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Wilson's Border Tales
The Suicide's Grave


The suicide’s grave—where is it? It is at the meeting or crossing of three public roads; the body has been thrust down, under the darkness of night, into a coffinless grave. The breast, formerly torn and lacerated by passions, has lately been mangled into horrid deformity by the pointed stake; and the traveller, as he walks, rides, or drives along, regards the spot with an eye of suspicion, and blesses his stars that he is a living man. The suicide’s grave—where is it? On the bare and cold top of that mountain which divides Lanark from Dumfriesshire. There you may see congregated the hoody craw, and the gray gled, and the eagle—but they are not congregated in peace and in friendship; they are fearful rivals, and terrible notes do they utter as they contend over the body of her who was fair, and innocent, and happy. Alas, for Alice Lorimer! Her story is a sad one; and it would require the pen of a Sterne or a Wilson to do it justice. But the circumstances are of themselves so full of mournful interest, that, even though stated in the most simple language, they cannot fail, I should think, to interest—nay, I will say it at once, to excite sympathy and pity; for why should we not pity the unhappy and unfortunate? They are pitied in poverty, in obscurity, in sickness, in death. Why should not we even pity the guilty and abandoned? They are pitied in prison, on the day of trial, and, most of all, in the hour of execution. There—even there—on that platform, the murderer himself obtains that sympathy which we refuse to the suicide. He who has only ruined, destroyed himself, is held in greater abhorrence than the man who has ruined innocence, and even murdered the unhappy mother and unborn babe. Away with such unjust and ungenerous distinctions! Away, and to the highway and to the mountain top, and to the raven, and the falcon, and the eagle, with the seducer and the murderer; and let the poor suicide’s grave in future, be in consecrated ground, where remembrance may soon overlook his woes and his very existence. Let him sleep unknowing and unknown in the churchyard of his fathers. Alice Lorimer I myself knew—I was intimately acquainted with her—I was a companion and a favourite. In frosty weather we have frequented the same slides, and, when Alice was in danger of falling, I have caught her in my arms; we have hopped together for hours, playing at beds, and I even made Alice privy to all my birds’ nests. Hers was indeed a playful but a gentle nature. Her heart was light, her voice clear and cheerful, and her whole affections were engrossed by an only surviving parent, a widowed father. She was his first born and his last. Her motherhad given her life at the expense of her own; and her father, a shoemaker in the village of Croalchapel, devoted his whole spare time to the education of Alice. Often I have seen him, with the shoe on the last, and the elshun in his hand, pursuing his daily labours; but listening attentively all the while to Aly’s readings. It was thus the child was taught to read the Bible, to say her prayers, and ultimately to make her father’s dinner and her own. Their cottage stood at what was termed the "head of the town," on a sunny eminence looking to the west; behind it were the shade and the shelter of many trees, of the wide spread oak, the tall ash, and the sweetly scented birch. On Sabbath afternoons, John Lorimer might be seen with his beloved child, clean and neatly dressed ascending to the top of the Bormoors braes; and, from the green summit of the eminence, looking abroad over a landscape, certainly not surpassed by any which has yet come under the writer’s observation. On his one hand lay the worn and silver-clasped Bible, from which portions of the gospels were occasionally read, and on the other reposed Poodle, a little wire-haired dog of uncommon natural parts, which had been greatly improved by education. Poodle could bark, and do all manner of things. His eyes would "glisten in friendship, or beam in reply." His nose was a platform, from which many little pieces of bread had been tossed up into the air, and afterwards snapped. He was all obedience to little Alice in particular; and, at her bidding, would do anything but swim—he had, somehow or other, contracted an aversion for the water, probably referable to some mischievous boys having one day thrown him into Closeburn Loch.

Alice and I went to school together. Her father’s cottage lay directly in my way, and I called daily for the sweet girl. The other boys laughed at me, and made a fool of me, and asked me if I had seen Alice this morning. I could not stand this; for I reverenced the little innocent lamb—so I hit the Mr Impertinence a blow in the stomach, which sent him reeling over several benches. I was no more taunted about Alice Lorimer. There were a number of older and less feminine girls at the school at this time. At play-hours these congregated by themselves behind the school, whilst the boys occupied the play-ground in front. Alice was one day severely handled by a neighbour’s daughter, who had fixed a quarrel on her, and then beat her severely, calling her all manner of names, and amongst others, honouring her with my own. I found the poor child—for I was a few years older—in tears, as we met in the Castlewood on our way home. It was with difficulty that I drew, bit by bit, the whole truth from her; and I resolved to punish, in one way or other, the rude and ill-hearted aggressor in this matter. I could not think of punishing her myself; but I got Jean Watson, the servant-maid of the factor’s clerk—a kind of haverel, who sometimes threw me an apple over the hedge in passing—I got her to catch the culprit after dark, and to chastise her in her own way. I know not how it was effected, but it produced loud screams, and much merriment to me; for I was lying all the while perdu on the other side of the hedge. Tibby Murdoch was a most revengeful person—quite the Antipodes to sweet Alice Lorimer. She was the daughter of a quarryman, who had come, only a few years before, to reside in the place, and work at the Laird of Closeburn’s lime-works. How difficult it is for poor blind mortals to see the consequences of their actions! Had I then fully perceived what this act of retaliation was to lead to—what dismal consequences were to follow—I would rather have sunk at once into perdition than have been concerned in the affair. Tibby Murdoch’s father was a brutal and a passionate man; and, understanding from his daughter how matters stood, and that poor Alice Lorimer had been the cause of his daughter’s disaster, he left his work at mid-day, and, taking a horse-whip in his hand, entered the shoemaker’s shop, and, not finding Alice, without more ado, he proceeded to apply it to John Lorimer’s shoulders. John Lorimer was a little, but a strong and well-made man; and, though the other was tall, bull-headed, and extremely athletic, John immediately threw aside his instruments of labour, which he felt it was dangerous to use on the occasion, and closed at once with the enemy. The struggle was severe; but John Lorimer, having got a hold of Murdoch about the middle, fairly lifted him off his feet, and dashed him down on the floor. Murdoch’s strength, however, was superior to John’s; and he contrived to roll-over upon his enemy, and at last to thrust his head immediately under a grate, which stood in a corner of the shop, containing live coals for melting some rosin, which was about to be used. The crucible, with the melted and boiling rosin, was upturned; and, unfortunately, the whole contents were spread over John Lorimer’s face— he was dreadfully burned; but, what was worst of all, he lost the sight of one eye by the accident, and was very materially injured in the other, On an investigation by the proper authorities, Murdoch was convicted of the assault, and imprisoned for twelve calender months. During his imprisonment, revenge upon poor Lorimer was his constant theme and, when the time expired, he removed to the parish of Keir and found employment in a lime-work belonging to Dr Hunter of Barjarg. He was still, unfortunately, within an hour’s walk of Croalchapel, and lay, like a cat in a corner, watching his prey. In the meantime, John Lorimer, though greatly deformed in his countenance, recovered the use of one eye and pursued his quiet and useful labour as formerly. As his daughter Alice advanced in years, she grew in loveliness and virtue. At twelve years of age, she became her father’s housekeeper; and conducted herself in that capacity with surprising sense and prudence. It was at this time that I left school for college; and I spent the last night with Alice Lorimer. I was then a lad of sixteen, and she, as I have said, was twelve. What had I to do, in the Castle-wood, by moonlight, and late after her father had gone to rest, with Alice Lorimer? Gentle reader, have a little patience, and exercise a little Christian charity, and, upon my honour, I will tell you all. But, in the first place, I must know your sex, and whether or no you have ever been sixteen years old. If your sex corresponds with my own, and your information on the other subject is equal to my own, then you will understand the thing completely. I was then as innocent as it is possible for a youth of sixteen to be; nay, I was absolutely shy and bashful to a great degree, and would have shrunk from any advances, even to innocent familiarity, with the other sex. But I was not in love with Alice Lorimer. True, she preferred my company to that of any other person, save her dearly beloved father; true, she sat on my knee, as she did on that of her parent, unconscious of any different feeling in the two positions; but we never talked of love; I would as soon have thought of talking of our being king and queen; and as to Alice, her friendship for me was as pure as is the love of angels. She could not think of parting with me—of perhaps (and she burst into tears) never seeing me again. I must write to her—and I must come back and see her, and talk funnily to her father, who liked a joke—and I must—I forget how many "musts" there were; but they lasted till half-past one o’clock. I parted with her at her father’s door. I never saw her again!

I was coming down Enterkin late in a fine moonlight night in the spring of 1806. I was on my way to join a family in Galloway, where I long acted in the capacity of tutor. I had then attained my twenty-first year; and I chanced to be calculating--as I expected seeing Alice Lorimer on the following day—what her age must be. Let me see, said I, so audibly that I started at my own utterance, as did a little pony I rode; and what followed was the sum of my reflections. I calculated by the common rule of proportion, that, if Alice was twelve when I was sixteen, she would be seventeen now that I was twenty-one. Seventeen! I repeated, just seventeen!—and I urged on the pony instinctively, as if hastening towards Croalchapel. But I had been five years at Edinburgh at College. What a change had come over the spirit of my dreams during that period! I had had to contend with fortune in many ways; had been often disappointed, and sometimes driven almost to despair; again I had prospered, got into lucrative employment, become a member of speaking societies, distinguished myself by talking sense and nonsense right and left. I had spent many merry evenings in Johnie Dowie’s; and had seen Lady Charlotte Campbell and Tom Sheridan in a box at the Theatre. In fact I was not now the same being I was when I left for College; and I felt that however fair and faultless Alice Lorimer might be, she could never be mine—I could never be hers; our fortunes were separated by a barrier which, when I went to College, I did not clearly perceive. In fact, my ambition now taught me to aim at the bar or the church; and I knew that, for years to come, I must be contented with a single life, which, in Edinburgh in particular, I had learned to endure without murmuring. Yet, I thought of poor Alice with most kindly feelings, and had some secret doubts upon the propriety of my exposing myself in her presence to a revival of old times and former feelings. In this tone of mind, I was jogging on, with half a bottle of Mrs Otto’s (of Leadhills) best port wine under my belt, and endeavouring to collect some rhymes to the word Lorimer; but either the muse was unpropitious, or the word, like that mentioned in Horace, refused to stand in verse; it so happened that I had given up the effort, and was about to dismiss the subject altogether, when I discovered, near the bottom of the pass, a number of figures advancing upon me in an opposite direction. As they came up the pass, under a meridian moon, I could discover that they carried something on a barrow, which, on nearer inspection; I found to be a coffin. I drew my pony to the side of the road, lifted my hat reverentially, and the party, consisting of upwards of twenty, passed in solemn silence. The incident was a little startling and somewhat unnatural, not to say superhuman; for why were these people carrying a coffin up this long and narrow pass which separates Lanark from Dumfriesshire, so late at night, and in such mysterious silence! A thought struck me, which contributed not a little to ease my mind in regard to supernaturals: were they a company of smugglers from Bowness, taking this method of carrying forward their untaxed goods to Lanark and Glasgow? Ruminating on this subject, and laughing inwardly at my own ingenuity and discernment, I arrived at last at Thornhill, where I remained for the night. Next morning, I reached Croalchapel, on my way to my birthplace. I went up to that very door at which I had parted with Alice, some five years before, and endeavoured to open it; but it was shut and locked. I looked in at the end window, above the fire place; but there was neither fire nor inhabitant—all was silence. My heart sank within me; and a neighbour, who saw my ignorance and mistake, advertised me that both parent and child were no more; and that Alice Lorimer was buried!—here he hesitated, and seemed to retract the expression—"at least," said he, "committed to the earth last night!"

"Was she not buried by her father, in the burial-ground of the Lorimers of Closeburn?" said I, hastily, and in an agitated tone. The man looked me in the face attentively, and, probably then for the first time recognising me, waved his hand, burst into tears and left me. I hastened to the home of my fathers, half-distracted. My mother still lived and enjoyed good health—from her I learned the following particulars.

John Lorimer’s sight, she said, served him for a time, during which he wrought as usual, and his daughter grew to be a tall and a handsome woman; but at last it began to fail, and he would put the elshun into a wrong place, or thrust it into his hand. Alice perceived this, and was most anxious to provide for her father, under this irremediable calamity. She took in linen and bleached it on the bonny knowe among the gowans; she span yarn, and sold it at Thornhill fairs; in short, she did all she could to support herself and her father in an honest and honourable way. But it was a severe struggle to make ends meet. In the meantime, she had had several offers of marraige; but refused them all, as she could not think of leaving her poor blind parent alone and helpless, and none of her lovers were rich enough to present a home to a supernumerary inmate. One evening, whilst, after a severe day’s labour, she was sitting with old Poodle (her constant companion, but now likewise blind) by the fire, Mr John Murdoch made his appearance. Her father had gone early to rest in the shop end of the house, and did not know of the man’s visit. He came, he said, as a repentant sinner, to relieve her necessities. He had occasioned her father’s blindness, and he was glad to be made the instrument of bringing some pecuniary relief. Thus saying, he put into her hands a five-pound note, and, without waiting for a reply, took his departure. This startled poor Alice not a little; she looked at the money, then thought of the man, and again listened to see if her father was sleeping—at last, she put the note into her chest, determined not to make use of it unless in case of necessity. The factor, who had hitherto been lenient, became urgent for the rent. There were two years due, and the five-pound note exactly covered the debt; away, therefore, it went into the factor’s hands, and poor Alice returned thanks, on her knees, to Heaven, that had sent her the means of keeping from her father the knowledge of their situation.

In a few days, Murdoch found her at the washing green, and entered more particularly into the history of the money. He said it had been sent by one who had seen and admired her. He was on a visit at Barjarg, the proprietor being his uncle. He was the son and heir of a very rich man, not expected to live many months. He was determined to please himself in marrying, having observed great misery arise from adopting a contrary plan; and he wished, in fine, to cultivate a further acquaintance with Alice, to whom he had sent another five-pound note in the meantime. In short, after exhibiting great reluctance to agree to a secret interview, and after having again and again tried to get words to communicate the whole matter to her father, a young gentleman of gaudy and genteeel appearance made his way out of the adjoining wood, and was introduced by Murdoch, as young Johnstone of Westerhall. Few words passed—poor Alice was quite nonplussed—she felt that she was not equal to this awful trial, and yet there was something fearfully pleasant in it. A young man, handsome and rich—her father blind and helpless—her hand quite at her own disposal—and independence and comfort brought to the good man’s house for life. Her lover, however, did not press the thing further that time; he took his departure along with Murdoch, and Alice was left once more to her own reflections. These, however, soon informed her that she was on the brink of perdition. She ran at once to her father, and, in a paroxysm of feeling, informed him of all that passed. He reproved her, but gently, for her having devoted the money to the purpose which she mentioned; informed her that he was richer than she supposed, for he had just five pounds, which her sainted mother had put into his hand on the marriage-day; and that he was keeping and had kept it sacred against the expenses of his funeral. He would now willingly give it to recover their house, and to free her from all temptation to sin. Alice wept; but she felt comforted in the assurance that, by repaying the money, and breaking off all connection with Murdoch and Johnstone, she was doing the right and the safe thing. Accordingly, she went to bed with a satisfied mind, determined next day to find out Murdoch’s dwelling, and have everything settled to her father’s advice and her own wish. She dressed herself in her best; and set out, soon after breakfast, for Barjarg Castle, never to see her father again.

She was betrayed, by the revengeful Murdoch, to a dissipated, a heartless debauchee; was carried by force, betwixt Murdoch and him, in a chaise to Dumfries; was lodged by Johnstone in convenient quarters. Every art was used to reconcile her to her situation; but all in vain; she stood her trials nobly; detected the old game of a private marriage; and afterwards refused to be united to Johnstone upon any terms whatever. But, in the meantime, poor John Lorimer missed his daughter, and immediately guessed the cause of it. Tibby Murdoch, took care to inform him, for his comfort, that Alice had run away with the young Laird of Westerha’, and, giggling and laughing all the while, that they were living very comfortably and lovingly in Dumfries. The blind man knew this to be all a lie; but he knew enough to kill him; he knew that his daughter was young and beautiful—that a villain had been endeavouring to inveigle her—that a still greater villain, Murdoch, had betrayed her—and that, in a word, she was now a poor dishonoured woman. He knew, or thought he knew all this, and was found dead next morning in his bed. The doctors said he died of apoplexy—if it was, it was a mental apoplexy! Tired with fruitless efforts to gain his purpose, Johnstone at last permitted Alice to depart. In a few hours, she was at her father’s house; but it was desolate and silent.

A paper, which was put into my hands, was evidently written by Alice. She expressed her determination to follow her dear father into another and a better world, and hoped heaven would forgive her. It was her funeral I met at Enterkin. Hers was

"The poor suicide’s grave."


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