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Wilson's Border Tales
The Minister's Daughter

Chapter 4


Hail, prudence, well fed child of Forethonght—hail
Cold, cautions Beauty, in a Quaker’s bonnet—
Thou friend indeed, when friends and patrons fail—
Accept a stranger’s would-be-follower’s sonnet!
At thy hard heart, the purseless fool may rail:—
What, though thy cheeks with pity ne’er were pale—
Ne’er went ye shoeless—dinnerless—and ne’er
From friendship begged a cup of meagre beer—
Ne’er bartered from thy back thy clothes for sale,
To help thy hunger—ne’er met the sneer
Of wealth nor wisdom—ne’er a copper gave,
But saved thy pence a-day and pounds a-year
No man’s mean debtor;—and no passion’s slave:
Thy law, thy god—thy self: thy aim—TO SAVE.

None will believe Henry’s feelings to have been of the most enviable description, as he crossed the little wooden bridge leading from the Manse; yet there are no moments of despair of such dark and continued depression, but that hope, like the flash of an angel’s wing, will dart across the bosom; and as we would hurry on in desperation, will chain us in incertitude. Acted upon by the contention of such feelings, and as the shadow of hope is more potent in the soul than the dense and solid gloominess of despair, he hurried across the heath to the cottage of the widow; where having once met with Mary, he believed that there he should be more immediately associated with the presence of her spirit—that there, at least, she could still be present in remembrance; and perhaps he conceived, that, having found him there once, there also would she fly again to find him. The supposition was sufficiently improbable; but he is indeed a wise man who can resist believing that to be possible which is the first of his desires. The widow was too blind to observe his agitation, too deaf to interrupt him by conversation; and he had seated himself on the round stool by the turf fire, brooding in silence how to act, when hearing

—"the cries of one in jeopardy,
He rose and ran."

With the parties the reader is already acquainted. Having rushed upon the assailants without identifying the object of their attack, he drew their fury upon himself; and holding with them a retreating conflict, separated them from each other.

One of the ruffians, discharging a pistol without effect, and overpowered by Henry’s superior strength, screamed to his comrade for assistance; and, upon regaining his feet, both fled for safety, leaving their unknown antagonist to follow up the rescue of their victim. But the darkness of the night, and Mr. Robertson’s attempt at flight, thwarted his efforts. Therefore, after an ineffectual search for an hour, he re-entered the cottage.

Wearied by the loneliness of the objects around him, and urged to change of scene by the irksome despondency of his feelings, as the shadows of morning began to throw their first uncertain glimmering over the fading stars, he arose from the dying embers, which had withdrawn both their heat and light; and approaching the bedside of the aged invalid, gave a last and indistinct look of sympathy on her withered features, where time, disease, and poverty had left their ravages. The gloomy picture of wretchedness cut him to the heart.

"Farewell, Peggy," said he, and he cast a parting glance around the hovel; where the dun rays of morning gave a deeper squalidness to the apartments and rather than affording light, made misery visible.

"Are ye here yet, my bairn?" inquired she anxiously--"where are ye gaun?" And she stretched forth her feeble hand to detain him.

He made no reply; but, drawing his purse from his pocket, laid it upon her pillow. From Mary’s sufferings and circumstances, he feared the widow was depreived of her best or only friend. He farther considered himself as the principal cause of that deprivation; and deemed it his duty to make, as he best could, equivalent restitution. It was partly this feeling of niggard justice, but more a momentary gush of sympathy, that influenced the action, without reflecting upon what might be his own necessities. All he knew of want was from the pages of some novelist, as ignorant of its meaning as himself, or the picture of a begger who solicited his alms; but, as he dropped him his loose pence, or a piece of silver, he stopped not to see the hunger written on the eyeballs of the supplicant. Generosity, too, is often the weakness of noble and ardent minds. It is a weakness that pleases in the act; and, even where misplaced, or thoughtlessly bestowed, it is a "failing leaning to the side of virtue;" and the reflection, if not pleasing, has but little of bitterness.

For three hours he wandered across the moors, which were clothed in all the loneliness of winter sterility. The sheep were crowded together, and penned on the hill tops. The whistle of some lonely shepherd, and the barking of his faithful colly in reply, were the only sounds that broke upon the silent torments of our traveller. Though without caring where, or in what direction, his journey for the day might terminate, he purposely deviated from the main path. About noon, he gained the summit of Dunse Law. Had the earth been touched by the finger of a potent wizard, the burst of transformation could not have been more instantaneous or enchanting. For hours, and but a moment before, he had waded through the snows of a desert, where winter moaned to the freezing air, or slept on clefts of the barren hills, undisturbed by life or vegatation. Such was the scene behind him. At his feet, the Merse lay like a vast garden shielded from the storm, and looking glad in conscious security. The Whitadder, breaking amidst hanging woods from the obscurity of the wilderness, poured its sound upon his ears. The sun, till then obscured by mountain mists, smiled over the snowy top of Cheviot, upon the fairy strath. The Blackadder, leaping from the icy fetters of its upland birth, ran to embrace the Whitadder; smaller streams hastened to join them; and the Tweed, rolling undistrubed, in deep majesty, hastened down the middle distance, with the pride and the heart of a parent, received and had room for all. The sea, kissed by motionless clouds lay far to the east; and, cheerful towns, glad villages, rich villas, and farm-steads groaning beneath a load of plenty,

"Think as autumnal leaves."

studded the spacious valley, which was still lovely, though in its winter nakedness. The trees were leafless; but the numerous forest-looking plantations of pines, added a green variety to the scene.

Hitherto the bleak hills were in unison with his feelings; but misery and melancholy are so foreign to the natural temperament of humanity, that it is almost impossible for the heart to be so soured as to continue long wholly insensible to the influence of surrounding objects. An impression of comfort and cheerfulness was diffused around him, and, unused to sorrow, where gladness met his eye, his breast answered the landscape with a sigh, and felt lighter, he stood for a moment to contemplate it. It was one of those long deep draughts of admiring observation, when the eyes wander above, below, and around, till they swim in a whirl of poetry. But a man must be alone before he can feel the soul of a breathing landscape. Were we travelling with a clever, impertinent, stage-coach hunter after the picturesque, who vents his stupid admiration by the mouthful at every turn of the road, we would go through Italy with such a fellow, and swear—"It is all barren." We know not how long he stood, for nature steals like sleep upon the senses; but he was aroused from his contemplation by the following unceremonious salutation—

"That’s a sicht no to be seen ilka day! Ye should come up here an’ tak a peep at the Merse aboot the end o’ May, an’ then ye wad see a sicht for guid weak een?"

The speaker was a brawny, ruddy-faced man; his age would not exceed forty. He wore a short grey coat, a double-breasted waistcoat of the same material, white corduroy knee breeches, dark blue stockings, a pair of half leggings of the same consistency as his breeches, and above these were wrapt firmly-twisted straw ropes round the ancles, which converted his substantial double-soled shoes into all the purposes of snow-boots. He wore also a plaid, which was merely thrown round his neck as a protection to the throat. His stature might be five feet ten; and with him were two companions, who shared no small portion of his attention. The one was a pepper-coloured dog, betwixt the greyhound and the colly breed, which appeared, in all but speech, to answer every thought that arose in its master’s mind. The other was a formidable hazel cudgel, or walking-stick, which was the better secured to his grasp by a piece of whip-cord, forming a loop to its head, and twisted round his hand. This he, from time to time, surveyed with a look of admiring satisfaction; and Rover, as he called his dog, evidently shared in his complacency.

"Ye’ll be for Dunse, now, I reckon?" continued he.

"What is the name of the town in the valley before us?" returned Henry.

"Odd! ye maun be a stranger here-a-way, I take," replied the other—"that’s Dunse; ye’ve heard the saying, ‘Dunse dings a’ for honest men an’ bonny lasses;’ an’ that’s as true a saying as if it had been prented at the end o’ the gospels. Ye wad say it yoursel’ if ye were acquaint wi’ them. There’s mony a clever fallow come out a Dunse, lad; frae Duns Scotus, doon to the present time. I belong there myeel’, in a kind o’ way. Ye’ll be stoppin’ there a’ night, nae doot?"

"Perhaps I may," answered Henry, who, as he walked by the side of his new companion, scarce knew how to receive his instantaneous familiarity.

"Weel, I think ye had better," said the other, "if ye hae far to gang; for ye look gay sair fagged. I dinna think ye’ve been used wi’ walking, Sir. Hae ye come far?"

This was a question Henry felt inclined to answer drily; but there was something in the countenance of the other which made it impossible to be angry or offended with his inquisitive curiosity; and he replied—"At daybreak, I left the house of a friend; but I cannot say the milestones have been sufficiently numerous to make me note the distance."

"I daresay no!—I daresay no!" resumed the stranger, with a well-pleased laugh. "It’s a dreary bit that back owre there, at a’ times. The puir peeseweeps starve to death on’t, in the very middle o’ simmer’ an’ they are the last craturs that I ken o’ to starve. But as for lookin’ for milestanes there, ye micht as weel expect to find the grace o’ God in the court o’ a Spanish inquisition. I think, by yer tongue, ye’re an Englishman. What pairt do ye come frae, if it be a fair question?"

"From Devonshire," was the reply.

"Frae Devonshire!" said the stranger, with surprise. "Odd, I see, by the map, that’s maistly at the Land’s End! An’ are ye gaun hame the noo?"

"Yes—perhaps," said Henry, vexed at everything that reminded him of his situation.

"Then ye arena vera sure about it, like?" returned the other; "but, if ye intend to walk a’ the way, yer shoon winna be meikle in yer debt afore ye get to yer faither’s. But is yer faither living?—that’s the question?"

"I believe so," said Henry, hastily, wearied of his inquiries.

"Then ye’re no vera sure about that either!" resumed the incorrigible querist. "Ye’ve been a guid while awa maybe? I think ye look something like a better sort o’ a sailor. Ye’ll be in the King’s service, I fancy?"

"I was," replied Henry, in a tone which indicated his determination to finish the conversation.

"And what ship did ye belang to?" continued the undisturbed and unwearied inquisitor.

"The Biblia!" said Henry, with a quickness approaching to bitterness, and half determined to bid his companion walk on.

"The Biblia!" ejaculated the other, and stood still, staring upon Henry with astonishment. "Lord preserve us! I’ll wager ye what ye like, ye’re the young officer that was. saved by Miss Mary Robertson! Am I no richt?"

"You are," said Henry; but he could feel anger no more. The mention of his Mary’s name had molten down every angry feeling into a semblance of herself.

"Save us a’, man! an’ are ye him?" said the stranger. "She is really an extraordinary being, Mary Robertson. My mither ance lived in her faither’s parish; and I hae heard her rame owre her guid qualities, till, although I had ne’er seen her then—an’ I was double her age, ye may say—as sure as death, I could hae cut my fingers aff, when I thocht that she was a gentle cratur, an’ a minister’s dochtar, and me nae better than a rough drover! An’ when I did see her, she was jist exactly what I think the angels will be like—an’ better, I’m sure, it’s hardly possible for them to be. I’m confident it would tak the langest Lapland winter that e’er darkened snaw, to rin owre but the half o’ what I hae heard in her praise, an’ ken, frae my ain knowledge, to be fact."

During this harangue, Henry’s feelings became too violent to be suppressed. He accused himself for having harboured a thought against the stranger; and, approaching his side, grasped his hand in both of his, and gazed in his face with a look of earnestness and emotion, that a single word would have robbed of half its worth. The other returned his pressure, with a fervency that evinced his sympathy.

"Faith, now, that’s what I like!" said he; "that shows sterlin’ gratitude! Gratitude is like a dumb man speakin’! Ye’re a noble young chield, I can see by the vera look o’ yer e’en! I could swear by the grip o’ yer hand, were it nae mair, that, officer though he be, ye ne’er made a rope’s end come across the back o’ a better man than yersel."

The stranger was bound for Newcastle, and he at once seemed determined that Henry should be his companion by the way. On leaving Longframlington in the morning, the noble prospect which the lofty situation of the village commands, compensated for the damp chaff bed and flat ale of the inn. Behind them rose Cheviot and the Scottish hills; to their right, the mountains of Cumberland were visible; and between the long, broad, irregular valley, with its hundred farms—a nursery for rivers, and receptable of upland streams; to their left, the sea—the Coquet Isle; and proud vessels were seen rejoicing on their course, as if conscious of their own magnificent beauty, bending their stately prows to the passing billow, and again rising in majesty, like a proud steed pawing the earth, bending its neck of thunder, and tossing it again in the air, in the pride of regal sublimity and conscious strength. Before them spread a deep plain, through which winded the Coquet and the Wansbeck.

Damp beds are a bad thing for the rheumatism," said Willie, as they reached the bridge over the former river; an’ they sell an excellent preventive here in the Angler’s inn. It’s nae use palavering," continued he, as Henry remonstrated—"I tell ye it’s nae use palavering; there’s a lang road before us afore bedtime."

It would be an endless task, however, to follow our worthy drover through his houses of call, at which he felt a habitual thirst that he conceived to be natural. During most of the day, according to the adage, it did not rain but poured. The roads became at first clammy, and in the end almost impassable. At length, drenched, wo-begone, and bespatted with mud, like two spirits escaped from the Deluge, they reached Newcastle, and silently bent their steps down Northumberland Street. The rain abated none of its violence, and again Henry regretted the prodigality of his generosity, in parting with the entire contents of his purse. He had slept none the preceding night. Misery, fatigue, and the long continuance of the cold bleaching rain, battled in his heart, and pressed upon his pride, with a weight that caused it to bend, though it could not break it. He drew his breath quick and short. An anxious, disquiet feeling, approaching to peevishness, seemed sticking in his throat, and he longed that his companion would speak of halting for the night. After proceeding down Northumberland and Pilgrim Streets, nearly a mile in a direct line, Willie, halting before a gateway, said—"Now, I usually stop down here, at the Bird an’ Bush; it’s a kind o’ carrier’s quarters; but ye see, the like o’ the York Hotel is aboon my fit; an’ I’ll answer for our being comfortable. Come awa—faith we’ll hae a nicht o’t! A jug o’ boiling brandy, mistress for twa drowned men!" shouted he, as they entered the house.

Next morning, Henry desired his friend to favour him with his address.

"Now what are ye driving at, Mr Walton?" said Willie, eagerly, and with a degree of sorrow; "ye are surely no thinkin’ o’ leavin’ me already. Stay a day or twa, man, to see the toun. Ye see, I’m here about a bit law-suit; an’ if I dinna get it settled here, I dinna ken but I may hae to gang up to London. The matter o’ five thousands pounds is worth the lookin’ after! Hoots dinna say ony mair about partin’ yet—will ye no, Mr. Walton?"

His honest and unsophisticated kindness was oppressive to his young companion, whose first wish was an opportunity to reward him.

"Whether ye talk of parting or not," said Henry, "let me, at least, have the happiness of knowing where to find you hereafter."

"Weel," replied the other, "onybody kens whar to find Wull Watson, o’ Finchey-hill, by Edrom, in the county o’ Berwick. I maun awa oot, an’ see my attorney body. But noo, mind, Mr Walton, dinna be oot o’ the way at dennertime; I tak it exactly at ane o’clock."

Henry being left alone, walked to the quayside, with the hope of finding a vessel in which he might obtain a passage for London; where, he conceived, it would not be difficult, amidst his own or his father’s friends, to procure the advance of a sum sufficient to defray the expense of conveyance, and overcome his embarrassments.

A neat-looking brig was clearing out, and on the eve of sailing. He stepped aboard, and inquired if he could be accommodated with a passage to London.

"Like enough," said the mate, who was busied in giving directions for hauling off; "but go aft, and speak to the master."

A black, porky, surly-faced man, in a shabby blue surtout, like a cloak thrown over a barrel, stood smoking a pipe by the side of the companion, and overlooking the preparations for sailing. To him Henry repeated his question.

"A passage!—why—yes," said the skipper; "thou mayst have a passage; but where’s thy luggage?—we be hauling off."

This was a question for which Henry was unprepared; and his momentary hesitation did not escape the lynx-eyed tyrant of the brig, who immediately added—"You’ve got none, eh? Well—all’s one wi’ us; a guinea and a half, if you please, sir. That is wur usual fare—we make nyae reduction for want o’ luggage, lad. Be quick, if ye please, sir—hang it! d’ye see, they are taking away the planks!"

On Henry’s assuring him he would be paid on their arriving at London—"Ashore!—ye swindling scamp!" vociferated the skipper. "Ashore!—or, by the Lord Harry! I’ll chuck ye overboard! Here’s a precious scoundrel!" cried he to the people on the quay—"tried to humbug me out of a passage!"

Henry would have felled him to the deck, but he immediately sought protection among his crew; and the vessel being then about ten feet from the shore, he sprang upon the bulwarks, and with reckless violence threw himself into the midst of the assembled crowd. Those who the instant before were prepared to receive him with hootings, gathered around him in wonder; some declaring, he had made "a clean joomp of five yards!"

Rage, and the tumult of his troubled feelings, flashed from his eyes. He pressed through the throng like a madman. Many were wistful to offer him kindness, but quailed at the wild haughtiness of his looks. The face of man sickened him. In every eye he read suspicion and scrutiny; and hurrying across the bridge, and up Gateshead, he turned off the road into the fields, and threw himself down by the side of a deserted coal-mine, in secret to give vent to the bitterness of his spirit.

The day passed, and the boisterous agony of his bosom subsided into a gnawing calmness. At midnight he arose shivering and benumbed, the night damp dripping from his glossy hair, and turned towards the town. He felt he would rather die than again be dependent on the generosity of his late fellow-traveller.


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