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Book of Scottish Story
The Crushed Bonnet


Towards the close of a beautiful autunmal day in 18--, when pacing slowly on my way, and in a contemplative mood admiring the delightful scenery between Blair Athole and Dunkeld, on my return from a survey of the celebrated pass of Killiecrankie, and other places rendered famous in Scottish story, I was accosted by a female, little past the prime of life, but with two children of unequal age walking by her side, and a younger slung upon her back. The salutation was of the supplicatory kind, and while the tones were almost perfectly English, the pronunciation of the words was often highly Scottish. The words, a "sodger’s widow"—"three helpless bairns" — and "Waterloo," broke my meditations with the force of an enchantment, excited my sympathy, and made me draw my purse. While in the act of tendering a piece of money — a cheap and easy mode of procuring the luxury of doing good — I thought the countenance, though browned and weather-beaten, one which I before had seen, with out exactly recollecting when or where. My curiosity thus raised, many interrogatives and answers speedily followed, when at last I discovered that there stood before me Jeanie Strathavon, once the beauty and the pride of my own native village. Ten long and troublous years had passed away since Jeanie left the neighbourhood in which she was born to follow the spirit - stirring drum; and where she had gone, or how she had afterwards fared, many enquired, though but few could tell. The incident which led to all her subsequent toil and suffering seemed but trivial at the time, yet, like many other trivial occurrences, became to her one fraught with mighty consequences.

She was an only daughter, her father was an honest labourer, and though not nursed in the bosom of affluence, she hardly knew what it was to have a wish ungratified. She possessed mental vivacity, and personal attractions, rarely exhibited, especially at the present day, by persons in her humble sphere of life. Though she never could boast what might properly be called education, yet great care had been taken to render her modest, affectionate, and pious. Her parents, now in the decline of life, looked upon her as their only solace. She had been from her very birth the idol of their hearts; and as there was no sunshine in their days but when she was healthy and happy, so their prospects were never clouded but when she was the reverse. Always the favourite of one sex, and the envy of another, when not yet out of her teens, she was importuned by the addresses of many both of her own rank and of a rank above her own, to change her mode of life. The attentions of the latter, in obedience to the suggestions of her affectionate but simple hearted parents, she always discouraged, for they never would allow themselves to think that "folk wi’ siller would be looking after their bairn for ony gude end." Among those of her own station, she could hardly be said to have yet shown a decided preference to any one, though the glances which she cast at Henry Williams, when passing through the kirkyard on Sundays, seemed to every one to say where, if she had her own unbiassed will, her choice would light. Still she had never thought seriously upon the time when, nor the person for whom, she would leave her fond and doting parents. Chance or accident, however, in these matters, often outruns the speed of deliberate choice; at least such was the case with poor Jeanie.

Decked out one Sabbath morning in her best, to go to what Burns calls a "Holy Fair," in the neighbouring parish, though viewed in a far different light by her, Jeanie had on her brawest and her best; and among other things, a fine new bonnet, which excited the gossip and the gaze of all the lasses in the village. Having sat for an hour or two at the tent, listening earnestly and devoutly to a discourse which formed a complete body of divinity, she, with many others, was at length obliged to take refuge in the church, to shun a heavy summer shower, which unexpectedly arrested the out-door devotions. Here, whether wearied with the long walk she had in the morning, or overpowered with the heat and suffocation consequent upon such a crowd, she began to feel a serious oppression of sickness, and before she could effect her escape she entirely fainted away, requiring to be carried out in a state of complete insensibility.

It was long before she came to herself ; and when she did, she found that the rough hands of those who had caught her when falling, and borne her through the crowd to the open air, had, amidst the anxiety for her recovery, treated her finery with but very little ceremony. Among other instances of this kind, she found that her bonnet had been hastily torn from her head, thrown carelessly aside, and, being accidentally trod upon, had been so crushed, as to render it perfectly useless. The grief which this caused made her forget the occasion which produced such disaster; and adjusting herself as well as she could, she did not wait the conclusion of the solemn service, but sought her father’s cottage amidst much sorrow and confusion.

When she reached home, she found her parents engaged in devotional reading, their usual mode of spending the Sabbath evenings. As it was not altogether with their consent that she had not accompanied them that day to their usual place of being instructed in divine things, the plight in which she returned to them excited, especially on the mother’s part, a hasty burst of displeasure, if not of anger; and the calm improving peace of the evening was entirely broken. Sacred as to them the day appeared, they could not restrain inquiry as to the cause of her altered appearance, and maternal anxiety gave birth to suspicions which poor Jeanie’s known veracity and simple unaffected narrative could not altogether repress. Thus, for the first time in her life, had Jeanie excited the frown of her parents, and every reproving look and word was as a dagger to her heart.

Night came, and she retired to rest, but her innocent breast was too much agitated to allow her eyes to close in sleep ; and the return of morning only brought with it an additional burden to her heart, by a renewed discussion of the events of the previous day. This was more than she was able to stand, and she took the first opportunity to escape from that roof where, till now, she had never known aught but delight, to go to pour her complaint into the ear of one who seemed to love her almost to distraction, —her youthful admirer, Henry Williams. Their interview, though not long, terminated in the proposal on his part to relieve her from her embarrassed situation by forthwith making her his own. Whether this was what she desired, in having recourse to such an adviser, cannot be known, but, at all events, she acceded with blamable facility to his wishes. She could not endure the thought of being without a friend, and she knew not that the friendship and affection of her parents had suffered no abatement, though their great concern for her innocence and welfare had pushed their reproofs further than they intended, or than prudence under such circumstances would warrant.

Henry was little more than her own age, of but moderate capacity, handsome in person, and ill provided with the means of making matrimony a state of enjoyment; and too much addicted to the frivolities of his years to be fitted for the serious business of being the head of a family. Youth and inexperience seldom consider consequences, and the desire of the one to receive, and of the other to afford relief, under existing circumstances, made them resolve neither to ask parental consent to their purpose, nor wait the ordinary steps prescribed by the Church. The connection was therefore no less irregular than it was precipitate, and Jeanie never so much as sought to see her father’s house till the solemn knot was tied.

In her absence many inquiries were made respecting her by the villagers, who had witnessed or heard of what had happened to her on the previous day. Her truth and innocence being thus put beyond the shadow of a doubt, consternation at the long absence of their child, and compunction for the severity of their reproofs, drove the unhappy parents almost frantic. When the news of the re-appearance of their daughter dispelled their direful apprehensions as to her safety, though they felt a momentary gleam of joy, yet they experienced nothing like heart-felt satisfaction.

Jeanie made as sweet and loving a wife as she had been a daughter; but the cares of providing for more than himself soon made Henry regret his rashness, and the prospect of these cares speedily increasing made him more and more dissatisfied with his new state of life. All Jeanie’s care and anxiety to soothe and please him were unavailing. It is not in the power of beauty, youth, and innocence, to check and control the sallies of ignorance and caprice. Chagrined because his youthful wife had not prepared his morning meal to his liking, on a day when he was to visit a neighbouring city for some trifling purpose, he determined to free himself from the yoke into which he had so heedlessly run, and returned home on the evening of the following day somewhat altered in dress and appearance, and with the king’s money in his pocket. The grief and agony of Jeanie, and of her affectionate parents, were past all description ; and the consideration of her rashness and imprudence having been the occasion of so much distress to herself and others, rendered her almost desperate.

Henry was not long in the hands of the drill sergeant till he became nearly as penitent and full of regrets as his lovely young wife, and he willingly would, had he been permitted, have returned to a faithful discharge of the duties of a husband; but the country was at that time in too great need of men such as Henry, to part with him either for money or interest. When he began to reap the bitter fruits of his own folly, his affection for Jeanie, if it ever deserved so sacred a name, returned with redoubled intensity; and that object, for the abandonment of which he had plunged himself into the hardships of which he complained, he thought he could not now live without. He was shortly to be marched off to his regiment, and poor Jeanie, whose attachment remained unshaken amidst the severe treatment she had suffered, determined to follow him through all the casualties of the military life; and at any rate preferred hardship to the disgrace which she thought she had brought upon herself by her own imprudence. She had at this time been a mother for little more than two months; hut even this could not change her resolution to follow the father of her child, exposed as she must be to all the privations and hardships of the soldier’s wife. She saw her father and mother on the morning of her departure, but neither she nor they were able to exchange words, so full were their hearts; save that the old man said, “God help and bless you, Jeanie!" Scarcely a dry eye was to be seen in the village that morning, and a crowd of youths, amidst silent dejection, saw her far on her way, carrying her baby and her bundle by turns. The toils through which she passed in following her husband were too many and too severe to be here related. He was ultimately one of those who assisted to decide the dreadful conflict at Waterloo, and received a severe wound when the day was just about won. In a foreign hospital, though he suffered much, he at length recovered; but upon returning home, his wounds broke forth afresh, and at last carried him off. Jeanie was now left quite unfriended. She had seen her two eldest children laid in the dust, the one in a distant clime, and the other, though on British soil, yet far from the tomb of her fathers. She still had three surviving, and her parents being gone to their long home, her only resource at the time I met her was dependence on public charity.

“The Athenaeum,"— Glasgow University Annual, 1830.


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