Produced by Juliet Sutherland, John Hagerson, Garrett Alley, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland.
HISTORICAL, TRADITIONARY, & IMAGINATIVE.
WITH A GLOSSARY.
REVISED BY ALEXANDER LEIGHTON,
_One of the Original Editors and Contributors_.
UPS AND DOWNS; OR, DAVID STUART’S ACCOUNT OF HIS PILGRIMAGE, (_John Mackay Wilson_),
THE BURGHER’S TALES. THE ANCIENT BUREAU. (_Alexander Leighton_),
LADY RAE, (_Alexander Campbell_),
THE DIAMOND EYES, (_Alexander Leighton_),
DAVID LORIMER, (_Anon_.)
THE CONVICT, (_Anon_.)
THE AMATEUR ROBBERY, (_Alexander Leighton_),
THE PROCRASTINATOR, (_John Mackay Wilson_),
THE TEN OF DIAMONDS, (_Alexander Leighton_),
WILSON’S TALES OF THE BORDERS, AND OF SCOTLAND.
* * * * *
UPS AND DOWNS; OR, DAVID STUART’S ACCOUNT OF HIS PILGRIMAGE.
Old David Stuart was the picture of health–a personification of contentment. When I knew him, his years must have considerably exceeded threescore; but his good-natured face was as ruddy as health could make it; his hair, though mingled with grey, was as thick and strong as if he had been but twenty; his person was still muscular and active; and, moreover, he yet retained, in all their freshness, the feelings of his youth, and no small portion of the simplicity of his childhood. I loved David, not only because he was a good man, but because there was a great deal of _character_ or _originality_ about him; and though his brow was cheerful, the clouds of sorrow had frequently rested upon it. More than once when seated by his parlour fire, and when he had finished his pipe, and his afternoon tumbler stood on the table beside him, I have heard him give the following account of the ups and downs–the trials, the joys, and sorrows–which he had encountered in his worldly pilgrimage; and, to preserve the interest of the history, I shall give it in David’s own idiom, and in his own words.
“I ne’er was a great traveller,” David was wont to begin: “through the length o’ Edinburgh, and as far south as Newcastle, is a’ that my legs ken about geography. But I’ve had a good deal o’ crooks and thraws, and ups and downs, in the world for a’ that. My faither was in the droving line, and lived in the parish o’ Coldstream. He did a good deal o’ business, baith about the fairs on the Borders, at Edinburgh market every week, and sometimes at Morpeth. He was a bachelor till he was five-and-forty, and he had a very decent lass keep’d his house, they ca’d Kirsty Simson. Kirsty was a remarkably weel-faur’d woman, and a number o’ the farm lads round about used to come and see her, as weel as trades’ chields frae about Coldstream and Birgham–no that she gied them ony encouragement, but that it was her misfortune to hae a gude-looking face. So, there was ae night that my faither cam’ hame frae Edinburgh, and, according to his custom, he had a drap in his e’e–yet no sae meikle but that he could see a lad or twa hingin’ about the house. He was very angry; and, ‘Kirsty,’ said he, ‘I dinna like thae youngsters to come about the house.’
“‘I’m sure, sir,’ said she, ‘I dinna encourage them.’
“‘Weel, Kirsty,’ said he, ‘if that’s the way, if ye hae nae objections, I’ll marry ye mysel’.’
“‘I dinna see what objections I should hae,’ said she, and, without ony mair courtship, in a week or twa they were married; and, in course o’ time, I was born. I was sent to school when I was about eight years auld, but my education ne’er got far’er than the rule o’ three. Before I was fifteen, I assisted my faither at the markets, and in a short time he could trust me to buy and sell. There was one very dark night in the month o’ January, when I was little mair than seventeen, my faither and me were gaun to Morpeth, and we were wishing to get forward wi’ the beasts as far as Whittingham; but just as we were about half a mile doun the loanin’ frae Glanton, it cam’ awa ane o’ the dreadfu’est storms that e’er mortal was out in. The snaw literally fell in a solid mass, and every now and then the wind cam’ roarin’ and howlin’ frae the hills, and the fury o’ the drift was terrible. I was driven stupid and half suffocated. My faither was on a strong mare, and I was on a bit powney; and amang the cattle there was a camstairy three-year-auld bull, that wad neither hup nor drive. We had it tied by the foreleg and the horns; but the moment the drift broke ower us, the creature grew perfectly unmanageable; forward it wadna gang. My faither had strucken at it, when the mad animal plunged its horns into the side o’ the mare, and he fell to the ground. I could just see what had happened, and that was a’. I jumped aff the powney, and ran forward. ‘O faither!’ says I, ‘ye’re no hurt, are ye?’ He was trying to rise, but before I could reach him–indeed, before I had the words weel out o’ my mouth–the animal made a drive at him! ‘O Davy!’ he cried, and he ne’er spak mair! We generally carried pistols, and I had presence o’ mind to draw ane out o’ the breast-pocket o’ my big coat, and shoot the animal dead on the spot. I tried to raise my faither in my arms, and, dark as it was, I could see his blood upon the snaw–and a dreadfu’ sight it was for a son to see! I couldna see where he had been hurt; and still, though he groaned but once, I didna think he was dead, and I strove and strove again to lift him upon the back o’ the powney, and take him back to Glanton; but though I fought wi’ my heart like to burst a’ the time, I couldna accomplish it. ‘Oh, what shall I do?’ said I, and cried and shouted for help–for the snaw fell sae fast, and the drift was sae terrible, that I was feared that, even if he werena dead, he wad be smothered and buried up before I could ride to Glanton and back. And, as I cried, our poor dog Rover came couring to my faither’s body and licked his hand, and its pitiful howls mingled wi’ the shrieks o’ the wind. No kennin’ what to do, I lifted my faither to the side o’ the road, and tried to place him, half sitting like, wi’ his back to the drift, by the foot o’ the hedge. ‘Oh, watch there, Rover,’ said I; and the poor dog ran yowlin’ to his feet, and did as I desired it. I sprang upon the back o’ the powney, and flew up to the town. Within five minutes I was back, and in a short time a number o’ folk wi’ lichts cam’ to our assistance. My faither was covered wi’ blood, but without the least sign o’ life. I thought my heart wad break, and for a time my screams were heard aboon the ragin’ o’ the storm. My faither was conveyed up to the inn, and, on being stripped, it was found that the horn o’ the animal had entered his back below the left shouther; and when a doctor frae Alnwick saw the body next day, he said he must have died instantly–and, as I have told ye, he never spoke, but just cried, ‘O Davy!’
“My feelings were in such a state that I couldna write mysel’, and I got a minister to send a letter to my mother, puir woman, stating what had happened. An acquaintance o’ my faither’s looked after the cattle, and disposed o’ them at Morpeth; and I, having hired a hearse at Alnwick, got the body o’ my faither taen hame. A sorrowfu’ hame-gaun it was, ye may weel think. Before ever we reached the house, I heard the shrieks o’ my puir mither. ‘O my faitherless bairn!’ she cried, as I entered the door; but before she could rise to meet me, she got a glent o’ the coffin which they were takin’ out o’ the hearse, and utterin’ a sudden scream, her head fell back, and she gaed clean awa.
“After my faither’s funeral, we found that he had died worth only about four hundred pounds when his debts were paid; and as I had been bred in the droving line, though I was rather young, I just continued it, and my mother and me kept house thegither.
“This was the only thing particular that happened to me for the next thirteen years, or till I was thirty. My mother still kept the house, and I had nae thoughts o’ marrying: no but that I had gallanted a wee bit wi’ the lasses now and then, but it was naething serious, and was only to be neighbour-like. I had ne’er seen ane that I could think o’ takin’ for better for warse; and, anither thing, if I had seen ane to please me, I didna think my mother would be comfortable wi’ a young wife in the house. Weel, ye see, as I was telling ye, things passed on in this way till I was thirty, when a respectable flesher in Edinburgh that I did a good deal o’ business wi’, and that had just got married, says to me in the Grassmarket ae day: ‘Davy,’ says he, ‘ye’re no gaun out o’ the toun the night–will ye come and tak’ tea and supper wi’ the wife and me, and a freend or twa?’
“‘I dinna care though I do,’ says I; ‘but I’m no just in a tea-drinkin’ dress.’
“‘Ne’er mind the dress,’ says he. So, at the hour appointed, I stepped awa ower to Hanover Street, in the New Town, where he lived, and was shown into a fine carpeted room, wi’ a great looking-glass, in a gilt frame, ower the chimley-piece–ye could see yoursel’ at full length in’t the moment you entered the door. I was confounded at the carpets and the glass, and a sofa, nae less; and, thinks I, ‘This shows what kind o’ bargains ye get frae me.’ There were three or four leddies sitting in the room; and ‘Mr. Stuart, leddies,’ said the flesher; ‘Mr. Stuart, Mrs. So-and-so,’ said he again–‘Miss Murray, Mr. Stuart.’ I was like to drap at the impudence o’ the creatur–he handed me about as if I had been a bairn at a dancin’ school. ‘Your servant, leddies,’ said I; and didna ken where to look, when I got a glimpse o’ my face in the glass, and saw it was as red as crimson. But I was mair than ever put about when the tea was brought in, and the creatur says to me, ‘Mr. Stuart, will you assist the leddies?’ ‘Confound him,’ thought I, ‘has he brought me here to mak’ a fule o’me!’ I did attempt to hand round the tea and toast, when, wi’ downright confusion, I let a cup fall on Miss Murray’s gown. I could have died wi’ shame. ‘Never mind–never mind, sir!’ said she; ‘there is no harm done;’ and she spoke sae proper and sae kindly, I was in love wi’ her very voice. But when I got time to observe her face, it was a perfect picture; and through the hale night after, I could do naething but look at and think o’ Miss Murray.
“‘Man,’ says I to the flesher the next time I saw him, ‘wha was yon Miss Murray?’ ‘No match for a Grassmarket dealer, Davy,’ says he. ‘I was thinkin’ that,’ says I; ‘but I wad like to be acquainted wi’ her.’ ‘Ye shall be that,’ says he; and, after that, there was seldom a month passed that I was in Edinburgh but I saw Miss Murray. But as to courtin’, that was out o’ the question.
“A short time after this, a relation o’ my mither’s, wha had been a merchant in London, dee’d, and it was said we were his nearest heirs; and that as he had left nae will, if we applied, we would get the property, which was worth about five thousand pounds. Weel, three or four years passed awa, and we heard something about the lawsuit, but naething about the money. I was vexed for having onything to say to it. I thought it was only wasting a candle to chase a will-o’-the-wisp. About the time I speak o’, my mither had turned very frail. I saw there was a wastin’ awa o’ nature, and she wadna be lang beside me. The day before her death, she took my hand, and ‘Davy,’ says she to me–‘Davy,’ poor body, she repeated (I think I hear her yet)–‘it wad been a great comfort to me if I had seen ye settled wi’ a decent partner before I dee’d; but it’s no to be.’
“Weel, as I was saying, my mither dee’d, and I found the house very dowie without her. It wad be about three months after her death–I had been at Whitsunbank; and when I cam’ hame, the servant lassie put a letter into my hands; and ‘Maister,’ says she, ‘there’s a letter–can it be for you, think ye?’ It was directed, ‘David Stuart, _Esquire_ (nae less), for—-, by Coldstream.’ So I opened the seal, and, to my surprise and astonishment, I found it was frae the man o’ business I had employed in London, stating that I had won the law-plea, and that I might get the money whene’er I wanted it. I sent for the siller the very next post. Now, ye see, I was sick and tired o’ being a bachelor. I had lang wished to be settled in a comfortable matrimonial way–that is, frae e’er I had seen Miss Murray. But, ye see, while I was a drover, I was very little at hame–indeed I was waur than an Arawbian–and had very little peace or comfort either, and I thought it was nae use takin’ a wife until something better might cast up. But this wasna the only reason. There wasna a woman on earth that I thought I could live happy wi’ but Miss Murray, and she belanged to a genteel family: whether she had ony siller or no, I declare, as I’m to be judged hereafter, I never did inquire. But I saw plainly it wadna do for a rough country drover, jauped up to the very elbows, and sportin’ a handfu’ o’ pound-notes the day, and no’ worth a penny the morn–I say, I saw plainly it wadna do for the like o’ me to draw up by her elbow, and say ‘Here’s a fine day, ma’am,’ or, ‘Hae ye ony objections to a walk?’ or something o’ that sort. But it was weel on for five years since I had singled her out; and though I never said a word anent the subject o’ matrimony, yet I had reason to think she had a shrewd guess that my heart louped quicker when she opened her lips than if a regiment o’ infantry had stealed behint me unobserved, and fired their muskets ower my shouther; and I sometimes thought that her een looked as if she wished to say, ‘Are ye no gaun to ask me, David?’
“But still, when I thought she had been brought up a leddy in a kind o’ manner, I durstna venture to mint the matter; but I was fully resolved and determined, should I succeed in getting the money I was trying for, to break the business clean aff hand. So, ye see, as soon as I got the siller, what does I do but sits down and writes her a letter–and sic a letter! I tauld her a’ my mind as freely as though I had been speakin’ to you. Weel, ye see, I gaed bang through to Edinburgh at ance, no three days after my letter; and up I goes to the Lawnmarket, where she was living wi’ her mother, and raps at the door without ony ceremony. But when I had rapped, I was in a swither whether to staun till they came out or no, for my heart began to imitate the knocker, or rather to tell me how I ought to have knocked; for it wasna a loud, solid drover’s knock like mine, but it kept rit-tit-tat-ting on my breast like the knock of a hairdresser’s ‘prentice bringing a bandbox fu’ o’ curls and ither knick-knackeries, for a leddy to pick and choose on for a fancy ball; and my face lowed as though ye were haudin’ a candle to it; when out comes the servant, and I stammers out, ‘Is your mistress in?’ says I. ‘Yes, sir,’ says she; ‘walk in.’ And in I walked; but I declare I didna ken whether the floor carried me, or I carried the floor; and wha should I see but an auld leddy wi’ spectacles–the maiden’s mistress, sure enough, though no mine, but my mother-in-law that was to be. So she looked at me, and I looked at her. She made a low curtsey, and I tried to mak’ a bow; while all the time ye might hae heard my heart beatin’ at the opposite side o’ the room. ‘Sir,’ says she. ‘Ma’am,’ says I. I wad hae jumped out o’ the window had it no been four stories high; but since I’ve gane this far, I maun say something, thinks I. ‘I’ve ta’en the liberty o’ callin’, ma’am,’ says I. ‘Very happy to see ye, sir,’ says she. Weel, thinks I, I’m glad to hear that, however; but had it been to save my life, I didna ken what to say next. So I sat down; and at length I ventured to ask, ‘Is your daughter, Miss Jean, at hame, ma’am?’ says I. ‘I wate she is,’ quo’ she. ‘Jean!’ she cried wi’ a voice that made the house a’ dirl again. ‘Comin’, mother,’ cried my flower o’ the forest; and in she cam’, skippin’ like a perfect fairy. But when she saw me, she started as if she had seen an apparition, and coloured up to the very e’ebrows. As for me, I trembled like an ash leaf, and stepped forward to meet her. I dinna think she was sensible o’ me takin’ her by the hand; and I was just beginning to say again, ‘I’ve taken the liberty,’ when the auld wife had the sense and discretion to leave us by our-sel’s. I’m sure and certain I never experienced such a relief since I was born. My head was absolutely ringing wi’ dizziness and love. I made twa or three attempts to say something grand, but I never got half-a-dozen words out; and finding it a’ nonsense, I threw my arms around her waist, and pressed her beatin’ breast to mine, and stealing a hearty kiss, the whole story that I had made such a wark about was ower in a moment. She made a wee bit fuss, and cried ‘Oh fie!’ and ‘Sir!’ or something o’ that kind; but I held her to my breast, declaring my intentions manfully–that I had been dying for her for five years, and now that I was a gentleman, I thought I might venture to speak. In fact, I held her in my arms until she next door to said ‘Yes!’
“Within a week we had a’thing settled. I found out she had nae fortune. Her mother belanged to a kind o’ auld family, that, like mony ithers, cam’ down the brae wi’ Prince Charles, poor fallow; and they were baith rank Episcopawlians. I found the mither had just sae muckle a year frae some o’ her far-awa relations; and had it no been that they happened to ca’ me Stuart, and I tauld her a rigmarole about my grandfaither and Culloden, so that she soon made me out a pedigree, about which I kenned nae mair than the man o’ the moon, but keept saying ‘yes’ and ‘certainly’ to a’ she said–I say, but for that, and confound me, if she wadna hae curled up her nose at me and my five thousand pounds into the bargain, though her lassie should hae starved. But Jeannie was a perfect angel. She was about two or three and thirty, wi’ light brown hair, hazel e’en, and a waist as jimp and sma’ as ye ever saw upon a human creature. She dressed maist as plain as a Quakeress, but was a pattern o’ neatness. Indeed, a blind man might seen she was a leddy born and bred; and then for sense, haud at ye there, I wad matched her against the minister and the kirk elders put thegither. But she took that o’ her mither; o’ whom mair by-and-by.
“As I was saying, she was an Episcopawlian,–a downright, open-day defender o’ Archbishop Laud and the bloody Claverhouse; and she wished to prove down through me the priority and supremacy o’ bishops ower presbyteries,–just downright nonsense, ye ken; but there’s nae accounting for sooperstition. A great deal depends on how a body’s brought up. But what vexed me maist was to think that she wad be gaun to ae place o’ public worship on the Sabbath, and me to anither, just like twa strangers; and maybe if her minister preached half an hour langer than mine, or mine half an hour langer than hers, or when we had nae intermission, then there was the denner spoiled, and the servant no kenned what time to hae it ready; for the mistress said ane o’clock, and the maister said twa o’clock. Now, I wadna gie tippence for a cauld denner.
“But, as I was telling ye about the auld wife, she thocht fit to read baith us a bit o’ a lecture.
“‘Now, bairns,’ said she, ‘I beseech ye, think weel what ye are about; for it were better to rue at the very foot o’ the altar, than to rue it but ance afterwards, and that ance be for ever. I dinna say this to cast a damp upon your joy, nor that I doubt your affection for are another; but I say it as ane who has been a wife, and seen a good deal o’ the world; an,’ oh bairns! I say it as a _mother_! Marriage without love is like the sun in January–often clouded, often trembling through storms, but aye without heat; and its pillow is comfortless as a snow-wreath. But although love be the principal thing, remember it is not the only thing necessary. Are ye sure that ye are perfectly acquainted wi’ each other’s characters and tempers? Aboon a’, are ye sure that ye esteem and respect ane anither? Without this, and ye may think that ye like each other, but it’s no real love. It’s no that kind o’ liking that’s to last through married years, and be like a singing bird in your breasts to the end o’ your days. No, Jeannie, unless your very souls be, as it were, cemented thegither, unless ye see something in him that ye see in naebody else, and unless he sees something in you that he sees in naebody else, dinna marry still. Passionate lovers dinna aye mak’ affectionate husbands. Powder will bleeze fiercely awa in a moment; but the smotherin’ peat retains fire and heat among its very ashes. Remember that, in baith man and woman, what is passion to-day may be disgust the morn. Therefore, think now; for it will be ower late to think o’ my advice hereafter.’
“‘Troth, ma’am,’ said I, ‘and I’m sure I’ll be very proud to ca’ sic a sensible auld body _mither_!’
“‘Rather may ye be proud to call my bairn your _wife_,’ said she; ‘for, where a man ceases to be proud o’ his wife, upon all occasions, and at all times, or where a wife has to blush for her husband, ye may say fareweel to their happiness. However, David,’ continued she, ‘I dinna doubt but ye will mak’ a gude husband; for ye’re a sensible, and I really think a deservin’ lad; and were it nae mair than your name, the name o’ Stuart wad be a passport to my heart. There’s but ae thing that I’m feared on–just ae fault that I see in ye; indeed I may say it’s the beginning o’ a’ ithers, and I wad fain hae ye promise to mend it; for it has brought mair misery upon the marriage state than a’ the sufferings o’ poverty and the afflictions o’ death put thegither.’
“‘Mercy me, ma’am!’ exclaimed I, ‘what de ye mean? Ye’ve surely been misinformed.’
“‘I’ve observed it mysel’, David,’ said she seriously.
“‘Goodness, ma’am! ye confound me!’ says I; ‘if it’s onything that’s bad, I’ll deny it point blank.’
“‘Ye mayna think it bad,’ says she again, ‘but I fear ye like a _dram_, and my bairn’s happiness demands that I should speak o’ it.’
“‘A dram!’ says I; ‘preserve us! is there ony ill in a _dram?_–that’s the last thing that I wad hae thought about.’
“‘Ask the broken-hearted wife,’ says she, ‘if there be ony ill in a dram–ask the starving family–ask the jailer and the gravedigger–ask the doctor and the minister o’ religion–ask where ye see roups o’ furniture at the cross, or the auctioneer’s flag wavin’ frae the window–ask a deathbed–ask eternity, David Stuart, and they will tell ye if there be ony ill in a dram.’
“‘I hope, ma’am,’ says I,–and I was a guid deal nettled,–‘I hope, ma’am, ye dinna tak’ me to be a drunkard. I can declare freely, that unless maybe at a time by chance (and the best o’ us will mak’ a slip now and then), I never tak’ aboon twa or three glasses at a time. Indeed, three’s just my set. I aye say to my cronies, there is nae luck till the second tumbler, and nae peace after the fourth. So ye perceive, there’s not the smallest danger o’ me.’
“‘Ah, but, David,’ replied she, ‘there _is_ danger. Habits grow stronger, nature weaker, and resolution offers less and less resistance; and ye may come to make four, five, or six glasses your set; and frae that to a bottle–your grave–and my bairn a broken-hearted widow.’
“‘Really, ma’am,’ says I, ye talked very sensibly before, but ye are awa wi’ the harrows now–quite unreasonable a’thegither. However, to satisfy ye upon that score, I’ll mak’ a vow this very moment, that, except’—-
“‘Mak’ nae rash vows,’ says she; ‘for a breath mak’s them, and less than a breath unmak’s them. But mind that, while ye wad be comfortable wi’ your cronies, my bairn wad be frettin’ her lane; and though she might say naething when ye cam hame, that wadna be the way to wear her love round your neck like a chain of gold; but, night after night, it wad break away link by link, till the whole was lost; and if ye didna hate, ye wad soon find ye were disagreeable to each other. Nae true woman will condescend to love ony man lang, wha can find society he prefers to hers in an alehouse. I dinna mean to say that ye should never enter a company; but dinna mak’ a practice o’t.’
“Weel, the wedding morning cam, and I really thocht it was a great blessin’ folk hadna to be married every day. My neckcloth wadna tie as it used to tie, and but that I wadna swear at onybody on the day o’ my marriage, I’m sure I wad hae wished some ill wish on the fingers o’ the laundress. She had starched the muslins!–a circumstance, I am perfectly certain, unheard of in the memory o’ man, and a thing which my mother ne’er did. It was stiff, crumpled, and clumsy. I vowed it was insupportable. It was within half an hour o’ the time o’ gaun to the chapel. I had tried a ‘rose-knot,’ a ‘witch-knot,’ a ‘chaise-driver’s knot,’ and a ‘running-knot,’ wi’ every kind o’ knot that fingers could twist the neckcloth into, but the confounded starch made every ane look waur than anither. Three neckcloths I had rendered unwearable, and the fourth I tied in a ‘beau-knot’ in despair. The frill o’ my sark-breast wadna lie in the position in which I wanted it! For the first time my very hair rose in rebellion–it wadna lie right; and I cried, ‘The mischief tak’ the barber!’ The only part o’ my dress wi’ which I was satisfied, was a spotless pair o’ nankeen pantaloons. I had a dog they ca’ed Mettle–it was a son o’ poor Rover, that I mentioned to ye before, Weel, it had been raining through the night, and Mettle had been out in the street. The instinct o’ the poor dumb brute was puzzled to comprehend the change that had recently taken place in my appearance and habits, and its curiosity was excited. I was sitting before the looking-glass, and had just finished tying my cravat, when Mettle cam bouncing into the room; he looked up in my face inquisitively, and, to unriddle mair o’ the matter, placed his unwashed paws upon my unsoiled nankeens. Every particular claw left its ugly impression. It was provoking beyond endurance. I raised my hand to strike him, but the poor brute wagged his tail, and I only pushed him down, saying, ‘Sorrow tak’ ye, Mettle, do ye see what ye’ve dune?’ So I had to gang to the kitchen fire and stand before it to dry the damp, dirty footprints o’ the offender. I then found that the waistcoat wadna sit without wrinkles, such as I had ne’er seen before upon a waistcoat o’ mine. The coat, too, was insupportably tight below the arms; and, as I turned half round before the glass, I saw that it hung loose between the shouthers! ‘As sure as a gun,’ says I, ‘the stupid soul o’ a tailor has sent me hame the coat o’ a humph-back in a mistak’!’ My hat was fitted on in every possible manner, ower the brow and aff the brow, now straight, now cocked to the right side and again to the left, but to no purpose; I couldna place it to look like mysel’, or as I wished. But half-past eight chimed frae St. Giles’. I had ne’er before spent ten minutes to dress, shaving included, and that morning I had begun at seven! There was not another moment to spare; I let my hat fit as it would, seized my gloves, and rushed down stairs, and up to the Lawnmarket, where I knocked joyfully at the door o’ my bonny bride.
“When we were about to depart for the chapel, the auld leddy rose to gie us her blessing, and placed Jeannie’s hand within mine. She shed a few quiet tears (a common circumstance wi’ mithers on similar occasions); and ‘Now, Jeannie,’ said she, ‘before ye go, I have just anither word or twa to say to ye’–
“‘Dearsake, ma’am!’ said I, for I was out o’ a’ patience, ‘we’ll do very weel wi’ what we’ve heard just now, and ye can say onything ye like when we come back.’
“There was only an elderly gentleman and a young leddy accompanied us to the chapel; for Jeannie and her mother said that that was mair genteel than to have a gilravish o’ folk at our heels. For my part, I thought, as we were to be married, we micht as weel mak’ a wedding o’t. I, however, thought it prudent to agree to their wish, which I did the mair readily, as I had nae particular acquaintance in Edinburgh. The only point that I wad not concede was being conveyed to the chapel in a coach. That my plebeian blood, notwithstanding my royal name o’ Stuart, could not overcome. ‘Save us a’!’ said I, ‘if I wadna _walk_ to be married, what in the three kingdoms wad tempt me to walk?’
“‘Weel,’ said the auld leddy, ‘my daughter will be the first o’ our family that ever gaed on foot to the altar.’
“‘An’ I assure ye, ma’am,’ said I, ‘that I would be the first o’ my family that ever gaed in ony ither way; and, in my opinion, to gang on foot shows a demonstration o’ affection and free-will, whereas gaun in a carriage looks as if there were unwillingness or compulsion in the matter.’ So she gied up the controversy. Weel, the four o’ us walked awa doun the Lawnmarket and High Street, and turned into a close by the tap o’ the Canon gate, where the Episcopawlian chapel was situated. For several days I had read ower the marriage service in the prayer-book, in order to master the time to say ‘I will,’ and other matters. Nevertheless, no sooner did I see the white gown of the clergyman, and feel Jeannie’s hand trembling in mine, than he micht as weel hae spoken in Gaelic. I mind something about the ring, and, when the minister was done, I whispered to the best man, ‘It’s a’ ower now?’ ‘Yes,’ said he. ‘Heeven be thankit!’ thought I.
“Weel, ye see, after being married, and as I had been used to an active life a’ my days, I had nae skill in gaun about like a gentleman wi’ my hands in my pockets, and I was anxious to tak’ a farm. But Jeannie did not like the proposal, and my mother-in-law wadna hear tell o’t; so, by her advice, I put out the money, and we lived upon the interest. For six years everything gaed straight, and we were just as happy and as comfortable as a family could be. We had three bairns: the eldest was a daughter, and we ca’ed her Margaret, after her grandmother, who lived wi’ us; the second was a son, and I named him Andrew, after my faither; and our third, and youngest, we ca’ed Jeannie, after her mother. They were as clever, bonnie, and obedient bairns as ye could see, and everybody admired them. There was ane Luckie Macnaughton kept a tavern in Edinburgh at the time. A’ sort o’ respectable folk used to frequent the house, and I was in the habit o’ gaun at night to smoke my pipe and hear the news about Bonaparte and the rest o’ them; but it was very seldom that I exceeded three tumblers. Weel, among the customers there was ane that I had got very intimate wi’–as genteel and decent a looking man as ye could see; indeed I took him to be a particular serious and honest man. So there was ae night that I was rather mair than ordinary hearty, and says he to me: ‘Mr Stuart,’ says he, ‘will you lend your name to a bit paper for me?’ ‘No, I thank ye, sir,’ says I; ‘I never wish to be caution for onybody.’ ‘It’s of no consequence,’ said he, and there was no more passed. But as I was rising to gang hame, ‘Come, tak’ anither, Mr. Stuart,’ said he; ‘I’m next the wa’ wi’ ye–I’ll stand treat.’ Wi’ sair pressing I was prevailed upon to sit doun again, and we had anither and anither, till I was perfectly insensible. What took place, or how I got hame, I couldna tell, and the only thing I remember was a head fit to split the next day, and Jeannie very ill pleased and powty-ways. However, I thought nae mair about it, and I was extremely glad I had refused to be bond for the person who asked me; for within three months I learned that he had broken and absconded wi’ a vast o’ siller. It was just a day or twa after I had heard the intelligence, I was telling Jeannie and her mother o’ the circumstance, and what an escape I had had, when the servant lassie showed a bank clerk into the room. ‘Tak’ a seat, sir,’ said I, for I had dealings wi’ the bank. ‘This is a bad business, Mr. Stuart,’ said he. ‘What business?’ said I, quite astonished. ‘Your being security for Mr. So-and-so,’ said he. ‘Me!’ cried I, starting up in the middle o’ the floor–‘Me!–the scoundrel–I denied him point blank!’ ‘There is your own signature for a thousand pounds,’ said the clerk. ‘A thousand furies!’ exclaimed I, stamping my foot; ‘it’s a forgery–an infernal forgery!’ ‘Mr. Such-a-one is witness to your handwriting,’ said the clerk. I was petrified; I could hae drawn down the roof o’ the house upon my head to bury me! In a moment a confused recollection o’ the proceedings at Luckie Macnaughton’s flashed across my memory, like a flame from the bottomless pit! There was a look o’ witherin’ reproach in my mother-in-law’s een, and I heard her mutterin’ between her teeth, ‘I aye said what his three tumblers wad come to.’ But my dear Jeannie bore it like a Christian, as she is. She cam forward to me, an’, poor thing, she kissed my cheek, and says she, ‘Dinna distress yoursel’, David, dear–it cannot be helped now–let us pray that this may be a lesson for the future.’ I flung my arm round her neck–I couldna speak; but at last I said, ‘Oh Jeannie, it will be a lesson, and your affection will be a lesson!’ Some o’ your book-learned folk wad ca’ this conduct philosophy in Jeannie; but I, wha kenned every thought in her heart, was aware that it proceeded from her resignation as a true Christian, and her affection as a dutiful wife. Weel, the upshot was, I had robbed mysel’ out o’ a thousand pounds as simply as ye wad snuff out a candle. You have heard the saying, that sorrow ne’er comes singly; and I am sure, in a’ my experience, I have found its truth. At that period I had two thousand pounds, bearing six per cent., lying in the hands o’ a gentleman o’ immense property. Everybody believed him to be as sure as the bank. Scores o’ folk had money in his hands. The interest was paid punctually, and I hadna the least suspicion. Weel, I was looking ower the papers one morning at breakfast, and I happened to glance at the list o’ bankrupts (a thing I’m no in the habit o’ doing), when, mercy me! whose name should I see but the very gentleman’s that had my twa thousand pounds! I had the paper in one hand and a saucer in the other. The saucer and the coffee gaed smash upon the hearth! I trembled frae head to foot. ‘Oh David! what’s the matter?’ cried Jeannie. ‘Matter!’ cried I; ‘matter! I’m ruined!–we’re a’ ruined!’ But it’s o’ nae use dwelling on this. The fallow didna pay eighteenpence to the pound; and there was three thousand gaen out o’ my five! It was nae use, wi’ a young family, to talk o’ living on the interest o’ our money now. ‘We maun tak’ a farm,’ says I; and baith Jeannie and her mother saw there was naething else for it. So I took a farm which lay partly in the Lammermoors and partly in the Merse. It took the thick end o’ eight hundred pounds to stock it. However, we were very comfortable in it; I found mysel’ far mair at hame than I had been in Edinburgh; for I had employment for baith mind and hands, and Jeannie very soon made an excellent farmer’s wife. Auld grannie, too, said she never had been sae happy; and the bairns were as healthy as the day was lang. We couldna exactly say that we were making what ye may ca’ siller, yet we were losing nothing, and every year laying by a little. There was a deepish burn ran near the onstead. We had been about three years in the farm, and our youngest lassie was about nine years auld. It was the summer time, and she had been paidling in the burn, and sooming feathers and bits o’ sticks; I was looking after something that had gaen wrang about the threshin’ machine, when I heard an unco noise get up, and bairns screamin’. I looked out, and I saw them runnin’ and shoutin’–‘Miss Jeannie! Miss Jeannie!’ I rushed out to the barnyard. ‘What is’t, bairns?’ cried I. ‘Miss Jeannie! Miss Jeannie!’ said they, pointing to the burn. I flew as fast as my feet could carry me. The burn, after a spate on the hills, often cam awa in a moment wi’ a fury that naething could resist. The flood had come awa upon my bairn; and there, as I ran, did I see her bonnie yellow hair whirled round and round, sinking out o’ my sight, and carried awa doun wi’ the stream. There was a linn about thirty yards frae where I saw her, and oh! how I rushed to snatch a grip o’ her before she was carried ower the rocks! But it was in vain–a moment sooner, and I might hae saved her; but she was hurled ower the precipice when I was within an arm’s length, and making a grasp at her bit frock! My poor little Jeannie was baith felled and drowned. I plunged into the wheel below the linn, and got her out in my arms. I ran wi’ her to the house, and I laid my drowned bairn on her mother’s knee. Everything that could be done was done, and a doctor was brought frae Dunse; but the spark o’ life was out o’ my bit Jeannie. I felt the bereavement very bitterly; and for many a day, when Margaret and Andrew sat down at the table by our sides, my heart filled; for as I was helpin’ their plates, I wad put out my hand again to help anither, but there was nae ither left to help. But Jeannie took our bairn’s death far sairer to heart than even I did. For several years she never was hersel’ again, and just seemed dwinin’ awa. Sea-bathing was strongly recommended; and as she had a friend in Portobello, I got her to gang there for a week or twa during summer. Our daughter Margaret was now about eighteen, and her brother Andrew about fifteen; and as I thought it would do them good, I allowed them to gang wi’ their mither to the bathing. They were awa for about a month, and I firmly believe that Jeannie was a great deal the better o’t. But it was a dear bathing to me on mony accounts for a’ that. Margaret was an altered lassie a’thegither. She used to be as blithe as a lark in May, and now there was nae gettin’ her to do onything; but she sat couring and unhappy, and seighin’ every handel-a-while, as though she were miserable. It was past my comprehension, and her mother could assign nae particular reason for it. As for Andrew, he did naething but yammer, yammer, frae morn till night, about the sea; or sail boats, rigged wi’ thread and paper sails, in the burn. When he was at the bathing he had been doun aboot Leith, and had seen the ships, and naething wad serve him but he would be a sailor. Night and day did he torment my life out to set him to sea. But I wadna hear tell o’t–his mother was perfectly wild against it, and poor auld grannie was neither to hand nor to bind. We had suffered enough frae the burn at our door, without trusting our only son upon the wide ocean. However, all we could say had nae effect–the craik was never out o’ his head; and it was still, ‘I will be a sailor.’ Ae night he didna come in as usual for his four-hours, and supper time cam, and we sent a’ round about to seek him, but naebody had heard o’ him. We were in unco distress, and it struck me at ance that he had run to sea. I saddled my horse that very night and set out for Leith, but could get nae trace o’ him. This was a terrible trial to us, and ye may think what it was when I tell ye it was mair than a twelvemonth before we heard tell o’ him; and the first accounts we had was a letter by his ain hand, written frae Bengal. We had had a cart down at Dunse for some bits o’ things, and the lad brought the letter in his pocket; and weel do I mind how Jeannie cam’ fleein’ wi’ it open in her hand across the fields to where I was looking after some workers thinnin’ turnips, crying, ‘David! David! here’s a letter frae Andrew!’ ‘Read it! read it!’ cried I, for my een were blind wi’ joy. But Andrew’s rinnin’ awa wasna the only trial that we had to bear up against at this time. As I was tellin’ ye, there was an unco change ower Margaret since she had come frae the bathin’; and a while after, a young lad that her mother said they had met wi’ at Portobello began to come about the house. He was the son o’ a merchant in Edinburgh, and pretended that he had come to learn to be a farmer wi’ a neighbour o’ ours. He was a wild, thoughtless, foppish-looking lad, and I didna like him; but Margaret, silly thing, was clean daft about him. Late and early I found him about the house, and I tauld him I couldna allow him nor ony person to be within my doors at any such hours. Weel, this kind o’ wark was carried on for mair than a year; and a’ that I could say or do, Margaret and him were never separate; till at last he drapped off comin’ to the house, and our daughter did naething but seigh and greet. I found that, after bringing her to the point o’ marriage, he either wadna or durstna fulfil his promise unless I wad pay into his loof a thousand pounds as her portion. I could afford my daughter nae sic sum, and especially no to be thrown awa on the like o’ him. But Jeannie cam to me wi’ the tears on her cheeks, and ‘O David!’ says she, ‘there’s naething for it but partin’ wi’ a thousand pounds on the ae hand or our bairn’s death–and her–shame on the ither!’ Oh! if a knife had been driven through my heart, it couldna pierced it like the word _shame_! As a faither, what could I do? I paid him the money, and they were married.
“It’s o’ nae use tellin’ ye how I gaed back in the farm. In the year sixteen my crops warna worth takin’ aff the ground, and I had twa score o’ sheep smothered the same winter. I fell behint wi’ my rent; and household furniture, farm-stock, and everything I had, were to be sold off. The day before the sale, wi’ naething but a bit bundle carrying in my hand, I took Jeannie on my ae arm and her puir auld mither on the other, and wi’ a sad and sorrowfu’ heart we gaed out o’ the door o’ the hame where our bairns had been brought up, and a sheriff’s officer steeked it behint us. Weel, we gaed to Coldstream, and we took a bit room there, and furnished it wi’ a few things that a friend bought back for us at our sale. We were very sair pinched. Margaret’s gudeman ne’er looked near us, nor rendered us the least assistance, and she hadna it in her power. There was nae ither alternative that I could see; and I was just gaun to apply for labouring wark when we got a letter frae Andrew, enclosing a fifty-pound bank-note. Mony a tear did Jeannie and me shed ower that letter. He informed us that he had been appointed mate o’ an East Indiaman, and begged that we would keep ourselves easy; for while he had a sixpence, his faither and mither should hae the half o’t. Margaret’s husband very soon squandered away the money he had got frae me, as weel as the property he had got frae his faither; and, to escape the jail, he ran off, and left his wife and family. They cam to stop wi’ me; and for five years we heard naething o’ him. We had begun a shop in the spirit and grocery line, and really we were remarkably fortunate. It was about six years after I had begun business, ae night just after the shop was shut, Jeannie and her mother, wha was then about ninety, and Margaret and her bairns, and mysel’, were a’ sittin’ round the fire, when a rap cam to the door; ane o’ the bairns ran and opened it, and twa gentlemen cam in. Margaret gied a shriek, and ane o’ them flung himsel’ at her feet. ‘Mother! faither!’ said the other, ‘do ye no ken me?’ It was our son Andrew, and Margaret’s gudeman! I jamp up, and Jeannie jamp up; auld grannie raise totterin’ to her feet, and the bairns screamed, puir things. I got haud o’ Andrew, and his mother got haud o’ him, and we a’ grat wi’ joy. It was such a night o’ happiness as I had never kenned before. Andrew had been made a ship captain. Margaret’s husband had repented o’ a’ his follies, and was in a good way o’ doing in India; and everything has gane right and prospered wi’ our whole family frae that day to this.”
THE BURGHER’S TALES.
THE ANCIENT BUREAU.
The sources of legends are not often found in old sermons; and yet it will be admitted that there are few remarkable events in man’s history, which, if inquired into, will not be found to embrace the elements of very impressive pulpit discourses. Even in cases which seem to disprove a special, if not a general Providence, there will always be found in the account between earth and heaven some “desperate debt,” mayhap an “accommodation bill,” which justifies the ways of God to man. It may even be said that the fact of our being generally able to find that item is a proof of the wonderful adaptability of Christianity to the fortunes and hopes of our race. That ministers avoid the special topics of peculiar destinies, may easily be accounted for otherwise than by supposing that they cannot explain them so as to vindicate God’s justice; but if ever there was a case where that difficulty would seem to the eye of mere reason to culminate in impossibility, it is that which I have gleaned from a veritable pulpit lecture. I have the sermon in my possession, but from the want of the title-page, I am unable to ascertain the author. The date at the end is 1793, and the text is, “Inscrutable are _his_ judgments.”
Inscrutable indeed in the case to which the words were applied–no other than an instance of death by starvation, which occurred in Edinburgh in the year we have just mentioned. In that retreat of poverty called Middleton’s Entry, which joins the dark street called the Potterrow, and Bristo Street, the inhabitants were roused into surprise, if not a feeling approaching to horror, by the discovery that a woman, who had lived for a period of fifteen years in a solitary room at the top of one of the tenements, had been found in bed dead. A doctor was called, but before he came it was concluded by those who had assembled in the small room that she had died from want of food; and such was the fact. The body–that of one not yet much past the middle of life, and with fair complexion and comely features–was so emaciated, that you might have counted the ribs merely by the eye; and all those parts where the bones are naturally near the surface exhibited a sharpness which suggested the fancy, that as you may see a phosphorescent skeleton through the glow, you beheld in the candle-light the figure of death under the thin covering of the bones. She realized, in short, the description which doctors give of the appearance of those unfortunate beings who die of what is technically called _atrophia familicorum_–that Nemesis of civilisation which points scornfully to the victim of want, and then looks round on God’s bountiful table, set for the meanest of his creatures. So we may indite; but rhetoric, which is useless where the images cannot rise to the dignity or descend to the humiliation of the visible fact, must always come short of the effect of the plain words that a human creature–perhaps good and amiable and delicate to that shyness which cannot complain–has died in the very midst of a proclaimed philanthropy, and within the limits of a space comprehending smoking tables covered with luxuries, and surrounded by Christian men and women filled with meat and drink to repletion and satiety.
Some such thoughts might have been passing through the minds of the assembled neighbours; and they could not be said to be the less true that a shrunk and partially-withered right arm showed that the doom of the woman had been so far precipitated by the still remaining effects of an old stroke of palsy. And the gossip confirmed this, going also into particulars of observation,–how she had kept herself so to herself as if she wished to avoid the neighbours,–a fact which to an extent justified their imputed want of attention; how almost the only individual who had visited her was a peculiar being, in the shape of a very little man, with a slight limp and thin pleasant features, illuminated by a pair of dark, penetrating eyes. For years and years had he been seen, always about the same hour of the day, ascending her stair, and carrying a flagon, supposed to contain articles of food. Then the gossiping embraced the furniture and other articles in the room, which, however they might have been unnoticed before, had now assumed the usual interest when seen in the blue light of the acted tragedy: the small mahogany table and the two chairs–how strange that they should be of mahogany!–and some of the few marrowless plates in the rack over the fireplace, why, they were absolute china! but above all, the exquisite little bureau of French manufacture, with its drawers, its desk, and pigeon-holes, and cunning slides–what on earth was it doing in that room, when its value even to a broker would have kept the woman alive for months? Questions these put by a roused curiosity, and perhaps not worth answer. Was not she a woman, and was not that enough?
Not enough; for legendary details cluster round startling events, and often carry a moral which may prevent a repetition of these; and so, had it not been for this apparently inexplicable death by starvation, our wonderful story might never have gathered listeners round the evening fire. We must go back some twenty years before the date of the said sermon to find a certain merchant-burgess of the city of Edinburgh, David Grierson, occupying a portion of a front land situated in the Canongate, a little to the east of Leith Wynd. It would be sheer affectation in us to pretend that this merchant-burgess had any mental or physical characteristic about him to justify his appearance in a romance, if we except the power he had shown of amassing wealth, of which he had so much that he could boast the possession of more than twenty goodly tenements, some of wood and some of stone, besides shares of ships and bank stock. And no doubt this exception might stand for the thing excepted from, for money, though commonly said to be extraneous, is often so far in its influences intraneous, that it changes the feelings and motives, and enables them to work. And then don’t we know that it is by extraneous things we are mostly led? But however all that may be, certain it is that our merchant-burgess was a great man in his own house in the Canongate, where his family consisted of Rachel Grierson, his natural daughter, by a woman who had been long dead, and Walter Grierson, his legitimate nephew, who had been left an orphan in his early years, and who was his nearest lawful heir. Two servants completed the household; and surely in this rather curious combination there might be, if only circumstances were favourable to their development, elements which might impart interest to a story.
So long as the shadow of the dark angel was, as Time counted, far away from him, Burgess David was comparatively happy; but as he got old and older, he began to realize the condition of the poet–
“Now pleasure will no longer please, And all the joys of life are gone;
I ask no more on earth but ease,
To be at peace, and be alone:
I ask in vain the winged powers
That weave man’s destiny on high; In vain I ask the golden hours
That o’er my head for ever fly.”
Then he waxed more and more anxious as to what he was to do with his money. He tried to put away the thought; but the terrible _magistra necessitas_ went round and round him with ever-diminishing circles, clearly indicating a conflict in which he must succumb. He must make a will; an act which it is said no man is ever in a hearty condition to perform, unless mayhap he is angry, and wishes to cut off an ungrateful dog with a shilling; and besides the general disinclination to sign the disposal of so much wealth, of which he was more than ordinarily fond, and to give away, as it were, _omnia praeter animam_, in the very view of giving away the soul too, he was in a great perplexity as to how to divide his means. Nor could he reconcile himself to a division at all, preferring, as the greatly lesser evil, the alternative of destinating his fortune all of a lump, with some hope of its being kept together. As for Walter, though he had some affection for him, he had not much confidence in him, for he had seen that he was hare-brained as regarded things which suited his fancy, and pig-brained as respected those which solicited and required sound judgment; while Rachel, again, was everything which, among the lower angels, could be comprehended under the delightful title of “dear soul,” an amiable and devoted creature, as stedfast in her affections as she was wise in the selection of their objects. So by revolving in his mind all the beauties of the character of her who, however disqualified by law, was still of his flesh and blood, yea, of his very nature, as he complacently thought in compliment to himself, he became more and more reconciled to his intention, if the very thought of making a will, which had been horrible to him, did not become even a pleasing kind of meditation. So is it–when Nature imposes an inevitable duty, she gives man the power of inventing a pleasing reason for his obedience; nay, so much of a self-dissembler is he, that he even cheats himself into the belief that his obedience is an act of his own will. In all which he at least proved the value of one of the arguments in favour of marriage; for trite it is to say, a bachelor bears to no one a love which reconciles him to will-making, while a father, in leaving his means to his children, feels as if he were giving to himself. But this plan of our merchant-burgess had in addition a spice of ingenuity in it which still more pleased him–he would so contrive matters that the daughter and the nephew would become, after his death, man and wife. He had only some doubts how far their tastes agreed,–probably an absurd condition, in so much as we all know that love is often struck out by opposition, and that there is a pleasant suitability in a husband preferring the head of a herring, and the wife the tail.
Having thus arrived at a sense of his duty by the pleasant path of his affection, Mr. David Grierson seized the first opportunity which presented itself of sounding the heart of Rachel, in order to know in what direction her affections ran. Sitting in his big chair, all so comfortably cushioned by the hands of the said Rachel herself, and with a good fire alongside, due also to her unremitting care, he called her to him, and placing his arm round her waist, as he was often in the habit of doing, said to her–
“Rachel, dear, I feel day by day my strength leaving me, and it may be, nay, will be, that I will not be very much longer with you.”
Rachel looked at him for a little, but said nothing, for, as the saying goes, her heart came to her mouth, and she could not have spoken even if she would; but the father understood all this, and preferred the mute expression of a real grief to a hysterical burst–of which, indeed, her calm genial nature was incapable.
“Forgive me, dear,” continued he, “for I would not willingly cause you sorrow, but I have a reason for speaking in this grave way. Who is to fill the old arm-chair when I cannot occupy it?”
And he smiled somewhat grimly as he sought her eye, in which he could observe the most real of all nature’s evidences of emotion.
“What mean you, father?” she replied, with something like an effort to respond to his humour.
“Why, then, Rachel,” he said, “to be out with it, I want to know whether you have fixed your heart on any one.”
“Only upon you, dear father,” she replied, with a smile which struggled against her seriousness.
“Nay, Rachel,” continued he. “It is no light matter, and I must have an answer. I intend to leave you my whole fortune, but upon one condition, which is, that if Walter Grierson shall sue for your hand, you will consent to marry him.”
To this there was a reply given with an alacrity which showed how her heart pointed–“Yes;” then, adding that wonderful little word “but,” which makes such havoc among our resolutions, she paused, while her eyes sought the ground.
“What ‘but’ can be here?” interjected the old man. “Surely you do not mean to doubt whether _he_ would consent?”
“And yet that is just my doubt,” she replied, as if she felt humiliated by the admission.
“Doubt!” cried the father, in rising wrath; “doubt, doubt if a beggar would consent to be made rich by marrying _you_! Why, Rachel, dear, if the fellow were to breathe a sigh of hesitation, he would deserve to be a beggar with more holes than wholes in his gabardine, and too poor even to possess a wallet to carry his bones and crumbs. Have you any reason for your strange statement?”
“No,” replied the girl, with a sigh. “It is only my heart that speaks.”
“And the heart never lies,” said he sharply. “But I shall see,” he muttered to himself, “whether a certain tongue in a certain head shall speak in the same way.”
“But would it not bring me down,” said she, “were he to think that he was forced by a promise?”
“A promise!” rejoined he; “why, so it would, my dear. I see you are right.” But then he thought he could sound him without putting any obligation upon him. “And a pretty obligation it would be,” he continued, “for a young fellow cut off with a shilling to bind himself to consent to be the acceptor of two such gifts as a fine girl and a fortune.”
And Burgess David tried to laugh; but the effort was still that of a heavy heart, and, reclining his head upon the back of the chair, he relapsed into those thoughts which, as Age advances to the term where Hope throws down her lamp, press in and in upon the spirit. Rachel glided away quietly, perhaps to think; and certainly she had something to think about.
So, too, doubtless had Mr. David Grierson, who, after indulging in his reverie, wherein the subject of will-making suggested a match between himself and a certain bridegroom who never says nay, awoke to the interest of his scheme of match-making in this world. So far he had accomplished his object, for he could rely upon his faithful Rachel’s performance of her promise; and if the two should be married, he knew how to take care to give her the power of the money, and keep a youth, in whose prudence he had no great faith, in proper check. Next he had to sound the nephew. Nor was it long before he had an opportunity–even that same afternoon.
“Walter,” he began with an abruptness for which probably the young man was scarcely prepared, “I am getting old, and must now think of arranging my affairs so as to endeavour to make my fortune serve the purpose of rendering those happy in whom I have a natural interest. So I have some interest also as well as, I suspect, some right to put the question to you, whether you ever thought of Rachel Grierson for your wife?”
“Upon my word,” replied the nephew, with just as little _mauvais honte_ as suited his nature, “I never thought of aspiring to the _honour_.”
A word this last which grated on the ear of the rich merchant-burgess, inasmuch as it suggested a suspicion of the figure of speech called irony, seeing that Rachel Grierson was a bastard, and the youth carried the legitimate blood of the Griersons in his veins.
“Honour or no honour,” replied he sharply, and perhaps contrary to his original intention, “Rachel Grierson is to inherit my fortune, ay, every penny thereof.”
“Every penny thereof,” echoed the youth, as if his mind had flown away with the words, and dropt them in despair as it flew.
“Yes,” rejoined the angry uncle, “lands, tenements, hereditaments, shares, dividends, stock, furniture, bed and table linen.”
“And table linen,” echoed the entranced nephew.
“Yes; everything,” continued the uncle; and calming down as he saw the white lips and blank despair of the youth, he added–“And to you I will leave and bequeath my natural-born daughter, Rachel Grierson.”
And as he uttered these significant words, he watched carefully the face of the youth, where, however, all indications defied his perspicacity, inasmuch as blank astonishment was still the prevailing expression. But after some minutes the young man stuttered out–
“A legacy worthy of a nobleman!”
Words that sounded beautifully, because they were true as regarded Rachel, whatever they might be as respected his secret intention; yet as the children vaticinate from the examination of each other’s tongues, if the uncle had examined the organ, he might have discovered some of those blue lines which produce an exclamation from the young augurs.
“_Words_ worthy, too, of a nobleman,” cried the old man in a trembling voice; and holding out his hand, which shook under his emotion of delight at hearing his beloved Rachel so praised, he seized that of his nephew–
“Yes, Walter,” he added, “you have by these words redeemed yourself, and I will take them as an offering of your willingness to accept my legacy; but, remember, I extort no promise, which might reduce the value of a young woman’s affection,–a gift to be accepted for its own sake.”
“I am content,” said Walter.
“And I am satisfied,” added the uncle. “But here is wine on the table,” he continued, as he turned his eye in the direction of a decanter of good claret, just as if Rachel had, by her art of love, anticipated what he wished at this moment. “Ah, Walter, if she shall watch your wants as she has done mine, you will live to feel that you cannot want _her_, and live; so fill up a glass for me, and one for yourself, that we may drink to the happiness of the dear girl when, after I am dead, she shall become your wedded wife.”
“With all and sundry lands, tenements, hereditaments, and so forth,” cried Walter, with a laugh which might pass as genuine, and which was responded to by a chuckle from the dry throat of the uncle, which certainly was so.
So the pledge was taken; and Walter Grierson went away, leaving the old merchant-burgess as happy as any poor mortal creature can be when so near the term of his departure. Such is our way of speaking; and yet we are forced to admit, that at no period of life, however near the ultimate, abating the advent of the great illumination which breaks like a new dawn upon the internal sense of a favoured few, can you say that the hold of this world upon the spirit is ever renounced. Whether the young man was as happy, we may not venture to say; but this we might surmise, even at this stage of our story, and in reference to the classical proverb, that the bastard might be the beautiful Nisa, and the lawful heir the ill-favoured Mopsus.
These things we may leave to development; and with a caution to the reader not to be over-suspicious, we will follow our Nisa, Rachel Grierson, as she proceeds from the house of the merchant-burgess up the High Street, at a period of the evening of the same day when the shadows of the tall lands wrapped the crowds of loiterers and passengers almost in utter darkness; not that she chose this time for any purpose of secrecy,–for she had no secret, except that solitary one which every young woman has, and holds, up to the minute of conviction, that she is engaged, after which it becomes a flame blown by her own breath,–but simply because it suited the routine of her duties. Her night-cloak kept her from the cold, and the panoply of her virtue secured her from insult; so, threading her way amidst the throng, she arrived at the head of the old winding street called the West Bow, where, at a projection a little to the north of Major Weir’s Entry, she mounted a narrow stair. On arriving at a door on the third landing-place, she tapped gently, and in obedience to a shrill voice, which cried “Come in,” she lifted the latch, and entered a small room, where, at a bench, sat a very peculiar personage. This was no other than the famous Paul Bennett, an artist in jewellery, who at that time excelled all his compeers for beauty of design and exquisite refinement of minute elaboration. And this, perhaps, a good judge of mankind might have augured of him; for while his body was far below the middle size, his long thin fingers, tapering to a point, seemed to be suitable instruments intended to serve a pair of dark eyes so lustrous and sharp, that nothing within the point of the beginning of infinitesimals might seem to escape them. Nor was his pale face less suggestive of his peculiar faculties; for it was made up of fine delicate features, harmonized into regularity, and so expressive, that it seemed to change with every feeling of the moment, even as the flitting moonbeams play on the face of a statue. In addition to these peculiarities, his appearance was rendered the more striking, that, working as he did under a strong reflected light, cast down immediately before his face by a dark shade, the upper part of his person and a circle on the bench were in bright relief, while the other parts of the room were comparatively dark.
“Still at work, Paul,” said Rachel, as she entered; “how long do you intend to work to-night?”
“Till the idea becomes dim, and the sense waxes thick,” replied he, as he turned his eyes upon her.
“I have something to tell you,” she continued, as she sat down on a chair between him and the fire, if that could be called such which consisted of some red cinders.
“Some other wonder,” replied he; “another cropping out of the workings of fate.”
Words these, as coming from our little artist, which require some explanation, to the effect that Paul was a philosopher, too, in his own way. Early misfortunes, which mocked the resolutions of a will never very strong, had played into a habit of thinking, and brought him to the conviction that every movement or change in the moral world, not less than in the physical, is the result of a cause which runs back through endless generations to the first man, and even beyond him. Paul was, in short, a fatalist; not of that kind which romance writers feign in order to make the character work through a gloomy presentiment of his own destiny, but merely a believer in a universal original decree, the workings of which we never know until the effects are seen. A fatalist of this kind almost every man is, less or more, in some mood or another; only, to save himself from being a puppet, moved by springs or drawn by strings, he generally contrives to except his _will_ from the scheme of the iron-bound necessity. But Paul would permit of no such exception. The will, with him, was merely the _motive in action_; and as he compelled you to admit that no thought is, in man’s experience, ever called into being, only developed from prior conditions, and that, even as to an idea, the doctrine _Nihil nisi ex ovo_ is true, and therefore that no man can manufacture a motive, so he took a short way with the maintainers of a moral liberty. This doctrine, so gloomy, so grand, yet so terrible, was, to Paul, a conviction, which he almost made practical; nay, he seemed to realize a kind of poetic pleasure from reveries, which represented to him the universe, with the sun and the stars, and all living creatures–walking, flying, swimming, or crawling–going through their parts in the great melodrama of destiny, no one knowing how, or why, or wherefore, yet every human being believing that he is master of his actions, at the very moment that he might be conscious that his belief is only a part of the great law of necessity. Then it seemed as if this delusion in which men indulge, and are forced to indulge, was an element of the farce introduced into the play, so as to relieve the mind from the heavy burden of contemplating so terrible a theory.
“Something to tell me, Rachel!” continued he; “and what may that be?”
“My father has told me to-day,” replied she, “that he is to leave me all his fortune; and however grieved I may be at the thought of losing him, I am glad to think that it may be in my power to be of service to you, Paul, as my only relative on my mother’s side.”
“Service,” muttered Paul to himself, while he looked into her face as wistfully as a lover, which indeed he was, though in secret. “And what is to become of Walter Grierson?” he asked.
“When he finds that the entire fortune is mine,” replied she, “he will propose to marry me; and this is what my father wishes to bring about by putting the fortune in my power.”
“So the events crop out from the long chain of causes,” thought Paul; “but who shall tell the final issue? Look here, Rachel,” he continued, as he laid his hand on a golden locket which lay before him in the shape of a heart, “I have made this to order;” and as he spoke he touched a spring, whereupon a lid opened, and up flew a pair of tiny doves, which, with fluttering wings of gold and azure, immediately saluted each other with their long bills, and piped a few notes in imitation of the cushat. The touch of another spring immediately consigned them again to the cavity of the heart,–a conceit altogether of such refined manufacture and ingenuity of design, as to remind us of the saying of Cicero, that there is an exquisiteness in art which never can be known till it is seen fresh from the hand of genius.
“And who ordered that beautiful thing?” inquired Rachel.
“Walter Grierson,” replied Paul, fixing his eyes upon her sorrowfully, as if he felt oppressed by that gloomy theory of his.
Nor did he fail to perceive the effect his few words had produced upon the heart of his cousin, where there was a fluttering very different from that of cooing turtles; for the fate of her happiness seemed to her to be suspended on the answer to a question, and that question she was afraid to put.
“Be patient, and learn to hear,” continued the little philosopher. “Ere yet Cheops built the Pyramids, or Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, yea, before the first sensation tingled in the first nerve made out of the dust, the beginnings were laid of these events of this day and hour, and, in particular, of that one which may well astonish you and grieve you–viz., that the locket is intended for and inscribed to Agnes Ainslie.”
“Agnes Ainslie!” repeated Rachel, with parched lips and trembling voice, “the daughter of Mr. John Ainslie, my father’s agent, to whom I am even now going, by Mr. Grierson’s command, to request him to call to morrow for the purpose of preparing the settlement!”
“A strange perplexity of events,” said Paul. “But what is this mingling of threads to the great web of the universe, which is eternally being woven and unwoven, unaffected by the will of man? And then these small issues, the loss of a fortune by a man, and that of a lover by a woman, how mighty they are to the individual hearts and affections!”
“Mighty indeed,” sobbed Rachel, who had loved Walter so long, and rejoiced to have it in her power to bestow a fortune upon him, and now found all her hopes dissolved into the ashes of grief and disappointment. “Mighty indeed; and these thoughts of yours are so dreary, how can one believe in them and live!”
“We are compelled to live,” replied he, “even by that same decree which binds us to the infinite chain. Were it not so, man would imitate the day-flies, and die at sundown, that he might escape the dark night which reveals to him the mystery of his being, whereat he trembles and sobs; and all this is also in the decree.”
“But if all these things are so,” said Rachel, “what do you say of happiness? Is there no joy in the world? Are not the birds happy, when in the morning the woods resound with their song, and so, too, every animal after its kind? Are not children joyful when the house rings with their mirth? and have not men and women their pleasures of a thousand kinds? nay, might not I myself have been one of the happiest of beings, if, with the fortune which is to be left to me, that locket had been engraved with the name of Rachel Grierson in place of Agnes Ainslie?”
“Yes,” replied he, “happiness is in the decree as well; and,” he added with a smile, “it is always cropping out around us, but no one can manufacture the article. If you wait for it, you may feel it; if you run after it, you will probably not find it, because it is not ready by those eternal laws which, at their beginning, involved its coming up at a certain moment of long after-years. Then, at the best, pleasure and pain are mere oscillations; but the first movement is downwards, for we cry when we come into the world; and the last is also downwards, for we groan when we go out of it. It is the old rhyme–
‘We scream when we’re born,
We groan when we’re dying;
And all that’s between
Is but laughing and crying.'”
A parade of philosophy all this which at another time might have had but a small effect upon a youthful mind, but Rachel was in the meantime occupied by looking at the inscription on the fatal toy; and we all know that the feeling of the dominant idea of the moment assimilates to its own hue the light or shade of all other ideas of a cognate kind; and there is in this process also a selection and rejection whereby all melancholy ideas cluster in the gloomy atmosphere, if we may so term it, of the prevailing depression, and all joyful ones come together by the attraction of a joyful thought; and so Rachel was impressed by views which, if they had been modified by the comforting doctrines of Christianity, might have enabled her at once to bear and to hope. Even when Paul had finished, she was still gazing on the locket. A moment or two more, and she laid it down with a deep sigh, saying, almost involuntarily, “If my name had been there, I would not have repined at the loss of all my expected fortune.” Then, shaking hands with this peculiar being, whom she could not but respect for his ingenuity, as well as for a kindliness and sympathy which lay at the bottom of all his abstract theories, she left him to his work, at which he would continue till drowsiness made, as he said, the idea dim and the nerve thick.
Retracing her steps down the long dark stair, not a very efficient medium for the removal of impressions so unlike the results of our natural consciousness, Rachel Grierson found herself again among the bustling crowds of the High Street. Nor could she view these busy people in the light by which she saw them before entering the little dark room of the philosopher. Though she did not know the classical word, she looked upon them as so many _automata_; and the long chain of causes came into her mind so vividly, that she found herself repeating the very words of Paul. Then there was the reference to her own individual fate; and was it not through the self-medium she saw all these people in so strange a light?–with Hope’s lamp dashed down at her feet, and extinguished at the very moment when, by the communication of her father, she thought she had the means of recruiting it with a store of oil never to be exhausted till possession was accomplished. Still under these impressions, she came to the door of Mr. Ainslie’s house. There were sounds of mirth and music coming from within; and so plastic is the mind when under a deep and engrossing feeling, that she found no difficulty in concentrating and modifying these sounds into joyful articulations from the very mouths of Walter Grierson and Agnes Ainslie themselves. Such are the moral echoes which respond to, because they are formed by the suspicions of, disappointed love. No longer for the moment were Paul’s thoughts true. These happy beings inside were happy because they had the hearts and the wills to enjoy; but she could draw no conclusion that she herself could dispose her mind for the acceptance of the world’s pleasures also when her gloom should be away among the shadows, and nature’s innumerable enjoyments placed within her power. Yet, withal, she could execute her commission, and upon the door being opened, she could enter in the very face of that mirth of which she fancied herself the victim.
On being shown into a parlour, she was presently waited upon by Mr. Ainslie, who seemed to her to have come from the scene of enjoyment in the drawing-room. She could even fancy that he eyed her as in some way standing in the path of his daughter’s expectations through Walter–a fancy which of course would gain strength from the somewhat excited manner in which he received the words of her commission, to the effect that he would repair the next forenoon to the house of the merchant-burgess, for the purpose of preparing his last will and testament. The notary agreed to attend, and thus, still construing appearances according to the assimilating bent of her mind, she departed for home. After going through the routine of her domestic duties, and caring for her invalid father, she retired to bed–that place of so-called rest, where mortals chew the cud of the thoughts of the day or of years. And how unlike the two processes, the physical and the mental!–in the one is brought up for a second enjoyment the green grass of nature, still fresh and palatable and nutritious; in the other, the seared leaves of memory, feeding unavailing regrets, and filling the microcosm with phantoms and dire shapes of evil, the types whereof never had an existence in the outer world. Walter Grierson was lost to her for ever, and the dire energies of fate, as described by the artist-philosopher, seemed to hang over her, claiming, in harsh tones, her will as a mere instrument in the working out of her own destiny.
Next day Mr. Ainslie called, and was for a long time closeted with Mr. Grierson; but so careless was she now of the fortune about being left to her, and which she was satisfied would not now be a means of showing her affection for Walter, that she felt little interest in an affair which otherwise might have appeared of so much importance to her. Her attention was, notwithstanding, claimed by an incident. After the interview, the notary visited Walter Grierson in his room, where the young man seemed to have been waiting for him. In ordinary circumstances it might have appeared strange that a man of business, bound to secrecy, would divulge the terms of a will to any one, but far more that he should take means for apprising a nephew that he was deprived of any share of his uncle’s means. Nor could she account for this interview on any other supposition than that Mr. Ainslie knew of the intentions of Walter towards his daughter, and that he took this early opportunity of intimating that a disinherited young man, of the grade of a merchant’s clerk, would not, as a son-in-law, suit the expectations of an ambitious writer. Yet out of this interview there came to, if not drawn by, her fancy a glimmer of hope, inasmuch as, if the young man were rejected by the notary in consequence of the ban of disinheritance, he would be left to the attractions of her wealth; but this supposition involved the assumption that her triumph would be over a mind that was mercenary, and not over a heart predisposed to love; nay, her generosity revolted at the thought of gratifying her long-concealed passion at the expense of the sacrificed love of another. That other, too, had a better right to the object than she herself, in so far that Agnes Ainslie’s love had been returned, while hers had not. But these speculations were to be brought to the test by words and actions.
No sooner had Mr. Ainslie left than Rachel was visited in her private parlour by Walter Grierson himself. He had seldom taken that liberty before, for her secret passion had been ruled by a stern virtue. A natural shyness, remote from coyness, demanded the conciliation of respect, though ready at a moment to pass into the generosity of confidence where she was certain of a return; but his presence before her might have been accounted for by his appearance, which was that of one whose excitement was only attempted to be overborne by an effort–a result more mechanical than spiritual. His manner, not less than his countenance, composed to gravity, was belied by the tremulous light of his eye; and as he seized her hand and pressed it fervently, she could feel that his trembled more than her own. Her manner was also embarrassed, as it well might be, where so many conflicting feelings, some revived from old memories, and some produced by the singular events of the day and hour, agitated her frame.
“I am going to surprise you, cousin,” he said, while he fixed his eye upon her, as if to watch the effect of his words.
Rachel forgot for a moment the philosophy of Paul–why should one be surprised when the thing that is to be is a result of a change in something else as old as Aldebaran, let alone “the sun and the seven stars?” She was indeed prepared for a surprise.
“It is just the old story of the heart,” he resumed. “Our intercourse began so early, and partook so much of that of mere relations, that I never could tell when the mere social feeling gave place to another which I need not mention. You know, Rachel, what I mean.”
She was silent because she was distrustful, yet her heart beat bravely in spite of her efforts; for was not this man the object of her love, and is not love moved with an eloquence which makes reason ashamed of her poor figures and modes?
“Yes,” he went on, “I take it for granted that you know I am only labouring towards a confession. Yes, dear heart, for years I have considered you as the one sole object in all this world of fair visions formed to make me happy. You see I cannot get out of the ordinary mode of speech. The lover is fated to adjure, to praise, and to petition always in the same set form of words; yet is not the confession enough?”
“So far,” said she; “but I have never seen any evidence of all this;” as if she wanted more in the same strain–sweet to the ear, though distrusted by the reason.
“No more you have,” he continued, “yet you know that love is often suspicious of itself. I have watched with my eye your movements and attitudes when you thought I was not observing you. My ear has followed your voice through adjoining rooms when you thought I was listening to other sounds. I have admired your words, without venturing the response of admiration. Often I have wished to fold you in my arms when you dreamt nothing of my inward thoughts. In short, Rachel, I have loved you for years! Yes, I have enjoyed, or suffered, this gloating, yea, delightful misery of the heart when it feeds upon its own secret treasures, and trembles at the test which might dissolve the dream.”
“And why this suppression and secrecy, Walter?” she asked. “How could you know,” she continued, as she held down her head, “that I would be adverse to your wishes; nay, that I was not even in the same condition as yourself?”
“Surely you do not mean to say that?” he cried, with something like the rapture of one relieved by pleasure from pain. “I am not worthy even of the suspicion that you speak according to the bidding of your heart. Have I not watched your looks, and penetrated into your eyes, to ascertain whether I might venture to know my fate, and yet never could discover even the symptom of a return; and then was I not under a conviction that your affections were engaged elsewhere?”
“Where?” asked Rachel, with a look of surprise.
“We are apparently drifting into confessions,” responded he. “I may say that I never could construe your visits to Paul, the ingenious artist, merely as dictated by admiration of his wonderful genius.”
“You do not know that Paul is the son of my mother’s sister,” replied she. “Your uncle knows; but there may be reasons why you don’t.”
“Then I am relieved,” was the lover’s ejaculation, in a tone as if he had got quit of a great burden.
“Yes, that is the truth,” continued she; “but I also confess that I have been attracted to his small dark workshop by the exquisite curiosities of art on which he is so often engaged, and which, by occupying so much of his time, keep him poor. It was only yesterday I saw on his bench a locket which seems to transcend all his prior efforts.”
The young man smiled and nodded. What could he mean? Why was he not dumbfoundered?
“It is in the shape of a heart,” she continued; “and upon touching a spring there fly up two tiny figures, which, with fluttering wings, seem to devour each other with kisses.”
Words which forced themselves out of her in spite of her shyness, but which she could not follow up by more than a side-look at her admirer.
“And upon which,” said he, still smiling, “there is engraven the inscription, ‘From Walter Grierson to Agnes Ainslie.'”
“Yes,” sighed Rachel, “the very words. I read them again and again, and could scarcely believe my eyes.”
“And well you might not,” said he; “but your simple heart has never yet informed you that love finds out strange inventions. I have been guilty of a _ruse d’amour_, for which I beg your pardon. Knowing that you were in the habit of visiting Paul’s workroom, and seeing all the work of his cunning fingers, I got him to make the locket out of a piece of gold I got from my uncle, and the inscription was,”–and here he paused as if to watch her expression,–“yes, designed, to quicken your affection for me by awakening jealousy. I confess it. Agnes Ainslie was and is nothing to me; and I used her name merely because I thought that you would view her as a likely rival.”
“Can all this be true?” muttered Rachel to herself, as the wish to believe was pursued by the doubt which revolted against a departure from all natural and rational actions.
Perhaps she was not versed in the ways of the world; but whether so or not, the difference in effect would have been small; for what man, beloved by a woman, ever yet pled his cause before his mistress without other than a wise man for his client?
“And if it is your wish, my dear Rachel,” he continued, “the inscription shall be erased, and replaced by the name of Rachel Grierson. What say you?”
His hand was held out for that acceptance which betokened consent. It was accepted; yes, and more, His arms were next moment around her waist; the heart of the yielding girl beat rarely, the wistful face was turned up as even courting his eyes, the kiss was impressed;–why, more, Rachel Grierson was surely Walter Grierson’s, and he was hers, and surely to be for ever in this world.
Rachel was now in that state of mind when the pleasantness of a contemplated object excludes any inquiry whether it is true or false, good or evil; and, in spite of Paul’s fatalism, she was satisfied that it was with Walter’s own free will that he had done what he had done, and said what he had said. The changed inscription on the locket, and the delivery of that pledge to her, would complete the vowing of the troth whereby she was to become his wife. Entirely ignorant of what had taken place between the nephew and the uncle, by means of which she might have been able to analyze his conduct, she had only the closeting of Mr. Ainslie and Walter to suggest to her that the young man’s sudden declaration was the result of his knowledge that she was to be sole heiress. The heart that is under the influence of love, as we have hinted, is too credulous to the tongue of the lover to doubt the sincerity of his professions. So all appeared well. The motives in action were adequate to the will of the parties who used them; and as she felt that her love was in the power of herself, so she could not doubt that Walter’s affection was the result of his approval of her good qualities. Paul was now no longer an oracle. She would be pleased to have an opportunity of showing him that his genius lay more in his fingers than in his head. She had now, however, something else to do. She went to her father’s room. He was in one of those reveries to which, as we have said, all the thinking of the extremely aged is reduced, when the world and its figures of men and women, its strange oscillations and changes, its passions, pleasures, and pains, seem as made remote by the intervention of a long space–dim, shadowy, and ghost-like. It is one of the stages through which the long-living must pass, and, like all the other experiences of life, it is true only to one’s self–it cannot be communicated by words. “Old memories are spectres that do seem to chase the soul out of the world,”–an old quotation which may be admitted without embracing the metaphysical paradox, that “subjective thought is the poison of life,” or conceding the sharp sneer of the cynic–
“Know, ye who for your pleasures gape, Man’s life at best is but a scrape.”
But the entry of his daughter brought the old man back to the margin of real living existences. He held out his hand to her, and smiled in the face that was dear to him, as if for a moment he rejoiced in the experience of a feeling which connected him with breathing flesh and blood. The object of her visit was soon explained. Whispering in his ear, as if she were afraid of the sound of her own words, she told him that Walter had promised her a love-token, and that she wished to give him one in return, for which purpose she desired that she might be permitted to use one or two old “Spanish ounces” that lay in the old bureau.
“Yes, yes, dear child,” said he. “Get a golden heart made of them. It will be an emblem of the true heart you have to give him, and a pledge to boot.” Then, falling into one of his reveries, in which his mind seemed occupied by some strong feeling–“I am thus reminded,” he continued, “of the old song you used to sing. There is a verse which I hope will never be applicable to you as it was to me. I wish to hear it for the last time,” he added, with a languid smile, “in consideration of the ounces.”
Rachel knew the verse, because she had formerly noticed that it moved some chord in his memory connected with an old love affair in which his heart had been scathed; but she hesitated, for the meaning it conveyed was dowie and ominous.
“Come, come,” said he, “the fate will never be yours.”
She complied, yet it was with a trembling voice. The tune is at best but a sweet wail, and there was a misgiving of the heart which imparted the thrilling effect of a gipsy’s farewell–
“If I had wist ere I had kisst,
That true love was so ill to win, I’d have lock’d my heart in some secret part, And bound it with a silver pin.”
“Now you may take the ounces,” said he with a sigh. “The verse has more meaning to me than you wot off, and surely, I hope, less to you.”
And having thus gratified his whim–if that could be called a whim which was a desire to have repeated to him a sentiment once to him, as he hinted, a reality connected with the young heart when it was lusty, and his pulse strong and thick with the blood of young life— she went to the bureau, and, taking three of the ounces, she left the room. In the gloaming, she was again on her way to Paul’s workshop, where she found the artist, as usual, with his head bent over the bright desk on the bench, engaged in some of his fanciful creations. Having seated herself in the chair where she had so often sat, she commenced her story of the circumstances of the day,–how Walter Grierson had acted and spoken to her; how he had accounted for the locket and inscription; how he intended to change the latter, and substitute her name for that of Agnes Ainslie; how he had sought her love, and succeeded in his seeking; how she was satisfied that he was sincere in his professions; and how she had got the ounces from her father to make a love-token, to give in exchange for Walter’s. All which Paul listened to with deep attention, now and then a faint smile passing over his delicate face, and followed by the old pensive expression which was peculiar to one so deeply imbued with the conviction that he was an organism in nature’s plan, acted upon to fulfil a fate of which he could know nothing.
“And so the powers work,” said he, as he looked in the hopeful face of his friend. “You are now happy, Rachel, because you believe what Walter has said to you, and you have no power over your belief. But,” he continued, after a moment or two’s silence, “I _may_ have power over you, but not over myself. Walter Grierson has told you a falsehood, and his motive for it is adequate to his nature. Since he gave me the order for the locket, he has learnt that you are to inherit the whole fortune of your father, on the condition that you are to marry him; and his love for Agnes has been overborne by another feeling–the desire to possess your wealth. Neither the one nor the other of these feelings could he manufacture, or even modify, any more than he could charm the winds into silence, or send Jove’s bolt back to its thunder-cloud; and now, look you, his game is this: if you succeed to the money, he will marry without loving you; if not, he will marry the woman he loves–Agnes Ainslie.”
“You alarm me, Paul,” said she, involuntarily holding forth her arms, as if she would have stopped his speech.
“And you cannot help your alarm,” said he calmly; “neither can I help _not_ being alarmed by your alarm.”
“Oh, you trifle with my feelings,” she cried, with a kind of wail. “What have all these strange thoughts to do with this situation in which I am placed? Even though all things are pre-ordained, neither of us can be absolved from doing our duty to God and ourselves.”
“Absolved!” echoed Paul. “Why, Rachel, look you, we are forced to do it, or not to do it, precisely as the motive culminates into action, but we are not sensible of the compulsion; and so am I under the necessity to tell you that Walter Grierson is playing false with you, according to the inexorable law of his nature. It is not an hour yet since Agnes Ainslie called here with some old trinkets, and requested me to make a ring out of them; nor was I left without the means of understanding that it was to be given in exchange for the locket.”
“Is it possible?” cried she. “And can it be that I am deceived, and that secret powers are working my ruin?”
“Not necessarily your ruin,” said he; “no mortal knows the birth of the next moment. The womb of fate is never empty; but no man shall dare to say what is in it till the issue of every moment proves itself. Nor does all this take away hope, for hope is in the ancient decree, like all the other evolutions of time, including that hope’s being deferred till the heart grows sick; and,” he added, as he looked sorrowfully into her face, “that is the fate of mine, for, know you, Rachel Grierson, I have long loved you, and have now seen that the riches you are to inherit put you beyond the sphere of my ambition. I have often wished–pardon me Rachel–yes, I have often wished you might be left a beggar, that I might have the privilege of using the invention with which I am gifted to astonish the world by my handiwork, and bring wealth to her I loved.”
“I am surrounded on all sides by difficulties,” sighed the young woman, as she seemed to find herself in the mazes of an unseen destiny. As she looked at her cousin, she thought that one of her evils was that the capture of her affections so early by Walter had prevented her from viewing Paul in any other light than that of an ingenious artist, and a man of kindly sympathies, however much he was separated from mankind by a theory of the world too esoteric for ordinary thought, and which yet, at some time of man’s life, forces its way amidst palpitations of fear to every heart.
On reaching home she met there the notary, Mr. Ainslie, who informed her, probably at the request of her father (for information of that kind is seldom given gratuitously), that the will had been signed, and left in the possession of the old man. Even this communication, so calculated to shake from the heart so many of the sorrows of life, had no greater effect upon her generous nature than to increase the responsibility of fulfilling the condition upon which the inheritance was to be received and held. If she had not been under the effect of an early prepossession in favour of Walter, she might have doubted the sincerity of his statement, as it came from his own mouth. Suspicion attached to every word of it; but after the communication made by Paul, it was scarcely possible for her to resist the conclusion that he had told her a falsehood, and that he was aiming at the fortune, without the power or the inclination to give her in return his love; nay, that he was heartlessly sacrificing to his passion for gold two parties–the object of his real love, and that of his feigned. Yet she did not resist that conclusion; and so good an analyst was she of her own mind, that even when in the very act of throwing away these suspicions of his honesty, she knew in her soul that her love was in successful conflict with an array of evidence establishing the fact which she disregarded. Then the consciousness of this inability to cease loving the man whom she could hardly doubt to be a liar, as well as heartless and mercenary, brought up to her the strange theory of Paul. The motive which no man or woman could make or even modify, was the prime spring as well as ruler of the will, cropping out, to use his own words, from moral, if not also physical causes, laid when God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” A deeper thinker than most of her sex, she felt “the sublimity in terror” of this view of God’s ways with man. If she could not resist the resolution to love Walter, how could he resist the love he bore to another? The thought shook her to the heart; nor was she less pained when she reflected on the hapless Paul, with his long-concealed affection, so pure from the sordidness of a desire for money, that he would have toiled for her under the flame of the midnight lamp, continued into the light of the rising sun.
During the night the persistency of her resolution to remain by her past affection was maintained; yet as it was still merely a persistency implying the continuance of a foe ready to assert the old rights, she was so far unhappy that she wanted that composure of mind which consists in the absence of conflict among one’s own thoughts.
In the morning she found the locket lying on her parlour table, with the inscription changed from Agnes Ainslie to Rachel Grierson. She took it up and fixed her eyes upon it. At one time she would have given the world for it; now it attracted her and repelled her. It came from the only man she loved; but another name had been on it, which ought, for aught she could be sure of, to have been on it still. It might be the pledge of affection, but it might also be the evidence of falsehood to her and unfaithfulness to another. And then, as she traced the lines of her name, she thought she could discover the signs of a tremulousness in the hand that traced them. Amidst all these thoughts and conflicting feelings, she could not help recurring to the circumstance that he had not presented the locket with his own hands. She was unwilling to indulge in an unfavourable construction; and perhaps the more so that it so far pleased her as relieving her from the dilemma of accepting it with more coldness than her love warranted, or more warmth than her reason allowed. Nay, though she gloated over his image when she was alone, she felt an undefined fear of meeting him. Might he not be precipitated into some further defence or confession, which might fortify suspicions still battling against her prepossessions, and diminish her love? Nor was this disinclination towards personal interviews confined to this day–it continued; and it seemed as if he also wished his connection with her to stand in the meantime upon the pledges and confessions already made. This she could also notice; but as for rendering a true reason for it, she couldn’t, even with the great ability she possessed in construing conduct and character.
But meanwhile time was accumulating antagonistic forces which would explode in a consummation. Her thoughts were to be occupied by another, who claimed her affections and care by an appeal as powerful as it was without guile. Her father was seized with paralysis. He was laid speechless on the bed where she sat, a watchful and affectionate nurse, ready to sacrifice sleep and peace and rest to the wants of him who, all through her life, had been her friend and benefactor, and who had provided for her future days at the expense of hopes entertained by his legitimate heirs. For three days he had lain without speaking a word, and Rachel could only guess his wants by mute signs. During all this time her thoughts had scarcely glanced at Walter. He seemed anxious about the condition of his uncle, calling repeatedly at the bedroom door, and going away without entering. But his manner indicated no affection, if it did not rather seem that he considered the old man had done his worst against him, and that sorrow was not due from one he had disinherited. Her affections were too much engrossed by her patient to permit her thinking of what was being transacted in the outside world. Yet, when she looked upon the face of the invalid, so pale and motionless, where so long the shades of grief and the lights of joy had chased each other, by the old decree of human destiny, the words of Paul would occur to her. Was the death that was there impending the result of a more necessary law than that which had ruled every other condition of body or mind which had ever been experienced by the patient sufferer? Then there came the question, Could Walter Grierson so regulate his heart as to force it to love her in preference to Agnes Ainslie? Could she, Rachel herself, so rule her feelings as to cease loving the man she still suspected of falsehood and treachery? It was even while she was thus ruminating over thoughts that made her tremble, that she observed, on the third night, a change in her patient. He seemed to start by the advent of some recollection. His body became restless, and he waved his hand wildly, as if he wanted her to bend over him, to hear what he might struggle to say. She immediately obeyed the sign. He fixed his eyes upon her, made efforts to articulate, which resulted only in a thick, broken gibberish. She could only catch one or two indistinct words, from which it seemed that he wished to tell her _where she would find the will_; but the precise phrase whereby he wished to indicate the deposit was pronounced in such an imperfect manner that she could not make it out. Strangely enough, yet still consistently with the generosity of her character, she did not like to pain him by indicating that she did not understand him. Nay, she nodded pleasantly, as if she wanted him to be easy, under the satisfaction that he had succeeded in his efforts to articulate. Yet so far was she from thinking of the importance of the communication to herself, that she flattered him into the belief that, as he could now speak so as to be understood, he was in the way of improving. Alas for the goodness which is evil to the heart that produces it!
“There are of plants
That die of too much generosity–
Exhaling their sweet life in essences.”
Paul would have said that this too was a cropping out of the old causal strata. In two hours more, David Grierson was dead, and Rachel was left to mourn for her parent and benefactor.
Now the issues were accumulating. A very short time only was allowed to elapse before Mr. Ainslie, accompanied by Walter, came to seal up the repositories; an operation which was gone through in a manner which indicated that both of them thought they were locking up and making secure that which would destroy their hopes. They seemed under the conviction that the will was in the bureau; and if they had been men otherwise than merely what, as the world goes, are called honest, they might have abstracted the document; for the generous Rachel never even looked at their proceedings, grieved as she was at the death of her father. They were, at least, above that.
In a few days David Grierson was consigned to the earth, and, after the funeral, Mr. Ainslie, accompanied by Walter, again attended to open the repositories and read the testament. Rachel agreed to be present. When the seals were removed, she was asked by the notary if she knew where the document was deposited. She now felt the consequence of the easy manner in which she had let slip the opportunity so dearly offered by her father, of knowing the _locale_ of a writ in all respects so important; for it cannot be doubted that, if she had persevered, she might have succeeded in drawing out of him the word, articulated so as that she might have comprehended it. She accordingly, yet without any anticipation of danger, answered in the negative, whereupon the notary and nephew, who seemed to be on the most friendly terms, set about a search. Rachel remained. A whole hour was passed in the search; the will was not yet found. Every drawer of the bureau was examined,–the presses, the cabinets, the table-drawers, the trunks. And so another hour passed–no will. Rachel began to get alarmed, and perhaps the more that she saw upon the faces of the searchers an expression which she could not comprehend. Their spirits seemed to have become elated as hers became depressed; yet why should that have been, if Walter Grierson was to be “true to his troth?”
“We need search no more,” said Mr. Ainslie. “The will is not in the house. I should say it is not in existence, and that Mr. Grierson, having changed his mind, had destroyed it.”
“Not so,” replied Rachel, “for a few minutes before his death he tried to tell me where it was, but the name of the place died away upon his tongue, and I could not catch it.”
“Neither can we catch the deed,” said Walter, with a laugh which had a spice of irony in it.
And so the search was given up. The two searchers left the house, apparently in close conversation. Rachel sought her room and threw herself on a sofa, oppressed by doubts and fears which she could not very well explain. The manner of Walter appeared to her not to be that of one who was pledged to marry her. Her mind ran rapidly back over doubtful reminiscences which yielded no comfort to the heart; nay, she felt that he had never been as a lover to her; and far less that day when, as it appeared, he was to be master of his uncle’s wealth. Yet again comes the thought, Was he pledged to her? Ay, that was certain enough; and then she was so little versed in the subtle ways of the world, that she could not doubt of his being “true to his troth.”
As soon as she recovered from her meditation, she sought again the workroom of the artist, to whom she told the issue of the search for the will. Paul looked at first greatly struck, but under his strange philosophy he recovered that calmness which belongs to those of his way of thinking.
“Have I not often preached to you, Rachel,” said he, as he lay back on his chair, “that all these things were fixed ere Sirius was born? Yea,” he added, as a smile played amid the seriousness of his face, “ere yet there was a space for the dog-star to wag his tail. The croppings out will now come thick, and you will know whether you are to be a lady or a beggar.”
Rachel might have known that the consolation offered by fatalists is only the recommendation of a resignation which, as fated itself, is gloomy, if not awful, for it amounts to an annihilation of self, with all hopes, energies, and resolutions. She heard his words, and forgave him, if she did not believe him; for she knew that he was true in his friendship, and benevolent in his feelings–parts these, too, as he would have said, of the decree. She left him in a condition of sadness for which she could not yet account, and the hues of her mind seemed to be projected on all objects around her. She retired to rest; but she could not banish from her mind that the realities of her condition required to be read by the blue light of Paul’s philosophy. It was far in the morning before she fell asleep; and when nine came she felt unrested. The servant came in to her and told her the hour. The breakfast was ready; but Walter, who had not returned on the prior night, was not as usual waiting for her. The announcement was ominously in harmony with the thoughts she had tried to banish. She scarcely touched the breakfast, and the day passed in expectation of Walter. Night came, but it did not bring him. The next day passed in the same way. People called to condole without knowing how much she stood in need of condolence; but still no Walter came to redeem the pledge of his love. Yet still she hoped; nor till an entire month had gone over her head did she renounce her confidence that he would be “true to his troth.”
At the end of this period Paul advised her to take counsel. He told her that the law had remedies for losses of deeds; and she accordingly consulted a legal gentleman of the name of Cleghorn. The result was not favourable. It appeared that Mr. Ainslie denied that there was any copy or scroll of the will, through the means of which it might have been “set up,” by what is called a proving of the tenor. There was no hope here, and by-and-by she saw advertised in the _Caledonian Mercury_ that the furniture of the house was to be sold within a week. She was there on mere tolerance; and now she had got a clear intimation to flit. As for money or effects, she had none, except her wardrobe, for she never thought of providing for an exigency which she was satisfied never would occur. Again she applied to Paul, who, with her consent, went and took for her a solitary room in the close we have already mentioned. It was her intention to acquire a livelihood by means of her needle, at that time almost the only resource for genteel poverty. Some articles of furniture were got, principally by Paul; and there, two days before the sale, she took up her residence. Nor did the kindness of Paul stop here. He attended the sale, and, considerately judging that some articles belonging to her father would be acceptable to her, he purchased, for a small sum, the old bureau of which we have already spoken. The article was removed to Rachel’s room.
For a period of fifteen years did Rachel Grierson live in that room plying her needle to obtain for her a subsistence. Her story, which came to be known, procured her plenty of work; and the ten fingers, which were sufficiently employed, sufficed for the wants of the stomach,–small these wants, probably, in her who had heard of the marriage of Walter with Agnes Ainslie; yea, she who could bear to hear that intelligence might claim a right to be a pupil of Paul’s school of philosophy. Paul she indeed loved as a friend, but she never could bring herself to the resolution of marrying the little artist. There was a train of evils: the “croppings out” of her fate, as Paul called it, were thick enough and to spare; for she fell into bad health, which was the precursor of a fit of palsy, depriving her for ever of the power of working for herself. Then it was that Paul’s affection was shown more clearly than ever. Day by day he brought her all the food she required; but at length he himself was taken ill, and his absence was fatal. Pride prevented her from making her necessity known to the neighbours, with whom she had but little intercourse. We have told how she was found dead; and when we say that Paul recovered to be present at her funeral, we have only one fact more to state. It is this: Paul took the old bureau home to his own little room, to keep as a memorial of the only woman he ever loved. One day, when repairing the internal drawers, he found in a hollow perpendicular slip, which looked like a broad beading, a document which was thus entitled on the back:
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
IN FAVOUR OF
During the time that Oliver Cromwell was in Edinburgh, a lady called one day at his lodgings and solicited an interview. She was closely wrapped up in a large and loose mantle, and deeply veiled. The former, however, did not conceal a shape of singular elegance, nor mar the light and graceful carriage of the wearer. Both were exceedingly striking; and if the veil performed its duty more effectually than the mantle, by completely hiding the countenance of the future Protector’s fair visitor, it was only to incite the imagination to invest that countenance with the utmost beauty of which the “human face divine” is susceptible. Nor would such creation of the fancy have surpassed the truth, for the veiled one was indeed “fair to look upon.”
On its being announced to Cromwell that a lady desired an interview with him, he, in some surprise, demanded who and what she was. The servant could not tell. She had declined to give her name, or to say what was the purpose of her visit.
The Protector thought for a moment, and as he did so, kept gazing, with a look of abstraction, in the face of his valet. At length–
“Admit her, Porson, admit her,” he said. “The Lord sends his own messengers in his own way; and if we deny them, He will deny us.”
Porson, who was one of Cromwell’s most pious soldiers–for he served in the double capacity of warrior and valet–stroked his sleek hair down over his solemn brow, and uttered a sonorous “amen” to the unconnected and unintelligible observation of his master, who, it is well known, dealt much in this extraordinary sort of jargon.
Having uttered his lugubrious amen, Porson withdrew, and in a few minutes returned, conducting the lady, of whom we have spoken, into the presence of Cromwell.
On entering the apartment, the former threw aside her veil, and discovered a countenance of such cunning charms as moved the future Protector to throw into his manner an air of unwonted gallantry.
At the lady’s first entrance he was busy writing, and had merely thrown down his pen when she appeared, without intending to carry his courtesy any further; but he had no sooner caught a sight of the fair face of his visitor, than, excited by an involuntary impulse, he rose from his chair and advanced towards her, smiling and bowing most graciously; the latter, however, being by no means remarkable either for its ease or its elegance.
“Pray, madam,” now said Cromwell, still looking the agreeable–so far as his saturnine features would admit of such expression–“to what happy circumstance am I indebted for the honour of this visit?”
“The circumstance, sir, that brings me here is by no means a happy one,” replied the lady, in tones that thrilled even the iron nerves of Oliver Cromwell. “I am Lady Rae, General; the wife of John Lord Rae, at present a prisoner in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh for his adherence to the cause of the late king.”
“Ah, my Lady Rae, I am sorry for you–sorry for you indeed; but doubtless you have found consolation in the same source whence your afflictions have sprung. Truly may I reckon–indeed may I, doubtless–that the Lord, who has seen fit to chastise you, has also comforted you under this dispensation.”
“None, Sir General, who seek the aid of the Almighty in a true spirit ever seek that aid in vain,” replied Lady Rae; “and I have been a seeker, and have found; nor have I, I trust, been wanting on this occasion in a due submission to his will.”
“Truly, I hope not; indeed do I,” replied Cromwell. “Then, what would ye with me, fair lady? What would ye with one so feeble and humble as I am, who am but as a tool, a mean instrument in the hand of the artificer?” And the speaker assumed a look of the deepest humility.
“I dare not utter it! I dare not utter it, General!” exclaimed Lady Rae, now giving way, for the first time, to that emotion which was agitating her whole frame, although she had hitherto endeavoured, and not unsuccessfully, to conceal it. “I dare not utter it,” she said, “lest it should bring death to my hopes; yet came I hither for no other purpose.”
“Speak, lady, speak,” said Cromwell. “What would’st thou with me?”
Lady Kae flung herself on her knees, and exclaimed, with upraised countenance and streaming eyes–
“Save my husband, General! Restore him to liberty and to me; and thus,