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Book of Scottish Story
Tibby Fowler


By John Mackay Wilson

Tibby Fowler o’ the glen,
A’ the lads are wooin’ at her.” – Old Song

All our readers have heard and sung of "Tibby Fowler o’ the glen;" but they may not all be aware that the glen referred to lies within about four miles of Berwick. No one has seen and not admired the romantic amphitheatre below Edrington Castle, through which the Whitadder coils like a beautiful serpent glittering in the sun, and sports in fantastic curves beneath the pasture-clad hills, the gray ruin, the mossy and precipitous crag, and the pyramid of woods, whose branches, meeting from either side, bend down and kiss the glittering river, till its waters seem lost in their leafy bosom. Now, gentle reader, if you have looked upon the scene we have described, we shall make plain to you the situation of Tibby Fowler’s cottage, by a homely map, which is generally at hand. You have only to bend your arm, and suppose your shoulder to represent Edrington Castle, your hand Clarabad, and near the elbow you will have the spot where "ten cam rowing ower the water ;" a little nearer to Clarabad is the " lang dyke side," and immediately at the foot of it is the site of Tibby’s cottage, which stood upon the Edrington side of the river ; and a little to the west of the cottage, you will find a shadowy row of palm-trees, planted, as tradition testifieth, by the hands of Tibby’s father, old Ned Fowler, of whom many speak until this day. The locality of the song was known to many; and if any should be inclined to inquire how we became acquainted with the other particulars of our story, we have only to reply, that that belongs to a class of questions to which we do not return an answer. There is no necessity for a writer of tales taking for his motto— ‘vitam impendere vero’. Tibby’s parents had the character of being "bien bodies;” and, together with their own savings, and a legacy that had been left them by a relative, they were enabled at their death to leave their daughter in possession of five hundred pounds. This was esteemed a fortune in those days, and would afford a very respectable foundation for the rearing of one yet. Tibby, however, was left an orphan, as well as the sole mistress of five hundred pounds, and the proprietor of a neat and well-furnished cottage, with a piece of land adjoining, before she had completed her nineteenth year; and when we add that she had hair like the raven’s wings when the sun glances upon them, cheeks where the lily and the rose seemed to have lent their most delicate hues, and eyes like twin dew-drops glistening beneath a summer moonbeam, with a waist and an arm rounded like a model for a sculptor, it is not to be wondered at that "a’ the lads cam wooin’ at her." But she had a woman’s heart as well as woman’s beauty and the portion of an heiress. She found her cottage surrounded, and her path beset, by a herd of grovelling pounds-shillings-and pence hunters, whom her very soul loathed. The sneaking wretches, who profaned the name of lovers, seemed to have money written on their very eyeballs, and the sighs they professed to heave in her presence sounded to her like stifled groans of—Your gold—your gold! She did not hate them, but she despised their meanness; and as they one by one gave up persecuting her with their addresses, they consoled themselves with retorting upon her the words of the adage, that “ her pride would have a fall ! " But it was not from pride that she rejected them, but because her heart was capable of love —of love, pure, devoted, unchangeable, springing from being beloved, and because her feelings were sensitive as the quivering aspen, which trembles at the rustling of an insect’s wing. Amongst her suitors there might have been some who were disinterested ; but the meanness and sordid objects of many caused her to regard all with suspicion, and there was none among the number to whose voice her bosom responded as the needle turns to the magnet, and frequently from a cause as inexplicable. She had resolved that the man to whom she gave her hand should wed her for herself—and for herself only. Her parents had died in the same month ; and about a year after their death she sold the cottage and the piece of ground, and took her journey towards Edinburgh, where the report of her being a " great fortune," as her neighbours termed her, might be unknown. But Tibby, although a sensitive girl, was also, in many respects, a prudent one. Frequently she had heard her mother, when she had to take but a shilling from the legacy, quote the proverb, that it was

“Like a cow in a clout,
That soon wears out.”

Proverbs we know are in bad taste, but we quote it, because by its repetition the mother produced a deeper impression on her daughter’s mind than could have been effected by a volume of sentiment. Bearing therefore in her memory the maxim of her frugal parent, Tibby deposited her money in the only bank, we believe, that was at that period in the Scottish capital, and hired herself as a child’s maid in the family of a gentleman who occupied a house in the neighbourhood of Restalrig. Here the story of her fortune was unknown, and Tibby was distinguished only for a kind heart and a lovely countenance. It was during the summer months, and Leith Links became her daily resort ; and there she was wont to walk, with a child in her arms and leading another by the hand, for there she could wander by the side of the sounding sea ; and her heart still glowed for her father’s cottage and its fairy glen, where she had often heard the voice of its deep waters, and she felt the sensation which we believe may have been experienced by many who have been born within hearing of old ocean’s roar, that wherever they may be, they hear the murmur of its billows as the voice of a youthful friend ; and she almost fancied, as she approached the sea, that she drew nearer the home which sheltered her infancy. She had been but a few weeks in the family we have alluded to, when, returning from her accustomed walk, her eyes met those of a young man habited as a seaman. He appeared to be about five-and-twenty, and his features were rather manly than handsome. There was a dash of boldness and confidence in his countenance; but as the eyes of the maiden met his, he turned aside as if abashed, and passed on. Tibby blushed at her foolishness, but she could not help it; she felt interested in the stranger. There was an expression, a language, an inquiry in his gaze, she had never witnessed before. She would have turned round to cast a look after him, but she blushed deeper at the thought, and modesty forbade it. She walked on for a few minutes, upbraiding herself for entertaining the silly wish, when the child who walked by her side fell a few yards behind. She turned round to call him by his name. Tibby was certain that she had no motive but to call the child, and though she did steal a sidelong glance towards the spot where she had passed the stranger, it was a mere accident ; it could not be avoided—at least so the maiden wished to persuade her conscience against her conviction; but that glance revealed to her the young sailor, not pursuing the path on which she had met him, but following her within the distance of a few yards, and until she reached her, master’s door she heard the sound of his footsteps behind her. She experienced an emotion between being pleased and offended at his conduct, though we suspect the former eventually predominated ; for the next day she was upon the Links as usual, and there also was the young seaman, and again he followed her to within sight of her master’s house. How long this sort of dumb love-making, or the pleasures of difidence, continued, we cannot tell. Certain it is that at length he spoke, wooed, and conquered; and about a twelvemonth after their first meeting, Tibby Fowler became the wife of William Gordon, the mate of a foreign trader. On the second week after their marriage, William was to sail upon a long, long voyage, and might not be expected to return for more than twelve months. This was a severe trial for poor Tibby, and she felt as if she would not be able to stand up against it. As yet her husband knew nothing of her dowry, and for this hour she had reserved its discovery. A few days before their marriage she had drawn her money from the bank and deposited it in her chest.

"No, Willie, my ain Willie," she cried, " ye maunna, ye winna leave me already: I have neither faither, mother, brother, nor kindred; naebody but you, Willie ; only you in the wide world; and I am a stranger here, and ye winna leave your Tibby. Say that ye winna, Willie?" And she wrung his hand, gazed in his face, and wept.

"I maun gang, dearest; I maun gang," said Willie, and pressed her to his breast; "but the thocht o’ my ain wifie will mak the months chase ane anither like the moon driving shadows ower the sea. There’s nae danger in the voyage, hinny; no a grin o’ danger; sae dinna greet; but come, kiss me, Tibby, and when I come hame I’ll mak ye leddy o’ them a’.”

"Oh no, no, Willie! " she replied; "I want to be nae leddy; I want naething but my Willie. Only say that ye’ll no gang, and here’s something here, something for ye to look at." And she hurried to her chest, and took from it a large leathern pocket-book that had been her father’s, and which contained her treasure, now amounting to somewhat more than six hundred pounds. In a moment she returned to her husband; she threw her arms around his neck; she thrust the pocket-book into his bosom. "There ;Willie, there!” she exclaimed; "that is yours—my faither placed it in my hand wi’ a blessing. And wi’ the same blessing I transfer it to you; but dinna, dinna leave me. " Thus saying, she hurried out of the room. We will not attempt to describe the astonishment, we may say the joy, of the fond husband, on opening the pocket-book and finding the unlooked-for dowry. However intensely a man may love a woman, there is little chance that her putting an unexpected portion of six hundred pounds into his hands will diminish his attachment; nor did it diminish that of William Gordon. He relinquished his intention of proceeding on the foreign voyage, and purchased a small coasting vessel, of which he was both owner and commander. Five years of unclouded prosperity passed over them, and Tibby had become the mother of three fair children. William sold his small vessel, and purchased a larger one, and in fitting it up all the gains of his five successful years were swallowed up. But trade was good. She was a beautiful brig, and he had her called the ‘Tibby Fowler’. He now took a fond farewell of his wife and little ones upon a foreign voyage which was not calculated to exceed four months, and which held out high promise of advantage. But four, eight, twelve months passed away, and there was no tidings of the ‘Tibby Fowler’. Britain was then at war; there were enemies’ ships and pirates upon the sea, and there had been fierce storms and hurricanes since her husband left; and Tibby thought of all these things and wept ; and her lisping children asked her when their father would return, for he had promised presents to all, and she answered, to-morrow, and to-morrow, and turned from them, and wept again. She began to be in want, and at first she received assistance from some of the friends of their prosperity; but all hope of her husband’s return was now abandoned. The ship was not insured, and the mother and her family were reduced to beggary. ln order to support them, she sold one article of furniture after another, until what remained was seized by the landlord in security for his rent. It was then that Tibby and her children, with scarce a blanket to cover them, were cast friend-less upon the streets, to die or to beg. To the last resource she could not yet stoop, and from the remnants of former friendship she was furnished with a basket and a few trifling wares, with which, with her children by her side, she set out, with a broken and sorrowful heart, wandering from village to village. She had journeyed in this manner for some months, when she drew near her native glen, and the cottage that had been her father’s—that had been her own—stood before her. She had travelled all the day and sold nothing. Her children were pulling by her tattered gown, weeping and crying, "Bread, mother, give us bread ! ” and her own heart was sick with hunger.

"Oh, wheesht, my darlings, wheesht!” she exclaimed, and she fell upon her knees, and threw her arms round the necks of all the three, "You will get bread soon; the Almighty will not permit my bairns to perish; no, no, ye shall have bread.”

In despair she hurried to the cottage of her birth. The door was opened by one who had been a rejected suitor. He gazed upon her intently for a few seconds ; and she was still young, being scarce more than six-and-twenty, and in the midst of her wretchedness yet lovely.

"Gude gracious, Tibby Fowler !” he exclaimed, "is that you? Poor creature! are ye seeking charity? Weel, I think ye’ll mind what I said to you now, that your pride would have a fa’!”

While the heartless owner of the cottage yet spoke, a voice behind her was heard exclaiming, "It is her I it is her ! my ain Tibby and her bairns!”

At the well-known voice, Tibby uttered a wild scream of joy, and fell senseless on the earth; but the next moment her husband, William Gordon, raised her to his breast. Three weeks before, he had returned to Britain, and traced her from village to village, till he found her in the midst of their children, on the threshold of the place of her nativity. His story we need not here tell. He had fallen into the hands of the enemy; he had been retained for months on board of their vessel; and when a storm had arisen, and hope was gone, he had saved her from being lost and her crew from perishing. In reward for his services, his own vessel had been restored to him, and he was returned to his country, after an absence of eighteen months, richer than when he left, and laden with honours. The rest is soon told. After Tibby and her husband had wept upon each other’s neck, and he had kissed his children, and again their mother, with his youngest child on one arm, and his wife resting on the other, he hastened from the spot that had been the scene of such bitterness and transport. In a few years more, William Gordon having obtained a competency, they re-purchased the cottage in the glen, where Tibby Fowler lived to see her children’s children, and died at a good old age in the house in which she had been born—the remains of which, we have only to add, for the edification of the curious, may be seen until this day.


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