The following tale was
communicated to me when in Dumfriesshire, in the year 1827, by an old and
respectable lady, who was herself the subject of it. It interested me
then, and I shall endeavour to tell it to my readers as she told it to me.
But, as she may be still living, I shall change the name, though I then
had her permission to publish it, and to use her own words "to write a
tale about it if I pleased." I shall, therefore, speak of her as Mrs.
My father, she began, was
weel to do in the world. He had a farm that bordered on the Nith, between
Dumfries and Sanquhar. The laird and him had been companions frae they
were bits o’ laddies, and he had a guid bargain o’t, and made a hantle o’
siller. He was rather a purse-proud man, but a kind faither in the main,
for a’ that. My mother was a woman among ten thousand—ye might hae
searched ten parishes and not found her equal—my faither allowed that; and
he had a right to ken, for she was his wife thirty years. She was the best
tempered woman that I’ve ever met wi’ in my born days; and, without having
the least particle o’ meanness about her, she was as thrifty as she was
good tempered. She had also been a particularly weelfaured woman. An
aulder brother and mysel’ were the only bairns that they had living, and
we were accordingly a good deal made o’, especially by our mother. It was
generally believed that I would bring a fortune to the man that got me;
and when I grew up to woman’s estate, there were a number o’ young lads
that professed to be very fond o’ me; but, for my part I had no liking for
ony o’ them save one, and that was Peter Simpson. He was a blate lad, and
I didna ken that he was fond o’ me frae himsel’; but my acquaintances used
to jeer me about him, and say, "Isabella, if ye dinna tak pity on puir
Peter Simpson, the lad will do some ill to himsel’. He is fairly owre head
and ears about ye."
"Hoots!" said I, "nane o’
yer havers—the ne’er fears o’ him. The lad never spoke to me in his life."
And sure enough, as I have
tauld ye, he never had. But I used to remark his confusion when he passed
me, as he half looked at me, and half turned away his head, and I’m sure I
was as confused as he was; and it was a’thegither on account o’ our
acquaintances jeering me about him. At the kirk, too, on the Sabbath, I
often used to observe his een fixed on me; and when he perceived that I
saw him, he would turn away his head, and his cheeks, his very brow, grew
as red as the morocco on the back of the laird and his lady’s bibles.
Peter’s faither was a
farmer like my own, and we were on an equality in that respect; but he had
taken a fancy to be a millwright, and was serving his time for that
business in Dumfries. Now, there was one day that I had been in the town,
making some bits o’ bargains at the shops, for my mother; but, just as I
was completing them, a terrible storm came away; it rained a perfect down
pour—such a spate as I never saw. Umbrellas had hardly been seen in the
country at that time, and it wasna one in five hundred that had a one. I
had no acquaintances in Dumfries, and I was forced to stop in the shop.
But I remained from four in the afternoon until seven at night, and it
rained as fast as ever—it was never like to fair. It was beginning to set
down for dark, I was feared to gang hame at night, by mysel’, and I saw it
was o’ no use stopping ony langer—so I left the shop; but, before I had
got three yards from the door, who should come bang against me, as he ran
wi’ his head down for the
Rain, but Peter Simpson.
"Oh, I beg your pardon,
Miss Isabella," said he, when he saw who I was; and he looked very
"There is nae harm done,"
"Ye haena to gang hame in
sic a nicht as this?" said he.
"Indeed hae I," said I.
"Then," said he, "if ye’ll
just step into the shop there for a minute, I think I ken where I could
borrow ye an umbrella."
I thought it was remarkably
kind o’ him, and I gad back to the shop again. He hadna been away a handel-awhile
when in a very jiffy he came running back wi’ an umbrella in his hand. I
went to the door as soon as I saw him, and he lifted up the umbrella owre
my head and held out his oxter to me. I canna tell what my feelings were
at the moment. I forgot that it was a down-pour o’ rain and every thing
else, and I wonder that I didna lose my mother’s bundle frae under my arm.
But I took his oxter, and wi’ the umbrella our heads, we gaed linking awa
thegither—and, between you and me, I was glad o’ his company for more
reasons than one.
I never had ony idea before
that umbrellas could be such comfortable things. It made us as pleasant
owre our heads as if the sun had been shining on us. Under foot it wasna
just so agreeable, for the water was running across the roads in many
places just like rivers, and I had either to wade knee-deep or to allow
Peter to take me up in his arm and carry me through, which he did; though
I was very greatly put about before I could think o’ allowing him to do
But I got home, and when we
reached the door, Peter was sae backward that he held out his hand to bid
me "good-night," without gaun into the house wi’ me.
"Oh," says I, "ye mauna
gang away yet—for when my mother hears o’ yer kindness, if she kenned that
I had let ye gang back at the door without asking ye in, she would be very
So I got him prevailed upon
to gang in wi’ me, and when I tauld my mother how attentive he had been,
and how he had borrowed the umbrella and accompanied me a’ the way, she
didna ken where to set him. There was naething in the house that she
thought owre good for him. She got him to put off his coat, and his shoon
and his stockings, and gied him things o’ my brother’s to put on. My
faither wasna at hame, I remember—I think he was in about Edinburgh at the
time. My mother pressed Peter to stop and take his supper wi’ us; and he
did stop, and began to gather more courage, and to get the use o’ his
tongue. The supper was laid out, and a hearty meal he made, and glad was I
to see him eat sae freely. After supper, my mother brought out the bottle
and gied him a dram, and Peter drank baith our very good healths.
Just as he was on his feet
to gang away, my mother had to turn her back for a minute, and says he to
me, while he keepit turning his hat round about in his hand—"Guid-nicht,
Isabella—when may I come back again?"
"Hoots!" said I, without
meaning the slightest harm, and not for a moment intending to forbid him
to come back. He hung down his head, and with a sort o’ seigh, gaed away
without saying ony niair. But nicht after nicht came, an’ week after week,
an’ I saw nae mair o’ Peter Simpson; he hadna courage to venture back
again, although it was not my intention to discourage him by saying,
About three months after
this my mother was suddenly cut off frae among us and called to her
account. I was naturally appointed housekeeper in her place. Now, we had a
windmill on the farm, and the mill was out o’ repair, the millwrights were
to come frae Dumfries to put it rights, and till their job was finished
they were to get their meat in the house. I wished that Peter might be one
o’ them, and he was one o’ them. Our acquaintence was renewed. Peter’s
shyness gradually wore away, and I dare say that, for a year and a half,
for five nights out o’
seven, he came regularly to
see me. We were very happy. I liked him, and he liked me. But his father
sent him to the south for a year or two, to see some great men they called
Mr. Bolton and Mr. Watt, to get a thorough insight into his business
before he set him up for himsel’. Hech me! what insight he got about
wheels, and mills or machines, I canna tell ye; but he got an unco insight
During his absence, my
father had married a second wife, which I considered as very disrespectful
to the memory o’ my mother, and I was very ill about it. I was loath to
gie up the keys o’ the house to a stranger that wasna meikle aulder than
mysel, and to gie up my situation as housekeeper. I didna like to submit
to her; but my faitther said that I should submit or leave the house—and
what could I do? But I wearied for Peter to come back, and were it for no
other reason, just that I might hae a house o’ any ain, where I rnight hae
the liberty o’ doing what I liked without being quarrelled.
But Peter did come back,
and there was a change upon him indeed, though not for the better. He
certainly looked a great deal smarter than when he went away, and I didna
ken where he had left his former blateness; but he brought none o’ it back
wi’ him. His language was quite Englified; and, among other bad practices
which he had acquired, I was baith sorry and disgusted to remark that of
profane swearing!—which he actually did as though he werna conscious o’
what he was saying. O sir! I think there is naething that makes a man look
mair degraded and contemptible than this most senseless o’ a’ sinfu’
practices. It is lower than even daily drunkenness. I ken naething sae
bad. However, I must say for him, there seemed no abatement in his
affection for me; and I resolved that, as soon as we were married, I would
cure him o’ the bad practices he had acquired.
To my sorrow and surprise,
however, ye might as weel hae taken an adder by the beard as spoken to my
faither o’ our marriage. He set himself tooth and nail against it.
"Na, na!" said he! "if I
were to allow ye to throw yersel’ awa upon the young, graceless birkie, he
would squander away the thousand pounds that ye hae for a portion; and
break your heart into the bargain within a twalmonth."
It was in vain that I grat
before my faither and tried to reason wi’ him. I might as weel hae let my
tears fall on a nether millstane wi’ the hope o’ softening it. Peter
vowed, however, that he cared not a snap o’ his fingers for neither my
faither nor the fortune he had to gie me—that it was me he wanted and me
he would hae. The short and the long o’ the story is, that, finding there
was nothing to be made o’ my faither and that he wadna come to, Peter got
me to consent to elope wi’ him. My conscience tauld me that I was doing a
daft-like action, and a thing I wad maybe rue. But Peter, according to an
agreement between us, came to my bedroom window, which, after some
hesitation, when I saw his frenzy and impatience, I opened, and he threw
up to me the queerest sort o ladder I ever saw. It was just bits o’ sma’
rope tied thegither, wi’ twa cleeks at the one end. I had no sooner done
wi’ it as he desired me, than up he came, and whispering to me to come out
at the window and place my foot on it, I did so, and he taking me under
his arm lighted me safe upon the ground in a moment.
One o’ his faither’s
servants was standing at a distance holding a horse, ready saddled, to
carry two. I gat on to the pad behint Peter, and he galloped away till we
came to the side o’ the Solway, and there I found a boat was lying ready
to take us across to Workington. Peter took out a license, and that day I
became Mrs. Simpson. I heard that when my faither learned in the
morning that I had run away, he didna offer to come after me, but he
shaked his head and said—"Aweel! ‘they that will to Cupar maun to Cupar!’
‘ Poor infatuated lassie!—sorrow will bring her to her hunkers, and she
will be glad to come back to the house that she has clandestinely left;
and come when she like, for her mother’s sake, she shall aye find a hame!"
He said this when his wife
was not present. I hae often thought that there is something prophetic in
a parent’s words, especially when they speak concerning the consequence o’
disobedience; and in my case I found much o’ what my faither said owre
Peter, however, had begun
business, and he and I set up house. Trade was very guid in the millwright
line at that period, for thrashing machines were just getting into vogue,
though ignorant folk raised an unco outcry against them. My husband’s
having been wi’ the great men, Mr. Bolton and Mr. Watt, threw a good deal
in his way; and, on the second year after he began business, he had
fifteen journeymen constantly employed, besides apprentices. Now Peter was
very clever, and everybody said that he was turning out a "bright fellow."
Four years and better passed owre our heads, and I’m sure there wasna a
happier woman than me to be met wi’ round the whole circumference o’ the
globe. I had twa bits o’ bairns, a laddie and a lassie, and was likely to
hae a third. I had got Peter so broken off the evil practices which he
learned in the south, and o’ which I hae spoken, that he never swore
except when he was in a passion; and though that was more frequently than
I wished—for he was of a fiery temper—yet it never last lang, and he was
always sorry for it afterwards. Even my faither heard sae meikle about his
behaviour and cleverness, and his affection for me and the bairns, that he
called one day at our house, and after making an apology for being angry
at our marriage, he actually paid the thousand pounds that were to be my
portion, down upon the nail.
Weel, as I have said, this
state o’ happiness continued for four years and better; but it didna see
the fifth year out. Peter had a job that would tak a twalmonth in
completing, some way in the neighbourhood o’ Durham. All our men save a
journeyman and an apprentice or two, were there, for the work had to be
finished by a certain time, and Peter was there himself also. He was only
to be hame about once a month; and for the first eight weeks that he was
there, he was very attentive in writing every week, and came thrice across
to see me and the bairns. But, on the ninth week we had no letter, on the
tenth we had none, and one came on the thirteenth. It was merely three or
four lines at most, and instead of beginning it—"My dear Isabella,"
as all his former letters began (and long letters they were), he merely
said "Dear Wife," and informed me that he was weel, that he hoped I
would study economy in everything in his absence, and gie his love to the
bairns, and that it was impossible for him to say when he would be across
to see us again. I was dumbfoundered—I read the letter again and again,
and as I read the tears fell down my cheeks. "What," thought I, "can hae
It was ten weeks before I
again saw his face; and when he did come, he was as dour and as
ill-natured as if I had been his enemy instead o’ the wife o’ his bosom,
and he hadna even a pleasant look or a pleasant word to gie to the bairns.
"O Peter!" says I, "what’s
the matter wi’ ye?—what has happened? Will ye not tell me, yer ain wife,
that wishes nae mair than to share wi’ you whether it be joy or sorrow; is
the job likely to be a loss to ye—or what?"
"Haud yer tongue, ye silly
woman, ye!" said he—"why do ye trouble me wi’ your silly nonsense?"
"O Peter!" says I, "this
behaviour o’ yours is distressing me beyont measure. Will ye no tell me
what is the cause o’t, or if I can do onything to mak ye happier?"
"Get oot o’ my sicht!"
cried he, "I tell ye get oot o’ my sicht!—and if onything will make me
happier that will!"
My heart was ready to
burst; my poor bosom heaved like a bird’s that has been pursued by a hawk,
till it falls upon the ground. I sank down upon the chair, and I was only
able to cry to our auldest bairn—"O hinny, bring me a drink o’ water!" And
the words were hardly out o’ my lips when I swooned clean away.
I had an infant o’ nine
weeks auld at my breast at the time, but Peter showed nae regard for
either the bit tender lammie or its mother. He went out o’ the house,
driving the doors behint him, and that very night set out for Durham
again. I thought the change in his conduct would be my death, and I tried
in vain to imagine what could be the reason o’ it. It laid me bedfast for
a fortnight, and my poor infant at my bosom began to dwine through the
effects o’ my illness.
Ten miserable and anxious
weeks passed, and Peter neither came to see nor wrote, nor sent us siller
for our support. I was tempted to mention the circumstances to my faither,
and to ask his advice; but I thought again that it might be making bad
worse, and that it was best for me as a wife and mother to keep my sorrows
to mysel’, without making them a world’s talk. So I buried my misery and
anxiety in my own heart, and no one knew of it from me, save from the unco
change that had been wrought on my appearance. But my heart was for ever
sick, and my bit infant, through the effect o’ my misery, died in my arms.
I got word sent to Peter,
but he didna come to assist or comfort me in my distress, until within
half an hour o’ the time set for lifting the corpse. When I saw him enter
the house, I wrung my hands, and cried, "O Peter!" and got up to meet
him—to throw my head upon his breast—for I thought it might still find
comfort there; but he said coldly—"Compose yourself!" And without even
coming forward to meet me or to shake hands wi’ me, he took a chair and
sat down. His manner, his cauld words, went like an arrow through my
miserable bosom. I wished to be wi’ my dead infant, and I sank back upon a
seat and sobbed aloud.
When the funeral was owre,
and the folk had left the house, he got up and said—"I haena time to stop.
The work must be got forward, and the men can do nothing till I am wi’
them again in the mormng. Therefore I maun bid ye good day."
"O Peter! Peter!" cried I,
"will ye leave me in the midst o’ my affliction! What hae I dune, dear,
that ye should be sae changed to me? There was a time when ye wadna used
me in this way. Only let me ken my fault, and there is naething in this
wide world that I winna do to mend it."
"Ye talk as a fool, woman!"
"No, Peter," I answered, "I
dinna talk as a fool; but I talk as a heart-broken wife and a mourning
mother. Weel do ye ken that I would lay the hair o’ my head beneath your
feet to serve ye; and there was a time when ye would hae done as meikle
for me. But its no the case wi’ ye now—and O Peter!--what is the reason!
What hae I dune to offend ye ?"
"Are ye dementit, Bella, or
what is the matter wi’ ye?" said he, crossly. "I tell ye I am bound to get
the work forward—it will be at a stand if I stop here. Therefore, I hae
nae time to be tormented wi’ your nonsense, and so—good day!"
"Peter!—husband!" I cried,
and flung my arms round his neck—"do you mean to kill me outright? Oh! by
the love ye once bore me, and by the vows ye made, dinna drive me from
your breast as if I were a serpent. I am the mother o’ your bairns,
Peter—her that ye used to say was dearer to ye than your own
existence--and how can ye treat me sae now?" He kissed my cheek, and for a
moment I thought I saw tears in his een. But he shook me by the hand, and
saying, "I canna stop," broke away frae me, and left me to my misery.
A thousand hopes and
suspicions now began to rise up in my mind and torment me. I was the most
unhappy woman under the sun. Yet I couldna bring mysel’ to believe ill o’
Peter. I never saw his face again until the job was finished, and he very
seldom wrote, and only sent a pound now and then, for the support of me
and the bairns.
When the concern at Durham
was finished, he got another in Cheshire, which I heard would be two or
three years in completing. The whole o’ baith his men and apprentices were
there wi’ him; and in a short time, he dropped sending the bit pound note
now and then; and it was wi’ a sair, sair struggle that I could get bread
for my bairns, or make a decent appearance; and I thought that I would now
be compelled to make known a’ my sorrows to my faither.
But what I had lang
dreaded, though I couldna wrang Peter by believing it possible, was
revealed to me like a clap o’ thunder. There was a Mrs. Montgomery, who
was a very particular aquaintance o’ mine; and, though I had never hinted
a word o’ my griefs to her, but tried to look cheerfu’ when the canker
worm was eating at my very heart, she saw that I had a secret sorrow in my
breast, and that I was pining under neglect. She was in very comfortable
circumstances, and she had an only son, and he was an apprentice wi’
Peter, and was working wi’ him in Cheshire. She had invited the twa bairns
and me to spend the afternoon wi’ her, and take a dish o’ tea. But, just
as the lass had brought in the tray, we heard a heavy foot on the stairs,
and in came Mrs. Montgomery’s son, tired-looking, broken-down, and
"Johnny!—my bairn!" said his mother,
"what’s brought ye the noo? Ye haena broken your apprenticeship!" The bit
callant said he had to run away, wi’ the ill usage o’ his maister and
I gasped—"what—what do ye mean?"
"I mean to say," quoth the
laddie, "that he is a bad man, and has another wife besides you, ma’am,
and a family too!"
"O Peter!—cruel Peter!" I
cried, and I fell down upon the floor as if I were dead.
It was wi’ great difficulty
that Mrs. Montgomery could restore me to consciousness, or bring me to
onything like composure. But she kindly pressed me if there was ony way in
which she could serve me, and I borrowed from her a five pound note, and
the next morning, before onybody was astir, I locked up the house, and wi’
one bairnie in my arms, and the other leading in my hand, I took the
Carlisle road to the south. Sometimes we got a cast in a carrier’s cart,
or went a stage or twa in the coaches that overtook us on the road, but
for the most part I walked on foot, carrying my helpless bairns. At
length, after a weary journey, we reached Macclesfield, which was the name
o’ the town where Peter was; and when I was there, I had great difficulty
to learn onything concerning him; but at last I inquired at an
ironmonger’s shop, and I was informed there that he lived about a mile and
a half down the river—and I think they ca’ed the river the Bodlin. Sae, wi’
my bairnies toddlin’ and tired by my side, for I was sae fatigued that I
couldna carry them, I gaed away down by the river to seek for him. My
laddie, tired as he was, poor thing, hirpled away about a dozen o’ yards
before me, pulling at the gowans and other flowers, and every now and then
crying to me—"O mother, here’s a bonny ane!—I’ll gie my faither this!—will
it be lang or we see him noo?"
"No, my dear," said I, "it
winna be lang noo." And the tears were hailing down my cheeks as I spoke.
But, as I was saying, my
bairn was about a dozen o’ yards before me, and he was just turning a sort
o’ corner, when he cried out—"Mother! Mother!—here’s my faither coming to
My broken heart louped to
my mouth. I cried—"O hinny! hinny!—what do you say?" But, as I spoke, I
got to the corner, and there, within half a stone throw o’ me, did I see
Peter—my husband!—wi’ a lang yellow hizzy, dressed like a queen, linked to
his arm, and a servant wench carrying a bairn behint them!
I saw my laddied running wi’
his hands out to meet him, and I heard him crying—"Faither! Faither!—here’s
my mother and my sister!"
But my poor dazed head swam
round. I could hear, I could see nae mair; and, wi’ a scream o’ misery, I
fell senseless on the green grass. As I began to recover, I felt cauld
water pouring on my breast and face, and when I opened my een it was Peter
that did it. Even then, I could hae forgiven him a’ that was passed, and I
tried to rise, and, stretching out my hand to him, said affectionately,
but not upbraidingly—"O Peter!"
"Woman!" said he, and he
looked fiercely as an angry lion, and his teeth were grating one upon
another, "why hae ye come here to torment and persecute me? Go back to
your faither’s—go where you like—take your bairns wi’ ye—I will gie you
and them a maintenance; but never let me see your face again."
My poor bairns were
screaming round about me, they were kissing me and clinging round my neck.
The strength and the presence o’ mind wi’ which I was then inspired
surprises me to this moment. I rose upon my feet, I looked him brent in
the face, and his guiltiness made him hang down his head before me.
"Peter," said I, "if I am
not worthy o’ yer heart, I winna accept o’ bread at yer hands. For thir
dear bairns that I hae borne, I am ready to beg to the world’s end. I will
work for them till the nails fa’ frae my fingers; but I will die, Peter,
and they shall perish for want, before they taste a morsel o’ your
providing! Fareweel! Cruel, ungratefu’ man!—and may ye never feel the
pangs o’ the poor heart that ye hae broken!"
"Villain that I am!" he
cried. And striking his clenched hand upon his brow, he left me and my
Where the hizzy that I saw
wi’ him, and her servant and bairn, were a’ the time, I didna see, and I
didna inquire. But not to fatigue you, sir, wi’ a lang story—I had
husbanded the five pounds that Mrs. Montgomery lent me in such a way that
I thought I had enough left to carry me back again to Dumfriesshire. We
had reached within a mile o’ Preston, when wha should we meet upon
horseback, but my auld faither coming to look after us! Mrs. Montgomery
had informed him o’ the whole particulars, and he nae sooner heard o’ them
than he set out to see that nae harm was done to his Isabella. The auld
grey haired man jumped down frae his horse, and grat upon my neck like a
bairn. He sent us by the next coach to Carlisle; and he took me and my
bairns hame wi’ him; and there I found that a good mother was my
step-mother to me in my distress, and she was mair than a grandmother to
When my son was about
eighteen, my father died; and besides the portion that I had got after my
marriage, he bequeathed to me in his will what had been an independence.
I had heard nothing about
my husband for nearly twenty years. I didna ken whether he was dead or
living. But my son took a fancy for the sea; and, before he was
twenty-one, he was a ship captain in the American trade. His vessel was
lying at New York, when there was a middle-aged broken-down man—one that
seemed to be ruined both in health and circumstances—came aboard and
begged for the sake o’ Heaven that he would gie him a passage to England.
My son asked him several questions, and, O sir! Sir!—he discovered that
the poor beggar before him was his own faither—his thoughtless faither! He
didna chide him, he didna upraid him—for oh, it is a terrible thing for a
son to speak like a condemning judge to a faither. I needna tell ye that
he brought him hame—that he did everything to restore him to health and
happiness—and even brought him as a criminal before me. But I kenned him
at the first glance and welcomed him wi’ open arms.
"O Isabella! Isabella!" he
cried, and fell at my feet.
"Husband! husband!" said I,
helping our son to raise him up, "there is joy owre those that repent.
He lived for twelve years
after this, and he died a sincere penitent, wi’ his head upon my bosom,
and his hand in my hand, imploring a blessing upon me and his bairns.