"I ken by mysel, friends,"
said Adam Bell, a decent-looking Northumbrian, "that a faithers heart
is as sensitive as the apple o' his ee ; and I think we would show a
want o natural sympathy and respect for our worthy neighbour, if we
didna every one get his foot into the stirrup without loss o time, and
assist him in his search. For, in my rough, country way o thinking, it
must be something particularly out o the common that would tempt Thomas
to be amissing. Indeed, I needna say tempt, for there could be no
inclination in the way. And our hills," he concluded, in a lower tone,
"are not ower chancy in other respects, besides the breaking up o the
"Oh!" said Mrs Elliot, wringing her hands, "I have had the coming o
this about me for days and days. My head was growing dizzy with
happiness, but thoughts came stealing upon me like ghosts, and I felt a
lonely soughing about my heart, without being able to tell the cause ;
but the cause is come at last ! And my dear Thomasthe very pride and
staff o my lifeis lost-lost to me for ever!"
"I ken, Mrs Elliot," replied the Northumbrian, "it is an easy matter to
say compose yourself for them that dinna ken what it is to feel. But, at
the same time, in our plain, country way o thinking, we are always
ready to believe the worst. Ive often heard my father say, and Ive as
often remarked it myself, that, before anything happens to a body, there
is a something comes ower them, like a cloud before the face o the sun;
a sort o dumb whispering about the breast from the other world. And
though I trust there is naething o the kind in your case, yet as you
observe, when I find myself growing dizzy, as it were, with happiness,
it makes good a saying o my mothers, poor body.
Bairns, bairns, she
used to say, there is ower muckle singing in your heads tonight; we
will have a shower before bedtime. And I never, in my born days, saw it
At any other period, Mr Bells dissertation on presentiments would have
been found a fitting text on which to hang all the dreams, wraiths,
warnings, and marvellous circumstances, that had been handed down to the
company from the days of their grandfathers; but, in the present
instance, they were too much occupied in consultation regarding the
different routes to be taken in their search.
Twelve horsemen, and some half-dozen pedestrians, were seen hurrying in
divers directions from Marchlaw, as the last faint lights of a
melancholy day were yielding to the heavy darkness which appeared
pressing in solid masses down the sides of the mountains. The wives and
daughters of the party were alone left with the disconsolate mother, who
alternately pressed her weeping children to her heart, and told them to
weep not, for their brother would soon return ; while the tears stole
down her own cheeks, and the infant in her arms wept because its mother
wept. Her friends strove with each other to inspire hope, and poured
upon her ear their mingled and loquacious consolation. But one remained
silent. The daughter of Adam Bell, who sat by Mrs Elliots elbow at
table, had shrunk into an obscure corner of the room. Before her face
she held a handkerchief wet with tears. Her bosom throbbed convulsively
; and, as occasionally her broken sighs burst from their prison house, a
significant whisper passed among the younger part of the company.
Mrs Elliot approached her, and taking her hand tenderly within both of
hers-"Oh, hinny! hinny said she, "yer sighs gae through my heart like a
knife ! An what can I do to comfort ye? Come, Elizabeth, my bonny love,
let us hope for the best. Ye see before ye a sorrowin mothera mother
that fondly hoped to see you an-I canna say itan I am ill qualified to
gie comfort, when my own heart is like a furnace ! But, oh! let us try
and remember the blessed portion, Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.
an inwardly pray for strength to say His will be done ! "
Time stole on towards midnight, and one by one the unsuccessful party
returned. As foot after foot approached, every breath was held to
"No, no, no, cried the mother, again and again, with increasing
anguish, "its no the foot o my ain bairn;" while her keen gaze still
remained riveted upon the door, and was not withdrawn, nor the hope of
despair relinquished, till the individual entered, and with a silent and
ominous shake of his head, betokened his fruitless efforts. The clock
had struck twelve; all were returned, save the father. The wind howled
more wildly; the rain poured upon the windows in ceaseless torrents; and
the roaring of the mountain rivers gave a character of deeper
ghostliness to their sepulchral silence; for they sat, each wrapt in
forebodings, listening to the storm ; and no sounds were heard, save the
groans of the mother, the weeping o her children, and the bitter and
broken sobs of the bereaved maiden, who leaned her head upon her
fathers bosom, refusing to be comforted.
At length the barking of the farm dog announced footsteps at a distance
Every ear was raised to listen, every eye turned to the door; but,
before the tread was yet audible to the listeners"Oh! it is only
Peters foot ! said the miserable mother, and, weeping, rose to meet
"Janet, Janet! he exclaimed, as he entered, and threw his arms around
her neck, "whats this come upon us at last?"
He cast an inquisitive glance around his dwelling, and a convulsive
shiver passed over his manly frame, as his eye again fell on the vacant
chair, which no one had ventured to occupy. Hour succeeded hour, but the
company separated not; and low, sorrowful whispers mingled with the
lamentations of the parents.
"Neighbours, said Adam Bell, "the morn is a new day, and we will wait
to see what it may bring forth ; but, in the meantime, let us read a
portion o the Divine Word, an kneel together in prayer, that, whether
or not the day-dawn cause light to shine upon this singular bereavement,
the Sun o Righteousness may arise wi healing on His wings, upon the
hearts o this afflicted family, an upon the hearts o all present."
Amen! responded Peter, wringing his hands; and his friend, taking down
the "Ha Bible, read the chapter where-in it is written"It is better
to be in the house of mourning than in the house of feasting; and again
the portion which saith"It is well for me that I have been afflicted,
for before I was afflicted I went astray.
The morning came, but brought no tidings of the lost son. After a solemn
farewell, all the visitants, save Adam Bell and his daughter, returned
every one to their own house; and the disconsolate father, with his
servants, again renewed the search among the hills and surrounding
Days, weeks, months, and years rolled on. Time had subdued the anguish
of the parents into a holy calm; but their lost first-born was not
forgotten, although no trace of his fate had been discovered. The
general belief was, that he had perished on the breaking up of the snow;
and the few in whose remembrance he still lived, merely spoke of his
death as a "very extraordinary circumstance," remarking that "he was a
wild, venturesome sort o lad.
Christmas had succeeded Christmas, and Peter Elliot still kept it in
commemoration of the birthday of him who was not. For the first few
years after the loss of their son, sadness and silence characterised the
party who sat down to dinner at Marchlaw, and still at Peters right
hand was placed the vacant chair. But, as the younger branches of the
family advanced in years, the remembrance of their brother became less
poignant. Christmas was, with all around them, a day of rejoicing, and
they began to make merry with their friends; while their parents partook
in their enjoyment with a smile, half of approval and half of sorrow.
Twelve years had passed away; Christmas had again come. It was the
counterpart of its fatal predecessor. The hills had not yet cast off
their summer verdure; the sun, although shorn of its heat, had lost none
of its brightness or glory, and looked down upon the earth as though
participating in its gladness; and the clear blue sky was tranquil as
the sea sleeping beneath the moon. Many visitors had again assembled at
Marchlaw. The sons of Mr Elliot, and the young men of the party, were
assembled upon a level green near the house, amusing themselves with
throwing the hammer, and other Border games, while himself and the elder
guests stood by as spectators, recounting the deeds of their youth.
Johnson, the sheep-farmer, whom we have already mentioned, now a brawny
and gigantic fellow of two-and-thirty, bore away in every game the palm
from all competitors. More than once, as Peter beheld his sons defeated,
he felt the spirit of youth glowing in his veins, and, "Ohl muttered
he, in bitterness, "had my Thomas been spared to me, he would hae thrown
his hearts blude after the hammer, before he would hae been beat by
eer a Johnson in the country!"
While he thus soliloquized, and with difficulty restrained an impulse to
compete with the victor himself, a dark, foreign-looking, strong-built
seaman, unceremoniously approached, and, with his arms folded, cast a
look of contempt upon the boasting conqueror. Every eye was turned with
a scrutinising glance upon the stranger. In height he could not exceed
live feet nine, but his whole frame was the model of muscular strength;
his features open and manly, but deeply sunburnt and weather-beaten; his
long, glossy, black hair, curled into ringlets by the breeze and the
billow, fell thickly over his temples and forehead; and whiskers of a
similar hue, more conspicuous for size than elegance, gave a character
of fierceness to a countenance otherwise possessing a striking impress
of manly beauty. Without asking permission, he stepped forward, lifted
the hammer, and, swinging it around his head, hurled it upwards of five
yards beyond Johnsons most successful throw. "Well done!" shouted the
astonished spectators. The heart of Peter Elliott warmed within him, and
he was hurrying forward to grasp the stranger by the hand, when the
words groaned in his throat, "It was just such a throw as my Thomas
would have made !my own lost Thomas!" The tears burst into his eyes,
and, without speaking, he turned back, and hurried towards the house to
conceal his emotion.
Successively, at every game, the stranger had defeated all who ventured
to oppose him, when a messenger announced that dinner waited their
arrival. Some of the guests were already seated, others entering ; and,
as heretofore, placed beside Mrs Elliot was Elizabeth Bell, still in the
noontide of her beauty; but sorrow had passed over her features, like a
veil before the countenance of an angel. Johnson, crest-fallen and out
of humour at his defeat, seated himself by her side. ln early life he
had regarded Thomas Elliot as a rival for her affections ; and,
stimulated by the knowledge that Adam Bell would be able to bestow
several thousands upon his daughter for a dowry, he yet prosecuted his
attentions with unabated assiduity, in despite of the daughters
aversion and the coldness of her father. Peter had taken his place at
the table; and still by his side, unoccupied and sacred, appeared the
vacant chair, the chair of his first-born, whereon none had sat since
his mysterious death or disappearance.
"Bairns, said he, "did nane o ye ask the sailor to come up and tak a
bit o dinner wi us?"
"We were afraid it might lead to a quarrel with Mr Johnson," whispered
one of the sons.
"He is come without asking," replied the stranger, entering; "and the
wind shall blow from a new point if I destroy the mirth or happiness of
"Yere a stranger, young man," said Peter, "or ye would ken this is no a
meeting o mirth-makers. But, I assure ye, ye are welcome, heartily
welcome. Haste ye, lasses," he added to the servants; "some o ye get a
chair for the gentleman."
"Gentleman, indeed!" muttered Johnson between his teeth.
"Never mind about a chair, my hearties," said the seaman; "this will
do!" And, before Peter could speak to withhold him, he had thrown
himself carelessly into the hallowed, the venerated, the twelve years
unoccupied chair! The spirit of sacrilege uttering blasphemies from a
pulpit could not have smitten a congregation of pious worshippers with
deeper horror and consternation, than did this filling of the vacant
chair the inhabitants of March-law.
"Excuse me, sir! excuse me, sir! said Peter, the words trembling upon
his tongue; "but ye cannotye cannot sit there!
"O man! man! " cried Mrs Elliot, "get out o that! get out o that
!take my chair !take ony chair i the house !but dinna, dinna sit
there! It has never been sat in by mortal being since the death o my
dear bairn! and to see it filled by another is a thing I canna endure!
"Sir! sir! continued the father, "ye have done it through ignorance,
and we excuse ye. But that was my Thomass seat! Twelve years this very
dayhis birthdayhe perished, Heaven kens how. He went out from our
sight, like the cloud that passes over the hillsnever, never to retum.
And, O sir, spare a fathers feelings! for to see it filled wrings the
blood from my heart !
"Give me your hand, my worthy soul!" exclaimed the seaman; "I
reverenay, hang it! I would die for your feelings! But Tom Elliot was
my friend, and I cast anchor in this chair by special commission. I know
that a sudden broadside of joy is a bad thing ; but as I dont know how
to preach a sermon before telling you, all I have to say isthat Tom
"Not dead!" said Peter, grasping the hand of the stranger, and speaking
with an eagerness that almost choked his utterance. "O sir! sir! tell me
how!how!-Did ye say living?Is my ain Thomas living?
"Not dead, do ye say? cried Mrs Elliot, hurrying towards him and
grasping his other hand"not dead! And shall I see my baim again? Oh!
may the blessing o Heaven, and the blessing o a broken-hearted mother
be upon the bearer o the gracious tidings! But tell me, tell me, how is
it possible? As ye would expect happiness here or hereafter, dinna,
dinna deceive me!"
"Deceive you! returned the stranger, grasping, with impassioned
earnestness, their hands in his"Never! never! and all I can say isTom
Elliot is alive and hearty.
"No, no! said Elizabeth, rising from her seat, "he does not deceive
us; there is that in his countenance which bespeaks a falsehood
impossible. And she also endeavoured to move towards him, when Johnson
threw his arm around her to withhold her.
"Hands off, you land-lubber! exclaimed the seaman, springing towards
them, "or, shiver me! Ill show daylight through your timbers in the
turning of a handspike. And, clasping the lovely girl in his arms,
"Betty! Betty, `my love! " he cried, "dont you know your own Tom?
Father, mother, dont you know me? Have you really forgot your own son?
If twelve years have made some change on his face, his heart is as sound
His father, his mother, and his brothers clung around him, weeping,
smiling, and mingling a hundred questions together. He threw his arms
around the neck of each, and in answer to their enquiries,
replied"Well! well! there is time enough to answer questions, but not
"No, my bairn," said his mother, "well ask you no questionsnobody
shall ask you any! But howhow were you torn away from us, my love? And,
O hinny! wherewhere hae you been?
"Its a long story, mother," said he, "and would take a week to tell it.
But, howsoever, to make a long story short, you remember when the
smugglers were pursued, and wished to conceal their brandy in our house,
my father prevented them; they left muttering revengeand they have been
revenged. This day twelve years, I went out with the intention of
meeting Elizabeth and her father, when I came upon a party of the gang
concealed in Hells Hole. In a moment half-a-dozen pistols were held to
my breast, and, tying my hands to my sides, they dragged me into the
cavern. Here I had not been long their prisoner, when the snow, rolling
down the mountains, almost totally blocked up its mouth. On the second
night they cut through the snow, and, hurrying me along with them, I was
bound to a horse between two, and, before daylight, found myself stowed,
like a piece of old junk, in the hold of a smuggling lugger. Within a
week I was shipped on board a Dutch man-of-war, and for six years was
kept dodging about on different stations, till our old yawning hulk
received orders to join the fleet, which was to fight against the
gallant Duncan at Camperdown. To think of fighting against my own
countrymenmy own flesh and bloodwas worse than to be cut to pieces by
a cat-o-nine tails; and, under cover of the smoke of the first
broadside, I sprang upon the gunwale, plunged into the sea, and swam for
the English fleet. Never, never shall I forget the moment that my feet
first trod upon the deck of a British frigate! My nerves felt as firm as
her oak, and my heart free as the pennant that waved defiance from her
masthead ! I was as active as any one during the battle; and when it was
over, and I found myself again among my own countrymen, and all speaking
my own language, I fanciednay, hang it! I almost believedI should meet
my father, my mother, or my dear Bess on board of the British frigate. I
expected to see you all again in a few weeks at farthest ; but, instead
of returning to old England, before I was aware, I found it was helm
about with us. As to writing, I never had an opportunity but once. We
were anchored before a French fort; a packet was lying along-side ready
to sail; I had half a side written, and was scratching my head to think
how I should come over writing about you, Bess, my love, when, as bad
luck would have it, our lieutenant comes to me, and says he, Elliot,
says he, I know you like a little smart service; come, my lad, take the
head oar, while we board some of those French bum-boats under the
batteries. I couldnt say no. We pulled ashore, made a bonfire of one
of their craft, and were setting fire to a second, when a deadly shower
of small shot from the garrison scuttled our boat, killed our commanding
officer with half of the crew, and the few who were left of us were made
prisoners. It is of no use bothering you by telling how we escaped from
a French prison. We did escape, and Tom once more fills his vacant
Should any of our readers wish farther acquaintance with our friends,
all we can say is, the new year was still young when Adam Bell bestowed
his daughters hand upon the heir of Marchlaw, and Peter beheld the once
vacant chair again occupied, and a namesake of the third generation
prattling on his knee.
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