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Book of Scottish Story
Elsie Morrice from the Aberdeen Censor


Oh, wert thou of the golden-winged host,
Who, having clad thyself in human weed,
To earth, from thy prefixed scat didst post,
And. after short abode, fly back with speed,
As if to show what creatures Heav'n doth breed,
Thereby to set the hearts of men on fire,
To scorn the sordid world, and unto Heav'n aspire?—Milton.

In the neighbourhood of the pleasant village of----------, on the east coast of Scotland, lived Janet Morrice and her grand-daughter Elsie. A small cottage, overlaid with woodbine on the exterior, and neat and clean in the interior, contained this couple; and a small farm attached to it served to supply all their humble desires. The place was no doubt agreeable to look on; but it was a pair of bright blue eyes, some light brown locks, and a sweet and modest face, that drew all the male visitors to the house of Janet Morrice. Elsie Morrice, her grandchild, had been left a young orphan to her charge. She was the only child of an only son, and thus came with a double call on the feelings of her old grandmother. Dearly was she loved by her, and well did she deserve it; for a better and a kindlier girl was not in all the country round. Out of the many young men that paid their attentions to Elsie, it was soon evident that her favourite was William Gordon. In his person he had nothing particular to recommend him above his companions; but there was in him that respectful demeanour, that eagerness to please, and that happiness in serving the object of his affections, which the eyes of a young woman can so soon perceive, and her heart so readily appreciate. In their dispositions, though not similar, they were drawn to each other. She was timid, loving, enthusiastic—in every respect a woman. He was gifted with those firmer qualities which bespeak a manly mind, but he had a heart that could love deeply and feel acutely;
And, if sometimes, a sigh should intervene, Or down his cheek a tear of pity roll, A sigh, a tear so sweet, he wished not to control.

There was also some resemblance in their situations; for William's mother was dead, and though he still had a father, yet this parent had never seen him, and took no concern about him; so that he was entirely dependent upon his maternal uncle. To his uncle's farm he was to succeed; and William Gordon and Elsie Morrice were considered by all the neighbours as soon to be man and wife.

William was seated one evening in the public-house of the village, reading the newspaper, when a party of sailors entered, and, calling for some drink, casually asked if there were any seamen in the village. The landlady civilly replied in the negative; but William, looking up, remarked, without noticing the winks of the landlord, that he had seen Tom Sangster arrive that morning.

"And where lives Tom Sangster, my hearty cock?" said the principal of the party, slapping him on the back, while the rest got betwixt the landlady and the door. He immediately informed them; and, drinking off their liquor quickly, they left the house.

"Willie," cried the landlady, "what hae ye done? It's the press-gang, and Tam Sangster 'll be torn frae his wife and bairns! "

In a moment William was past her, and, running with full speed, by a nearer cut, he arrived before the gang at the house. He had just time to make the seaman strip his jacket, and put on his coat, and jump out at the back window, when the gang entered. William, without turning round, knocked out the lamp, when a struggle ensued, which he contrived to keep up so long as that Tom Sangster might be out of the way. He was at last overpowered and carried aboard the tender, when they discovered they had lost the regular sailor; but the one they had got was too likely a young man to be suffered to depart. The consciousness of having remedied an error he had committed, even though in ignorance, partly consoled William for parting with his beloved Elsie for a little. It was at the time when the news of the glorious victory of the Nile had arrived, and many a young and aspiring bosom burned to be under the command of so gallant an admiral. William's father belonged to the navy ; he knew that he fought under Nelson; and the thought that he might be able to combat by his side, and under the eye of the hero who was his country's boast, somewhat palliated the idea of leaving his love. Besides, he would soon return laden with honours and riches, and Elsie would share both.

Auspicious hope! in thy sweet garden grow Wreaths for each toil, a charm for every woe.

And thus he consoled himself with a flattering vision in circumstances that he could not alter. As for poor Elsie, her timid mind had never contemplated bloodshed and war. She loved, fervently loved, and her life had been one scene of pleasure. She was a dreamer that all the night long had quaffed the brimful cup of happiness, and in the morning waked to wretchedness. To lamentations, however, succeeded some consultation for a remedy; and she was advised, by her sorrowing neighbours, to apply to the laird for his interest. Loose, unprincipled, and broken down in fortune, he had returned, from the fashionable life he could no longer support, to live on his estate ; and he was not beloved by his tenants. But when a woman loves, and the object of her affection is in danger, where is the obstacle that can oppose her? Elsie exerted herself to call on him. The poet has beautifully said,

Ah, too convincing, dangerously dear,
In woman's eye th' unanswerable tear,
The weapon of her weakness she can wield
To save, subdue—at once her spear and shield.

But there are some men that can look on woman's grief, and yet coolly calculate on turning it to their own purposes; and so it was in the present case. Elsie Morrice was lovely, and that was enough for him. He promised everything, and her heart overflowed with gratitude. He not only promised this, but he requested her grandmother's lease, to draw it out anew in her name. Elsie ran home, and, in a few minutes, without consulting her grandmother, the lease was in his hands: for who could doubt the intentions of him who had pledged his word that William Gordon should be put ashore? This was no sooner done, than came the sneer at her lover, the information that his Majesty's navy must be manned, the hint at the injury to the landlord in old leases, and the proposal of the remedy that was to remove all these evils. The colour fled from Elsie's face. She stood the picture of complete despair, and, for a little time, reason had to dispute for her sovereignty in her mind. She rushed from his presence, and, in her way back to Sunnybrae, saw, without shedding one-tear, the vessel that contained her lover spread her broad sails to the wind and depart. Janet Morrice reproached her not when she told her what she had done, but, taking her in her arms, said, "Come, my Elsie, we maunna bide to be putten out. I've sitten here, and my fathers afore me, an' I'm wae to leave it; but age and innocence will find a shelter somewhere else." Next day they removed to a cottage on a neighbouring estate. A verbal message was all that William could send her ; but it was the assurance he would be soon back to her. Elsie seemed now to live in another state of existence. She toiled in the fields, and seemed anxious to make up to her grandmother the effects of her imprudence. Time passed on, and no letter arrived from William, and Elsie grew sorrowful and melancholy. Grief and labour bore down a constitution naturally delicate, and she drooped. There is something to my mind particularly holy and heavenly in the death-bed of a lovely woman. When I look on the pale cheek, which now and then regains more than its former colour in some feverish flush—on the sunk eye which occasionally beams with a short and transient hope—on the pale lips which utter low sounds of comfort to those around—and, more especially, on that whole countenance and appearance which bespeak patient resignation and a trust in that Word which has said there is another and a better world—I cannot help thinking that the being, even in her mortality, is already a deserving inmate of that place where all is immortality. I have stood at the grave while some of my earliest friends have been lowered into the ground, and I have wept to think that the bright hopes of youth were for ever fled—that the fair promises of youthful genius were wrapt within the clay-cold tomb—and that all the anticipations of the world's applause had ended in the one formal bow of a few friends over mouldering ashes; but I confess I have sorrowed more at the grave of a young and lovely woman who had nothing to excite my compassion but her beauty and her helplessness; and often have the lines of that poet, who could be pathetic as well as sublime, come to my lips,—

Yet can I not persuade me thou art dead,
Or that thy corpse corrupts in earth's dark womb,
Or that thy beauties lie in wormy bed,
Hid from the world in a low-delved tomb.

It was on a lovely morning in the month of May that a sad and sorrowful company assembled to accompany the remains of poor Elsie Morrice to her last cold dwelling-place. According to that old-fashioned and most becoming custom, she was borne on the bier, and carried, as is the practice in that part of the country, for some way by the young maidens dressed in white. No mother had she to weep for her, no relation to bear her head to the grave; but her old grandmother followed her corpse to the door—farther she could not; and, when it was placed on the bier, she attempted not to speak or to moan, but she leaned her palsied hands on her staff, and followed the coffin with her eyes, while down her furrowed cheeks rolled two big tears that told too well her inward grief. Elsie's young companion, May Leslie, who was to have been her best-maid at the marriage, who had promised to assist at her marriage dress, and make her marriage bed, had, in sorrow and in grief, fashioned that last dress in which beauty is offered, not to the arms of a lover, but to the crawling worm, now supported her head for a few steps to that bed from which there is no rising till the last dread trumpet shall sound. The females then gave the corpse to the young men, and I could perceive, as they returned, that many a handkerchief was soaked in briny tears, and many a head turned to take a last look at the departure of her who had been their companion and their pride. We moved on, and, after an hour's walking, arrived at the old churchyard of-------. It is situated on the front of a bleak and barren hill, with neither tree nor shrub for some way around it; and a few moss-covered tombstones alone told us that it was the resting place for the dead. The church had been rebuilt in a more convenient place ; but, like the sojourner in distant lands, who sighs for his native soil, however barren, there are some that still cling to the spot which is the grave of their fathers. Though it may betray some weakness in reason, still I hope it is an excusable failing, in feeling minds, that they desire to mingle in their ashes with their friends. Here we deposited the remains of Elsie Morrice, and, when the grave had been closed over, the company departed in groups, chiefly engaged in talking over her unfortunate love.

The heather sods had long become fast, and the hare-bell had blossomed and withered for some summers on the grave of Elsie Morrice, when one day a seaman, singing a merry sea-song to himself, tript up the pathway leading to Sunnybrae. It was William Gordon. The joy he had felt on again entering amongst scenes so well known to him, sent itself forth in a song; but, as he approached the house, it died away, and gave place to far different feelings. He had never heard from Elsie; but, while aboard of ship, he had hushed any fears that arose, by ascribing this to the letters miscarrying from the ever changing station of a sailor. Still he was not well at ease; and as he came in front of the house, and saw the woodbine torn from the walls, the windows here and there broken and covered with paper, and the pretty flower-garden of Elsie turned into a kail-yard, the most fearful forebodings arose in his breast, and with a trembling and hurried hand he lifted the latch. He started back on perceiving some children playing on the floor, but again advanced when he saw a middle-aged woman nursing a child, and asked, in the best way he was able, if she could tell him where Janet Morrice lived? She gave him a direction, and, without taking one other look at the cottage he had so often visited, he made his way to the new dwelling, and on entering, addressed her in the usual salutation, "How are you, Granny, and how is Elsie?"

The old woman was seated with her face to the hearth, and perceived not his entrance; but on hearing his voice, without starting or moving, she immediately answered, "An ye're come back, Willie Gordon; an' sae ye're come back! I kent a' this. I kent, when the house and the ha' o' the stranger would be closed against ye, ye would come back to your ain country. I saw her yestreen as I hae seen her ilka night, and she tauld me ye would come. But this fire's out," continued she, stirring about the embers with her stick; "I tried to blaw that peat, but I wasna able to raise the low: an' when she comes and scats her sel on that stool, it 'ill be sae cauld, an' she winna complain o't, but her bonny face 'ill be sae wan, and her braw white gown 'ill be sae damp and dewy. Ye'll see her, Willie, yell see her wi' the bonny new mutch on that May Leslie made wi' her ain hand. An' I'll shiver and tremble in my cauld bed, and she winna lie down wi' me, but she'll sit by the fire an' aye deck hersel wi' the black kerchief that Willie Gordon tied roun' her neck lang afore he gaed awa."

William, who had stood riveted to the earth all this time, now exerted himself, and, seizing her arm, asked loudly, "Where is Elsie Morrice?"

"Whaur is Elsie Morrice?—and wha speirs that question? They took her awa frae me lang ago, dressed in white, like a bride, and mony ane gaed wi' her, but I wasna able, though they dressed me fine in my braw Sunday-claithes."

"Granny, ye knew me already," said he; "for God's sake, tell me what has become of Elsie?"

"There were twa bonny voices ca'd me granny, and I liket to hear them; but the little feathered flock picks the craw-berries, an' the bee sooks the honey frae the heather on the grave o' the ane, and the ither is a faithless love, and broke the heart o' the leal young bairn that lay in my bosom."

William now knew the worst. He threw himself in agony on the dais, and wept and cursed his hard lot. Elsie Morrice was dead, and dead, as appeared, through his neglect When his grief had found some vent, he again asked the old woman if they had received no letters from him?

She raised her shaking hand, and tracing every feature of his face, said, "Though I canna see sae weel that face, I ken ye're Willie Gordon; but oh, Willie, Willie, ye hae come when the flame ye should hae nourished has been quenched. We never got ony letters, or else Elsie would hae tried to live."

It was with great exertion that he was able to gather from her disjointed sentences, that the laird had turned them out of Sunnybrae, and continued to annoy them, and that Elsie had broken her heart when he left them and sent no letters. Many a kind letter had William written, but they were directed, for security's sake, to the care of the laird, and the mystery of his never receiving any answer was now cleared away. "But the laird shall answer for this!" said he, stepping to the door. "Na, Willie Gordon," said she, taking hold of him, "he manna answer for't to you. There is Anither that will judge him for abusing the widow and the orphan. Ay, he is already cursed for it," continued she, stretching out her lean and shrivelled arm, and raising herself like a Sibyl; "his lang list of ancestors is at end in him. He walks the world the last of his proud race. A few years, and yon lordly house will be the dwalling o' the hoodie-craw and the rook; an' the present proud man will be lying in his leaden coffin, wi' the worms o' his ain body devouring him, and the winds o' heaven will dash his lie-telling tombstone to pieces, an' the beasts will tread on his grave, an' the rains level it, an' none will repair it, for his name shall be forgotten for ever. But whisht, Willie, I canna greet wi' you. Ye'll see her, when the hen has been lang on the roost, an' the tod has left his hole to worry the puir beasty, an we'll get May Leslie, an' we'll hae a blazing fire, an' we'll be merry again in Sunnybrae." A shrill and unearthly laugh followed, and she sank again into her former querulous muttering.

William suddenly left the house and was never more seen; but some weeks after, the grave of Elsie Morrice was found finely dressed, and a stone, with her name and age carved on it by the hand of no regular sculptor, at the head of it. And every spring the greedy moss was found cleaned away from the stone, and the grave trimmed. While Janet Morrice lived, her garden was delved, and money deposited on hertable, by the same invisible hand. No one knew what became of William Gordon; but occasionally, in the gray of a May morning, as the shepherd was merrily driving his flocks with the sun to the pasture, he saw the dark figure of a man chiselling at the stone, or stretched on the grave of Elsie Morrice. About three years ago a shepherd's dog, one day, prowling about the old churchyard, returned, and, by his howling, urged his master to the spot, where he found the dead body of a seaman. The letters W. G. and an anchor on his forearm, and W S. and E. M., with a heart between them, and the Saviour on the cross above, on his left breast, done with China ink or gunpowder, after that fashion which sailors have in order that their bodies may be known, if (ticked up after shipwreck, told too well who had chosen this place for his death-bed. Sufficient money was found on him to pay the expenses of his burial, and he was laid in the grave he had died upon. Last summer I visited the spot. The grave was running into wildness; but, in a stale of mind pleasing yet sad. I spent half a day in dressing the resting-place of this unfortunate pair.


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