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Wilson's Border Tales
Julia Forrester


"A creature not too bright or good
For human nature’s daily food;
Made up of charms and simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles."
                                                     Wordsworth.

"Here, then, our conference ends!" said Mr. Barton, rising; "I love your daughter, Constance—fondly, passionately love her; but you are well aware my slender means are inadequate to support her as my wife."

"And, however happy I might be," said Mr. Forrester also rising, "to settle a very good girl with a man of character, whom she seems to approve, I cannot consent to injure the interest of my youngest daughter, by bestowing such a sum as you propose upon her sister."

"Farewell, then," cried Barton, pressing the old man’s hand—"Heaven bless you and her! Farewell, for ever!" So saying, the suitor took his hat, and passed from the apartment.

For some time after his departure, Mr. Forrester stood with his eyes fixed upon the door which Barton had closed behind him. He could hardly believe but that the scene which had just passed, was all a dream.

"That the noble, the romantic lover!" he exclaimed, "could be thus mercenary, I could not have believed." He passed his hands across his eyes, and hastened to convey tidings of the unpleasant result of this interview to his daughter.

Constance heard all, calmly, meekly. There was no fainting—no tremor shook her frame; but a deadly paleness o’erspread her "carnation-dyed" cheek. She approved her father’s resolution, while she felt that Barton’s ascendancy over her affections could never be shaken off.

"She pined in thought," and her health became impaired. Her sister, Julia, a bright-eyed laughing girl of sixteen, marked the change upon her and the discontinuance of the visits of one who had been with them for the last two years almost daily. Soon the truth beamed upon her. That instant she flew to her father, and entreated him not to let a mistaken kindness to her prove their general unhappiness. She declared, with all the sincerity of a young affectionate mind, that she valued fortune only in so far as it might enable her to promote the comfort of those she loved. The continued illness of Constance, and the fear that it might hurry her into an untimely grave, were urged by Julia. The father heard, and reluctantly approved. Constance, while she could not but admire the noble-mindedness of Julia, would not consent to this sacrifice of her sister’s interest. She attempted to rally her spirits, and resume her wonted avocations; but the effort was too great—her heart sickened, and the couch of suffering again received her.

Julia could bear this no longer; and with her father’s consent, she recalled Barton. His return soon restored the declining health of his mistress. The day was fixed, and he and Constance Forrester were united.

Charles Sommerville—the young, the gay—"the glass of fashion, and the mould of form"—had won the affections of the pretty Julia Forrester. Shortly after the marriage of her sister, a letter came from him, informing her that his father had obtained a cadetship for him, and that in less than a week he must sail for India. "It is best," he said, "that I should depart without the misery of a meeting." He concluded, by avowing that in his "heart of hearts," she should ever hold the chiefest place; and that, in a few years, he would return to her, and once again they should be happy.

Bitter were the tears that Julia shed—joyless was that heart to which grief had been a stranger. The very scenes which together they had looked on, became hateful to her for the remembrances they brought. She resolved on a change of scene, and accordingly set out on a visit to her sister, who had fixed her abode at a distance of about thirty miles from her father’s, on the borders of Northumberland.

For some weeks she remained under the Bartons’ roof, and great was her annoyance when she saw that they were far, very far from happy. Barton himself had got into a course of dissipation, and he was borne away by its impulse. He neglected his wife, staying away from her for days, whenever she ventured to reprove or contradict him. Julia remonstrated with him on the folly of such a course; but for her pains, she received nothing but a volley of invectives, intermingled with the wish that she would never more enter his house. Within the hour, she took leave of her sister, who was somewhat astonished at the abruptness of her departure, and returned to her father’s.

In due course of time, Constance became a mother; but her infant was so sickly that it lived only a few hours after its birth.

Time wore away, and Constance, feeling keenly the untoward conduct of her husband, pined away, and died. The widower passed the customary period of mourning in the outward show of grief, and many weeks did not thereafter elapse ere he led to the altar a more wealthy bride.

Julia was deeply afflicted by the death of her sister; but, alas! this affliction was not the only one reserved for her. Her father was connected with an extensive mercantile house in Liverpool, which he visited twice a year, along with another "sleeping partner" of the firm, to examine into the state of its affairs. His whole fortune was embarked in the concern. What then was his horror on being one morning informed by a communication from the head clerk in the establishment, that the acting partner had absconded with all the money in his possession, and that he himself was a ruined man! Fast upon the heels of this announcement, came a demand upon him to pay the outstanding debts of the firm, with which he was unable to comply. Proceedings were summary; and the evening of that day month on which his eldest daughter had died, saw him the tenant of a jail. Not long did his body survive the troubles of his mind. A raging fever attacked him, and confined him to his cell. Julia was ever near his couch, endeavouring to alleviate his sufferings; but all was of no avail—the old man expired, after recommending his daughter to the protection of his sister, Mrs. M’Tavish, a widow lady, resident in Edinburgh.

Possessed of a comfortable jointure, and a notable spirit of economy, Mrs. M’Tavish was enabled to make a very conspicuous figure in that particular corner of the Modern Athens in which she was domiciled. She rented a house at Newington. She was one of those rigidly righteous women, who, by paying the most punctual visits to a church, imagine they acquire an unquestionable right, not only to descant upon their own exemplary virtues, but to make free with the conduct and character of everybody. Having enjoyed from her youth a very hale constitution, and not having injured it by any tender excesses either of love or sorrow, she was, at the age of fifty-five, completely equal to all the business and bustle of the female world. She was but too happy to receive the ill-starred Julia under her roof, for the sake of the pleasure she would derive from informing every one who visited her, "what a great friend she was to that poor girl."

Mrs. M’Tavish had an utter contempt, or rather, constitutional antipathy, to literature and music. All her ideas of useful knowledge and rational amusements, were centred in a social game of cards; and Julia, who, from principles of gratitude and good-nature, wished to accommodate herself to the humour of every person from whom she had received an obligation, assiduously endeavoured in this respect to promote the diversion of her aunt; but, having little or no pleasure in cards, she usually came off a loser—a circumstance which produced a very bitter oration from the attentive old lady, who declared that inattention of this kind was inexcusable in a girl, when the money she lost did not come out of her own pocket. At the keenness, or rather brutality of this reproach, uttered in the presence of a large and promiscuous assortment of people, the poor insulted Julia burst into tears, and retired to her room.

In various other little ways did Mrs. M’Tavish annoy the sensitive Julia, who at length determined to abandon her protection, and seek her fortune in the world. But how to employ herself, and where to seek for that employment, she could not determine; for, from her retired habits, Edinburgh and its community were quite unknown to her. Mr. Barton, whose second wife was now dead, had written, assuring her that when she needed a home his house was open to receive her; but the recollection of his conduct to her sister and herself deterred her from accepting his offer.

Casting her eyes by chance upon the advertisements of the newspaper next morning at breakfast, Julia noticed one to this effect:--

"Wanted, by a family a short distance from town, a young lady as governess. She must be competent to teach English reading, grammar, geography, with the use of the globes, French, music, and other branches of female education. Apply, personally, to Mrs. Sarah M’Dougal, 10, Dove’s Court, Sallyville Place, West End."

Joyfully did she treasure up in her memory the name and residence of the person to whom application was to be made; and, breakfast over, she sallied forth for the purpose of calling upon the lady, and, if possible, securing her situation.

Sallyville Place was situated not in the most fashionable part of the old town of Edinburgh; and it was only after much inquiry that Julia was enabled to discover Dove’s Court; No. 10 was therefore speedily found, and, up two pair of stairs was the habitation of Mrs. Sarah M’Dougal.

Julia was not a little astonished, on being shown into a sumptuously furnished apartment, that the interior of the house should present such a contrast to the outside; but, her thoughts and conjectures were interrupted by the entrance of the lady of the mansion, as large as life.

Mrs Sarah M’Dougal was a fat fusby woman of seemingly five-and-forty, not at all to be mistaken for a lady. She inquired of Julia, in the broadest of broad Scotch, whether she had ever been in a situation before, what her terms were, and other particulars, to all of which Julia gave suitable replies, at the same time informing her how uncomfortably she was situated in the house of her aunt, and of her wish to leave it. Something like a pleasurable feeling passed over the countenance of Mrs. M’Dougal when she mentioned this; and the worthy lady immediately advised her to quit the protection of her aunt without so much as bidding her "good-bye." "For it’s no respect she should hae frae you," continued she, "whan she hasna shewn much."

‘This would be unkind," said Julia.

But the old lady soon overruled her scruples on the subject, by suggesting that, if she once signified her intention to her aunt, her every motion would be watched, and the treatment she would receive would be more heartless and unfeeling than before. Accordingly, it was at length agreed that Julia should depart from her aunt’s house that night after the venerable lady retired to bed, and put herself under the protection of Mrs. M’Dougal.

"An’, in the mornin’," said Mrs. M’Dougal, "I’ll hae great pleasure in introducin’ ye to my friend Mrs. Spigot, the brewer’s leddy at Canaan. It’s her that wants the governess. Sae ye’ll juist consider yoursel’ as engaged."

And, as an earnest of the agreement, Mrs. M’Dougal, in ushering Julia out, thrust a five-pound note into her hand. That night, as the clock struck twelve, Julia, with her clothes tied in a bundle, jumped from her aunt’s dining-room window into the little garden plot that lay before the door; and, passing through the outer gate, bade adieu to the house for ever, and set out for the habitation of her new friend. The moon was up; and with somewhat less of difficulty than she had experienced in the morning, Julia picked her way to Dove’s Court, Sallyville Place, and gained ready admittance into No. 10.

After a little pattering talk with Mrs, M’Dougal, and a hot supper, consisting of stewed kidneys and minced collops, Julia was conducted, by a stout, red-elbowed serving-girl, to her bedroom. Her observation led her to detect the entire absence of a bolt, or any other fastening by which the door of the apartment might be effectually secured in the inside; and, that no one might enter her room without her knowledge—for this circumstance had not divested her altogether of suspicion—she placed a chair against the door, and then, half-undressing, threw herself upon the bed, and commanded her eyelids to the especial tutelage of Morpheus. Restless, fatigued, and feverish, she found it impossible to sleep. The imprudence of the step which she had taken occurred in vivid colours to her imagination. Thought pressed heavy upon her, and she rose and paced her chamber with a noiseless foot. Her candle, though still burning, was fast consuming away. She trimmed it; and, as a precautionary step towards the prevention of fire, lifted it from the dressing-table, whereon it had been placed, and carefully set it down upon the bob of the cheerless grate—in which, from the accumulated mass of well used curl-papers, and other debris, it was quite evident that no blaze had been for many a day. During the process of this action, the eye of Julia rested upon a piece of paper, of greater dimensions and better texture than the other occupants of the fire place, stuck between the bars. Her curiosity was excited. She drew it forth. It seemed to be the scroll of a letter. She read:—

"MR. CRAFORD— SIR, — I am exceedingly sorry for troubling you this morning. But, realey, as a Gentlemen, so as I take you to be, I thought you would have come done on Sauterday. I am very hard up to-day, or I would not have sent. Ware it ever so little, I would take it kind would you give it to the bearer. I am, with much respect,

FANNEY DIXON."

This was an odd enough epistle in itself; and to Julia—finding it, as she had done, in such a place—it was doubly so. It puzzled her extremely.

An hour had passed away in this manner, the candle was now quite burned out, and Julia was about to make a second appeal to the better nature of sleep, when, as she suddenly stopped, she distinctly heard footsteps treading softly in the passage leading to her room. They approach the door, and ceased. She could hear a whispering; and presently a light streamed through the crannies of the door. Breathless with fear, the truth at once flashed upon her mind. The situation of the house—its shabby appearance on the outside, and its magnificent appearance in the inside—the strange looks of Mrs. M’Dougal—the letter she had just read—all tended to confirm her worst suspicions A hand was laid upon the handle of the door—Julia shrank into a corner. The door was opened, and the falling of the chair which Julia had placed against it, seemed to delay the further progress of her mystenous visitors for a moment. She could hear the voice of Mrs. M’Dougal whisper, "Bide a bit," to her companion. A moment afterwards, and one in the dress of a gentleman entered her apartment. He was evidently in liquor. Mrs. M’Dougal followed cautiously after, with a light, which she was carefully shading with the corner of her apron. The light by accident glanced upon the countenance of the stranger, and the horror-stricken Julia was scarcely able to suppress the scream which involuntarily rose to her lips; for in that stranger she beheld him to whom her sister had pledged her earliest love—she beheld Mr. Barton! Not a moment was to be lost; Julia rushed forward, blew out the light, passed Mrs. M’Dougal, and flew along the passage; and, as she ran, the mingled screams of Mrs. M’Dougal and the imprecations of Barton struck upon her ear. In groping in the dark, they had both stumbled against the prostrate chair, and there they lay sprawling on the floor. The outer door was luckily ajar--Julia pulled it forward, and gained the street.

Turning the corner of Sallyville Place as quickly as possible, she ran on, without meeting a single person, until at length she found herself in the suburbs of the town. A light—the only one to be seen, for the moon had retired half an hour before—was burning in a little public-house; and thither Julia was but too glad to betake herself for shelter. The woman to whom the house belonged gave some credence to her tale, and agreed to give her lodgings for the night. Next morning, Julia rose not. A fever—the consequence of the state of over-excitement into which she had been thrown the preceding night—confined her to the pallet-bed whereon she had passed the hours till sunrise; and, for weeks after that morning, she still lay on it—oftentimes delirious. Her landlady was compassionate enough to allow her to retain the shelter of her roof; but little more could she afford to give her. She had searched Julia’s person, and discovered the five-pound note which Mrs. M’Dougal had thrust into Julia’s hand on the day of her so-called engagement—that expended, no other resources remained. Julia felt she was dying. She bethought herself of her desolate situation—not a being to care for her—not a friend to soothe her in her wretchedness! And where was Charles Sommerville—he to whom her young affection had been given—he who should have smoothed her dying pillow? She could not believe that he meant to play her false—but why, then, had he allowed seven years to elapse without writing or sending to her? The thought was madness; and she strove to repress it.

Once Julia had determined on sending to inform her aunt, Mrs. M’Tavish, of her present situation, and had, accordingly, given orders to the woman of the house; but on second thoughts, had countermanded them, as she scorned to owe anything to the pity of a relation. The woman, however, seeing little prospect of remuneration for more than a month’s rent of her room, had secreetly dispatched a message to Mrs. M’Tavish, informing her of the present residence of Julia, and her pitiable condition. Great, therefore, was the astonishment of Julia, when, the following night, on opening her eyes for the first time, and casting them round the miserable apartment, she beheld, seated in the only chair which it could boast of, a young man, of apparently twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age, in a military undress. He advanced; and, taking her hand, said, with an evidently forced calmness of manner—

"Pardon me, lady, that I have thus presumed to thrust myself unbidden into your presence; but business of an urgent nature demanded it. Here is a letter from your aunt, in which, I trust, she meets your fondest wishes."

So saying, he extended his hand with the letter; but Julia did not take it. Half-rising on her couch, she gazed and gazed upon the handsome countenance of the speaker. A hectic flush was on her cheek; a wild, unearthly glare was in her eye—these might tell that for this world she could not long be: but the stranger marked them not. He could not imagine how ill she was .

"That voice!" she cried—"that form! Am I—can I be mistaken? Ah, no!—It is my own, my long-lost Charles!"

The exertion was too much for her, and she fell back fainting. Charles Sommerville—for it was indeed he—with the prompt assistance of the woman of the house, soon effected her recovery from the swoon.

When he thought she was composed enough to listen to his narrative, Sommerville informed her that, having obtained leave of absence from India for the space of seven years, he had returned to England for the purpose of making her his wife. Judge of his horror and disappointment when, in answer to his inquiries regarding Mr. Forrester and his daughter, he learned that the former had died in a jail, and the latter was dependent on the bounty of an aunt in Edinburgh. Without farther delay, he hastened thither; and, without much difficulty, discovered the whereabouts of Mrs. M’Tavish, who informed him that Julia, having decamped from her house some weeks before, was living at a low public house on the outskirts of the town, adding, that she was about to dispatch a note to "the dear girl." This note Charles Sommerville insisted on carrying, and Mrs. M’Tavish had reluctantly acceded to his wish. He had flown to the place to which it was directed; and, on being shewn into the room where Julia lay, he observed that she was asleep. Hearing that she had been ill, he feared to disturb her; and had accordingly thrown himself into the chair, in which he had patiently sat for three hours, at the end of that time Julia had unclosed her eyes. He ended by urging Julia to read, if she felt herself able for the task, the letter from her aunt; for, he argued, if that lady desired her presence at Newington, the sooner she went there the better. He trusted she was now well enough to be moved.

Julia answered, him by a mournful shake of the head, and with a trembling hand she undid the seal of the letter, and read:—

"Mrs. M’Tavish is exceedingly sorry that, for the reputation of her house, she cannot receive Miss Julia Forrester again under her roof. Miss Julia’s conduct will sufficiently explain this. Yet, as Miss Julia Forrester seems repentant, Mrs. M’T. will have much pleasure in soliciting the interest of her own personal friends to procure Miss Julia a situation in some friendly asylum.

"Enclosed is a letter which was left at Mrs. M’T.’s, a few days ago, addressed to Miss Julia Forrester.

"P.S.—Pray, Miss Forrester, did you walk off with any of my night-caps? I had half-a-dozen before you went, and after that I could only find five."

"Well, well!" said Julia, throwing down the letter, "‘tis no matter. She won’t be long tormented with me now." Sommerville started at these words, as the truth began to dawn upon him.

"Ay, you may doubt it, Charles, but I must tell you I am dying. Once the thought crossed me that there was a peculiar cruelty in the lot assigned me; but for that thought may Heaven forgive me! My past murmurs are, I trust, forgiven. Charles!"—and her voice faltered—"I have but little business to adjust on earth. May I—may I entreat you to be my executor? My property," added she, with a tender yet ghastly smile, "being all contained in this narrow chamber, will not give you much embarrassment. That letter"—and she pointed to the enclosure in the one received from her aunt—"I have neither strength nor inclination to peruse. It cannot contain much of consequence—nothing of pleasure. Charles, when I am gone, I pray you answer it. My last request is, that you will cause me to be buried by the side of my dear, unhappy father." Charles could not answer, but he looked consent; and, supporting Julia, he pressed his lips to hers, and her last sigh was mingled with her tears.

"Is the leddy dead?" cried the woman of the house, abruptly entering. And she bustled forward to open the window, as she gratuitously informed Sommerville, "to let out the soul."

Among the first acts of Sommerville’s executorship, it was his to open the letter that she had requested him to answer. It was from a lawyer, mentioning the sudden death of Mr. Barton, and of his having bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to Julia Forrester.


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