' me comin thegither, though I was paying six shillings a-week into the house.'
"'And what am I obliged to her for that?' interrupted my Jezebel.
"'I dinna ken, Tibby,' says I; 'but it's a hard thing for a son to see a mother in want, when he can assist her. Now, it isna meikle she takes--she never was used wi' dainties; and, if I may just tak her hame, little will serve her, and her meat will ne'er be missed.'
"'Ye born idiot!' cried Tibby. 'I aye thought ye a fule--but ye are warse than a fule! Bring your mither here! An auld, crossgrained, faut-finding wife, that I ne'er could hae patience to endure for ten minutes in my days! Bring her here, say ye! No! while I live in this house, I'll let ye ken that I'll be _mistress_.'
"Ay, and maister too, thought I. I found it was o' nae use to argue wi' her. There was nae possibility o' gettin my mither into the house; and as to assisting her wi' a shillin or twa at a time by chance, or paying her house rent, or sending her a load o' coals, it was perfectly out o' the question, and beyond my power. Frae the nicht that I went to Orange Lane to this moment, I hae never had a saxpence under my thumb that I could ca' my ain. Indeed, I never hae money in my hands, unless it be on a day like this, when I hae to gang to a fair, or the like o' that; and even then, before I start, her leddyship sees every bowie, bicker, and piggin, that gangs into the cart--she kens the price o' them as weel as I do; and if I shouldna bring hame either money or goods according to her valuation, I actually believe she wad murder me. There is nae cheatin her. It is by mere chance that, having had a guid market, I've outreached her the day by a shillin or twa; and ane o' them I'll spend wi' you, Robin, and the rest shall gang to my mither. O man! ye may bless your stars that ye dinna ken what it is to hae a termagant wife."
"I am sorry for ye, Patie," said Robin Roughead; "but really I think, in a great measure, ye hae yoursel to blame for it a'!"
"Me!" said Patie--"what do ye mean, Robin?"
"Why, Patie," said Robin, "I ken it is said that every ane can rule a bad wife but he that has her--and I believe it is true. I am quite convinced that naebody kens sae weel where the shoe pinches as they that hae it on; though I am quite satisfied that, had my case been yours, I wad hae brought her to her senses long afore now, though I had
'Dauded her lugs wi' Rab Roryson's bannet.'
or gien her a _hoopin_ like your friend the cooper o' Coldingham."
"Save us, man!" said Patie, who loved a joke, even though at second-hand, and at his own expense; "but ye see the cooper's case is not in point, though I am in the same line; for, as I hae observed, I am only five feet twa inches and an eighth in height--my wife _is not the weaker vessel_--that I ken to my sorrow."
"Weel, Patie," said Robin, "I wadna hae ye to lift your hand--I was but jokin upon that score, it wadna be manly;--but there is ae thing that ye can do, and I am sure it wad hae an excellent effect."
"Dearsake! what is that?" cried Patie.
"For a' that has happened ye," said Robin, "ye hae just yoursel to blame, for giein up the key and the siller to her management that nicht ye gaed to Orange Lane. That is the short and the lang o' a' your troubles, Patie."
"Do you think sae?" inquired the little bicker-maker.
"Yes, I think sae, Peter, and I say it," said Robin; "and there is but ae remedy left."
"And what is that!" asked Patie, eagerly.
"Just this," said Robin--"_stop the supplies_."
"_Stop the supplies!_" returned Patie--"what do you mean, Robin? I canna say that I fully comprehend ye."
"I just mean this," added the other; "be your ain banker--your ain cashier--be maister o' your ain siller--let her find that it is to you she is indebted for every penny she has the power to spend; and if ye dinna bring Tibby to reason and kindness within a month, my name's no Robin Roughead."
"Do ye think that wad do it?" said Patie.
"If that wadna, naething wad," answered Robin; "but try it for a twelvemonth--begin this very nicht; and if we baith live and be spared to this time next year, I'll meet ye again, and I'll be the death o' a mutchkin, but that ye tell me Tibby's a different woman--your bairns different--your hail house different--and your auld mither comfortable."
"O man, if it might be sae," said Patie; "but this very nicht, the moment I get hame, I'll try it--and, if I succeed, I'll try ye wi' a bottle o' wine, and I believe I never drank ane in my life."
"Agreed," said Robin; "but mind ye're no to do things by halves. Ye're no to be feared out o' your resolution because Tibby may fire and storm, and let drive the things in the house at ye--nor even though she should greet."
"I thoroughly understand ye," said Patie; "my resolution's ta'en, and I'll stand by it."
"Gie's your hand on't," said Robin; and Patie gave him his hand.
Now the two friends parted, and it is unnecessary for me either to describe their parting, or the reception which Patie, on his arriving at Birgham, met with from his spouse.
Twelve months went round, Dunse fair came again, and after the fair was over, Patie Crichton once more went in quest of his old friend, Robin Roughead. He found him standing in the horse market, and--
"How's a' wi' ye, my freend?" says Patie.
"Oh, hearty, hearty," cries the other; "but how's a' wi' ye?--how is yer family?"
"Come and get the bottle o' wine that I've to gie ye," said Patie, "and I'll tell ye a' about it."
"I'll do that," said Robin, "for my business is dune."
So they went into the same house in the Castle Wynd where they had been twelve months before, and Patie called for a bottle of wine; but he found that the house had not the wine license, and was therefore content with a gill of whisky made into toddy.
"O man," said he to Robin, "I wad pay ye half a dizen bottles o' wine wi' as great cheerfu'ness as I raise this glass to my lips. It was a grand advice that o' yours--_stop the supplies_."
"I am glad to hear it," said Robin; "I was sure it was the only thing that would do."
"Ye shall hear a' about it," said Patie. "After parting wi' ye, I trudged hame to Birgham, and when I got to my house--before I had the sneck o' the door weel out o' my hand--
"'What's stopped ye to this time o' nicht, ye fitless, feckless cratur ye?' cried Tibby--'whar hae ye been? Gie an account o' yoursel.'
"'An account o' mysel!' says I, and I gied the door a drive ahint me, as if I wad driven it aff the hinges--'for what should I gie an account o' mysel?--or wha should I gie it to? I suppose this house is my ain, and I can come in and gang out when I like!'
"'Yours!' cried she; 'is the _body_ drunk?'
"'No,' says I; 'I'm no drunk, but I wad hae you to be decent. Where is my supper?--it is time that I had it.'
"'Ye micht hae come in in time to get it then,' said she; 'folk canna keep suppers waitin on you.'
"'But I'll gang whar I can get it,' said I; and I offered to leave the house.
"'I'll tak the life o' ye first,' said she. 'Gie me the siller. Ye had five cogs, a dizen o' bickers, twa dizen o' piggins, three bowies, four cream dishes, and twa ladles, besides the wooden spoons that I packed up mysel. Gie me the siller--and, you puir profligate, let me see what ye hae spent.'
"'Gie you the siller!' says I; 'na, na, I've dune that lang aneugh--_I hae stopped the supplies_, my woman.'
"'Stop your breath!' cried she; 'gie me the siller, every farthin, or wo betide ye.'
"It was needless for her to say _every farthin_; for, had I dune as I used to do, I kenned she wad search through every pocket o' my claes the moment she thocht me asleep--through every hole and corner o' them, to see if I had cheated her out o' a single penny--ay, and tak them up, and shake them, and shake them, after a' was dune. But I was determined to stand fast by your advice.
"'Do as ye like,' says I; 'I'll bring ye to your senses--_I've stopped the supplies_.'
"She saw that I wasna drunk, and my manner rather dumfoundered her a little. The bairns--wha, as I have tauld ye, she aye encouraged to mock me--began to giggle at me, and to mak game o' me, as usual. I banged out o' the house, and into the shop, and I took down the belt o' the bit turning-lathe, and into the house I goes again wi' it in my hand.
"'Wha maks a fule o' me now?'
"And they a' laughed thegither, and I up wi' the belt, and I loundered them round the house and round the house, till ane screamed and anither screamed, and even their mither got clouts in trying to run betwixt them and me; and it was wha to squeel loudest. Sae, after I had brocht them a' to ken what I was, I awa yont to my mither's, and I gied her five shillins, puir body; and after stoppin an hour wi' her, I gaed back to the house again. The bairns were a' abed, and some o' them were still sobbin, and Tibby was sittin by the fire; but she didna venture to say a word--I had completely astonished her--and as little said I.
"There wasna a word passed between us for three days; I was beginning to carry my head higher in the house, and on the fourth day I observed that she had nae tea to her breakfast. A day or twa after, the auldest lassie cam to me ae morning about ten o'clock, and says she--
"'Faither, I want siller for tea and sugar.'
"'Gae back to them that sent ye,' says I, 'and tell them to fare as I do, and they'll save the tea and sugar.'
"But it is of nae use dwellin upon the subject. I did stop the supplies most effectually. I very soon brocht Tibby to ken wha was her bread-winner. An' when I saw that my object was accomplished, I showed mair kindness and affection to her than ever I had dune. The bairns became as obedient as lambs, and she soon came to say--'Peter, should I do this thing?'--or, 'Peter, should I do that thing?' So, when I had brocht her that far--'Tibby,' says I, 'we hae a but and a ben, and it's grievin me to see my auld mither starvin, and left by hersel wi' naebody to look after her. I think I'll bring her hame the morn--she'll aye be o' use about the house--she'll can knit the bairns' stockins, or darn them when they are out o' the heels.'
"'Weel, Peter,' said Tibby, 'I'm sure it's as little as a son can do, and I'm perfectly agreeable.'
"I banged up--I flung my arms round Tibby's neck--'Oh! bless ye, my dear!' says I; 'bless ye for that!--there's the key o' the kist and the siller--from this time henceforth do wi' it what ye like.'
"Tibby grat. My mother cam hame to my house the next day. Tibby did everything to mak her comfortable--a' the bairns ran at her bidden--and, frae that day to this, there isna a happier man on this wide world than Patie Crichton the bicker-maker o' Birgham."
MORTLAKE.--A LEGEND OF MERTON.
"Pray, sir, will you condescend to inform me by what title you presume to set your foot on my grounds? Have I not already warned you; and if I use you now severely, the blame must rest with yourself."
These words were addressed by Sir Thomas Bruce Vavasour, in an evident state of excitement, to a young lad apparently of about nineteen, but in reality not much above sixteen, whom he met traversing the grounds of Merton. Tom Vallance did not condescend to inform his interrogator why he had presumed to intrude where his presence seemed far from welcome, or explain why, on the present occasion, he happened to have in his hand a gun, which suspicious folks might be apt to suppose was intended to create some little confusion among the game on this well-preserved estate. He returned no very distinct answer; but some inarticulate sounds issued from his mouth, which, no doubt, were intended to deprecate the rage of the hasty and irritable baronet; but which seemed to have the effect only of heightening his ire, as he turned round to his keeper, who, with one of the servants, was at his back, and bade them secure the fowling-piece with which the youth was furnished--a command which was instantly obeyed; and the lad, not prepared for the sudden attack, was without difficulty disarmed.
"Now, my lad," quoth Sir Thomas, "you had better be off, unless you wish me to use violence; for I will not allow my property to be trespassed upon, and my game destroyed, by you and the like of you."
Tom stood firm, scowling on the baronet. At length he gained nerve enough to say--
"Give me back my gun. You have no right to rob me, nor shall you."
"But you shall submit, my little cock-sparrow. Don't suppose I want to keep your twopenny-halfpenny pop-gun. Here, John, just take Master Tom by the shoulders, and turn him off my grounds; and you, Peter, carry this rubbishy thing to Mrs Vallance, and tell her it would better become her to keep her son behind the counter of her shop, to serve her customers with farthing-candles and brown soap, than allow him to vagabondise about the country poaching. If he does not mend his manners, I've a pretty good guess that some of those days he'll either take a voyage at the expense of his country, or get his neck thrust into a noose."
This was certainly impertinent. It was, moreover, unjust and uncalled for; as, whatever might be said to the charge of Tom Vallance, on account of his predilection for field sports, no impeachment lay otherwise to his moral character. But Sir Thomas was in a passion; and, like all persons in that state, spoke without reflection. Naturally of a hasty and irritable temper, he had received a letter that morning which excited his ire excessively, and as, upon issuing from the mansion, the lad Vallance crossed his path, the first burst of his wrath fell on his devoted head. Tom felt deeply the insult. He had been accustomed to a shake of the head, and sometimes a sharp word; but Sir Thomas, upon the whole, used him well enough; for, as his mother had been housekeeper in the family during the lifetime of Sir Marmaduke Vavasour, who had married the heiress of Merton, the lad was looked upon, or rather he looked upon himself, as a sort of licensed person on the grounds. To be deprived of his gun was bad, but to insinuate moral turpitude was worse; and, forgetful of the rank of his tormentor, he exclaimed--
"I am no thief--I am as honest as yourself, Sir Thomas! and bitterly, bitterly shall you rue this day! When I set my foot next time on your grounds, it will be for no good to you."
Saying this, he turned on his heel, and, extricating himself suddenly from the hands of the servants, cleared a ditch which opposed his retreat, and was speedily out of reach.
The passion of Sir Thomas was not lessened by this unexpected reply, followed as it was by the speedy evasion of the speaker; and, as Tom was out of his reach, he transferred his wrath to the attendants, who were scolded in the most exemplary style for not knocking the young rascal down. After indulging some time in this agreeable relaxation, he returned to the house, looking all the while, as his men said, "like a bear wi' a sair head."
Sir Thomas Bruce Vavasour was the third son of an English baronet of ancient lineage, who, by intermarriage with Isabella, daughter, and afterwards sole heiress, of Reginald Bruce of Merton, in the County of Roxburgh, eventually carried that estate into his family. He had three brothers, two elder and one younger than himself. By the marriage contract, the English estate, which was considerable, was destined to the elder son, the Scottish one to the second son. Thomas got a commission, went abroad, and, after much battling about, attained the rank of general, when, by the death of his brother William, he succeeded to Merton; and a few years afterwards, the demise of the eldest brother, who broke his neck whilst fox-hunting, gave him the extensive manor of Vavasour Castle, and the title of a baronet. The younger brother married an heiress, by whom he had one son, whom, after his demise, he left under the guardianship of Sir Thomas--excluding Mrs Vavasour from all control. The uncle carefully superintended the education of his ward--became much attached to him--and, during the holidays, frequently took him to Merton, to the infinite displeasure of Mrs Richard Vavasour, who cordially hated her brother-in-law. When he grew up, those visits were discontinued, partly as he was studying for the bar, and partly to please his mother, whom he considered he was in duty bound to propitiate as much as he could--rather a difficult task, as she was a capricious, fine lady, with violent and vindictive feelings. Edward was about four-and-twenty, and had formed an attachment to a lady--his equal in birth and fortune--but who did not meet with the mother's approbation. She demanded that the match should be broken off--Edward remonstrated--she persisted; and, after a war of words, matters remained precisely as they originally were: he avowing a fixed determination to make himself happy, notwithstanding Mrs Vavasour's threats of vengeance. This he accordingly did; and his mother, bursting a blood-vessel, soon afterwards died, leaving a sealed letter to be sent, after her demise, to Sir Thomas, whom she hated.
Three weeks had elapsed from the date of this interview, when, one evening early in the month of September, a party of farmers (for it was market-day) were sitting, after dinner, in the public inn of the county town, when the landlord suddenly entered, exclaiming--
"Gracious! a dreadful murder has just been committed. The Laird of Merton has been killed in his own house!"
This announcement was received with equal astonishment and horror by those assembled; and the intruder had every possible question to answer as to the time, place, and person, that the half-muddled brains of those present could devise; and such a Babel of voices arose in sweet discord, that a gentleman, who sat in the parlour alone, and who had arrived by that day's mail, was so much disturbed as to ring violently, to know why his meditations were thus so unharmoniously interrupted.
"Waiter," said he, "why this disturbance? Cannot your farmers dine here without kicking up a riot?"
"Oh, sir, it's the murder!"
"The General, sir, who lives at Merton, sir, found stabbed in his own sitting-room, sir!"
"Stabbed, do you say? It cannot be!"
"Quite true, sir, as I'm a waiter! And they have got the murderer in custody."
"Murderer! impossible! What mean you?" exclaimed the traveller, hastily.
"Why, sir, the fellow that killed Sir Thomas is taken redhand, I think they call it."
"Who is he?"
"Just Tom Vallance, sir--an idle fellow, to be sure, but the last person that I would have thought would do such a thing."
"What! the son of the old housekeeper?"
"Yes. Do you know him, sir?"
"Not I; but I've heard of his mother. What inducement could he have to commit so dreadful a crime?"
"Revenge, sir! The General, some two or three weeks since, seized his gun, and, poor gentleman, abused Tom fearfully, for he was in one of his terrifics; and Tom told him the next time he was on his grounds he would do for him--at least so it is said."
"Dreadful! And what was this Tom Vallance, as I think you call him?"
"Nothing, sir. His mother is an industrious woman; and the lad was not that bad fellow neither--but dreadfully idle. He had a good education; but his father dying two years since, Tom left school; and his mother, in place of sending him back, kept him at home. She was so fond of him that she let him do whatever he liked."
"How can she afford to maintain him?"
"She is very industrious, sir; and, as she was daft fond of him, every penny she could scrape together went into his pockets."
"Where is the accused?"
"Tom, sir, do you mean? Why, before the sheriff, making his declaration."
"Who succeeds the late baronet?"
"His nephew--a very nice chap. He was often at Merton when a lad; but he has not been here for many years. He'll be better liked than his uncle, though the old fellow was not so bad neither. But I must go, sir, for I hear the bell ringing in the travellers'-room."
So saying, he whipped his napkin under his arm, and withdrew with praiseworthy celerity.
The unknown traveller paced slowly up and down the room, apparently very much perplexed in his mind. He muttered--
"Strange!--very strange!--caught in the room--a previous threat--all concurs."
Shortly afterwards he again rang the bell, ordered in and paid his bill; and, taking a post-chaise to the next town, waited there only until the mail from Edinburgh to London stopped to change horses, and, having procured a seat, arrived in due time in the metropolis.
The investigation of facts connected with the death of Sir Thomas proceeded, and a strong case was made out against the accused. The two servants swore to the threat; and, although not giving exactly the waiter's version of it, made it pretty nearly as bad; for, not having heard the precise words, they supplied the defect in hearing by generalising. "He threatened," they said, "to be revenged, and that he would come to the grounds for that purpose;" or used some such words, showing a determined resolution of getting "_amends_" of their master. That the General met his death by a stab in the heart was plain enough; and that the servants found Tom beside him, grasping a bloody knife, was equally so. Presumptions were, therefore, strongly against him; nor did his declaration or judicial statement help him much; for he admitted, after some little hesitation, that he had slipped into the grounds to redeem his threat of revenge by carrying off some very fine peaches, of which the General was very proud, and which he intended as a present to a neighbouring friend. Knowing that Sir Thomas was accustomed to take his _siesta_ immediately after dinner, which was usually at five--for he followed a fashion of his own in this respect, which has, since his time, become popular--and that the gardener left at six, he lurked about the grounds till after that period, and then, easily getting into the garden, thought it prudent to see how the land lay before he proceeded to his labour of love.
The house of Merton was an old-fashioned building; or rather series of buildings erected at different times; and the present possessor, who had a fancy for horticulture, had added an apartment, which opened by a glass-door upon a terrace, from which, by descending a few steps, he entered the garden. This room was, necessarily, remote from the rest of the mansion, and here Sir Thomas uniformly dined, summer and winter. After dinner was removed, and the dessert and wine placed on the table, the servants withdrew, and were forbidden to enter till seven o'clock, when coffee was served. Of all this Tom was perfectly cognisant.
Now Tom asserted that, as a precautionary measure, he resolved to peep into the room in question, to ascertain whether Sir Thomas was asleep before he took his boyish revenge; and seeing the glass-door which led into the garden open, he proceeded, cautiously and slowly, till he got there, when, looking in, he observed his old enemy lying on the floor on his face. Astonished at this, and forgetting all sense of personal risk, he advanced to raise the baronet, when he discovered that he was dead, and a knife lying beside the body, which he picked up. Fear tied up his tongue for some few seconds, and he had barely time to give utterance to an exclamation of horror, when, the door opening, the servant gave the alarm, and before he had time to collect his scattered senses he was a prisoner. All this might have been true, and perhaps the story would have been treated with more consideration than it obtained, had it not been for the _previous threat_, which naturally induced a strong suspicion against Tom. The result was, that, after the ordinary form had been gone through, the unhappy youth was fully committed to take his trial for the murder of Sir Thomas Vavasour Bruce Vavasour of Vavasour and Merton, Baronet.
The heir, at this eventful period, was in England, whither the body was transmitted, and deposited in the Vavasour mausoleum.
Meanwhile Tom remained for some weeks in the county jail, in a condition far from enviable. All attempts to induce a confession of guilt were abortive; he persisted in his declaration of innocence; but, as parties accused are not usually in the habit of confessing their crimes, these protestations were not considered worth much. Indeed, the only person he could convince was his poor mother, who gave implicit confidence to his assertions.
A change, and one for the better, had come over the accused in prison. How bitterly did he regret his former idle moments--how deeply did he lament the burden he had been on his mother! Many a vow did he make, that, if he could get quit of this charge, he would eschew his former course of life, and be all a fond parent could ask. About the tenth day before the approaching sittings, Tom was visited by a gentleman, who proffered his assistance as his adviser. He had heard, he said, of the case, and was anxious, on his mother's account, to afford his aid; but he required a full and ample statement, without any concealment. Tom answered, he had nothing to conceal; and he recapitulated everything he had formerly stated.
The stranger listened attentively, and, after his client had concluded, shook his head. "Tom, you may be innocent--there is the impress of truth in what you state, and I can hardly doubt you; but still the evidence against you is so strong, that, if you go to trial, I am fearful--very fearful of the result."
Tom's face, which had brightened as the stranger commenced, became clouded ere the remarks were finished, and when they terminated he burst into tears. "Oh, sir!" he sobbed, "have pity on a poor misguided lad, who never meant evil to any one--who is as innocent of the crime of which he is accused as you are. Save me, sir--oh, save me! if not on my own account, at least on that of my poor mother, who will break her heart if I am condemned!"
"I would willingly save you if I could," was the rejoinder; "but I cannot influence juries--I cannot sway the court."
"And must I die, then? Must I, before my time, go down to my grave dishonoured and disgraced? Oh, sir, if it had pleased Heaven to visit me with a deadly sickness, I would have left the world without one sigh except for my mother! But to be degraded as a felon--to be branded as a murderer--it is too--too much!" He became so agitated that grief choked his utterance.
The stranger, obviously affected, took his hand. "Tom, have you firmness? There is a way, perhaps."
"How?" exclaimed the lad, eagerly.
"This room is only one storey from the ground, and escape is possible."
"Escape! No, no! The windows are barred with iron, besides, if I escape, it looks like guilt, and I cannot bear that."
"But will staying behind prove your innocence? Will your suffering the last penalty of the law convince the world that you did not commit the murder?"
"True--very true! If I live, my innocence may yet be proved. But how to get through the window?"
"That can be easily managed, if you will act like a man. It is now early. I will be with you again before the prison shuts. Remember, not one word to your mother. You may console her by saying that your agent--for such I am--has given you hopes. Nothing more. Remember!" So saying, he departed, leaving Tom to meditate upon this extraordinary expedient.
It was rather late when the stranger, who called himself Mortlake, returned. Tom had kept his promise, and, by affording his mother hopes of an acquittal, contrived to infuse a happiness to which her bosom had been for many a week a stranger.
"Now, Tom!" said Mr Mortlake, in a low tone, "attend to me. I have brought you a file, some aquafortis, and a silken ladder. Apply the liquid to the bars, and it will gradually eat into the iron--then use your file, and the first impediment to your flight will be removed. Next fix the silken ladder firmly, and your descent is easy. Do not begin your operations until the inmates of the jail are asleep. You may get everything ready by the evening of the day after the morrow. As the clock strikes twelve, assistance will be at hand, and descend with the first stroke, if all is right. Some one will be waiting for you. He will whisper into your ear 'follow,' and you must follow as speedily as possible. But, again, I caution you to keep this a secret from your mother. Buoy her up with hopes; talk confidently of your acquittal; that you are to have a learned barrister from Edinburgh. This will get wind, and prevent any suspicion of your intended escape. Once safe, your mother will receive due notice; and be assured she shall not be allowed to suffer one moment more of suspense than is absolutely necessary. You will not see me again in prison, I hope."
Tom's feelings were overcome. He seized Mortlake's hand, and pressed it to his lips, while tears flowed in torrents from his eyes. He could not speak.
Mortlake was affected. "And yet, poor kind-hearted boy," he said, "people could deem you guilty of a murder. How little did they know you! But away with tears. Be a man. You have a difficult part before you. See you flinch not!" Then changing his tone, and speaking loudly, "Well! I'm off to Edinburgh, where I shall see Andrew Crosbie. I have great faith in him; and, as he is not a greedy man, I daresay, Tom, I may get him to come here."
At this moment the jailer entered, saying it was time to leave; and Mortlake, pressing Tom's hand, bade him farewell, until his return from Edinburgh.
Tom treasured every word in his heart--not one syllable escaped his lips, that might induce the most suspicious person to imagine he contemplated flight. He spoke sensibly of his case; inducing his mother, and one or two persons whom curiosity had prompted to visit him, to suppose that he was very sanguine of acquittal; and, as the fame of Andrew Crosbie extended over Scotland as a shrewd man and an able lawyer, this result was not thought by any means chimerical.
When the evening came, Tom commenced operations. He applied the liquid as directed, which soon corroded the iron at the bottom. The sides and tops were more difficult, but their partial destruction was in time accomplished; and, when the eventful evening came, he had little difficulty in removing the grating. It was, of course, only injured at the ends; and, as the window was oblong, by altering the position of the grating, he obtained a substance sufficiently strong to which he attached the rope-ladder. Getting up to the window, he placed the grating reversed in the inside, and threw the ladder on the outside. To soften the fall of the iron after he had descended, he placed his mattress and bedclothes below; and having thus made every preliminary arrangement, with the first stroke of twelve he commenced his descent; and, ere the last had died upon the breeze, the ground was reached in safety.
A figure, enveloped in a cloak, approached hurriedly, and whispered, "follow!" He tossed a bundle to the fugitive, then turned to the left. The order was obeyed; and, after the lapse of an hour and a-half, Tom found himself in a wood, and the stranger, opening a dark lantern--sliding shades at the side of which had previously been pulled down--disclosed to the eyes of Vallance the features of his agent, Mortlake.
The bundle was untied, and Tom found it to contain a capacious wrapper, a shawl, and bonnet with a veil. Those Tom was required to put on, and this matter being accomplished, the journey was resumed, and in about two hours they arrived at a small hamlet or village, where they found a gig waiting for them. Mortlake then addressed his companion:--"My dear Emily! be more composed--never mind your father--I will write to him, and all will yet be put to rights."
Tom, who had been previously instructed, spoke "small like a woman;" and, after some affected coyness, entered the carriage, when the parties drove off, leaving the man who had taken charge of the vehicle under the evident conviction that the strange man was a sad blackguard, and that the veiled lady was some unfortunate young woman who had been deluded away by his devices.
The news of Tom's escape excited universal astonishment, and no means were left untried to trace his footsteps; but every exertion was in vain, and his pursuers were completely at fault. It was universally admitted that some one must have furnished him with the implements that had procured his liberation; and his mother was, as a matter of course, the first one on whom suspicion lighted. The poor old woman, when the fact was announced, was equally amazed and pleased; but she could furnish no clue. Tom had seen a few people in prison, yet it was evident they had nothing to do with the escape. It was at last resolved that the agent was the accessory; but here the good people were at fault again, for no one, except the jailer, remembered having seen him, and he could give but a very imperfect description of him. He might be tall or so--rather think he was, but not sure--wore powder, and had, he believes, a black coat, but did not think he would know him again. This was all that could be elicited.
A reward of fifty pounds was offered by the magistrates for the capture of Tom; and Sir Edward Bruce Vavasour increased it to one hundred and fifty, expressing, at the same time, his anxiety that the accused should be retaken.
Whilst all were in a state of excitement, fresh fuel was added to the flame by the following letter, bearing the Liverpool post-mark, which Mrs Vallance received from her son:--
"DEAREST MOTHER,--I am well, and as happy as one unjustly accused can be. Though fate has sundered us, you are ever in my thoughts. I have found a protector--fear not for me. You shall regularly hear from
"Your affectionate son," &c.
Beneath was written:--"Your son will be yet a blessing to you. Accept this trifle." And a twenty-pound-note was found enclosed.
"What a fool!" said the wise ones; "only to think of letting us know where he is." And, upon the hint, away trotted the officers with a criminal warrant, to be backed, as it is termed, by an English Justice in Liverpool, where, to their great vexation, he was not to be found.
Meanwhile, the object of their pursuit was out of all danger. His friend and he at last found themselves on the road to Wooler.
"Tom!" said Mortlake, when they alighted at the inn, "you must pass for my wife. I have everything provided for that purpose in my portmanteau; meanwhile, keep down your veil, and wrap your cloak about you."
He then took out a complete suit of female apparel, and speedily his protegé was metamorphosed into a tall and handsome, although somewhat masculine, female. We need not tire our readers with a detail of the subsequent journey southward, and may only mention that Mortlake left the horse and gig at Wooler, where, obtaining a seat for himself and his companion in the mail, they arrived in safety at Barnet. Here Tom resumed his sex; and, in a new suit of clothes, appeared, as he really was, a good and intelligent-looking young man.
From Barnet, the travellers proceeded in a chaise to London, where Mortlake took lodgings, and, after the lapse of a few days, disclosed to the youth his ulterior purposes.
"Mr Vallance----" said he.
"Do not call me 'Mr.' If you do, I shall think I have offended you."
"Well, Tom, then. Listen to what I have to say. You have been my companion now for nearly three weeks. During that time I have studied you, and the opinion I have formed is favourable. You possess good qualities and excellent talents: these have been obscured, but not extinguished, by your recent follies--not to give them a harsher name. By giving way to passion, and using threats, which, from you, were ill judged and ill timed, you have barely escaped an ignominious death. Far be it from me to say that the late owner of Merton was justified in the intemperate language he used; but you know that at times he had no control over himself, and you should have made allowances for what was really a disease. Of your innocence I have not the slightest doubt, otherwise I would never have aided your escape from jail. I think the lesson you have had is one you can never forget; and I prophesy that Thomas Vallance may yet assume that position in society which good conduct and perseverance ever secure."
Tom heard this eulogium, qualified as it was, with great delight. "Try me! Oh, try me, my best friend! Give me an opportunity of evincing, by the propriety of my conduct, how much I feel your benevolence! To please you shall be the study of my future life."
"Well, Tom, you shall have a trial. But you must leave me, and cross the seas. It is not safe for either of us that you remain here."
Tom's countenance fell "And must I leave _you_--the only being in the world, save my mother, whom I love? But your commands are to me as laws, and they shall be obeyed."
"Well, then, the family with which I am connected has large possessions in Antigua, and there is a wealthy mercantile establishment over which I have no inconsiderable control--so much so, that any recommendation from me or mine will meet with immediate attention. I shall place you there as a clerk, and if you discharge the duties of the office satisfactorily, means shall be afforded of advancing you: in one word, everything shall be made to depend upon your good behaviour. Preparations have already been making for your departure, and I have procured from the senior partner of Mortlake, Tresham, & Co., an order for your appointment, with a letter of recommendation to Mr Tresham, the resident partner, whose good graces I sincerely wish you may acquire."
"Mortlake--is he a relation of yours?"
"Yes; but you must ask no questions--seek to know nothing beyond what I choose to disclose. You must renounce your name. You will therefore, in future, be known as Thomas Mortlake, the son of a distant relation of mine. Such is the legend that must be circulated. Now, write to your mother. Would to heaven I could permit an interview! but that cannot be. Give me the letter, sealed if you choose, as I have a particular mode of transmitting it to her, and I wish it to appear, as the former one did, that it came from Liverpool. Be cautious and guarded in what you communicate; but mention that, in future, she shall have such an allowance as will make her easy for life. Now, farewell for a few hours, and be sure to have your letter ready when I return."
Tom was left to his own reflections. The letter to Mrs Vallance was written; and, by the time that Mortlake returned, Tom was sufficiently composed to veil his feelings, and meet him as of old.
"Everything is arranged," said Mortlake. "In a few days you sail from the Thames by the brig Tresham. You will have every accommodation afforded that a gentleman can require; a suitable wardrobe is preparing; in short, my dear young friend, you shall appear to these West Indians as their equal, and in such guise as suits the proud name of Mortlake. One thing more, and I have done. The present Baronet of Vavasour has, through his mother, property in Antigua, and is distantly related to the elder partner of the firm. You will, therefore, seem as if you knew him not; and, even in regard to myself, I wish little or nothing said. That curiosity will be excited, I doubt not, but I leave you to baffle it."
Time passed with unusual rapidity--so, at least, Mr Thomas Mortlake opined; and the day of his departure having at length arrived, he was not a little startled when his friend made a very early appearance, accompanied by a young lady. Advancing towards him, she said--"Mr Mortlake! I am happy to have had this opportunity of seeing you previous to your departure, and of personally wishing you every success in the calling in which you are about to engage. Your friend has no secrets from me, and I am acquainted with every particular of your singular history."
"Yes!" exclaimed his protector; "I conceal nothing from this lady, and she feels as much interest in you as I do myself. We propose to accompany you to the ship."
Tom felt somewhat confused by this unexpected introduction; but that natural sense of propriety which is inherent in some minds, and which others vainly endeavour to obtain, enabled him to acquit himself in a manner that gave equal satisfaction to both visiters. The party then proceeded to the vessel, where Mortlake and the lady satisfied themselves that due provision had been made for the accommodation of their protegé.
"Mr Mortlake!" said the lady at parting, "I have used the freedom of an old friend, and placed in your cabin a small collection of books, which, I have no doubt, will materially help to deprive your voyage of half its tedium; and, when you arrive at the place of your destination, if you could devote any leisure hours to their study, be assured the benefit will be incalculable."
"Believe me," he answered, "my kind patrons, whatever may be my fate, I never can forget the wondrous acts of kindness that have been lavished on me. If an anxious desire to discharge the duties of my office--if a determination to surmount difficulties, coupled with a firm resolution to act fairly and honourably by my neighbours--can be taken as an earnest of my anxiety to please, on this you may rely; and, if my exertions be crowned with success, the pleasure will be doubled when I remember it is all owing to you."
"Tom," said Mr. Mortlake, "you are eloquent; but time flies, and we must part."
"I have but one request more--no doubt it is needless. Be kind! oh be kind to my poor mother!"
"On that," replied the lady, "you may depend. And now, farewell!"
Tom took her hand, and pressed it respectfully to his lips; then, turning to his friend, tried to give utterance to "farewell!" The word would not pass his lips; forgetting all difference of rank, he threw his arms around Mortlake's neck, and wept. In a moment, as if ashamed of his freedom or want of manliness, he hastily withdrew from his embrace.
Mortlake was moved. He pressed the lad affectionately to his breast--"God bless you, my dear fellow; in me you have ever a steady friend. And now, farewell!"
They separated; and years elapsed ere Mortlake and his friend again met. We will now follow the strange fortunes of the junior.
Young Mortlake--for so he must in future be termed--suffered the usual inconveniences of a sea voyage; and, if ever his boyish inclination, influenced by a perusal of the fascinating fiction of "Robinson Crusoe," had given him a fancy for the pleasures of a seafaring life, they yielded speedily to the irresistible effects of sea-sickness.
The vessel reached the island in about six weeks, and Tom presented his credentials to Mr Tresham, from whom he met a favourable reception. He had an apartment assigned to him in the house, and was treated as one of the family. To the duties of the counting-house, irksome in the outset, he became soon reconciled. His anxiety to please was not overlooked by his master, who, finding him able and apt, gradually raised both his rank and his salary. Before five years had elapsed, he was head clerk in the establishment. Favourites are not much liked; but Tom bore his honours so meekly, and was so obliging, without being obsequious, that his rise neither excited envy nor surprise--indeed, it was looked upon as a matter of course; and the astonishment would have been, not that he had risen, but that he had _not_ risen in the establishment.
When he first arrived, he was pestered with questions as to birth, parentage, and education. These ordinary, but impertinent queries, he parried with equal good-humour and tact. All that could be extracted from him was, that he was protected by Mr Mortlake, and that that was his own name. Mr Tresham, however, put no questions. Sir Edward Vavasour was rarely mentioned. Little was known of him, excepting that several thousands a-year were annually remitted to England as the produce of his estates. Latterly, Tom observed that these returns were made to account of Lord Mortlake. This puzzled him; and, upon a question to Tresham being hazarded, he coldly answered--
"The possessions of Sir Edward Vavasour belong now to Lord Mortlake; but remember the request of your benefactor--to ask no questions."
Other matters of more importance now occupied our hero's mind, and he gave himself no further thoughts on the subject. The first fruits of his labour were piously remitted to his mother, through his English correspondent. From her he (through the same channel) learned that Sir Edward Vavasour had given her a nice little cottage and garden, on the Vavasour estate, in England, rent-free, and that she had sold off everything in Merton, as the recollections there were unpleasant--the reason assigned being her former services as housekeeper in the family. No attempt had been made by him to elicit a confession of her son's residence. She farther stated, that she regularly received twenty pounds every half-year from some unknown person; and that she was, therefore, as happy as she could be in the absence of her son.
The letters from his patron were warm and affectionate. Some little presents Tom had ventured to make; and a few of those lovely tropical shells, transmitted to the unknown young lady, were cordially accepted, not so much for their value, as for the indications they afforded of the unabated regard of the giver. Tom devoted a certain portion of each day to study. His early education had been, so far as it went, good; and he was enabled, by severe application, to master the Roman authors, and enjoy their beauties.
The death of his mother, during the fourth year of his residence in the tropics, was a heavy blow to him. He had lived in hopes of coming back to Britain with a fortune sufficient to support her in affluence; but his pious intention was frustrated. One consolation he had, that the kind lady who, with his patron, took such an especial interest in his affairs, had watched over her dying moments, and afforded her every comfort.
In the tenth year of his sojourn, a great revolution in his fortunes took place. One morning, Mr Tresham called him into his private room.
"Mortlake," said he, "you have been now ten years in our service; and, during that time, I have never had cause to find the slightest fault with you. The demise of the senior partner compels me to visit England. Your patron has written me urgently to admit you as a partner; now, although his recommendation must have weight with me, I can assure you that I need no solicitation to do an act of justice. I rejoice, by adding your name to the firm, to show you how much I esteem you, and what unbounded confidence I have in you."
Tom justly felt gratified by this communication. He was grateful for the never-slumbering care of his English patron, and equally so for the personal regard of Tresham, who, having thus removed a considerable portion of the burdens of commerce upon his younger partner, left the island, and safely arrived in London, where, for several months, he was engaged in adjusting the company's accounts, and effecting a settlement with the representatives of the deceased. The business, meanwhile, went on under the name of Tresham, Mortlake, & Co., and was managed with as much prudence and profit by the junior partner as it had previously been by the senior one.
Tresham having realised a fortune, at the age of fifty resolved to return to England to enjoy it. Upon this occasion, his nephew, who had come out some time after Tom, became a partner, and, just twenty years from the period of his advent, did Thomas Mortlake, Esq., resolve, at the age of thirty-six, to return to his native land, leaving the affairs of the company to be exclusively managed by young Tresham, who was fully adequate to the task.
He embarked in a vessel of the company's; and having had a fair wind, in a few weeks beheld the chalky cliffs of Old Albion. He found his patron and Tresham awaiting his landing, and a carriage ready to bear him away. The meeting was cordial. Twenty years had not affected his patron much. He was about forty-five years of age, but looked perhaps a little younger. There was a dignity about his manner which Tom had never previously remarked; but there was no lack of kindness; on the contrary, it was obvious at a glance that his return was most acceptable to his friend. Nor was Tresham less friendly.
As Tom stepped into the carriage, he was thunderstruck to observe a coat-of-arms on the panels, with a _baron's_ coronet.
"Indeed! Mr Tresham, have you been raised to the peerage?"
Tresham smilingly replied--
"Not yet. We don't know, however, what may happen. Irish peerages may be had cheap. The carriage is not mine: it belongs to one of our best customers, Lord Mortlake."
"Bless me!--how kind in his lordship!" was the rejoinder. "Is he, sir, a friend of yours?" turning to his patron.
"I think," was the answer, "I should know him better than most people; but come, tell me how affairs are going on in Antigua."
A desultory conversation followed, which lasted nearly the whole period of their journey. At last the vehicle approached a magnificent baronial seat, through a long avenue of lime-trees, then in full blossom.
"Here we are!" said the elder Mortlake. Upon leaving the carriage, Tom and his companions entered a spacious hall of the olden time, the proprieties of which had been carefully preserved, and which was pretty much in the same state as it had been during the reign of Elizabeth. Taking Tom by the hand, his friend welcomed him to his family residence, and told him that a lady up-stairs--an old friend of his--was waiting to receive him. "But," added he, "you will perhaps require to go to your apartments."
Tom, having put himself to rights, was led by Mortlake to the drawing-room, where he beheld his mysterious female visitant and a young lady of about nineteen, who, from her resemblance, it was not difficult to discover was the daughter of his host. Two fine-looking aristocratic lads, the one aged perhaps sixteen, and the other nearly eighteen, were standing beside their sister, chatting and laughing with Mr Tresham.
The lady rose to receive her guest, when Tresham interposing, exclaimed:--
"Allow me--Lady Mortlake, Mr Mortlake; Mr Mortlake, Lady Mortlake."
Tom was confused, certainly; but his good manners did not forsake him, and he expressed his gratification at again beholding the lady, in appropriate and feeling terms.
"Mr Mortlake," said she, "I am happy--very happy--to receive you at Vavasour, which, I trust, you will consider as your home." Turning to her daughter--"Emily, my love, this is Mr Mortlake, whom you have heard your father and myself talk of so frequently." He was next introduced to the sons, by whom he was received with equal kindness. His patron then took Tom aside.
"The mystery," said he, "will soon be explained; in me you behold Lord Mortlake; but, on that account, not less your sincere friend. No one, not even Tresham, but believes you to be a relation of the family, except Lady Mortlake and myself; so be collected, and assume a character which, some day or other, I confidently hope may be yours legally."
The latter words sounded strangely in our hero's ears; but this was a day of wonders, and when they were to end he could not conjecture.
"Sir Edward Vavasour?" he whispered.
"Is no more!" was the reply.
A week passed happily, and Mortlake, in the society he esteemed and respected, was superlatively blessed. One morning after breakfast, Lord Mortlake took him into the library; and, locking the door, bade him be seated.
"Mortlake," said his lordship, "the time for explanation is at hand; it ought not any longer to be delayed; but, before disclosing much that may astonish you, be assured that I make the disclosure without seeking any pledge of secresy from you. I shall leave it entirely to yourself, when you have heard all, to take what course you may judge expedient."
"My lord! do not think so meanly of the creature of your bounty as to suppose that, whatever may be the nature of your communication, I shall ever use it to your prejudice."
"Make no rash promises, Mr Mortlake. Hear me, and decide. I told you Sir Edward Vavasour was no more; and yet he is only so in one sense--his title is merged in a higher one: he is now Lord Mortlake!"
"Gracious Providence! Sir Edward Vavasour Lord Mortlake? Can it be possible?"
"It _is_ possible; Lord Mortlake is before you. But hear me out. You are probably aware that the late Sir Thomas Vavasour had a younger brother, Richard; and it has perhaps come to your knowledge that he was married to Miss Mortlake, a lady of birth and fortune, the daughter of an extensive proprietor in Antigua. Mrs Vavasour was a Creole by birth, and a woman of violent passions. Her husband led a very unenviable life--but let me pass that over. Of that marriage I was the sole offspring, and was named heir by my maternal grandfather to his large estates, after the demise of my parents. This equitable arrangement of his property created a prejudice in my mother's mind against me, as she could not brook the idea of being interfered with in the use of that which she thought she was entitled to enjoy without control. When my father died, I was placed under the superintendence of my uncle, Sir Thomas, who, himself a proud and passionate man, had a great contempt for his equally proud and passionate sister-in-law; hence a new seed of enmity was sown.
"My mother wished to make a fine gentleman of me: my uncle detested the whole tribe of 'puppies,' and determined to make a man of me. He carefully provided for my education; and, at the proper time, placed me in the Temple, where I studied jurisprudence for a few years with considerable success. The heir of a large estate, my uncle never wished me to do more than acquire habits of industry and application. My mother did all she could to unsettle me--but in vain. I had a will of my own, and was by no means disposed to become her vassal.
"She was descended, through the intermarriage of one of the Mortlakes with a co-heiress, of the ancient Barons de Mortuo Lacu, who figured during the reign of the Edwards. This Mortlake was heir-male of the last baron; but his stock had come off before the family were ennobled. Now, Mrs Vavasour had a very intense desire to become Baroness de Mortuo Lacu, or Mortlake; and as she had a legal claim--being the undoubted representative of a co-heiress--it required political influence only to accomplish her object. My uncle could have effected this; but he gave the most decided opposition. He had no idea that the Vavasour name should be entombed, even in the sepulchre of the peerage. In his estimation, the Vavasours, who had fought with Coeur de Lion in the Holy Land, who had perished by dozens in the wars of the Roses, who had bled with Richmond at Bosworth, and who had taken up arms against the omnipotent Cromwell, were worth all the Mortlakes that ever breathed.
"For this opposition my uncle was never forgiven by Mrs Vavasour. She vowed vengeance, and she kept her vow. She presented a petition to the King, which was referred to the Peers; and, after incurring enormous expense in proving her pedigree, she succeeded in obtaining a decision finding the barony in abeyance amongst the co-heirs of the last Lord Mortlake, and that she was the representative of the eldest co-heir. Thus far she got, but not one step farther. The desired writ of summons was withheld. Meanwhile, she got entangled in pecuniary difficulties. In this situation, she, to my surprise, applied to Sir Thomas for a loan. The result of this application may be anticipated; for, while refusing her request, my uncle took the opportunity of reading her a severe lecture upon her extravagance and ambition. She was in a towering rage upon receipt of his answer; but, as I was of age, I thought it my duty, especially as the Peerage proceedings were to my ultimate advantage, to raise a sum of money upon my eventual interest, by which means her debts were paid off. The consequence of this was, that, whilst I propitiated my mother on the one hand, I offended my uncle on the other.
"I was at this time in love with the present Lady Mortlake. She was well connected, had fortune, and was sufficiently accomplished; but she did not come within my mother's list of advantageous wives. She was neither fashionable nor cared about fashion; and could not disguise her contempt of idle and silly women of quality. My mother placed her interdict upon my nuptials. I remonstrated, but to no purpose; and, although under no obligation to consult my relatives, I wished at least to have the countenance of Sir Thomas, and I took the bold step of writing to him. To my gratification and surprise, I received a gracious answer; and, I presume, my mother's opposition was itself, in the estimation of my uncle, a sufficient recommendation. Acting upon his consent and approbation, I married; but the result was fatal to Mrs Vavasour, who, upon learning what had taken place, got into one of her tremendous passions, and burst a blood-vessel. After lingering a few weeks, she died, leaving behind her a letter, which was fated to be the cause of both our troubles. A few days after its transmission, I received an epistle from him, which, from its incoherency, indicated, as I supposed, positive insanity. I resolved to lose no time in visiting him; but, as I wished my intended journey to be kept quiet, I gave out that I was merely going to Liverpool for a few days, where my wife had some relations. I arrived at Jedburgh; and, as Merton was not far off, I resolved to walk there; and I calculated that I should arrive about the time that my uncle was taking his evening _siesta_. Leaving my portmanteau at the inn, I proceeded on my way; and, as I was familiar with every inch of ground, took a by-path, which led into the policy, and which terminated in a door that opened into the garden. This door was kept open until the gardeners left their work, when it was locked for the night. I passed through, towards the stairs which descended from the terrace into the garden; and, in a few minutes, found myself in the presence of Sir Thomas.
"My uncle was not a little startled at my unexpected appearance. He had apparently partaken freely of wine--at least he was in a state of excitement.
"'By what right do you come here?' was the first inquiry.
"'Why, my dear uncle, I was surprised at your late letter, and came personally to ascertain what you meant.'
"'Mean! and do you pretend, sir, to be ignorant of my meaning?'
"'Indeed, uncle, I am.'
"'Uncle--don't uncle me, sir--I am no uncle of yours.'
"I now thought his insanity undoubted.
"'Be composed, my dear sir,' I rejoined; 'do you not know Edward Vavasour, your attached nephew?'
"He rose--his eyes had a peculiar expression--one I had never witnessed before: naturally of a dark-grey, they seemed to take the hue of a fiery red, and they glared fearfully.
"'The house of Vavasour is doomed--its last hour has come;' and, saying these words he drew from his pocket-book a letter, which he threw towards me. I seized it; and judge of my horror when I perceived this paper."
Lord Mortlake then took from his escritoire the following letter:--
"SIR THOMAS,--You have had your triumph--my triumph comes now. The despised Mortlake rejoices in the extinction of the proud Vavasour. Know, haughty man, Edward is not the son of your brother!"
"It is not possible to describe my feelings, Tom, at this instant--my head turned round. That the statement was false, I doubt not; for I knew better than Sir Thomas the deep feeling of hatred my mother could entertain, and did entertain against us both.
"'Uncle, this letter is the legacy of an enemy--allow me to retain it, and I will bring positive evidence to disprove the assertion it contains.'
"My uncle was too much excited to listen to me. In a hoarse and angry voice, he muttered--
"'Give me the letter, you villain!'
"I endeavoured to pacify him, but without success; when, suddenly rising, he seized a knife, and, rushing forward, made a thrust at me with it. I avoided the blow, and retreated. He, incautiously advancing, lost his footing, and fell with the knife underneath. I hastily stepped forward to raise him, but had not strength to do so; for, by one of those strange and unaccountable accidents, which not unfrequently give the air of romance to real life, the point of the knife had been turned towards his body, and, passing between his ribs, had pierced his heart. He died in an instant. I endeavoured again to raise the body, but in vain. I drew out the knife, and blood then came with it. To describe my situation at this terrible moment is impossible: my uncle dead at my feet--no one to witness how the accident happened--I might be dragged as a felon to trial for his supposed murder. My grief for his unhappy end was soon absorbed in fears for my own safety--for, here was I, the apparent heir, discovered with the man to whom I was to succeed, a bleeding corpse beside me; then the quarrel between us--the stigma thrown upon me by my vindictive parent, which, for aught I knew, Sir Thomas might have bruited abroad--all this made me tremble. Even if acquitted, still the suspicious circumstances of the case would be greedily seized upon by the public, which never judges favourably, and a stain would have been cast upon the family name never to be effaced. My uncle was past all human assistance, and my remaining could not aid him. I therefore fled, unobserved by any one; and barely three hours had elapsed from my leaving the inn, until I was again its inmate. At a late hour I heard a noise of voices, which accorded ill with my morbid state of feeling. I rang to know the cause; and the answer to my inquiry was the announcement that a dreadful murder had been committed upon Sir Thomas Vavasour, and that you, Tom, had been taken into custody, under such circumstances as warranted the strongest presumptions of your guilt.
"My astonishment could only be equalled by the horror I felt at having caused an innocent fellow-creature to be placed in hazard of his life. However, I was sufficiently collected; and, having learned that you could not be brought to trial for some time, I left the place with the firm resolution that, be the consequences what they might, not one hair of your head should be injured.
"I had no secrets from my wife, and to her I disclosed everything. After some deliberation, we agreed that it was best, if possible, to procure your escape from the prison; as, if that could be accomplished, there would be no necessity for any disclosures to gratify the inquisitive and malicious. I resolved to act by myself, without the assistance of any one. My first object was to prevent interference of the country writers; and this I accomplished easily enough, by creating an impression that they would give offence to the new Baron of Merton, if they ventured to assist you. Thus I deprived you of the advice of these worthies, which, after all, was no great loss. I should have regretted your imprisonment, had I not been informed that you were a _mauvais sujet_, and that the restraint would do you no harm, as it might induce you to reflect.
"With my wife's assistance, I procured a female dress, bonnet and cloak. I also bought a file, a rope-ladder, and some aquafortis, as I thought it would be no very difficult matter to help you out of an old Scotch county jail. Lady Mortlake had an uncle resident a mile or two from Liverpool. This fact presented an ostensible object for a trip, and we set off together. I left her with her relative; and, crossing the country, I got to Jedburgh in good time. I was quite unknown, as, prior to my last eventful visit, many years had passed by since I had been in the County of Roxburgh. I gave myself out to be an Edinburgh writer, which was believed.
"I thus got free access to you, and the result I need not repeat. The gig I bought for the purpose, as well as the horse. I had them in readiness at a village at some distance, having given the landlord of the inn to believe that it was merely an ordinary case of elopement. In order to mystify the folks of Jedburgh, your letter was enclosed under cover to my wife, who herself drove to the post-office, and put it in the box, in this way destroying every possibility of detection. I caused the body of Sir Thomas to be interred at Vavasour, where his two brothers had previously been buried. This prevented the necessity of my personal presence at Merton, where perchance I might have been recognised as the person who left the counting-house so hurriedly on the day of the supposed murder. I have never lived at Merton since; it is occupied by the factor, and, in virtue of the deed of entail, the Scottish estates belong now to my second son. I induced your mother to reside on the English estate, where my wife could personally attend to her comfort. The rest you know. Our travels made me intimately acquainted with you, and I found you had talent, tolerable acquirements, and an affectionate heart; and I was determined to aid you, if you would be but true to yourself. Your vices were the result of idleness, and the foolish indulgence of a fond mother. Do not think me harsh when I say so; but, Tom, had you not been removed from her, you would have been lost. Oh, what have parents to answer for, by allowing their children to take their own way! From my connection with Antigua, I had no difficulty in providing for you. My cousin, Mr Edward Mortlake, managed my West Indian estates--a source of revenue to the company of which he was senior partner. I had merely to signify my wishes to place a young friend in his counting-house, and it was granted. Neither he nor Tresham knew your real history--they both thought you some off-shoot of the Mortlakes. The latter was expressly desired to conceal my name, and to avoid notice of the Vavasour family as much as possible. And he kept the secret well. My accession to the Vavasour estates brought without any trouble that which my misguided mother so much coveted; for, as my political support was not to be despised, ministers induced the king to terminate the abeyance, and I received my summons as Baron Mortlake. The story imposed upon my poor uncle by Mrs Vavasour was, as I was from the first assured, a malicious fiction of her own; for, luckily, I was able to trace out the whole circumstances connected with my birth; and the testimony of the nurse and medical man, which I obtained in a quiet way, were perfectly conclusive. Indeed, legally, my mother's declaration availed nothing; but I was anxious, morally, to satisfy myself, as far as I could, that I was the son of her marriage with Mr Richard Vavasour. I have now told you all. As I was the accidental cause of your perilous situation and loss of character, it was but common justice to assist you as far as lay in my power. You have raised yourself to respectability and affluence, partly by my recommendation, but principally by your own exertions. You owe me, therefore, nothing; and, on the contrary, I am still considerably your debtor. If, after reflection, you think a disclosure necessary to clear the reputation of Tom Vallance, you have my full permission to make it."
"Never, my dear lord--or, if you will allow me to term you, my dear friend--shall I make the slightest use of your confidence. You have, from a worthless and idle vagabond, metamorphosed me into a reputable and honest man. Tom Vallance has ceased to exist; but the heart of Tom Mortlake is too deeply attached to his benefactor ever to do anything that would cause him the slightest pain."
"You are a noble fellow, Tom, and well deserve your fortune."
Several months after this conversation, the public journals announced that "Thomas Mortlake, Esq., of the firm of Tresham, Mortlake, & Tresham, was married, by special license, at Vavasour, to Emily, eldest daughter of the Right Honourable Edward Lord Mortlake." If an accomplished and sweet-tempered wife, a fine family, an attached friend, good health, and a competent fortune, could make any one happy, then Tom Mortlake was superlatively blessed.
THE SERJEANT'S TALES.
THE BEGGAR'S CAMP.
I recur again to the strange adventures of Serjeant Square, and present another section of them to the readers of the "Border Tales:"--
With ruined prospects, and friendships severed by death (he began), I resolved to bid, once more, farewell to my native Edinburgh.
I passed two or three days in this listless manner, each being to see me put in force my resolution to depart; till at length, having provided myself with a seaman's dress, taken the powder out of my hair, seized a stout stick, and provided a small bundle of necessaries, I once more set out upon the world, caring little whether I went to the south or the west, to London or Bristol, to Greenock or Port-Glasgow. I had, in my absent state of mind, almost unconsciously, or perhaps from habit, taken my way down the Canongate, and had reached the girth cross--a few steps, and the streets of Edinburgh would pass from under my feet, perhaps for ever. I neither knew nor cared. A flood of painful recollections came over me, as I stood scarce knowing for what object I had paused. So doubtful and indifferent, so undecided did I stand, that, to put an end to the recollections that pained me whilst I hesitated, I took a piece of copper from my pocket, and, tossing it up into the air, I cried, "A head for England--a lady for Scotland!" The halfpenny tingled at my feet, the king's head looked to the sky, and, as if relieved of a care, I moved quickly on, nor once looked behind, until I had placed Arthur's Seat between me and the city.
Thus moving along, sometimes listlessly, at others quickening my pace, I had journeyed on until I had reached the neighbourhood of Berwick. The day had been overcast with partial light showers; several times I had resolved to stay for the remainder of the day and night in the next inn I came to; but, enticed by partial clearings up of the weather, I still walked on, until towards sunset, when the weather all at once put on the most threatening aspect and the rain fell very heavily. There was neither house nor shelter of any kind in sight; the thick, dense clouds that came driving from the west completely obscured the twilight I had calculated upon. At length I perceived, at a small distance from the road, a house, with light issuing from the windows. I knocked for admittance, which was at once cheerfully given, and every exertion made for my comfort by the kind host and hostess--a farmer and his wife. To my inquiries if they could oblige me with a bed for the night--
"You are kindly welcome to the shelter of our roof," said the farmer, "and a seat by the fire; and, were it not for a strange circumstance, you might have both a room and a bed."
"William--William!" said the wife, with a look of great alarm, "do not speak of it; I could not think of even putting a dog there, far less a Christian. I will give the stranger a pair of blankets, and make a good fire for him; but do not speak of that fearful room. I wish the laird would allow us to pull it down."
"Grace, my woman," replied he, "I did not mean him to pass the night in it. I only, without thinking any harm, mentioned it. I wish, as well as you, that it were taken down."
Struck by their strange discourse, I requested my kind host to tell me the history of the apartment that seemed to give them so much uneasiness.
Drawing his seat more near to the fire--"I have not the smallest objection," said he, "as it will show, whatever is the cause of the strange disturbances, that there is no blame on our part. This bit land that I farm has been in our family for more than two nineteen years, and the third nineteen of the lease is nearly expired. Both the old and present lairds have been good landlords to us--we could not well refuse any small favour they required at our hands; and, indeed, we always found ourselves the gainers for any little that was in our power. A few months after the rebels were defeated, and the rebellion quelled by the battle of Culloden, the young laird came back to the Big House again safe, and we all rejoiced. On the day after his arrival, he came to our house to visit us, for he was always like one of ourselves. I saw there was something upon his mind, he was so douce and thoughtful--not in the least like his former way, which was all laughing and chatting with every one. It did not become me to inquire the cause; so, after staying a short time, he requested me to come out and take a turn with him, to see some young trees that had been planted before he joined the king's army. As soon as we were a short distance from the house, he stopped, and, looking me full in the face--
"'William,' said he, 'I believe you would not do anything to harm or bring me into trouble.'
"I think my face flushed, for I found my ears glow at the supposition.
"'No, laird; I would far rather harm or bring myself into trouble. Who has belied me to your honour? I am certain neither thought nor word of mine ever gave you cause to suspect me.'
"I really felt hurt and grieved for a moment, until he took my hand in his, and smiled.
"'William,' said he, 'I am sorry if I have unintentionally hurt your honest feelings. I have nothing but good faith in you. I have an affair of importance on hand, and you must aid me.'
"'With all my heart,' replied I. 'Only tell me what I am to do.'
"'There is one for whose safety I am most anxious,' continued he; 'his life is in danger. In my own house he cannot be concealed; in yours he may. I shall provide for it, if you are willing to encounter the risk and inconvenience. You have no family or servants that reside with you. I shall build an apartment attached to your house, which he shall occupy; and you will attend to all his wants, and administer to his comforts as much as in your power.'
"To all this Grace and I gave our hearty consent. Everything was made ready in much less time than I could have conceived possible; the laird superintending all himself, and we obedient to his will. When all was to his mind, he went from home for a few days, leaving word with me, that whoever should give me his letter, authorising me to put them in possession of the room, I was at once to comply, and ask no questions.
"For those who had taken any part with the prince, it was a troublesome period. The cruelties committed by the king's troops in the Highlands, made our blood run cold in our veins; and we now pitied those whom we had a few months before hated and feared. Numbers were in prison, waiting a bloody release, more objects of pity than those who were butchered outright. The law sometimes realises the tales of the crocodiles, and weeps over the victims it is intent to devour. Well, the second evening after the laird left us, there came to our door a poor, aged man, scarcely able to support himself upon his staff; his keen, grey eyes were at one time fixed upon the ground, and the next, when he looked up, piercing into my inmost thoughts. With a tone of voice which affected humility, he requested rest and a little food. There was a round fulness in the subdued tone, that ill assorted with the apparent age of the individual; yet I welcomed him into the house--for the needy never left our door empty. When he was seated, I saw his searching eye scan the apartment. Grace was seated at her wheel, while I had been reading to her the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' and the book lay on the table. The first words he spoke were to inquire if there were any other inmates in the house except ourselves. When I answered him that there were not, he stretched his body erect as he sat on his chair. I could scarce believe my eyes. Grace gave a faint cry of surprise and fear. I looked to the gun that hung over the mantelpiece--for that he was a robber in disguise, was my first impression. It lasted, however, only for a moment; for, taking a letter from his pocket, he gave it to me. It was the promised letter from the laird; and so, taking the candle from the table, I requested him to follow me. He rose from the seat, and, clothed as he was in his beggar's weeds, I seldom had seen a more majestic figure, as he passed into the little apartment. Without uttering a word, he threw himself upon a seat, and motioned me to retire. I felt awed by his presence, and withdrew, shutting the door after me, and leaving him to his meditations. Grace prepared some supper for him; and, tapping on the door, inquired if he would partake of it. He replied no; and begged not to be disturbed until he called in the morning.
"Wondering at what we had seen, and who our guest could be, we retired to rest. I could hear at times the stranger groan heavily; and Grace, who slept little through the night, said she believed he had never lain down, for she had heard him at times walking and sighing heavily. Yet, afterwards, we had more to wonder at. For many weeks, he never allowed any of us to enter his room. At night only he would walk forth, after we were in bed. His food was handed in to him at the door. I never saw him, neither did Grace; for he only exposed his hands, and part of his arms, when he took anything from her at the door. At first we felt very curious, and formed many conjectures who he could be; but, as the laird still remained in Edinburgh, we could learn nothing. Gradually, we became accustomed to all his humours, and thought little of them. Our few neighbours seldom visited us, and they never suspected there was any person except ourselves in the house. His taciturn and secluded manner at length wore off. Grace first was admitted to his apartment, then myself. Previous to this, a large trunk of books and necessaries, along with a letter to me, arrived at the Big House. I was to get the whole conveyed here in the best manner I could, for 'the gentleman,' as we called him, which I immediately set about. From this time he became an altered man. The almost misanthropical turn he had shown entirely left him; a shade of touching sadness overcast his countenance; and it appeared to me that his grey locks seemed more bleached by care than time; for his voice was full and melodious, and his face unmarked by a wrinkle.
"The executions at Carlisle, and the beheading scenes at Tower Hill, had been over for some time before the change of which I speak took place. Pleasing as it was to us, another source of discomfort, and a far more trying one, was discovered: he was a rank papist!--an idolater!--a worshipper of painted and graven images! Judge you what we two covenanted adherents of the Church of Scotland, in all her purity, felt, to have a part of our roof turned into a temple of Dagon! We were sore beset. What to do, we knew not. If the laird had been at home, our duty was plain before us--to demand back my pledge, which I never meant should shelter the enemies of truth, or convert my house into the abode of idolatry, to the risk of the salvation of our precious souls. But I knew not where to find him; and besides, much as I detested our guest's mode of worshipping, I could not divest myself of a secret love for him--he was so condescending, so grand, yet so humble and polite in all he did; and I could not say there was anything amiss in his conduct, save the way in which he had decorated his lonely apartment. Grace there was not half so much perplexed as I was. 'Poor gentleman,' she said, 'if he is pleased, it would be wrong in us to find fault. I have nae doubt he is a poor, misled, ignorant papist, and wish from my heart he was as well informed as we are; but, if he thinks he is right, we may pity, but I wadna distress him. We must set a good example, and pray for his enlightenment night and morning.'
"I yielded to what she said, partly because I had an affection for him, and partly because I agreed in her sentiments; yet I never entered the idolatrous scene without feeling a shudder come over me. Upon the top of his little table stood a crucifix and an open book, by the side of which lay a string of beads. At the foot of his bed there was a picture of Jesus on the Cross; and upon his breast he wore another, which I often saw him take out and kiss, with his face raised to heaven, in an expression of joy and hope, while the tears stole down his face. Yet I could never think he had peace in his faith; for he was always attempting something to secure his eternal happiness--night after night flogging his bare shoulders--week after week tasting only bread and water--on Friday refusing flesh or fowl--and, in the spring of the year, living for weeks on eggs, bread, or milk. Surely, thought I, if the papists are Christians, they do not feel the faith in Jesus that a true Christian enjoys; for this worshipper obeys the traditions and commands of men more than the Word of God. I often wished to expound the truth to him; but we never, in all our converse, entered upon matters of faith. I worshipped with Grace, as my fathers had done, by ourselves, and he in his room, in perfect harmony. Yet, if strictness of walk and self-denial be accounted holiness, he was far more holy than we; for, though his mind was not so much at ease in his faith, his yoke appeared grievous, and his burden heavy; and new penances, as he called them, were proofs of his ever coming short in his own estimation of his attainable object. Poor gentleman, he fell a victim to his own endeavours to attain peace of mind by his austerities! He would have been a bright and a shining light, had he only been brought up in the truth, as Grace and I had been. But I am growing tedious, and wandering from the subject. To be short, his life continued to be what I have described. We continued to love him as a father; and poor Colin" (pointing to an old dog that lay at our feet) "was his friend and constant companion. No one, save the laird, Grace, and myself, knew he was in our house; and, after two or three years, the laird called upon him often, and passed a few hours with him; but he seemed to feel pleasure only when alone, and engaged in his superstitious devotions. About twelve months since, he began evidently to decline in health, and the laird wished to remove him to the Big House, and procure medical attention; but this he would not hear mentioned.
"'I have vowed,' said he, 'to the Virgin, never to leave this place alive; but, if you will send to Edinburgh, and get me a priest of our Holy Faith, that I may receive the last rites and consolations of the True Church, my soul will thank you and depart in peace--you, my friend, know whom. If possible, I would wish you to learn if he is still alive; he will not refuse to come.'
"In a few days after, a stranger came to our door, and gave me a letter for the strange gentleman. I had not seen him for several days, Grace being his sole attendant; and even she dared not interrupt him but as little as possible. I was shocked at the change I saw upon him. He lay, pale and exhausted, his eyes bent on the crucifix, and his thin, wasted hands clasped upon his bosom, as if he had been entranced. The sickly light of the wax candle that burned beside the crucifix cast a strange light upon the dead-like body before me. I started back, and looked aghast. The noise of my entrance had aroused him.
"'What want you, William?' he inquired, in a hollow voice.
"'It is a letter for you, sir,' said I, 'brought by a stranger, whom the laird said I might admit.'
"A glow of pleasure passed over his face, as, with an effort, he raised himself, and took the letter from my hand.
"'Blessed Jesus!' he said, 'my prayers are heard! Admit him. He brings me peace and salvation through the Church. My penitence and penances have prevailed.'
"After the stranger, who was a Papist priest, was admitted, they remained alone until our guest died, which was on the second day after. He was buried by the laird. What or who he was, we never knew. All his books and papers were taken away; but the consequences of his residence still remain, as a punishment for harbouring a Papist, and suffering idolatry under our roof. The room he possessed and died in is, we are certain, disturbed by a spirit. We hear the door open and shut at night, and strange noises startle us from our rest. Two visiters, one after the other, who attempted to sleep in it, were terrified almost out of their senses; and it is for this reason we could not offer it to you to sleep in."
My curiosity was as much awakened by the vague account the good people gave me of the room in its present state, as my interest had been excited by the account of the poor outlaw. I am, I confess, not more brave than other people. I never courted danger for the love of it, or fled from it to meet dishonour; and, as for the reality of spectres, I neither believe nor disbelieve in them; having, in all my travels, never seen a legitimate one, nor troubled my head about them. As much through curiosity, I believe, as anything else--for I am sure it was not the love of a good bed, far less an adventure--I told my hosts I would with pleasure sleep in the room, if they would allow me; and, after some honest endeavours to dissuade me, they consented. Supper and family-worship being finished, we all three entered the apartment--the good woman insisting upon our company while she prepared my bed, and her husband going more cheerfully when I proposed to accompany them. All the little duties were done by the dame in a hurried, timid manner; and, while she was occupied, I looked round. The door was only fastened by a wooden latch, which opened by a string hung upon the outside. The whole interior had a simple, clean, neat look, which pleased me. After a hasty good-night and God be with you, they withdrew. When I was left alone, the account I had just heard of the strange individual who had for so long a period inhabited the apartment passed over my mind; and who or what he could be gave rise to many a conjecture. I became low-spirited at the thought of the many miseries that human nature is liable to, under reverses of fortune from which neither birth nor riches can protect us. In this frame of mind I retired to rest--the idea of anything supernatural never entering my mind, and no shade of fear discomposing my thoughts. I soon fell asleep. How long I had slept I know not; but I was awakened by a slight noise at the door of the room, as if some one had put his hand upon it. I now felt alarmed, and expected to witness some fearful sight. The door opened and shut with a faint clang. I heard a movement on the floor. A cold sweat came over me. I raised myself upon my elbow. All was dark--impenetrably dark, and I saw nothing; but the curtains at the foot of the bed shook violently.
"Who is there?" I attempted to inquire; but only a faint murmur escaped my lips.
A strange noise and movement on the floor again took place, and I bolted up and sat in the bed. The curtains again moved at the head; and, as I thought, were partially opened. Still nothing was to be seen, and I put forth my hand to grope. Something as cold as death touched it. This was more than I could endure. I sunk upon the bed, buried my head in the clothes, and would have cried out; but that terror had paralysed every faculty. Whatever was the cause of my alarm, I now found that the object had come into the bed, and was either seated or lying between me and the wall. I dared not uncover my head, or put out my hands to ascertain what it might be. The icy feeling still thrilled through my frame; and thus I lay in mortal agony, under the conviction that the object still reclined immoveable by my side. My firmness gradually began to return; and with it came calm reflection. I thought I heard a heavy breathing; and slowly uncovered my head to hear it better. Once more I summoned a desperate resolution to put forth my hand. What did my hand encounter?--the shaggy coat of a dog. A gentle whine followed; the next moment my hand was licked by a warm tongue. I smiled at my late alarm. It was Colin.
Soon after daybreak I was awakened by my host, who came to inquire how I had passed the night. He was agreeably surprised to find me safe and well. To his inquiries, I related the adventure of the night without concealing my fears, and the chance there was of my having added one more testimony to the evil report of his apartment. The gratitude of the good people was extreme. They overwhelmed me with their thanks. They said I had rendered them a service they could not sufficiently repay. I had removed a cause of dread which had cast a gloom over their minds for many months; and, continued William--
"How silly it was in me not to know or think that it might be Colin!--for both the people who fled the room in terror gave the same account of the early part of the adventure. Colin, poor thing," he said, as he patted the head of the dog, "you little knew the evil you did your master and mistress. You and he that is gone were dear friends and inseparable companions. No Christian could have shown more concern at his death. You never came out from beneath his bed while the body lay on it; and, when he was carried out, Grace had to hold you, to prevent your snapping at the company as they bore him away. For long you visited his grave, and sat for hours upon it. It is the remembrance of your old friend that makes you still visit his room when all is quiet at night. He that is now 'where the Lord will,' taught you to take the string in your mouth and pull the latch, that, always welcome, you might enter when you chose."
During this address to the dog, he looked wistfully in the face of his master, as if he comprehended all that was said. The weather having now cleared up, the morning was beautiful. After breakfast, I bade adieu to my kind hosts, with a promise that if I ever passed that way I should make their house my home, and sleep in the room I had freed from its evil name.
As I moved cheerfully along the road, chanting some snatch of a song to keep up my spirits, my ears were assailed, at a sudden bend of the road, by a rough voice.
"Holloa, messmate, cast here a few coppers to help to revictual a hulk all the doctors in the world could not refit for sea!"
Turning my eyes to the roadside, I saw, seated upon a bank, two strange objects--a stout young man, in a tattered seaman's dress, with one arm off by the shoulder and the other by the elbow, and a young, good-looking, but tattered female by his side. In a moment my hand was in my pocket, and, drawing near to them, the female rose and held out her palm in dumb show.
"Not so fast, young woman," said I, as I was putting a half-crown into his vest-pocket; "it is for Jack."
"Bless your honour," said he, "it's all one. That there young one is my wife; poor thing, she was struck dumb in real earnest, when she saw me come home to her thus maimed. Bless her pretty face, she did not forsake poor Bill for all that."
While he spoke, a strong feeling came upon me that I had seen his face before; but when or where I could not call to mind. As I stood gazing into his face, he looked as scrutinisingly at me.
"Were you ever in the East Indies?" inquired I.
"To be sure I was. In that place I lost my precious limbs," replied he.
"Then you must be Bill Kay, whom Captain H----and I left at Bombay," said I.
"And you are Jack Square," said he. "Give me your hand, old shipmate." And he held up the stump to me, and burst out a-laughing as I shook the sleeve.
The female gave him an angry look, with so much more of meaning than anger, that I thought she knew all we said.
"Come, Betsy, don't be sulky," said he; "I wish to have a bit of a talk with my old mate. Come, be a good girl, and let us go back to Berwick. Jack Square, you will not be ashamed to walk home with us?"
The wife nodded a consent, and away we trudged to the town, from which we were only a small distance.
During our walk, I told him that I was on my way to London to look out for a vessel to India, as my fortune had been adverse in Scotland; and I was sick of the land, and careless what became of me.
"Never strike to an enemy, or quit the pumps while your vessel can float," cried he. "There are many ways of leading a jovial life. You were always my friend, and a good fellow. Give me your word, Jack, you will either stay and join us, or pass on and do us no harm, and I will have no secrets from you. Speak the word."
"I know not what you mean," I replied. "As for joining you. I do not think, in the meantime, I shall, until I know better about it; and as for hurting you or doing any harm, I give you my sincere assurance I will not, however much I might gain by it."
"Betsy, my dear," said he, "we are not going to the kenn, we will go home. I wish to entertain my old friend."
We then altered our direction, and, after proceeding down a dark and dirty lane, entered a neat and well-furnished room. As soon as we entered, and the door was shut--
"Betsy," said he, "there is no use for gammon now; find your tongue, lass, and help me to find my arms."
"As you please, Billy," said the dumb wife. And both retired to another apartment, from whence they soon returned--she well dressed, and Bill as perfect in every limb as when we had parted, he to remain in India, and I to return home.
I believe he had told her his intention and who I was in the time they were away; for, seeing my surprise, he laughed aloud, while she, smiling, took me by the hand, and welcomed me to their house. Now that her begging disguise was thrown off, she really was a most bewitching girl, of the gipsy cast--brilliant black eyes and hair, her features regular, almost to perfection--the loveliest brunette I had ever seen. Bill smiled good-naturedly at the admiration my looks expressed, as I gazed at her; and, slapping me on the shoulder--
"Square," said he, "is she not a beauty? You must not fall in love with her if you stay--that I must make a condition."
We all laughed.
I said, if I fell in love, I could not help it; the fault was his for bringing me into temptation. A large square bottle of brandy and a jug of water were set on the table, and while the wife was busy preparing dinner, Bill gave me the following account of himself:--
"You know, Jack, I am no scholar," he began; "only a pretty good seaman, as far as hand, reef, or steering goes; so I soon found India was no place for me, in a regular country ship. I could not abide these black, lazy, cowardly rascals of lascars; and there were crowds of them in all the vessels I could find. They are well enough in fair weather; but when it blows the heart is blown out of them. They are either in the way, or skulking in corners; so I took the first opportunity of returning home to Britain again. When I came to London, I got into all manner of mischief, and lost my guineas like winking, above two hundred in one week; and the remainder, clothes and all, in one night in Wapping; for I awoke in the morning in the watch-house, bruised, and with only a watchman's greatcoat thrown over me. I had been thrown out of a window, or pushed down some stair, and in that state they told me I was found by the watchman. I had now time to reflect, but nothing to reflect upon, for all I had in the world was a shirt and a pair of trousers. There was no charge against me, so I walked from the watch-house like a man adrift in an old boat, without oars or food. I went to the wharves, for pity or employ. I got fitted in a kind of way; but could not find a vessel, for there were too many like myself. What to do I knew not. More than once I thought of doing as I had been done by--that is, helping myself where I could; but, although I was often without food, and slept in the streets or under a boat, I, somehow, could not bring my mind to that. I often wished I was again in Scotland, where I had friends and was known; but how to get there I knew not. At length the thought came into my mind--I could beg my way down. I could be no worse than I was in London--and where was the odds? A beggar in London was no better than a beggar in Scotland, or anywhere else; for my Scotch pride was by this time starved out of me; so off I set, but was poorly enough off, for I was not then up to the trade, so my stout look and honest truth met nothing but unkindness and insult. At length, one day, as I was on the point of dying from starvation (for England is not a country for an honest beggar), I fell upon a gang of gipsies, upon the borders of a heath, making merry. I joined them, and was kindly and hospitably received. Betsy there was one of the troop. From the moment I saw her, I took a fancy to her pretty face--joined the gang for her sake, and soon won her regard and love. I was now content and happy. We had victuals of the best in plenty, and roamed where we pleased, with no restraint but our own wills. I found there was some tough work before my hand. Betsy had one or two pretenders to her love, in her own and other gangs, and my rivals were not to be lightly thought of, for in their minds none but the brave deserve the fair. It is, win your bride and keep her while you can. There was one stout, active fellow, whom her parents intended for her husband, but Betsy had no wish for the match, and my arrival confirmed her dislike to him. Our loves were only known to ourselves, and our interviews stolen, until my services had gained me the esteem of her father. He was patriarch or head of the gang, and kept the common stock, guiding our movements and directing our operations as far as our wayward fancies could be guided--partly by argument, partly by yielding, but seldom by resorting to punishment, for all was done for our good, to the best of his judgment. No one thought of resisting his control, and if any became discontented they left the gang--a step by no means desirable, for our safety lay in the strength of the camp. There is scarce a gang but is at feud with some other gang or gangs, and when they meet, nothing but the flight of the weaker, or some other overruling cause, prevents a battle, in which murders are not unfrequently committed.
"Under the tuition of Betsy, I became a most expert beggar, as you witnessed this morning. My contributions to the common stock often equalled the amount of all the others put together. I became the pride of the gang; and no wonder--for I strove for Betsy, and was cheered on by her acclaim, while I was scowled at by my rivals, who were quick enough, though her parents had no suspicion of it, to see her preference of me. When we thought it proper time, I proposed to the father for the hand of his daughter. He had no objection to me as a son-in-law, further than that he had all but promised her to Long Ned, but would leave it to Betsy and myself to manage the affair as we best could, and would interfere no farther with his authority than for the good of the gang. If Betsy was pleased, he cared not whether Long Ned or I had her. When I told her the result of my conference with her father, she was as well pleased as myself.
"'Bill,' she said, 'you will not win me from Long Ned with both ease and honour. He is no contemptible rival. He will be at you as soon as he comes to the camp, for his mother will tell him. Now, be a man, and do not yield while you can stand to him, for, much as I love you--and you know I love you dearly--I could not marry you if you are beat. Nay, the people might make me marry him, and you must leave the gang, or your life would not be safe for one night. What says my Bill?'
"I looked upon the lovely girl with astonishment, her language was so unlike anything I had ever heard from a woman. In Scotland here, if a woman knew her lover was to fight, she would almost go distracted, and do all in her power to prevent him. I could scarcely believe my ears, I was as yet so little used to their ways. As I stood looking at her, a shade of anger passed over her face, and the tears came into her eyes; she turned away her head, and sobbed aloud. This roused me.
"'What ails my Betsy?" I said, taking her in my arms. She still sobbed, and pushed me from her.
"'I am the most unfortunate girl in the world, she cried. 'I love a man, and he is a coward.'
"'A coward, Betsy!' cried I. 'What do you mean? I am no coward. I fear not the face of clay.'
"Turning to me with one of her sweet smiles--
"'I am not deceived, then, in my Bill?' she said. 'He is not afraid of Long Ned?'
"'No, my love; nor of the whole gang, one after another--one down, another come on,' said I. 'Are we friends again?'
"'O Bill, we are more than friends,' she sobbed. 'I love you dearly, and am proud of you.'
"Arm-in-arm, we returned to the tents.
"Long Ned had just come home after an excursion; so, as soon as he saw us, his rage knew no bounds; and his dark eyes flashed fire, as he came forward and ordered me to quit my hold of the girl. There were few words passed between us; every one knew what was to take place, so no one interfered further than to see fair play. You recollect, Square, I always loved a bit of a row. The lessons I took on board from Sambo, the black cook, stood me now in great stead. I learned from him the African mode, to hold the stick with both hands by the ends, and cover the body with it, more especially the head, having thus the advantage of striking with either hand, and puzzling my opponent. Ned, who was an expert cudgel-player, chose that weapon, I, nothing loth, agreed. Two sticks of equal length were chosen. Betsy at my side, held my jacket, while Ned's mother held his. His anger was so great, he could scarce restrain himself until we were ready. I knew my task, and was cool--as if I waited the boatswain's call to go. So away we went. I at once felt my advantage; and, expert as he was, he could not reach me--my mode embarrassed him. I hit him on both sides, not severely, as I might with ease have done, but he had never touched me. We paused, for a minute or two, for breath.
"'Ned,' says I to him, 'I bear you no malice. I could have struck you down every time I have touched you. Yield me Betsy, and be friends.'
"'I will die first,' he cried, kindling in rage.
"'And if you yield, I will disown you,' said his mother.
"As he made at me again--'Don't spare him,' cried Betsy, 'as you wish to win me.'
"This was enough; but he plied me so hard for some time, that it was with difficulty I could defend myself. I had been hit slightly several times before an opportunity offered, so active was he and quick in his assaults. But my mode was not nearly so exhausting as his; and it being now my turn, I embraced it: down he went as if he had been shot. His mother raised him up, and encouraged him to renew the fight; while Betsy wiped some blood from my face, which came from a slight wound in the forehead; and, squeezing gently my hand, said I was her own brave boy; able to win a wife, and protect her. I see you do not much admire my story, but it shows the character of the people I was among. So, the short and the long of it is, Long Ned was carried to his tent, beaten to his mother's satisfaction; and I was married to Betsy next day, agreeably to the gipsy fashion--that is, a feast was given to all the gang--and her father delivered her up to me with a long harangue, concluding by declaring us man and wife, and the others wishing us joy.
"Betsy and I did not remain long with the gang after this. Long Ned and his mother were our implacable enemies, and neither of us were safe from their revenge--not that I cared a straw for them openly, but I knew their character too well to be at ease. Betsy and I left them, have lived well and comfortably since, and could save money, only there is no occasion for it. We, like all the men of superior minds in the world, live by our wits; there is no occasion for working when we can live without. I never want money and a good diet. Now, you say you have no particular object in view, save to get a ship for India: and why should you court difficulties and dangers abroad, when there is so rich a prospect before you at home? From experience, I can assure you no trade is so easy, or quickly learned, as begging. The first day is the worst; after that it came quite natural and agreeable."
There was a romance and bustle in the events he had narrated, which had a strange charm for me, and opened up a new leaf in the book of life. I had no conception of beggary but as extreme misery, and, until now, held them as synonymous terms, from what I had witnessed in Edinburgh in the early part of my youth. I had had no idea of the regular systematic beggar. My notions were formed upon the destitute widow and orphan, those whom I had herded with, who shrunk from importunity, and scarce let their wants be known, enduring hunger to the extreme ere they stealthily crept forth from their abodes of wretchedness, and returned as soon as their urgent wants were satisfied. To Bill I made known my surprise at the history he had given me of himself, and my wonder that any one should ask charity, save those who had no other means of supporting themselves.
"I once knew as little of the matter as you," said he, "but this I know now were none but the really needy to ask charity, they would soon be supplied, and fare well, but it is too good a trade, once begun, to be given up easily. But here is Betsy, to tell us dinner is ready."
The repast did honour to her cooking, and consisted of the best the town could afford. She herself sat at table, more lady-like than I thought it possible a gipsy girl could have done.
"Bill," says I, "if your trade were as honourable as it appears to be profitable, I would commence it this night."
"And what is more dishonourable in it, than any other calling a man may choose to live by?" said the young wife, with a smile. "Is not the whole bent of every one's mind to get as much from every one of his fellow-men as he can? Does not the king and his ministers get all they can from the people by taxation? Do not the ministers of the church get all they can from their flocks? Do not the lairds get all they can for their lands, the merchant get all he can for his goods, and the poor man get all he can for his labour? Real utility or value enters not into their minds at bargain-making. It is how they can get most of their neighbour's property, in the safest and easiest manner. What is honour but a fluctuating opinion? As I have heard my father say when he spoke the words I am now uttering--it is honourable for kings to take their subjects from their peaceful employments, and send them to plunder and destroy other states, it is honourable to be one of the plunderers; for one man to shoot another for some trifling word is honourable. Every nation has its own notions of this same thing called honour. But we of the wandering tribe think it means gold, for he that has got the most of it is the most esteemed, and he that has not a penny in his purse has not a jot of honour, though he had all the virtues. And why? Because, from the king to the beggar, no one can expect to add to their store from him. He is an egg already eaten--an empty shell; and, as such, crushed and thrown aside. These are the words of my father."
I heard the bewitching creature with astonishment, and could not but admire how easily every class finds consolation to themselves, by arguing as it suits their views. I had often before remarked, that when numbers of any class associated, they rose in their own estimation; but I had no idea that the beggars carried it so far.
"But it is under deceit and false pretence," said I, to enjoy the pleasure of hearing her speak, "you extort money from the humane and charitable. I would rather work to the death."
"That is a matter of choice or education," replied she. "We use no more deceit than is necessary to obtain our object, and all the world do the same, while we do more to give pleasure to the good than any other class. Don't we keep alive the kindly feelings of man? My Bill there, as you saw him this morning, was a walking lecture upon the miseries of war, and I am sure, from what I saw in your looks at the time, that you felt a real pleasure in having it in your power to give him the half-crown--nay, had you walked on, you would have slept the sounder for it. Had you tippled it, or spent it foolishly, you would have regretted parting with it. Even now, that you think we had no need of it, your self-esteem is only wounded at being imposed upon; but your heart upbraids you not for your good intentions; and may not a beggar feel pleasure in the success of his arts as much as those of another calling?"
"Does not Betsy speak like a parson?" said Bill. "I can't say I feels as if all was right when I am rigged out for an excursion; but, somehow, she appears to have reason on her side; and, even if I were to get a ship, I must leave my pretty Bess, so I just get on; and I am now pretty well used to it. If I had staid by my trade, as my parents wished me, I could have wrought for her at home, but Betsy is pleased, and I have no more to care for."
"And why should I not?" she quickly replied. "I have been bred to it, and know nothing else. I could not live mewed up in a house, however grand. A wide heath, or a dark wood, with a few light, verdant, sunny spots embossed in its bosom, has far more charms for me than a crowded city or painted room; and the piece of money, dexterously obtained, has a beauty about it that does not belong to the fixed income. I had as soon be in my grave as a sober citizen; for there would be as much exercise for the mind in the one case as the other."
For a moment I looked with admiration at the lovely girl, as her face glowed with animation while she spoke; but pity soon took its place, suggesting the mournful reflection, that a mind of her powers was in a state of nature, and what it might have been, had it been cultivated. A sigh escaped me at the thought of my own inability to lend instruction. She saw the cloud upon my brow.
"Come, Bill," she said, laughing, "you neglect your friend; he grows sad. Shall we to the kenn to-night? We are expected."
"To be sure, Betsy," replied he. "Square, fill your glass; and don't break your heart because Betsy is my wife, and can't be yours. There will be rare fun, I expect, and would advise you to go."
I was in that mood at the time, between the serious and the sad, contrasting the pious and modest Helen Grey with the pert and forward beauty before me. Both were lovely in their persons--but how different in expression and mind! Helen was a lily, modest, and filling the air around her with a mild perfume; Betsy, an exotic flower, of surpassing beauty, with an odour so powerful, it required time to render it not offensive; yet it was a lovely flower, and in a skilful gardener's hands would have been the honour of his plots, and the object of his pride. Under the example and tuition of Helen, I had felt some serious impressions--at times a thorn, at others a balm, as my own wayward actions were approved or condemned. I wished to speak seriously to the interesting creature before me, but could not find resolution. I was conscious that it would be an evening of regret if I was left alone, so I agreed to accompany them.
"Hurrah!" shouted Bill; "you will, I see, be a mumper yet. But you can't appear in that rig, Square; you could not get admittance. Betsy will furnish you out of my store. Will you be a soldier, a sailor, or a ruined, burned-out tradesman? I guess you will be a tar?"
"Certainly," I replied.
"Shall you lack a whole fin, or part of one, or be lame of a leg? Make your choice."
"Oh, half-an-arm," said I, now ripe for the fun I expected.
In a few minutes Betsy had me so completely changed, I hardly knew myself, even when I looked in the glass. An immense long tie of false hair--mine being then of a sandy colour, the same nearly as Bill's--was brought forth, opened, and my own shorter tie secured in it. With a liquid she browned my face. To this I at first objected, until she assured me that she would wash it off in the morning. An old pair of canvas trousers, a ragged jacket, a shabby vest and hat, were given to me. When I came to put on the jacket, she caused me to double my arm, laying my hand upon the top of my shoulder; and there was a case in the tattered arm, made of leather, to receive it. With difficulty my doubled limb was forced in, presenting the elbow first. For some time the constrained position pained me, for there was a flap of leather that came over my open hand, and was made fast to my trousers, to diminish the bulk.
"Where did you lose your arm, my good lad?" said the smiling Betsy, as she offered a halfpenny in jest.
"Faith, I do not know, mistress, if you have not cut it off for me," I replied.
"Jack, that will never do," said she, "I will send for the constable, you impostor;" and she turned, smiling, from me, with all the airs of a fine lady; then, turning round, and assuming the attitude of a beggar, "Bless your pretty face," she said, "sweet lady, spare a halfpenny to a poor tar, who lost his precious limb in defending the beauties of Old England."
"I have no coppers."
"Oh, bless you, beautiful lady," she continued, "I would die of want, were it not for angels like you;" and she whined along the floor, as if she had followed some one.
Bill and I could not refrain from laughter.
"Does she not do it in style?" he said, exultingly. "Take the dear creature's advice, and copy her, and you need never want a good bed and a good diet, besides money in your fob, and be a jolly beggar."
"Are there more kinds of beggars than one?" said I.
"Oh," replied he, "there are many kinds; for instance jolly beggars, sturdy beggars, humble beggars, and randy beggars. I had forgot the gentle beggars; but you will see them of all description."
And away we trudged--Betsy as an old decrepid woman, and with so well-managed a metamorphosis, that I, who saw the change effected, could scarce believe my eyes. Bill was not the same person I had seen in the morning; he only wanted his left arm, which was bandaged by his side, and his leg supported at the knee by a wooden substitute for the lower part of it.
"This," said he, "was my last cruising dress when I was among them. I was maimed, as you see, in the gallant Admiral Hawke's own ship, when we defeated Conflans. You may have either lost your fin there or at Cape Breton, for our meetings are a kind of masquerade--no one knows his fellow, but as in the character he for the time assumes."
After a few turns through dark alleys, we arrived at a low dirty-looking public-house. As we entered, Bill whispered in my ear--
"Now, Square," said he, "this is Liberty Hall--every one eats what he pleases, drinks what he pleases, and, I may say, speaks as he pleases. All I advise is, do not be too ready to take or give offence. Betsy has agreed to sit by you--be guided by her."
We entered one by one. A single flickering light was attached to the wall; everything bespoke the most abject poverty, until we had passed through a second small apartment, when the sound of voices, mixed with boisterous laughter, fell upon my ears.
"We are too late, I fear," said Betsy; "the fun is begun."
The next moment the door opened--and such a scene! I did not think the universe could have produced such a collection of apparent misery and mutilation. The miraculous pool of Siloam, the evening before the angel descended to trouble the waters, I really believe, never furnished such a spectacle of incurables. To be more particular would only disgust you: all was hilarity and vulgar enjoyment. Viands of the richest kinds--roast fowls, and meats of all varieties--smoked on a table at one side of the room, and which, as called for by the guests, was cut off in proportion to the amount ordered, handed to the expectant guest, and the money received before the plate was delivered. Some had done, and commenced their favourite liquors; others were doing justice to the cookery--praising, and not a few finding fault.
"What shall I have the pleasure of handing to Mr Kay?" cried the landlord, bowing.
"Betsy, my love, what shall we have?" said Bill.
"What you please, Bill, for myself. Square, what do you wish?" she said.
"Oh, I care not," I replied.
"Then, landlord, a duck; and have you any green peas yet?"
"The season is backward; I have some," replied he, "but they are a little high-priced."
"So much the better--send half-a-crown's worth with the duck, for me and my friends."
"Well, Kay, you always do the thing genteelly; but who is this friend of yours?" said a fat little man, in very rusty black, of a clerical cut.
"An old messmate of mine, I met by chance to-day--a real good un."
"As Mr Kay's friend, I drink your health, and our better acquaintance."
"Thank you, doctor," said Kay; and I did the same.
After every one had satisfied his appetite, and got his liquor before him, the noise of voices, joined to the boisterous laughter, was absolutely deafening--all were in committees of twos and threes, talking. I began to despair of getting my curiosity gratified by Betsy on the spot; for the noise was so great that to whisper was impossible. Never in my life had I witnessed such unbounded apparent happiness and glee--all was enjoyment. At length a little hunch-backed caricature of a man leaped upon the head of the table, and, seated like a Turk, crosslegged, struck the table with a wooden mallet, and, in a hoarse, croaking voice, commanded silence and attention to their president for the night. In a minute all was still. Without rising to his feet, he croaked forth--
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are met here to forget the cares and toils of the day. You have all (or you have your purse to blame) had your pleasure of the eatables--of the drinkables you shall have the same provided. I add no more, save a word for our worthy landlord. He says, if we do not be less noisy, and give him less trouble than the last time we met, he must either cease to enjoy our company, or be on more intimate terms with the magistrates--an honour he does not covet. He has been a man to be sought after by the authorities already. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I call on Rhyming Bob for his last new song--ruff him in. Up rose a tall, gaunt, shabby-genteel, pale-looking figure, bowed to the company, and began, in a cracked voice, affectedly to chant some doggerel verses against the Ministers of State. I looked inquiringly at Betsy.
"Oh, that is the poet," said she; "a gentle beggar by nature and profession, he has no shift but his verses, and a poor shift it makes for him. He bothers the gentry with his rhymes; sometimes gets kicked out, sometimes a six-pence. Hand him, when done, a glass Bill; he has been more fortunate than usual, if he has one of his own. He had better attended to teaching his scholars than song-writing. Our friend the doctor here is also a gentle beggar--he gets nothing on the streets and highways--he writes a good letter as a distressed clergyman or reduced man of education, and lives well, as you see. A great number, almost all the maimed, are jolly beggars, like Bill, and what you are to be. They have numerous ways of earning a subsistence, and spend it as freely. They never take anything save money in charity, for, poor souls, they are too feeble to carry heavy gifts."
The noisy applause of the poet's song put a stop to our whispering. When order was restored, Mrs Kay was called upon for a song. Betsy immediately stood up in her old woman's attire, and astonished me, little as I know of music, by the sweetness of her voice, and the effect with which she sang, "An old woman clothed in grey." Twice was she obliged to sing it to the company, which she did with the utmost good nature. When the deafening applause had abated, or, I may rather say, the storm of noises had ceased, a stout, red-haired, broad-shouldered, rather shortish man was called upon to sing. He gave a Welsh song, the air of which was pretty, but the words uncouth to my ear.
"That is one of the sturdy beggars," said Betsy; "he refuses nothing that is given him, carries all upon his person, and often, before he reaches the proper place to dispose of his gatherings, they amount to the weight of many stones. He always tells the charitable, when asked what is his complaint that prevents him from working--I can't speak the Welsh word, but it means 'sheer laziness.' The people are confounded at the, to them, unintelligible and strange name of the disease, and are ready to relieve the afflicted man. Once or twice, they say, he has been detected by countrymen of his own, who laughed at his impudence, and gave the true meaning of the words. The sturdies are a numerous class. The randies are nearly, if not, of the same class; they abuse and threaten until they are supplied, when they dare with impunity. The humble, poor creatures are old or real cripples--take what they get, and are thankful; there is not one of them here this night that I see."
We had now sat in the pandemonium for nearly three hours. The potency of the liquor had for some time began to preponderate--angry words were exchanging, and some were sleeping, with their heads leaning upon the table. Bill himself was more than half-seas over, and began to bawl out a sea-song. Betsy and I endeavoured to keep him in order, and wished him to retire. We had succeeded, and were rising to leave the company--Bill only half-inclined--when a stranger entered the hall of confusion and drunkenness. We were on our feet. I saw Betsy turn pale as death, and turn her head aside. A number of voices called out, "Hurrah! hurrah! here is Long Ned." A young female, whose eye I had noticed was seldom turned from where we sat, cried out--
"Betsy, you are not going away because your old sweetheart, Long Ned, has come in?"
"Shiver my timbers if we are!" cried Bill; and in a moment sat down and called for more liquor. I, as well as Betsy, saw that the envious female was bent on mischief; but how to prevent it I knew not. Long Ned had seated himself at the other side of the table, gloomy as Satan. I felt her tremble, as she sat by my side, I believe more through rage at the female than fear. Long Ned was evidently bent on some mischief or other, and he was quite sober. Bill and he eyed each other for some time. Betsy was coaxing him, to get him away, as well as myself.
"No, I will not leave the room," he said, "while that scoundrel is in it; I will face him, or fight him out, if he says an uncivil word to you or myself."
The same female sat only one seat from him; I saw them whispering together. Betsy's dark eyes glanced fire. She unbuckled his timber leg, and took it off. Scarce was this done, when Ned said aloud--
"Tell me, Kay, how much you have sold the jilt Bessy for. I see she is very gracious with your ac----" He had only got thus far, when the wooden leg was launched across the table, and felled him to the ground.
A scene of uproar and confusion no words can express ensued; the lights were extinguished; blows were dealt furiously around; and the sleepers awoke and joined in the strife. Bitterly did I regret my curiosity, as well as the bondage my arm was in from its long confinement; it was benumbed and painful. As I had no immediate interest in the strife, I retired to one corner of the room, where I found several as anxious as myself to escape. Shouts of murder and groans were mixed with vengeful cries. At length the door was burst open, and a body of constables entered. The moment I saw this I slipped along the side of the room and darted past them, receiving in my flight several severe blows, and leaving the skirts and breasts of my jacket in the hands of those in the way who attempted to stop my career. I turned down the first opening I came to, and ceased to run, as no one appeared to follow me. Fortunately, I had the old canvass trousers and vest above my own, in which was secured my guineas and silver. With some difficulty I freed myself from the jacket, then I with ease got off the others, and had the mortification to find myself, pretty late in the evening, without a lodging, jacket, or hat.
As I began to cool, and find myself secure from pursuit, the contusions I had received from the staves of the constables pained me very much, particularly one I had received upon the head; I put up my hand, and found it bleeding pretty fresh. Thus was I in a fine mess to seek for a decent lodging, or account for my present plight. As I turned over in my mind for a plausible story, I perceived a respectable-looking inn still open, and made straight for it. There were several seafaring men, like captains of coasters, sitting in the tap. When I entered, all eyes were turned upon me. The landlord insisted upon turning me out, without allowing me to speak. The company took my part, and insisted that I should be heard. I had now my story ready as near the truth as I dared--I told them I was a stranger from Scotland, on my way to London, in quest of a vessel, and had only arrived in the town that evening, when I had had a quarrel and fight, having been insulted, and some one had carried off my hat, jacket, and bundle; but that I had plenty of money to pay my way. As soon as I had finished, the landlord became all civility; I got my head bound up, and a good lodging, and got intimate with one or two of the captains before I retired to bed.
Next morning my head ached, but nothing to speak of. I arose, sent for a dealer in clothes, and purchased a jacket and hat, had breakfast, and took a walk through the town. As I did not intend to leave it until I had heard the issue of the brawl, nothing else was talked of. The fight between them and the constables had been long and severe, for they made a desperate resistance; and it was not until several of the inhabitants had reinforced the civil power, that the beggars were secured, and lodged in jail, male and female. I wished only to know the fate of Bill and Betsy, and then started upon my journey--I wished to have no further intercourse with them. My bundle, and necessaries in it, I had given up for lost, unless they were liberated, at least Betsy, through the course of the day. I could not have found my way to their room without inquiry; and this it was neither prudent nor of any use to make, until they were liberated. Well, the magistrates were busy examining them, I was told, the whole forenoon, and the issue was, that all the able-bodied rascals--Bill amongst the rest--were sent to man His Majesty's navy, and the females were to be confined, and then banished the town for ever.
I returned to my inn, and, by appointment, met my new acquaintances, the captains;--one of them, the captain of a brig, was loading grain for London. I was weary of walking on foot, and agreed with him for a passage, leaving my conductors to the beggars' ball in durance; the males expecting to be sent off in a day or two, and the females making out their solitary confinement, preparatory to their banishment.
LEEIN JAMIE MURDIESTON.
With the exception of one unhappy failing, delicately hinted at in the title of this sketch, there was nothing really bad in the character of Mr. James Murdieston. He was an honest, civil, inoffensive, and obliging man; but--we neither can nor will conceal the fact--a most determined inventor. Yet his lies had no malevolence in them. They were all of the vainglorious kind, and never bore reference to any man or woman's character or affairs. On the whole, as defensible as lies can be, they were also as harmless. To profession, an enlightener of the world, not as a philosopher or teacher of science, but simply as a candle-maker, he was so far a benefactor of mankind, but on a very humble scale--having only the wants of a very small village to supply with the produce of his manufacture.
With this preamble, we proceed to say, that it happened once upon a time that Jamie Murdieston had to go to Glasgow, on some particular business--we believe it was to make a purchase of tallow. On this occasion, as on all others when his presence was necessary in the western metropolis, Jamie took the coach--an opportunity which he always prized highly, as affording him admirable scope for the exercise of his talent for romancing. At home, where his propensity was well known, he could get few listeners and still fewer believers; but, on the top of a coach, where he was not known, he was always sure of finding both; and he never failed to make an excellent use of his advantage. It was a great comfort and satisfaction to Jamie, when he stumbled on an unwincing believer. It was a perfect treat to him, since it was one which he rarely enjoyed. On the occasion of which we are speaking--namely, Jamie's visit to Glasgow--he found himself, on ascending the coach, seated beside a very engaging young lady, who had preferred the outside to the inside, on account of the extreme warmth of the weather, and also for the purpose, as she herself informed Jamie, of more fully enjoying the scenery through which they might pass.
"Quite richt, mem," replied Jamie, on his fair and frank fellow-traveller informing him of this last particular, as they rolled along. "Quite right, mem; for the kintra hereawa is just uncommon beautifu--just uncommon. Do ye see, mem, that bit glisk o' the Clyde, there?--that's a spot I should mind weel, and I will mind it till the day o' my death."
"Indeed, sir!" said the young lady to whom these remarks were addressed. "Pray, what circumstance is it, may I ask, which so solemnly binds your recollections to that particular locality?"
"A melancholy aneugh are, I assure ye mem; that's to say, it micht hae been melancholy, an it warna that Providence had sent me just in time to save the life o' a fellow-cratur."
On this communication being made to her, the young lady for whose edification it was intended discovered a degree of agitation and surprise, for which the circumstance itself would hardly account. As it escaped Jamie's notice, however, and she was aware that it did so, she merely said--"Dear me, sir, what was the occurrence you allude to, and when did it happen?" But there was an eagerness and an anxiety in her manner, when putting these queries, which she could not altogether conceal. Jamie observed it with inward satisfaction, hailing it as an assurance that whatever he might communicate would be at once taken for gospel. Feeling thus encouraged, Jamie replied--
"I'll tell ye a' aboot it, mem. Ye see it was just aboot this time twelmonth, I think--yes, just exactly aboot this time--that, as I was ae day fishin in the Clyde, at the spot I pointed oot to ye, I was suddenly startled by hearin an awful scream, and, immediately after, a tremendous splash in the water. 'Somebody fa'en in!' says I; and I instantly flang doon my rod, on which I had, at the moment, a saumont fifty pun wecht, if he was an unce--and ran roun the bit projectin bank that had keepit me frae actually seein what had happened. A weel, on doin this, doesna I see a woman's bonnet floatin on the water--it was a' I could see--and gann fast doun wi' the stream, which was geyley swelled at the time. Soon becomin aware that the bonnet was on the head o' some unfortunate person, and that she maun perish in a few seconds, if no attempt was made to rescue her, I, without a moment's thocht, threw aff my coat and shoon, and jumped in after her; and, as gude luck wad hae't, was the means o' savin her life; but it was a teuch job, for, by the time I reached her, she had sunk, and it wasna till I had dived three times that I got haud o' her. But I _did_ get a grup o' her; and I assure ye I held it, and never let it go till I had her safely on the bank, puir thing, and a bit bonny cratur she was."
Thus far had Jamie got in his interesting story, and much further he would have gone, had he not been suddenly interrupted by his fair auditor, who, seizing him by the hand, in a transport of joy and surprise, exclaimed--
"O my deliverer, my deliverer!--_I_ was the person whom you saved; and delighted will my father, who's inside the coach, be, when he learns we have found you at last. But why, why," continued the grateful girl, looking all the gratitude she felt in Jamie's face--"why did you so abruptly and suddenly withdraw yourself, after having done such a generous and noble deed? We could never find you out, nor obtain the smallest trace of you, although hardly a day has passed since then that we have not made some attempt to accomplish either the one or the other. It was cruel of you not to afford us an opportunity of evincing the deep and everlasting gratitude we felt towards you."
We leave the reader to conjecture what was Jamie's amazement on finding himself thus addressed by his fair companion; for we suppose we need hardly say that every word of his story about rescuing a young lady from drowning was a lie--an unmitigated, and, so far as he knew certainly, an utterly foundationless lie. Well may we then, we think, call on the reader to conceive, if he can, Jamie's surprise, when he found his narrative thus strangely converted into truth. He by no means liked it, for it threatened to lead to some awkward discoveries; and, under this impression, he endeavoured to back out, and to separate the two cases by some additional remarks.
"That's odd," he said, on the young lady's imposing on him the character of her deliverer--"verra odd," he repeated, but with considerable embarrassment in his manner; "but I dinna think ye're the young leddy I saved that day; she was a hantle stouter than you, and a guid deal aulder."
"The very same, the very same, I assure you, sir," rejoined his fair companion, laughingly. "There was no accident of the kind you mentioned, at the place you pointed out, during all last summer, but my own. This I know, from our having lived there from the month of March to October. So you must not attempt to balk me of the happiness of believing I have found my deliverer."
Here, then, was a poser for Jamie. The young lady, it seems, was familiar with the place, and knew that no accident, except the one which, by so odd and unhappy a coincidence for Jamie's veracity, had befallen herself, had occurred there at the period he stated. He must, therefore, either confess to a lie, or quietly pocket the compliments that were thrust on him. On the latter he naturally enough determined; but he wanted no more acknowledgments, as he found them sit on him rather awkwardly. In truth, he now began to show as great a reluctance to advert to the subject as he had before shown forwardness, and was most evidently desirous of waiving it altogether; but this his fair companion would by no means allow. She was by far too full of the extraordinary chance, and extraordinary good fortune, as she reckoned it, of having thus so strangely met with her deliverer, to allow the matter to drop.
Before going further, we may as well advert to a circumstance which may have a little startled the reader. This is, how it should have happened that Jamie's story of a rescue should have had a counterpart in fact. As to this matter, we can only vouch for its being perfectly true. It was a coincidence--certainly an odd one, but not more odd than many that have happened, and are daily occurring. The facts of the case, as we may say, were these:--The young lady's father, who was a wealthy Glasgow merchant, possessed a very pretty little cottage, which he and his family occasionally occupied during the summer months, at a short distance from the banks of the Clyde, and near to the very spot which Jamie had so unfortunately chosen as the scene of his exploit; and, still more unluckly for Jamie, it happened that the young lady in question had actually met with such an accident as that which formed the groundwork of his romance. Moreover, she had, in the case alluded to, been rescued from a watery grave by a person who chanced to be angling near the spot at the time; but this person had no sooner brought her on shore, being assured that her recovery was certain, although she appeared at the time insensible, and seen her safely in the charge of some people who had hurried to the scene of the accident, than he had suddenly and abruptly withdrawn, and was no more seen or heard of. These, then, were the facts of that case which so strangely tallied with Jamie's fiction. It is true that, had the fact and the fiction been carefully collated, a good many small discrepancies would have appeared, that would have at once stripped Jamie of his self-assumed honours; but this not having been done, and the leading incident being the same in both, no such result took place.
To resume our story. On the arrival of the coach at Glasgow--an event to which Jamie had been looking forward with great impatience, as the only occurrence that could relieve him from his present awkward predicament--he bade his fair companion a hurried good-by, and, heedless of her remonstrances and entreaties, was hastening down the side of the coach, to make his escape, when the father of the young lady, to whom the latter had hastily communicated the discovery of her deliverer, by leaning over the top of the coach, and speaking through the upper part of the doorway, suddenly intercepted him.
"Too bad, sir, too bad," said the old gentleman, smilingly, "to try and escape us again. But we have you this time, and will take care that you do not." Saying this, Mr. Alston held out his hand to Jamie, and, on grasping the latter's, shook it with the most cordial warmth, expressing, at the same time, the deepest sense of the mighty obligation under which he lay to him, for having so nobly saved his daughter from an untimely death--"An obligation," said the good old gentleman, "which I can never repay."
"Dinna speak o't, sir, dinna speak o't," said Jamie, in the greatest embarrassment, and wishing, the while, that his tongue had been blistered when he first opened his mouth on the ill-starred subject of the rescuing. "Dinna speak o't," he said, "it't just what ae fellow-cratur should do for anither." And, having said this, Jamie was about to make a sudden bolt, when the old gentleman, perceiving his intention, dexterously hooked his arm within Jamie's right; while his daughter, who had by this time joined them, did the same by his left, and thus secured him.
"Away from us you shall not get," said Mr. Alston.
"Indeed you shall not," interposed his daughter.
"You must go home with us," resumed the former, "and receive the thanks of my dear wife, who will be delighted to see you, and those of Ellen's brothers and sisters. They are all, I assure you, as grateful to you as either I or Ellen herself can possibly be."
"Much obleeged, sir, much obleeged," stammered out Jamie, in great distress of mind; "but, ye see, it's impossible--althegither oot o' the question; for I have some important business to do, that maun be dune before I go onywhaur."
And he struggled to free himself from his captors; but in vain. They held on with a determined gripe.
"No, no, you must not leave us," exclaimed Mr Alston, "we must not lose sight of you, now that we have you. I should be sorry to be the cause of any interruption to your business; but we will not detain you an instant. I merely wish, in the meantime, to show you the way to my house, that you may find it readily when you want it, which I expect will be the moment you get your business finished."
"Really, sir, really," exclaimed Jamie, despairingly, and holding back to repress the forward movements of Mr. Alston and his daughter--"really, sir, really I canna gang. I canna on no account. The business I hae on haun maun be instantly attended to, and winna admit o' the sma'est delay."
"Well, in that case," said the pertinacious Mr. Alston, "I'll accompany you, and wait your conveniency; and Ellen here will, in the meantime, go home and apprise her mother of her having met with you, and tell her that we shall be there in--in--in what time shall I say?"
"An hour--an hour--an hour," exclaimed the perplexed romancer, in great tribulation--"say an hour."
"Well, an hour, Ellen. Tell your mother we'll be home in an hour," said Mr. Alston; "and let her have a little supper prepared for us by that time, and let a bed be got in readiness for our dear friend here. You'll take up your quarters with us, of course," turning to Jamie.
"Oh, surely, surely--wi' great pleasure," exclaimed Jamie, hurriedly, and scarcely knowing what he said--"wi' great pleasure, but far owre meikle trouble."
"Trouble!" said Mr. Alston, contemptuously; "you, the preserver of my dear daughter's life, talk of trouble! No--no; we shall be but too happy to have you, to show you, as far as we can, the deep sense we all entertain of the unrequitable obligation we lie under to you."
"Don't lose sight of him, papa!" here exclaimed Miss Alston, in clear soft tones, as she tripped away.
"No fear, my dear--I'll hold him fast," replied her father; and, while he did so, he clutched Jamie with a still surer gripe.
Jamie now saw that the old boy was determined not to part with him until he should have run the gauntlet of the whole family's gratitude; and once more did he devoutly wish that his tongue had been anywhere but in his mouth when he first broached the unhappy story of the drowning adventure. He had never got into such a scrape before with any of his small _nouvelettes_, and he almost determined that he would never publish another--that he would henceforth deal in nothing but well-authenticated facts. The question, in the meantime, however, was, how to escape the threatened consequences of the one with which he was now entangled, and this question was a poser. There was but one way, and on this Jamie finally determined. This way was, to bolt for it--to show the old boy a pair of clean heels; and thus at once cut the connection. There was no other way of dealing with the dilemma. Having made up his mind to this proceeding, Jamie suddenly stopped at a certain close-mouth in the Trongate, and, intimating to his escort that he had a call to make there, requested him to wait an instant till he returned.
"I'll no keep ye a minnit," said Jamie, "no ae minnit."
And, leaving the old boy to mount guard till his return, he proceeded up the close, at first leisurely; but, on gaining a turn, which concealed him from his Cerberus, he fairly took to his heels, and emerged in a distant street, to which the close led. Here Jamie drew bridle and breath together, and thanked goodness for his escape; expressing, at the same time, a fervent hope that he would never again meet with Mr. Alston or any of his family. Having thus got his head out of the noose, Jamie adjourned to the quarters which he usually occupied when he went to Glasgow; and, on the following day, sallied out to transact the business which had brought him to the city. It was not, however, with a mind perfectly at ease that Jamie went about this business; for he dreaded every moment encountering Mr. Alston or his daughter; and, under this terror, he kept a sharp look-out as he went along, always cutting suddenly across the street, when he got his eyes on any person or persons of suspicious appearance--that is, on any old gentleman or young lady who bore a real or fancied resemblance to Mr. Alston or his fair daughter; and the sequel will show that his precaution was not an unnecessary, although, alas! a vain one.
Just as he turned the corner of a street, who should Jamie see coming towards him, and at the distance of about fifty or eighty yards, but the much-dreaded Mr. Alston, his daughter, and a brother, a young man of about four-and-twenty! On recognising them, Jamie instantly stopped short, and, after a moment's reflection, determined on having again recourse to his heels--no other way of escape, as in the former instance, appearing practicable. To this proceeding Jamie was further induced by an impression that he had not been seen, or at least recognised; but in this, as will appear, he was mistaken. However, not aware of the fact, Jamie turned quickly round, and fairly ran for it. But, as we have already hinted, he had been both seen and known by the Alstons, and they, believing his anxiety to avoid them proceeded from excessive modesty, and a timid nature that shrank from the noise of its own good deeds, resolved on compelling Jamie to submit to their acknowledgments; and, acting on this resolution, the young man (who, by the way, was provided with an admirable pair of legs for such purposes) was despatched by his father and sister in pursuit. The effect of this proceeding on Jamie, who had become aware of it, by happening to turn round for an instant during his flight, was to accelerate his speed. He flew like the wind, knocking about and overturning several people in his rapid and furious career. Thus the run continued for several minutes, when Jamie, feeling his wind failing him, and becoming thereby sensible that he could not hold out much longer, made a sudden dive up a close--one of those convenient retreats for "gentlemen in difficulties;" and, by this cleverly-executed movement, succeeded in fairly throwing out his pursuer, who, from the crowded state of the street, did not perceive the ruse, but held on his way vigorously, and afforded Jamie the inexpressible satisfaction of seeing him rush past the mouth of the entrance in which he was concealed. Feeling now in comparative safety, which, however, he further insured by going half-way up a stair, Jamie, who was a good deal blown by his exertion, took off his hat, and began wiping the perspiration from his face and forehead with his pocket-handkerchief, and doing all he could to recover his nearly exhausted breath.
"Hech," said Jamie, on beginning to respire more freely, and still wiping his face assiduously, "this has been athegither a deevil o' a job. Such a rumpus to be kicked up a' out o' nothing! Chased as if I was a mad dog! It was the maist unlucky _ane_ ever I tell't but catch me again savin onybody frae beein drooned! I'll no touch that style again in a hurry, I warrant." And with such disjointed remarks as these on his unhappy essay in his peculiar art, Jamie beguiled the short time which he thought it necessary to remain in his concealment. This expired--or, in other words, thinking the coast now clear--Jamie stole cautiously down the stair, and, on arriving at the bottom, peeped into the close before venturing out. The survey being satisfactory, Jamie emerged, and stealing down the close like a cat, repeated at the foot of it the operation of peeping round him, before taking the bold measure of stepping into the street. No enemy was in sight, Jamie drew his breath for a desperate adventure. It was a rush he meditated, which should at once carry him clear of the dangerous locality; and he accomplished it. From that hour, Jamie saw no more of the Alstons, and thus got out of the entangled web which he had woven for himself; but it was not long before he manufactured another, and a much more troublesome one.
The day on which the event in Jamie's life which we have just recorded took place, was one of great stir and excitation in Glasgow. It was the day of the execution of the Radical, Swan; whose death, on account of his crime having been a political one, was to be attended with some of the appalling ceremonies and peculiar proceedings that usually mark the execution of traitors.
Following the general current of the population which, as the hour appointed for the horrid exhibition was at hand, was drawing towards the jail, Jamie soon found himself at the place of execution. Here the general, and in some things the particular, appearance of the preparations for the approaching tragedy, showed that it was to be one of a very unusual kind. A strong party of foot-soldiers surrounded the gibbet, while the approaches at either end of the jail were occupied by dragoons, who, from the peremptory manner in which they performed their duty, in repelling all attempts at affecting a passage by the way which they guarded, sufficiently showed that their orders had been unusually strict. The crowd and general excitement was immense.
Amongst the other objects that attracted Jamie's notice in this imposing scene, was a man holding a white horse, and standing a little way aloof from the crowd. The animal was an ordinary cart-horse, and the person who held it seemed to be a carter by profession. The situation of both seemed an odd and unsuitable one, considering attendant circumstances; and they, of course, attracted some notice, and excited some curiosity; the more so that the man looked as if he and his horse had some business there, and waiting for something or other. Jamie, among the rest, was struck with these indications, and, making up to the man, bluntly but civilly said--
"What are ye gaun to be aboot wi' the horse here, frien?"
"A job I dinna like verra weel," replied the man, whose face was pale, and lips white, with some strong internal feeling.
"What sort o' a job may that be?" inquired Jamie, his curiosity still further excited by this answer.
"If ye wait a while, ye'll see," replied the person addressed, in a manner that intimated a desire to hold no further communication on the subject. Jamie took the hint, and walked off. In less than quarter-of-an-hour after, the dense mass of human beings that surrounded the gibbet seemed all at once struck with some new and strong feeling of excitement. A suppressed cry or exclamation rolled over that immense sea of heads; and the apathy which prevailed before was exchanged for a feeling of intense eagerness and restless curiosity. The first act of the tragedy had commenced; and it was the intelligence of this that was now working its way through the crowd, and producing the excitement alluded to. Conscious, with others, that the appalling proceedings of the occasion had opened, Jamie rushed towards the iron railings which enclosed a narrow paved way that ran round three sides of the jail, and there saw a scene more horrible than anything that even his own fertile imagination could have conceived. This was a hurdle, a machine somewhat resembling a Kamtschatkan sledge, raised slightly at either end, and to which was yoked the identical white horse, held by the head by the identical person, who had attracted Jamie's notice a short while before. Within this hurdle was seated, at one end, the executioner, with a broad, bright, short-handled axe resting on his shoulder; and opposite to him, in the other end, sat a quiet, composed-looking old man, of about sixty or sixty-five years of age. This was Swan, the unhappy man who was to suffer. In a second or two, the sledge moved on towards the scaffold; and in a second or two more Swan appeared upon the fatal platform. He was perfectly calm and collected throughout the whole of this trying scene, as was made sufficiently evident by his turning round to the executioner, and saying, with perfect composure, and an air of unconcerted simplicity, "Tammas, did ye ever see sic a crowd?" In a short time after, the miserable man was thrown off; and when he had hung about a quarter-of-an-hour or twenty minutes, three town-officers were seen to mount the scaffold and approach the body, which they immediately proceeded to lower--a ghastly spectacle, as they had to shoulder, handle, and support the corpse in the hideous operation. That operation performed, the body was placed in a position for decapitation, when suddenly another personage appeared on the scaffold. His step was quick and hurried. He wore a mask on his face, and was wrapped up in a loose black gown, which entirely concealed his person. On ascending the platform, this appalling personage, without looking to the right or left, quickly passed his hand round or over the neck of the dead man, as if to ascertain the proper place to strike. This done, he, with the same expedition, raised the axe, and at one blow severed the head from the body, and instantly thereafter glided from the scaffold, as mysteriously and rapidly as he had ascended it; the whole being the work of not more, perhaps, than a minute.
All this, then, Jamie Murdieston saw, and it struck him with horror. But will the reader believe that it should have been the means of getting him into another of his lying predicaments? All will think, we daresay, that it should have had a very opposite effect, and have rather laid than aroused the fibbing spirit that was within him. But, verily, such was not the case.
On the evening of the same day, Jamie betook himself to a coffee-room, to spend an hour, which he found hanging heavy on his hands, in taking a peep of the papers, and listening to the varied and desultory conversations which are usually to be heard in such places of resort. Being of a social and communicative disposition, Jamie soon began to take a share in the general talk. This talk, for the most part, as might be expected, bore reference to the recent execution, and to the popular movements out of which it had arisen.
"I'll tell you what it is," said Jamie, who was at this particular moment pretty considerably muzzed--"I'll tell ye what it is," he said, addressing two men who sat opposite him, and with whom he had got into familiar conversation--"the government had better no try ony mair o' thae tricks" (meaning executions for political offences), "or they'll maybe get their kail through the reek. There's mair mischief brewin in the country than they're aware o'."
"Faith, it's just as ye say, frien," said one of the persons spoken to. "There _is_ some wark gaun on that'll bother the big-wigs at Lunnun, when the proper time comes. But _we're_ no just ripe yet. Onything doin amang the _Friends_ in your pairt o' the country?"
"We're gettin on cannily, but surely," replied Jamie, with a significant look to the querist. Then, with a wink, pregnant with mysterious intelligence--"I ken twa or three things aboot thae matters that haena been cried at the cross."
On this, one of the men opposite Jamie stretched himself across the table, and whispered in his ear--
"Are ye headin ony movement in your quarter, noo?"
Jamie replied with an expressive nod, and a look of great importance; but did not think it necessary, or perhaps safe, to speak.
"Gie's yer haun, my frien," said the man who had whispered in Jamie's ear, with an air of high-wrought enthusiasm. "I honour you for your principles," he added, shaking, with great cordiality, the hand that was extended to him, and at the same time turning off the contents of his glass to Jamie's success.
"Thank ye, frien--thank ye," said Jamie, who, the reader will see, had all at once set up for a Radical leader. "I'll tell ye what," he continued, now leaning over the table towards his cronies, and speaking in a cautiously low tone--"as I see ye're friens o' the guid cause, I'll gie ye some intelligence that ye'll be glad aneugh to hear, I daresay. We're, ye see, a hunner strong in oor quarter, and as fine a set o' stout, resolute fallows as ye wad wish to see, and a' ready to turn oot at a moment's notice. I'm their captain, ye see. They hae done me the honour o' makin me their captain--a very unworthy, but a very willin ane. But, ah! sirs, we had a sad fecht to get arms; and they wad never hae been gotten an I hadna advanced a hunner poun oot o' my ain pouch; takin bills frae the committee for the amount, payable oot o' the first and readiest whan a's settled."
"I'm sure _the_ cause is much indebted to ye," here interrupted one of Jamie's new friends. "And hoo are ye armed noo, then?"
"Ou, pretty weel--pretty weel," replied Jamie--"maistly pikes; for, ye see, wi' oor sma' funds, we couldna touch fire-arms, although there's a few o' thae among us too. But oor pikes'll be found troublesome things, I'm thinkin. They're made after a fashion o' my ain invention. This is the shape, ye see." And here Jamie dipped his forefinger into his tumbler, and therewith proceeded to draw the figure of a very formidable-looking weapon on the table. "That, ye see, is for stabbin, and that's for cuttin, and that's for hookin, and that's for knockin doon," continued Jamie, pointing out the various properties of the complex instrument. "Winna that be a botherer?"
"My feth, in guid hauns it'll be that," responded one of Jamie's friends; and added, "Are ye drillin hard?"
"Every nicht that we hae the least glint o' moonshine," replied Jamie, without a moment's hesitation. "I gie them twa hours o't every nicht, and am teachin them a new sort o' pike exercise, that'll be fand, if I'm no mistaen, particularly effectual in keepin off horse."
"Where learned ye the use o' that weapon, sir, if I may take the liberty of asking?" inquired the former querist.
Few questions found Jamie unprepared with an answer.
"I'll tell ye that, frien," he replied. "It was in the Lancers. I was nine years a serjeant in that corps, which I left after the battle of Waterloo, in consequence o' a severe wound I got in that engagement. But what's come o' yer frien?" here said Jamie, suddenly interrupting himself, and now adverting, for the first time, to the absence of the companion of the person whom he addressed, and who had slipped out, without saying anything, about a quarter-of-an-hour before.
"He'll be here in a minute," was the reply; and the calculation was perfectly correct. In about a minute, the man appeared, but not alone. He was now accompanied by three most equivocal-looking persons.
"That's your man," he said, with an inclination of his head towards Jamie Murdieston.
"Friend," said one of the strangers, laying his hand on Jamie's shoulder, "you'll come along with us, if you please."
"Alang wi' you!" exclaimed Jamie, in the utmost amazement. "I wad like to ken whar and what for, first."
"We'll let you know all that by and by, friend," replied the spokesman of the party; "but, in the meantime, you _must_ go with us; so there's no use in palavering about it."
"I'll be hanged if I do, then," said Jamie, resolutely, "till I ken what for. 'Od, this is a pretty business! Do you tak me to be a robber or a murderer?"
"No, but we take you to be a traitor, a conspirer against the government, and a leaguer with its enemies; and as such I apprehend you," said the spokesman, at the same time collaring Jamie, and calling on his assistants to aid him in making a forcible capture of his person. The call was instantly obeyed. Jamie was seized on all sides, at one and the same instant of time, and, despite of a loud and most earnest denial of all hostility to the government, or of ever having in any way or manner whatever aided in disturbing the peace of the realm, was dragged out of the apartment, and finally snugly deposited in an airy cell in the city jail.
On being left to himself, Jamie, in no very happy mood, seated himself on a bench that ran along the wall, threw one leg over the other, planted his elbow on his knee, and, supporting his head with his hand, began to entertain himself with some reflections on the very extraordinary predicament into which he had been thus so suddenly and unexpectedly thrown.
"Preserve us, this is awfu!" said Jamie. "Waur a great deal than the droonin business. What the deevil tempted me to speak such nonsense? But wha could hae thocht this wad hae come o't? A bit harmless piece o' falderal. Yon twa maun hae been a pair o' infernal scoundrels--that's clear; and as clear is it that I'm in a most wickedly-awkward situation. I maun, I suppose, either submit to be hanged peaceably, or confess that I hae been tellin a most unconscionable lee--no a very pleasant alternative; but the last's better than the first, I reckon."
Jamie's communings were at this time interrupted by the entrance of the jailer, who came to see that all was right for the night.
"Man," said Jamie, addressing him, and trying to smile graciously, in order to propitiate his good-will, "this is a queer business."
"I rather think you'll find it so," replied the jailer, coolly, and unaffected by Jamie's soothing advances. "Both a queer business, and a serious one."
"It was a' a joke, man," said Jamie.
"Perhaps so," said the jailer; "but, like many other jokes, you may chance to find it attended with rather awkward consequences." And, without saying more, the man banged to the door with a violence that made the long passage on which it opened ring with an iron sound, and left Jamie to find what repose he might.
"The fallow'll no believe me," he said, on being again left to himself, "nae mair than if he kent me."
On the following morning, Jamie was conducted in procession, by three or four criminal officers, into the presence of the Procurator-Fiscal, when a precognition on his case immediately ensued.
"Well, sir," said the latter, at the same time referring to a paper which lay on his desk before him, "so you have taken up arms against the government."
"Naething o' the kind, my lord, I assure you," said Jamie.
"What, sir! do you mean to deny your spontaneous acknowledgment of the fact, made last night in the presence of two credible witnesses?"
"Indeed do I, my lord."
"Why, you _may_," replied the fiscal, emphatically; "but, I fear, it will do no good. Have you not mustered a body of armed men, or at least taken the command of such a body, with the intention of overthrowing the government of the country?--and have you not furnished them with funds to procure arms?--and are you not in the habit of training them nightly, as their captain, or leader, in military exercises?--and----"
"It's a' a lee, my lord--a lee frae beginnin to end," here interposed Jamie, earnestly. "I just spoke a' that nonsense for a bit o' diversion. It's just a way I hae, you see" (thus delicately did Jamie allude to his failing), "o' amusin mysel and my friens."
"Oh, then, you mean to deny _in toto_," said the fiscal. "In that case, we must adopt other proceedings; and, in the meantime, you return to jail."
To his old quarters, accordingly, Jamie was forthwith carried, and there lay for three entire days, until the result of the inquiries which were set on foot established that he was indeed no traitor, but a most inveterate and incorrigible liar. It is said, however, that Jamie, after this, was a great deal more cautious as to the nature and character of his romances, and as to the when, where, and to whom they were promulgated.
In the year 1778, Mr M'Donald, an extensive West India planter, from the island of Jamaica, came to Scotland, on a visit to his friends and relations in the West Highlands; amongst whom he spent several months, going from place to place, living a week or two here, and a week or two there, as chance or other circumstances directed.
During one of these migrations, this gentleman came one day, accidentally, in a solitary place on the banks of Loch Awe, on a little kilted, barelegged, and bareheaded Highland boy, busily employed in launching a little fleet of paper-sailed boats on the lake. The situation in which Mr M'Donald was at the moment placed, was one of those which strongly predispose one to enter into conversation with whomsoever chance may throw in the way, without much regard to age, sex, or appearance. The day was delightful--it was in the middle of June; the place lonely, and the scenery around of the most sublime and beautiful kind--the most beautiful, perhaps, in the Highlands of Scotland; and this, as our readers know, is no mean character of its perfections. These were the circumstances, then, in which Mr M'Donald was placed on the occasion to which we have alluded, and on him they had the effect which they would have had on anybody else--namely, that of opening up the sympathies of his nature, of extinguishing the littleness of pride, and of inducing one general feeling of benevolence; and it was in this happy frame of mind that he now reined in his horse, and accosted the young stranger.
"Well, my little fellow," he said, "what's this you're about?"
The boy looked up in his face, and blushed and smiled at the same time, but made no reply, conceiving one unnecessary, as his employment was sufficiently evident. There was in that single look of the boy's, however, an expression of openness and intelligence that at once caught Mr M'Donald's fancy; and he immediately added, good-naturedly, "Where are all these ships going to?"
The boy again looked up in his face and laughed, but now vouchsafed a reply:--
"To the West Indies, sir, for cargoes of rum and sugar."
This was spoken in pretty fair English, though strongly tinctured with the Celtic accent.
"Indeed!" rejoined Mr M'Donald; "my word, but you are an extensive trader, if it be the case, as I have no doubt it is, that all these fine ships are your own. What's your name, my little fellow?"
"Duncan M'Arthur, sir."
"Are you at school?"
"Yes, sir; I'm just now on my way home from it."
"What are you learning there?"
"English, writing, and arithmetic."
"Can you write pretty well?"
"Ou ay, sir--middlin."
"Ay--middlin, too, sir."
"That's a clever fellow. How should you like, now, to go abroad, and see the world? How should you like to go where you have just now sent these ships?"
"It's mysel, sir, wad like it weel," said the boy, his sharp, intelligent little eye brightening with the idea; "but my faither couldna want me for herdin the cows, and helpin him wi' his peats."
"Where does your father live, my boy?" inquired Mr M'Donald.
"At the Ferry o' Bunaw, sir."
It was within half-a-mile of the house to which the latter was just going, and where he intended stopping for a few days, previous to his leaving the country for good and all.
"Well, my little fellow," he said, "I am going to Blackhouse. You know it, I fancy?"
"Well, call upon me there to-morrow forenoon. Ask for Mr M'Donald. I wish to speak further with you."
The boy promised, and Mr M'Donald rode off.
Now, it would not be easy for us to say what were the latter's intentions regarding the little barelegged boy; and for this simple reason--that he did not well know himself. He had, however, taken a fancy to the boy--that is certain--and felt a disposition to do him a service, although he had not yet thought of what nature this should be, or how it was to be done. He had, in truth, no definite views on the subject; but he had not ridden far, when these began to assume something of a tangible shape, and this was, to take the boy into his service as a personal attendant, provided his parents should agree to it.
True to his appointment, little Duncan waited next day on Mr M'Donald, his face well washed, and his hair carefully combed over his forehead.
"Ah, Duncan, are you there?" said the latter, on his entering the apartment where he was. "I'm glad to see you. You said yesterday, Duncan, that you would like to go abroad."
"Weel wad I like that, sir," replied the little bare-breeched Highlander, "if my faither could spare me."
"Did you speak to your father on the subject, Duncan?"
"I tell't him that I met you, sir, and what you said."
"Ay; and what did he say, my little fellow?"
"He said, sir, 'The shentleman's been shoking you, Duncan; but ye may go down to Blackhouse, as he pade you, and see what he has to say.'"
And Duncan looked at Mr M'Donald as if he would be glad himself to know whether there was anything of a joke in the matter. Indeed, it was for this purpose that he repeated his father's words, cunningly availing himself of them to elicit the information he wanted.
"Joking you, Duncan!" repeated Mr M'Donald, smiling. "By no means; and of this I'll soon convince both you and your father."
Having said this, he took up his hat and stick, and desired the boy to conduct him to his father's.
The house was one of the poorest class; and it was evident, from everything within and around it, that it was a hard struggle with its occupants to make, as the saying has it, "the two ends to meet."
Having found Duncan's father, Mr M'Donald explained to him his views regarding his son. These were readily acceded to by both the boy's parents, who, though they sorely grudged to part with their little Duncan, yet saw that it might be for his advantage, and therefore felt themselves called on to sacrifice their own feelings in a case which seemed to involve his future welfare. At this interview it was settled, in short, that he should enter the service of Mr M'Donald, and of course leave the country with him when he went.
Three days after this, Duncan bade farewell to his parents and the home of his childhood. His patron was about to set out for Greenock, and there to embark for Jamaica. The parting was a bitter one. His father clasped him in his arms; and, while those tears, which no danger to himself, and no sufferings merely his own, could ever have drawn from him, streamed down his rugged cheeks, he fervently and solemnly prayed, in Gaelic--in his own impressive language--for a blessing on his child.
"When I have had such a parting as this, Duncan," he said, afterwards--"and many of them I've had with my brethren, and with more remote but still dear friends--it was the honour of our country and our name that caused the separation. They had girded on the sword, and went to seek distinction in the ranks of war, and on the field of battle. They went to be soldiers, Duncan; and I could wish that you had been now following their footsteps. But it may be better as it is. Your days may be more, though your reputation should be less. A different destiny seems meted out for you."
But it was in the case of his mother that the parting of little Duncan was most affecting. She held the boy to her bosom, as if she meant that he should never again leave it, and loaded him with all the tender epithets which her memory could supply, and with which the Gaelic language so much abounds. On exhausting these, she proceeded to deplore the approaching separation from her child, in that affecting strain, at once metaphorical and poetical, peculiar to her country on such and similar occasions.
"This day, my Duncan," she said, "the light of the sun is obscured to your mother's eyes, and he shines not as he did before. The green woods have lost their verdure, and the once sparkling waters of the fountain their brightness. A dark cloud is on the face of the sun, that will long, long remain, though none but your mother's eye will see it; a blight, that she alone can perceive, is on the lovely woods of Ardmoran; and, pure though the waters of the fountain may appear to others, to her, Duncan, they will henceforth seem soiled and discoloured."
Such was the figurative language in which Duncan's mother went on to describe her feelings as they were, and as she anticipated they would be; and such was the strain in which she deplored the impending separation from her child.
But this could be but of short duration. The moment of final separation arrived, and Duncan hastened to rejoin his master, who was about to embark in a small sailing vessel (there being then no steamboats on the Clyde) for Greenock.
On going up the river, the boy was observed by the captain of the vessel leaning over the side, and gazing with the most earnest attention at something on the shore. The man's curiosity was excited by the circumstance, and he asked him what he was looking at so intently.
"Oh, sir," replied Duncan, with great simplicity of manner, "I'm looking at yon beautiful hoose yonder," pointing to a handsome house that stood amidst an embowering wood on the face of a gentle acclivity. "It's the bonniest I ever saw."
"Yes, my man, it's a very fine house," replied the skipper. "Should you like to live in such a house as that?"
The boy looked up in his face and smiled--"That I would, sir; and, if I had plenty of money, I would buy't, for I have never seen such a pretty place."
"Why, man," replied the good-natured seaman, "perhaps you may be able to buy it yet, or at least as good."
Duncan smiled, and shook his head; but, from this moment, the vision of that house took possession of the boy's fancy, by one of those unaccountable and uncontrollable emotions of the mind, which all must have felt in particular instances; and, as long as he lived, he never forgot it. It haunted him in his sleep, and was the frequent resting-point of his memory, when far away in a foreign land. It was, indeed, a boyish fancy; but it was one of those enduring ones that no vicissitudes of after-life have power to efface, but that, on the contrary, grow the brighter, the further they are removed by distance or by time.
Shortly after arriving in Greenock, Duncan's nether man was arrayed, for the first time, in a pair of inexpressibles and the kilt thrown aside. To these were added a trim short coat, ornamented with the M'Donald livery; and a smart hat, adorned with a gold band--and thus was the first step of Duncan's metamorphosis completed.
For some time, the trousers bothered him a good deal as they felt extremely tight and uncomfortable--not allowing his limbs that freedom of motion which they enjoyed in such perfection beneath the airy envelopes of the kilt; but he in time got used to them, and even allowed latterly that they were a very good contrivance.
Previous to this, however--that is, previous to striking the kilt--Duncan had made several excursions around the town, his master having left him in the hands of the tailor, and gone to see some friends in Glasgow, where he meant to spend a day or two before embarking. One of these excursions included a visit to that paradise of a place that had caught his eye in coming up the Clyde. It was only three or four miles distant; and he found it, on a nearer inspection, all that his fancy had conceived it from a more distant view. But Duncan's curiosity prompting him to venture farther into the enclosed grounds than was permitted to strangers, he was seen by one of the guardians of the place; and his kilt not increasing the man's notions of his respectability, or of the innocency of his intentions, he gave him chase, with a loud whoop and holloa. Duncan saw the enemy approaching, and took to his heels, and finally succeeded in clearing the outermost fence, just in time to save himself from a good drubbing.
This incident, on which he had by no means calculated, disturbed his ideas of his Elysium a little, and convinced him that the beauties he so much admired were not at all intended for the enjoyment of such poor little ragged rascals as himself--that they were reserved for the great and the wealthy alone.
Some days after this, Duncan embarked, with his master, for Jamaica, where they arrived safely, at the end of about the usual period consumed in that voyage. And with this event the first act of our little drama closes. The curtain is dropped, and a distinct division in the story is marked. A brief interval, and the curtain is again raised; but by no means so brief is the time that elapses in the progress of our tale--for this is no less than thirty years.
It was, then, on a fine summer day, precisely thirty years after Duncan M'Arthur had embarked with his master for Jamaica, that a splendid carriage, with servants in livery, was seen rolling along the Gourock road. On coming opposite a certain gate, which led to a handsome house on the face of a low hill (it was the same house which had so much taken the fancy of the little barelegged Highland boy thirty years before), the carriage stopped, and the gentleman who occupied it, seemingly attracted by a large board suspended from a tree, stepped out and read on the latter--"This house and adjoining property on sale."
Having obtained this piece of information, he opened the gate, and walked leisurely up towards the house, carefully examining the grounds as he went along. On arriving in front of the mansion, he was accosted by a feeble old man, who approached him with the most profound respect; and, bowing low, inquired if he wished to inspect the premises. The stranger looked hard for some seconds at the querist, without making any reply; but at length answered, "Yes, my honest man, I do wish to look at the premises. The house and grounds are on sale, I see."
"They are, sir," replied the old man--"and a bonny spot it is."
"The place certainly looks very well," replied the gentleman. "Is the house in good repair?"
"Excellent, sir. The factor, Mr M'Ausline, keeps a' in guid order, baith without and within; kennin it's the only way to bring a customer."
"Ah! he's right there."
The stranger, conducted by the old man, now went through every room in the house, and examined them with a care and minuteness that showed he entertained serious intentions regarding the property. The house inspected, he proceeded to the garden, looked into all the outhouses, and made a general survey of the grounds in the immediate neighbourhood of the house. This done, he slipped a crown-piece into the old man's hand, and returned to his carriage, which was waiting him where he had left it.
On the next day, the very same carriage of which we have spoken drew up before Mr M'Ausline's door; and the lackey having rung the bell, and ascertained that that person was within, the same gentleman who had occupied it on the preceding day jumped out, and entered the house.
On being ushered into the apartment in which Mr M'Ausline was--
"You have, sir, I believe," he said, "the management of the sale of Bellevue House and grounds?"
"I have, sir."
"Well, Mr M'Ausline, I have been looking at them; and if you and I can come to terms, it is not unlikely that I may become the purchaser."
Mr M'Ausline bowed.
"What is the upset price, sir?"
"Twenty-five thousand pounds, sir."
"A long price."
"Why, sir, it's well worth the money," said the factor.
"Perhaps it may, sir; but let me look at the plans, &c., if you please."
They were immediately produced, and, in a few minutes, the stranger and Mr M'Ausline were up to the elbows in papers; the former examining every document connected with the property, and the latter explaining and enlarging on each as it came under investigation.
At the conclusion of this scrutiny, the stranger rose to depart, saying, at the same time, to Mr M'Ausline, that he would hear from him in a day or two.
Just as he was going away, the latter asked, with some hesitation of manner, as if he feared the question might be thought rude, if he would have the goodness to favour him with his name.
"Dear me," replied the stranger, "how stupid that I did not think of mentioning that of my own accord! It is one of the first things I should have communicated to you. My name, sir, is M'Arthur--Duncan M'Arthur, late of the Island of Jamaica."
Mr M'Ausline bowed low at the name; for, although he did not know Mr M'Arthur personally, it was one with which he was familiar, and which he knew was that of one of the wealthiest men in the West Indies. Need we add, that this Mr M'Arthur was no other than the little kilted, barelegged Highland boy whom we introduced to the reader at the outset of our story.
How he arrived at the high degree of prosperity which he now enjoyed, we shall make known before we have done; but, in the meantime, we shall conduct his transaction with M'Ausline to a close.
Agreeably to his promise, Mr M'Arthur again called on that gentleman, at the expiry of about a week, and having previously satisfied himself of the value of the property in dependence, concluded the purchase, and paid down the money.
On the very same day, he went down again to Bellevue, which was now his, the identical house which had so much struck his fancy when a boy.
On this occasion, he was again attended by the old man of whom we have already spoken.
"Well," said Mr M'Arthur, on the latter approaching him, "I have concluded the purchase for this place. The money is paid, and it is now mine."
"I'm glad to hear it, sir, and long may you live to enjoy it!" replied the old man.
"Thank you, my friend--thank you. What's your name?"
"James Moffat, sir."
"Ay, well, James," continued Mr M'Arthur, "do you recollect of chasing a little barelegged Highland boy out of these grounds one day, about--let me see--ay, I daresay it will be about thirty years since? See, there," he added, pointing to a particular piece of ground--"there is the very spot on which he stood when you discovered him; and there" (pointing to a particular part of the fence which enclosed the grounds) "is precisely the place where he escaped you. Do you recollect of this, James?"
The old man thought for a moment; then looking in Mr M'Arthur's face, and smiling, "Yes, sir, now that you remind me of it, I do recollect the circumstance, and very distinctly. The little fellow had come, I thought, to carry off some of our hens and chickens, as we were then, and are yet, very much annoyed by young depredators of that description. But may I ask your honour how your honour happens to know so well about that affair?"
"Troth, James," replied Mr M'Arthur, laughing, "I have good cause to know well about it; for that boy was no other than myself, James."
James looked unutterable things on this announcement being made to him, and could only come out with the words--"Impossible, sir! It canna be."
"Nothing at all impossible in it, my honest friend," replied Mr M'Arthur, again laughing. "It was indeed I, James; but I deny having had any felonious intentions on your hens and chickens, or anything whatever belonging to you. It was curiosity alone that prompted me. I was struck, boy as I was, with the beauties of the place, and had just taken the liberty of coming in to enjoy them a little."
"Aweel, sir, the like o' this I never heard o', or met wi', or onybody else, I daresay. Wha wad ever hae thocht or dreamt o' such a thing?"
"It is certainty rather odd, my friend," said Mr M'Arthur; "but you know it has been often said, and truly, that more strange things have happened in real life than ever were invented by story-tellers."
"I've often heard that, sir," replied the old man; "and I consider this a very remarkable proof o't."
"Yes, James," continued Mr M'Arthur, "at the moment when you discovered me, a barefooted and barelegged boy, trespassing on your premises, I had just formed the resolution which I have this day, at the distance of thirty years, carried into effect. I had then determined that I should purchase this property, if ever I became rich enough to do so. But," added Mr M'Arthur, smiling, "every dog has his day, James. You turned me off the grounds when you had the power, and you will not think it unreasonable, now that I have it, if I turn you off--eh?"
The poor old man looked a little disconcerted at this speech; not being quite sure whether it was spoken in jest or earnest.
"I canna say, sir," he said, looking at the querist doubtingly, and with a forced smile, "but what it wad be but fair."
Mr M'Arthur saw the uneasiness which his joke had created, and hastened to relieve the old man's fears, by assuring him that he was welcome to remain on the property, rent free, as long as he chose; and not only that, but that he should have every indulgence and accommodation which he might require.
Having brought our story to this point, we now return to trace the course of those events which raised Mr M'Arthur from the humble station in which he began life, to be one of the wealthiest of our colonial merchants.
Some time after his arrival in the West Indies, the junior clerk in Mr M'Donald's counting-house died; and the latter, having found Duncan an active, smart, and scrupulously honest lad, and, moreover, possessing the qualification of writing a fair hand, together with that of a pretty competent knowledge of figures, he at once proposed to him to take the place of the deceased clerk.
Duncan readily closed with the proposal, threw off his livery, laid down his towel, and mounted the stool, quill in hand. In this situation, he remained for three years, discharging his duties greatly to the satisfaction of his employer. At the end of the period above named, the clerk immediately above him also died, and Duncan, as a matter of course, stepped into his place, in which he continued to distinguish himself by his steadiness and abilities, and by the general excellence of his moral character--virtues which eventually raised him, step by step, to the responsible situation of head clerk of the firm.
Two or three years after he had attained this promotion, however, an event occurred that gave him a much more rapid lift than was likely to proceed from the ordinary course of events.
Having, about the end of the period alluded to, gone into the interior of the island on some business of his employer, an insurrection of the negroes had in the meantime occurred, and involved the whole country in terror and alarm. When Mr M'Arthur left home, all was quiet, and nothing of the kind suspected; nor indeed did he know anything of it, until some ruinous sugar-mills and deserted plantations, which he passed on his way homewards, informed him of the fearful event. As yet, he had seen none of the insurgents themselves--a fortunate circumstance for him; for, if they had fallen in with him, they would, to a certainty, have murdered him. Aware of this, and also guessing at the general state of the country, Mr M'Arthur hastened homewards with all speed; but his journey was considerably lengthened by the necessity he was under of taking by-paths and circuitous routes, to avoid any straggling parties of the insurgents who might be wandering about. Notwithstanding all the haste he could make, therefore, and though well mounted, night overtook him long before he could reach Kingston, the place of his destination; and, to make matters worse, he was benighted in a wild and remote woody strath, at the base of the Blue Mountains, which had long been famous as the haunt of runaway negroes, and where, from the inaccessible nature of the surrounding heights, they were enabled to defy all the force that could be brought against them.
It was now pitch dark, and Mr M'Arthur, not well knowing his way, was guiding his horse slowly and cautiously through the intricacies of the place, when a wild whooping and yelling, which he knew to proceed from an assemblage of negroes, suddenly struck on his ear, and filled him with apprehensions for his safety, as he was totally unarmed--although this was, perhaps, a matter of no great importance, for resistance would have been vain against such odds as he had no doubt the number of the negroes presented.
On hearing the cries alluded to, and which seemed to proceed from persons at no great distance, Mr M'Arthur reined in his horse, and advanced still more warily than before. His progress, however, slow as it was, brought him round the base of the high projecting rock that covered the entrance to an extensive green hollow, from the upper end of which again rose a precipitous wall of rock, on whose summit, a kind of natural platform, were assembled the negroes whose cries he had heard. They had kindled a large fire, and around this they were capering and dancing with a wildness of glee, to which--as Mr M'Arthur judged, from the outrageous and unsteady manner of most of them--rum had largely contributed.
The sight was an alarming one to a person in Mr M'Arthur's situation; but he was a man of strong nerve and singular resolution, and he therefore determined to ascertain precisely what the negroes were about, and, if possible, whose they were. That they were a party of the insurrectionists he had no doubt; and he therefore thought it not unlikely that, if he could approach them without being perceived, he might gather some information regarding their intended future proceedings, or regarding what they had already done, that might be turned to good account.
Having come to this resolution, he dismounted, secured his horse to a tree, and advanced cautiously on foot to the bottom of the rocks on the summit of which the negroes were assembled. On reaching the position, he looked upward, and saw that the ascent was both a difficult and a dangerous one; but not having yet forgot the practice he had had in such feats in the Highlands, he determined on attempting it; and this he did with such success, that he, in a very short time, found himself--his head, at any rate--on a level with the ground occupied by the negroes, and within a very few yards of them. On obtaining a view over the edge of the cliff, the first thing that attracted Mr M'Arthur's attention was a naked cutlass lying on the grass, and fully within his reach. Of this weapon he determined to possess himself; and, by watching a fitting opportunity, he succeeded in getting hold of it unobserved, when he drew it gently towards him, and found his confidence greatly increased by the timeous acquisition. The most remarkable object that presented itself to the daring adventurer's notice, was a slender female figure, wrapped up in a large, light-coloured cashmere shawl, and who was wildly but vainly struggling to free herself from the grasp of a stout, ferocious-looking negro, who had thrown his arms around her, and was evidently forcing himself on her as a lover, grinning hideously in her face, as he sputtered away at the gibberish which he intended for the language of love.
Mr M'Arthur saw at once that the lady--for such she had every appearance of being--was a captive in the hands of the ruffians; probably, he thought, the daughter of some of their masters, whose property they had laid waste; and his blood boiled within him at witnessing the indignities to which the unfortunate girl was exposed; and he determined on making a desperate effort to save her.
Grasping his cutlass firmly in his hand, he leaped, with one spring, on the level ground occupied by the negroes; and waving on high his weapon, which flashed in the ruddy light of the fire, shouted out, as if he were supported by others--"Here they are!--down with the villains! Shoot them! shoot them!" And he dashed into the middle of the band, and with one blow of his cutlass struck the ruffian whose arm was round the female to the earth, a dead man.
The ruse of M'Arthur, in the meantime, took completely. The negroes, believing that a large force was coming on them, fled with the utmost precipitation in all directions, leaving the gallant adventurer, with the captive lady, sole possessors of the field. But the former, judging that they would soon return on finding that he was alone, ran up to the terrified girl, and taking her hurriedly by the hand, without waiting to put any questions to her, or even to look at her, urged her to fly with him instantly.
Aware of the propriety of this measure, the latter instantly obeyed; and taking her deliverer by the arm, both hastened away from the spot. But M'Arthur, being wholly unacquainted with the locality of the place, knew no other way of escaping but that by which he had come; and by this way it was impossible the fragile, timorous creature he supported could go. But M'Arthur was a stout, as well as courageous man; and in this dilemma he did not hesitate an instant in adopting the only course which presented itself.
He suddenly flung his left arm around the slender waist of his fair companion, and, raising her from the ground, proceeded to descend the rocks with her; holding on, from time to time, with his right hand, as he passed from one stepping place to another.
Steady of step, stout of heart, and quick of eye, M'Arthur descended in safety with his precious burden; when, having placed her on her feet, he, with one single word, urged her further flight till they arrived at the spot where his horse was secured.
Nor had the flight of the fugitives been a whit more expeditious than was necessary; for ere they had gained the bottom of the descent, the negroes, as M'Arthur conjectured they would do, had returned; and seemingly now assured that they had been deceived, began to search around, whooping and yelling in the most frightful manner, for their deceiver and his companion.
Indeed, they appeared at one time to have discovered them, or at least to have conjectured which route they had taken; for several shots were fired in the direction in which they were--a fact which the fugitives ascertained by two or three bullets striking within a few yards of them.
On reaching his horse, M'Arthur unloosed him, sprung on his back, and quick as thought, lifted the lady behind him; and having secured her to himself, by passing a silk neck-cloth around both, continued his flight--at first cautiously, till he cleared the loose stones and brushwood with which the place was encumbered; and then at full speed for the distance of eight or ten miles, when, being aware of his near approach to Kingston, and, consequently, to a situation of comparative safety, he reined in the exhausted animal; and it was now that an extraordinary denouement connected with the fate and fortunes of the fugitives took place. It was now, and not till now--for circumstances had hitherto permitted no conversation between them--that M'Arthur learned who the lady was whom he had so gallantly rescued from the brutality of the rebel negroes.
Having checked the speed of his horse, M'Arthur turned round to his fair companion, and said, "May I now ask, madam, to whom I have had the honour of doing this little piece of service to-night?"
"Don't you know me, Mr M'Arthur?" was the reply, in a soft and gentle tone, not unmingled with surprise that, as the speaker had recognised her deliverer, she had not been recognised by him.
"No, indeed, madam," said M'Arthur, turning again round, but now with a look of intense curiosity; for, although his answer had been in the negative, the tones of the voice were familiar to him.
"Don't you know Miss M'Donald--Flora M'Donald--Mr M'Arthur?" rejoined the lady, smiling.
"Gracious heaven! is it possible?" exclaimed Mr M'Arthur, now aware that she who spoke to him was no other than the daughter of his employer, between whom and himself there had long been a secret and unavowed attachment--an attachment which they had never breathed to each other, but which did not the less certainly exist.
The exclamation of surprise and delight--for this feeling was also strongly expressed in it--which we have just recorded, Mr M'Arthur followed up, by inquiring how she had come into the dreadful situation in which he had found her.
This Miss M'Donald briefly explained, by stating that a party of insurgent negroes had attacked her father's premises, burned his mills to the ground, plundered his house, and, on their retreat, had carried her along with them.
Much more than this passed between the lovers, thus strangely brought together; but we do not think it necessary to record it; and, therefore, not to interrupt the progress of our story, we proceed to land them safely at Mr M'Donald's residence, a short distance from Kingston, where Mr M'Arthur left his fair charge, and proceeded himself to the town just named--Mr M'Donald being there at the moment, on some matters connected with the insurrection. On his finding the latter--
"Oh, Mr M'Arthur!" he exclaimed, in great agitation and distress of mind, "isn't this a dreadful business! I'm ruined--ruined for ever! I can no longer hold up my head--I can no longer be good for anything in this world!"
"Dear me, sir," said M'Arthur, "has the destruction of your property been so great?"
"Destruction of my property!" reiterated Mr M'Donald; "no--no; that is nothing--nothing at all. A few thousands will repair that. It's the loss of my daughter I bewail--my poor, dear Flora!" And he burst into tears. "You have doubtless heard, Mr M'Arthur," he continued, after a short while, "that the ruffians have carried her off, God knows whither; and her death--worse than her death--is, I fear, certain."
"Mr M'Donald," said Mr M'Arthur, "be no longer under any uneasiness regarding your daughter. She is safe, and at this moment under her father's roof, unscathed, unharmed."
"How, Mr M'Arthur?" exclaimed the distracted father, in wild excitement; "my daughter safe--my daughter at home! Surely you do not dare to deceive me? Swear to the truth of it--swear to the truth of it, M'Arthur, and half my fortune is yours!"
"I will, without hesitation, swear to the truth of it, sir, if you desire it, certainly, and on much easier terms than you propose. But let me first tell you what has happened."
And he proceeded to detail the whole circumstances of his adventure with the insurgent negroes, as has been already related.
When he had done, Mr M'Donald, whose feelings had been wrought to the highest pitch by the narrative, flew towards him, folded him in his arms, and said--
"God bless and prosper you, Mr M'Arthur, for what you have this day done to me and mine!"
It was all he could say. His emotion prevented further utterance.
Impatient to see his daughter, the happy father, accompanied by M'Arthur, now hastened home; and the interview between parent and child, which instantly followed, was most affecting. Flora rushed into her father's arms, exclaiming--
"My dear father!"
She could say no more, and buried her head in his bosom.
"Thank God--thank God, my child, that I see you again safe!" fervently ejaculated her father, at the same time straining the beloved being of whom he spoke to his bosom.
After the lapse of a few minutes, and when the emotion of both had a little subsided, taking his daughter by the hand, Mr M'Donald led her towards her deliverer--who stood looking out of a window at the farther end of the apartment, that he might not seem to witness the expression of their feelings--and, on coming up to him, said, smiling as he spoke--
"Mr M'Arthur, I promised you the half of my fortune, if the intelligence you brought me of Flora's safety were true, and I did this without being aware that I was indebted to you for that inexpressible happiness; but now, knowing this, I must throw something into the bargain. What would you think, then, Mr M'Arthur, of my daughter here as a make-weight on this occasion?"
M'Arthur looked confused and incredulous.
"Nay, I'm in earnest, Mr M'Arthur," continued Mr M'Donald. "You have won her, and have the best right to wear her; and, to tell you both a truth, I've long thought, and not with much displeasure, that you were not indifferent to each other; and therefore I anticipate no very serious objections on this occasion on either side. What say you, Flora? Have you any objection to take Mr M'Arthur for your husband? Come now, be honest, be candid."
Flora looked to the ground, blushed, but made no reply.
"Answer me, Flora," said her father, "have you any objection to receive your deliverer as your husband?"
"I have always considered it one of my first duties to obey my father," replied Flora, in gentle accents.
"Enough, my dearest girl--enough," said her father, embracing her tenderly. "Now, Mr M'Arthur," he continued, smiling as he spoke, "will you have the goodness to state your objections to accepting the hand of my daughter?"
"I would, sir, very readily, if I had any," replied Mr M'Arthur, smiling in his turn, but almost entirely deprived of his presence of mind by the great and unexpected happiness and good fortune with which he found himself thus so suddenly blessed. "But--but----" and he stammered out something about felicity, eternal gratitude, choice of his heart; which Mr M'Donald, as he could not make out, though he perceived and appreciated the feeling from which his confusion proceeded, suddenly arrested by saying--
"That'll do, Mac--that'll do. You would make a speech if you could, but it's not necessary. I know all you would say. But, Flora," he continued, now in a bantering humour--"Mac tells me that he had rescued you before he knew who you was; thus plainly intimating that it was no partiality towards you in particular that induced him to do what he did. What do you think of that?"
"Why, papa, I think the more of him for it," said Flora, blushing as she spoke. "His gallantry was the more generous, the more disinterested. It was a deed of true knight-errantry--the rescuing of a distressed damsel, without regard to who or what she was. She was in jeopardy, and that was enough for him."
"Excellent, Flora--very ingenious defence!" exclaimed her father, laughing, and rubbing his hands with glee. "Commend me to a woman for ready apology, for prompt excuse, for defending what is indefensible."
We need not prolong the scene. In a fortnight afterwards, Miss Flora M'Donald was married to Duncan M'Arthur, Esq. of Rose Vale; and the latter became an equal partner in the concerns of his father-in-law, by which, in the course of a few years, he realised a handsome fortune, which was further increased on the death of his patron, who left him, for behoof of his wife and children, the whole of his immense wealth. Such is the story--and a true tale it is--of the little barelegged and bareheaded Highland boy whom we saw running wild on the banks of Loch Awe.
It is almost unnecessary to add--yet our story would be incomplete perhaps without it--that the parents of Mr M'Arthur participated in his prosperity, and that in precise proportion with its advancement. Indeed, to minister to the comforts of the authors of his being was one of his first cares, and one of the very first purposes to which he applied the means which his good fortune put in his power--a circumstance indicative of so amiable and beautiful a trait of character, as would alone lessen our wonder at the singular degree of prosperity that attended its possessor--leaving us, is it does, impressed with a conviction that no one who owned such an excellent disposition could be otherwise than successful in the world.
END OF VOL. VIII