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Wilson's Border Tales
The Magic Glass


At the period when fairies, brownies, witches, and other respectable personages of this description were more in vogue in Scotland than they now are, there lived at the foot of the Lammermoor hills a man of the name of Tweedie.

David—for this was his Christian name—was a sheep farmer, and a pretty extensive one. His character throughout the country was excellent, and his circumstances easy. His wife was good natured and affectionate; his children obedient and well-doing; his house comfortable, cheerful, and happy;—in short, David’s condition altogether was a most enviable one; and he himself fully appreciated the blessings that had been vouchsafed him. He adored his wife, loved his children, and entertained the warmest sentiments of esteem towards his numerous friends, who, in turn, like David exceedingly, and any one of them would have parted with half their substance to serve him. To complete this picture of felicity, this happy combination of happy circumstances, David was himself a jolly-looking fellow—good-humoured, kind-hearted, and hospitable; but, it must be acknowledged, a little rough and blunt in his manners—qualities, however, which rather improved than deteriorated the general character of the man, inasmuch as they made it more unique.

On one occasion, being called away to attend the deathbed of a wealthy uncle, from whom he had great expectations, and who lived in a remote county in the west of Scotland, previous to his leaving home, David, thinking it not improbable that he might be a good while absent, or seeing that it was, at least, uncertain when he might return, as he would be obliged to await his relative’s dissolution, whenever that might happen, assembled a number of his most intimate friends around him on the evening before his departure, and, warmed by his liquor, their expressions of love and affection knew no bounds.

"O man!" exclaimed Jamie Torrence, a near neighbour and particular friend—"O man!" he said, rising up from his chair in a fit of irrepressible enthusiasm, and seizing David by the hand, "an’ ye wad just let me keep Rover till ye come back, I wad be happy, just that I might hae something o’ yours aboot me to shew kindness to when ye’re awa."

The request was an odd one, but it evidently proceeded from the overflowings of a kind and friendly disposition, and was immediately complied with. But it is time to say who Rover was. Why, Rover was an old dog, and a very great favourite of his master’s, as he had been, in his day, a singularly sagacious and serviceable animal, though now perfectly useless; and this his master had not forgotten. Indeed, there were not many things that David Tweedie would have been more loath to intrust to the care of another than Rover. But in this case, as already said, he did consent to part with him, at least pro tempore; and that very night, kind, warm-hearted Jamie Torrence carried poor blind old Rover home with him.

But there was another guest present on this evening who was still more ardent in his expressions of esteem for David than even Jamie Torrence. This person was Andrew Tamson—a near neighbour also, and a most particularly intimate friend, too, of David’s. Andrew was a stout, active, rattling fellow of about five-and-thirty, good looking, and well made, but with a reputation for being a trifle wild or so. He was, however, in the main, an excellent fellow, and was greatly esteemed by David, at whose house he was the most frequent visitor of all his acquaintances.

On this occasion, Andrew proffered his services in superintending and otherwise looking after David’s out-of-door concerns during his absence; an offer that was very thankfully accepted. In the meantime, however, the night, regardless of the happiness of the party, and insensible to the cruelty of interrupting it, wore on, till at length the hour of separation arrived, when each retired to his own home, and David to bed.

In the morning, David Tweedie, after taking an affectionate leave of his wife and family, mounted his horse, and proceeded on his journey. On arriving at his uncle’s, David found the old man still in life, and with an appearance of strength that promised to hold him lingering on for sometime. Perceiving this, David made up his mind to a considerable stay; for now that he was come, and his relative’s death, though it might be protracted for a while, inevitable, it would have been both cruel and indecent to have left him until the anticipated event had taken place.

During this interval, David found the time hang heavy on his hands, and began to become uneasy about matters at home; although he certainly had no good reason, for his wife was an active, thrifty, managing woman, and she and his friends, he might have been assured, would look well after his interests. Still he could not help constantly thinking of his wife, his family, his sheep, and his farm, nor of entertaining a most ardent longing to see them again; and, from morning to night, he wondered what they would be doing.

It was David’s practice, while staying with his dying relative, on those occasions when the old man had fallen into a slumber, to go out and take a short stroll in the neighbourhood. His favourite resort at these times was a beautiful retired little dell, at a short distance from the house—a spot which he had selected not more for its natural beauty than for a resemblance, fancied or real, which it bore to a certain locality in the vicinity of his own dear home. One evening, about eight days after his arrrival at his uncle’s, David, the old man having expressed a wish to be left alone for an hour or so, repaired to his usual place of resort. It was dark; a time at which David would not have visited the place alone for a score of the best sheep that ever grazed on the Lammermoors, had he known what everybody else thereabouts knew, namely, that it was haunted by fairies. But, not knowing this, he entered it even while the shades of night were falling around him, without fear or dread.

The subject of David’s thoughts, while he strolled up and down the little solitude, were the usual ones, his home, his friends, and his farm. But his longings regarding these were now, as was perfectly natural, becoming every day more and more intense and irksome; for there were no posts in those days to relieve the anxiety of his mind through the medium of that ingenious device, writing. A letter was then as rare as a comet. David, wearied with walking and ruminating, flung himself down on a little green knoll, exclaiming, "Hech, sirs, what I wad gie this moment for a sicht o’ them, just to see what they’re a’ aboot!" Here let us explain that David meant his family. No sooner said than done. The words were hardly out of his month, when he perceived a little female figure, clothed in green gown, standing beside him. How she had come there, or whence she had come, it was impossible to tell. There she was, however, that’s certain; and a beautiful little creature.

"David Tweedie," said the little queer lady, "you and yours have always treated us with kindness and respect, and have never, in any instance, given us the smallest offence. Moreover, many a merry dance have I had on the knowes behind your house; and now, for all these reasons, David, here have I come to gratify the wish that you have just now expressed. But David," she added, "as your friend, I would advise you not to insist on the gratification of your wish, for it will give you no pleasure; but mark me, it shall be done if you still desire it."

David, though exceedingly terrified—for he perceived at once, as indeed any one would have done, that it was a fairy who spoke to him—had yet presence of mind enough to thank the little lady for her obliging offer, and courage enough, notwithstanding what she had said, to intimate his acceptance of it. Indeed, her dissuasion had had rather the affect of sharpening his curiosity, than allaying it; for he feared that it referred to some mischief that had happened at home, and he was naturally desirous of knowing what it was. Under this impression, then, he pressed for the promised gratification.

"Well, well, then," said the fairy, when she found him resolved to accept her offer; "your wish shall be gratified; but, remember I have warned you. There," she said, putting a little instrument, not unlike a modern pocket telescope, into his hands—"there, take that; and, when you desire to see what’s going on at home, look through it, and you will see everything as distinctly as if you were on the spot yourself—but you must give it back to me here before you return home; and, in the meantime, at your peril, shew it to any one, or mention to any human being anything of the circumstances of this night." Having said this, the lady vanished as suddenly and mysteriously as she had appeared. Relieved of her presences David, after thrusting the fairy’s gift into his pocket, which he did without looking at it, bounced to his feet, and took to his heels as fast as his feet could carry him; nor did he halt—for his terror was even greater than his curiosity—till he had reached his uncle’s house.

Here, however, he dared not make any use of the magic instrument that had been so strangely given him; for he was constantly in the presence of other people, and the fairy’s injunctions were peremptory that nobody but himself should see it. Neither durst he venture out of doors to make any experiments on it, for it was now dark; and he would not, after the fright he had got, cross the door, especially with fairy property in his pocket, for all the Lothians. David, however, determined that he would start with the sun on the following morning, and betake himself to some quiet place where he could freely indulge his curiosity. But, in the meantime, his state of mind was far from being easy or comfortable; in truth, he spent a most miserable night. His anxiety to try the powers of the magic instrument was most distressing; and his curiosity to know what was going on at home insupportable;—in short, he was in a perfect fever, from agitated and excited feelings of all sorts. Although David, however, did not dare to take the glass out of his pocket, he kept constantly feeling it the whole night previous to going to bed, and even frequently ventured to take a sly peep of it, but not without expecting, every time he looked, to find it turned into a piece of a kail runt, or, it might be, a roll of brimstone--such gifts, as he was well aware, being often suddenly converted into the most valueless things. No such deception, however, was practised on David; what the article was at first, whatever that might be, it was at last—no change took place in either its shape or substance.

Although the night on which David obtained the fairy gift was to him a long and sleepless one, yet it did wear away. Morning came, and with the first peep of dawn, he was stirring. Having put on his clothes, and found that all, to appearance at any rate, continued right with the fairy instrument, he stole softly out of the house, and sought a quiet spot in which to try its powers. Having soon found such a place as he desired, David pulled out the fairy gift, examined it minutely for the first time, and found that, seemingly at least, it was neither more nor less than a small telescope with glass at both ends. His curiosity satisfied on this head, with a beating heart and trembling hand, he clapped the glass to his eye, when, most wonderful to relate, and to David’s unutterable surprise, he beheld his own house, with its white front shining in the morning sun, as plain and distinct, with all about it, as if he had been standing within fifty yards of it. He could count, with the greatest ease, every pane of glass in the windows. Nay, more amazing still, he could see everything and every person inside, as well as if he were actually beside them—indeed, there was no difference whatever, only that he could not hear them speak, nor, of course, they him.

"Extraordinar! — most astonishin!" exclaimed David, taking the glass from his eye for a moment, to breathe (for surprise had suspended his respiration) and to reflect on the wonderful powers of the instrument. "Most extraordinar!--most astonishin!" he said, looking intently at the magical telescope, and turning it over and over in his hands as he spoke. "My word, ye’re worthy o’ yer wecht in diamonds, and a great comfort ye’ll be to me while I’m here. I can get a sicht, now, o’ my ain dear Lizzy whan I like; an’ that’ll be a wonderful consolation to me sae lang as we’re separate."

It was very early in the morning, be it observed, when David took his first peep through the magic glass; so that he found no one stirring about his own house; but he took a look of all the inmates as they lay in bed, and was rejoiced to find them all apparently in perfect good health, which relieved his mind greatly; for, from what the fairy had said—namely, that a knowledge of what was going on at home would afford him no pleasure—he was apprehensive that something evil had happened to some of the members of his family; and he was glad that it was not in any circumstance of this kind, at any rate, that the reason of the little lady’s unpleasant caution was to be found. David had also, on his first peep, taken a look of his sheep on the hill; and there, too, everything appeared to be right, only that, on counting his flock, which he did very carefully, he found several amissing; but he thought nothing of this, as he had no doubt their keeper would be able to give a good account of them.

After a short time, David again put the glass to his eye, saying, while he did so—"‘Od, I’ll hae a peep at Jamie Torrence, and see how him and Rover’s coming on." And he directed the glass accordingly. But he had not looked an instant, when he began exclaiming, loud enough to have been heard by anybody within fifty yards of him, had there been any one so situated—"Weel, that cowes the gowan! O Jamie Torrence, wha wad hae thocht ye wad hae been sae treacherous, sae cruel-hearted? Let alane the dog, ye savage, ye deceiver! What has the puir brute done to you, that ye should use him that gate? Ay, ye’ve dune’t at last," he added, after a pause; "ye’ve finished him now, ye fause-hearted villain! But little do ye ken, my lad, wha’s seein ye: ye’ll be tellin me, nae doot, when I come hame, that the puir brute died a nat’ral death. But haud ye there, lad; I’ll nick ye. I’ll dumfounder ye wi’ the facts."

David was at this moment witnessing a harrowing and most unexpected sight—viz., the execution of Rover by the hands of his own trusty and well-beloved friend, James Torrence, who had promised, even with tears in his eyes, to be kind to his dog during his absence. At the very moment when David had directed his magical glass to that person’s domicile, the "fause-hearted villain," as he called him, and not unjustly, was employed in a small back yard, attached to his dwelllng, in stringing up Rover; and David had detected him in the very act. The reason of this atrocious cruelty it was of course impossible for David to guess; but he felt assured that there could be no good ones as the dog was a harmless, inoffensive creature. His heart bled within him as he gazed upon the dying struggles of his unfortunate favourite, whom it was out of his power to save.

From this miserable sight, David turned for consolation to his own dear happy home, where all were now a-foot. Earnestly and delightedly did David gaze on his two fine, romping little boys; but, indeed, very angry did he soon become, when he saw one of them go into the garden, and deliberately pull up an entire bed of flowers in which he had taken great delight. Forgetting the distance that was between them, the angry father shouted out to the little mischievious vagabond to desist, threatening him, at the same time, with the direst vengeance if he did not. But his wrath was expended in vain.

"Oh, you little scounrel ye!" exclaimed David; "if I was within arm’s length o’ you, but I wad creesh your haffits for ye! But that’s waitin ye, ye young villain! I’ll mind this amang the lave."

David now directed the glass once more to the hill where his sheep were grazing — just to see, as he said, what his trusty shepherd, Watty, was about. It was some time, however, before he could find Watty; and he was rather surprised at this, as he knew where he ought to be about that time in the morning: but there he was not, neither was he about the house. At length, however, David discovered Watty, and in a very strange predicament he was. There was a sheep on his back, its feet being tied together, and he was hurrying towards his own house with his burden.

"Something quere in this," said David to himself. "Whar can Watty be gaun wi’ the sheep, and what in a’ the world can he be gaun to do wi’t!"—David resolved to make himself master of this; and it was not long before he was so. In a few minutes he saw his trusty and favourite servant enter his own cottage with the sheep, bolt the door after him, cut the animal’s throat, skin and cut up the carcase and deposit it snugly in his own beef-barrel, and, lastly, hide the skin below the kitchen bed.

"Aweel, after that, onything," exclaimed the amazed and confounded farmer. "A fallow that I wad hae trusted wi’ uncounted goud—a fallow that I hae trusted this thirteen year. Oh, the villain! and ane o’ my very best sheep too—the very pick o’ my flock! But, to be sure, he wad hae been a great fule had he dune otherwise. The rascal was richt, when he was at it, to wale a gude ane. But my name’s no David Tweedie, if I dinna get something put roun your craig, Maister Watty, that’ll be a hantle mair troublesome than a sheep."

In such unconneted exclamations as these, did David express at once his amazement, his sorrow, and his anger, at the delinquency he had witnessed of his most trusty and esteemed servant; but, as he was a good-hearted man, although a little passionate—one, in short, whose bark is worse than his bite—he almost regretted that he had seen it, as much on his own account as the offender’s, for it made him miserable. David now took a look into his stable, to see how his favourite black mare was coming on—the animal having been thought dying when he left home. There was a little country cart standing at the door when David looked, and Jamie Armstrong, another trusty servant, in the stable at the time. But what was he about? Why, he and the man to whom the cart belonged were busily employed in filling a sack with corn from the corn-chest.

"Oh, is there no trust to be put in man?" shouted out David, when he witnessed this other instance of treachery and spoilation; for we suppose we need not say, in more plain terms, that a robbery was being perpetrated between Jamie Armstrong and the fellow to whom the cart belonged. "I’m a ruined man—head and tail, stoup-and-roup, horse and foot, plundered and deceived at a’ hands. This is fearfu’; but it’s a mercy I’ve fund it oot. Dee or leeve, uncle," continued David, "I maun be hame directly, or they’ll harry me clean. They’ll no leave me a stool to sit upon."

David was now sorely distressed in mind—and no wonder; for he had seen enough to put any man distracted. The depredations committed on him were of a very serious character. Those engaged in them were men in whom he had placed the most unlimited confidence; and there was, therefore, no saying for how long a time, or to what extent, he had suffered by them. All this David felt very keenly; and a most miserable and unhappy man it made him. But he had not yet seen all. In looking into his barn-yard, to which he had been attracted by perceiving a quantity of thick dense smoke issuing from it, he saw six or eight of his finest corn-stacks in a blaze—which almost put the poor man beside himself.

"Assistance here—assistance here!" shouted out David, forgetting, in his agony, the hoplessness of the appeal. "The stack-yard’s on fire—the stack-yard’s on fire! Oh, will naebody try to stop the flames. There’ll no be a stack left in fifteen minutes!" And poor David danced where he stood, with the glass at his eye, in a paroxysm of despair. "Lizzy, Lizzy! whar are ye?" he bawled out. "Whar are ye in this awfu’ strait?" he said, at the same time looking for his wife in every direction. But she was nowhere to be found. He searched the whole house, but no Lizzy was there.

Here was a new cause of alarm, or, at least, of astonishment. Lizzy was not within; nor, so far as he had been yet able to discover, was she anywhere about the house. Where, on earth, could she be! Still David searched for Lizzy--and still he searched in vain. He sought her upstairs and down-stairs—he sought her in stable and byre, in dairy and in field; but no Lizzy was to be seen. He became seriously alarmed—so much so as even to forget, for a time, the burning stacks. In wandering with his eye over the premises of his establishment, however, he thought he perceived somebody in the little bushy-secluded arbour, at the far end of his garden. David peeped in, and—oh! surpassing, inconceivable, unutterable surprise, and unendurable sight—there beheld his dearly beloved wife, and his most esteemed friend, Andrew Thomson, in close and loving confab together. Yes! his wife thus situated, and his stack-yard burning at the same moment! Surely this was enough to put any man distracted.

Pale as death, his limbs trembling beneath him, and with his eyes starting from their sockets, David uttered a fearful oath; and, in the desperation and distraction of his mind and thoughts, made a fierce grasp at the guilty pair, as if he would tear them into a thousand pieces.

"Hilloa, hilloa! ye villain!" he madly shouted out, and flung his arms wildly around him; "and you, ye treacherous woman, let me trample ye beneath my feet, and"—

"What do ye mean, David? What’s the matter wi’ ye, man? What a nicht ye’ve had o’ kickin and spurrin, and grumphin and groanin!" was uttered, at this moment, in the soft and gentle tones of a female voice, quite close by the distracted man, who was now—mark, reader!—sitting bolt upright in his bed, his hair standing on end, his eyes rolling wildly in his head, and himself perspiring at every pore, while the queries above recorded were put to him by his faithful and affectionate, but alarmed wife, who was lying by his side.

"Od, I dinna ken very weel, guidwife," said David, in answer to her queries, on recollecting himself, which he soon did. "I’ve been dreamin, Lizzy, I’m thinkin!" There was no doubt of it. David had been dreaming: and what we have just told you, good reader, was David’s dream, as it was afterwards related by himself—a circumstance which we rather think you did not suspect when you began to read THE MAGIC GLASS.


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