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, AND NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE.
Page ROGER GOLDIE'S NARRATIVE, (John Mackay Wilson), 1
HOGMANAY; OR, THE LADY OF BALOOCHGRAY, (Alexander Leighton), 33
GLEANINGS OF THE COVENANT, (Professor Thomas Gillespie)—
X. SERGEANT WILSON, 65
XI. HELEN PALMER, 72
XII. THE CAIRNY CAVE OF GAVIN MUIR, 80
XIII. PORTER'S HOLE, 92
THE RECLUSE, (Alexander Campbell), 95
A HIGHLAND TRADITION, (Alexander Campbell), 125
THE SURGEON'S TALES, (Alexander Leighton)—
THE BEREAVED, 129
THE CONDEMNED, 145
THE UNBIDDEN GUEST, (John Mackay Wilson), 161
THE SIMPLE MAN IS THE BEGGAR'S BROTHER, (John M. Wilson), 170
TALES OF THE EAST NEUK OF FIFE, (Matthew Forster Conolly)—
THE ROBBERY AT PITTENWEEM AND THE PORTEOUS MOB, 194
STORY OF CHARLES GORDON AND CHRISTINA CUNNINGHAM, 220
A LEGEND OF CALDER MOOR, (John Howell), 237
HUME AND THE GOVERNOR OF BERWICK, (Alexander Leighton), 269
TALES OF THE BORDERS,
AND OF SCOTLAND.
ROGER GOLDIE'S NARRATIVE.
A TALE OF THE FALSE ALARM.
Ye have heard of the false alarm, (said Roger Goldie,) which, for the space of wellnigh four and twenty hours, filled the counties upon the Border with exceeding great consternation, and at the same time called forth an example of general and devoted heroism, and love of country, such as is nowhere recorded in the annals of any nation upon the face of the globe. Good cause have I to remember it; and were I to live a thousand years, it never would be effaced from my recollection. What first gave rise to the alarm, I have not been able clearly to ascertain unto this day. There was a house-heating up beside Preston, with feasting and dancing; and a great light, like that of a flambeau, proceeded from the onstead. Now, some say that the man that kept the beacon on Hownamlaw, mistook the light for the signal on Dunselaw; and the man at Dunselaw, in his turn, seeing Hownam flare up, lighted his fires also, and speedily the red burning alphabet of war blazed on every hill top—a spirit seemed to fly from mountain to mountain, touching their summits with fire, and writing in the flame the word—invasion! Others say that it arose from the individual who kept watch at Hume Castle being deceived by an accidental fire over in Northumberland; and a very general supposition is, that it arose from a feint on the part of a great sea-admiral, which he made in order to try the courage and loyalty of the nation. To the last report, however, I attach no credit. The fable informs us, that the shepherd laddie lost his sheep, because he cried, "The wolf!" when there was no wolf at hand; and it would have been policy similar to his, to have cried, "An invasion!" when there was no invasion. Neither nations nor individuals like such practical jokes. It is also certain that the alarm was not first given by the beacons on the sea-coast; and there can be no doubt that the mistake originated either at Hownamlaw or Hume Castle.
I recollect it was in the beginning of February 1804. I occupied a house then about half a mile out of Dunse, and lived comfortably, and I will say contentedly, on the interest of sixteen hundred pounds which I had invested in the funds; and it required but little discrimination to foresee, that, if the French fairly got a footing in our country, funded property would not be worth an old song. I could at all times have risked my life in defence of my native land, for the love I bore it; though you will perceive that I had a double motive to do so; and the more particularly, as, out of the interest of my funded capital, I maintained in competence an affectionate wife and a dutiful son—our only child. The name of my wife was Agnes, and the name of my son—who, at the time of the alarm, was sixteen—was Robert. Upon their account it often caused me great uneasiness, when I read and heard of the victories and the threatenings of the terrible Corsican. I sometimes dreamed that he had marched a mighty army on a bridge of boats across the straits of Dover, and that he had not only seized my sixteen hundred pounds, but drawn my son, my only son, Robie, as a conscript, to fight against his own natural and lawful country, and, perhaps, to shoot his father! I therefore, as in duty bound, as a true and loyal subject, had enrolled myself in the Dunse volunteers. Some joined the volunteers to escape being drawn for the militia, but I could give my solemn affidavit, that I had no motive but the defence of my country—and my property, which, as I have said, was a double inducement.
I did not make a distinguished figure in the corps, for my stature did not exceed five feet two inches. But although my body was small, no man was more punctual on the parade; and I will affirm, without vanity, none more active, or had a bolder heart. It always appeared to me to be the height of folly to refuse to admit a man into a regiment, because nature had not formed him a giant. The little man is not so apt to shoot over the head of an enemy, and he runs less risk of being shot himself—two things very necessary to be considered in a battle; and were I a general, I would have a regiment where five feet two should be the maximum height even for the grenadier company.
But, as I was saying, it was early in the February of 1804, on the second night, if I recollect aright—I had been an hour abed, and was lying about three parts asleep, when I was started with a sort of bum, bumming, like the beating of a drum. I thought also that I heard people running along the road, past the door. I listened, and, to my horror, I distinctly heard the alarm drum beating to arms. It was a dreadful sound to arouse a man from his sleep in our peaceful land.
"Robie!" cried I to my son, "rise, my man, rise, and run down to the town, and see what is the matter, that they are beating the alarm drum at this time of night. I fear that"—
"Oh, dearsake, Roger!" cried Agnes, grasping my arm, "what do ye fear?"
"That—that there's a fire in the town," said I.
"Weel," quoth she, "it canna reach us. But on dear me! ye have made my heart beat as if it would start from my breast—for I thought ye was gaun to say that ye was feared the French were landed!"
"I hope not," said I. But, in truth, it was that which I did fear.
Robie was a bold, spirited laddie; and he rushed out of the house, cold as it was, half-dressed, and without his jacket; but he had not been absent a minute, when he hurried back again, and cried breathlessly as he entered—"Faither! faither! the Law is a' in a lowe!—the French are landed!"
I was then standing in the middle of the floor, putting on my clothes; and, starting as though I had seen an apparition, I exclaimed—"The French landed!—rise, Agnes! rise, and get me my accoutrements. For this day I will arm and do battle in defence of my native land."
"Roger! Roger!" cried my wife, "wherefore will ye act foolishly. Stop at home, as a man ought to do, to preserve and protect his ain family and his ain property. Wherefore would ye risk life or limb withouten cause. There will be enough to fight the French without you—unmarried men, or men that have naebody to leave behint them and to mourn for them."
"Agnes," said I, in a tone which manifested my authority, and at the same time shewed the courageousness of my spirit—"get me my accoutrements. I have always been the first upon the parade, and I will not be the last to shew my face upon the field of battle. I am but a little man—the least battalion man in the whole corps—but I have a heart as big as the biggest of them. Bonaparte himself is no Goliath, and a shot from my musket might reach his breast, when a taller man would be touching the cockade on his cocked hat. Therefore, quick! quick!—get me my accoutrements."
"Oh, guidman!" cried she, "your poor, heart-broken wife will fall on her knees before ye—and I implore ye, for my sake, and for the sake o' our dear bairn, that ye winna fling away life, and rush upon destruction. What in the name of fortune, has a peaceable man like you to do wi' war or wi' Bonaparte either? Dinna think of leaving the house this night, and I myself will go down to the town and procure a substitute in your stead. I have fifteen pounds in the kist, that I have been scraping thegither for these twelve years past, and I will gie them to ony man that will take your place in the volunteers, and go forth to fight the French in your stead."
"Guidwife," said I, angrily, "ye forget what ye are talking about. The French are landed, and every man, auld and young, must take up arms. Ye would have me to become the laughing-stock of both town and country. Therefore get me my accoutrements, and let me down to the cross."
"O Robie, my bairn!—my only bairn!" cried she, weeping, and addressing our son, "try ye to prevail upon your faither to gie up his mad resolution. If he leave us, he will mak you faitherless and me a widow."
"Mother," said the laddie, gallantly, "the French are landed, and my faither maun help to drive them into the sea. I will tak my pistol and gang wi' him, and if ony thing happens, I will be at hand to assist him."
"Haud, haud your tongue, ye silly callant!" she exclaimed, in great tribulation, "ye are as great a fool as your faither is. He sees what he has made o' you. But as the auld cock craws the young ane learns."
I felt a sort of glow of satisfaction warming my heart at the manifestation of my son's spirit; but I knew that in one of his age, and especially at such a time, and with such a prospect before us, it was not right to encourage it, and it was impossible for a fond parent to incite his only son to the performance of an act that would endanger his life. I therefore spoke to him kindly, but, at the same time, with the firmness necessary to enforce the commands of a father, and said—"Ye are too young, Robin, to become a participator in scenes of war and horror. Your young bosom, that is yet a stranger to sorrow, must not be exposed to the destroying bullet; nor your bonny cheek, where the rose-bud blooms, disfigured with the sabre or the horse's hoof. Ye must not break your mother's heart, but stay at home to comfort and defend her, when your father is absent fighting for ye both."
The boy listened to me in silence, but I thought that sullenness mingled with his obedience, and I had never seen him sullen before. Agnes went around the house weeping, and finding that I was not to be gainsayed, she brought me my military apparel and my weapons of war. When, therefore, I was arrayed and ready for the field, and while the roll of the drum was still summoning us to muster, I took her hand to bid her farewell—but, in the fulness of my heart, I pressed my lips to hers, and my tears mingled with her own upon her cheek.
"Farewell, Agnes," said I, "but I trust—I hope—I doubt not, but we shall soon return safe, sound, and victorious. But if I should not—if it be so ordered that it is to be my lot to fall gloriously in defence of our country, our son Robert will comfort ye and protect ye; and ye will find all the papers relating to the sixteen hundred pounds of funded property in my private drawer; although, if the French gain a footing in the country, I doubt it will be but of small benefit to ye. And, in that case, Robin, my man," added I, addressing my son, "ye will have to labour with your hands to protect your mother! Bless you, doubly bless you both."
I saw my son fall upon his mother's neck, and it afforded me a consolation. With great difficulty I got out of the house, and I heard Agnes sobbing when I was a hundred yards distant. I still also heard the roll of the drum rolling and rattling through the stillness of midnight, and, on arriving at the cross, I found a number of the volunteers and a multitude of the townspeople assembled. No one could tell where the French had landed, but all knew that they had landed.
That, I assure ye, was a never-to-be-forgotten night. Every person naturally looked anxious, but I believe I may safely say, that there was not one face in a hundred that was pale with fear, or that exhibited a trace of cowardice or terror upon it. One thought was uppermost in every bosom, and that was—to drive back the invaders, yea to drive them into, and drown them in the German ocean, even as Pharaoh and his host were encompassed by the Red Sea and drowned in it. Generally speaking, a spirit of genuine, of universal heroism was manifested. The alacrity with which the volunteers assembled under arms, was astonishing; not but that there were a few who fell into the ranks rather slowly and with apparent reluctance; but some of those, like me, had perhaps wives to cling round their necks, and to beseech them not to venture forth into the war. One of the last who appeared upon the ground, was my right-hand comrade, Jonathan Barlowman. I had to step to the left to make room for Jonathan, and, as he took his place by my side, I heard the teeth chattering in his head. Our commanding officer spoke to him rather sharply, about being so slow in turning out in an hour of such imminent peril. But I believe Jonathan was insensible to the reprimand.
The drums began to beat and the fifes to play—the word "March!" was given—the townspeople gave us three cheers as we began to move—and my comrade Jonathan, in his agitation, put his wrong foot foremost, and could not keep the step. So we marched onward, armed and full of patriotism, towards Haddington, which in case of the invasion, was appointed our head-quarters or place of rendezvous.
I will not pretend to say that I felt altogether comfortable during the march; indeed, to have done so was impossible, for the night was bitterly cold, and at all times there is but little shelter on the bleak and wild Lammermoors; yet the cold gave me but small concern, in comparison of the thoughts of my Agnes and my son Robin. I felt that I loved them even better than ever I had imagined I loved them before, and it caused me much silent agony of spirit when I thought that I had parted with them—perhaps for ever. Yet, even in the midst of such thoughts, I was cheered by the glorious idea of fighting in defence of one's own native country; and I thought of Wallace and of Bruce, and of all the heroes I had read about when a laddie, and my blood fired again. I found that I hated our invaders with a perfect hatred—that I feared not to meet death—and I grasped my firelock more firmly, and a thousand times fancied that I had it levelled at the breast of the Corsican.
I indulged in this train of thoughts until we had reached Longformacus, and during that period not a word had my right-hand neighbour, Jonathan Barlowman, spoken, either good, bad, or indifferent; but I had frequently heard him groan audibly, as though his spirit were troubled. At length, when we had passed Longformacus, and were in the most desolate part of the hills—"O Mr Goldie! Mr Goldie!" said he, "is this no dismal?"
"I always consider it," answered I, "one of the dreariest spots on the Lammermoors."
"O sir!" said he, "it isna the dreariness o' the road that I am referring to. I would rather be sent across the hills from Cowdingham to Lander, blindfold, than I would be sent upon an errand like this. But is it not a dismal and a dreadfu' thought that Christian men should be roused out of their beds at the dead of night, to march owre moor and mountain, to be shot, or to cut each other's throats? It is terrible, Mr Goldie!"
Now, he was a man seven inches taller than I was, and I was glad of the opportunity of proving to him that, though I had the lesser body, I had the taller spirit of the two—and the spirit makes the man. Therefore I said to him—"Why, Mr Barlowman, you surprise me to hear you talk; when our country demands our arms in its defence, we should be ready to lay down our lives, if necessary, by night or by day, on mountain or in glen, on moor or in meadow—and I cannot respond your sentiments."
"Weel," said he, "that may be your opinion, and it may be a good opinion, but, for my own part, I do confess that I have no ambition for the honours of either heroism or martyrdom. Had a person been allowed a day to make a sort of decent arrangement of their worldly affairs, it wadna have been sae bad; but to be summoned out of your warm bed at midnight, and to take up an instrument of death in the dark, and go forth to be shot at!—there is, in my opinion, but a small share of either honour or glory in the transaction. This, certainly, is permanent duty now, and peremptory duty also, with a witness! But it is a duty the moral obligation of which I cannot perceive; and I think that a man's first duty is to look after himself—and family."
He mentioned the word "family" with a peculiarity of emphasis which plainly indicated that he wished it to work an effect upon me, and to bring me over to his way of thinking. But, instead of its producing that effect, my spirit waxed bolder and bolder as I remained an ear-witness of his cowardice.
"Comrade Jonathan—I beg your pardon, Mr Barlowman I mean to say," said I—"the first duty of every man, when his country is in danger, is to take up arms in its defence, and to be ready to lay down his life, if his body will form a barrier to the approach of an enemy."
"It may be sae," said he; "but I would just as soon think of my body being eaten by cannibals, as applied to any such purpose. It will take a long time to convince me that there is any bravery in a man volunteering to 'be shot at for sixpence a-day;' and it will be as long before fighting the French prepare my land for the spring seed. If I can get a substitute when we reach Haddington, they may fight that likes for me."
As we marched along, his body became the victim of one calamity after another. Now his shoes pinched his feet and crippled him, and in a while he was seized with cramp pains in his breast, which bent him together twofold. But, as it was generally suspected by the corps that Jonathan was, at best, hen-hearted, he met with little, indeed I may say no sympathy on account of his complaints, but rather with contempt; for there was not a man in our whole regiment, save himself, that did not hate cowardice with his whole heart, and despise it with his whole soul. Whether he actually was suffering from bodily pain, in addition to the pain of his spirit, or not, it is not for me to judge. The doctor came to the rear to see him, and he said that Mr Barlowman certainly was in a state of high fever, that would render him incapable of being of much service. But I thought that he made the declaration in an ironical sort of tone; and whether it was a fever of fear, of spiritual torment, or of bodily torment, he did not tell. One thing is certain, the one frequently begets the other.
The words of the doctor gave a sort of license to bold Jonathan Barlowman, and his moaning and his groaning, his writhing and complaining, increased. He began to fall behind, and now stood fumbling with his pinching shoes, or bent himself double with his hands across his breast, sighing piteously, and shedding tears in abundance. At length we lost sight and hearing of him, and we imagined that he had turned back, or peradventure, lain down by the way; but there was no time for us to return to seek him, nor yet to look after one man, when, belike a hundred thousand French had landed.
Well, it was about an hour after the final disappearance of Jonathan, that a stranger joined our ranks in his stead. He took his place close by my side. He carried a firelock over his shoulder, and was dressed in a greatcoat; but so far as I could judge from his appearance in the dark, I suspected him to be a very young man. I could not get a word out of him, save that in answer to a question—"Are ye Mr Barlowman's substitute?"
And he answered—"Yes."
Beyond that one word, I could not get him to open his mouth. However, I afterwards ascertained that the youth overtook Jonathan, while he was writhing in agony upon the road, and declaring aloud that he would give any money, from ten to a hundred guineas, for a substitute, besides his arms and accoutrements. The young man leaped at the proposal, or rather at a part of it, for he said he would take no money, but that the other should give him his arms, ammunition, and such like, and he would be his substitute. Jonathan joyfully accepted the conditions; but whether or not his pains and groanings left him, when relieved from the weight of his knapsack, I cannot tell. Our corps voted him to be no man who could find time to be ill, even in earnest, during an invasion.
My attention, however, was now wholly taken up with the stranger, who, it appeared, had been dropped, as if from the clouds, in the very middle of a waste, howling wilderness, to volunteer to serve in the place of my craven comrade, Jonathan Barlowman. The youth excited my curiosity the more, because, as I have already informed ye, he was as silent as a milestone, and not half so satisfactory; for beyond the little word "Yes," which I once got out of him, not another syllable would he breathe—but he kept his head half turned away from me. I felt the consciousness and the assurance growing in me more and more that he was a French spy; therefore I kept my musket so that I could level it at him, and discharge it at half a moment's warning; and I was rejoicing to think that it would be a glorious thing if I got an opportunity of signalizing myself on the very first day of the invasion. I really began to dream of titles and rewards, the thanks of parliament, and the command of a regiment. It is a miracle that, in the delirium of my waking dream, I did not place the muzzle of my musket to my strange comrade's head.
But daylight began to break just as we were about Danskin, and my curiosity to see the stranger's face—to make out who he was or what he was, or whether he was a Frenchman, or one of our own countrymen—was becoming altogether insupportable. But, just with the first peep of day, I got a glimpse of his countenance. I started back for full five yards—the musket dropped out of my hands!
"Robie! Robie, ye rascal!" I exclaimed, in a voice that was heard from the one end of the line to the other, and that made the whole regiment halt—"what in the wide world has brought you here? What do ye mean to be after?"
"To fight the French, faither!" said my brave laddie; "and ye ken ye always said, that in the event of an invasion, it wad be the duty of every one capable of firing a musket, or lifting a knife, to take up arms. I can do baith; and what mair me than another?"
This was torturing me on the shrine of my own loyalty, and turning my own weapons upon myself, in a way that I never had expected.
"Robie! ye daft, disobedient, heart-breaker ye!" continued I, "did I not command ye to remain at home with your mother, to comfort her, and, if it were necessary, and in your power, to defend her; and how, sirrah, have ye dared to desert her, and leave her sorrowing for you?"
"I thought, faither," answered he, "that the best way to defend her, would be to prevent the enemy approaching near to our dwellings."
My comrades round about that heard this answer, could not refrain from giving three cheers in admiration of the bravery of the laddie's spirit; and the cheering attracting the attention of the officers, one of them came forward to us, to inquire into its cause; and, on its being explained to him, he took Robin by the hand, and congratulated me upon having such a son. I confess that I did feel an emotion of pride and gratification glowing in my breast at the time; nevertheless, the fears and the anxiety of a parent predominated, and I thought what a dreadful thing it would be for me, his father, to see him shot or pierced through the body with a bayonet, at my very side; and what account, thought I, could I give of such a transaction to his bereaved and sorrowing mother? For I felt a something within my breast, which whispered, that, if evil befell him in the warfare in which we were about to engage, I would not be able to look her in the face again. I fancied that I heard her upbraiding me with having instilled into his mind a love of war, and I fancied that I heard her voice requiring his life at my hands, and crying—"Where is my son?"
At length we arrived at Haddington; and there, in the course of the day, it was discovered, to the gratification of some and the disappointment of many, that our march had originated in a false alarm. I do confess that I was amongst those who felt gratified that the peace of the land was not to be endangered, but that we were to return every man to his own fireside, and to sit down beneath our vine and our fig tree, with the olive branches twining between them. But amongst those who were disappointed, and who shewed their chagrin by the gnashing of their teeth, was my silly laddie, my only son Robert. When he saw the people laughing in the marketplace, and heard that the whole Borders had been aroused by an accidental light upon a hill, his young brow lowered as black as midnight—his whole body trembled with a sort of smothered rage—and his eyebrows drew together until the shape of a horse-shoe was engraven between them.
"Robie, my captain," said I, "wherefore are ye looking sae dour? Man, ye ought to rejoice that no invader as yet has dared to set his foot upon our coast, and that you and I will return to your mother, who, no doubt, will be distracted upon your account beyond measure. But, oh, when she meets you again, I think that I see her now springing up from the chair, where she is sitting rocking and mourning, and flinging her arms round your neck, crying—'Robie!—Robie, my son! where have ye been?—how could ye leave your mother?' Then she will sob upon your breast, and wet your cheek with her tears; and I will lift her arms from your neck, and say—'Look ye, Agnes, woman, your husband is restored to ye safe and sound, as well as your son?' And then I will tell her all about your bravery, and your following us over the moors, and the cowardice of Jonathan Barlowman, and of your coming up to him, where he groaned behind us on the road—of your becoming his substitute, and of your getting his greatcoat, his knapsack, and his gun—and of your marching an hour by your father's side without him finding out who you were. I will tell her all about my discovering you, and about your answers, and the cheering of the volunteers; and the officers coming up and taking your hand, and congratulating me upon having such a son. O Robie, man! I will tell her everything! It will be such a meeting as there has not been in the memory of man. Therefore, as the French are neither landed nor like to land, I will speak to the superior officer, and you and I Will set off for Dunse immediately."
We went into a public-house, to have a bottle of ale and baps; and I think I never in my life partook of anything more refreshing or more delicious. Even Robie, notwithstanding the horse-shoe of angry disappointment on his brow, made a hearty repast; but that was natural to a growing laddie, and especially after such a tramp as we had had in the death and darkness of night, over moor and heather.
"Eat well, Robie, lad," said I; "it's a long road over again between here and Dunse, and there is but little to be got on it. Take another glass of ale; ye never tasted anything from Clockmill to match that. It is as delicious as honey, and as refreshing as fountain water."
That really was the case; though whether the peculiar excellence of the ale arose from anything extraordinarily grateful in its flavour, or from my long march, my thirst, and sharp appetite—added to the joy I felt in the unexpected prospect of returning home in peace and happiness with my son, instead of slaughtering at enemies, or being slaughtered by them—I cannot affirm. There might be something in both. Robin, however, drank an entire bottle to his own head—that was three parts of a choppin, and a great deal too much for a laddie of his years. But in the temper he was in, and knowing by myself that he must be both thirsty and hungry, I did not think it prudent to restrain him. It was apparent that the liquor was getting uppermost in his brain, and he began to speak and to argue in company, and to strike his hand upon the table like an angry man; in short, he seemed forgetful of my presence, and those were exhibitions which I had never observed in him before.
I was exceedingly anxious to get home, upon his mother's account; for she was a woman of a tender heart and a nervous temperament; and I knew that she would be in a state bordering on distraction on account of his absence. I therefore said to him—"Robin, I am going to speak to the commanding officer; ye will sit here until I come back, but do not drink any more."
"Very weel, faither," said he.
So I went out and spoke to the officer, and told him my reasons for wishing to return home immediately; urging the state of anxiety and distress that Agnes would be in on account of the absence of our son.
"Very well, Mr Goldie," said he; "it is all very right and proper; I have a regard to the feelings of a husband and a parent; and as this has proved but a false alarm, there is no obstacle to your returning home immediately."
I thanked him very gratefully for his civility, and stepped away up to the George Inn, where I took two outside places on the heavy coach to Dunbar, intending to walk from there to Broxmouth, and to strike up there by the west to Innerwick, and away over the hills, down by Preston, and home.
I am certain I was not twenty minutes or half an hour absent at the farthest. When I entered the public-house again, I looked for my son, but he was not there.
"What have ye made of Robie?" said I to my comrades.
"Has he no been wi' ye?" answered they; "he left the house just after ye."
Mortal man cannot describe the fear, agony, and consternation that fell upon me. The sweat burst upon my brow as though it had been the warmest day in summer. A thousand apprehensions laid their hands upon me in a moment.
"With me!" said I; "he's not been with me: have none of you an idea where he can have gone?"
"Not the smallest," said they; "but he canna be far off—he will soon cast up. He will only be out looking at the town."
"Or showing off gallant Jonathan Barlowman's gun, big-coat, and knapsack," said one.
"Keep yoursel at ease, Mr Goldie," said another, laughing; "there is no danger of his passing the advanced posts, and falling into the hands of the French."
It was easy for those to jest who were ignorant of a father's fears and a father's feelings. I sat down for the space of five minutes, and to me they seemed five hours; but I drank nothing, and I said nothing, but I kept my eyes fixed upon the door. Robin did not return. I thought the ale might have overcome the laddie, and that he had gone out and lain down in a state of sickness; and "That," thought I, "will be a becoming state for me to take him home in to his distressed mother. Or it will cause us to stop a night upon the road."
My anxiety became insupportable, and I again left my comrades, and went out to seek him. I sought him in every street, in every public-house in the town, amongst the soldiers, and amongst the townspeople; but all were too much occupied in discussing the cause of the alarm, to notice him who was to me as the apple of my eye. For three hours I wandered in search of him, east, west, north, and south, making inquiries at every one I met; but no one had seen or heard tell of him. I saw the coach drive off for Dunbar. I beheld also my comrades muster on the following morning, and prepare to return home, but I wandered up and down disconsolate, seeking my son, but finding him not.
The most probable, and the fondest conjecture that I could indulge in, was, that he had returned home. I, therefore, shouldered my musket, and followed my companions to Dunse, whom I overtook upon the moors. It would be impossible for me to describe my feelings by the way—they were torture strained to its utmost extremity, and far more gloomy and dreary than the gloomiest and dreariest parts of the moors over which we had to pass. Every footstep increased my anxiety, every mile the perturbation and agony of my spirit. Never, I believe, did a poor parent endure such misery before, and I wished that I had never been one. I kept looking for him to the right and to the left every minute; and though it was but few travellers that we met upon the road, every one that we did meet I described him to them, and asked them if they had seen him. But, "No!" "No!" was their unvaried answer, and my wretchedness increased.
At length we arrived at Dunse, and a great crowd was there to meet us—wives to welcome their husbands, parents to greet their children, and children their parents. The first that my eyes singled out, was a sister of my Agnes. She ran up to me.
"Roger," she cried, "hae ye seen onything o' Robie?"
The words went through my breast as if it had received the fire of a whole French battalion. I stood stock-still, petrified with despair. My looks told my answer to her question.
"Oh, dear me! dear me!" I heard her cry; "what will his puir mother do noo—for she already is like ane clean out o' her judgment about him."
I did not stop for the word "halt," or for the breaking of the lines; and I went home, I may say by instinct, for neither bird, bush, house nor tree, man nor bairn, was I capable of discerning by the road. Grief and heart-bursting anxiety were as scales upon my eyes. I remember of rushing into the house, throwing down my gun, and crying—"O Agnes! Agnes!" And as well do I remember her impatient and piteous inquiry—"Where is my Robie?—Oh, where is my son?—hae ye no seen him?"
It was long before I could compose myself, so as to tell her all that I knew concerning him; and it was even longer before she was sufficiently calm to comprehend me. Never did unhappy parents before experience greater bitterness of soul. I strove to comfort her, but she would not listen to my words; for oh, they were as the blind leading the blind; we both were struggling in the slough of despair—both were in the pit of dark, bewildering misery. We sometimes sat looking at each other, like criminals whose last hour is come; and even when our grief wore itself into a "calm sough," there was something in our silence as dismal and more hopeless than the silence of the grave itself. But, every now and then, she would burst into long, loud lamentations, mourning and crying for "her son!—her son!" Often, too, did we sit, suppressing our very breath, listening to every foot that approached, and as one disappointment followed another, her despair became deeper and deeper, louder and louder, and its crushing weight sank heavier and heavier upon my spirit.
Some of his young companions informed us, that Robin had long expressed a determination to be a soldier; and, on the following day, I set out for Edinburgh to seek for him there, and to buy him off at any price, if he had enlisted.
There, however, I could gather no tidings concerning him; and all that I could learn was, that a regiment had left the Castle that morning at two o'clock, and embarked at Leith for Chatham, from whence they were to proceed direct abroad; and that several recruits were attached to it, some of them only sworn in an hour before they embarked; but whether my poor Robie was among them or not, no one could tell.
I left Edinburgh no wiser, no happier, and in no way more comforted than I entered it, and returned to his mother a sad and sorrowing-hearted man. She wrung her hands the instant she beheld me, and, in a tone that might have touched the heart of a stone, cried aloud—"Oh, my lost! lost bairn! Ye hae made a living grave o' yer mother's breast."
I would have set off immediately for London, and from thence down to Chatham, to inquire for him there; but the wind was favourable when the vessel sailed, and it was therefore certain, that, by the time I got back to Dunse, she was at the place of her destination; and moreover, I had no certainty or assurance that he was on board. Therefore, we spent another day in fruitless lamentations and tears, and in vain inquiries around our own neighbourhood, and amongst his acquaintances.
But my own heart yearned continually, and his mother's moaning was unceasing in my ear, as the ticking of a spider, or the beating of a stop-watch to a person that is doomed to die. I could find no rest. I blamed myself for not proceeding direct from Edinburgh to Chatham; and, next day, I went down to Berwick, to take my place in the mail to London.
By the way I met several of the yeomanry, who were only returning from Dunbar, where they had been summoned by the alarm; and I found that Berwick also had been in arms. But taking my place on the mail, I proceeded, without sleep or rest, to London, and from thence hastened to Chatham. There again I found that the regiment which I sought was already half way down the Channel; but I ascertained also that my poor thoughtless boy was one of the recruits, and even that was some consolation, although but a poor one.
Again I returned to his mother, and told her of the tidings. They brought her no comfort, and, night and day, she brooded on the thought of her fair son lying dead and mangled on the field of slaughter, or of his returning helpless and wounded to his native land. And often it was wormwood to my spirit, and an augmentation of my own sorrows, to find that, in secret, she murmured against me as the author of her bereavement, and as having instilled into my son a liking for a soldier's life. She said it was all owing to my getting him, from the time that he was able to read, to take the newspaper in his hand and read it aloud to my cronies, and in which there were accounts of nothing but wars and battles, of generals and captains, and Bonaparte, of whom enough was foretold and enough could be read in the Revelations. These murmurings grieved me the more, inasmuch as my mind was in no way satisfied that they were without foundation. No man knew better than I did, how easily the twig is bent; a passing breeze, the lighting of a bird upon it, may do it; and as it is bent, so the branch or the tree will be inclined. I, therefore, almost resolved not to permit another newspaper to be brought within my door. But, somehow or other, it became more necessary than ever. Every time it came it was like a letter from Robie; and we read it from beginning to end, expecting always to hear something of him or of his regiment. Even Agnes grew fond of it, and was uneasy on the Saturdays if the postman was half-an-hour behind the time in bringing it.
Full twelvemonths passed before we received a letter from him; and never will I forget the delightful sensations that gushed into my bosom at the sight of that letter. I trembled from head to foot with joy. I knew his handwriting at the first glance, and so did his mother—just as well as if he had begun "dear parents" on the back of it. It was only to be a penny, and his mother could hardly get her hand into her pocket to give the copper to the postman, she shook so excessively with joy and with agitation, and kept saying to me—"Read, Roger! read! Oh, let me hear what my bairn says."
I could hardly keep my hand steady to open it; and, when I did break the seal, I burst into tears at the same moment, and my eyes became as though I were blind; and still his mother continued saying to me—"Oh, read! read!"
Twice, thrice, did I draw my sleeve across my eyes, and at last I read as follows:—
"MY DEAR PARENTS,—I fear that my conduct has caused you many a miserable day, and many a sleepless night. But, even for my offence, cruel as it has been, I trust there is forgiveness in a parent's breast. I do not think that I ever spoke of it to you, but, from the very earliest period that I could think, the wish was formed in my mind to be a soldier. When I used to be spelling over the History of Sir William Wallace, or the lives of the Seven Champions of Christendom, I used to fancy myself Wallace or Saint George; and I resolved, that when I lived to be a man, that I would be a soldier and a hero like them; and I used to think what a grand thing it would be for you and my mother, and all my acquaintances, to be reading about me and my exploits! The continual talking about the war and the French, and of their intention to invade Britain, all strengthened my early desires. Often when I was reading the newspapers to you and your friends, and about the gallant deeds of any particular individual, though I used to read his name aloud to you, I always read it in to myself as though it were my own. I had resolved to enlist before the false alarm took place; and, when you and the other volunteers marched out of Dunse to Haddington, I could not resist the temptation which it offered of seeing and being present at a battle. About half-an-hour after you left the town, I followed ye, and, as ye are already aware, overtook poor Jonathan Barlowman, who had fallen behind the corps, in great distress, apparently both of body and mind. He seemed to be in a swither whether to return home, to follow ye, or to lie down and die by the road. I knew him by the sound of the lamentation he was making, and, accosting him, I inquired—'What is the matter wi' ye, Jonathan! Has ony o' the French, concealed aboot the moors, shot ye already?' 'Oh,' he replied, 'I am ill—I am dying!—I am dying!—I will give any money for a substitute!' 'Gie me yer gun,' said I, 'and I will be yer substitute without money.' 'A thousand blessings upon yer head, Robie, lad!' said he; 'ye shall hae my gun, and ye may tak also my greatcoat and knapsack, for they only encumber me. Ye hae rescued a dying man.' I was nearly as tall as he; and, though his coat was loose about me, when I got it on, and his musket over my shoulder, and felt that I was marching like an armed knight of old against the invaders of my country, I felt as proud as an emperor; I would not have changed situations with a king. I overtook you, and you know the rest. At Haddington, the strong ale was too strong for me. I was also sorely mortified to find all my prospects of becoming a hero blasted. When, therefore, you went out to take our places in the coach to Dunbar, I slipped out of the room, and hiding Mr Barlowman's coat and gun in a closet, in the house, I took the road for Edinburgh; which city I reached within less than three hours; and before I had been in it twenty minutes I was a soldier. I was afraid to write home, lest ye would take steps to buy me off. On the fourth day after my enlisting I was landed at Chatham, where I was subjected to a perpetual drill; and within thirty hours after landing, I again embarked with my regiment; and when I wished to have written, I had not an opportunity. Since then, I have been in two general engagements and several skirmishes, in all of which I have escaped unwounded. I have found that to read of a battle, and to be engaged in a battle, are two very different things. The description is grand, but the sight dismal. I trust that my behaviour as a soldier has been unimpeachable. It has obtained for me the notice of our colonel, who has promoted me to the rank of corporal, with the promise of shortly making me a sergeant; and I am not without hopes, before the war is over, (of which there at present is no prospect), of obtaining a commission; though it certainly is not one in a thousand that has such fortune. Hoping, therefore, my dear parents, that, under the blessing of Providence, this will find you well, as it leaves me, and that I will live to return to ask your forgiveness, I remain your affectionate and dutiful son,
* * * * *
Such was Robin's letter. "Read it again," said mother—and I read it again; and when I had done so, she took it in her hand and pressed it to her lips and to her breast, and wept for "her poor bairn." At last, in a tone of despondency, she said—"But, oh, he doesna once particularly mention his mother's name in't."
"He surely does," said I; "I think he mentions us both."
So I took the letter again into my hand, and, at the foot corner of the third page, I saw what I had not observed before, the letters and words—"P.S. Turn over."
"P.S." said his mother; "who does that mean?"
"Oh!" said I, "it means nobody. It means that we have not read all the letter."
"Read it a', then—read it a'!" she cried.
And I turned to the last page, on the fold above the direction, and read—
"P.S.—But how am I to ask the forgiveness of my dear mother, for all the distress and anxiety that my folly and disobedience must have occasioned her. I start in my very sleep, and think that I hear her yearning and upbraiding. If she knew how deep my repentance is, and how keen my misery for the grief which I have caused her, I would not have to ask her forgiveness twice. Dear father! dear mother!—both, both of you forgive your thoughtless son."
These last lines of his letter drowned us both in tears, and, for the space of several minutes, neither of us were able to speak. I was the first to break silence, and I said—"Agnes, our dear Robin is now a soldier, and he seems to like that way of life. But I dislike the thought of his being only a corporal, and I would wish to see him an officer. We have nobody in the world but him to care for. He is our only son and heir, and I trust that all that we have will one day be his. Now, I believe that the matter of four or five hundred pounds will buy him a commission, and make him an officer, with a sword by his side, a sash round his waist, and a gold epaulette on his shoulder, with genteel pay and provision for life; besides setting him on the high road to be a general. Therefore, if ye approve of it, I will sell out stock to the amount that will buy him commission."
"Oh," replied she, "ye needna ask me if I approve, for weel do ye ken that I will approve o' onything that will be for my bairn's benefit."
I accordingly lifted five hundred pounds, and through the influence of a Parliament man, succeeded in procuring him a commission as an ensign. I thought the money well spent, as it tended to promote the respectability and prospects of my son.
Four years afterwards, his mother and I had the satisfaction of reading in the public papers, that he had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant upon the field, for his bravery. On the following day we received a letter from himself, confirming the tidings, which gave us great joy. Nevertheless, our joy was mingled with fears; for we were always apprehensive that some day or other we would find his name among the list of killed and wounded. And always the first thing that his mother said to me, when I took up the papers, was—"Read the list of the killed and wounded." And I always did so, with a slow, hesitating, and faltering voice, fearful that the next I should mention would be that of my son, Lieutenant Goldie.
There was very severe fighting at the time; and every post was bringing news concerning the war. One day, (I remember it was a King's fast-day,) several neighbours and myself were leaning upon the dike, upon the footpath opposite to my house, and waiting for the postman coming from Ayton, to hear what was the news of the day. As he approached us, I thought he looked very demure-like, which was not his usual; for he was as cheerful, active-looking a little man as you could possibly see.
"Well, Hughie," said I to him, holding out my hand for the papers, "ye look dull like to-day; I hope ye have no bad news?"
"I would hope not, Mr Goldie," said he; and, giving me the paper, walked on.
The moment that Agnes saw that I had got it, she came running out of the house, across the road, to hear as usual, the list of the killed and wounded read, and my neighbours gathered round about me. There had been, I ought to tell ye, a severe battle, and both the French and our army claimed the victory; from which we may infer, that there was no great triumph on either side. But, agreeably to my wife's request, I first read over the list of the killed, wounded, and missing. I got over the two first mentioned; but, oh! at the very sight of the first name upon the missing list, I clasped my hands together, and the paper dropped upon the ground.
"O Robie! my son! my son!" I cried aloud.
Agnes uttered a piercing scream, and cried, "O my bairn—what has happened my bairn? Is he dead! Tell me, is my Robie dead?"
Our neighbours gathered about her, and tried to comfort her; but she was insensible to all that they could say. The first name on the missing list was that of my gallant son. When the first shock was over, and I had composed myself a little, I also strove to console Agnes; but it was with great difficulty that we could convince her that Robin was not dead, and that the papers did not say he was wounded.
"Oh, then!" she cried, "what do they say about him. Tell me at once. Roger Goldie! how can ye, as the faither o' my bairn, keep me in suspense."
"O, dear Agnes," said I, "endeavour, if it be possible, to moderate your grief; I am sure ye know that I would not keep ye in suspense if I could avoid it. The papers only say that Robin is amissing."
"And what mean they by that?" she cried.
"Why," said I to her, "they mean that he, perhaps, pursued the enemy too far—or possibly that he may have fallen into their hands, and be a prisoner—but that he had not cast up when the accounts came away."
"Yes! yes!" she exclaimed with great bitterness, "and it perhaps means that his body is lying dead upon the field, but hasna been found."
And she burst out into louder lamentations, and all our endeavours to comfort her were in vain; though, in fact, my sufferings were almost as great as hers.
We waited in the deepest anxiety for several days, always hoping that we would hear some tidings concerning him, but none came. I therefore wrote to the War-Office, and I wrote also to his Colonel. From the War-Office I received a letter from a clerk, saying that he was commanded to inform me, that they could give me no information relative to Lieutenant Goldie, beyond what was contained in the public prints. The whole letter did not exceed three lines. You would have said that the writer had been employed to write a certain number of letters in a day, at so much a day, and the sooner he got through his work the better. I set it down in my mind that he had never had a son amissing on the field of battle, or he never would have written an anxious and sorrowing father such a cold scrawl. He did not even say that, if they got any tidings concerning my son, they would make me acquainted with them. He was only commanded to tell me that they did not know what I was, beyond every thing on earth, desirous to ascertain. Though perhaps, I ought to admit that, in a time of war, the clerks in the War-Office had something else to do than enter particularly into the feelings of every father that had a son in the army, and to answer all his queries.
From the Colonel, however, I received a long, and a very kind letter. He said many flattering things in praise of my gallant laddie, and assured me that the whole regiment deplored his being separated from them. He, however, had no doubt but that he had fallen into the hands of the enemy, and that, in some exchange of prisoners, or in the event of a peace, he would be restored to his parents and country again.
This letter gave us some consolation. It encouraged us to cherish the hope of pressing our beloved son again to our breasts, and of looking on his features, weeping and wondering at the alterations which time, war, and imprisonment had wrought upon them. But more than three years passed away, and not a syllable did we hear concerning him, that could throw the least light upon where he was, or whether he was dead or living. Anxiety preyed sadly upon his mother's health as well as upon her spirits, and I could not drive away a settled melancholy.
About that time a brother of mine, who was a bachelor, died in the East Indies, and left me four thousand pounds. This was a great addition to our fortune, and we hardly knew what to do with it. I may say that it made us more unhappy, for we thought that we had nobody to leave it to; and he who ought to have inherited it, and whom it would have made independent, we knew not whether he was in the land of the living, or a strange corpse in a foreign grave. Yet I resolved that, for his sake, I would not spend one farthing of it, but let it lie at interest; and I even provided in a will which I made, that unless he cast up, and claimed it, no one should derive any benefit from either principal or interest until fifty years after my death.
I have said, that the health of Agnes had broken down beneath her weight of sadness, and as she had a relation, who was a gentleman of much respectability, that then resided in the neighbourhood of Kelso, it was agreed that we should spend a few weeks in the summer at his house. I entertained the hope that society, and the beautiful scenery around Kelso, with the white chalky braes[A] overhung with trees, and the bonny islands in the Tweed, with mansions, palaces, and ruins, all embosomed in a paradise as fair and fertile as ever land could boast of, would have a tendency to cheer her spirits, and ease, if not remove, the one heavy and continuing sorrow, which lay like an everlasting nightmare upon her heart, weighing her to the grave.
Her relation was a well-educated man, and he had been an officer in the army in his youth, and had seen foreign parts. He was also quite independent in his worldly circumstances, and as hospitable as he was independent. There were at that period a number of French officers, prisoners, at Kelso, and several of them, who were upon their parole, were visiters at the house of my wife's relation.
There was one amongst them, a fine, though stern-looking man of middle age, and who was addressed by the appellation of Count Berthe. He spoke our language almost as well as if he had been a native. He appeared to be interested when he heard that my name was Goldie, and one day after dinner, when the cloth was withdrawn, and my wife's relation had ordered the punch upon the table—"Ha! Goldie! Goldie!" said the Count, repeating my name—"I can tell one story—which concerns me much—concerning, one Monsieur Goldie. When I was governor of the castle La——, (he called it by some foreign name, which I cannot repeat to you), there was brought to me, (he added), to be placed under my charge, a young British officer, whose name was Goldie. I do not recollect the number of his regiment, for he was not in uniform when brought to me. He was a handsome man, but represented as a terrible one, who had made a violent attempt to escape after being taken prisoner, and his desperate bravery in the field was also recorded. I was requested to treat him with the respect due to a brave man, but, at the same time, to keep a strict watch over him, and to allow him even less liberty than I might do to an ordinary prisoner. His being a captive did not humble him; he treated his keepers and his guards with as much contempt as though he had been their conqueror on the field. We had confined his body, but there was no humbling of his spirit. I heard so much of him, that I took an interest in the haughty Briton. But he treated me with the same sullen disdain that he showed towards my inferiors. I had a daughter, who was as dear to me as life itself, for she had had five brothers, and they had all fallen in the cause of the great emperor, with the tricolor on their brow, and the wing of the eagle over them. She was beautiful—beautiful as her sainted mother, than whom Italy boasted not a fairer daughter, (for she was a native of Rome.) Hers was not a beauty that you may see every day amongst a thousand in the regions of the north—hers was the rare beauty amongst ten thousand of the daughters of the sunny south, with a face beaming with as bright a loveliness, and I would say divinity, as the Medici. Of all the children which that fair being bore unto me, I had but one, a daughter, left—beautiful as I have said—beautiful as her mother. I had a garden beneath the castle, and over it was a terrace, in which the British prisoner, Goldie, was allowed to walk. They saw each other. They became acquainted with each other. He had despised all who approached; he had even treated me, who had his life in my hand, as a dog. But he did not so treat my daughter. I afterwards learned, when it was too late, that they had been seen exchanging looks, words, and signs with each other. He had been eighteen months my prisoner; and one morning when I awoke, I was told that my daughter was not to be found, and that the English prisoner, Lieutenant Goldie, also had escaped. I cursed both in my heart; for they had robbed me of my happiness—he had robbed me of my child; though she only could have accomplished it. Shortly after this, (and perhaps because of it,) I was again called into active service, where, in my first engagement, it was my lot to be made a prisoner, and sent here; and since then I have heard nothing of my daughter—my one, dear child—the image of her mother; and nothing of him—the villain who seduced her from me."
"Oh, sir," exclaimed I, "do not call him a villain, for if it be he that I hope it was, who escaped through the intrumentality of your daughter, and took her with him, he has not a drop of villain's blood in his whole body. Sir! sir! I have a son—a Lieutenant Goldie; and he has (as I hope) been a French prisoner from the time ye speak of. Therefore, tell me, I implore ye, what was he like. Was he six inches taller than his father, with light complexion, yellowish hair, an aqualine nose; full blue eyes, a mole upon his right cheek, and, at the time ye saw him, apparently, perhaps, from two-and-twenty to three-and-twenty years of age? Oh, sir—Count, or whatever they call ye—if it be my son that your daughter has liberated and gone away with, she has fallen upon her feet; she has married a good, a kind, and a brave lad; and, though I should be the last to say it, the son of an honest man, who will leave him from five to six thousand pounds, beside his commission."
By the description which he gave me, I had no doubt but that my poor Robie, and the laddie who had run away with his daughter, (or, I might say, the laddie with whom his daughter had run away,) were one and the same person.
I ran into the next room, crying, "Agnes! Agnes! hear, woman! I have got news of Robie!"
"News o' my bairn!" she cried, before she saw me. "Speak, Roger! speak!"
I could hardly tell her all that the French Count had told me, and I could hardly get her to believe what she heard. But I took her into the room to him, and he told her everything over again. A hundred questions were asked backward and forward upon both sides, and there was not the smallest doubt, on either of our parts, but that it was my Robie that his daughter had liberated from the prison, and run off with.
"But oh, sir," said Agnes, "where are they now—baith o my bairns—as you say I have twa? Where shall I find them?"
He said that he had but little doubt that they were safe, for his daughter had powerful friends in France, and that as soon as a peace took place, (which he hoped would not be long,) we should all see them again.
Well, the long-wished-for peace came at last—and in both countries the captives were released from the places of their imprisonment. I have already twice mentioned the infirm state of my wife's health; and we were residing at Spittal, for the benefit of the sea air and bathing, and the Spa Well, (though it had not then gained its present fashionable popularity,) when a post-chaise drove to the door of our lodgings. An elderly gentleman stepped off from the dicky beside the driver, and out of the chaise came a young lady, a gentleman, and two bonny bairns. In a moment I discovered the elderly gentleman to be my old friend the French Count. But, oh! how—how shall I tell you the rest! I had hardly looked upon the face of the younger stranger, when I saw my own features in the countenance of my long lost Robie! The lady was his wife—the Count's bonny daughter; and the bairns were their bairns. It is in vain for me to describe to you the feelings of Agnes; she was at first speechless and senseless, and then she threw her arms round Robie, and she threw them round his wife, and she took his bairns on her knee—and, oh! but she was proud at seeing herself a grandmother! We have all lived together in happiness from that day to this; and the more I see of Robie's wife, the more I think she is like an angel; and so thinks his mother. I have only to inform you that bold Jonathan Barlowman was forced to leave the country-side shortly after his valiant display of courage, and since then nobody in Dunse has heard whether he be dead or living and nobody cares. This is all I have to tell ye respecting the false alarm, and I hope ye are satisfied.
[A] It is evidently from the beautiful chalk cliff near Ednam House (though now not a very prominent object) that Kelso derives its name—as is proved by the ancient spelling.
OR, THE LADY OF BALLOCHGRAY.
The last fifty years of mortal regeneration and improvement have effected more changes in the old fasts, and feasts, and merrymakings of Scotland, than twice and twice over that time of any other period since it became a nation. Every year we see the good old customs dying out, or strangled by the Protaean imp Fashion, who, in the grand march of improvement of which we are so proud, in the perking conceit of heirs-apparent of the millennium, seems to be the only creature that derives benefit from the eternal changes that, by-and-by, we fear, will turn our heads, and make us look back for the true period of happiness and wisdom. But what enrageth us the more is, that, while all our fun of Beltane, Halloween, Hogmanay, Hanselmonday, and all our old merrymakings, are gone with our absentee lords and thanes—
"Wha will their tenants pyke and squeize, And purse up all their rent; Syne wallop it to far courts, and bleize Till riggs and schaws are spent"—
and to whose contempt of our old customs we attribute a great part of their decay—we, in the very midst of the glorious improvement that has succeeded, are still cheated, belied, robbed, and plundered on all hands by political adventurers, private jobbers, and saintly hypocrites, in an artful, clean-fingered, and beautiful style of the trade, a thousand times more provoking than the clumsy, old-fashioned, honest kind of roguery that used to be in fashion, when folk were not too large for innocent mirth, and not too wise for enjoying what was liked by their ancestors. The people cry improvement—so do we; but we cherish a theory that has no charm, in these days of absolute faith in politics and parliament for the regeneration of man, that the true good of society—that is, the improvement of the heart and morals of a great country—lies in a sphere far humbler than the gorgeous recesses of Westminster—the fireside; a place that in former days, was revered, and honoured, and cherished, not only as the cradle of morals, but the abode of soul-stirring joys, and the scene of the celebration of many old and sacred amusements which humanized the young heart, and moulded and prepared it for the reception of those feelings which are interwoven with the very principle of social good. A political wrangle is a poor substitute for the old moral tales of the winter evenings of old Scotland. Even our legends of superstitious fear carried in them the boon of heartfelt obligation, which, when the subject was changed for the duties of life, still retained its strength, and wrought for good. These things are all gone; and, dissatisfied as we are with the bold substitutes of modern wisdom, let us use that which they cannot take from us, our books of "auld lear," and refresh ourselves with a peep at Leslie, in the Hogmanay of 16—. Who has not heard of "Christ's Kirk" in the kingdom of Fife, that place so celebrated by King James, in his incomparable "Christ's Kirk on the Green," for the frolics of wooers and "kittys washen clean," and "damsels bright," and "maidens mild?" That celebrated town was no other than our modern Leslie; and, though we cannot say that that once favoured haunt of the satyrs of merrymaking has escaped the dull blight that comes from the sleepy eye of the owl of modern wisdom, we have good authority for asserting that long after James celebrated the place for its unrivalled festivities, the character of the inhabitants was kept for many an after-day; and Hogmanay was a choice outlet for the exuberant spirits of the votaries of Momus.
The day we find chronicled as remarkable for an exhibition of the true spirit of the Leslieans, went off as all days that precede a glorious jubilee at night generally do. The ordinary work of the "yape" expectants was, no doubt, apparently going on; but the looking of "twa ways" for gloaming was, necessarily, exclusive of much interest in the work of the day. The sober matrons, as they sat at the door on the "stane settle," little inclined to work, considered themselves entitled to a feast of gossip; and even the guidman did not feel himself entitled to curb the glib tongue of his dame, or close up her ears with prudential maxims against the bad effects of darling, heart-stirring, soul-inspiring scandal. On that day there was no excise of the commodities of character. They might be bought or sold at a wanworth, or handed or banded about in any way that suited the tempers of the people. The bottle and the bicker had already, even in the forenoon, been, to a certain extent, employed as a kind of outscouts of the array that was to appear at night, and the gossipers were in that blessed state, between partial possession and full expectation, that makes every part of the body languid and lazy except the tongue. Around them the younkers, "hasty hensures" and "wanton winklots," were busy preparing the habiliments of the guysers—whose modes of masking and disguising were often regulated by the characters they were to assume, or the songs they had learned to chant for the occasion. Nor were these mimes limited to the urchin caste; for, in these days, wisdom had not got so conceited as to be ashamed of innocent mirth; and gaucy queens and stalwarth chiels exhibited their superiority only in acting a higher mask, and singing a loftier strain. The gossips did not hesitate to suspend the honeyed topic, to give sage counsel on the subject of the masking "bulziements;" and anon they turned a side look at the minor actors, the imps of devilry, who passed along with their smoking horns often made of the stem or "runt" of a winter cabbage, wherewith that night they would inevitably smoke out of "house and hauld" every devil's lamb of every gossip that did not open her hand and "deal her bread" to the guysers. Both parties, gossips and urchins, understood each other—like two belligerent powers asserting mutual rights, and contemplating each other with that look of half-concealed contention and defiance, which only tended to make the attack more inevitable.
The evening set in, and the witching hour—the keystone of night's black arch, twelve o'clock—was approaching. To go to bed on such an occasion, would have been held no better than for a jolly toper to shirk his bicker, a lover to eschew the trysting thorn, or a warrior to fly the scene of his country's glory; neither would it have been safe, for no good guyser of the old school would take the excuse of being in bed in lieu of the buttered pease-bannock—the true hogmanay cake, to which he was entitled, by "the auld use and wont" of Scotland; and far better breathe the smoke of the "smeikin horn" on foot, and with the means of self-defence at command, than lie choked in bed, and "deaved" by the stock and horn, the squalling bagpipe, and the eternal—
"Hery, Hary, Hubblischow, See ye not quha is come now!"
ringing in one's ears during the whole night. The young were out; the old were in; but all were equally up and doing the honours of the occasion. At auld Wat Wabster's door, one minstrel company were singing—"Great is my sorrow;" and Marion, his daughter, with
"Her glitterand hair, that was sae gowden,"
dealt out, with leal hand, the guyser's bannock. At the very next door, Meg Johnston was in the act of being "smecked oot" by a covey of twelve devils, who had inserted into every cranny a horn, and were blowing, with puffed cheeks, a choking death in every blast. One kept watch, to give the concerted signal when Meg should appear with her stick. On which occasion they were off in an instant; but only to return when Meg had let out the smoke, and satisfied herself that she would be no more tormented that night, to blow her up and out again, with greater vigour and a denser smoke than before. Farther on, Gib Dempster's dame, Kate, is at her door, with the bottle in her hand, to give another menyie of maskers their "hogmanay," in the form of a dram; and Gib is at her back, eyeing her with a squint, to count how many interlusive applications of the cordial she will make to her own throat before she renounce her opportunity. In the middle of the street, Gossip Simson is hurrying along, with the necessaries in her lap, to treat her "cusin," Christy Lowrie, with a bit and a drop; and ever and anon she says, "a guid e'en" to this one, and "a guid e'en" to that; and, between the parties, her head is ever thrown back, as if she were counting the stars; and, every time the act is repeated, the bottle undergoes a perceptible diminution of its contents, till, by the time she reaches her "luving cusin's" door, it is empty; and honest John Simson, at her return, greets her with—"My feth, Jenny, ye've been at mony a hoose in Christ's Kirk this nicht, if ane may judge by yer bottle." At the same instant,
"Oh, leddy, help yer prisoneer This last nicht o' the passing year,"
is struck up at the door; the stock and horn sounds lustily in the ears of her whose bottle is empty; and, obliged to send them away without either cake or sup, she hears sounding in her confused ears—
"The day will come when ye'll be dead. An' ye'll neither care for meal nor bread;"
and, in a short time after, "Jamie the wight," an impling, with a tail of half-a-dozen minor and subordinate angels, begin blowing their smoking horns in at both door and window, till honest John is fairly smoked out, crying, as he hastens to the door—"This comes, Jenny, o' yer lavish kindness to yer cusins, that we hae naethin left in oor bottle, either to keep oot thae deevils' breath or wash't oot o' oor choking craigs." He is no sooner at the door than Geordie Jamieson accosts him in the usual style, and says he has come for his "hogmanay;" but John, knowing the state of the bottle, begins a loud cough, in the midst of the smoke, and cries, as he runs away from his house and visitor, (whom he pretends not to see for the smoke.) "It's a deevil o' a hardship to be smeeked oot o' ane's ain hoose."
"Now," mutters Jenny, as she hears him run away, "I'll no see his face till mornin; an' he'll come in as blind's a bat." And out she flies to catch him; but, in her hurry, she overturns Geordie, just as his lips are manufacturing the ordinary "Guid e'en to ye, Jenny!"
"The same to ye, Geordie," says she; and, with that boon, leaves him on her flight.
The truth was, that John had the same instinctive antipathy against a house where there was an empty bottle as rats have against deserted granaries. But, if honest John Simson's house was deserted because Jenny had made too free with the bottle, Wat Webster's was full, from a reason precisely the very opposite; for the fair Marion—who had
"Brankit fast and made her bonny"—
was, in the midst of a company, distributing the cakes and bannocks with maidenly grace; and many a swain that night was glad, while
"He quhissilit and he pypit baith, To mak her blyth that meeting— My hony heart, how says the sang, There sall be mirth at oor greeting."
And among the rest might now be seen John Simson and his helpmate, and also Meg Johnston, who had been—either in reality, or, at least, with semblance sufficient to form their apology for calling where there was plenty of drink—smoked out of their own houses, amidst the cheers of the fire-imps. About this time, twelve o'clock was chimed from a rough-voiced bell of the Franciscan Monastery; and, some time after, in came Christy Lowrie, puffing and blowing, as if she too had experienced the effects of the thick breath of the fire-imps; and it might have been a fair presumption that her throat, like that of some of her predecessors, had been dried from pre-perceived gusts of Wat Webster's whisky rather than the smoke of the fire-angels, had it not been made quickly apparent, from other symptoms, that a horripilant terror had seized her heart and limbs, and inspired her tongue with the dry rattle of fearful intelligence. Never stopping till she got forward into the very heart of the company, seated round a blazing ingle, she sank upon a chair, and held up her hands to heaven, as if calling down from that quarter some supernatural agency to help in her difficulty. Every one turned and looked at her with wonder, mixed with sympathetic fear.
"What, in God's name, is this, Christy? Is he come?" cried Wat Webster.
"Oh! he's come again—he's come again!" she replied, in the midst of an effort to catch a spittle to wet her parched throat. "He's been at Will Pearson's, and Widow Lindsay's, and Rob Paterson's—he's gaun his auld rounds—and dootless he'll be here too. O Marion! Marion! gie me a spark to weet my throat."
The door was again opened, and in came Widow Lindsay in great haste and terror,
"I've seen him again!" cried she fearfully, and threw herself down in a corner of the lang settle.
"Are ye sure it's him, dame?" inquired Meg Johnston, who seemed perfectly to understand these extraordinary proceedings.
"Sure!" ejaculated the widow. "Hae I no tasted his red whisky; and has it no burned my throat till I maun ask Marion there to quench the fire wi' a spark o' human-liquor?"
The fire in the two terror-struck women's throats was soon extinguished by the "spark" they demanded; and a conversation, composed of twenty voices at once, commenced, the essence of which was, that, on the occasion of the last Hogmanay, a man dressed in a peculiar manner, with a green doublet, and hose of the same colour, a cravat, and a blue bonnet, had, just as twelve o'clock pealed from the monastery clock, made his appearance in the town, and conducted himself in such a manner as to excite much wonder among the inhabitants. Everything about him was mysterious; no person in that quarter had ever seen him before; there was nobody along with him; he came exactly at twelve; his face was so much shaded by a peculiar manner of wearing his bonnet and cravat that no one could say he had ever got a proper view of his features; he carried with him a bottle of liquor, which the people, from ignorance of its character, denominated red whisky, and which he distributed freely to all and sundry, without his stock ever running out, or being exhausted: his manners were free, boisterous, and hilarious; and he possessed the extraordinary power of making people love him ad libitum. He came as he went, without any one knowing more of him than that he was the very prince of good fellows; so exquisite a tosspot, that he seemed equal to the task (perhaps no difficult one) of making the whole town of Christ's Kirk drunk by the extraordinary spirit of his example; and so spirit-stirring a conjurer of odd thoughts and unrivalled humour, that melancholy itself laughed a gaunt laugh at his jokes; and gizzened gammers and giddy hizzies were equally delighted with his devilry and his drink. Arriving in the midst of frolic as high as ordinary mortal spirits might be supposed able to sublime human exultation, he effected such an increase of the corrybantic power of the laughing and singing genius of Hogmanay, that
"Never in Scotland had been seen Sic dancing nor deray; Nowther at Falkland on the green, Nor Peebles at the play."
But, coming like a fire-flaught, like a fire-flaught he and his red whisky had departed; and it was not until he had gone, and one tosspot met another tosspot, and gossip another gossip, and compared notes, and exchanged shrewd guesses, eloquent winks, and pregnant vibrations of wondering noddles, that the mysterious stranger was invested with all the attributes to which he was, by virtue of his super-human powers, so clearly entitled. He was immediately elevated to the place which, in those days, was reserved in every cranium for the throne of the genius of superstition; yea he of the red cravat and red liquor was the never-ending subject of conversation, investigation, speculation, and consternation of the good folks of the town of Christ's Kirk. While the terror he had inspired was still fresh on the minds of the people, he returned at the exact hour of twelve on the subsequent Halloween. He brought again his bottle of red liquor, was dressed in the same style, wore the same red cravat, and was invested with the same sublimating powers of extravagant merriment. He went his old rounds; cracked nuts with the kittys; ducked for the apple, which never escaped his mouth; threw the weight in the barn; spaed fortunes with the Mauses; drank with the tosspots—
"If you can be blest the day, Ne'er defer it till the morn— Peril still attends delay; As the fools will find, when they Have their happy hour forborne;"
and, by means of his wild humour and exhilarating drink, set all the scene of his former exploits in an uproar of mixed terror, jollity, superstition, and amazement. Every one, not possessed of fear, scrutinized him; those (and they were many) who were stricken with terror, avoided him as if he had in reality been the gentleman in black, as indeed many at that time alleged he was; some who had heard of him, watched to catch a passing glimpse of him; but, wonderful as it may seem, the jolly stranger again disappeared, and no one, even those who had got royally drunk with him, could say aught more of him than was said on the prior occasion; viz., that he was the very prince of good fellows, if he should be the "very big-horned Deil himsel." On his second disappearance, the point was no longer a moot one, "Who the devil he could be?" for the very question, as put, decided the question before it was answered. The point was just as lucid as ever was the spring of St Anthony, and no one could be gravelled, where there was not a grain of sand to interrupt the vision. There was not in the limits of the guid toun a dame or damsel, greybeard, or no-beard, that possessed within the boundaries of their cerebral dominions a single peg on which they could hang a veritable or plausible doubt of the true character, origin, and destination of this twelve-o'clock visiter of the good old town of "Christ's Kirk on the Green."
Such was the state and condition of public opinion in the town of Leslie on this most important and engrossing subject, on the breaking of the day with which our history begins—this eventful Hogmanay. As the evening approached, every one trembled; but the inspiration of incipient drams had had the effect of so far throwing off the incubus as to enable some of the inhabitants, and, in particular, those we have mentioned, to go about the forms of the festival with decent freedom; while the guysers and "reekers," after the manner of buoyant youth, had been flirting with their terrors, and singing and blowing to "keep their spirits up," in the execution of what they conceived to be a national duty, as well as very good individual fun. But there was little real sport in the case; and we would give it as a stanch, and an unflinching opinion, were it put to us, that the terror of the stranger, and not a love of the liquor she carried, was the true cause of Jenny Simson's having emptied the bottle before she arrived at the residence of Christy Lowrie. Nay, more, we might safely allege—and there is no affidavit in the case—that there might have been more than smoke in the cause of the rapid flight of John Simson and Meg Johnston from their own houses to that of Wat Webster; and more than the roses in the cheeks of the fair Marion, or Wat Webster's pith of anecdote, that produced the congregation of individuals round his "blazing ingle," at the approach of the eerie hour of twelve, when it was probable the mysterious stranger would again appear. Be all this as it may—and we have no wish to overstate a case in which it is scarcely possible to carry language too far—there cannot be a doubt that the bells of the Franciscan monastery, as they tolled, in reverberating sounds, the termination of the old year and the beginning of the new, on that eventful night, struck a panic into the boldest Heich Hutcheon that ever figured in "Christ's Kirk on the Green."
The statement of Christy Lowrie was perfectly true. Just as the bell tolled, the identical personage, with the red cravat, was seen hurrying forward with his ordinary agility—taking immense strides, and, at times, laughing with the exuberance of his buoyant spirits, on the eve of being gratified by his darling fun—by the east end of the town. The moon threw a faint beam on him as he passed, and exhibited him first to a company of guysers who were chanting at the door of Will Pearson—
"O lusty Maye, with Flora queen."
The song was cut by a severed breath, and, uttering a loud scream, the whole party darted off at full speed, and, as they flew, spread the dreadful intelligence, that he of the red cravat was hurrying into the town from the east. The news was just what was expected; hundreds were waiting aperto ore to receive it; and the moment they did receive it, they fled to communicate the intelligence to others. Guysers, reekers, gossips, and tosspots, laid down their songs, their horns, their scandal, and their stoups, and acknowledged their Hogmanay occupation gone. The startling words—"He's come, he's come!" passed from mouth to mouth. Some shut up their houses, to prevent him from coming into them; and many who were solitary, sought refuge in the houses of their neighbours. Some went out of the town entirely, and sought protection from the abbot of the monastery; and many stood about the corners of the passages and the ends of houses, consulting what should be done in this emergency they had so long looked for, and were so poorly provided against. In every quarter, fear reigned with absolute sway; and if, in any instances, there was exhibited any portion of courage, it was either derived from the protecting power of a crucifix, or assumed in spite of the collapsing heart of real terror.
But all this did not prevent the stranger from going through his wonted routine. His long strides, and extreme eagerness to get again into the heart of his former extravagant jollity, brought him very soon to the threshold of his old tosspot, Will Pearson, who, with his wife Betty, was sitting at the fire, engaged in a low-toned conversation, on the very subject of him of the red cravat. The door was burst open—the stranger entered with a loud laugh and boisterous salutation.
"A good new year to thee," said he, "Will Pearson!" And he took, at the same time, out of a side-pocket, the identical bottle, with a long neck, and a thin waist, and containing the same red whisky he had been so lavish of on former occasions, and set it upon the table with a loud knock that rang throughout the small cottage.
Will Pearson and his wife Betty were riveted to the langsettle on which they sat. Neither of them could move, otherwise they would have either gone out at the back window, or endeavoured to get past the stranger, and hurried out of the door. The quietness of the street told them eloquently that there was no one near to give them assistance; and such was the enchantment (they said) thrown over them by the extraordinary personage, that they were fixed to their seats as firmly as if they had been tied by cords.
"A good new year to thee!" said the stranger again; and he reached forth his hand, and seized two flasks that lay on a side table, and which they had been using in the convivialities of the day. These he placed upon the table with a loud clank; and, laying hold of a three-footed creepy, he sat down right opposite the trembling pair, and proceeded to empty out the red liquor into the flasks, which he did in the most flourishing and noble style of valiant topers.