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Wilson's Border Tales
A Tale of Vengeance


"I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall—I will do such things,
What they are, yet I know not; but they shall be
The terrors of the earth."
SHAKESPEARE’S
King Lear

"To you, Edward, I bequeath my daughter. Be kind to her, for an old man’s sake. Remember this was my dying request. And now, God bless you, my children!"

So saying, he placed his daughter’s hand in that of Edward Mayfield, and sunk back upon his pillow. In a few moments, the old man was no more.

Edward Mayfield was a young man of five-and-twenty years of age. Sober and industrious—kind and gentle—beloved by all who knew him, it is not to be wondered at that he gained the heart of Mary Leslie, the daughter of a neighboring farmer. When her father died she was just nineteen, and the following year saw her the wife of Edward Mayfield.

The father of Edward was a man not overburdened with worldly gear; and when, upon his marriage, Edward took a farm upon his own account, he had only his own industry to look to for the provision of his rent against quarter-day. For some time, matters went on pretty smoothly, Edward being always able to meet the demands of his landlord, until the third year of his lease, when a bad season threw him rather back in the world. However, the sudden death of Mr. Meldrum, his landlord, and the estate, in the absence of Mr Meldrum’s son, falling into the charge of an adjoining proprietor—one of the most humane men in existence—Edward was not called upon for any rent. The following season was an equally bad one, so that Edward was still unable to make a payment. For this he was heartily sorry; as there was little doubt that matters would soon mend, and the next year would furnish him with the means of retrieving his losses and settling all his arrears.

Things were in this state when, one evening in "dark December," a stranger alighted at the village inn. He was a coarse, hard-featured man, with a villaneous scowl upon his countenance, and an impudent swagger in his gait. Entering the principal apartment, in which were seated all those of the village who had little to do at home, reading the news, and settling their neighbours’ affairs to their own contentment, he called for supper. During the progress of his meal, which was made up of the choicest viands the house could afford, he was looked on with an envious eye by a lean gentleman in a threadbare surtout, who sat at an adjoining table discussing a pint of small beer, and one of those apologies for Finnan haddocks yclept "speldings."

"Do you know me," said the stranger, "that you gaze at me so intently?"

"Hem—no!" said the lean gentleman, who was no other than Mr Horatio Skinygauge, the apothecary—"that is, I don’t know exactly."

"Perhaps you do know me—no matter. ‘Tis ten years since I have been in this village. Tell me, how do affairs get on?—How is old Meldrum of the Mains?"

"Meldrum of the Mains!" echoed the apothecary. "Why, man, you must be a stranger, indeed, not to know that he has been dead these two years."

"Ah! indeed!" said the stranger, with as joyous a look as he could put on; for the news seemed to delight him. "And perhaps," he continued, after a pause, "perhaps you can tell me something of Mary Leslie?"

"That I can, sir—she’s been married these four years."

"Married! to whom?"

"Edward Mayfield."

"Curses light upon him!" cried the stranger, half rising from his seat, and striking his clenched fist upon the table. "Married, and to him! What, has she given to a baseborn churl all that she denied me? Oh! how I hate her for that act. But vengeance shall yet be mine!"

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr Skinygauge, with the voice and aspect of one who has suddenly lighted on a mare’s nest, "I know who you are now; you are Mr Ralph Meldrum."

And Mr Skinygauge was right. It was, indeed, the absent son of Edward’s landlord. Self-willed and ill-tempered, Ralph had, ten years before, made love to Mary Leslie; but she, in her heart despising him, would not consent to become his wife. He did not offer her marriage; but Mary, unskilled in a base world’s ways, never dreamed but that he meant to do so, and she rejected all his overtures and shunned him. Shortly after this, Ralph, at the village fair, struck a man a severe blow upon the temples from the mere spirit of mischief. The man died, and Ralph fled. During all the period of his absence, he had been cruising about in a privateer, and now returned to his native village no richer than when he left it. The news of his father’s death was pleasing to him, and he instantly took possession of the lands which were rightfully his. Great was his joy on discovering that Edward Mayfield was two years behind in the payment of his rent. He gave instant orders for a seizure; and Edward, with his sorrowing family, were turned out of house and hall. From house to house they wandered, till at length Edward was fortunate enough to procure employment as a farm-servant, a short distance from his native village. Luckily, a half-ruined cottage near the farm was unoccupied. Thither did Edward and his family repair.

Early one morning Mary was aroused from her slumbers by a loud knocking at the door. She wakened Edward, who arose, and drew back the bolt. To his astonishment, Ralph Meldrum, followed by a fellow named Waterston, whom he had lately appointed as his factor, entered the cottage.

"Edward Mayfield!" said Ralph, "I come upon an unpleasant business. My house was last night entered, and silver-plate to a large amount was carried off! The whole village point at you as the perpetrator of this act."

To this Edward only replied by a look of honest indignation. "Let us search the house, master," cried Waterston, officiously—"we won’t get satisfaction otherwise."

Accordingly, they proceeded in their search; and, to the surprise and horror of Mayfield and his wife, a silver tankard and some spoons were found beneath a sack in the outhouse, and a couple of skeleton keys on the ledge of one of the windows.

"Tis but too evident, Edward Mayfield," said Ralph, when he saw those articles; "and no alternative remains for me but to send you to prison."

Waterston was, accordingly, despatched for two constables, and in due time Edward Mayfield was deposited in the county jail.

Mary had witnessed all this with an aching heart; but it was vain to waste the time in unavailing grief. Deprived of her natural protector, she sought employment, and obtained it from Edward’s master, by which means she earned a scanty pittance, which was barely sufficient to keep herself and her two infants in life.

The time of her husband’s trial was drawing near; and, as she sat one night in her hut, by the dying embers of a wood fire, she was startled by the entrance of a person—for she had omitted to fasten the door. It proved to be Waterston, Ralph’s factor.

"You are aware," said he, "that I am one of the only two witnesses against your husband. Meldrum and I have quarrelled, and to-morrow sees me on my way to Australia. Ere I go, however, I must confess to you that the robbery was all a trick—that the alleged stolen articles were placed, where we found them, by Ralph Meldrum, and that he has sworn eternal vengeance against you."

Mary thanked him, with tears in her eyes, for what he had told her, and Waterston departed.

The day of trial came on. The court was crowded to excess, for every one had known the prisoner. Edward Mayfield was placed at the bar. The first witness was called, but no Waterston answered to the summons. Ralph Meldrum was next desired to step forward to give his evidence. His hand was laid upon the sacred volume, and he was about to take the oath, when a female pressed through the crowd, and, confronting him, cried—"Forbear! Ralph Meldrum—give not your soul to utter perdition."

"Fool!" cried Ralph; "what I am about to speak is nought but truth."

"Liar!" exclaimed the woman. The sound of a pistol-shot reverberated through the court-house—a scream of agony, and Ralph Meldrum fell to the ground a corpse.

Edward Mayfield was liberated; but his young and faithful Mary met her death upon the scaffold. She was the murderess of Ralph Meldrum.


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