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Book of Scottish Story
The Crimes of Richard Hawkins


When a young man, Richard Hawkins was guilty of the heinous crime of betraying the daughter of a respectable farmer in the west of Galloway, of the name of Emily Robson. As he yet loved the injured maiden, he would have married her, but in this he was determinedly opposed by her relatives, and particularly by her only brother, betwixt whom and himself an inveterate hostility had, from various causes, been growing up since their earliest boyhood. From remorse partly, and shame and disappointment, and partly from other causes, Hawkins hereupon left his home and went abroad; but after making a considerable sum of money he returned to Scotland, determined to use every remonstrance to win over Emily's friends to allow him yet by marriage to make reparation to the gentle maiden, the remembrance of whose beauty and faithful confiding spirit had unceasingly haunted him in a foreign land. He arrived first at Glasgow, and proceeded thence to Edinburgh, where he purposed to stay a week or a fortnight before going southward to his native county, in which also Emily Robson resided.

During his stay in the metropolis, having been one evening invited to sup at the house of a gentleman, originally from the same county with himself, scarcely had he taken his seat in his host's parlour, when Emily's brother entered, and, instantly recognizing him, advanced with a face of grim wrath, denounced him as a villain, declared he would not sit a moment in his company, and to make good his declaration, instantly turned on his heel and left the house. The violent spirit of Hawkins was in a moment stung to madness by this rash and unseasonable insolence, which was offered him, moreover, before a number of gentlemen; he rose, craved their leave for a moment, that he might follow, and show Mr Robson his mistake; and sallying out of the house, without his hat, he overtook his aggressor on the street, tapped him on the shoulder, and thus bespoke him, with a grim smile:—"Why, sir, give me leave to propound to you that this same word and exit of yours are most preciously insolent. With your leave, now, I must have you back, gently to unsay me a word or two; or, by heaven! this night your blood shall wash out the imputation!"

"This hour—this hour!" replied Robson, in a hoarse compressed whisper; "my soul craves to grapple with you, and put our mutual affair to a mortal arbitrament. Hark ye, Hawkins, you are a stranger in this city, I presume, and cannot reasonably be expected easily to provide yourself with a second; moreover, no one would back such a villain;—now, will you follow me this moment to my lodgings, accept from my hand one of a pair of pistols, and let us, without faither formality, retire to a convenient place, and do ourselves a pleasure and a justice. I am weary of living under the same sun with you, and if I can shed your foul blood beneath yon chaste stars of God, I would willingly die for it. Dare you follow me?—and, quickly, before those fellows think of looking after us?"

To Hawkins' boiling heart of indignation 'twas no hard task so to follow, and the above proposal of Robson was strictly and instantly followed up. We must notice here particularly, that, as the parties were about to leave the house, a letter was put into Robson's hand, who, seeing that it was from his mother, and bore the outward notification of mourning, craved Hawkins' permission to read it, which he did with a twinkling in his eye, and a working, as of deep grief, in the muscles of his face ; but in a minute he violently crushed the letter, put it into his pocket, and, turning anew to his foe with glaring eyes of anger, told him that all was ready. And now we shall only state generally, that within an hour from the first provocation of the evening, this mortal and irregular duel was settled, and left Robson shot through the body by his antagonist .

No sooner did Hawkins see him fall, than horror and remorse for his deed rushed upon him ; he ran to the prostrate youth, attempted to raise him up, but dared not offer pity or ask forgiveness, for which his soul yet panted. The wounded man rejected his assistance—waved him off, and thus faintly but fearfully spoke: — "Now, mine enemy! I will tell you, that you may sooner know the curse of God, which shall for ever cling and warp itself round all the red cords of your heart. That letter from my mother, which you saw me read, told me of the death of that sister Emily whom I so loved; whom you—oh, God!—who never recovered from your villany. And my father, too!—Off, fiend, nor mock me! You shall not so triumph—you shall not see me die!" So saying, the wounded youth, who was lying on his back, with his pale writhen features upturned, and dimly seen in the twilight, with a convulsive effort now threw himself round, with his face upon the grass.

In a fearful agony stood Hawkins, twisting his hands, not knowing whether again to attempt raising his victim, or to run to the city for a surgeon. The former he at length did, and found no resistance; for, alas! the unhappy youth was dead. The appearance of two or three individuals now making towards the bloody spot, which was near the suburbs of the town, and to which, in all probability, they had been drawn by the report of the pistols, roused Hawkins, for the first time, to a sense of his own danger. He quickly left the ground, dashed through the fields, and, without distinctly calculating his route, instinctively turned towards his native district.

As he proceeded onwards, he began to consider the bearings of his difficult situation, and at last resolved to hasten on through the country, to lay his case before his excellent friend Frank Dillon, who was the only son of a gentleman in the western parts of Galloway, and who, he knew, was at present residing with his father. Full of the most riotous glee, and nimble-wilted as Mercutio, Frank, he was aware, could be no less gravely wise as an adviser in a difficult emergency, and he determined, in the present case, to be wholly ruled by his opinion. Invigorated from thus having settled for himself a definite course, he walked swiftly forward through the night, which shone with the finest beauty of the moon. Yet what peace to the murderer, whose red title not the fairest duellist, who has slain a human being, can to his own conscience reduce? The cold glittering leaves on the trees, struck with a quick, momentary gust, made him start as he passed; and the shadowy foot and figure of the lover, coming round from the back window of the lone cottage, was to his startled apprehension the avenger of blood at hand. As he looked afar along the glittering road, the black fir trees upon the edge of the moor seemed men coming running down to meet him; and the long howl of some houseless cur, and the distant hoof of the traveller, which struck his listening ear with two or three beatings, seemed all in the track of pursuit and vengeance.

Morning came, and to the weary fugitive was agreeably cloudy; but the sun rose upon him in the forenoon, shining from between the glassy, glistering clouds with far greater heat than it does from a pure blue sky. Hawkins had now crossed many a broad acre of the weary moorlands, fatigued and thirsty, his heart beating in his ears, and not a drop of water that he could see to sprinkle the dry pulses of his bosom, when he came to a long morass, which barred his straightforward path. Mis first business was to quench his thirst from a dull stank, overgrown with paddowpipe, and black with myriads of tadpoles. There, finding himself so faint from fatigue that he could not brook the idea of going round by the end of the moss, and being far less able to make his way through the middle of it, by leaping from hagg to hagg, he threw himself down on the sunny side of some long reeds, and fell fast asleep.

He was waked by the screaming of lapwings, and the noise of a neighbouring bittern) to a feeling of violent throbbing, headache, and nausea, which were probably owing to the sun's having beat upon him whilst he lay asleep, aggravated by the reflection from the reeds. He arose, but finding himself quite unable to pursue his journey, again threw himself down on a small any brow of land, to get what breeze might be stirring abroad. There were several companies of people at work digging peats in the moss, and one party now sat down very near him to their dinner. One of them, a young woman, had passed so near him, as to be able to guess, from his countenance, that he was unwell ; and in a few minutes, with the fine charity of womanhood, she came to him with some food, of which, to satisfy her kindness, rather than his own hunger, he ate a little. The air changed in the afternoon, and streaming clouds of hail crossed over that wild country, yet he lay still. Party after party left the moss, and yet he was there. He made, indeed, a show of leaving the place at a quick rate, to dissappoint the fears of the people who had seen him at noon, and who, as they again came near to gather up their supernumerary clothes, were evidently perplexed on his account, which they showed by looking first towards him and then at each other. It was all he could do to get quite out of their sight beyond a little eminence; and there, once more, he lay down in utter prostration of mind and body.

Twilight began to darken upon the pools of that desolate place. The wild birds were gone to their heathy nests, all save the curlew, whose bravura was still sung over the fells, and borne far away into the dim and silent night. At length a tall, powerful-looking man came stepping through the moss, and as he passed near the poor youth, asked, in slow speech, who he was. In the reaction of nature, Hawkins was, in a moment, anxious about his situation, and replied to him that he had fallen sick on his way, and was unable to go in quest of a resting-place for the night. Approaching and turning himself round to the youth as he arose, the genius of the place had him on his back in a moment, and went off with him carelessly and in silence over the heath. In-about half an hour they came to a lonely cottage, which the kind creature entered; and, setting the young man down, without the least appearance of fatigue on his part, "Here, gudewife." said he, "is a bairn t'ye, that I hae foun' i' the moss: now, let us see ye be gude to him." Either this injunction was very effective, or it was not at all necessary; for, had the youth been her own son, come from a far country to see her, this hostess of the cottage could not have treated him more kindly. From his little conversation during the evening, her husband, like most very bulky men, appeared to be of dull intellect; but there was a third personage in the composition of his household, a younger brother, a very little man,—the flower of the flock,—who made ample amends for his senior brother's deficiencies as a talker. A smattering of Church-history had filled his soul with a thousand stories of persecution and martyrdom, and, from some old history of America, he had gained a little knowledge of Upper Canada, for which, Hawkins was during the night repeatedly given to understand, he was once on the very point of setting out, an abiding embryo of bold travel, which, in his own eye, seemed to invest him with all the honours and privileges of bona fide voyagers. His guest had a thousand questions put to him on these interesting topics, less for his answers, it was evident, than for an opportunity to the little man of setting forth his own information. All this was tolerably fair; but it was truly disgusting when the little oracle took the Bible after supper, and, in place of his elder brother, who was otherwise also the head of the family, performed the religious services of the evening, presuming to add a comment to the chapter which he read; to enforce which, his elbow was drawn back to the sharpest angle of edification, from which, ever and anon unslinging itself like a shifting rhomboid, it forced forward the stiff information in many a pompous instalment. The pertinacious forefinger was at work too; and before it trembled the mystic Babylon, which, in a side argument, that digit was uplifted to denounce. Moreover, the whole lecture was given in a squeaking, pragmatic voice, which sounded like the sharping of thatchers' knives.

Next morning the duellest renewed his journey, hoping against eveningtide to reach" Dillon's house, which he guessed could not now be more than forty miles distant. About mid-aflernoon, as he was going through a small hamlet of five or six cottages, he stepped into one of them, and requested a little water to drink. There was a hushed solemnity, he could see in a moment, throughout the little apartment into which, rather too unceremoniously, he had entered; and a kind-looking matron, in a dark robe, whispered in his ear, as she gave him a porringer of sweet water, with a little oatmeal sprinkled upon it, that an only daughter of the house, a fine young woman, was lying "a corpse." Without noticing his presence, and indeed with her face hid, sat the mother doubtless of the maiden, heedless of the whispered consolations of two or three officious matrons, and racking m that full and intense sorrow with which strangers cannot intermeddle. The sloping beams of the declining sun shone beautifully in through a small lattice, illumining a half-decayed nosegay of flowers which stood on the sunny whitewashed sill—emblem of a more sorrowful decay!—and after traversing the middle of the apartment, with a thin deep bar of light, peopled by a maze of dancing motes, struck into the white bed, where lay something covered up and awfully indistinct, like sanctified thing not to be gazed at, which the fugitive's fascinated eye yet tried to shape into the elegant body of the maiden, as she lay before her virgin sheets purer than they, with the salt above her still and unvexed bosom. The restricted din of boys at play—for that buoyant age is yet truly reverential, and feels

most deeply the solemn occasion of death—was heard faint and aloof from the house of mourning. This, and the lonely chirrup of a single sparrow from the thatch; the soft purring of the cat at the sunny pane; the muflled tread of the mourners over the threshold; and the audible grief of that poor mother, seemed, instead of interruption, rather parts of the solemn stillness.

As Hawkins was going out, after lingering a minute in this sacred interior, he met, in the narrow passage which led to the door, a man with the coffin, on the lid of which he read, as it was pushed up to his very face, "Emily Robson, aged 22." The heart of the murderer—the seducer—was in a moment as if steeped in the benumbing waters of petrifaction ; he was horrified; he would fain have passed, but could not for want of room ; and as the coffin was not to be withdrawn in accommodation to him, he was pushed again into the interior of the cottage to encounter a look of piercing recognition from Emily's afflicted mother, who had started up on hearing the hollow grating of the coffin as it struck occasionally on the wails of the narrow entrance. "Take him away—take him away— take him away!" she screamed, when she saw Hawkins, and pressed her face down on the white bed of death. As for the youth, who was fearfully conscious of another bloody woe which had not yet reached her heart, and of which he was still the author, and who saw, moreover, that this poor mother was now come to poverty, probably from his own first injury against the peace of her family, he needed not to be told to depart. With conscience, that truest conducting-rod, flashing its moral electricities of shame and fear, and with knees knocking against each other, he stumbled out of the house, and making his way by chance to an idle quarry, overgrown with weeds, he there threw himself down, with his face on the ground. In this situation he lay the whole night and all next forenoon; and in the afternoon—for he had occasionally risen to look for the assembling of the funeral train—he joined the small group who carried his Emily to the churchyard, and saw her young body laid in the grave. Oh ! who can cast away carelessly, like a useless thing, the finely-moulded clay, perfumed with the lingering beauty of warm motions, sweet graces, and young charities I But had not the young man, think ye, tenfold reason to weep for her whom he now saw laid down within the dark shadow of the grave?

In the evening, he found his way to Frank Dillon's; met his friend by chance at a little distance from his father's house, and told him at once his unhappy situation. "My father," replied Frank, "cannot be an adviser here, because he is a Justice of the Peace. But he has been at London for some time, and I do not expect him home till to-morrow; so you can go with me to our house for this night, where we shall deliberate what next must be done in this truly sad affair of yours. Come on."

It is unnecessary for us to explain at length the circumstances which frustrated the friendly intentions of Dillon, and which enabled the officers of justice to trace Hawkins to his place of concealment. They arrived that very evening; and, notwithstanding the efforts of Frank to save his friend, secured the unhappy duellist, who, within two days afterwards, found himself in Edinburgh, securely lodged in jail.

The issue of Hawkins trial was that he was condemned to death as a murderer. This severe sentence of the law was, however, commuted into that of banishment for seven years. But he never again returned to his native country. And it must be told of him also, that no happiness ever shone upon this after-life of his. Independent of his first crime, which brought a beautiful young woman prematurely to the I grave, he had broken rashly "into the I bloody house of life," and, in the language of Holy Writ, "slain a young man to his hurt."

Oh! for that still and quiet conscience —those third heavens within a man— wherein he can soar within himself and be at peace, where the image of God shines down, never dislimned nor long hid by those wild racks and deep continents of gloom which come over the soul of the blood-guilty man!


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