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TALES OF THE BORDERS
AND OF SCOTLAND.
HISTORICAL, TRADITIONARY, & IMAGINATIVE.
_One of the Original Editors and Contributors_.
THE LAWYER’S TALES (_Alexander Leighton_)–LORD KAMES’S PUZZLE.
THE ORPHAN (_John Mackay Wilson_).
THE BURGHER’S TALES (_Alexander Leighton_)–THE BROWNIE OF THE WEST BOW.
GLEANINGS OF THE COVENANT (_Professor Thomas Gillespie_)–THE LAST SCRAP.
THE STORY OF MARY BROWN (_Alexander Leighton_).
TIBBY FOWLER (_John Mackay Wilson_).
THE CRADLE OF LOGIE (_Alexander Leighton_).
THE DEATH OF THE CHEVALIER DE LA BEAUTE (_John Mackay Wilson_).
THE STORY OF THE PELICAN (_Alexander Leighton_).
THE WIDOW’S AE SON (_John Mackay Wilson_).
THE LAWYER’S TALES (_Alexander Leighton_)–THE STORY OF MYSIE CRAIG.
THE TWIN BROTHERS (_John Mackay Wilson_).
THE GIRL FORGER (_Alexander Leighton_).
THE TWO RED SLIPPERS (_Alexander Leighton_).
THE FAITHFUL WIFE (_Alexander Leighton_).
TALES OF THE BORDERS,
AND OF SCOTLAND.
* * * * *
THE LAWYER’S TALES.
LORD KAMES’S PUZZLE.
On looking over some Session papers which had belonged to Lord Kames, with the object, I confess, of getting hold of some facts–those entities called by Quintilian the bones of truth, the more by token, I fancy, that they so often stick in the throat–which might contribute to my legends, I came to some sheets whereon his lordship had written some hasty remarks, to the effect that the case Napier _versus_ Napier was the most curious puzzle that ever he had witnessed since he had taken his seat on the bench. The papers were fragmentary, consisting of parts of a Reclaiming Petition and some portion of a Proof that had been led in support of a brieve of service; but I got enough to enable me to give the story, which I shall do in such a connected manner as to take the reader along with me, I hope pleasantly, and without any inclination to choke upon the foresaid bones.
Without being very particular about the year, which really I do not know with further precision than that it was within the first five years of Lord Kames’s senator-ship, I request the reader to fancy himself in a small domicile in Toddrick’s Wynd, in the old city of Edinburgh; and I request this the more readily that, as we all know, Nature does not exclude very humble places from the regions of romance, neither does she deny to very humble personages the characters of heroes and heroines. Not that I have much to say in the first instance either of the place or the persons; the former being no more than a solitary room and a bed-closet, where yet the throb of life was as strong and quick as in the mansions of the great, and the latter composed of two persons–one, a decent, hard-working woman called Mrs. Hislop, whose duty in this world was to keep her employers clean in their clothes, wherein she stood next to the minister, insomuch as cleanliness is next to godliness–in other words, she was a washerwoman; the other being a young girl, verging upon sixteen, called Henrietta, whose qualities, both of mind and body, might be comprised in the homely eulogy, “as blithe as bonnie.” So it may be, that if you are alarmed at the humility of the occupation of the one–even with your remembrance that Sir Isaac Newton experimented upon soap-bubbles–as being so intractable in the plastic-work of romance, you may be appeased by the qualities of the other; for has it not been our delight to sing for a thousand years, yea, in a thousand songs, too, the praises of young damsels, whether under the names of Jenny or Peggy, or those of Clarinda or Florabella, or whether engaged in herding flocks by Logan Waters, or dispensing knights’ favours under the peacock? But we cannot afford to dispose of our young heroine in this curt way, for her looks formed parts of the lines of a strange history; and so we must be permitted the privilege of narrating that, while Mrs. Hislop’s _protegee_ did not come within that charmed circle which contains, according to the poets, so many angels without wings, she was probably as fair every whit as Dowsabell. Yet, after all, we are not here concerned with beauty, which, as a specialty in one to one, and as a universality in all to all, is beyond the power of written description. We have here to do simply with some traits which, being hereditary, not derived from Mrs. Hislop, have a bearing upon our strange legend: the very slightest cast in the eyes, which in its piquancy belied a fine genial nature in the said Henney; and a classic nose, which, partaking of the old Roman type, and indicating pride, was equally untrue to a generosity of feeling which made friends of all who saw her–_except one_. A strange exception this _one_; for who, even in this bad world, could be an enemy to a creature who conciliated sympathy as a love, and defied antipathy as an impossibility? Who could _he_ be? or rather, who could _she_ be? for man seems to be excluded by the very instincts of his nature. The question may be answered by the evolution of facts; than which what other have we even amidst the dark gropings into the mystery of our wonderful being?
Mrs. Hislop’s head was over the skeil, wherein lay one of the linen sheets of Mr. Dallas, the writer to the signet, which, with her broad hands, she was busy twisting into the form of a serpent; and no doubt there were indications of her efforts in the drops of perspiration which stood upon her good-humoured, gaucy face, so suggestive of dewdrops (‘bating the poetry) on the leaves of a big blush peony. In this work she was interrupted by the entrance of Henney, who came rushing in as if under the influence of some emotion which had taken her young heart by surprise.
“What think ye, minny?” she cried, as she held up her hands.
“The deil has risen again from the grave where he was buried in Kirkcaldy,” was the reply, with a laugh.
“No, that’s no it,” continued the girl.
“Then what is it?” was the question.
“He’s dead,” replied Henney.
“Who is dead?” again asked Mrs. Hislop.
“The strange man,” replied the girl.
And a reply, too, which brought the busy worker to a pause in her work, for she understood who the _he_ was, and the information went direct through the ear to the heart; but Henney, supposing that she was not understood, added–
“The man who used to look at me with yon terrible eyes.”
“Yes, yes, dear, I understand you,” said the woman, as she let the coil fall, and sat down upon a chair, under the influence of strong emotion. “But who told you?”
“Jean Graham,” replied the girl.
An answer which seemed, for certain reasons known to herself, to satisfy the woman, for the never another word she said, any more than if her tongue had been paralyzed by the increased action of her heart; but as we usually find that when that organ in woman is quiet more useful powers come into action, so the sensible dame began to exercise her judgment. A few minutes sufficed for forming a resolution; nor was it sooner formed than that it was begun to be put into action, yet not before the excited girl was away, no doubt to tell some of her companions of her relief from the bugbear of the man with the terrible eyes. The formation of a purpose might have been observed in her puckered lips and the speculation in her grey eyes. The spirit of romance had visited the small house in Toddrick’s Wynd, where for fifteen years the domestic _lares_ had sat quietly surveying the economy of poverty. She rose composedly from the chair into which the effect of Henney’s exclamation had thrown her, went to the blue chest which contained her holiday suit, took out, one after another, the chintz gown, the mankie petticoat, the curch, the red plaid; and, after washing from her face the perspiration drops, she began to put on her humble finery–all the operation having been gone through with that quiet action which belongs to strong minds where resolution has settled the quivering chords of doubt.
Following the dressed dame up the High Street, we next find her in the writing-booth of Mr. James Dallas, writer to his Majesty’s Signet. The gentleman was, after the manner of his tribe, minutely scanning some papers–that is, he was looking into them so sharply that you would have inferred that he was engaged in hunting for “flaws;” a species of game that is both a prey and a reward–_et praeda et premium_, as an old proverb says. Nor shall we say he was altogether pleased when he found his inquiry, whatever it might be, interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Margaret Hislop of Toddrick’s Wynd; notwithstanding that to this personage he and Mrs. Dallas, and all the Dallases, were indebted for the whiteness of their linen. No doubt she would be wanting payment of her account; yet why apply to him, and not to Mrs. Dallas? And, besides, it needed only one glance of the writer’s eye to show that his visitor had something more of the look of a client than a cleaner of linen; a conclusion which was destined to be confirmed, when the woman, taking up one of the high-backed chairs in the room, placed it right opposite to the man of law, and, hitching her round body into something like stiff dignity, seated herself. Nor was this change from her usual deportment the only one she underwent; for, as soon appeared, her style of speech was to pass from broad Scotch, not altogether into the “Inglis” of the upper ranks, but into a mixture of the two tongues; a feat which she performed very well, and for which she had been qualified by having lived in the service of the great.
“And so Mr. Napier of Eastleys is dead?” she began.
“Yes,” answered the writer, perhaps with a portion of cheerfulness, seeing he was that gentleman’s agent, or “doer,” as it was then called; a word far more expressive, as many clients can testify, at least after they are “done;” and seeing also that a dead client is not finally “done” until his affairs are wound up and consigned to the green box.
“And wha is his heir, think ye?” continued his questioner.
“Why, Charles Napier, his nephew,” answered the writer, somewhat carelessly.
“I’m no just a’thegither sure of that, Mr. Dallas,” said she, with another effort at dignity, which was unfortunately qualified by a knowing wink.
“The deil’s in the woman,” was the sharp retort, as the writer opened his eyes wider than he had done since he laid down his parchments.
“The deil’s in me or no in me,” said she; “but this I’m sure of, that Henrietta Hislop–that’s our Henney, ye ken–the brawest and bonniest lass in Toddrick’s Wynd (and that’s no saying little), is the lawful heiress of Mr. John Napier of Eastleys, and was called Henrietta after her mother.”
“The honest woman’s red wud,” said the writer, laughing. “Why, Mrs. Hislop, I always took you for a shrewd, sensible woman. Do you really think that, because you bore a child to Mr. John Napier, therefore Henney Hislop is the heiress of her reputed father?”
“_Me_ bear a bairn to Mr. Napier!” cried the offended client. “Wha ever said I was the mother of Henney Hislop?”
“Everybody,” replied he. “We never doubted it, though I admit she has none of your features.”
“Everybody is a leear, then,” rejoined the woman tartly. “There’s no a drap of blood in the lassie’s body can claim kindred with me or mine; though, if it were so, it would be no dishonour, for the Hislops were lairds of Highslaps in Ayrshire at the time of Malcolm Mucklehead.”
“And whose daughter, by the mother’s side, is she, then?” asked he, as his curiosity began to wax stronger.
“Ay, you have now your hand on the cocked egg,” replied she, with a look of mystery. “The other was a wind ane, and you’ve just to sit a little and you’ll see the chick.”
The writer settled himself into attention, and the good dame thought it proper, like some preachers who pause two or three minutes (the best part of their discourse) after they have given out the text, to raise a wonder how long they intend to hold their tongue, and thereby produce attention, to retain her speech until she had attained the due solemnity.
“It is now,” she began, in a low mysterious voice, “just sixteen years come June,–and if ye want the day, it will be the 15th,–and if ye want the hour, we may say eleven o’clock at night, when I was making ready for my bed,–I heard a knock at my door, and the words of a woman, ‘Oh, Mrs. Hislop, Mrs. Hislop!’ So I ran and opened the door; and wha think ye I saw but Jean Graham, Mr. Napier’s cook, with een like twa candles, and her mouth as wide as if she had been to swallow the biggest sup of porridge that ever crossed ploughman’s craig?”
“‘What’s ado, woman?’ said I, for I thought something fearful had happened.
“‘Oh,’ cried she, ‘my lady’s lighter, and ye’re to come to Meggat’s Land, even noo, this minute, and bide nae man’s hindrance.’
“‘And so I will,’ said I, as I threw my red plaid ower my head; then I blew out my cruse, and out we came, jolting each other in the dark passage through sheer hurry and confusion–down the Canongate, t’ll we came to Meggat’s Land, in at the kitchen door, ben a dark passage, up a stair, then ben another passage, till we came to a back room, the door of which was opened by somebody inside. I was bewildered–the light in the room made my een reel; but I soon came to myself, when I saw a man and Mrs. Kemp the howdie busy rowing something in flannel.
“‘Get along,’ said the man to Jean; ‘you’re not wanted here.’
“And as Jean made off, Mrs. Kemp turned to me–
“‘Come here, Mrs. Hislop,’ said she.
“So I slipt forward; but the never a word more was said for ten minutes, they were so intent on getting the bairn all right–for ye ken, sir, it was a new-born babe they were busy with: they were as silent as the grave; and indeed everything was so still, that I heard their breathing like a rushing of wind, though they breathed just as they were wont to do. And when they had finished–
“‘Mrs. Hislop,’ said the man, as he turned to me, ‘you’re to take this child and bring it up as your own, or anybody else’s you like, except Mr. Napier’s, and you’re never to say when or how you got it, for it’s a banned creature, with the curse upon it of a malison for the sins of him who begot it and of her who bore it. Swear to it;’ and he held up his hand.
“And I swore; but I thought I would just take the advice of the Lord how far my words would bind me to do evil, or leave me to do gude, when the time came. So I took the bairn into my arms.
“‘And wha will pay for the wet-nurse?’ said I; ‘for ye ken I am as dry as a yeld crummie. But there is a woman in Toddrick’s Wynd wha lost her bairn yestreen: she is threatened wi’ a milk-fever, and by my troth this little stranger will cure her; but, besides the nourice-fee, there is my trouble.’
“‘I was coming to that,’ said he, ‘if your supple tongue had left you power to hear mine. In this leathern purse there are twenty gowden guineas–a goodly sum; but whether goodly or no, you must be content; yea, the never a penny more you may expect, for all connection between this child and this house or its master is to be from this moment finished for ever.’
“And a gude quittance it was, I thought, with a bonny bairn and twenty guineas on my side, and nothing on the other but maybe a father’s anger and salt tears, besides the wrath of God against those who forsake their children. So with thankfulness enough I carried away my bundle; and ye’ll guess that Henney Hislop is now the young woman of fifteen who was then that child of a day.”
“And is this all the evidence,” said the writer, “you have to prove that Henrietta Hislop is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Napier?”
“Maybe no,” replied she; “if ye weren’t so like the English stranger wha curst the Scotch kail because he did not see on the table the beef that was coming from the kitchen, besides the haggis and the bread-pudding. You’ve only as yet got the broth, and, for the rest, I will give you Mrs. Kemp, wha told me, as a secret, that the child was brought into the world by her own hands from the living body of Mrs. Napier. Will that satisfy you?”
“No,” replied Mr. Dallas, who had got deeper and deeper into a study. “Mr. Napier, I know, was at home that evening when his wife bore a child: that child never could have been given away without his consent; and as for the consent itself, it is a still greater improbability, seeing that he was always anxious for an heir to Eastleys.”
“And so maybe he was,” replied she; “but I see you are only at the beef yet, and you may be better pleased when you have got the haggis, let alone the pudding. Yea, it is even likely Mr. Napier wanted an heir, and, what is more, he got one, at least an heiress; but sometimes God gives and the devil misgives. And so it was here; for Mr. Napier took it into his head that the child was not his, and, in place of being pleased with an heir, he thought himself cursed with a bastard, begotten on his wife by no other than Captain Preston, his lady’s cousin. And where did the devil find that poison growing but in the heart of Isabel Napier, the sister of that very Charles who is now thinking he will heir Eastleys by pushing aside poor Henney? And then the poison, like the old apple, was so fair and tempting; for Mr. Napier had been married ten years, and enjoyed the love that is so bonnie a ‘little while when it is new,’ and yet had no children, till this one came so exactly nine months after the captain’s visit to Scotland, that Satan had little more to do than hold up the temptation. You see, sir, how things come round; but still, according to the old fashion, after a long, weary, dreary turn. Mrs. Napier died next day after the birth; Mr. Napier lived a miserable man; Henney was brought up in poverty, and sometimes distress, but now I hope she has come to her kingdom.”
Here Mrs. Hislop stopped; and as there could be no better winding-up of a romance than by bringing her heroine to her kingdom at last, she felt so well pleased with her conclusion, that she could afford to wait longer for her expected applause than the fair story-tellers in the _brigata_ under Queen Pampinea; and it was as well that she was thus fortified, for the writer, in place of declaring his satisfaction, with her proofs, seemed, as he lay back in his chair in a deep reverie, to be occupied once more in hunting for flaws. At length, raising himself on his chair, and fixing his eyes upon her with that look of scepticism which a writer assumes when he addresses a would-be new client who wants to push out an old one with a better right–
“Mrs. Hislop,” said he, “if it had not been that I have always taken you for an honest woman, I would say that you are art and part in fabricating a story without a particle of foundation. There may possibly be some mystery about the birth and parentage of the young girl. You may have got her out of the house of Meggat’s Land in the Canongate from a man–not Mr. Napier, you admit–who may have been the father of it by some mother residing in the house; and Mrs. Kemp may have been actuated, by some unknown means, to remove the paternity from the right to the wrong person. All this is possible; but that the child could be that one which Mrs. Napier bore is impossible, for this reason–and I beg of you to listen to it–that Mrs. Napier’s child _was dead-born, and was, according to good evidence, buried in the same coffin with the mother_.”
A statement this, which, delivered in the solemn manner of an attorney who was really honest, and who knew much of this history, appeared to Mrs. Hislop so strange that her tongue was paralyzed; an effect which had never before been produced by any one of all the five causes of the metaphysicians. Even her eyes seemed to have lost their power of movement; and as for her wits, they had, like those of the renowned Astolpho, surely left, and taken refuge in the moon.
“If you are not satisfied with my words,” continued the writer (no doubt ironically, for where could he have found better evidence of the effect of his statement?), “I will give you writing for the truth of what I have said to you.”
And rising and going towards a green tin box, he opened the same, and taking therefrom a piece of paper, he resumed his seat.
“Now listen,” said he, as he unfolded an old yellow-coloured sheet of paper, and then he read these words: “‘Your presence is requested at the funeral of Henrietta Preston, my wife, and of a child still-born, from my house, Meggat’s Land, Canongate, to the burying-ground at St. Cuthberts, on Friday the 19th of this month June, at one o’clock;’ and the name at this letter,” continued Mr. Dallas, “is that of ‘John Napier of Eastleys.’ Will that satisfy you?”
And the “doer” for Mr. Charles Napier, conceiving that he had at last effectually “done” his client’s opponent, seemed well pleased to sit and witness the further effect of his evidence on the bewildered woman; but we are to remember that a second stroke sometimes only takes away the pain of the former, and a repetition of blows will quicken the reaction which slumbered under the first. Whether this was so or not in our present instance, or whether Mrs. Hislop had recovered her wits by a process far shorter than that followed by the foresaid Astolpho, we know not; but certain it is, that she recovered the powers of both her eyes and her tongue in much less time than the writer expected, and in a manner, too, very different from that for which he was probably prepared.
“Weel,” replied she, smiling, “it would just seem that even the haggis has not pleased you, Mr. Dallas;” and, putting her hand into a big side-pocket, that might have served a gaberlunzie for a wallet, she extracted a small piece of paper. She continued: “But ye see a guid, honest Scotchwoman’s no to be suspected of being shabby at her own table; so read ye that, which you may take for the bread-pudding.”
And the writer, having taken the paper, and held it before his face for so long a time that it might have suggested the suspicion that the words therein written stuck in his eyes, and would not submit to that strange process whereby, unknown to ourselves, we transfer written vocables to the ear before we can understand them, turned a look upon the woman of dark suspicion–
“Where, in God’s name, got you this?” he said.
“Just read it out first,” replied she. “Ye read yer ain paper, and why no mine?”
And the writer read, perhaps more easily than he could understand, the strange words:
“This child, born of my wife, and yet neither of my blood nor my lineage, I repudiate, and, unable to push it back into the dark world of nothing from which it came, I leave it with a scowl to the mercy which countervaileth the terrible decree whereby the sins of the parent shall be visited on the child. This I do on the 15th of June 17–. JOHN NAPIER of Eastleys, in the county of Mid-Lothian.”
After reading this extraordinary denunciation, Mr. Dallas sat and considered, as if at a loss what to say; but whether it was that scepticism was at the root of his thoughts, or that he assumed it as a mask to conceal misgivings to which he did not like to confess, he put a question:
“Where got you this notable piece of evidence?”
“Ay,” replied Mrs. Hislop, “you are getting reasonable on the last dish. That bit of paper, which to me and my dear Henney is werth the haill estate of Eastleys, was found by me carefully pinned to the flannel in which the child was wrapt.”
“Wonderful enough surely,” repeated he, “_if true_”–the latter words being pronounced with emphasis which made the rough liquid letter sound like a hurling stone; “but,” he continued, “the whole document, in its terms of crimination and exposure, and not less the wild manner of its application, is so unlike the act of a man not absolutely frantic, that I cannot believe it to be genuine.”
“But you know, Mr. Dallas,” replied she, “that Mr. John Napier was a man who, if he threw a stone, cared little whether it struck the kirk window or the mill door.”
“That is so far true; but, passionate and unforgiving as he was, he was not so reckless as to be regardless whether the stone did not come back on his own head.”
“And it’s no genuine!” she resumed, as, disregarding his latter words, she relapsed into her more familiar dialect. “The Lord help ye! canna ye look at first the ae paper and then the ither? and if they’re no alike, mustna the ither be the forgery?”
An example of the conditional syllogism which might have amused even a writer to the signet, if he had not been at the very moment busy in the examination of the handwriting of the funeral letter and that of the paper of repudiation and malison–the resemblance, or rather the identity of which was so striking, as to reduce all his theories to confusion.
“By all that’s good in heaven, the same,” he muttered to himself; and then addressing his visitor, “I confess, Mrs. Hislop,” said he, “that this paper has driven me somewhat off my point of confidence; but I suppose you will see that, if the child was actually, as the letter indicates, buried with its mother, Henrietta’s rights are at an end. It is just possible, however, I fairly admit, that Mr. Napier, who was a very eccentric man, may have so worded the letter as to induce the world to believe that the so-considered illegitimate child had been dead-born, while he gratified–privately he might verily think–his vengeance by writing this terrible curse. Still I think you are wrong; but as this wonderful paper gives you a plausible plea, I would recommend you to Mr. White, in Mill’s Court, who will see to the young woman’s rights. He will be the flint, and I the steel; and between our friendly opposition we will produce a spark which will light up the candle of truth.”
“Ay,” replied she; “only as the spark of fire comes from the steel, we’ll just suppose you are the flint–and by my troth you’re hard enough; but, come as it may, it will light the lantern that will show Henney Napier to the bonnie haughs of Eastleys.”
Mrs. Hislop having got back her paper from Mr. Dallas, left the writer’s chambers, and directed her steps to Mill’s Court, where she found Mr. White, even as she had Mr. Dallas, busy poring over law papers. She was, as we have seen, one of those people who can make their own introduction acceptable, and, moreover, one of those women, few as they are, who can tell a story with the continuity and fitting emphasis necessary to secure the attention of a busy listener. So Mr. White heard her narrative, not only with interest, but even a touch of the pervading sympathy of the spirit of romance. And so he might; for who doesn’t see that the charm of mystery can be enhanced by the hope of turning it to account of money? Then he was so much of a practical man as to know that while every string has two ends, the true way to get hold of both is to make sure in the first place of one. Wherefore he began to interrogate his client as to who could speak to the doings in the house in Meggat’s Land on that eventful night when the child was born; and having taken notes of the answers to his questions, he paused a little, as if to consider what was the first step he ought to take into the region of doubt, and perhaps of intrigue, where at least there must be lies floating about like films in the clear atmosphere of truth. Nor had he meditated many minutes till he rose, and taking up his square hat and his gold-headed cane, he said–
“Come, we will try what we can discover in a quarter where an end of the ravelled string ought to be found, whether complicated into a knot by the twisting power of self-interest or no.”
And leading the way, he proceeded with his client down the High Street, where, along under the glimmering lamps, were the usual crowds of loungers, composed of canny Saxon and fiery Celt, which have always made this picturesque thoroughfare so remarkable. Not one of all these had any interest for our two searchers; but it was otherwise when they came toward the Canongate Tolbooth, where, out from a dark entry sprang a young woman, and bounding forward, seized our good dame round the neck. This was no other than Henney Hislop herself, who, having been alarmed at the long absence of her “mother,” as she called her, and of course believed her to be, was so delighted to find her, that she sobbed out her joy in such an artless way, that even the writer owned it was interesting to behold. Nor was the picture without other traits calculated to engage attention; for the girl whose fortunes had been so strange, and were perhaps destined to be still more strange, was dressed in the humblest garb–the short gown and the skirt peculiar to the time; but then every tint was so bright with pure cleanliness, the earrings set off so fine a skin, the indispensable strip of purple round the head imparted so much of the grace of the old classic wreath; and beyond all this, which might be said to be extraneous, her features–if you abated the foresaid cast or slight squint in the eyes, which imparted a piquancy–were so regular, if not handsome, that you could not have denied that she deserved to be a Napier, if she was not a very Napier in reality. A few words whispered in Mrs. Hislop’s ear, and the girl was off, leaving our couple to proceed on their way. Even this incident had its use; for Mr. White, who had known Mr. Napier, and had faith (as who has not?) in the hereditary descent of bodily aspects, could not restrain himself from the remark, however much it might inflame the hopes of his client–“The curse has left no blight there,” said he. “That is the very face of Mr. Napier–the high nose especially; and as for the eyes, with that unmistakeable cast, why, I have seen their foretypes in the head of John Napier a hundred times.”
An observation so congenial to Mrs. Hislop, that she could not help being a little humorous, even in the depth of an anxiety which had kept her silent for the full space of ten minutes.
“Nose, sir! there wasn’t a man frae the castle yett to Holyrood wha could have produced that nose except John Napier.”
And without further interruption than her own laugh, they proceeded till they came to the entry called Big Lochend Close, up which they went some forty or fifty steps till they came to an outer door, which led by a short dark passage to two or three inner doors in succession, all leading to separate rooms occupied by separate people. No sooner had they turned into this passage than they encountered a woman in a plaid and with a lantern in her hand, who had just left the third or innermost room, and whose face, as it peered through the thick folds of her head-covering, was illuminated by a gleam from the light she carried. She gave them little opportunity for examination, having hurried away as if she had been afraid of being searched for stolen property.
“Isbel Napier,” whispered Mrs. Hislop; “she wha first brought evil into the house of the Napiers, with all its woe.”
“And who bodes us small hope here,” said he, “if she has been with the nurse.”
And entering the room from which the ill-omening woman had issued, they found another, even her of whom they were in search, sitting by the fire, torpid and corpulent, to a degree which indicated that as it had been her trade to nurse others, she had not forgotten herself in her ministrations.
“Mrs. Temple,” said Mr. White, who saw the policy of speaking fair the woman who had been so recently in the company of an evil genius; “I am glad to find you so stout and hearty.”
“Neither o’ the twa, sir,” replied she; “for I am rather weak and heartless. Many a ane I hae nursed into health and strength, but a’ nursing comes hame in the end.”
“And some, no doubt, have died under your care,” continued the writer, with a view to introduce his subject; “and therefore you should be grateful for the life that is still spared to you. You could not save the life of Mrs. Napier.”
“That’s an auld story, and a waefu’ ane,” she replied, with a side-look at Mrs. Hislop; “and I hae nae heart to mind it. Some said the lady wasna innocent; and doubtless Mr. Napier thought sae, for he took high dealings wi’ her, and looked at her wi’ a scorn that would have scathed whinstanes. Sae it was better she was ta’en awa–ay, and her baby wi’ her; for if it had lived, it would have dree’d the revenge o’ that stern man.”
“The child!” said Mr. White, “did it die too?”
“Dee! ye may rather ask if it ever lived; for it never drew breath, in this world at least.”
A statement so strange, that it brought the eyes of the two visitors to each other; and no doubt both of them recurred in memory to the statement in the funeral letter, which, whatever may have been the case with the assertion now made by the nurse, never could have been dictated by her they had met in the passage; and no doubt, also, they both remembered the statement made by Mr. Dallas, to the effect that both the mother and child were buried together.
“Never drew breath, you say, nurse!” resumed Mr. White, with an air of astonishment; “why, I have been given to understand, not only that the child was born alive, but that it is actually living now.”
“Weel,” replied the nurse, “maybe St. Cuthbert has wrought a miracle, and brought the child out o’ the grave by the West Church; but he has wrought nae miracle on me, to mak’ me forget what my een saw, and my hands did, that day when I helped to place the dead body o’ the innocent on the breast o’ its dead mother; ay, and bent her stiff arms sae as to bring them ower her bairn, just as if she had been faulding it to her bosom. And sae in this fashion were they buried.”
“And you would swear to that, Mrs. Temple?” said the writer.
“Ay, upon fifty Bibles, ane after anither,” was the reply, in something like a tone of triumph.
Nor could the woman be induced to swerve from these assertions, notwithstanding repeated interrogations; and the writer was left to the conclusion–which he preferred, rather than place any confidence in the funeral letter–that the nurse’s statement was in some mysterious way connected with the visit of Isabel Napier; and yet, not so very mysterious, after all, when we are to consider that her brother was preparing to claim Eastleys, as well as the valuable furniture of the house in Meggat’s Land, as the nearest lawful heir of his deceased uncle. The salvo was at least comfortable to both Mr. White and his client, and no doubt it helped to lighten their steps, as, bidding adieu to the “hard witness,” they left her to the nursing which comes “aye hame in the end.”
But their inquiries were not finished; and retracing their steps up the Canongate, they landed in the Fountain Close, where, under the leading of Mrs. Hislop, the writer was procured another witness, with a name already familiar to him through the communication of his client; and this was no other than that same Jean Graham, who was sent to Toddrick’s Wynd on that eventful night, fifteen years before, to bring Mrs. Hislop to the house in Meggat’s Land;–one of those simple souls–we wish there were more of them in the world–who look upon a lie as rather an operose affair, and who seem to be truthful from sheer laziness. There was, accordingly, no difficulty here; for the woman rolled off her story just as if it had been coiled up in her mind for all that length of time.
“There was a terrible stir in the house that night,” she began. “The nurse, wha is yet living in Lochend Close, and Mrs. Kemp the howdie, wha is dead, were wi’ my lady; and John Cowie, the butler, was busy attending our master, who had been the haill day in ane o’ his dark fits, for we heard him calling for Cowie in a fierce voice ever and again; and his step sounded ower our heads upon the floor as he walked back and fore in his wrath. Then I was sent for you, and brought you, and you’ll mind how Cowie bade me go along; but I had mair sense, for I listened at the door, and heard what the butler said to ye when he gied ye the bairn; and think ye I didna see ye carry it along the passage as ye left? Sae far I could understand; but when I heard nurse say the bairn was dead, Mrs. Kemp say the bairn was still-born, and Cowie declare it was better it was dead and awa, I couldna comprehend this ava; nor do I weel yet; but we just thought that as there was something wrang between master and my lady, he wanted us to believe that the bairn was dead, for very shame o’ being thought the father, when maybe he wasna. And then he was so guid to me and my neighbour Anne Dickson,–ye mind o’ her–puir soul, she’s dead too,–that we couldna, for the very heart o’ us, say a word o’ what we knew. But now when Mr. Napier is dead, and the brother o’ that wicked Jezebel, Isbel Napier, may try to take the property frae Henney, wha I aye kenned as a Napier, with the very nose and een o’ the father, I have spoken out; and may the Lord gie the right to whom the right is due!”
“It’s all right,” said the writer, after he had jotted with a pencil the evidence of Jean, as well as that of the nurse; “and if we could find this John Cowie, we might so fortify the orphan’s rights, as to defy Miss Napier and her brother, and Mr. Dallas, and all the witnesses they can bring.”
“Ay,” continued the woman, “but I doubt if you’ll catch him. He left Mr. Napier’s service about ten years ago, and I never heard mair o’ him.”
“Nor I either,” said Mrs. Hislop.
“Well, we must search for him,” added Mr. White; “for that man alone, so far as I can see, is he who will unravel this strange business.”
And thus the day’s work finished. The writer parted for Mill’s Court, and Mrs. Hislop, filled with doubts, hopes, and anxieties, sought her humble dwelling in Toddrick’s Wynd, where Henney waited for her with all the solicitude of a daughter; but a word did not escape her lips that might carry to the girl’s mind a suspicion that the golden cord of their supposed relationship ran a risk of being severed, even with the eventual condition that one, if not both of the divisions, would be transmuted into a string of diamonds.
Meanwhile the agent was in his own house, revolving all the points of a puzzle more curious than any that had yet come within the scope of his experience. Sometimes he felt confidence, and at other times despair; and of course he had the consolation, which belongs to all litigants, that the opposite party was undergoing the same process of oscillation. It was clear enough that Cowie was the required Oedipus; and if it should turn out that he was dead, or could not be found, the advantage was, with a slight declination, on the part of Charles Napier; insomuch as, while he was indisputably the nephew of the deceased, the orphan, Henrietta, was under the necessity of proving her birth and pedigree. And so, as it appeared, Mr. Dallas was of that opinion, for the very next day he applied to Chancery for a brieve to get Charles Napier served nearest and lawful heir to his uncle; and as in legal warfare, where the judges are cognisant only of patent claims, there is small room for retiring tactics, Mr. White felt himself obliged, however anxious he was to gain time, to follow his opponent’s example by taking out a competing brieve in favour of Henrietta.
The parties were now face to face in court, and the battle behoved to be fought out; but as in all legal cases, where the circumstances are strange or peculiar, the story soon gets wind, so here the Meggat’s Land romance was by-and-by all over the city. Nor did it take less fantastic forms than usual, where sympathies and antipathies are strong in proportion to the paucity of the facts on which they are fed. It was a favourite opinion of some, that the case could only be cleared by supposing that a dead stranger child had been surreptitiously passed off, and even coffined, as the true one; while others, equally skilled in the art of divining, maintained that the child given to Mrs. Hislop by Cowie was a bastard of his own, by the terrible woman Isabel Napier, who was thus, according to the ordinary working of public prejudice, raised to a height of crime sufficient to justify the hatred of the people: on which presumption, it behoved to be assumed that the paper containing the curse was a forgery by Cowie and his associate in crime, and that the money paid to Mrs. Hislop was furnished by the lady; all which suppositions, and others not less incredible, were greedily accepted, for the very reason that it required something prodigious to explain an enigma which exhausted the ordinary sources of man’s ingenuity; just as we find in many religions, where miracles–the more absurd, the more acceptable–are resorted to to explain the mystery of man’s relation to God, a secret which no natural light can illuminate.
But all these suppositions were destined to undergo refractions through the medium of a new fact. The case, by technical processes, came before the Court of Session, where the diversity of opinion was, proportionably to the number of judges, as great as among the quidnuncs outside. The only clear idea in the heads of the robed and wigged wiseacres was, that the case, Napier _versus_ Napier, was a puzzle which no man could read or solve. It seemed fated to be as famous as the old Sphinx, the insoluble Moenander, or the tortuous labyrinth, or the intricate key of Hercules–_ne Apollo quidem intelligat_; and if it had not happened that Lord Kames suggested the possibility of getting an additional piece of evidence through the examination of the coffin wherein Mrs. Napier was buried, the court might have been sitting over the famous case even in this year of the nineteenth century. The notion was worthy of his lordship’s ingenuity; and accordingly a commission was issued to one of the Faculty to proceed to the West Church burying-ground, and there cause to be laid open and examined the coffin of the said Mrs. Henrietta Preston or Napier, with the view to ascertain whether or not the body of a child had been placed therein along with the corpse of the mother.
This commission was accordingly executed, and the report bore, that “he, the commissioner, had proceeded to the burying-ground of the parish of St. Cuthberts, and there caused David Scott, the sexton, to lay open the grave of the said Henrietta Preston or Napier, and to open the coffin therein contained; which having accordingly been done by the said David Scott and his assistants, the commissioner, upon a faithful examination, aided by the experience of the said David Scott, did find the skeletons of two bodies in the said coffin identified as that of the said lady, one whereof was that of a woman apparently of middle age, and the other that of a babe, which lay upon the chest of the larger skeleton in such a way or manner as to be retained or held in that position by the arms of the same being laid across it; that having satisfied himself of these facts, the commissioner caused the coffin to be again closed and the grave covered with all decency and care. And he accordingly made this report to their lordships.”
The fact thus ascertained, in opposition to the expectation of those who favoured the orphan, was viewed by the court as depriving, to a great extent, the case of that aspect of a riddle by which it had been so unfortunately distinguished; and as the case had been hung up even beyond the time generally occupied by cases at that period, when, as it was sometimes remarked, law-suits were as often settled by the old rule, _Romanus sedendo vincit_–by the death of one or other of the parties–as by a judgment, the case was again put to the Roll for a hearing on the effect of the new evidence. It was contended for the nephew by Mr. Wight, that the question was now virtually settled, insomuch that the court was not bound to solve riddles, but to find to whom pertained a certain right of inheritance. The birth of the child had been sworn to by the nurse, as well as its death, and the final placing of it in the coffin; and now the court had, as it were, ocular demonstration of these facts by the body having been seen by their own commissioner, placed on the breast of the mother in that very peculiar way described by Mrs. Temple. All claim on the part of the girl was thus virtually excluded, for the proceedings which took place that evening in another room, under circumstances of suspicion, were sworn to only by Mrs. Hislop herself, an interested witness, and were only partially confirmed by an eavesdropper, who, as eavesdroppers generally do (except when their own characters are concerned), perhaps heard according as foregone prejudices induced her to wish. These suspicious proceedings might be explained by as many hypotheses as had been devised by the wise judges of the taverns, among which was the theory of the living child being Cowie’s own by Isabel Napier, and palmed off as Mrs. Napier’s to hide the shame of the true mother,–all unlikely enough, no doubt, but not so impossible as that the coffined child should now be alive and awaiting the issue of this case, in the expectation of being Lady of Eastleys.
On the other side, Mr. Andrews, counsel for Henrietta, maintained that while his learned brother assumed the one half of the case as proved, and repudiated the other as a lie or a myth, he had a right to embrace the other half, and pronounce the first a stratagem or trick. The proceedings in the back-room into which Jean Graham introduced Mrs. Hislop were more completely substantiated than those in the bedroom where Mrs. Napier lay; for while the one were sworn to by Mrs. Hislop herself, a soothfast witness, and confirmed in all points by the woman Graham, the other were attempted to be proven by the solitary testimony of the nurse Temple. The paper containing the curse was as indisputably in the handwriting of Mr. Napier as was the funeral letter. The money paid was proved by the fact that the orphan had been kept and educated for fifteen years. The name Henrietta was not likely to have been a mere coincidence, and it was still more unlikely that a respectable woman such as Mrs. Hislop would invent a story of affiliation so strangely in harmony with the secrets of the house in Meggat’s Land, and fortify it by a forged document. Then Mrs. Hislop was unable to write, and no attempt had been made on the other side to prove that Henrietta had a father other than he who was pointed out by the paper of the curse. So he (the counsel) might follow the example of his brother, and hold the other half of the case to be unexplainable by hypotheses, however ridiculous. The child having been disposed of to Mrs. Hislop,–a fact thus proved,–what was to prevent him (the counsel) from going also to the haunts of the _tabernian_ Solons, or anywhere else in the regions of fancy, for the theory that Mr. Napier, or some plotter for him in the shape of Mrs. Kemp or John Cowie, substituted the dead child of a stranger for the living one of his wife, and bribed the nurse Temple to tell the tale she had told? to which she would be the more ready by the golden promptings of the woman Isabel Napier, the niece, whose brother would, in the event of the stratagem being concealed, succeed to the estate of Eastleys.
At the conclusion of these pleadings, the judges were inclined to be even more humorous than they had been previous to the issuing of the commission, for they had thought they saw their way to a judgment against the orphan. The president (Braxfield), it is said, indulged in a joke, to the effect that he had read _somewhere_–it was not for so religious a man to say where–of a child having been claimed by two mothers; he would like to see two fathers at that work, at least he would not be one; but here the claim was set up by Death on the one side, and Life (if a personification could be allowed) on the other, and they could not follow the old precedent, because he suspected none of their lordships would like to see the grim claimant at the bar to receive his half. And so they chuckled, as judges sometimes do, at their own jokes–generally very bad–altogether oblivious of the fable of the frogs who could see no fun in a game which was death to them; for, as we have indicated, the opinion of a great majority was against the claim of the young woman: nor would the decision have been suspended that day, had not Mr. Andrews risen and made a statement–perhaps _as_ fictitious as a counsel’s conscience would permit–to the effect that the agent (Mr. White) had procured some trace of the butler Cowie, who could throw more light on the case than Death had done, and that if some time were accorded to complete the inquiry, something might turn up which would alter the complexion even of this Protean mystery. The request was granted.
But, in truth, Mr. Andrews’ suggestion was simply a bit of ingenuity, intended to ward off an unfavourable judgment, and allow a development of the chapter of accidents;–a wise policy; for as the womb of Time is never empty, so Fate writes in the morning a chapter of every man’s life of a day, at which in the evening he is sometimes a little surprised. No trace had yet been got of Cowie; it was not even known whether he was alive. But if we throw some fourteen days into the wallet-bag of Saturn, we may come to a day whereupon a certain person, in an inn far down in a valley of Westmoreland, and in the little town called Kirby Lonsdale, was busy reading the _Caledonian Mercury_–for it was not more easy to say where the winged _Mercury_ of that time would not go, than it is to tell where a certain insect without wings, “which aye travels south,” might not be found in England as an immigrant. It was at least no wonder that the paper should contain an account of the romance wrapped up in the case Napier _versus_ Napier; and certainty, if we could have judged from the face of the individual, we would have set him down as one given to the reading of riddles; for, after he had perused the paragraph, he looked as if he knew more about that case than all the fifteen, with the macers to boot. Nor was he contented with an indication of a mere look of wisdom: he actually burst out into a laugh–an expression wondrously unsuited to the gravity of the subject. You who read this will no doubt suspect that we are merely shading this man for the sake of effect: and this is true; but you are to remember that, while we are chroniclers of things mysterious, we work for the advantage to you of putting into your power to venture a shrewd guess; in making which, you are only working in the destined vocation of man, for the world is only guesswork all over, and you yourself are only guesswork as a part of it. The reader of the _Mercury_ was verily Mr. John Cowie, whilom butler to Mr. John Napier, and now waiter in the Lonsdale Arms of the obscure Kirby–a place like Peebles, where, if you wanted to deposit a secret, you could do so by crying it out at the market-cross; and, moreover, he was verily in possession of the key to the Napier mystery.
Accordingly, Mr. White of Mill’s Court in two days afterwards received a letter, informing him that John Cowie was the writer of the same, and that, if a reasonable consideration were held out to him, he would proceed to the northern metropolis, and there settle for ever a case which apparently had kept the newsmongers of Edinburgh in aliment for a length of time much exceeding the normal nine days. Opportune and happily come in the very nick of time as the latter was–for the delay allowed by the court had all but expired–Mr. White saw the danger of promising anything which could be construed into a reward; but he could use other means of decoying the shy bird into his meshes; and these he used in his answer with such effect, that the man who could solve the mystery was in Edinburgh at the end of a week. Nor was Mr. White unprepared to receive him, for he had previously got a commission to examine him and take his deposition: but then an agent likes to know what a witness will say before he cites him; and the canny Scotchman, of all men in the world, is the most uncanny if brought to swear without some hope of being benefited by his oath. There was, therefore, need of tact as well as delicacy; and Mr. White contrived in the first place to get his man to take up his quarters in the house in Mill’s Court. A good supper and chambers formed the first demulcent–we do not say bribe, because, by a legal fiction, all eating and drinking is set down to the score of hospitality. A Scotch breakfast followed in the morning, at which were present Mrs. White and Mrs. Hislop, and our favourite Henney–the last of whom, spite of all the efforts of her putative mother to keep from her the secret of her birth and prospects, had caught the infection of the general topic of the city, and wondered at her strange fortune, much as the paladin in the “Orlando” did when he got into the moon. No man can precognosce like a woman, and here were three; but perhaps they might have all failed, had it not been for the natural art of Henney, who, out of pure goodness and gratitude, was so delighted with the man who had rolled her in a blanket and sent her to her beloved mother, as she still called her, that she promised to make him butler at Eastleys, and keep him comfortable all his days.
“Now,” said the cautious agent, “this promise of Henney’s is not made in consideration of your giving evidence for her before the commissioner.”
“I’m thinking of nothing but her face,” said John. “I could swear to it out of a thousand; and Heaven bless her! for I think I am again in the once happy house in Meggat’s Land.”
And John pretended he was wiping a morsel of egg from his mouth, while the handkerchief was extended as far as the eye.
“A terrible night that was,” he continued. “Mrs. Napier had been in labour all day; and when Mrs. Kemp told me to tell my master that my lady had been delivered of TWINS–”
“_Twins_!” cried they all, as if moved by some sympathetic chord which ran from heart to heart.
“Ay, twins,” he repeated; “one dead, and another living–even you yourself, Henney, who are as like your father as if there never had been a Captain Preston in the world.”
And thus was John Cowie precognosced. We need not say that he was that very day examined before the commissioner. He gave an account of all the proceedings of the house in Meggat’s Land on the eventful night to which we have referred. The case was no longer a puzzle; and accordingly a decision was given in favour of Henrietta, whereby we have one other example of truth and right emerging from darkness into light. Some time afterwards, the heiress, with Mrs. Hislop alongside, and John Cowie on the driver’s box, proceeded to Eastleys and took possession; where Henrietta acted the part of a generous lady, Mrs. Hislop that of a kind of a dowager, and John was once more butler in the house of the Napiers. We stop here. Those who feel interest enough in the fortunes of Henney to inquire when and whom she married, and what were the subsequent fortunes of a life so strangely begun, will do well to go to Eastleys.
About forty years ago, a post-chaise was a sight more novel in the little hamlet of Thorndean, than silk gowns in country churches during the maidenhood of our great-grandmothers; and, as one drew up at the only public-house in the village, the inhabitants, old and young, startled by the unusual and merry sound of its wheels, hurried to the street. The landlady, on the first notice of its approach, had hastily bestowed upon her goodly person the additional recommendation of a clean cap and apron; and, still tying the apron-strings, ran bustling to the door, smiling, colouring, and courtesying, and courtesying and colouring again, to the yet unopened chaise. Poor soul! she knew not well how to behave–it was an epoch in her annals of innkeeping. At length the coachman, opening the door, handed out a lady in widow’s weeds. A beautiful, golden-haired child, apparently not exceeding five years of age, sprang to the ground without assistance, and grasped her extended hand. “What an image o’ beauty!” exclaimed some half-dozen bystanders, as the fair child lifted her lovely face of smiles to the eyes of her mother. The lady stepped feebly towards the inn, and though the landlady’s heart continued to practise a sort of fluttering motion, which communicated a portion of its agitation to her hands, she waited upon her unexpected and unusual guests with a kindliness and humility that fully recompensed for the expertness of a practised waiter. About half an hour after the arrival of her visitors, she was seen bustling from the door, her face, as the villagers said, bursting with importance. They were still in groups about their doors, and in the middle of the little street, discussing the mysterious arrival; and, as she hastened on her mission, she was assailed with a dozen such questions as these–“Wat ye wha she is?” “Is she ony great body?” “Hae ye ony guess what brought her here?” and, “Is yon bonny creature her ain bairn?” But to these and sundry other interrogatories, the important hostess gave for answer, “Hoot, I hae nae time to haver the noo.” She stopped at a small, but certainly the most genteel house in the village, occupied by a Mrs. Douglas, who, in the country phrase, was a very douce, decent sort of an old body, and the widow of a Cameronian minister. In the summer season Mrs. Douglas let out her little parlour to lodgers, who visited the village to seek health, or for a few weeks’ retirement. She was compelled to do this from the narrowness of her circumstances; for, though she was a “clever-handed woman,” as her neighbours said, “she had a sair fecht to keep up an appearance onyway like the thing ava.” In a few minutes Mrs. Douglas, in a clean cap, a muslin kerchief round her neck, a quilted black bombazine gown, and snow-white apron, followed the landlady up to the inn. In a short time she returned, the stranger lady leaning upon her arm, and the lovely child leaping like a young lamb before them. Days and weeks passed away, and the good people of Thorndean, notwithstanding all their surmises and inquiries, were no wiser regarding their new visitor; all they could learn was, that she was the widow of a young officer, who was one of the first that fell when Britain interfered with the French Revolution; and the mother and her child became known in the village by the designation of “Mrs. Douglas’s twa pictures!”–an appellation bestowed on them in reference to their beauty.
The beautiful destroyer, however, lay in the mother’s heart, now paling her cheeks like the early lily, and again scattering over them the rose and the rainbow. Still dreaming of recovery, about eight months after her arrival in Thorndean, death stole over her like a sweet sleep. It was only a few moments before the angel hurled the fatal shaft, that the truth fell upon her soul. She was stretching forth her hand to her work-basket, her lovely child was prattling by her knee, and Mrs. Douglas smiling like a parent upon both, striving to conceal a tear while she smiled, when the breathing of her fair guest became difficult, and the rose, which a moment before bloomed upon her countenance, vanished in a fitful streak. She flung her feeble arms around the neck of her child, who now wept upon her bosom, and exclaimed, “Oh! my Elizabeth, who will protect you now, my poor, poor orphan?” Mrs. Douglas sprang to her assistance. She said she had much to tell, and endeavoured to speak; but a gurgling sound only was heard in her throat; she panted for breath; the rosy streaks, deepening into blue, came and went upon her cheeks like the midnight dances of the northern lights; her eyes flashed with a momentary brightness more than mortal, and the spirit fled. The fair orphan still clung to the neck, and kissed the yet warm lips of her dead mother.
As yet she was too young to see all the dreariness of the desolation around her; but she was indeed an orphan in the most cruel meaning of the word. Her mother had preserved a mystery over her sorrows and the circumstances of her life, which Mrs. Douglas had never endeavoured to penetrate. And now she was left to be as a mother to the helpless child, for she knew not if she had another friend; and all that she had heard of the mother’s history was recorded on the humble stone which she placed over her grave: “_Here resteth the body of Isabella Morton, widow of Captain Morton; she died amongst us a stranger, but beloved_.” The whole property to which the fair orphan became heir by the death of her mother did not amount to fifty pounds, and amongst the property no document was found which could throw any light upon who were her relatives, or if she had any. But the heart of Mrs. Douglas had already adopted her as a daughter; and, circumscribed as her circumstances were, she trusted that He who provided food for the very birds of heaven, would provide the orphan’s morsel.
Years rolled on, and Elizabeth Morton grew in stature and in beauty, the pride of her protector, and the joy of her age. But the infirmities of years grew upon her foster-mother, and, disabling her from following her habits of industry, stern want entered her happy cottage. Still Elizabeth appeared only as a thing of joy, contentment, and gratitude; and often did her evening song beguile her aged friend’s sigh into a smile. And to better their hard lot, she hired herself to watch a few sheep upon the neighbouring hills, to the steward of a gentleman named Sommerville, who, about the time of her mother’s death, had purchased the estate of Thorndean. He was but little beloved, for he was a hard master, and a bad husband; and more than once he had been seen at the hour of midnight, in the silent churchyard, standing over the grave of Mrs. Morton. This gave rise to not a few whisperings respecting the birth of poor Elizabeth. He had no children; and a nephew, who resided in his house, was understood to be his heir. William Sommerville was about a year older than our fair orphan; and ever, as he could escape the eye of his uncle, he would fly to the village to seek out Elizabeth as a playmate. And now, while she tended the few sheep, he would steal round the hills, and placing himself by her side, teach her the lessons he had that day been taught, while his arm in innocence rested on her neck, their glowing cheeks touched each other, and her golden curls played around them. Often were their peaceful lessons broken by the harsh voice and the blows of his uncle. But still William stole to the presence of his playmate and pupil, until he had completed his fourteenth year; when he was to leave Thorndean, preparatory to entering the army. He was permitted to take a hasty farewell of the villagers, for they all loved the boy; but he went only to the cottage of Mrs. Douglas. As he entered, Elizabeth wept, and he also burst into tears. Their aged friend beheld the yearnings of a young passion that might terminate in sorrow; and taking his hand, she prayed God to prosper him, and bade him farewell. She was leading him to the door, when Elizabeth raised her tearful eyes; he beheld them, and read their meaning, and, leaping forward, threw his arms round her neck, and printed the first kiss on her forehead! “Do not forget me, Elizabeth,” he cried, and hurried from the house.
Seven years from this period passed away. The lovely girl was now transformed into the elegant woman, in the summer majesty of her beauty. For four years Elizabeth had kept a school in the village, to which her gentleness and winning manners drew prosperity; and her grey-haired benefactress enjoyed the reward of her benevolence. Preparations were making at Thorndean Hall for the reception of William, who was now returning as Lieutenant Sommerville. A post-chaise in the village had then become a sight less rare; but several cottagers were assembled before the inn to welcome the young laird. He arrived, and with him a gentleman between forty and fifty years of age. They had merely become acquainted as travelling companions; and the stranger being on his way northward, had accepted his invitation to rest at his uncle’s for a few days. The footpath to the Hall lay through the churchyard, about a quarter of a mile from the village. It was a secluded path, and Elizabeth was wont to retire to it between school hours, and frequently to spend a few moments in silent meditation over her mother’s grave. She was gazing upon it, when a voice arrested her attention, saying, “Elizabeth–Miss Morton!” The speaker was Lieutenant Sommerville, accompanied by his friend. To the meeting of the young lovers we shall add nothing. But the elder stranger gazed on her face and trembled, and looked on her mother’s grave and wept. “Morton!” he repeated, and read the inscription on the humble stone, and again gazed on her face, and again wept. “Lady!” he exclaimed, “pardon a miserable man–what was the name of your mother?–who the family of your father? Answer me, I implore you!” “Alas! I know neither,” said the wondering and now unhappy Elizabeth. “My name is Morton,” cried the stranger; “I had a wife; I had a daughter once, and my Isabella’s face was thy face!” While he yet spoke, the elder Sommerville drew near to meet his nephew. His eyes and the stranger’s met. “Sommerville!” exclaimed the stranger, starting. “The same,” replied the other, his brow blackening like thunder, while a trembling passed over his body. He rudely grasped the arm of his nephew, and dragged him away. The interesting stranger accompanied Elizabeth to the house of Mrs. Douglas. Painful were his inquiries; for, while they kindled hope and assurance, they left all in cruel uncertainty. “Oh, sir!” said Mrs. Douglas, “if ye be the faither o’ my blessed bairn, I dinna wonder at auld Sommerville growing black in the face when he saw ye; for, when want came hard upon our heels, and my dear motherless and faitherless bairn was driven to herd his sheep by the brae-sides–there wad the poor, dear, delicate bairn (for she was as delicate then as she is bonnie now) been lying–the sheep a’ feeding round about her, and her readin’ at her Bible, just like a little angel, her lee lane, when the brute wad come sleekin’ down ahint her, an’ giein’ her a drive wi’ his foot, cursed her for a little lazy something I’m no gaun to name, an’ rugged her bonnie yellow hair, till he had the half o’ it torn out o’ her head; or the monster wad riven the blessed book out o’ her hand, an’ thrown it wi’ an oath as far as he could drive. But the nephew was aye a bit fine callant; only, ye ken, wi’ my bairn’s prospects, it wasna my part to encourage onything.”
Eagerly did the stranger, who gave his name as Colonel Morton, hang over the fair being who had conjured up the sunshine of his youth. One by one, he was weeping and tracing every remembered feature of his wife upon her face, when doubt again entered his mind, and he exclaimed in bitterness, “Merciful Heaven! convince me! Oh, convince me that I have found my child!” The few trinkets that belonged to Mrs. Morton had been parted with in the depth of her poverty. At that moment Lieutenant Sommerville hastily entered the cottage. He stated that his uncle had left the Hall, and delivered a letter from him to Colonel Morton. It was of few words, and as follows:
“Morton,–We were rivals for Isabella’s love; you were made happy, and I miserable. But I have not been unrevenged. It was I who betrayed you into the hands of the enemy. It was I who reported you dead–who caused the tidings to be hastened to your widowed wife, and followed them to England. It was I who poisoned the ear of her friends, until they cast her off; I dogged her to her obscurity, that I might enjoy my triumph; but death thwarted me as you had done. Yet I will do one act of mercy–she sleeps beneath the grave where we met yesterday; and the lady before whom you wept–is your own daughter.”
He cast down the letter, and exclaimed, “My child! my long lost child!” And, in speechless joy, the father and the daughter rushed to each other’s arms. Shall we add more? The elder Sommerville left his native land, which he never again disgraced with his presence. William and Elizabeth wandered by the hill-side in bliss, catching love and recollections from the scene. In a few months her father bestowed on him her hand, and Mrs. Douglas, in joy and in pride, bestowed upon both her blessing.
THE BURGHER’S TALES.
THE BROWNIE OF THE WEST BOW.
I cannot say so much for the authenticity of the legend I am now to relate, as I have been able to do for some of the others in this collection; but that is no reason, I hope, for its failing to interest the reader, who makes it a necessary condition of his acceptance, that a legend shall keep within the bounds of human nature: not that any one of us can say what these bounds are, for every day of our experience is extending them in both the inner and outer worlds; and we never can be very sure whether the things which rise upon the distant horizon of our nocturnal visions are less unstable and uncertain than those that exist under our noses. True it is, at any rate, that the legend was narrated to me in a meagre form by a lady, sufficiently ancient to be supposed to be a lover of strange stories, and not imaginative or wicked enough to concoct them.
That part of Edinburgh called the West Bow was, at the date of our legend, the tinsmiths’ quarter; a fact which no one who chanced to walk down that way could have doubted, unless indeed he was deaf. Among the fraternity there was one destined to live in annals even with more posthumous notoriety than he of the same place and craft, who long got the credit of being the author of the “Land o’ the Leal.” His name was Thomas, or, according to the Scottish way of pronouncing it, Tammas Dodds; who, with a wife going under the domestic euphuism of Jenny, occupied as a dwelling-house a small flat of three rooms, in the near neighbourhood of his workshop. This couple had lived together five years, without having any children procreated of their bodies, or any quarrel born of their spirits; and thus they might have lived to the end of their lives, if a malign influence, born of the devil, had not got possession of the husband’s heart.
This influence, which we may be permitted by good Calvinists to call diabolical, was, as a consequence, not only in its origin, but also in its medium, altogether extraneous to our couple. For so far as regards Mrs. Jenny Dodds, she was, as much as a good wife could be, free from any great defects of conduct; and as for the tinsmith himself, he had hitherto lived so sober and douce a life, that we cannot avoid the notion, that if he had not been subject to “aiblins a great temptation,” he would not have become the victim of the arch-enemy. Thus much we say of the dispositions of the two parties; and were it not that certain peculiarities belonged to Jenny, which, as reappearing in an after-part of our story, it is necessary to know, we would not have gone further into mere character–an element which has little to do generally with legends, except in so far as it either produces the incidents, or may be developed through them. The first of these peculiarities was a settled conviction that she had as good a right to rule Tammas Dodds, as being her property, as if she had drunk of the waters of St. Kevin. Nor was this conviction merely natural to her; for she could lay her finger on that particular part of Sacred Writ which is the foundation of the generally-received maxim, “One may do what one likes with one’s own.” No doubt, she knew another passage in the same volume with a very different meaning; but then Mrs. Dodds did not _wish_ to remember that, or to obey it when she did remember it; and we are to consider, without going back to that crazy school of which a certain Aristippus was the dominie, that wishing or not wishing has a considerable influence upon the aspects of moral truth, if it does not exercise over them a kind of legerdemain of which we are unconscious, whereby it changes one of these aspects into another, even when these are respectively to each other as white is to black. This “claim of right” does not generally look peaceful. No more it should; for it is clearly enough against nature; and one seldom kicks at her without getting sore toes. True enough, there do appear cases where it seems to work pretty well; but when they are inquired into, it is generally found either that the husband is a simpleton, submitting by mere inanity, or a man who has resisted to the uttermost, and is at last crumpled up by pure “Caudlish” iteration and perseverance. How Tammas took it may yet appear.
Proceeding with the peculiarities: another of these was, that Mrs. Dodds, like her of Auchtermuchty, or Mrs. Grumlie, carried domesticity to devotion, scarcely anything in the world having any interest to her soul save what was contained in the house–from Tammas, the chief article of furniture, down, through the mahogany table, to the porridge-pot; clouting, mending, darning, cleaning, scouring, washing, scraping, wringing, drying, roasting, boiling, stewing, being all of them done with such duty, love, and intensity of purpose, that they were veritable sacrifices to the _lares_. This was doubtless a virtue; and as doubtless it was a vice, insomuch as, if we believe another old Greek pedagogue of the name of Aristotle, “all virtues are medial vices, and all vices extreme virtues.” How Tammas viewed this question may also appear. But we may proceed to state, that Mrs. Janet Dodds was not content with doing all those things with such severity of love or duty. She was always telling herself what she intended to do, either at the moment or afterwards. “This pan needs to be scoured.” “Thae stockings maun be darned.” “This sark is as black as the lum, and maun be plotted.” “The floor needs scrubbing.” “Tammas’s coat is crying, ‘A steek in time saves nine,’ and by my faith it says true;” and so on. Nor did it signify much whether Thomas or any other person was in the house at the time–the words were not intended for anybody but herself; and to herself she persisted in telling them with a stedfastness which only the ears of a whitesmith could tolerate; even with the consideration that he was not, as so many are, deaved with scandal–a delectation which Janet despised, if she did not care as little for what was going on domestically within the house on the top of the same stair, as she did for the in-door affairs of Japan or Tobolsk. We may mention, also, that she persevered in reading the same chapter of the Bible, and in singing the same psalm, every Sunday morning. In addition to these characteristics, Janet made it a point never to change the form or colour of her dress; so that if all the women in Edinburgh had been of her taste and mode of thinking, all the colours by which they are diversified and made interesting would have been reduced to the dead level of hodden-grey; the occupation of the imp Fashion would have been gone; nay, the angels, for fear of offending mortals, would have eschewed the nymph Iris, from whom the poets say they steal tints, and dipt their wings in a grey cloud before appearing in the presence of the douce daughters of men.
With all these imperfections–and how many husbands would term some of them perfections!–the married life of Thomas and Janet Dodds might have gone on for another five years, and five to that, if it had not been that Thomas, in a weary hour, cast a glance with a scarlet ray in it on a certain Mary Blyth, who lived in the Grassmarket–a woman of whom our legend says no more than that she was a widow, besides being fair to the eye, and pleasant to the ear. We could wish that we had it not to say; but as truth is more valuable than gold, yea, refined gold, we are under the necessity of admitting that that red ray betokened love, if an affection of that kind could be called by a name so hallowed by the benedictions of poets and the songs of angels. You must take it in your own way, and with your own construction; but however that may be, we must all mourn for the fearful capabilities within us, and the not less awful potentialities in the powers without–the one hidden from us up to the moment when the others appear, and all wrestling with the enemy prevented by what is often nothing less than a fatal charm. From that moment, Thomas Dodds was changed after the manner of action of moral poisons; for we are to remember that while the physical kill, the other only transmute, and the transmutation _may be_ from any good below grace to any evil above the devil.
This change in the mind of the husband included his manner of viewing those peculiarities in the mental constitution of Janet to which we have alluded. Her desire to rule him was now rebellion; her devotion to “hussyskep” was nothing better than mercenary grubbing; her adhesion to her hodden-grey was vulgar affectation; and as to her monologues, they were evidence of insanity. Such changes in reference to other objects happen to every one of us every day in the year, only we don’t look at and examine them; nor, if we did, could we reconcile them to any theory of the mind–all that we can say being, that if we love a certain object, we hate any other which comes between us and our gratification; and thus, just as Mr. Thomas Dodds loved Mrs. Mary Blyth, so in an equal ratio he hated his good helpmate Jenny. And then began that other wonderful process called reconciliation, whereby the wish gradually overcomes scruples through the cunning mean of falsifying their aspects. Whereunto, again, the new mistress contributed in the adroit way of all such wretches–instilling into his ear the moral poison which deadened the apperception of these scruples at the same time that it brought out the advantages of disregarding them. The result of all which was, that Jenny’s husband, of whom she had made a slave, for his own good and benefit, as she thought, and not without reason, arrived, by small degrees, and by relays of new motives, one after another, at the conclusion of actually removing her from this big world, and of course also from that little one to her so dear, even that of her household empire.
A resolution this, which, terrible and revolting as it may appear to those who are happily beyond the influence of “the wish,” was far more easily formed than executed; for Nature–although improvident herself of her children, swallowing them up in thousands by earthquakes, tearing them by machinery, and drowning them in the sea by shiploads–is very careful to defend one of them against another. Every scheme the husband could think of was surrounded with difficulties, and one by one was laid aside, till he came to that of precipitating his faithful Jenny, as if by accident, into a deep pool in the North Loch, that sheet of water which contained as many secrets in its bosom as that more romantic one in Italy, not far removed from a certain pious nunnery. Even here there was the difficulty of getting Jenny out at night, and down Cranstoun’s Close, and to west of the foot thereof, where the said deep pool was, for no other ostensible purpose in the world than to see the moon shedding her beams on the surface of the water–an object not half so beautiful to her as the clear tin pan made by her own Tammas, and in which she made her porridge every morning. But the adage about the will and the way is of such wondrous universality, that one successful effort seems as nothing in the diversity of man’s inventions; and so it turned out to be comparatively easy to get Janet out one evening for the reason that her husband did not feel very well, and would like his supper the better for a walk along the edge of the loch, in which, if it was her pleasure, she would not refuse to accompany him. So pleasant a way of putting the thing harmonized with Janet’s love of rule, and she agreed upon the condition she made with herself, by means of the eternal soliloquy, that she would put on the stew to be progressing towards unctuousness and tenderness before they went. Was that to be Janet’s last act of her darling hussyskep? It would not be consistent with our art were we to tell you; but this much is certain, that Janet Dodds went down Cranstoun’s Close along with her beloved Tammas, that shortly after she was plunged by him into the said deep hole of the loch, and cruelly left there to sink or swim, while he hastened back to tell his new love, Mrs. Blyth, how desperately he had done her bidding. But sometimes running away has a bad look; and it happened that as Thomas was hurrying up the dark close, he met a neighbour brother of the craft, who cried to him, “What, ho! Tammas Dodds; whaur frae and whaur tae, man?” To which, seeing how the act of running away would look in the Justiciary Court, he replied with wonderful invention for the moment, that Janet had fallen into the deep pool of the loch, and that though he had endeavoured to get her out, he had failed, by reason of his not being able to swim, and that he was running to get some one to help to save her, whereupon he entreated his brother craftsman to go with him to the spot, and help him to rescue his beloved wife, if she weren’t yet dead. So away they went, in a great hurry, but to no purpose; for when they came to the said pool, no vestige of a creature being therein they could see, except some air-bubbles reflecting the moonbeams, and containing, no doubt, the living breath of the drowned woman.
Nor when the terrible news was spread through the city, and a boat and drags were made to do their uttermost, under the most willing hands, could the body be found. It was known that the bank there was pretty steep in declivity, and the presumption was, that the body had rolled down into the middle of the loch, where, in consequence of the muddiness of the waters, it would be difficult to find it. The efforts were continued next morning, and day by day, for a week, with no better success, till at last it was resolved to wait for “the bursting of the gall-bladder,” when, no doubt, Mrs. Janet Dodds’s body would rise and swim on the top of the waters. An event this which did not occur till about three weeks had passed; at the end of which time a crowd of people appeared at Mr. Dodds’s door, bearing a corpse in a white sheet. It was received by the disconsolate Thomas with becoming resignation, and laid on the bed, even the marriage-bed, realizing that strange meeting of two ends which equalizes pain and pleasure, and reduces the product to _nil_. Nor were many hours allowed to pass when, decayed and defaced as it was, it was consigned to a coffin without Mr. Dodds being able to bring his resolution to the sticking point of trying to recognise in the confused mass of muscle and bone, forming what was once a face, the lineaments of her who had been once his pride, and now, by his own act, had become his shame and condemnation in the sight of Heaven. Next day she was consigned to the tomb, in so solemn a manner, that if man were not man, one would have had a difficulty in recognising in that gentle hand that held the head-cord, and dropped it so softly on the coffin, the same member which drove the innocent victim into the deep waters.
There is a continuous progress in all things; a fact which we know only after we get hold of the clue. And so, when Mrs. Mary Blyth appeared as Mrs. Mary Dodds, in room of the domesticated Jenny, it was in perfect accordance with the law of cause and effect. No doubt they did their best to be happy, as all creatures do, even the devil’s children, only in a wrong shaft; but they had made that fearful miscalculation, which is the wages of sin, when they counted upon conscience as a pimp to their pleasures, in place of a king’s-evidence against them, that king being the Lord of heaven and earth. And so it turned out in the course of several years, that, as their love lost its fervour, their respective monitors acquired greater power in pleading the cause of her who was dead, and convincing them, against their will (for the all-powerful wish has no virtue here), that they had done a cruel thing, for which they were amenable to an avenging guardian of the everlasting element of good in nature’s dualism. Yet, strange enough, each of the two kept his and her own secret. Their hearts burned, even as the fire which consumes the wicked, under the smother of a forced silence–itself a torment and an agony; yea, neither of the two would mention the name of Jenny Dodds for the entire world. And there was more than a mutual fear that one should know what the other thought. Each was under a process of exculpation and inculpation–a mutual blaming of each other in their hearts, without ever yet a word said to indicate their thoughts. It was the quarrel of devils, who make the lesser crime a foil to show the greater, and call it a virtue for the reason that they would rather be the counterfeits of good than the base metal of evil; yet with no advantage, for hypocrisy is only the glow which conceals the worm in its retreat within it. The plea of the wife was, that she was courted by the man, and that although she might have wished Jenny out of the way, and hinted as much, she never meant actual murder; while his, again, was the old Barnwell charge, that his better nature had been corrupted by the woman, and that he did it at her suggestion, and under the influence of her siren power. They thus got gradually into that state of feeling by which the runaway convicts from a penal settlement were actuated, when, toiling away through endless brakes and swamps where neither meat nor drink could be procured, they were so maddened by hunger, that each, with a concealed knife under his sleeve, watched his neighbour for an opportunity to strike; nor could one dare to fall behind, without the suspicion being raised in the minds of his companions, that he was to execute his purpose when they were off their guard. So like, in other respects too; for these men, afraid to speak their thoughts of each other, journeyed on in deep silence, and each was ready to immolate his friend at the altar of selfishness, changed into a bloodthirsty Dagon by the fiends Hunger and Thirst.
The years were now to be counted as seven since Janet Dodds was plunged into the deep pool of the North Loch, and the state of mind of the married criminals, which we have tried to describe, had been growing and growing, for two of these years, as if it threatened to get stronger the older they grew, and the nearer the period of judgment. One morning when they were in bed–for even yet, while they concealed their thoughts from each other, and the name of Jenny Dodds was a condemned word in their vocabulary, even as the sacred name among the Romans, they had evinced no spoken enmity to each other–they heard a tirl at the door. The hour was early, and the douce genius of the grey dawn was deliberating with herself whether it was time to give place to her advancing sister, the morning. Mrs. Mary Dodds rose to answer the knock, and Thomas listened with natural curiosity to know who the early visitor was, and what was wanted. He heard a suppressed scream of fear from his wife, and the next moment she came rushing into the room; yet the never a word she uttered, and her lips were so white and dry that you might have supposed that her silence was the result of organic inability. Nor even when she got into bed again, and tried to hide her head with the bed-clothes, did her terror diminish, or her lips become more obedient to the feeling within; so that Thomas knew not what to think, except it was that she had seen a ghost–not an unnatural supposition at a time when occult causes and spiritual appearances were as undoubted as the phenomena of the electric telegraph are in our day. But he was not destined to be left many minutes more in ignorance of the cause of Mrs. Mary Dodds’s terror, for, upon listening, he heard some one come into the kitchen, and bolt the door on the inside–so much for his ears; then he turned his eyes to the kitchen, into which he could, as well as the light of the grey dawn would permit, see from where he lay; and what did he see?
“How comes it? whence this mimic shape? In look and lineament so like our kind. You might accost the spectral thing, and say, ‘Good e’en t’ye.'”
No other than the figure of Mrs. Janet Dodds herself. Yes, there she was in her old grey dress, busy taking off that plaid which Thomas knew so well, and hanging the same upon the peg, where she had hung it so often for five long years. Thomas was now as completely deprived of the power of speech as she who lay, equally criminal as himself, alongside of him; but able at least to look, or rather, unable to shut their eyes, they watched the doings of the strange morning visitor. They saw that she was moving about as if she were intent upon domestic work; and, by-and-by, there she was busy with coals and sticks brought from their respective places, putting on the fire, which she lighted with the indispensable spunk applied to the spark in the tinder-box. Next she undertook the sweeping of the floor, saying to herself–and they heard the words–“It looks as if it hadna been swept for seven years.” Next she washed the dishes, which had been left on the table, indulging in the appropriate monologue implying the necessity of the work. Thereafter it appeared as if she was dissatisfied with the progress of the fire, for she was presently engaged in using the bellows, every blast of which was heard by the quaking couple in bed, and between the blasts the words came, “Ower late for Tammas’s breakfast.” So the blowing continued, till it was apparent enough, from the reflection of the flame on the wall, that she was succeeding in her efforts. Then, having made herself sure of the fire, she went to the proper place for the porridge goblet, took the same and put a sufficient quantity of water therein, placed it on the fire, and began to blow again with the same assiduity as before, with still interjected sentences expressive of her confidence that she would overcome the obstinacy of the coals. And overcome it she did, as appeared from the entire lighting up of the kitchen. Was ever Border Brownie so industrious! Some time now elapsed, as if she were sitting with due patience till the water should boil. Thereafter she rose, and they saw her cross the kitchen to the lobby, where the meal was kept, then return with a bowl containing what she no doubt considered a sufficient quantity. The stirring utensil called a “theedle” had also got into its proper place, and by-and-by they heard the sound of the same as it beat upon the bottom and sides, guided by an experienced hand, and, every now and then, the sweltering and totling of the pot. This process was now interrupted by the getting of the grey basin into which the porridge behoved to be poured; and poured it was, the process being followed by the sound of “the clauting o’ the laggan,” so familiar to Scotch ears. “Now it’s ready for him,” said the figure, as it moved across the kitchen again, to get the spoon and the bowl of milk, both of which they saw her place beside the basin.
All things being thus completed according to the intention of the industrious worker, a period of silence intervened, as if she had been taking a rest in the chair which stood by the fire. A most ominous interlude, for every moment the couple in bed expected that she would enter the bedroom, were it for nothing else than to “intimate breakfast;” an intimation which, if one could have judged by their erect hair and the sweat that stood in big drops on their brows, they were by no means prepared for. They were not to be subjected to this fearful trial, for the figure (so we must persist in calling it) was seen again to cross the kitchen, take down the plaid, and adjust it over the head according to the manner of the times. They then heard her draw the bolt, open the door, and shut the same again after her as she departed. She was gone.
Mr. Thomas Dodds and his wife now began to be able to breathe more freely. The hair resumed its flexibility, and the sweat disappeared; but, strange as it may seem, they never exchanged a word with each other as to who the visitor was, nor as to the morning’s work she had so industriously and silently (with the exception of her monologues) executed. Too certain in their convictions as to the identity, whether in spirit or body, of the figure with that of her they had so cruelly put out of the way, they seemed to think it needless to question each other; and, independently of this, the old terror of the conscience was sufficient to seal their lips now, as it had done for a period before. Each of them supposed that the visitor was sent for the special purpose of some particular avengement of the crime upon the other; the appearance in so peaceful a way, in the meantime, being merely a premonition to show them that their consciences were not working in vain; and if Thomas was the greater sinner, which he no doubt suspected, in spite of himself, he might place against that conviction the fact that the inscrutable visitor had shown him the kindness at least of preparing his breakfast, and entirely overlooking the morning requirements of his spouse. Under these thoughts they rose and repaired with faltering step and fearful eyes to the kitchen. There everything was in the order they had anticipated from what they had seen and heard. Each looked with a shudder at the basin of porridge as if it had been invested with some terrible charm–nay, might it not have been poisoned?–a thought which rushed instantaneously into the head of Thomas, and entirely put to flight the prior hypothesis that he had been favoured by this special gift of cookery. The basin was accordingly laid aside by hands that trembled to touch it, and fear was a sufficient breakfast for both of them on that most eventful morning.
This occurrence, as may readily be supposed, was kept a profound secret. They both saw that it might be the forerunner of divine means to bring their evil deeds to light; and, under this apprehension, their taciturnity and mutual discontent, if not growing hatred, continued, broken only by occasional growls and curses, and the ejaculations forced out by the inevitable circumstances of their connection. The effect of the morning visit was meanwhile most apparent upon the man who committed the terrible act. He could not remain in the house, which, even in their happiest condition, was slovenly kept, showing everywhere the want of the skilled hands of that queen of housewives, Mrs. Janet Dodds–so ill-requited for her devotion to her husband. Nay, he felt all this as a reproof to him, and sorely and bitterly lamented the fatal act whereby he had deprived of life the best of wives, and the most honest and peaceful of womankind. Then the awe of divine vengeance deepened these shadows of the soul till he became moody and melancholy, walking hither and thither without an object, and in secluded places, looking fearfully around him as if he expected every moment the spectre visitor of the morning to appear before him. Nor was he less miserable at home, where the growing hatred made matters worse and worse every hour, and where, when the grey dawn came, he expected another visit and another scene of the same description as the last.
Nearly a week had thus passed, and it was Sabbath morning. The tinsmiths’ hammers were silent, the noisy games of the urchins were hushed, the street of the Bow resounded only occasionally to the sound of a foot–all Edinburgh was, in short, under the solemnity enjoined by the Calvinism so much beloved by the people; and surely the day might have been supposed to be held in such veneration by ministering spirits, sent down to earth to execute the purposes of Heaven, that no visit of the feared shadow would disturb even the broken rest of the wicked. So perhaps thought our couple; but their thoughts belied them, for just again, as the dawn broke over the tops of the high houses, the well-known tirl was heard at the door. Who was to open it? For days the mind of the wife had been made up. She would not face that figure again; no, if all the powers of the world were there to compel her; and as for Thomas, conscience had reduced the firmness of a man who once upon a time could kill to a condition of fear and trembling. Yet terrified as he was, he considered that he was here under the obligation to obey powers even higher than his conscience, and disobedience might bring upon him some evil greater than that under which he groaned. So up he got, trembling in every limb, and proceeding to the door, opened the same. What he saw may be surmised, but what he felt no one ever knew, for the one reason that he had never the courage to tell it, and for the other that no man or woman was ever placed in circumstances from which they could draw any conclusion which could impart even a distant analogy. This much, however, was known: Thomas retreated instantly to bed, and the visitor, in the same suit of hodden-grey, again entered, passed the bolt, took off her plaid, hung it up, and began the duties which she thought were suited to the day and the hour. So much being thus alike, the couple in the bedroom no doubt augured a repetition of the old process. They were right, and they were wrong. Their eyes were fixed upon her, and watched her movements; but the watch was that of the charmed eye, which is said to be without motive. They saw her once more go deliberately and tentily through the old process of putting on the fire, and they heard again the application of the bellows, every blast succeeding another with the regularity of a clock, until the kitchen was illuminated by the rising flame. This was all that could be called a repetition; for in place of going for the porridge goblet, she went direct for the tea-kettle, into which she poured a sufficient quantity of water, saying the while to herself, “Tammas maun hae his tea breakfast on Sabbath morning”–words which Thomas, as he now lay quaking in bed, knew very well he had heard before many a time and oft. Nor were the subsequent acts less in accordance with the old custom of the dwelling. There was no sweeping of the floor or scouring of pans on the sacred morning; in place of all which she had something else to do, for surely we must suppose that this gentle visitor was a good Calvinist, and would perform only the acts of necessity and mercy. These she had done in so far as regarded necessity, and now they saw her go to the shelf on which the Bible was deposited–a book which, alas! for seven years had not been opened by either of the guilty pair. Having got what she wanted, she sat down by the table, opened the volume at a place well thumbed, and began to read aloud a chapter in the Corinthians, which Thomas Dodds, the more by reason that he had heard it read two hundred and fifty times, knew by heart. This being finished, she turned up a psalm, yea, that very psalm which Janet Dodds had sung every Sunday morning, and, presently, the kitchen was resonant with the rising notes of the Bangor, as they came from a throat trembling with devotion–
“I waited on the Lord my God,
And patiently did bear;
At length to me He did incline
My voice and cry to hear.
“He took me from a fearful pit,
And from the miry clay,
And on a rock He set my feet,
Establishing my way.”
The service finished, they saw her replace the book where she had found it; and by this time the kettle was spewing from the mouth thereof a volume of steam, as if it were calling to its old mistress to relieve it from the heat of the fire; nor was she long in paying due obedience. The tea-pot was got where she seemed to know it would be found, so also the tea-canister. The quantity to be put in was a foregone conclusion, and steadily measured with the spoon. The water was poured in, and the utensil placed on the cheek of the chimney in order to the indispensable infusion. Next the cup and saucer were placed on the table, then followed the bread and butter, and the sugar and the milk; all being finished by the words to herself, “There’s nae egg in the house.” Having thus finished her work, she took down her plaid, adjusted it carefully, opened the door, and departed.
The effect produced by this second spectral appearance could scarcely be exaggerated, yet we suspect you will not find it of that kind which is most in harmony with human nature, except in the case of Mrs. Dodds the second, who lay, as on the former occasion, sweating and trembling. It was now different with the husband, on whom apparently had fallen some of the seeds of the word, as they were scattered by the lips of the strange visitor, and conscience had prepared the soil. The constitutional strength of character which had enabled him to perpetrate a terrible deed of evil, was ready as a power to achieve his emancipation, and work in the direction of good. So, without saying a word of all that had been acted that morning, he rose and dressed himself, and, going into the kitchen, he sat down without the fear of poison, and partook of the breakfast which had been so strangely prepared for him, nor was he satisfied till he read the chapter and psalm with which he had been so long familiar. He then returned to the bedroom, and addressing his wife–
“You now see,” said he, “that Heaven has found us out. That visitor is nae ither than Mrs. Janet Dodds returned frae the grave, and sure it is that nane are permitted to leave that place o’ rest except for a purpose. No, it’s no for naething that Janet Dodds comes back to her auld hame. What the purpose may be, the Lord only knows; but this seems to me to be clear enough–that you and I maun pairt. You see that nae breakfast has been laid for you. I have taen mine, and nae harm has come o’t; a clear sign that though we are baith great criminals, you are considered to be the warst o’ the twa. It was you wha put poison into my ear and cast glamour ower my een; it was you wha egged me on, for ‘the lips of a strange woman drop as a honeycomb, and her words are smoother than oil; but her feet take hold of hell.’ That I am guilty, I know; and ‘though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished.’ I will dree my doom whatever it may be, and so maun you yours; but there may be a difference, and so far as mortal can yet see, yours will be waur to bear than mine. But, however a’ that may be, the time is come when you maun leave this house. ‘Cast out the strange woman, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease;’ but ‘go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.’ Keep your secret frae a’ save the Lord; and may He hae mercy on your soul!”
With which words, savouring as they did of the objurgations of the black pot to the kettle, Mr. Thomas Dodds left his house, no doubt in the expectation that Mrs. Dodds _secunda_ would move her camp, and betake herself once more to her old place of residence in the Grassmarket. Where he went that day no man ever knew, further than that he was seen in the afternoon in St. Giles’s Church, where, no doubt, he did his best to make a cheap purchase of immunity to his soul and body, in consideration of a repentance brought on by pure fear, produced by a spectre; and who knows but that that was a final cause of the spectre’s appearance? We have seen that it was a kindly spirit, preparing porridge and tea for him at the same time that it made his hair stand on end, and big drops of sweat settle upon his brow or roll down therefrom–a conjunction this of the tawse and the jelly-pot, whereby kind and loving parents try to redeem naughty boys. Nor let it be said that this kindly dealing with a murderer is contrary to the ways of Heaven; for, amidst a thousand other examples, did not Joshua, after the wall of Jericho lay flat at the blast of a trumpet, save that vile woman Rahab at the same time that he slew the young and the old, nay, the very infants, with the edge of the sword? All which, though we are not, by token of our sins, able to see the reason thereof, is doubtless consonant to a higher justice–altogether unlike our goddess, who is represented as blind, merely because she is supposed not to see a bribe when offered to her by a litigant. So the penitence of Mr. Thomas Dodds might be a very dear affair after all, in so much as terror is a condition of the soul which, of all we are doomed to experience, is the most difficult to bear, especially if it is a terror of divine wrath. On his return to his house in the evening, he found that Mrs. Mary had taken him at his word and decamped, but not without providing herself with as good a share of the “goods in communion” as she could, perhaps, at two or three returns, carry off. So was she like Zebulun in all save her righteousness, for she “rejoiced in her going out;” nay, she had some reason, for she had discovered that in a secret drawer of an old cabinet there was a pose of gold collected by the industrious hands of Mrs. Janet, and unknown to her husband, every piece of which she carried off in spite of all fear of the spectre, which, if a sensible one, might have been supposed to be more irritated at this heedless spoliation than at all the Jezebel had yet done, with the exception of the counselling her death in the deep hole of the North Loch. On seeing all this robbery, Mr. Dodds became more and more aware of the bad exchange he had made by killing his good spouse to enable him to take another, who had merely found more favour in his eyes by reason of her good looks; and we may augur how much deeper his feeling of regret would have been, had he known the secret pose, so frugally and prudently laid up, perhaps for his sake, at least for the sake of both, when disease or old age might overtake them, in a world where good and evil, pleasure and pain, appear to be fixed quantities, only shoved from one to another by wisdom and prudence, yet sometimes refusing to be moved even by these means.
After satisfying himself of the full extent of the robbery, which, after all, he had brought upon himself, and very richly deserved, he sat down upon a chair and began to moralize, after the manner of those late penitents who have found themselves out to be either rogues or fools–the number of whom comprehends, perhaps, all mankind. He had certainly good reason to be contrite. The angel in the house had become a spectre, and she who was no angel, either in the house or out of it, had carried off almost everything of any value he possessed. Nor did he stop at mere unspoken contrition, he bewailed in solemn tones his destiny, and then began to cast up all the perfections of good Janet, the more perfect and beautiful these seeming in proportion as he felt the fear of her reappearance, perhaps next time, in place of making his breakfast, to run away with him to the dire place of four letters. All her peculiarities were now virtues–nay, the very things which had appeared to him the most indefensible took on the aspect of angelic endowments. While her careful housewifery was all intended for his bodily health and comfort, her perseverance in adhering to the one chapter and the one psalm was due to that love of iteration which inspires those who are never weary of well-doing. And what was more extraordinary, one verse of the psalm–that which we have quoted–had special reference to the manner of her death, and her deliverance from condemnation in the world to come. No doubt the man who meditates upon his own crime or folly at the very moment when he is suffering from its sharp recalcitrations, is just about as miserable a wretch as the reformatory of the world can present; but when, to the effects upon himself, he is compelled to think of the cruelty he has exercised towards others–and those perhaps found out to be his best friends–we doubt if there are any words beyond the vocabulary of the condemned that are sufficient to express his anguish. Even this did not comprehend all the suffering of Mr. Dodds, for, was he not under doom without knowing what form it was to assume, whether the spectre (whose cookery might be a sham) would choke him, burn him, or run away with him?
Deeply steeped in this remorseful contemplation, during which the figure of his ill-used wife flitted before the eye of his fancy with scarcely less of substantial reality than she had shown in her spectral form, he found that he had lost all regard to time. The night was fast setting in, the shadows of the tall houses were falling deeper and deeper on the room, and the Sabbath stillness was a solemn contrast to the perturbations inside the chamber of his soul, where “the serpents and the cockatrices would not be charmed.” Still, everything within and without was dreary, and the spoliation of his means did not tend to enliven the outer scene, or impart a charm to the owner. While in this state of depression, Tammas heard a knock at the door. It was not, as on the former occasions, what is called a tirl. It might be a neighbour, or it might be an old crony, and he stood in need of some one to raise his spirits, so he went to the door and opened it. But what was his horror when he saw enter a female figure, in all respects so like his feared visitor that he concluded in the instant that she was the same! nor could all his penitence afford him resolution enough to make a proper examination; besides, it was grey dark, and even a pair of better eyes than he could boast of, might, under the circumstances soon to appear, have been deceived. Retreating into the kitchen, he was followed by this dubious, and yet not dubious visitor, who, as he threw himself upon a chair, took a seat right opposite to him.
“Ye’ll no ken me, Tammas Dodds?” said she.
Whereupon Tammas looked and looked again, and still the likeness he dreaded was so impressive, that, in place of moving his tongue, he moved, that is, he shuddered, all over.
“What–eh?” at length he stuttered; “ken ye? wha in God’s name are ye? No surely Mrs. Janet Dodds in the likeness of the flesh!”
“No, but her sister, Mrs. Paterson,” replied the other. “And is it possible ye can hae forgotten the only woman who was present at your first marriage?”
“Ay, ay,” replied Tammas, as he began to come to a proper condition of perceiving and thinking; “and it was you, then, wha was here this morning?”
“No, no,” replied she; “I have not been here for seven long years, even since that terrible night when you pushed Janet into the North Loch.”
“And may Heaven and its angels hae mercy upon me!” ejaculated he.
“Aiblins they may,” said she, “for your purpose was defeated; yea, even by that Heaven and thae angels.”
“What mean you, woman?” cried the astonished man. “What, in the name o’ a’ that’s gude on earth and holy in heaven, do ye mean?”
“Just that Janet Dodds is at this hour a leevin’ woman,” was the reply.
“The Lord be thanked!” cried Tammas again, “for ‘He preserveth all them that love Him.'”
“‘But all the wicked He will destroy,'” returned she; “and surely it was wicked to try to drown sae faithful a wife and sae gude a Christian.”
“Wicked!” rejoined he, in rising agony. “‘Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let them reprove me, it shall,’ as Solomon says, ‘be an excellent oil.'”
“I am glad,” continued the woman, “to find you with a turned heart; but whaur is the Jezebel ye took in her place?”
“Awa this day,” replied he. “I have found her out, and never mair is she wife o’ mine.”
“Sae far weel and better,” said she.
“Ay, but speak to me o’ Janet,” cried he, earnestly. “Come, tell me how she escaped, whaur she is, and how she is; for now I think there is light breaking through the fearfu’ cloud.”
“Light indeed,” continued Mrs. Paterson; “and now, listen to a strange tale, mair wonderfu’ than man’s brain ever conceived. When ye thought ye had drowned her, and cared naething doubtless–for ye see I maun speak plain–whether her spirit went to the ae place or the ither, ay, and ran awa to add to murder a lee, she struggled out o’ the deep, yea–
‘He took her from the fearfu’ pit,
And from the miry clay.’
And when she got to the bank she ran as for the little life was in her, until she came to the foot of Halkerstone’s Wynd, where she crossed to the other side of the loch. When she thought hersel’ safe, she took the road to Glasgow, where I was then living wi’ my husband, wha is since dead. The night was dark, but self-preservation maks nae gobs at dangers; so on she went, till in the grey morning she made up to the Glasgow carrier, wha agreed to gie her a cast even to the end o’ his journey. It was the next night when she arrived at my door, cold and hungry, and, what was waur, sair and sick at heart. She told me the hail story as weel as she could for sobs and greeting; for the thought aye rugged at her heart that the man she had liked sae weel, and had toiled for night and day, should hae turned out to be the murderer o’ his ain wife.”
“And weel it might hae rugged and rugged,” ejaculated Tammas.
“I got aff her wet clothes,” continued she, “and gave her some strong drink to warm her, and then we considered what was to be dune. My husband was for off to Edinburgh to inform on ye, even if there should hae been a drawing o’ the neck on’t; but Janet cried, and entreated baith him and me to keep the thing quiet. She said she couldna gae back to you; and as for getting you punished, she couldna bear the thought o’t. And then we a’ thought what a disgrace it would be to our family if it were thought that my sister had been attempted to be murdered by her husband. We knew weel enough ye would say she had fallen in by accident; and when afterwards we heard that ye had buried a body that had been found in the loch, we made up our minds as to what we would do. We just agreed to keep Janet under her maiden name. Nane in Glasgow had ever seen her before, and her ain sorrows kept her within doors, so that the secret wasna ill to keep. Years afterwards, my husband was ta’en from me, and Janet and I came, about twa months syne, to live at Juniper Green, wi’ John Paterson, my husband’s brother, wha had offered us a hame.”
“And is Janet there now?” cried Tammas, impatiently.
“Ay,” continued Mrs. Paterson; “but, alas! she’s no what she was. She gets at times out o’ her reason, and will be that way for days thegether. The doctor has a name for it ower lang for my tongue, but it tells naething but what we ken ower weel. When in thae fits she thinks she is here in the Bow, and living with you, and working and moiling in the house just as she used to do langsyne. Mairower, and that troubles us maist ava, she will be out when the reason’s no in, so that we are obliged to watch her. Five days syne she was aff in the morning before daylight, and even so late as this morning she played us the same trick; whaur she gaed we couldna tell, but I had some suspicion she was here.”
“Ay,” replied Mr. Dodds, as he opened his eyes very wide; “she was here wi’ a vengeance.”
Thus Mrs. Paterson’s story was finished; and our legend of the Brownie, more veritable, we opine, than that of Bodsbeck, is also drawing to a conclusion. Tammas, after a period of meditation, more like one of Janet’s hallucinations than a fit of rational thinking, asked his sister-in-law whether she thought that Janet, in the event of her getting quit of her day-dreams, would consent to live with him again. To which question she answered that she was not certain; for that Janet, when in her usual state of mind, was still wroth against him for the attempt to take away her life; but she added that she had no objection, seeing he was penitent, to give him an opportunity to plead for himself. She even went further, and agreed to use her influence to bring about a reconciliation. It was therefore agreed between them that the sister should call again when Janet had got quit of her temporary derangement, and Thomas might follow up this intimation with a visit. About four days thereafter, accordingly, Mrs. Paterson kept her word, and next day Mr. Dodds repaired to Juniper Green. At first Janet refused to see him; but upon Mrs. Paterson’s representations of his penitence and suffering, she became reconciled to an interview. We may venture to say, without attempting a description of a meeting unparalleled in history, that if Janet Dodds had not been a veritable Calvinist, no good could have come of all Mr. Dodds’s professions; but she knew that the Master cast out the dumb spirit which tore the possessed, and that that spirit attempted murder not less than Tammas. Wherefore might not _his_ dumb spirit be cast out as well by that grace which aboundeth in the bosom of the