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Wilson's Border Tales
The Attorney


Sir William Sommerville, of Burnhaugh, in the shire of Perth, was knighted by King Charles I., in consequence a some signal services rendered to the cause of that unhappy monarch. The estate of Burnhaugh came to him through his mother, who was distantly related to the family of Wellwood, residing in the neighbourhood—a place suited to satisfy every feeling capable of being excited by rural beauties, from the hilarity of the glittering lake, covered with the gay and majestic swan, to the sombre romance of the deep thicket, where ruins raise their grey heads, eloquent chroniclers of the things of other years.

Sir William was reported to have been in his early youth a rover, and it was alleged that living evidence still remained of his illicit amours: but these things were so well concealed, through the agency of his man of business—a writer in Perth of the name of Peter Semple, who took upon him the various duties of keeping his cash, conscience, and title deeds—that very few persons knew much concerning them.

Having laid aside the follies of youth when he became no longer young, Sir William married a daughter of a very rich merchant in London, with whom he got a handsome fortune which she inherited as well from her father as from a prior husband; for she had married, before, a gentleman of the name of William Apsley. By her first marriage she had one son called after his father—a fine boy, who shared the affections of his stepfather, to an equal extent with his own children; for Sir William had by his wife two daughters, called Sarah and Jean. The parties lived together in the enjoyment of all the pleasures which affluence can bestow; nor were they destitute of the enjoyments arising from the cultivation of the domestic affections, the true source of real happiness upon earth. Their family was brought up in the fear of God and love to their fellow creatures—having an excellent example shewn them by their mother; and Sir William himself, having early scattered the poisoned leaves of his youthful passions, and set forth in his manhood new buds of better promise, paid proper attention to the morals of his children; so that a better regulated and happier family than that in the large mansion of Burnhaugh could seldom be met with in happy Scotland or merry England.

Sir William, indeed, owed to his lady what is more often due to the salutary disgust of satiety, producing, as it so often does, a new and increased affection for the virtues which adorn social life. She got him in the heyday of unrestrained libertinism, when it falls to the lot of a wife either to reclaim her husband, or send him back, with increased appetite, to the haunts of debauchery, made, to many, more inviting by the very circumstance which should render then more disgusting--viz., that, by the marriage obligation they become a thing prohibited. By exhibiting to him the natural colours of the qualities of human nature generally denominated virtues, deprived entirely of the factitious attributes whereby they are sometimes made to assume the appearance of unsubstantial forms, if not of repulsive and self-denying ordinances, she contrived to convince him that vice is only in some instances, more pleasant for a time, (with out regard to consequences,) because it boasts the character of being an outlaw—a character, whether investing men of moral attributes, at all times pleasing to high-spirited youth—but truly requiring less real fortitude to acquire, than what is necessary to form a good member of society of the smallest grade that could be mentioned. Won by the practice and preaching of such a fair moral enthusiast as Lady Sommerville, Sir William forgot his former extravagances, and became a good and loving husband. The feeling of a father, acting, by the instinctive force of pure nature, aided the scheme of the good lady; and beyond all these Sir William felt the virtuous influences of the secret breathings of the beauties of Burnhaugh more powerful than systems of moral philosophy, in reclaiming his heart to the feeling and practice of what is good and creditable in a husband, a father, and a citizen of the world.

Not contented with exhibiting to his children an example of a good parent, Sir William had taken into his house a clergyman, for the purpose of perfecting the education of his children, as well as instilling into their minds the principles of the religion of Christ. That person was Stephen Semple the son of his agent and factor—a man whose attainments in literature were undoubtedly great, but who put before either the immortal things of another world or the fame of scientific or literary acquirements, what are by some called the good things of this life. This man had more cunning at command than generally belongs to his cloth. A girl, reputed to be an orphan, called Lucy Gray, was brought up with Stephen—a creature of great interest, from her beauty and simplicity of character; and there were not wanting some to allege that Semple would not be disinclined to a match between his son and this orphan, though why the character of the money making scribe should, in this instance, belie itself, (Lucy having no money,) was not easy to account for. Stephen Semple had been promised by Sir William, a kirk and a good living, as soon as he could afford to let him leave his family, who were now fast growing up to mature age.

Lucy Gray, having once been sent a message to Burnhaugh, was seen by William Apsley, and struck his young fancy with that electric feeling which love’s first dart carries on its maiden feather. The first night after they met, the young man’s mind was entirely occupied by that curious process whereby the fancy having got possession of the image of the natural object which excited it, invests it with those imaginary attributes without which true love never exists in any eminent degree; and the result was what may have been expected--a strong, enthusiastic affection, which saw nothing in the simple and unaffected maiden, but qualities which she never dreamed of, as belonging to her in a greater proportion than to other young women. On the first occasion which presented itself, he intercepted the unconscious Lucy, when returning from Burnhaugh to Perth, near the romantic spot called the "weeping mother’s fountain," in consequence of its containing a very old and fantastic representation of Niobe, with the tears of a mother’s tenderness gushing in rather too great abundance from her eyes. Lucy’s simplicity saw no harm in sitting down by the side of the fountain to rest herself, though young William Apsley sat near her. On one occasion the youthful pair were interrupted—the intruders were Peter Semple and his son Stephen. They spoke in half whispers; but with so much passion that their voices were, in the deep silence of the place, perhaps better heard than is often the fuller sound of unrestrained and unimpassioned speech.

"Ye ken weel enough, Steenie," said Peter, "that a’ my hopes in this warld depend upon this scheme. I hae thought of it when I should hae slept—I hae dreamed of it when I should hae waked. My life has been devoted to it, as the hopes o’ a sinner are directed to the land of promise. It has become the light o’ my existence, even as the sunbeam which shews us the flower, gives it also the colour by which it becomes sae pleasant in our eyes. To come mair hame, it has been to me as the days o’ the lang prescription are to the holder o’ a wadset, wha has possessed thirty-nine years, every day making the hope o’ the expiry o’ the forty years mair certain, till the last stroke o’ the bell tells him he is a proprietor in fee simple. Noo, my guid Steenie, how stands Sir William’s conscience? Ye ken your wark—ye were to hauld him to the Bible o’ which he has become sae fond, the case o’ a’ early sinners; and it was for that purpose, and the object to be thereby effected, that I got ye into the house o’ Burnhaugh. Our plan depends entirely upon, and can succeed allenarly by and through Sir William’s incapability o’ swallowing an oath. If he swears that he never promised to marry Helen, then the game is up, and he has consigned himsel’ to that place whar there is nae expiry o’ the legal, as we lawyers say, and whar the cook’s remedy for a burn—that is, the fire itsel—nae langer cures. But, if he admits on oath that he did mak the promise, then, Steenie, then, my man, the sun oor prosperity shall cast nae shadow owre the bonny shaws o’ Burnhaugh, an’ the name o’ Semple may tak precedence o’ Sommerville. But it a’ depends upon you, Steenie—you are a maist important instrument; ye maun tak advantage o’ Sir William’s inclination to religious enthusiasm; blow the flame wi’ a’ the wind o’ the leaves o’ the meikle Bible that lies in the green chamber, and gie a’ the force o’ your lungs to mak it burn. They say he is beginning to look on the ground as he walks, to speak to himself, to hunt for lean game, that he may exercise charity, and to be in at the death o’ sinners, that he may defend them against the fangs o’ an evil conscience—waur a thousand times, than the tusks o’ his stag hounds:—a’ guid signs, Steenie. What say ye, my man?"

"It is true, father," answered the son, "that Sir William is fast falling into the slough of fanaticism; and I have the merit of hastening, though not of causing, that event. There are several old sins that seem to follow him, like the hounds you have mentioned; for he groans often in spirit, cries like a man flying from a pursuing and avenging angel, and seeks relief in the heart of that large Bible whose pneumatic powers you have just mentioned. Then is my time for working on him: the terrors of hell lose none of their fearful attributes in the hands of Stephen Semple. He is gradually getting weaker and weaker under the influence of a superstition which I will nourish till he lies down and cries, like David, that his sins gape upon him with their mouths, as a ravening and roaring lion. He is already so much in the power of the fear which the Bible begets upon a sinner of weak nerves, that I am satisfied he is even now ready for our purpose. He will not, I think, parry the oath you have in preparation for him, even were it to produce more evils in a worldly point of view, than will inevitably proceed from it. How did he swear, as to the old debt due to Drybarns?"

"Just as I thought he would swear," answered the attorney. "I got auld Drybarns to prosecute Sir William for that debt, by pretending to him that he would never get his money. I then pleaded, in the name of Sir William, that the debt was owre auld, or, as we say in law, prescribed, whereupon it became necessary for him to swear. He swore at once that the debt was a just ane. A’ this I did to test his conscience, and to ascertain whether he will swear true or fause in the great case about which we are scheming. The debt due to Drybarns is nae trifle; and I think the oath in that case is a guid specimen o’ what we may expect in oor ain."

William recounted, as nearly as he could recollect, the extraordinary conversation he had heard between Peter Semple and his son, and concluded by asking his mother, if she could understand what was the object of the parties. She declined saying anything to William, requesting him merely to be cautious in mentioning to any one what he had heard, however unintelligible it might be to him, and promising to explain further to him her thoughts at another time. William was soon again too deeply involved in his feelings of love, to recollect much of what had passed.

Lady Sommerville found, in William’s narrative, many things which were capable of forming curious combinations with her previous thoughts and observations. She had not been slow to perceive that the meetings of Semple and his son were more frequent and more secret than mere affection required; and their frequency and secrecy had latterly greatly increased. She had observed the incomprehensible efforts continually made by Stephen, to involve Sir William in discussions regarding the solemnity of oaths, and their awful sanctions; but, while she considered this strange, she could not connect it with any object. She was satisfied that there was more in these efforts than the mere gratuitous love of explaining divine truths; for the triumph of Stephen, when he thought he had impressed Sir William with a deep sense of the awful nature of a contravention of the ninth commandment, or of false swearing in general, was accompanied by a glow of satisfaction, which the selfish nature of the man never exhibited, unless when something was mixed up with his feelings, which had some connection with his own interest. The incessant workings of this servant of heaven had, she plainly saw, taken from Sir William much of his former contentment and good nature. A physical debility of nerves, to which his early habits had consigned him, made him the victim of superstitious fears; and the chief of these, the dread of punishment for the sins done in the body, had latterly become a waking and sleeping incubus, which deprived him of peace and made him an easy victim in the hands of any person who pretended to a knowledge of religious truth. All her efforts to countenance the effects of Semple’s workings, were vain. Sir William would hear nothing against his favourite servant of heaven; and he did not hesitate to say, in answer to the gentle admonitions of his wife, that she was destitute of religious feelings, and required to make up her peace with God, and instruct her heart in the knowledge of his wonderful ways. This change on the part of her husband, filled her mind with grief; but she did not resign him to the power of his superstition, without at least an effort to ascertain the object of the Semples, in thus breaking down the strength of his mind, to make way for some project which their selfishness had planned, and would not fail to execute.

A few lights had been afforded by the information given her by her son, William; and she waited with anxiety for the next meeting between the father and the son, when she determined to endeavour to hear some part of their conversation. Two days afterwards, Peter Semple called at Burnhaugh. Sir William was confined to his room, by an attack of gout, and Peter was, as he wished, shewn into the study, where the accustomed conversation between him and Stephen commenced. Lady Sommerville had stationed herself in a recess, which was covered by a fall of drapery, and could easily hear all that passed between the parties.

"Sir William is confined to his room, I hear," said Peter. "I hope he is not in a dangerous condition; for, while it is our object that his mind may be shaken, we canna want his body, ye ken, and, were he to dee, a’ oor hopes would be blasted thegither."

"It is only gout," answered Stephen. "But he is now as fit for our purpose as he ever can be. Were he getting more fanatical, he might be pronounced insane, and no court of law would listen to him."

"Weel, weel," said Peter—"Helen Gray is in our hands, and Gilbert Finlayson, the procurator before the commissary court of Edinburgh, is ready to proceed in the declarator as sune as he gets instructions. Sae I think I’ll get Helen to sign a letter to Finlayson as sune as possible; for there is noo nae time to lose. When Sir William is declared by the competent authority, to be the husband o’ Helen Gray, whom he promised to marry, his present marriage wi’ Lady Sommerville is worth nae mair than the paper on which the contract is written—and ye ken"—

At this moment, Peter Semple was cut short in his speech, by a noise as of some person falling. On running out, Stephen discovered Lady Sommerville lying on the floor in a state of insensibility. The faces of Semple and his son shewed that they suspected they were discovered; but the efforts they made to recover the lady enabled them to conceal their emotions. The servants were quickly at the side of their mistress; and, no person daring to assign any cause for the extraordinary circumstance, the efforts to bring back the lady were conducted in silence—though not without suspicions; on the part of the servants, that there was some unexplained connection between the lady’s faint and the conduct or conversation of the two Semples.

When Lady Sommerville recovered, she was lying in her own apartment, with her eldest daughter by her side. Her first thoughts reverted to the cause of her present situation, and the extraordinary conversation she had heard. She was now no longer doubtful of the schemes of which she was to become the victim. The various circumstances of which she was now made aware, combined to shew her that it was the intention of Peter Semple to prove a prior marriage between her husband and another woman of the name of Helen Gray. The nature of the man, cunning and cruel, agreed perfectly with this construction; and, though she was not far enough into the secret to see the advantages that would accrue to this destroyer of domestic peace, from a result apparently so gratuitous and inhuman, she had no doubt, from the known rapacity of the man, that some benefit was expected to flow from the infliction of this cruel wound on the peace of a happy family. She knew too well the subtlety and cleverness of Semple, to conceive that he would embark in an enterprise, even covertly, where, in the event of failure, he would forfeit Sir William’s agency, without having good grounds on which to proceed; and she had heard of the strange peculiarity of the law of Scotland, which justified the apothegm, that, in that country, a person might be married and not know that he was so. These thoughts produced other reflections more gloomy. What would be the effects of a divorce? Would not her children be illegitimate, and herself an unconscious sinner—a moral solecism in a Christian land—married and not married—a prostitute, an adulteress,and yet neither—a claimant on the pity of a world who could give her no consolation but the miserable advice of submitting to an unjust law? These things passed through Lady Sommerville’s mind, leaving the burning traces of agonized thoughts; and, when she looked to her beautiful daughter, who sat by her side unconscious of her mother’s feelings or of her impending fate, she burst into a flood of tears, and hid her head in her daughter’s bosom, which responded to the deep sobs of the unhappy mother.

Lady Sommerville could not tell her husband what she had heard, and what she dreaded. It was a subject so foreign to their usual thoughts and style of conversation, and of a nature so indelicate and repulsive to the feelings of a virtuous wife, that she could not approach it. She felt that she could only wait and tremble. The appearance of any one of the Semples alarmed and shocked her; and her fragile and susceptible frame, acknowledged, in her anxious and pale countenance, the effects of a disturbed mind and excited feelings. Her nights became sleepless, and her days had in them only the semblance of peace; yet no one knew the cause of her grief? and she even endeavoured to persuade herself that she had misconstrued the conversation of the Semples--an effort resulting entirely from the natural tendency of the human mind, to produce to itself the image of that peace which has parted from it, perhaps, for ever.

Some days after the incident already noticed, Stephen Semple waited upon Lady Sommerville, and requested to speak with her confidentially, on a subject of a delicate nature. She almost swooned when the request was mentioned; for she expected nothing less than an announcement of that fatal purpose which was to seal for ever her fortunes on earth. In this she was disappointed. Stephen Semple’s object was different. He premised by stating that he had much regard for William Apsley, and, as his tutor, thought it his duty to inform his parent of everything he thought might promote his good and avert his injury. Acting under that sense, he had resolved to inform Lady Sommerville of her son’s affection for an orphan girl, of mean parentage and meaner breeding, who lived in the town of Perth, but whom the distance did not prevent from meeting William, at appointed intervals, at the fountain of Niobe where they often indulged in the sweet but dangerous pastime of the young heart—a mutual communication of the sentiment of love. This could not fail to destroy the fortunes of the boy, and blast the hopes of his mother; and he, therefore, took it upon him to recommend a step which Sir William had given his sanction to, that the boy should be removed from Scotland, and sent to London, or some part of England, where he would be beyond the power of so destructive an intercourse as that in which he was engaged.

To this statement Lady Sommerville was compelled, from some hints she herself had heard of William’s conduct, to give attention; but, nervous and irritable as she was, and feeling herself in that state which a sense of another’s power, though evil and acquired by bad means, seldom fails to produce in the weak when acted upon by the strong, she fell helplessly into the snare which had been laid for her! and, acknowledging the facts set forth by Stephen to be true, and his remedy efficacious and necessary, consented and promised to get her son despatched to London on the very next day.

The resolution of Lady Sommerville was put into execution. William Apsley was hurried away, in a post-chaise, to London, and consigned to the care of one of his mothers relations, residing there.

The dark intentions of the Semples had thus far succeeded. William Apsley had been sent out of the way. His love for Lucy Gray—who was the daughter of Helen Gray, the instrument, in the hands of Peter Semple, whereby he intended to produce so much mischief to the family of the Sommervilles—required to be quenched; for that girl, who might, eventually, be the eldest heir female to the estate of Burnhaugh, was destined to be the wife of Stephen Semple who, as her husband, would become the future proprietor of the usufruct of Burnhaugh. The consent of Lucy was not thought necessary to this projected union; for schemers in dangerous projects take slight obstacles on chance, and all the energies of the Semples were required for getting the declarator of marriage, at Helen Gray’s instance against Sir William Sommerville, instituted and brought to a successful termination.

The resolution of the Semples was precipitated rather than retarded by the circumstance of the suspicions they entertained of Lady Sommerville’s knowing their schemes. Their intentions were to keep in the back-ground, until the declarator was concluded, getting Helen Gray to employ another agent, but supplying her with the necessary instructions and advice; but, if it had so happened that Lady Sommerville had heard any part of their conversation, they were determined not to allow this to interfere with their scheme, because all the danger they had to fear was incurred and, to forego the advantage for which that danger had been braved, would have appeared, to such a utilitarian as Peter Semple, mere folly. If Lady Sommerville should tell what she heard to her husband, the Semples were then prepared to deny everything, and trust to effrontery for a vindication adhering still to the cause in which they had engaged, and imputing all its main-springs to Helen Gray herself, the mere instrument in the hands of the wily attorney.

Many times had Lady Sommerville determined to speak, either to Peter Semple or to her husband, as to the cause of a grief which lay so heavy upon her heart; but the very grief itself took away the power of her resolution, and a few days’ respite had fed her fancy with some rays of hope, that she might still have been wrong in her construction of the conversation she had heard. This hope was destined to vanish, nearly as soon as it had shed its first ray. As she sat one forenoon at the window, contemplating the beauty of the groves lighted up with a midday sun, she observed three men approaching the house, of an appearance not usual in the visitors to Burnhaugh. They came up to the door, and handed to a servant who was standing on the landing place, a paper, and then quickly disappeared, in the manner of incendiaries, who, when their fireband is thrown, escape from the scene of conflagration. The paper was handed first to Lady Sommerville, that she might give it to Sir William, who was now so completely a martyr to gout as to be generally confined to his bedroom. She read it, and sent it to her husband. The fears of Lady Sommervile were at last realized—the pictures she had drawn of her future condition, were in a moment invested with the dark hues of a sorrowful reality; that paper was a summons of declarator of marriage, between Helen Gray, residing in Perth, and Sir William Sommerville, of Burnhaugh. This announcement operated but as a darker grief to the heart already prepared for it by others which in their first incursion, had wasted even the energies of sorrow. Pale, careworn, and attenuated, she sat with the fatal document in her hand; and, in the extremity of despair produced by the greatest and the last evil, appeared more like a statue than a creature in whose pulses the blood of life still flowed; such is the effect of mighty calamities, drying up the fountains of sorrow, and throwing over the heart that cataleptic power which produces a grief too deep for tears. After some time, she was able to ring for a servant, to hand the paper to Sir William, and again resigned herself to her sorrow.

From this state of insensibility, she was roused by a violent ringing of Sir William’s bell; and, in a little time, she saw a servant run with great speed and saddle a horse, whereon he mounted and took the road to Perth. Sometime after, the same servant came back, bringing with him Sir William’s legal adviser, Peter Semple, who was immediately closeted with his confiding client. Lady Sommerville retired to her dressing-room, which adjoined to the bedroom where Sir William and Peter Semple were in consultation; and, though she had not gone there for the purpose of hearing what passed—for grief had put all schemes out of her head—she found herself within the scope of the conversation of the two parties.

"Mr. Semple, I have always understood, from you," began Sir William, in an agitated state, "that that woman, Helen Gray, was quiet, and not inclined to trouble me about this old promise, which, in the mad recklessness of a youthful passion, I made to her; whence then comes this writ, which you lawyers call a summons?"

Peter Semple took the paper out of the trembling hands of Sir William, with a cool and determined air, mixed with as much of surprise as would impose upon his victim, and make him believe that he had not previously heard of the affair.

"A summons o’ declarator before the commissaries!— Oh, the Jezebel!" began the attorney. "Wha could hae imagined that the woman would, at this time o’ day—and when I was, as your much-honoured agent, filling her lap wi’ gold, to keep her quiet—hae ventured to tak such a step as this? Ah, she maun hae got into the hands o’ some low limb o’ the law—some grovelling wretch, wha, like the thieves wha used in auld times to steal the offerings frae the altar, invest the precincts o’ justice, and pilfer the contents o’ her equal scales, making justice injustice, and law an abomination. But we maun defend it, Sir William—we maun defend it as becomes independent and upright men. I’ll write to my agent, and take the summons ‘to see,’ as we call it; and a braw answer we can make to it, denying everything and admitting naething—the true colour and character o’ a’ guid defences."

"But you forget, sir," interrupted Sir William, "that my character, as a thing visible by One greater than the commissaries of Edinburgh, is here at stake; and I do not choose to be again put in the position in which I was placed by your conduct in the case of Drybarns, where I, on paper, was made to deny everything, and on oath admitted everything. No more of this with one who remembers that wrath will not tarry long to him who numbers himself among sinners. The prophet has said, ‘Devise not a lie against thy brother, neither do the like to thy friend.’ Yea, ‘use not to make any manner of lie, for the custom thereof is not good.’ I will therefore allow no lies to be put into any papers bearing my name; and I now request to be informed of the utmost extent of this mighty evil, with which the Lord has, mayhap in His mercy, intended to humble my soul, exceeding even the vengeance of the ungodly, which is fire and worms. Let come what will, I shall not disobey the sacred writer, who says, ‘Bind not one sin upon another, for in one thou shalt not be unpunished’—having once sinned, in deceiving Helen Gray, I shall not again sin, in lying against her and Him who made her and who made me, and can avenge the one by punishing the other. These sentinents are well appreciated by all good men; and your son Stephen perceives well their precious worth to him who knows there is another world."

"I dinna gainsay your sentiments, Sir William; but, as answer the question whilk is contained in this excellent heap o’ godly sentences. You ask me what is the extent o’ this evil; but it seems to me that ye mark out the extent yoursel, for, if ye winna let me deny everything, which has aye been my practice in the court, ye maun just admit everything; for, sae far as I know, having never had any wish to qualify a denial and sae having nae experience o’ sic weak things as evasions, I am no free to say that ye would be in any better condition by saying that ye dinna recollect the matter in question. Sae it will be referred to your oath, and ye ken best what to swear. It’s nae doot an awfu’ thing to swear awa Lady Sommerville and the bonny bairns; but it is a mair awfu’ thing, as Steenie would say, to swear awa the prospect o’ an eternal life."

At this moment, Lady Sommerville burst into the room.

"Can it be borne," she ejaculated, in a broken voice, and with the wild air of despair—"can it be borne that the law of our land, and, what is far above it, the word of the Almighty, should, by the artifices of sinful men, be used as engines of oppression, by the servant against the master? Sir William Sommerville, this man and his son have laid a snare intended to bind thy feet with fetters, and thy soul with the bands of superstition. It is they who have urged on this unhappy woman, to come, like an unclean spirit, into the sanctuary of domestic happiness, and make that which nearest approaches to Heaven, of all the institutions upon earth, the semblance of the regions of the expiators of sin. These ears can testify the truth of what I say—Peter Semple is the true spring, the aider, the abettor, the perfecter, the reaper of the fruits of this diabolical conspiracy. Deny, sir, if you can, the statement of your intended victim—that you and your son have wrought in two directions, to attain the same object. You have got into your power the infatuated female whom you are now using as the engine of your cruelty, and your son has wrought on the mind of my husband, till you think that, by the aid of a blessed religion, he may be brought to swear away the most holy of rites. Listen to them not, my dear husband—remember your affectionate wife, who trusted to your honour, and do not forget your innocent children, whose affections those laws have sanctified, which are now attempted to be turned to tear them asunder."

With these words, Lady Sommerville clung to the kness of her husband, who looked suspiciously at Semple, as if requiring an explanation. At that moment, Stephen entered the room. He pretended to feel astonishment at the position of the parties, and required an explanation. Peter, without displaying any emotion, complained to Stephen that lady Sommerville had charged them with being in concert with Helen Gray, in an action of declarator of marriage which she had raised against Sir William. On hearing this charge, Stephen pretended to feel highly indignant, and poured forth a volley of scriptural phrases, with a view to catch the ear of Sir William, which had latterly become so attuned to the language of the Bible, that nonsense itself was consecrated by a sentence from Job. In this, Stephen succeeded so well that Sir William, turning to his lady, remarked that she must surely be in error; that it was impossible that so pious a person as Stephen Semple could, without a motive, for none he saw, be guilty of ingratitude and deceit towards his benefactor. Lady Sommerville was about to reply; but her strength failed her, and servants were called to carry her to her apartment.

Thus the victory was so far declared for the schemers, who proceeded to sympathise with Sir William in his misfortune. Stephen was more than ordinarily eloquent on the important qualities of truth, and represented a false oath as the greatest insult that could be offered to the majesty of God, in so far as it was an effort to produce a fellowship on the part of the most High, in an attempt to change the eternal nature of truth by Him established. Sir William listened with attention. The bird, under the influence of the charm which wiles it into the mouth of its destroyer, is not more loyal to the obligation of its fatal instinct, than was this unhappy man to the wishes of his evil comforters. Convinced that he would swear as they wished and anticipated, the father and son left the room; and Sir William resigned himself to the infliction which he conceived God, for wise purposes, had visited him for his early sins.

It was soon rumoured abroad that Sir William Sommerville was in the unhappy situation of a man doomed to commit a suicidal act against the existence of his dearest interests. His friends interfered, and Lady Sommerville used all the interest of the country to get him brought to a better sense of what was due to himself and his family. But all was in vain. The declarator went on; and the time arrived for Sir William giving his oath, on the reference of Helen Gray, that, at the time and place mentioned in the writings, Sir William Sommerville had promised to make her his wife, and that afterwards she bore him a child. An effort was now made to get him to go abroad; but his answer was, that he could not fly from the presence of Him in whose hands the world is as a ball which is the sport of children; that "the Lord has created medicines out of the earth," whereof those of one part of it are as good as those of another, and "he that is wise will not abhor them." The Genius of Superstition had claimed him as her own, and the misery he was bringing upon himself and his children was considered by him to be that medicine which Ecclesiastes has mentioned—a medicine for the sins of his youth. At the appointed time, Sir William Sommerville sealed the fate of himself and his children, by emitting an oath which, by the peculiar laws of Scotland, fixed on him a marriage prior to that with Lady Sommerville, and consigned her and her family to the pity of mankind.

A sentence was pronounced by the commissaries of Edinburgh, declaring Sir William and Helen Gray to have been and to be married persons. This was acknowledged, even at that early period, to have been an extraordinary practical example of the effects which so strange a law was calculated to produce; and serious intentions were entertained by the authorities of the crown, to introduce a change that would retain some part of the spirit of the old rule, and save the fortunes of confiding women, who trusted to the honour of men, and were entitled to the benefits of a protecting law, to the same extent as the seduced vindicator of her rights, under this existing system, was entitled to claim that protection. Scotland is still without this salutary change.

Sir William Sommerville saw, with the eye of a stricken sinner, who looks upon the vengeance of heaven as a medicine for the griefs of unrepented sin, all the disasters which he had brought upon his house. A deep melancholy was the consequence, which, extending its influence over a system long depressed by the effects of religious terrors, produced a liver complaint, with complicated stomach ailments, which soon put a period to his existence.

On the death of Sir William, Lady Sommerville sent for her son, who came on the wings of love; for his Lucy was still the object of his admiration; and all the efforts of his London companions, by introducing him to young rich heiresses, only deepened his sighs for a ramble with the gentle maiden of his first affections, among the bonny groves of Burnbaugh. On his arrival at the house, he was filled with disappointment. Peter Semple had turned Lady Sommerville to the door, and taken possession of the property, as guardian of the heir of Sir William; and she was obliged to take up her residence in a house about two miles from Burnhaugh, on the road to Crieff.

So far had succeeded the diabolical schemes of the Semples. The final step remained to be accomplished—one which had given them no uneasiness. Lucy Gray was, before she was made aware of the change that had taken place upon her fortunes, asked to marry Stephen Semple. No other answer was expected by Peter, who had acted as her guardian through life, than a grateful acquiescence; and the disappointment of the schemers may be conceived, when Lucy declared that she would never be the wife of Stephen Semple. This alarming indication, threatening to blast the hopes of so many years, and to render an act of interested roguery, gratuitous villany, only doubled the efforts of the Semples. Lucy was confined in a part of Peter Semple’s house, from a fear that she would elope, and get into the hands of some one who could tell her her rights.

These circumstances came to the ear of William Apsley, who repairing to Perth, discovered where Lucy was conffned. He waited till midnight; and, providing himself with scaling apparatus, approached the small window of the room where the disconsolate girl lay bewailing her situation. A tap at the window was responded to by the interesting prisoner. Recognition passed in a moment, and a plan was laid whereby Lucy might be removed on the succeeding night. The scheme succeeded; and, at two o’clock in the following morning, Lucy Gray and William Apsley were on their way to the house of his mother.

In a short time, Lucy was served heir to her father, married William Apsley, and resided in the house of Burnhaugh, whither Lady Sommerville and her family also repaired, and where they all lived as happily as the misfortunes which had befallen them would permit. The discomfited and disappointed Semples, caught in their own snare, became subjects of merriment and scorn to all who knew them. Heirs were produced to the groves of Burnhaugh; and the fountain of the weeping mother was often the scene of a meeting of the family, in commemoration of the circumstances, already detailed, connected with that delightful spot.


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