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Book of Scottish Story
The Lost Little Ones


Chapter Three

Next morning the parents met, and it being agreed that all their little ones should be interred in one grave, and that the funeral should take place on the following day, the necessary preparations were accordingly made. In the meantime, Matty went over to her brother John Maxwell, to tell him, if possible, to persuade David Williams not to attend the funeral, as she was sure he could not stand it. "He hadna closed his ee," she said, "since that terrible night, and had neither ate nor drank, but had just wandered up and down between the house and the fields, moaning as if his heart would break." John Maxwell promised to speak to David, but when he did so, he found him so determined on attending, that it was needless to say any more on the subject.

On the morning of the funeral, David Williams appeared very composed ; and John Maxwell was saying to some of the neighbours that he thought he would be quite able to attend, when word was brought that Geordie Turnbull had died that morning of lock-jaw, brought on, it was supposed, as much from the idea of his having been bitten by a witch, or one that was not canny, as from the injury done to him.

This news made an evident impression on David Williams, and he became so restless and uneasy, and felt himself so unwell, that he at one time declared he would not go to the funeral; but getting afterwards somewhat more composed, he joined the melancholy procession, and conducted himself with firmness and propriety from the time of their setting out till all the coffins were lowered into the grave. But the first
spadeful of earth was scarcely thrown in, when the people were startled by his breaking into a long and loud laugh ;—

"There she’s!—there she’s!” he exclaimed; and, darting through the astonished multitude, he made with all his speed to the gate of the churchyard.

"Oh! stop him,—will naebody stop him?” cried his distracted wife; and immediately a number of his friends and acquaintances set off after him, the remainder of the people crowding to the churchyard wall, whence there was an extensive view over the surrounding country. But quickly as those ran who followed him, David Williams kept far ahead of them, terror lending him wings,—till at length, on slackening his pace, William Russel, who was the only one near, gained on him, and endeavoured, by calling in a kind and soothing manner, to prevail on him to return. This only made him increase his speed, and William would have been thrown behind farther than ever, had he not taken a short cut, which brought him very near him.

"Thank God, he will get him now!" cried the people in the churchyard; when David Williams, turning suddenly to the right, made with the utmost speed towards a rising ground, at the end of which was a freestone quarry of great depth. At this sight a cry of horror arose from the crowd, and most fervently did they pray that he might yet be overtaken; and great was their joy when they saw that, by the most wonderful exertion, William Russel had got up so near as to stretch out his arm to catch him; but at that instant his foot slipped, and ere he could recover himself, the unhappy man, who had now gained the summit, loudly shouting, sprung into the air.

"God preserve us!” cried the people, covering their eyes that they might not see a fellow-creature dashed in pieces: - "it is all over!”

"Then help me to lift his poor wife," said Isabel Lawson. "And now stan’ back, and gie her a’ the air, that she may draw her breath."

"She’s drawn her last breath already, I’m doubting," said Janet Ogilvie, an old skilful woman; and her fears were found to be too true.

"An’ what will become o’ the poor orphans?” said Isabel.

She had scarcely spoken, when Sir George Beaumont advanced, and, taking one of the children in each hand, he motioned the people to return towards the grave.

"The puir bairns are provided for now," whispered one to another, as they followed to witness the completion of the mournful ceremony. It was hastily finished in silence, and Sir George having said a few words to his steward, and committed the orphans to his care, set out on his way to the Hermitage, the assembled multitude all standing uncovered as he passed, to mark their respect for his goodness and humanity.

As might have been expected, the late unhappy occurrences greatly affected Lady Beaumont’s health, and Sir George determined to quit the Hermitage for a time; and directions were accordingly given to prepare for their immediate removal. While this was doing, the friend who had been with Elie Anderson in the prison happened to call at the Hermitage, and the servants crowded about her, eager to learn what had induced Elie to commit such crimes. When she had repeated what Elie had said, a young woman, one of the servants, exclaimed, " I know who’s been the cause of this; for if Bet,"——and she suddenly checked herself.

"That must mean Betsy Pringle," said Robert, who was her sweetheart, and indeed engaged to her; "so you will please let us hear what you have to say against her, or own that you’re a slanderer."

"I have no wish to make mischief," said the servant; "and as what I said came out without much thought, I would rather say no more; but I’ll not be called a slanderer neither."

"Then say what you have to say,” cried Robert; "it’s the only way to settle the matter."

"Well, then," said she, "since I must do it, I shall. Soon after I came here, I was one day walking with the bairns and Betsy Pringle, when we met a woman rather oddly dressed, and who had something queer in her manner, and, when she had left us, I asked Betsy who it was. ‘ Why,’ said Betsy, ‘ I don’t know a great deal about her, as she comes from another part of the country; but if what a friend of mine told me lately is true, this Elie Anderson, as they call her, should have been hanged.’

"`Hanged!’ cried Miss Charlotte; ‘and why should she be hanged, Betsy?’

"‘Never you mind, Miss Charlotte,’ said Betsy, ‘I’m speaking to Fanny here.’

"‘You can tell me some other tirne,’ said I.

"‘Nonsense,’ cried Betsy, ‘what can a bairn know about it? Weel,’ continued she, ‘it was believed that she had made away with John Anderson, her gudeman.’

"‘What’s a gudeman, Betsy?’ asked Miss Charlotte.

"‘A husband,’ answered she.

"‘And what’s making away with him, Betsy? ’

"‘What need you care ?’ said Betsy.

"‘You may just as well tell me,’ said Miss Charlotte; ‘or I’ll ask Elie Anderson herself all about it, the first time I meet her.’

"‘That would be a good ‘joke,’ said Betsy, laughing; ‘how Elie Anderson would look to hear a bairn like you speaking about a gudeman, and making away with him ; however,’ she continued, ‘ that means killing him.’

"‘Killing him! ’ exclaimed Miss Charlotte. ‘Oh, the wretch ; and how did she kill him, Betsy?’ -

"‘You must ask no more questions, miss,’ said Betsy, and the subject dropped.

"‘Betsy,’ said I to her afterwards, you should not have mentioned these things before the children ; do you forget how noticing they are ?’

"‘Oh, so they are,’ said Betsy, but only for the moment; and I’ll wager Miss Charlotte has forgotten it all
already.’

"But, poor thing," Fanny added, "she remembered it but too well."’

"I’ll not believe this," cried Robert.

"Let Betsy be called, then, ” said the housekeeper, "and we’ll soon get at the truth." Betsy came, was questioned by the housekeeper, and acknowledged the fact.

"Then," said Robert, "you have murdered my master’s daughter, and you and I can never be more to one another than we are at this moment;" and he hastily left the room.

Betsy gazed after him for an instant, and then fell on the floor. She was immediately raised up and conveyed to bed, but recovering soon after, and expressing a wish to sleep, her attendant left her. The unhappy woman, feeling herself unable to face her mistress after what had happened, immediately got up, and, jumping from the window, fled from the Hermitage. The first accounts they had of her were contained in a letter from herself to Lady Beaumont, written on her death-bed, wherein `she described the miserable life she had led since quitting the Hermitage, and entreating her ladyship’s forgiveness for the unhappiness which she had occasioned.

"Let what has happened," said Lady Beaumont, "be a warning to those who have the charge of them, to ‘beware of what they say to children’; —a sentiment which Sir George considered as so just and important, that he had it engraven on the stone which covered the little innocents, that their fate and its cause might be had win everlasting remembrance."—THE ODD VOLUME


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