It is some years since I resided at
the village of Marston, situated on the Tweed. Here dwelt the worthy John
Armstrong, the minister; and Mary, the gentle and modest Mary, his only
daughter. Mr. Armstrong, when I first knew him, was nearly sixty; a man of
considerable judgment and great sensibility of heart, his religion was
pure and rational, and his charity extensive. He was beloved by all in the
village. If there was any fault of which I could accuse him, it was a too
doating fondness for his daughter, who, had she not been blessed with an
excellent disposition, would certainly have been injured by it. Mary
Armstrong was then eighteen; and though not handsome, yet there was a
mildness of expression in her countenance far superior to any regularity
of feature. Happy were the many hours which I spent beneath Armstrong’s
roof. When the evening closed the labours of the weary villagers, there,
seated in his quiet parlour, would Armstrong, with the tear of fondness
starting in his eye, listen to the melting sweetness of Mary’s voice, as
she sung some favourite melody; or, conversing on subjects of taste and
morality, instruct, whilst he highly entertained, his willing auditors.
During the past summer, I set out on
a visit to Marston, full of anticipation of much happiness. At the
entrance of the village, I met a friend with whom I entered into
conversation, and I ventured to inquire about the minister and his
daughter. He appeared disconcerted at my question, and hesitated to reply.
"What is the matter?" I cried; "Is
Mr. Armstrong ill?"
"No," he said; "but Miss Mary."
"What of her?" I eagerly exclaimed.
"Miss Mary," he continued, with a
sorrowful expression to countenance, "is to be buried to-morrow morning.
There is not a dry eye in the village."
It appeared that, some time after I
had left Marston to embark in business in Edinburgh, Mrs. Strafford of
Comrie Park had died; and Miss Strafford, of whom Mary was a most intimate
friend, had prevailed upon Mr. Armstrong to allow her to reside at Comrie
Park. Miss Strafford had a brother—Henry by name—who had come from college
to be present at his mother’s funeral; and he fell violently in love with
Mary, and would have married her but for his father, who was much
displeased when he heard of the matter. Mary then returned to her
father’s. Some time after this, by Miss Strafford’s wish, she again
visited Comrie Park. Alas! It was a serious visit to her. She and Henry
attempted an elopment, and were discovered. Henry was packed off to the
Continent; and shortly after, Mary exhibited symptoms of becoming a
mother. At this, Squire Strafford fumed and frowned, and wound up the
matter by ordering Mary out of the house. She returned to her native
village—to her heart-broken father—to be thrown upon a bed of sickness
from which she never again arose.
On the morrow I rode over to Mr.
Armstrong’s with an intention of seeing my afflicted friend, and of being
present at the awful ceremony. When I came within sight of the house, my
sensations nearly overcame me. I had scarcely resolution to approach the
house. The villagers were assembled on the green. I entered and meeting a
servant, he pointed to the parlour and retired. The door was half
open—Armstrong was within—he knelt beside his daughter’s coffin. He
observed me, and beckoned me forward. I would have spoke but I could not.
I gazed a moment on the wreck that lay before me, and sighed in a
convulsive manner, for the tumult of my spirits quite oppressed me, and
Armstrong, observing this, seized my arm, and, ordering the coffin to be
screwed down, led me into another room.
The procession moved onwards. The
grave had been made within the aisle of the village church. The bearers
had just set down the coffin, when suddenly the church door was thrown
wide open, and a young man, in mourning, rushed in. In frantic terms, he
called upon his "Mary;" and, breaking through the crowd, stopped on seeing
the coffin. He started some paces backwards. "Help me:--she is murdered!"
he exclaimed; and threw himself upon the coffin. It was with some
difficulty we tore him from it. He struggled hard, and his eyes darted
fire; but, at length, having liberated himself, he rushed from the church.
The next morning Squire Strafford was found dead in his bed; but none were
found hardly enough to impute the crime of parricide to the maniac Henry.
The rest must remain a mystery.