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Wilson's Border Tales
Midside Maggie
Chapter 1


OR, THE BANNOCK O’ TOLLISHILL

"Every bannock had its maik, but the bannock o’ Tollishill."
Scottish Proverb

Belike, gentle reader, thou has often heard the proverb quoted above, that "Every bannock has its maik, but the bannock o’ Tollishill." The saying hath it origin in a romantic tradition of the Lammermoors, which I shall relate to thee. Tollishill is the name of a sheep-farm in Berwickshire, situated in the parish of Lauder. Formerly, it was divided into three farms, which were occupied by different tenants; and by way of distinguishing it from the others, that in which dwelt the subjects of our present story, was generally called Midside, and our heroine obtained the appellation of Midside Maggy. Tollishill was the property of John, second Earl, and afterwards Duke of Lauderdale – a personage whom I shall more than once, in these tales, have occasion to bring before mine readers, and whose character posterity hath small cause to hold in veneration. Yet it is a black character, indeed, in which there is not to be found one streak of sunshine; and the story of the "Bannock of Tollishill" referreth to such a streak in the history of John, the Lord of Thirlestane.

Time hath numbered somewhat more than a hundred and ninety years since Thomas Hardie became tenant of the principal farm of Tollishill. Now, that the reader may picture Thomas Hardie as he was, and as tradition hath described him, he or she must imagine a tall, strong, and fresh-coloured man of fifty; a few hairs of grey mingling with his brown locks; a countenance expressive of much good nature and some intelligence; while a Lowland bonnet was drawn over his brow. The other parts of his dress were of coarse, grey, homespun cloth, manufactured in Earlston; and across his shoulders, in summer as well as in winter, he wore the mountain plaid. His principles assimilated to those held by the men of the Covenant; but Thomas, though a native of the hills, was not without the worldy prudence which is considered as being more immediately the characteristic of the buying and selling children of society. His landlord was no favourer of the Covenant; and, though Thomas wished well to the cause, he did not see the necessity for making his laird, the Lord of Lauderdale, his enemy for its sake. He, therefore, judged it wise to remain a neutral spectator of the religious and political struggles of the period.

But Thomas was a bachelor. Half a century had he been in the world, and the eyes of no woman had had power to throw a spark into his heart. In his single, solitary state he was happy, or he thought himself happy; and that is much the same thing. But an accident occurred which led him first to believe, and eventually to feel, that he was but a solitary and comfortless moorland farmer, toiling for he knew not what, and laying up treasure he knew not for whom. Yea, and while others had their wives spinning, carding, knitting, and smiling before them, and their bairns running, laughing, and sporting round about them, he was put a poor, deserted creature, with nobody to speak to, nobody to care for, or to care for him. Every person had some object to strive for and to make them strive, but Thomas Hardie; or, to use his own words, he was just in the situation o’ a tewhit that has lost its mate—te-wheet! te-wheet! it cried, flapping its wings impatiently and forlornly—and te-wheet! te-wheet! answered vacant echo frae the dreary glens.

Thomas had been to Morpeth disposing of a part of his hirsels, and he had found a much better market for them than he anticipated. He returned, therefore, with a heavy purse, which generally hath a tendency to create a light and merry heart; and he arrived at Westruther, and went into a hostel, where, three or four times in the year, he was in the habit of spending a cheerful evening with his friends. He had called for a queugh of the landlady’s best, and he sat down at his ease with the liquor before him, for he had but a short way to travel. He also pulled out his tobacco-box and his pipe, and began to inhale the fumes of what, up to that period, was almost a forbidden weed. But we question much, if the royal book of James the Sixth of Scotland and first of England, which he published against the use of tobacco, ever found its way into the Lammermoors, though the Indian weed did, and, therefore Thomas Hardie sat enjoying the glass and his pipe, unconscious or regardless of the fulminations which he who was king in his boyhood, had published against the latter. But he had not sat long, when a fair maiden, an acquaintance of "mine hostess," entered the hostelry, and began to assist her in the cutting out or fashioning of a crimson kirtle. Her voice fell upon the ear of Thomas like the "music of sweet sounds." He had never heard a voice before that not only fell softly on his ear, but left a lingering murmur in his heart. She too, was a young thing of not more than eighteen. If ever hair might be called "gowden," it was hers. It was a light and shining bronze, where the prevalence of the golden hue gave a colour to the whole. Her face was a thing of beauty, over which health spread its roseate hue, yet softly, as though the wrestling winds had caused the leaves of the blushing rose to kiss her cheeks, and leave their delicate hues and impression behind them. She was of a middle stature, and her figure was such, although arrayed in homely garments, as would have commanded the worship of a connoisseur of grace and symmetry. But beyond all that kindled a flame within the hitherto obdurate heart of Thomas, was the witching influence of her smile. For a full hour he sat with his eyes fixed upon her; save at intervals, when he withdrew them to look into the unwonted agitation of his own breast, and examine the cause.

"Amongst the daughters of women," thought he unto himself—for he had a sprinkling of the language of the age about him—"none have I seen so beautiful. Her cheeks bloom bonnier than the heather on Tollishill, and her bosom seems saft as the new-shorn fleece. Her smile is like a blink o’ sunshine, and would mak summer to those on whom it fell a’ the year round."

He also discovered, for the first time, that "Tollishill was a dull place, especially in the winter season." When, therefore, the fair damsel had arrayed the fashion of the kirtle and dep)arted, without once having seemed to observe Thomas, he said unto the good wife of the hostelry— "And wha, noo, if it be a fair question, may that bonnie lassie be?"

"She is indeed a bonny lassie," answered the landlady, "and a guid lassie, too; and I hae nae doot but, as ye are a single man, Maister Hardie, yer question is fair enough. Her name is Margaret Lylestone, and she is the only bairn o’ a puir infirm widow that cam to live here some twa or three years syne. They cam frae south owre some way, and I am sure they hae seen better days. We thocht at first that the auld woman had been a Catholic; but I suppose that isna the case, though they certainly are baith o’ them strong Episcopawlians, and in nae way favourable to the preachers or the word of the Covenant; but I maun say for Maggy, that she is a bonny, sweet-tempered, and obleeging lassie—though puir thing, her mother has brocht her up in a wrang way."

Many days had not passed ere Thomas Hardie, arrayed in his Sunday habiliments, paid another visit to Westruther; and he cautiously asked of the goodwife of the hostel many questions concerning Margaret, and although she jeered him, and said that "Maggy would ne’er think o’ a grey-haired carle like him," he brooded over the fond fancy; and, although on this visit he saw her not, he returned to Tollishill, thinking of her as his bride. It was a difficult thing for a man of fifty, who had been the companion of solitude from his youth upwards, and who had lived in single blessedness amidst the silence of the hills, without feeling the workings of the heart, or being subjected to the influence of its passions—I say, it was indeed difficult for such a one to declare, in the ear of a blooming maiden of eighteen, the tale of his first affections. But an opportunity arrived which enabled him to disembosom the burden that pressed upon his heart.

It has been mentioned that Margaret Lylestone and her mother were poor; and the latter, who had long been bowed down with infirmities, was supported by the industry of her daughter. They had also a cow, which was permitted to graze upon the hills without fee or reward; and, with the milk which it produced, and the cheese they manufactured together with the poor earnings of Margaret, positive want was long kept from them. But the old woman became more and more infirm—the hand of death seemed stretching over her. She required nourishment, which Margaret could not procure for her; and, that it might be procured—that her mother might live and not die—the fair maiden sent the cow to Kelso to be sold, from whence the seller was to bring with him the restoratives that her parent required.

Now, it so was that Thomas Hardie, the tenant of Tollishill, was in Kelso market when the cow of Widow Lylestone was offered for sale; and, as it possessed the characteristic marks of a good milcher, he inquired to whom it belonged. On being answered, he turned round for a few moments, and stood thoughtful; but again turning to the individual who had been. intrusted to dispose of it, he inquired—

"And wherefore is she selling it?"

"Really, Maister Hardie," replied the other, "I could not positively say, but I hae little doot it is for want—absolute necessity. The auld woman’s very frail and very ill—I hae to tak a’ sort o’ things oot to her the nicht frae the doctor’s after selling the cow, and it’s no in the power o’ things that her dochter, industrious as she is, should be able to get them for her otherwise."

Thomas again turned aside, and drew his sleeve across his eyes. Having inquired the price sought for the cow, he handed the money to the seller, and gave the animal in charge to one of his herdsmen. He left the market earlier than usual, and directed his servant that the cow should be taken to Westruther.

It was drawing towards gloaming before Thomas approached the habitation of the widow; and before he could summon courage to enter it for the first time, he sauntered for several minutes, backward and forward on the moor, by the side of the Blackadder, which there silently wends its way, as a dull and simple burn, through the moss. He felt all the awkwardness of an old man struggling beneath the influence of a young feeling. He thought of what he should say, how he should act, and how he would be received. At length he had composed a short introductory and explanatory speech which pleased him. He thought it contained both feeling and delicacy (according to his notions of the latter) in their proportions, and after repeating it three or four times over by the side of the Blackadder, he proceeded towards the cottage, still repeating it to himself as he went. But when he raised his hand and knocked at the door, his heart gave a similar knock upon his bosom, as though it mimicked him; and every idea, every word of the introductory speech which he had studied and repeated again and again, short though it was, was knocked from his memory. The door was opened by Margaret, who invited him to enter. She was beautiful as when he first beheld her—he thought more beautiful—for she now spoke to him. Her mother sat in an arm-chair, by the side of the peat fire, and was supported by pillows. He took off his bonnet, and performed an awkward, but his best salutation.

"I beg your pardon," said he, hesitatingly, "for the liberty I have taken in calling upon you. But—I was in Kelso the day—and"—He paused, and turned his bonnet once or twice in his hands. "And," he resumed, "I observed, or rather I should say, I learned that ye intended to sell your cow; but I also heard that ye was very ill, and"—Here he made another pause. "I say I heard that ye was very ill, and I thocht it would be a hardship for ye to part wi’ crummie, and especially at a time when ye are sure to stand maist in need o’ every help. So I bought the cow— but, as I say, it would be a very great hardship for ye to be without the milk, and what the cheese may bring, at a time like this; and, therefore, I hae ordered her to be brocht back to ye, and ane o’ my men will bring her hame presently. Never consider the cow as mine, for a bachelor farmer like me can better afford to want the siller, than ye can to want yer cow; and I micht hae spent it far mair foolishly, and with less satisfaction. Indeed, if ye only but think that good I’ve dune, I’m mair than paid."

"Maister Hardie," said the widow, "what have I, a stranger widow woman, done to deserve this kindness at your hands? Or how is it in the power o’ words for me to thank ye? HE who provideth for the widow and the fatherless will not permit you to go unrewarded, though I cannot. O Margaret, hinny," added she, "thank our benefactor as we ought to thank him, for I cannot."

Fair Margaret’s thanks were a flood of tears.

"Oh, dinna greet!" said Thomas; "I would ten times owre rather no hae bocht the cow, but hae lost the siller, than I would hae been the cause o’ a single tear rowin down yer bonny cheeks."

"O sir," answered the widow, "but they are tears o’ gratitude that distress my bairn, and nae tears are mair precious."

I might tell how Thomas sat down by the peat fire between the widow and her daughter, and how he took the hand of the latter, and entreated her to dry up her tears, saying that his chief happiness would be to be thought their friend, and to deserve their esteem. The cow was brought back to the widow’s, and Thomas returned to Tollishill with the herdsman. But, from that night, he became almost a daily visitor at the house of Mrs. Lylestone. He provided whatever she required—all that was ordered for her. He spoke not of love to Margaret, but he wooed her through his kindness to her mother. It was, perhaps, the most direct avenue to her affections. Yet, it was not because Thomas thought so that he pursued this course, but because he wanted confidence to make his appeal in a manner more formal or direct.

The widow lingered many months; and all that lay within the power of human means he caused to be done for her, to restore her to health and strength, or at least to smooth her dying pillow. But the last was all that could be done. Where death spreadeth the shadow of his wing, there is no escape from sinking beneath the baneful influence of its shade. Mrs. Lylestone, finding that the hour of her departure drew near, took the hand of her benefactor, and when she had thanked him for all the kindness which he had shown towards her she added—

"But, O sir, there is one thing that makes the hand of death heavy. When the sod is cauld upon my breast, who will look after my puir orphan—my bonny faitherless and motherless Margaret? Where will she find a hame?"

"O Mem," said Thomas, "if the like o’ me durst say it she needna hae far to gang, to find a hame and a heart, too. Would she only be mine, I would be her protector—a’ that I have should be hers."

A gleam of joy brightened in the eyes of the dying widow. "Margaret!" she exclaimed faintly; and Margaret laid her face upon the bed and wept. "O my bairn! my puir bairn!" continued her mother, "shall I see ye protected and provided for, before I am ‘where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest,’ which canna be lang noo?"

Thomas groaned—tears glistened in his eyes—he held his breath in suspense. The moment of trial, of condemnation or acquittal, of happiness or misery, had arrived. With an eager impatience he waited to hear her answer. But Margaret’s heart was prepared for his proposal. He had first touched it with gratitude—he had obtained her esteem; and where these sentiments prevail in the bosom of a woman, whose affections have not been bestowed upon another, love is not far distant—if it be not between them, and a part of both.

"Did ever I disobey you, mother?" sobbed Margaret, raising her parent’s hand to her lips.

"No, my bairn, no!" answered the widow. And raising herself in the bed, she took her daughter’s hand and placed it in the hand of Thomas Hardie.

"Oh!" said he, "is this possible? Does my bonny Margaret really consent to mak me the happiest man on earth? Shall I hae a gem at Tollishill that I wadna exchange for a monarch’s diadem?"

It is sufficient to say that the young and lovely Margaret Lylestone became Mrs. Hardie of Tollishill; or, as she was generally called, "Midside Maggy." Her mother died within three months after their marriage, but died in peace, having, as she said, "seen her dear bairn blessed wi’ a leal and a kind guidman, and ane that was weel to do."

For two years after their marriage, and not a happier couple than Thomas and Midside Maggie was not to be found on all the long Lammermoors, in the Merse, nor yet in the broad Lothians. They saw the broom and the heather bloom in their season, and they heard the mavis sing before their dwelling; yea, they beheld the snow falling on the mountains, and the drift sweeping down the glens; but while the former delighted, the latter harmed them not, and from all they drew mutual joy and happiness. Thomas said that "Maggy was a matchless wife; " and she, that "he was a kind, kind husband."

But the third winter was one of terror among the hills. It was near the new year, the snow began to fall on a Saturday, and when the following Friday came, the storm had not ceased. It was accompanied by frost and a fierce wind, and the drift swept and whirled like awful pillars of alabaster, down the hills, and along the glens—

"Sweeping the flocks and herds."

Fearful was the wrath of the tempest on the Lammermoors. Many farmers suffered severely, but none more severely than Thomas Hardie of Tollishill. Hundreds of his sheep had perished in a single night. He was brought from prosperity to the brink of adversity.

But another winter came round. It commenced with a severity scarce inferior to that which had preceded it, and again scores of his sheep were buried in the snow. But February had not passed, and scarce had the sun entered what is represented as the astronomical sign of the two fish in the heavens, when the genial influence of spring fell with almost summer warmth upon the earth. During the night, the dews came heavily on the ground, and the sun sucked it up in a vapour. But the herbage grew rapidly, and the flocks ate of it greedily, and licked the dew ere the sun rose to dry it up. It brought the murrain amongst them; they died by hundreds; and those that even fattened, but did not die, no man would purchase; or, if purchased, it was only upon the understanding that the money should be returned if the animals were found unsound. These misfortunes were too much for Thomas Hardie. Within two years he found himself a ruined man. But he grieved not for the loss of his flocks, nor yet for his own sake, but for that of his fair young wife, whom he loved as the apple of his eye. Many, when they heard of his misfortunes, said that they were sorry for bonny Midside Maggy.

But worse of all, the rent-day of Thomas Hardie drew near, and, for the first time since he had held a farm, he was unable to meet his landlord with the money in his hand. Margaret beheld the agony of his spirit, and she knew its cause. She put on her Sunday hood and kirtle; and professing to her husband that she wished to go to Lauder, she took her way to Thirlestane Castle, the residence of their proud landlord, before whom every tenant in arrear trembled. With a shaking hand she knocked at the hall door, and with much perseverance and entreaty, was admitted into the presence of the haughty Earl. She curtsied low before him.

"Well, what want ye, my bonny lass?" said Lauderdale, eyeing her significantly.

"May it please yer Lordship," replied Margaret, "I am the wife o’ yer tenant Thomas Hardie o’ Tollishill; an’ a guid tenant he has been to yer Lordship for twenty years and mair, as yer Lordship maun weel ken."

"He has been my tenant for more than twenty years, say ye?" interrupted Lauderdale; "and ye say ye are his wife, why, looking on thy bonny face, I should say that the heather hasna bloomed twenty times on the knowes o’ Tollishill since thy mother bore thee. Yet ye say ye are his wife! Beshrew me, but Thomas Hardie is a man of taste. Arena ye his daughter?"

"No, my Lord; his first, his only, an’ his lawfu’ wife— an’ I would only say, that to ye an’ yer faither before ye, for mair than twenty years, he has paid his rent regularly an’ faithfully; but the seasons hae visited us sairly, very sairly, for two years successively, my Lord, an’ the drift has destroyed an’ the rot rooted oot oor flocks, sae that we are hardly able to haud up oor heads amang oor neebors, an’ to meet yer Lordship at yer rent-day is oot o’ oor power; therefore, hae I come to ye to implore ye that we may hae time to gather oor feet, an’ to gie yer Lordship an’ every man his due? when it is in oor power."

"Hear me guidwife," rejoined the Earl; "were I to listen to such stories as yours, I might have every farmer’s wife on my estates coming whimpering and whinging, till I was left to shake a purse wi’ naething in’t, and allowing others the benefit o’ my lands. But it is not every day that a face like yours comes in the shape o’ sorrow before me, and, for a kiss o’ your cherry mou’, (and ye may take my compliments to your auld man for his taste), ye shall have a discharge for your half-year’s rent, and see if that may set your husband on his feet again."

"Na, yer Lordship, na!" replied Margaret; "it would ill become ony woman in my situation o’ life, an’ especially a married ane, to be daffin wi’ sic as yer Lordship. I am the wife o’ Thomas Hardie, wha is a guid guidman to me, an’ I cam here this day to entreat ye to deal kindly wi’ him in the day o’ his misfortune."

"Troth," replied Lauderdale, who could feel the force of virtue in others, though he did not always practice it in his own person—"I hae heard o’ the blossom o’ Tollishill before, and a bonny flower ye are to blossom in an auld man’s bower, but I find ye modest as ye are bonny, an’ upon one condition will I grant yer request. Ye hae tauld me o’ yer hirsels being buried wi’ the drift, an’ that the snaw has covered the May primrose on Leader braes; now it is Martinmas, an’ if in June, ye bring me a snowball, not only shall ye be quit o’ yer back rent, but ye shall sit free in Tollishill until Martinmas next. But see that in June ye bring me the snowball or the rent."

Margaret made her obeisance before the Earl, and, thanking him, withdrew. But she feared the coming of June; for to raise the rent even then she well knew would be a thing impossible, and she thought also it would be equally so to preserve a snowball beneath the melting sun of June. Though young, she had too much prudence and honesty to keep a secret from her husband; it was her maxim, and it was a good one, "that there ought to be no secrets between a man and his wife, which the one would conceal from the other." She therefore told him of her journey to Thirlstane, and of all that had passed between her and the Earl. Thomas kissed her cheek, and called her his "bonny, artless Maggy;" but he had no more hope of seeing a snowball in June than she had, and he said, "the bargain was like the bargain of a crafty Lauderdale."


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