Burnpath was a small
fishing village in the south of Scotland, of which, many years ago, a Mr.
Robertson was minister. He had a daughter of great beauty, whose name was
Mary. It was October, and there had been a wreck upon the coast during the
night. By daybreak, old and young were upon the beach. Amongst them was
Mary Robertson. She came upon the seeming lifeless body of a youth, who,
by his dress, appeared to be an officer. She bent over him. She fancied
there was still warmth at his heart. She called for help, and bearing him
to her father’s house, within an hour animation was restored.
On the following morning,
Mr. Robertson led into the breakfast parlour, a noble-looking young
midshipman. Youthful enthusiasm, sadness, and gratitude, appeared blended
on his features. His eyes were of a deep and piercing black; at first
sight almost unpleasantly so, seeming to search the very thoughts of those
on whom he looked. But his countenance was animated and expressive; and
his bright brown hair fell carelessly, in thick natural curls, over a
broad and open brow. His stature somewhat exceeded the middle size; and
his person, though not inelegant, was rather robust than handsome; while
his age could not exceed five and twenty. Mutual congratulations were
exchanged; and he had been seated but a few minutes, when Mary placed a
small pocket Bible in his hands. He glanced at her for a moment, almost
unmeaningly; and opened it with a look of perplexed curiosity. When the
Psalm commenced, he seemed surprised and startled at the affinity it and
the chapter which was read by Mary bore to his own situation. He appeared
puzzled, confounded, interested; and, when they knelt in prayer, he looked
round in embarrassment, as one who wist not what to do. He was evidently a
stranger to such things. Of the prayer he knew not what to think. He was
at once pleased, overpowered, and offended.
"It may be all very good,"
said he to himself; "but it is scarce civil to call a gentleman a sinner
to his face! He is very anxious about my spiritual state to day, but my
body might have perished for him yesterday, had not that glorious creature
While he thus thought, he
gazed obliquely on her kneeling form, his head resting on his hand, with
his face turned toward the chair where she knelt, till his gaze became
rivetted—his thoughts absorbed; and, as she, with her father, rose, he
started to his feet, and, almost unconscious of what had passed, looked
round in ill-disguised bewilderment.
Leaving him, however, to
overcome his confusion, we shall introduce our readers to what we know of
Henry Walton—for so, in
future, we shall designate him—was the only son of Sir Robert Walton, in
the county of Devon. Sir Robert was proud of his son, and loved him second
only to his bottle, his chestnut hunter, and his hounds, or, rather, he
loved them less, but thought of them more.
"Bravo! Hal is father’s
better," said he; "there goes a chip of the old block !" as Henry cleared
a five-barred gate, or brought down a pigeon on the wing with a bullet.
Not that he would have risen a shade in the esteem of the Baronet, had he
carried in his head the wisdom of Greece and the eloquence of Rome. All
oratory was alike to him, save the "sound of the bugle horn." Henry,
however, had other qualifications, which were a theme of continued praise
with his father. He was a keen sportsman—a dead shot; and, when but
nineteen, disguised as a countryman, he had attended the annual "revel" at
Ashburton, where his father presided as umpire, and was to bestow five
guineas, from his own purse, on the victor wrestler. Having inserted a
fictitious name upon the lists, he entered the ring, and alternately threw
his three brawny opponents two fair back-falls each, amidst the deafening
shouts of all the strong men in Devonshire. He now approached, hanging his
head, toward his father, to receive the extended reward.
"Swinge! look up, man!"
vociferated Sir Robert, in the excess of his admiration, accompanying the
request with a hearty slap on the shoulder; "Swinge! I say, look up, man
for thou’st a good un!"
Henry bowed, and, without
speaking, retired with the purse; and, to increase the astonishment of the
spectators, divided its contents among the three chopfallen, and, in
truth, not over pleasant-looking antagonists he had vanquished. At this
act of generosity, the Devonians shouted and bellowed forth their lusty
and reiterated applause, as if determined to shake down the sun from the
heavens, to crown the brows of the conqueror. Sir Robert shouted louder
than the loudest—rushed into the ring—grasped the hand of the victor, and
shook it with an honest enthusiasm that would have relieved a more
delicate hand from the future trouble of wearing fingers.
"Faith, and dang it!" said
he, "and thou art a good un. Now, for that same, instead of five guineas,
here are ten for thee. But, why, man, look up, and let us see thy face,
and pull off thy nightcap."
So saying, he, without
ceremony, unfastened a napkin Henry had bound around his head, to aid his
"Swinge! what!" shouted Sir
Robert—"my own son! my own Hal! father’s better!—O Lord! O Lord!"
He danced in the extreme of
ecstasy, and hugged him furiously to his heart, till he who had overthrown
three, fell beneath the muscular embrace of his father.
Henry’s grandfather, after
living forty years in the unnatural and unsocial state by some called
single blessedness, and remaining proof against the shafts of blind gods
and bright-eyed divinities, found his philosophy disturbed by the
laughing face, the exquisite neck, and the well-rounded arm of a pretty
hay-maker, who was a parish apprentice to one of his own tenants. Blue
eyes, auburn locks, and a waist symmetry itself, (for it, too, had
arrested the admiration of the bachelor), are not to be trifled with in a
hay-field in a glowing day in June, when the melting fragrance smells to
heaven, the lark pours down the full tide of melody and affection over the
nest of his delighted and listening mate, and the very butterflies pursue
each other, flutter, shake their downy wings, and wanton love in the
dreamy air! If a bachelor will go abroad on such a day, he should lock up
his heart in his writing-desk. But our old baronet, never having made the
discovery that he was in possession of one, overlooked this precaution--
"Gazed on the fair
Who caused his care,
And sighed and looked, sighed and looked,
Sighed and looked, and sighed again;"
till the whole group of
curtsying haymakers burst into a titter at the confusion of his Honour. He
shortly found means to declare his passion, though it is true he never
dreamed of marriage: but the fair maiden dreamed of nothing else; and, to
the astonishment of her wealthy lover, would hear of nothing else.
Therefore, Susan Prescott became Lady Walton, and, in due time, the mother
of Sir Robert.
Within two years after
their marriage, the Baronet dropped from his chair, without drawing the
cork of his third bottle, in a fit—which Lady Walton could not remember
the name of! She wept, like a dutiful widow, over her husband; who, having
a constitutional terror of the thought of death, (though by no means a
coward), had ever banished every thing that tended to remind him of
mortality; and thereby dying without a will, left the future guardianship
and education of Sir Robert to his mother. She had, indeed, had fifty
tutors, as she said, superintending the studies of the young heir of the
Priory; for none staid beyond a month, and she assured them—"She would
allow no such hungry nothings to contradict her Bobby, who was a good
scholar, and mother’s darling."
For the little, therefore,
that Sir Robert did know, he was more indebted to natural quickness, and
the occasional lessons of the vicar, who forced them upon him in defiance
of his mother’s displeasure, than to his fifty tutors.
On the year after his
coming of age, in despite of the tears and upbraidings of Lady Walton, Sir
Robert ordered his travelling carriage, his double-barrelled
fowling-pieces, and all the et ceteras of a sporting campaign; and
left the "garden and watering-place of England," (as its inhabitants call
it, and with some cause), for a shooting excursion on the moors of
Scotland. Against this journey his mother wept, prayed, and protested; but
her tears, her entreaties, and protestations were lost upon her son; who,
after seeing his pack properly packed up, sprang into his carriage,
"Over the hills and far awa,"
with a suddenness and a
weight that made the wheels creak and the horses stagger; while her
Ladyship kept thrusting beneath his feet bundles of stockings, flannels,
and dreadnoughts, sufficient for a Greenland voyage, or a North West
passage—"Quite certain," as she said, poor soul, and sobbing as she said
it, while she scrambled up to the carriage for another parting kiss, "that
her dear Bobby would be frozen to death, that he would, in that cold
outlandish country! But they could expect no better who would not take a
"Good-bye, mother!" cried
Sir Robert. Crack went the whip—whir went the wheels—the horses tossed
their heads—the hounds raised a farewell note—and away went the baronet,
with a sound heart and light, to the hills of "bonny Scotland."
The shooting season had but
commenced, Sir Robert had been but a few days in the Highlands, when he
became acquainted with a brother sportsman. Major Cameron was a hardy,
weather-beaten veteran, who had only his half-pay to live upon, with his
honest scars, and the blood of Lochiel in his veins, to boast of. He had
been distinguished as a fearless and able officer, was possessed of
considerable shrewdness, and his knowledge, if not deep, was general. He
had had a dream of ambition in his youth; but a Majority, with permission
to retire on half-pay—and, more than these, the death of a beloved wife,
with the education and care of an only daughter—dispelled the enchantment.
He now rented a beautiful cottage, and a few surrounding acres in the
neighbourhood of Inverness.
Shortly after their
acquaintance, the Major—though certainly not struck with the attainments
of the young baronet, yet pleased with his constant good humour, his love
of sport, and, perhaps (but we can’t tell), not overlooking his fortune
and his own daughter—invited him to his house. The simple elegance of Miss
Cameron’s household startled Sir Robert. She, too, stood before him in all
the glory of young womanhood. To say that she was beautiful, is to say the
least that we could say. Her person was tall, graceful, and commanding;
and her mind adorned, not merely with ornamental, but domestic
accomplishments. It is true her father, though a good soldier, a good
citizen, and an indulgent parent, had no fixed or guiding principle of
religion. He believed himself a Christian; but he was one of those who do
not make their religion the rule of their life; and under such a teacher,
while she received a high sense of honour and a pure morality; her
religion, like that of many others, consisted in attending the church, and
finished with the service.
To think of a warm-hearted,
unsophisticated young fellow like Sir Robert, holding out against the
artillery of her eyes for a week, were as impossible as to suspend the
earth from a packthread! He looked—that is to say, he looked as stupid--as
people generally do when the eyes have to perform the office of the
tongue. Within a fortnight, the young sportsman bade good-bye to the
moors. His game lay in the Major’s cottage. His blood rose to a
fever-heat without Lady Walton’s flannels. Twenty times in the twenty four
hours he sighed, looked in her face, and said, "Miss Cameron!" looked to
the ground again, and said no more. And when, at length, the Major railed
him on letting the shooting season slip—"Why, dang it, d’ye see, Major,"
said he, "I came here to shoot, and I’ve got shot myself! So, if thou art
my friend, now or never ask Miss Cameron."
The Major had already
reasoned that he must die and leave his daughter unprovided for, and an
orphan. The thought cut him to the heart. It had often cost him tears. The
baronet was rather ignorant, but he was good-natured. It was evident he
loved his daughter—she might instruct him. He was rich; he had
influence—the Major might yet obtain a regiment!
"Yes, yes," said the
veteran to himself, "she must— Jess shall marry the
Miss Jess Cameron was sufficiently
aware of the state of her lover’s heart, not to be surprised by her
father’s announcement of his wishes, and, having weighed the matter much
in the same manner, with the additional reflection that Sir Robert was a
handsome fellow—though rather huge withal—she blushed a soft consent; and
the marriage articles being agreed to, signed, and sealed, before brown
October had run its course, the
travelling carriage containing Sir Robert, his lady, and father-in-law,
was again on its way to Buckham Priory.
On their arrival, the then
dowager Lady Walton grew pale—then all the hues of the rainbow—and finally
settled into a bursting red.
"Lady Walton!—Lady Walton,
indeed!" she repeated, and wrung her hands; till "Lady Walton!" was heard
in every room of the Priory.
"Two Lady Waltons in one
house!" she again cried, and flew to her bottle for consolation. Cider had
been her favourite beverage; but, continuing to mix it too strongly with
brandy, in a few years after this proof of her son’s disobedience, the
good lady went out of this world with nearly as little ceremony as her
dear deceased husband.
Previous to his being sent
to the university, Henry’s studies were anxiously directed by his
excellent mother and grandfather; while his father took upon him the
guidance of his bodily exercises. He had now been about four years in the
navy. Sir Robert swore, "Hal was not father’s son, in making choice of
such a profession." His mother would rather he had chosen the army, while
his grandfather sighed and wondered at his taste. Such, at this period of
our story were the inhabitants of the Priory; whom having introduced to
our readers, we proceed with our narrative.
Return we now to the Manse.
Burnpath was a beautiful, though irregular little village, lying, perhaps,
a quarter of a mile (we cannot speak to a measured certainty) from the
sea. The long, bleak, dark ridge of Lammermuir smiled into fertility, as
its eastern boundary descended towards the kirk. A young forest of pines
spread proudly over the surrounding hills. A wimpling burn, which, at
times, assumed the airs of a cataract, ran in manifold and antic windings
through a steep ravine, or rather chasm, in the mountains that stretched
back into the desert. The brook imitated, as it neared the sea, the
importance of a river, and separated the Manse from the village. A wooden
deal, resting on the opposite banks, served as a bridge during a flood;
and, in summer, four large stones, about three feet apart, answered all
the purposes of a ferry.
We have already said the
Manse looked to the sea. It was a dark, dingy looking house—old, black,
and solid; with deep, narrow, castellated windows; and huge, massy
chimneys, rising like staircases from its foundations, on the outside of
each gable. It was surrounded by a clump of oaks, and thin, dry, aged
firs, the extremities of which had forgotten the seasons. Several were
broken and branchless and two uprooted by the late storm. The tombs joined
with a corner of the building. The owl already shrieked on the eaves for
its midnight meal; and the daw perched on the roof of the anticipated
ruin. The bat wheeled around it undisturbed; and the villagers, though
accustomed to its gloom, felt loneliness creep through their flesh as they
approached it after twilight. The house had no evil name; but situation is
everything (as landlords say), and the Manse had an evil situation.
The picture. however, had
two lights. Before it, lay a sloping garden, disposed and pruned by the
hand of taste; and from its highest elevation its shadow was seen sleeping
in the deeps of the quiet sea. Around it spread the purple hills; and,
with the breeze that swept down their heathery sides, bearing health upon
its bosom, mingled the notes of the shepherd’s flute and the bleating of
his flocks. There, too, amidst the young pines, the wild dove welcomed the
spring, the lark filled the air with music, and the linnet trilled its
artless note from the yellow whins. Within, the fire of comfort blazed,
and the eye of affection beamed. Such was the village of Burnpath, and its
Mr. Robertson felt for
Henry a feeling of admiration and pity. He admired his ardent and
enthusiastic spirit—he pitied its recklessness. He admired the fervid
brilliancy of his imagination—he lamented its objects. He admired the
warmth and intensity of his feelings, the extent of his knowledge, and the
clearness of his understanding—while, to use his own words, he pitied his
ignorance of the knowledge which alone maketh rich unto salvation. These
sentiments, with a pious and an anxious wish that he might be instrumental
in awakening within him a concern for his future welfare, induced him to
solicit Henry to remain for several weeks beneath his hospitable roof. The
invitation was accepted, with a rapture that might have betrayed other
feelings than gratitude; but this Mr. Robertson attributed to the warmth
of his young friend’s disposition, Mary, too heard the proposal made and
accepted, with a delight which she strove not to disguise. Melancholy
passed from her brow, a smile played upon her cheeks, and a tear—no, it
could not be called a tear—it was a drop of joy—of—but no matter. Henry
was by her side—he had taken her hand—she offered not to withdraw it. He
said nothing—there was no need to say anything. It was mere
congratulation at the prospect of his remaining a few weeks longer Mary
thought that was her meaning; it was, doubtless, Henry’s
also; and her father thought so, too.
About twelve weeks had
passed. Henry felt exquisitely happy. Mr. Robertson’s prayers had become
quite delightful; for then he could take long deep draughts of—he scarce
knew what—on the lovely form that knelt by his side, save when she, too,
stole a sidelong glance, and their eyes met—were withdrawn—and both
blushed—blushed, it may be, at their want of devotion. Nevertheless, Henry
was happy; Mary was happy, too. Happiness is contagious: her father grew
cheerful and jocular. He was convinced Henry was becoming religious.