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Wilson's Border Tales
The Wedding


On a certain vacation day of August—of which I have still a vivid recollection—I fished in Darr Water; and with so much success that night had gathered over me ere I was aware. I was at this moment fully fifteen miles from home, in a locality unmarked by one single feature of civilisation; for here neither plough, nor sickle, nor spade had ever made an impression. For anything I knew to the contrary, there was not a human habitation nearer than ten miles. I was loaded down to the very earth with fish, and not a little fatigued by the forenoon’s travel and sport. It behoved me, however, at all events and risks, to set my face homewards; and, although I might have followed the Darr till it united with the Clyde, and thus made my way with a certainty home at last, yet I preferred retracing my steps, and saving at least a dozen of miles of mountain travel. But the mist was close and crawly, lying before me in damp, danky obscurity; and the wind, which during the day had amounted to a breeze, was now wrapt up, and put to rest in a wet blanket. All was still, except the voice of the plover, myresnipe, and peese-weep. The moss or moor, or something partaking of the nature of both, and rightly neither, was lone, uniform, and unmarked; it was like sailing without star or compass over the Pacific. Meanwhile, day—which seemed to be desirous of accelerating its departure—disappeared, and I was left alone in my wilderness. I could not even lie down to rest; for the spongy earth gave up its moisture in jets and squirts. I hurried on, however, following my breath, which smoked like a furnace amidst the mountain mist; and trailing my fish, in a large bag, after me. I had killed somewhere about sixteen dozen. At last I gained a small stream, and, as I have an instinctive liking for all manner of streams, I was led by the ear along its course, till I found myself in a close ravine or dell, surrounded on each hand by steep, grassy ascents, scars, and rocks. I kept by the voice of the water, which now fell more contractedly over gullet and precipice, till at last, to my infinite delight, I heard, or thought I heard, the bark of a dog; and in a few seconds, one of these faithful animals occupied the steep above me, giving audible intimation of my unlooked-for presence. The shepherd’s voice followed hard behind; and I never was happier in my life than on the recognition of a fellow-creature. My tale was soon told, and as readily understood and believed. To travel home on such a night was out of the question, so I was conducted to the shepherd’s sheiling—to that covert in the wilderness in which there is more downright shelter, comfort, and happiness, than in town palaces; for comfort and happiness are inmates of the bosom rather than of the home.

My entrance was welcomed by the shepherd’s wife and an only daughter. There was likewise a young lad, of about twelve years, who was the younger of two sons, the elder being dead. Servants there were none; for, where all serve themselves, there is no need of what the Americans call "helps." Nothing could exceed the kind hospitalities of this family—the very dogs, with a couple of young puppies, gathered round me. They licked the wet from my legs and clothes, and seemed sufficiently satisfied even with a look of approbation. My supper was the uncelebrated, but unequalled Dumfriesshire feast, champit potatoes. I slept soundly till morning; and, after a breakfast of porridge—"Scotland’s halesome food"—and learning that the young and beautiful woman, the shepherd’s daughter, was to be married on Saturday eight days—I bent my way homewards, to hear and bear merited reproof for the anxiety which my absence (which was, however, luckily attributed to a stolen visit to an aunt) had occasioned.

Saturday eight days dawned, and by this time I had resumed my fishing preceptor and companion, Willie Herdeman, to accompany me to the mountains, thinking to decoy him, as it were, to the neighbourhood of the wedding, and there to treat him with a view of the happy party and blooming bride. I kept my own secret, and we were within a mile of the sheiling ere I disclosed it. It was then about two o’clock, and, so far as we could guess, precisely the marriage dinner hour. Willie, who was an old soldier, had no objection to join in the merriment, nor to drink a glass to the future happiness of the young folks. So on we trudged, our lines rolled up, and our fishing-wallet (for baskets we had none) properly adjusted. We soon caught the descending stream, and, at a pretty sharp turning, came, all at once, within view of the hospitable cottage; but, to our surprise, there was neither noise nor cavalcade—all was desolation and silence around. The very dogs rather seemed to challenge than to invite our advance, and neither smoke nor bustle indicated any preparation. At first I thought that I had mistaken my way, and was upon the point of entering to ascertain the fact, when the shepherd presented himself in the door-way. I then could hear the voice of mourning—"Rachel weeping" within, and the boy lying across a half-demolished hay-rick, crying and sobbing as if his heart would burst. The face of the shepherd was blank and awful—it was as if by a sudden concussion of the brain he had lost all recollection of the past. He stood leaning against both lintels of the door, and neither advanced nor retreated. At last, hearing the voice of lamentation wax louder and louder behind him, he turned suddenly round and disappeared. Impressed with the belief that something terrible had happened, but not knowing the nature or extent of it, I advanced to the boy, with whom, as a fellow-fisher in the mountain streams, I had made up an acquaintance at the former meeting, and, taking him firmly by the shoulder, endeavoured to turn his face towards me; but he kept it concealed in the hay, and refused either commiseration or comfort. The very dogs seemed aware of the calamity, and one of them howled mournfully from the corner of a peat-stack adjoining. At last a woman, with whom I was totally unacquainted, emerged from the door-way, and informed us of the cause of all this lamentation. She had been sent for as a relation from a distance, and had only arrived a few hours before. The particulars were as follows:—Two days previous to the day set apart for the marriage, the young, light-hearted, and blooming bride had been employed in building a rick or stack of bog-hay, for winter fodder to the cow. She was in the act of completing the erection, and standing on the contracted apex, when her foot slipped, and she fell head foremost, and at once dislocated her neck. Had there been immediate medical assistance (as had been injudiciously communicated to the family) the fatal accident might have been remedied; but, alas! there was not, and, long ere surgical aid could be procured, the ill-fated bride had ceased to breathe.

The first thought of the household had been directed towards the bridegroom, who had, ever since the fatal tidings, lost his reason, and become apparently fatuous, ever and anon insisting that the wedding should take place "for a’ that."

We did not deem it proper, nor would it have been so, to inflict our presence upon such a household. And for months after, I never slept without dreaming of this incident, and or the distressed family—of whose future fortunes I know nothing further.


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