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Wilson's Border Tales
The Mysterious Disappearance


Having laid before our readers a story the truth of which may be testified by the evidence of living witnesses, we will now add an account of another supposed descent into the infernal regions, performed by another individual belonging to the same town, equally true as the adventure of Duncan Schulebred, but unfortunately having a very different termination.

W— B— was a respectable merchant in Dunfermline, where he had carried on business for a great many years under the reputation of being, at least, in very easy circumstances, if not wealthy. A good business, a comfortable wife, and a fair reputation, were supposed to have conspired to produce in him as much happiness and contentment as generally falls to the lot of the people of this lower world; nor did the appearance of the man belie in the slightest degree the supposition so naturally and legitimately formed: he was always in good humour, active, bustling, cheerful, and loquacious; and if he did not succeed in his attempts to produce mirth in the people who frequented his place of business, he made up the deficiency by an ever ready chorus of his own, the sound of which seemed to please him nearly as well as the tributary laughter of others. In the very midst of all this apparent contentedness, W-- B— disappeared all at once. No one could tell whither he had gone; and his wife was just as ignorant of his destination or fate as any one else. That he had left the country, could not be supposed, because he had taken nothing with him; that he had made away with himself, was almost as unlikely, seeing that it is not generally in the midst of gaiety and good humour that people commit suicide. Every search, however, was made for him, but all in vain,—no trace could be found of him, except that a person who had been near the old ruin called the Magazine, part of the old castle in the neighbourhood of the town, reported that, on the night when he disappeared he, the narrator, heard in that quarter a very extraordinary soliloquy from the lips of some one in great agony; but that all his efforts (for it was dark) could not enable him to ascertain who or where he was. So far as he could recollect, the words of the person were as follows:—

"The self-destroyer has nae richt to expect a better place. (Groans.) A’ is dark and dismal—a thousand times mair sae than what my fancy ever pictured upon earth. But there will be licht sune, ay, and scorchin fires, and a’ the ither terrors o’ the place whar the wicked receive the reward o’ their sins. If I had again the days to begin, which, when in the body, I spent sae fruitlessly and sinfully, hoo wad I be benefited by this sicht o’ the very entrance to the regions o’ the miserable? and yet does not the great author o’ guid strive, wi’ a never-wearyin energy, by dreams and visions, and revelations and thoughts, which vain man tries to measure and value by the gauge o’ his insignificant reason, to shew him what I now see, and turn him to the practice o’ a better life. This is a narrow pit—there is neither room for the voice o’ lamentation, nor for the struggle o’ the restless limbs o’ the miserable; the light and the air, and the space, and the view o’ the blue heavens and the fair earth, which mak men proud, as if they were proprietors o’ the upper world, and sinfu as it its joys were made for them, are vanished, and a narrow cell, nae bigger than my body, wi’ nae air, nae licht, nae warmth— cauld, dark, lonely, and dismal—is the last and eternal place appointed for the wicked. (Groans.) On earth men though sinners, hae the companionship o’ men; here my only companion is a gnawin conscience, the true fire o’ the lower pit, and a thousand times waur then a’ the imagined flames which haunt the minds o’ the doers o’ evil."

These dreadful words were spoken at intervals, and loud groans bespoke the agony of the sufferer. The individual who heard them, at a loss what to conceive, became alarmed, ran away to get assistance, and, in a short time, returned with a companion and a light, to search among the old ruins for the individual who was thus apparently suffering under the imagined terrors of the last place of punishment. They looked carefully up and down, throughout the place called the Magazine, among the ruins of the castle, and in every hole and cranny of the neighbourhood, but neither could they see any human being, nor hear again any of the extraordinary sounds which had chained the ear of the listener, and roused his terrors. The idea of a supernatural presence, was the first that presented itself; and a ghost giving its hollow utterance to the lamentation of its suffering spirit, confined, doubtless in some of the vaults of the castle, and struggling for that liberty which depends upon the performance of some penance upon earth, was the ready solution of a difficulty which defied all recourse to ordinary means of explanation. Having ascertained that nothing was to be seen or heard, the two friends returned to the town, where they told what had happened. The disappearance about that time of W—B—suggested to many a more rational explanation of the mysterious affair; and a number of people adjourned to the Magazine for the purpose of exploring its dark recesses more thoroughly, under the conviction that the missing individual might be concealed in some part that had not been searched. Every effort was employed in vain. They penetrated all the holes, and explored all the dark corners— nothing was to be seen, nothing heard and the conclusion was arrived at, either that the narrator was deceiving or deceived, or that the spirit had ceased to issue its lamentations.

For many days and many years afterwards, no trace could be had of W —B—, nor was there ever even so much as whispered, a single statement of any one who had seen him either alive or dead. The food for speculation which the mysterious affair afforded to the minds of the inhabitants, was for a time increased by the total want of success which attended all the efforts of inquiry; and, after the fancies of all had been exhausted by the vain work of endeavouring to discover that which seemed to be hid by a higher power from human knowledge, the circumstance degenerated into one of the wonders of nature, supplying the old women with the material of a fire-side tale, for the amusement or terror of children. But it would seem that the energies of vulgar every-day life, are arrayed with invetrate hostility against the luxury of a mystery so greedily grasped at by all people, however thoroughly liberated from the prejudices of early education or of late sanctification; and accordingly, one day, many years after the occurrences now mentioned, as some boys were amusing themslves among the ruins of the old castle, they discovered lying in a hole—called the Piper’s Hole, from the circumstance of a piper having once entered it with a pair of bagpipes, which he intended to play on till he reached the end of it but never returned—the body of a man reduced to a skeleton, but retaining on his bare bones the clothes which he had worn when in life. It was the body of W—B—. On searching his pockets, there was found in one of them a few pence, and in another a bottle, with a paper label marked "Laudanum."

This discovery cleared up all mystery. The unfortunate man had intended to kill himself in such a way as would put his suicidal act beyond the knowledge of his friends, and had resorted to the extraordinary plan of creeping up into the dark and narrow passage, where the action of the fatal soporific had produced the delusion that he was in the place appointed for the wicked, with the soliloquy already detailed—and then death. The physical mystery was cleared up; but a mystery of moral nature remains, which will bid defiance to the revealing efforts of philosophers—the strength and peculiarity of a feeling which, working on a sane mind, produced a purpose so extraordinary, and the resolution to carry it into effect.


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