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Wilson's Border Tales
The Minister's Daughter

Chapter 7


His was not madness, such as maniacs show,
But love, deep love, absorbing agony,
A withering of the heart, a shroud of woe,
The tossing of a bark upon a sea
That ever doth in storm and darkness flow,
Whose shores are death, whose waves are misery
A wailing of the spirit, and a grief
That knew no hope, no soothing, no relief!

Pain made its dwelling in his lonely breast,
Where woe bent o’er the sepulchre of hope;
Pale lamentation was its cheerless guest,
And there would anguish, there would sorrow stop,
And make their habitation. Peace and rest
Had left it desolate. Despair might grope
And lose its way within it. Every ray
Of hope had died—of joy had passed away.

Six weeks had passed, and the domestics of Cuthbertson Lodge heard no tidings of their master; for he had left it, none knew whither, shortly after the funeral of Mr. Robertson. Every individual in the house and upon the estate, from Janet Gray down to the cow-boy who herded by the hillside, began to feel alarmed for his absence. Several of the tenants and household were met in conclave before the Lodge, deliberating upon the cause, and concerting measures to procure intelligence respecting him. An elderly cotter, holding a snuff-box in his hand, and into which he, over and anon, dipped his finger and thumb, without, however, raising their contents half-way to his nostrils, assuming a countenance of more than usual seriousness and sagacity, said—"I dinna ken, sires,--an’ I dinna like to be forward in giein’ an opinion, but, I may say, it’s the opinion o’ mair folk than ane—do ye ken, I think there was an unco change upon the laird afore ever he gaed away:--that’s what I think."

"Losh, John, man," interrupted another, "whar do ye get yer news? I’m sure we a’ kenned that."

"Weel, neebor," replied the composed cotter, "I wasna sayin’ that ye didna ken; but ye’ll no hear what a body has to say. Noo, I was sayin’ that, in my opinion, the laird was greatly altered; but I’ll tell ye hoo—and this is a fact whether I was workin’ about the plantin’, biggin at the dykes or even ditchin’—it was nae matter what; whanever he cam past, he wad hae stopped an’ had a crack. ‘Weel, John,’ he wad hae said, as familiar like, as if we had lived butt an’ ben—‘Weel, John, hoo’s a’ wi’ ye the day? Is the wife an’ the barins a’ weel?’ ‘Thank ye, sir, I wad hae said—‘we are a’ meikle about our ordinar. How are a’ the folk about the lodge?’ Ye may lauch, sirs, but, as sure as death, I used to ask him just in that familiar way. Do ye think I wad tell ye a lee? ‘Hae ye onything in yer mull the day John?’ he wad hae said again: ‘ye keep famish sneeshin’—whar do ye get it?’ ‘I daresay, sir,’ say I, ‘I’ve nae particular merchant, but sometimes frae ane, an’ sometimes frae anither.’ Noo, we just used to crack in that sort o’ way, for maybe half an hour at a time, twice or thrice a-week. For he used to say, ‘I like to hear John enter fairly upon a crack—he’s sae entertainin’.’ I canna mak oot, sirs, what ye are geeglin’ at. It’s my opinion ye think I’m tellin’ ye an untruth. Ye may either believe it or no; but I’ll tell ye what it is—for some time afore he gaed awa, there was a great change upon the laird, and he used to pass me, without gommin’ me ony mair than if I had been an auld milestane; never even looked the road I was on; or said—‘Is that you, John?’ but gaed saunterin’ and seighin’—Lord preserve us! I could hear his seighs, I’ll no say a quarter o’ a mile aff—but—I canna tell ye hoo far. Noo, what I infer frae a’ this, is that the laird is greatly changed or, in my opinion, that there is something upon his mind."

"Weel, if ye be dune wi’ your sermon, John, an’ a body may put in a word edgeways," said a farmer, "I’ll tell ye, without palaver, that the laird was a wee thocht unsettled afore he left the lodge, an’ ought to be seen about. I doubt the back-gaun o’ his marriage has been a sair upsettin’ to his reason, honest man; and it will be a pity— that’s a’ that I can say. I think his agent in Kelso should be written to —and that immediately."

Janet Gray, who, from the period of Mary’s leaving Burnpath, had resided in the lodge, as a sort of superior housekeeper, was about to be consulted, when the laird himself was seen proceeding up the avenue, and, like a mischievous schoolboy, with his cane, switching the heads from the flowers which adorned the sides of the path. The group remained to welcome his approach, for they not only respected him as a master, but loved him as a brother. But the incorrigible cotter, whose assurance was after the same quality as his equanimity, still holding the snuff-box in his hand, and deeming it an irresistible opportunity of giving ocular proor of the familiarity on which he had enlarged, shouldered his spade, and proceeded down the avenue to meet him.

"I’m glad to see ye back, sir,—unco glad, indeed," said he, holding the snuff-box to his master’s breast.

"Glad!" exclaimed Mr Cuthbertson, as if starting from a dream, and dashing the proffered box to the ground—"glad! the rivers run wi’ sorrow, and the sun has burnt up joy!—and ye say ye are glad!—glad!—hae ye nae sympathy? The earth is a lump o’ desolation, an’ hoo can ye be glad!"

"I’m very sorry ye should think sae sir," said the tranquil cotter, stooping and lifting his box—"very sorry to hear ye say sae, indeed; for, in my opinion, Sir, if we war to count owre the mercies, we enjoy, instead o’ the things which we covet"—

"Excuse me, John," said Mr Cuthbertson, kindly shaking the hand of the cotter; "I doubt I’ve no been sae pleasant to ye as I should hae been. But I was kind o’ daized and stupid ways when ye spak; for I’ve had but little rest, and a guid deal to make me unhappy lately. I’ve skaift yer snuff, but I’ll take care that yer box be replenished. But oh, John! John, man! when a’ the best and the dearest hopes and feelings o’ the heart are split, they are like water upon the ground, that canna be gathered up again!"

The cotter was about to make one of his accustomed prose replies; but, as his master returned to recollection, the fulness and anguish of his heart returned also, and he turned away from the never-ruffled speaker, and proceeded towards the Lodge. The others drew near to congratulate him on his arrival, and express the uneasiness they had felt.

"Thank ye, thank ye, friends," said he, passing on, and endeavouring to conceal the emotions to which his last conversation had given rise; "I’m unco weel. Here is braw weather for the harvest."

"Mercy! hear that!" whispered the farmer; "he says braw weather for the harvest. I’m sure we’ll hae nae shearin’ in this part o’ the country for twa months to come. Wheat is hardly in the shot-blade yet."

"Do ye observe," added another, as he entered the house, "how careless he is wi’ his claes, and how particular he used to be; he wadna gaen out owre the door wi’ a single jesp on them."

"Ay," said a third; "an how frichtfu’ his beard looks."

"Preserve us!" cried a fourth, "are ye a’ daft thegither? Hasna the laird been a journey?—an’ do ye think, when folks are travellin’, they can hae a tailor or a barber for ever at their elbow! A bonny story truly, that a man maun be said to be out o’ his head, because he’s no jist as prim and preceese as a mantie-maker! An’ what’s the great fault ye hae to find wi’ him sayin, that this is ‘fine weather for the harvest?’ Is it no fine weather for bringin’ it forward; an’ therefore, I say it’s fine weather for the harvest—an’ the laird was richt. Had he said, ‘Here’s fine harvest weather, ye micht hae spoken—but"—

"Hech, man! where did ye learn to argue?" interrupted a listener; "ye wad made a famous writer to the signet."

"Or an advocate before the Lord o’ the Session!" returned another, sarcastically.

"It wad be worth half-a-crown to hear him and John the hedger yoked," added the farmer. And the party dispersed. The domestics in the Lodge were endeavouring to testify their joy at the master’s return. Each flew to proffer him a hundred little services, or make inquiry into every want. Old Janet threw aside her stocking; and, without performing the customary formalities of adjusting her cap and apron, bustled down stairs to welcome her favourite and friend. He was kindly shaking hands with the servants, and thanking them for their attention. They withdrew as Janet approached, and he hastily rose to meet her.

"Welcome! welcome hame, Sir!" cried she; "an’ sair sair lookin’ we have a’ had for ye! But, oh! did ye find her?—hae ye seen my ain bairn?"

"Yes! yes, Janet, I’ve seen her!" replied he. "Heavens—and my disconsolate, mourning spirit kens—I

have seen her! Yes, Janet, I have seen her! But, sit down, sit down. Hech, woman! it’s been a lang journey, an a sad one. My voice by night has been like the troubled wind on the dark sea. Oh, Janet! ye may think my grief unreasonable, but mine was no common love—it was strong as the judgments o’ eternity!"—

"Oh, Sir! sir," said Janet—"there’s nane kens yer feelings better than I do—and nane, I’m sure, that has mair cause to mingle her tears o’ mourning wi’ yer lamentations, but, oh, my worthy friend and benefactor, in the midsi of our sorrow, let us remember the Hand that afflicts us, an’ not yield to sinful and profane language."

"Janet," said he," when the very heartstrings are stangin’ and writhin’ round the bosom, like adders, the tongue canna wale the words. This may be a judgment upon me--for it wasna love—it was adoration!—an’ though it may crush me to my grave, it’s adoration still. Without her, I an’ my life is to live and feel death for ever! Death—wi’ the last pangs o’ life! Death—wi’ the horrors o’ the grave! Death—wi’ a’ that’s terrible hereafter!"

"Oh, my freend! my freend!" cried Janet, "if it be His will, may ye find peace and comfort to yer troubled spirit!"

"Peace an’ comfort!" he exclaimed—"na, na!—naethin’ upon this earth can now gie peace an comfort to me, but the spade—the shool—the kirkyard! Talk o’ peace an’ comfort to the deein’ traveller in the desert, wha has the burnin’ sand for a windin’ sheet, an’ the scorchin’ wind to his perched tongue! But what’s death in the wilderness Janet to the desolation of the soul!—what’s the burning sand to the burnin’ brain o’ despair!—and what’s the scorchin’ wind an’ the parched tongue, to the witherin’ an’ consumin’ agony o’ love without hope!—o’ a heart dried up for ever! for ever!"

"Do try an’ compose yersel’, Sir," said Janet. "I wad fain ask a question or twa aboot my bairn; but while ye are in such agitation, I canna—I daurna. But, oh! how has she been? How did she get there? Is he good till her? An’ what for did she not write?—or hae ye a letter? Has she no forgotten my counsel? Are his family guid to my bairn? Oh, Sir! try an’ compose yersel’ for a single minute and answer me only that one question."

"Oh, Janet!" answered he, "dinna ask me, I implore ye, for I canna answer. My bein’ there is like a dream—(for he had been to London in quest of her)—a painfu’ painfu’ dream! But I surely saw her—yes, I surely saw my ain Mary!—drooping like a snaw-drap, and fair as the alabaster! But I mind nae mair!—naethin’! naethin."

"Oh!" said Janet, "if it were the Lord’s will that I might be permitted to see my dear bairn again!"

"Ye shall see her, Janet," said Mr. Cuthbertson, calmly, and he rose and took her hand; "ye shall see her Janet. I mind naething distinctly, but I fear I hae added affliction to the spirit I beheld sinking, an’ that thoct is muir bitter to endure than a’ my sorrows. I’m a lonely, friendless bein’, wi’ nane to share my griefs—nane to mourn for me. I had but one hope—one desire. It was buried here, Janet" (and he laid his hand on his breast)—"it was buried here for years, and for years. The joys o’ life, the melody o’ existence, were locked up wi’ it’s very bein’—but now it’s gane—it’s broken—it has perished, like the first sound o’ our infant voice!—and they’re gane also. I hae but ae wish left, an’ I will perform it. I will pray for fortitude. I will—I must see her again; an’ you, Janet, shall accompany me."

A few days after this conversation, the family carriage, which had not been half-a-dozen times without the coach-house since the death of the former Mr. Cuthbertson, was put in preparation for a journey. A footman took his seat behind; Janet was handed by the laird into the vehicle; and, after wishing good-bye to his household, he took his place by her side. None knew their destination, save that they took the English road, by way of Otterburn.

With what success old Cuthbertson and Janet Gray pursued their inquiries in London, will be now seen. Mary began to be in want. With a trembling hand she took a watch—the gift of her father—from her neck. She gazed on it and wept. It was thine! it was thine, my father!" she cried—"thy last gift to thy poor child! But forgive me!—my father, forgive thy Mary! It must be done!"

She was ignorant of its value; but trusting to the honesty of the world, and knowing it at least was worth more than what was required for immediate necessities, with an anxious and a throbbing heart she left her lodgings to offer it in pledge. Every step seemed to be leading her to something resembling guilt—to an action for which she blushed. Her soul appeared to shrink within itself; and her body moved onward with a consciousness of misery and of shame. Every eye in the passing crowds looked as if fixed upon her, and every eye in those crowds seemed to read her errand as she passed them. She was passing down Holborn, her eyes fell upon the words, "Money lent." She stood still for a moment. The window was filled with every varied token of misfortune and dissipation, from the jewelled watch and wearing apparel down to the prayer-book; and the ancient arms of Lombardy were suspended from the door. Twice she essayed to enter, and resolution failed. In vain she wiped away the tears from her eyes, for others uncalled on took their place.

"I must! I must!" she murmured with a sigh; and yet a third time her hand was on the door, her foot upon the threshold.

"Guidness and mercy?" exclaimed a voice behind her—and an arm was suddenly thrown around her waist—"it is her! Janet! it’s our ain Mary!—oor angel Mary, snatched like a brand frae the burning! wi’ her very feet upon the steps o’ poverty an’ disgrace, an’ her han’ on the door o’ ruin! It’s me, Mary, hinny—it’s me, an here’s yer ain Janet come to seek ye. But, oh, hinny! hinny! what in the earthly globe has driven ye to this?"

The speaker was Mr. Cuthbertson. At the sudden sound of his voice, and at such a moment, Mary uttered one exclamation of confusion and surprise, and for a few seconds heard no more. She seemed launched, with the velocity of the lightning, from this world of realities to a state of dreams. She yielded almost unresistingly to his arm, while the voice was like the murmur of water in her ears; and as her eyes beheld them, it was only a consciousness of perceiving a substance, without distinguishing the form.

"Oh, my Mary !--my bairn!" cried the old woman, throwing her arms round her neck, "hae ye no ae word to say to yer ain Janet? My sweet, my winsome bairn! what’s the meaning o’ this?"

"Desperation and poverty, Janet !—desperation and poverty, Janet!" cried Mr. Cuthbertson; "that’s the meaning o’ this. Wha’s me! what a pass!—that--no—no—my Mary—but—but—but!—oh, Janet, that she should hae been starving, while we were wallowing in the land o Goshen."

"Starving," exclaimed Janet—"Oh, sir, what do ye mean?—or hoo do ye ken? Speak to me—speak to me, my mair than bairn, or my heart will break."

The strangeness of the scene, the stranger language, and broad Scottish accent of the speakers, had already collected a crowd around them, which, as Mary partially recovered from her agitation, tended to deepen her confusion.

"My kind, faithful Janet," she replied, "this —this is a happiness I did not now expect,—and—and—Mr. Cuthbertson, too,"—

"Ay, just Mr. Cuthbertson," interrupted he. "O Mary, Mary, —just Mr. Cuthbertson;—little did I think ance to hear you ca’ me"—

"Dinna talk o’ that the now, sir," cried Janet; "for I’ll declare, wi’ ye talking about starving, ye have made me that I dinna ken what I’m doing already! What does he mean, my ain darling? Oh, tell me, noo that ye can speak, and hoo hae ye been?"

"Dear Janet," said Mary, "this is no place for explanations—the people are gathering round us, and it pains me"—

"I’ll do naething to pain ye, my dawtie," added Janet; "sorry wad I be to do onything that could pain ye—ye ken that; but think to yoursel’, is it no natural, that me that nursed ye—me that ate o’ your faither’s bread for thirty years—is it no natural"—

Here her voice failed—she sobbed, and again threw her arms round Mary’s neck.

"Very true, Janet," said Mr. Cuthbertson; "but think ye it’s no mair natural for me to"—

The crowd continued to increase, and were pressing around them.

"Dear friends," said Mary, "I cannot--I will not endure this. You know I do not feel less at this meeting than you; but you would not have us to become a spectacle and expose our feelings, and the circumstances of our family, on a public street. Be composed, dear Janet." She took Cuthbertson’s hand—"Come brother, I claim your protection."

"And ye shall hae it," replied he kindly; "if I’ve said or dune onything amiss, only forgie me. For every now and then there’s a mist comes owre my soul, and I hardly ken whether the past’s the present, or the present’s the past, or hoo it is, or where I am. But ye’ll forgie me, Mary.

"Name not forgiveness—I have nothing to forgive," she returned; "but let us leave this crowd."

"Crowd—what crowd?" he enquired, with a look of stupidity; and turning round only then became aware of the presence of some hundred individuals, whom he and Janet had drawn around them "In the name o’ wonder folk," he exclaimed, "what are ye gapin’ an’ starin’ at? Is nature sic a stranger to yer breasts that ye will stand glowerin’ there like a wheen savages? Is this a specimen o’ yer London manners?—awa wi’ ye, every ane o’ ye, an’ look after yer ain business."

"Peace, peace, my friend," said Mary, "let us leave them." And they proceeded towards her lodgings.

After they had sat for a time—"I must leave ye now," said Mary, "but I will return soon. You will not weary Janet?"

"O bairn, just hand yer tongue," cried Janet, "for I’ll gang wi’ ye, though it were to the end o’ the earth. Do ye think that I’ll let ye out o’ my sight already, an’ ye no answered me ae question! I see ye are put about about something, an’ ye winna tell me. How can ye be sae cruel? Wad I no lay down my life to serve ye? and ye, ye’ll no tell me—no ae word."

"Janet," said Mary, "when I return, you shall hear everything; at present I am compelled to leave you, but only for a few hours."

"Alas, alas," replied Janet, "an’ hae I come three, four, or I dinna ken how mony hunder miles, just to hear ye say—‘Janet, I’m compelled to leave ye!’ There’s something wrang, I see that plainly—an’ ye winna tell me—me that carried ye in my arms"--

"No! no! dear Janet—nothing! nothing!" rejoined Mary; "all will be well. Good-bye now, and I trust we shall not part again."

"No part again!" resumed the other, in a tone of delight, "do I hear my ain bairn say the words? Then I will let ye gang, but, oh, dinna bide an hour—dinna stay mony minutes—for if ye only kenned my anxiety, hinny, to ken hoo ye gat to Devonshire, as they ca’ it—or what’s brought ye here again, I’m sure ye wadna stay a single moment. An’ bring Mr. Walton wi’ ye—noo, will ye promise to bring him, an’ I’ll just be happy?"

"I cannot, Janet—I cannot!" said Mary, in accents of unconcealed anguish; "do not distress me."

"Ye canna!" exclaimed Janet, and sank back in her seat. "Sirs, sirs, what does my bairn mean?"

"I know your friendship," she replied, and trembling arose to depart; "but farewell now—I shall return shortly—yes—yes—I shall return soon."

Her manner was hurried, and expressive of inward struggling. Mr. Cuthbertson arose, and sorrowfully but tranquilly walking towards her, he took her hand within his, and said—"Stay, Mary—stay! My SISTER shall not go forth in sorrow Yes, my SISTER! You have called me BROTHER, an’ henceforth the daughter o’ my mair than faither, shall be to me a SISTER, an’ an only SISTER. My brain was bewildered, an’ it is often sae; but I heard something o’ what was passin’, an’ I see the tear upon my sister’s cheek—My BROTHER’S no here! yes, my Brother—my Brother. Thank God I’ve got the word past, and can say it again—my brother Henry—an’ noo, if I canna be happy, I shall be composed. If the sun o’ joy winna shine upon me, I shall yet see the twilight o’ consolation."


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