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Wilson's Border Tales
Grizel Cochrane: A Tale of Tweedmouth Moor


When the tyranny and bigotry of the last James drove his subjects to take up arms against him, one of the most formidable enemies to his dangerous usurpations was Sir John Cochrane, ancestor of the present Earl of Dundonald. He was one of the most prominent actors in Argyle’s rebellion, and for ages a destructive doom seemed to have hung over the house of Campbell, enveloping in a common ruin all who united their fortunes to the cause of its chieftains. The same doom encompassed Sir John Cochrane. He was surrounded by the King’s troops—long, deadly, and desperate was his resistance; but, at length, overpowered by numbers, he was taken prisoner, tried, and condemned to die upon the scaffold. He had but a few days to live, and his jailer waited but the arrival of his death-warrant to lead him forth to execution. His family and his friends had visited him in prison, and exchanged with him the last, the long, the heart-yearning farewell. But there was one who came not with the rest to receive his blessing—one who was the pride of his eyes, and of his house—even Grizel, the daughter of his love. Twilight was casting a deeper gloom over the gratings of his prison-house, he was mourning for a last look of his favourite child, and his head was pressed against the cold damp walls of his cell, to cool the feverish pulsations that shot through it like stings of fire, when the door of his apartment turned slowly on its unwilling hinges, and his keeper entered, followed by a young and beautiful lady. Her person was tall and commanding, her eyes dark, bright, and tearless; but their brightness spoke of sorrow—of sorrow too deep to be wept away; and her raven tresses were parted over an open brow, clear and pure as the polished marble. The unhappy captive raised his head as they entered—

"My child! my own Grizel!" he exclaimed, and she fell upon his bosom.

"My father! my dear father!" sobbed the miserable maiden, and she dashed away the tear that accompanied the words.

"Your interview must be short—very short," said the jailer, as he turned and left them for a few minutes together.

"God help and comfort thee, my daughter!" added the unhappy father, as he held her to his breast, and printed a kiss upon her brow. "I had feared that I should die without bestowing my blessing on the head of my own child, and that stung me more than death;—but thou art come, my love—thou art come! and the last blessing of thy wretched father"—

"Nay! forbear! forbear!" she exclaimed; "not thy last blessing!—not thy last! My father shall not die!"

"Be calm! be calm, my child!" returned he; "would to Heaven that I could comfort thee!—my own! my own! But there is no hope—within three days, and thou and all my little ones will be"--

Fatherless—he would have said, but the words died on his tongue.

"Three days!" repeated she, raising her head from his breast, but eagerly pressing his hand—"three days! then there is hope--my father shall live! Is not my grandfather the friend of Father Petre, the confessor and the master of the King:—from him he shall beg the life of his son, and my father shall not die."

"Nay! nay, my Grizel," returned he; "be not deceived—there is no hope—already my doom is sealed—already the King has signed the order for my execution, and the messenger of death is now on the way."

"Yet my father SHALL not!—SHALL not die!" she repeated emphatically, and, clasping her hands together—"Heaven speed a daughter’s purpose!" she exclaimed; and turning to her father, said calmly—"We part now, but we shall meet again."

"What would my child?" enquired he eagerly, gazing anxiously on her face.

"Ask not now," she replied, "my father—ask not now; but pray for me and bless me--but not with thy last blessing."

He again pressed her to his heart, and wept upon her neck. In a few moments the jailer entered, and they were torn from the arms of each other.

On the evening of the second day after the interview we have mentioned, a wayfaring man crossed the drawbridge at Berwick, from the north, and, proceeding down Mary-gate, sat down to rest upon a bench by the door of an hostelry on the south side of the street, nearly fronting where what was called the "Main-guard" then stood. He did not enter the inn; for it was above his apparent condition, being that which Oliver Cromwell had made his head-quartbers, a few years before, and where, at a somewhat earlier period, James the Sixth had taken up his residence when in his way to enter on the sovereignty of England. The traveller wore a coarse jerkin fastened round his body by a leathern girdle, and over it a short cloak, composed of equally plain materials. He was evidently a young man; but his beaver was drawn down, so as almost to conceal his features. In the one hand he carried a small bundle, and in the other a pilgrim’s staff. Having called for a glass of wine, he took a crust of bread from his bundle, and, after resting for a few minutes, rose to depart. The shades of night were setting in, and it threatened to be a night of storms. The heavens were gathering black, the clouds rushing from the sea, sudden gusts of wind were moaning along the streets, accompanied by heavy drops of rain, and the face of the Tweed was troubled.

"Heaven help thee, if thou intendest to travel far in such a night as this!" said the sentinel at the English gate, as the traveller passed him and proceeded to cross the bridge.

In a few minutes, he was upon the borders of the wide, desolate, and dreary moor of Tweedmouth, which, for miles, presented a desert of whins, fern, and stunted heath, with here and there a dingle covered with thick brushwood. He slowly toiled over the steep hill, braving the storm which now raged in wildest fury. The rain fell in torrents, and the wind howled as a legion of famished wolves, hurling its doleful and angry echoes over the heath. Still the stranger pushed onward, until he had proceeded about two or three miles from Berwick, when, as if unable longer to brave the storm, he sought shelter amidst some crab and bramble bushes by the wayside. Nearly an hour had passed since he sought this imperfect refuge, and the darkness of the night and the storm had increased together, when the sound of a horse’s feet was heard, hurriedly plashing along the road. The rider bent his head to the blast. Suddenly his horse was grasped by the bridle, the rider raised his head, and the traveller stood before him, holding a pistol to his breast.

"Dismount!" cried the stranger, sternly.

The horseman, benumbed and stricken with fear, made an effort to reach his arms; but, in a moment, the hand of the robber, quitting the bridle, grasped the breast of the rider; and dragged him to the ground. He fell heavily on his face, and for several minutes remained senseless. The stranger seized the leathern bag which contained the mail for the north, and flinging it on his shoulder, rushed across the heath.

Early on the following morning, the inhabitants of Berwick were seen hurrying, in groups, to the spot where the robbery had been committed, and were scattered in every direction around the moor; but no trace of the robbery could be obtained.

Three days had passed, and Sir John Cochrane yet lived. The mail which contained his death-warrant had been robbed; and, before another order for his execution could be given, the intercession of his father, the Earl of Dundonald, with the King’s confessor, might be successful. Grizel now became almost his constant companion in prison, and spoke to him words of comfort. Nearly fourteen days had passed since the robbery of the mail had been committed, and protracted hope in the bosom of the prisoner became more bitter than his first despair. But even that hope, bitter as it was, perished. The intercession of his father had been unsuccessful—and a second time the bigoted, and would-be despotic monarch, had signed the warrant for his death, and within a little more than another day that warrant would reach his prison.

"The will of Heaven be done!" groaned the captive.

"Amen!" returned Grizel, with wild vehemence; "but my father shall not die!"

Again the rider with the mail had reached the moor of Tweedmouth, and a second time he bore with him the doom of Cochrane. He spurred his horse to its utmost speed, he looked cautiously before, behind, and around him; and, in his right hand he carried a pistol ready to defend himself. The moon shed a ghastly light across the heath, rendering desolation visible, and giving a spiritual embodiment to every shrub. He was turning the angle of a straggling copse, when his horse reared at the report of a pistol, the fire of which seemed to dash into its very eyes. At the same moment, his own pistol flashed, and the horse rearing more violently, he was driven from the saddle. In a moment the foot of the robber was upon his breast, who bending over him, and brandishing a short dagger in his hand, said— "Give me thine arms, or die!"

The heart of the King’s servant failed within him; and without venturing to reply, he did as he was commanded.

"Now, go thy way," said the robber sternly, "but leave with me thy horse, and leave with me the mail—lest worse thing come upon thee."

The man therefore arose, and proceeded towards Berwick trembling; and the robber, mounting the horse which he had left, rode rapidly across the heath.

Preparations were making for the execution of Sir John Cochrane, and the officers of the law waited only for the arrival of the mail with his second death-warrant, to lead him forth to the scaffold, when the tidings arrived that the mail had again been robbed. For yet fourteen days, and the life of the prisoner would be again prolonged. He again fell on the neck of his daughter, and wept, and said— "It is good—the hand of Heaven is in this!"

"Said I not," replied the maiden—and for the first time she wept aloud—"that my father should not die."

The fourteen days were not yet past, when the prison doors flew open, and the old Earl of Dundonald rushed to the arms of his son. His intercession with the confessor had been at length successful, and, after twice signing the warrant for the execution of Sir John, which had as often failed in reaching its destination, the King had sealed his pardon. He had hurried with his father from the prison to his own house—his family were clinging around him shedding tears of joy—and they were marvelling with gratitude at the mysterious providence that had twice intercepted the mail, and saved his life, when a stranger craved an audience. Sir John desired him to be admitted—and the robber entered. He was habited, as we have before described, with the coarse cloak and coarser jerkin; but his bearing was above his condition. On entering, he slightly touched his beaver, but remained covered.

"When you have perused these," said he, taking two papers from his bosom, "cast them in the fire."

Sir John glanced on them, started, and became pale—they were his death-warrants.

"My deliverer," exclaimed he, "how shall I thank thee—how repay the saviour of my life! My father—my children—thank him for me!"

The old Earl grasped the hand of the stranger; the children embraced his knees; and he burst into tears.

"By what name," eagerly inquired Sir John, "shall I thank my deliverer?"

The stranger wept aloud; and, raising his beaver, the raven tresses of Grizel Cochrane fell upon the coarse cloak.

"Gracious Heaven!" exclaimed the astonished and enraptured father, "my own child! my saviour—my own Grizel!"

It is unnecessary to add more—the imagination of the reader can supply the rest.


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