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Wilson's Border Tales
The Fair


You may smile, reader, at the idea of a story entitled—THE FAIR; but read on, and you may find it an appropriate title to a touching, though simple tale. This may seem like the writer’s praising his own production; but that is neither here nor there amongst authors, it is done every day; and not amongst authors only, but amongst all trades, crafts, and professions. If a man does not speak well of his own wares, whom does he expect to do it for him, when every person is busy selling wares of his own? You know the saying: ‘He’s a silly gardener that lichtlies his ain leeks.’ But to go on with THE FAIR.

On a Fair day, nature always turns out hundreds of her best human specimens of unsophisticated workmanship. Did you ever examine the countenances of a rustic group around a stall covered with oranges and sweet-meats—a bevy of rural beauties, besieging the heart and the pockets of a rural bachelor of two-and-twenty. The colour of one countenance is deep and various as the rainbow, a second emulates the rose, a third the carnation, while the face of a fourth, who is deemed the old maid of her companions, is sallow as a daffodil after a north wind. There blue eyes woo, and dark eyes glance affection, and ruby lips open with the jocund laugh; and there, too, you may trace the workings of jealousy, rivalry, and envy, and other passions less gentle than love, according as the oranges and gingerbread happen to be divided amongst the fair recipients. You, too, have heard the drum beat for glory, and the shrill note of the fife ring through the streets, while a portly sergeant, with a sword bright as a sunbeam, and unsheathed in his hand, flaunted his smart cockade, or belike shook a well-lined purse as he marched along, or, halting at intervals, shook it again, while he harangued the gaping crowd: ‘Now, my lads, now is the time for fortune and glory! There, by Jupiter! there is the look—the shoulders—the limbs—the gait of a captain at least! Join us, my noble fellow, and your fortune is made, your promotion is certain! God save the King! Down with the French!’ ‘Down wi’ them!’ cries a young countryman, flushed with ‘the barley bree,’ and, borrowing the sword of the sergeant, waves it uncouthly round his head—feels himself a hero— a Samson—a Caesar—all the glories of Napoleon seem extinguished beneath his sword arm. ‘Down wi’ them!’ he cries again more vehemently, and again, ‘Hurrah for the life of a sodger!’ and the next moment the ribbon streams from his Sunday hat. On such incidents turns our present story.

Willie Forbes was a hind in Berwickshire. He was also the only child and the sole support of a widowed mother, and she loved him as the soul loveth the hope of immortality; for Willie was a dutiful son and a kind one, and, withal, one of whom many mothers in Scotland might have been proud; for his person was goodly as his heart was affectionate; and often as his mother surveyed his stately figure, she thought to herself—as a mother will—that ‘there wasna a marrow to her Willie in a’ braid Scotland.’ Now, it chanced that, before Willie had completed his twenty-third year, they were ‘in need of a bit lassie,’ as his mother said, ‘to keep up the bondage.’ Willie, therefore, went to Dunse hiring to engage a servant; but, as fate would have it, he seemed to fix upon the most unlikely maiden for field-work in the market. At a corner of the market-place, as if afraid to enter the crowd, stood a lovely girl of about eighteen. Her name was Morrison. ‘Are ye for hiring the day, hinny?’ said Willie, kindly. ‘Yes,’ was the low and faltering reply. ‘And what place was ye at last?’ ‘I never was in service,’ said she; and as she said this, she faltered more. ‘An’ where does your father live; what is he?’ continued Willie. ‘He is dead,’ answered Menie, with a sigh. Willie paused a few moments, and added, ‘And your mother?’ ‘Dead, too!’ replied the maiden; and tears gushed into her eyes. ‘Puir thing! puir thing!’ said Willie; ‘weel I’m sure I dinna ken what to say till’t’ ‘You may look at this,’ said she; and she put into his hands a slip of paper. It was her character from the minister of the parish where she had been brought up. ‘That’s very excellent,’ said Willie, returning the paper, ‘very satisfactory—very, indeed. But—can ye—can ye hoe?’ added he, hesitatingly. ‘Not well,’ answered she. ‘I like that, that’s honest,’ added he; ‘hoein’s easy learned. Can ye milk a cow?’ ‘No,’ she replied. ‘That’s a pity,’ returned Willie. But he looked again in her face; he saw the tear still there. It was like the sun gilding a summer cloud after a shower, it rendered her face more beautiful. ‘Weel, it’s nae great matter,’ added he; ‘my mother can learn ye.’ And Willie Forbes hired Menie Morrison through his heart. In a short time, Menie became an excellent servant.

Willie and his mother called her ‘our Menie.’ She loved her as a daughter, he as a man loveth the wife of his bosom; and Menie loved both in return. She had been two years in their service, and the wedding-day of Menie and Willie was to be in three months. For a few weeks, Willie, from his character and abilities, had been appointed farm-steward. He looked forward to the day when he should be able to take a farm of his own, and Menie would be the mistress of it. But Berwick Fair came; Willie had a cow to sell, and Menie was to accompany him to the fair. Now, the cow was sold, and Willie was ‘gallanting’ Menie and three or four of her companions about the streets. He could not do less than bestow a fairing upon each; and he led them to a booth where the usual luxuries of a fair were spread out. At the booth, Willie found his master’s daughter with some of her own acquaintances. She was dressed more gaily than Menie Morrison, and her face was also fair to look upon, but it wanted the soul, the charm that glowed in the countenance of the humble orphan. It had long been whispered about the farm-stead, and at the farm-steads around it, that ‘Miss Jean was fond o’ Willie Forbes;’ and some even said that it was through her partiality he obtained his stewardship. Menie had heard this, and it troubled her; for the breeze that scarce moves the down on the thistle, will move the breast of a woman that loves. Miss Jean accosted the young steward for her fairing. ‘Ye shall hae that,’ said Willie, ‘but there’s naething guid eneugh here for the like o’ you—come awa to ane o’ the shops.’ So saying, he disengaged his arm from Menie Morrison’s, and without thinking of what he did, offered it to his master’s daughter, and left Menie and her friends at the booth. Poor Menie stood motionless, a mist seemed to gather before her eyes, and the crowd passed before her as a dream. ‘Ye see how it is,’ observed her companions, ‘naething here guid eneugh for her!—if ye speak to him again Menie, ye deserve to beg on the causie!’ Her pride was wounded—her heart was touched; a cloud fell upon her affections. Such is human nature that it frequently happens revenge and love are at each other’s elbows. Now, Menie was not without other admirers; and it so happened that one of these, who had more pretensions to this world’s goods than Willie Forbes, came up at the moment while her bosom was struggling with bitter feelings. For the first time, Menie turned not away at his approach. He was more liberal in his fairings than Willie could have been. As the custom then was, and in some instances still is, they heard the sounds of music and dancing, Willie’s rival pressed Menie and her companions to ‘step up and hae a reel.’ They complied, and she accompanied them scarce knowing what she did.

In a few minutes, Willie returned to the booth, but Menie was not there. His eye wandered among the crowd; he walked up and down the streets, but he found her not. Something told him he had done wrong; he had slighted Menie. At length a ‘good-natured friend,’ informed him she was dancing with young Laird Lister. The intelligence was wormwood to his spirit. He hastened to the dancing-room, and there he beheld Menie, ‘the observed of all observers,’ gliding among her rustic companions lightly as you have seen a butterfly kiss a flower. For a moment and he was proud to look upon her as the queen of the room; but he saw his rival hand her to a seat and his blood boiled. He approached her. She returned his salutation with a cold glance. Another reel had been danced; Willie offered her his hand for a partner in the next. ‘I’m engaged,’ said the hitherto gentle Menie; ‘but maybe Miss Jean will hae nae objections; if there’s onything gui’d eneugh for her here.’ At that moment, Willie’s rival put his arm through Menie’s; she stood by his side; the music struck up, and away they glided through the winding dance! Willie uttered a short, desperate oath, which we dare not write, and hurried from the room. But scarce had he left, till confusion and a sickness of heart came upon Menie. She went wrong in the dance; she stood still; her bosom heaved to bursting; she uttered a cry, and fell upon the floor.

She, in her turn, felt that she had done wrong, and, on recovering, she left her companions, and returned home alone. She doubted not but Willie was there before her. The road seemed longer than it had ever done before; for her heart was heavy. She reached his mother’s cottage. She listened at the door; she heard not Willie’s voice; and she trembled, she knew not why. She entered. The old woman rose to meet her. ‘Weel, hinny,’ said she, ‘hae ye got back again? What sort o’ a fair has there been? Where is Willie?’ Menie turned towards the bink, to lay aside her bonnet, and was silent. ‘What’s the matter wi ye, bairn?’ continued the old woman;, ‘is Willie no wi’ ye; where is he?’ ‘He is comin’, I fancy,’ returned Menie; and she sobbed as she spoke. ‘Bairn! bairn! there’s is something no richt,’ cried the mother, ‘between ye. Some foolish quarrel, I warrant. But tell me what he’s done; and for sending my Menie hame greetin,’ I’ll gie him a hamecomin’!’ ‘No, no, it wasna Willie’s wyte,’ replied Menie, ‘it was mine; it was a’ mine. But dinna be angry.’ And here the maiden unbosomed her grief, and the old woman took part with her, saying—‘Son as he’s mine, ye just served him as he deserved, Menie. Her heart grew lighter as her story was told, and they sat by the window together, watching one party after another return from the fair. But Willie was not amongst them, and as it began to wax late, and acquaintances passed, Menie ran to inquire of them if they had seen anything of Willie; and they shook their heads and said—‘No.’ And it grew later and later, till the last party who left the fair, had passed—singing as they went along; but still there were no tidings of Willie. Midnight came, and the morning came, but he came not. His mother became miserable, and, in the bitterness of her heart, she upbraided Menie and Menie wept the more. They sat watching through the night and through the morning listening to every sound. They heard the lark begin his song, the poultry leap from their roost, the cows low on the milk-maidens, and the ploughman prepare for the field; yet Willie made not his appearance. Time grew on till mid-day, and the misery of the mother and of Menie increased. The latter was still dressed in the apparel she had worn on the previous day, and the former throwing on her Sunday gown, they proceeded to the town together to seek for him. They inquired as they went along, and from one they received the information—‘I thought I saw him wi’ the sodgers in the afternoon.’ The words were as if a lightning had fallen on Menie’s heart; his mother wrung her hands in agony, and cried—‘My ruined bairn!’ And she cast a look on poor Menie that had more meaning than kindness in it.

They reached the town, and as they reached it, a vessel was drawing from the quay; she had recruits on board, who were to be landed at Chatham, from whence they were to be shipped to India. Amongst those recruits was Willie Forbes. When he rushed in madness from the dancing-room, he met a recruiting party on the street, he accompanied them to their quarters; he drank with them—out of madness and revenge he drank—he enlisted; he drank again; his indignation kindled against Menie and against his rival; he again swore at the remembrance of her refusing him her hand; he drank deeper; his parent was forgotten; he took the bounty; he was sworn in; and while the fumes of the liquor yet raged in his brain, maddening him on and drowning reflection, he was next day embarked for Chatham. The vessel had not sailed twenty yards from the quay—Willie and his companions were waving their hats, and giving three cheers as they pulled off—when two women rushed along the quay. The elder stretched out her arms to the vessel; she cried wildly—‘Gie me back my bairn!—Willie! Willie Forbes!’ He heard her screams above the huzza of the recruits; he knew his mother’s voice; he saw his Menie’s dishevelled hair; the poisonous drink died within him; his hat dropped from his hand; he sprang upon the side of the vessel; he was about to plunge into the river, when he was seized by the soldiers and dragged below. A shriek rang from his mother and from Menie; those who stood around them tried to comfort and pity them; and, by all but themselves, in a few days the circumstance was forgotten.

‘Who will provide for me now, when my Willie is gane?’ mourned the disconsolate widow, when the first days of her grief had passed. ‘I will,’ answered Menie Morrison; ‘and your home shall be my home, and my bread your bread and the Husband o’ the widow, and the Father o’ the orphan, will bring our Willie back again.’ The old woman pressed her to her breast, and called her—‘her mair than daughter.’ They left the farm-stead, and rented a very small cottage at some miles’ distance, and there, to provide for her adopted mother, Menie kept two cows; and, in the neighbouring markets, her butter was first sold, and her poultry brought the best price. But she toiled in the harvest-field, she sewed, she knitted, she spun, she was the laundress of the gentry in the neighbourhood, she was beloved by all, and nothing came wrong to bonny Menie Morrison. Four years had passed, and they had twice heard from Willie, who had obtained the rank of sergeant. But the fifth year had begun, and, from a family in the neighbourhood, Menie had received several newspapers, that, as she said, ‘she might read to her mother what was gaun on at the wars.’ She was reading an account of one of the first victories of Wellington in the East, and she passed on to what was entitled a GALLANT EXPLOT. Her voice suddenly faltered; the paper shook in her hands. ‘What is’t—oh! what is’t, Menie?’ cried the old woman; ‘is’t onything about Willie? my bairn’s no dead?’ Menie could not reply; she pressed her hands before her eyes and wept aloud. ‘My son! my son!’ exclaimed the wretched widow—‘oh! is my bairn dead?’ The paragraph which had filled Menie with anguish, stated that a daring assault had been led on by Sergeant Forbes of the 21st, after his superiors had fallen, and that he also fell mortally wounded in the moment of victory. I will not attempt to paint their sorrow. Menie put on the garments of widowhood for Willie, and she mourned for him not only many but every day. He had fallen in the arms of glory, yet she accused herself as his murderer.

Five years more had passed. It was March; but the snow lay upon the ground, and the face of the roads was as glass. A stranger gentleman had been thrown from his horse in the neighbourhood of the widow’s cottage. His life had been endangered by the fall, and he was conveyed beneath her lowly roof, where he remained for weeks, unable to be removed. He was about fifty or sixty years of age, and his dress and appearance indicated the military officer. Menie was his nurse; and if her beauty and kindness did not inspire the soul of the veteran with love, they moved it with sympathy. He wished to make her a return, and, at length, he resolved that that return should be an offer of his hand. He knew he was in his ‘sere and yellow leaf,’ and his face was marked with wounds; but for those wounds he had a pension; he had his half-pay as Major, and three thousand pounds in the funds. He would show his gratitude by tendering his hand and fortune to the village maiden. He made known his proposal to the old woman—maternal feeling suggested her first reply: ‘She was to be my Willie’s wife,’ said she, ruefully, and wiped away a tear, ‘she was to be my daughter, and she is my daughter, I canna part wi’ my Menie.’ But prudence at length prevailed, and she added, ‘But why should she be buried for me? No, sir, I wadna wrang her, ye are owre kind, and yet she deserves it a’, an’ I will advise her as though she had been my ain bairn.’ But Menie refused to listen to them.

When the sun began to grow warm in the heavens, a chair was brought to the door for the invalid, and Menie and her mother would sit spinning by his side, while he would recount his ‘battles, sieges, fortunes.’ And thus, in an evening in May, as the sun was descending on the hills, ran his story— ‘Fifty of us were made prisoners. We were chained man to man, and cast into a dark, narrow, and damp dungeon. Our only food was a scanty handful of rice and a cup of water once in twenty-four hours. Death, in mercy, thinned our numbers. A worse than plague raged among us, our dead comrades lay amongst our feet. The living lay chained to a corpse. All died but myself and my companion to whom I was fettered. He cheered me in fever and sickness. He took the water from his parched lips and held it to mine. And, maiden, I have been interested in you for his sake, for in his sleep he would start, and mention the name of Menie.’

‘O sir,’ interrupted Menie and the old woman ‘what—what was his name?’

‘If the world were mine, I would give it to know,’ replied the Major; and continued, ‘He succeeded in breaking our fetters. We were left ungarded. ‘Let us fly,’ said he; but I was unable to follow him. He took me upon his shoulders. It was midnight. He bore me to the woods. For five days he carried me along, or supported me on his arm, till we were within sight of the British lines. There a party of native horsemen came upon us. My deliverer, with no weapon but a branch which he had torn from a tree, defended himself like a lion in its desert. But he fell wounded, and was taken prisoner. A company of our troops came to our assistance, I was rescued, but my noble deliverer was borne away into the interior; and three years have passed, and I have heard no more of him.’

‘But it is five years since my Willie fell, sighed Menie Morrison. Yet she brooded on the word Menie.

A wayfaring man was seen approaching the cottage. As he drew near the eyes of the Major glistened, his lips moved, he threw down his crutch. He started, unaided to his feet, ‘Gracious Heaven!—it is himself!’ he exclaimed: ‘my companion, my deliverer.’

The stranger rushed forward with open arms, ‘Menie!—mother!’ he cried, and speech failed him. It was Willie Forbes. Menie was on his bosom, his mother’s arms were round his neck, the old Major grasped his hand. Reader, need I tell you more. Willie Forbes had fallen wounded as was thought mortally, but he had recovered. He had been made a prisoner. He was returned. Menie gave him her hand. The Major procured his discharge, and made him his heir. He took a farm; and on that farm the Major dwelt with them, and ‘fought his battles o’er again’ to the children of Willie and Menie Forbes.


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