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Wilson's Border Tales
The Mistake Rectified


"Now," said the traveller, as he wandered up one of those retired Highland glens, which characterise and beautify the Grampian range, "I shall once more visit my dear father and mother; and my sister, now woman grown; and, what is more, my sweet Helen M’Donald, who used to gather the mountain berries along with me, and pursue the little kids and lambs. Ah, Helen was only about thirteen years old when I left; she will now be eighteen; a full grown beautiful woman, I have no doubt. I wonder if old Andrew, her grandfather, be still living; he used to tell me such tales of Prince Charlie, and Prestonpans, and Culloden, that my hair yet almost stands erect at the recollection of them. And then there was Euphemia M’Gregor, his son’s wife, the mother of my dear Helen; and Oscar and Fingal, my father’s faithful attendants and servants: and we had such fun during the long winter nights, when the sheep were in a place of safety, and the door was barred, and the peat-fire was burning clear, and the very cat and kitten enjoyed the cheery fireside—such questions and commands, such guessing and forfeiting, and riding round the fire on a besom, and holding one’s mouth full of water to discharge on the person’s face who should first laugh at our grotesque gestures and looks: but night is approaching whilst I linger by the way—my whole heart heaves to behold once more the sweet home of my youth and innocence."

Thus said, or thought aloud, a young man, seemingly about twenty-two years of age, as he ascended Glen —and approached the thatched sheiling which stood on the margin of a small mountain stream, which wended its mazes along the tortuous glen. He had been five years, come the time, absent from his mountain home, and had, during that period, endured and encountered a variety of fortune. He sung as he went along—

"A light heart and thin pair of breeches,
Goes through the world, brave boys!"

switching the bent and heather bells with his cane, and treading with a step as elastic as was his bosom. At last, just as the sun was tinging with his departing ray the top of the highest mountain in the neighbourhood, he turned the corner of a projecting rock, and came at once into full and distinct view of his home. It was then gray twilight, and objects began to assume an indistinct appearance. Walking by the side of the stream, as if meditating, there appeared a figure wrapped up in a Highland plaid. It immediately struck the young sailor that this was his sister; and in order to give her what is called an agreeable surprise, he stepped aside unperceived by her, and stood concealed behind a projecting cliff, which the stream had stripped bare of soil in its passing current. The figure came nearer and nearer, and. then, sighing deeply, uttered some sound, which his ear could not catch. At last, tears and sobs followed, and he heard the words most distinctly pronounced—" Alas, I can never truly love him! I shall be the most wretched of women! But he whom I loved as angels love—Oh, he, my own dear William M’Pherson, is dead and gone, and I can never see him more."

"But you can though, my own dear Helen; and in an instant he held her lifeless and motionless in his arms. She had uttered just one awful scream, which was re-echoed by the surrounding cliffs, and had ceased to feel or know anything connected with the living world. Alas! she was dead, and he was distracted. He ran to the house calling aloud for help; but every one of its inmates, even the mother who bore him, fled from his presence, uttering ejaculations, intimating the greatest terror at his presence. In vain did he protest with tears—I am your son and no other—I am Willie M’Pherson, your lost boy! His words bore no conviction along with them. Avaunt, foul fiend! Avaunt, in the name of God and the Holy Trinity—trouble me not—trouble me not; my dear child is in heaven; and thou, foul spirit, are permitted for a time to assume his shape. His sister, too, was equally incredulous, and his father had not yet returned from the hill. What was to be done; Helen M’Donald was in all probability dead, or dying helpless and alone, and yet no one would come to her assistance. At last, Oscar and Fingal made their appearance in advance of his father; and though they barked at first upon his naming them, they immediately ran up to him, and jumped up upon his back, his neck, his head, his whole person. They seemed in as much danger of expressing of joy as poor Helen had been of dying of fearful surprise.

"Stand back," said the delighted and believing father to his wife, who absolutely clung to his knees to prevent his advance—"Stand back, woman; d’ye think Fingal and Oscar would caress the foul fiend in that manner? Na—na—na. Ha! ha! ha!" And he fell upon his son’s shoulders, weeping and crying convulsively.

"My father—my dear, dear father."

"My son—my lost, my only, my restored son," was the response.

But Helen, in an instant, brought the whole party, consisting of father, mother, sister, and son, to her aid: a light was procured and held over her face; her bosom was bared, and rubbed; her forehead had water plentifully poured upon it from the stream; and, at last, symptoms of returning life appeared. Oscar and Fingal, in the meantime, had licked Helen’s face, and neck, and shoulders, all over; and whether from any virtue in the peculiar touch of their tongues, or from the natural expiry of the trance, Helen breathed heavily—her bosom heaved; William looked on her cheeks, and they were flushed with red. In a moment he had her in his arms. Helen, for some time, suffered exquisite bodily torture; but was at last capable of having the truth made gradually known to her. She said surely she had been dreaming, as she had often done, and that she was still surely asleep, and that she would waken, at last, as she had done before, to a dreadful perception of the reality. William M’Pherson still continued to clasp and assure Helen of his personal identity. But even when convinced of the reality of William’s presence, Helen did not evince that degree of happiness which might have been expected; she sat stupified and passive, and seemingly insensible to everything around her; her mind was evidently wandering to a disagreeable subject. However, she was prevailed upon to return with the family into the house, and, worn out and fatigued, she was soon after put to rest in an adjoining apartment.

In the meantime, the young sailor was questioned minutely respecting the reason of his reappearance after he had been so long reported and believed by everybody to be dead.

Without repeating his answer in his own words, which were interlarded with sea-phrases, we may state, in general, that it was to the following purpose:—He had gone to Dundee, with the view of making some small purchases for the household, when he accidentally fell in with a recruiting party, who were beating up for marines for the fleet, then just returned from the capture of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen. Inexperienced as he was, he was enticed into a public-house on the shore, and awakened, after a stupor of some hours, on board a British man-of-war. In a few hours, he was conveyed out to sea, along with several others, and was conveyed immediately to Spithead. Having it ultimately put to his choice whether he would stand by a gun, or handle a musket and a sabre, he chose the former, and was regularly entered as an able-bodied seaman on board his Majesty’s ship the Victory. In her, along with Admiral Nelson, he sailed for the West Indies, and then crossed the Atlantic, back to the shores of France. The enemy still eluding the eagle-eye of Lord Nelson, he sailed for the Mediterranean, and, after various landings and inquiries, came upon the French fleet, moored closely in and on the coast of Egypt, at the mouth of the Nile. He was in the dreadful battle of the Nile, and assisted in rescuing several who were blown up, but not killed, in the L’Orient. After the battle, he had promotion, and ultimately prize-money, on account of his brave and humane conduct, and sailed again for Naples, and latterly in quest of the Spanish fleet on the coast of Spain. He was close by Nelson when he was shot by a rifleman from the mast of the ship with which he had grappled, and saw the fellow who did the deed drop on the deck, being shot through the heart by a marine on board of Lord Nelson’s ship. After the battle, he was returned to Plymouth, having been wounded in the leg—a musket-ball had passed through the flesh, and somewhat, but not greatly, injured the bone. He spent some months in the hospital, and was then despatched to the coast of France on board the Spitfire. There he had distinguished himself in cutting out and burning several of the enemy’s craft at Havre; and being again wounded, though slightly, in the arm, he was put upon the pension-list, and allowed to dispose of himself till his country should again require his services. In these circumstances, he began to think of his home, and, with some hundreds of pounds in the bank, and a pension order of about two shillings and sixpence a day in his pocket, he arrived at Dundee in a sailing vessel, and was on his way to his native glen when the reader first became acquainted with him. When this narrative was finished, his father retired for an instant, and then appeared with some papers, which he had extracted from his private depositories. He first read a letter, which purported to come from a king’s officer, who signed himself William Wilson, and who informed his afflicted father that his son had been induced to go on board a king’s ship, to see the arrangements which it exhibited; but that, in passing from the small boat to the deck, he had missed a foot, and been drowned. The letter was dated on board the Spitfire; and mentioned, likewise, that the ship was under sailing orders for the general rendezvous at Spithead. The poor distracted parent had come to Dundee, but could obtain no information of his son—only, about three months after, he heard that a dead body, severely mutilated, had been thrown out upon the sands of St Andrews; and, on account of the state of its decomposition, had immediately been interred in Christian burial-ground. A second pilgrimage to St Andrews was undertaken by the father and daughter; but nothing satisfactory was discovered, except that the corpse exhibited marks of having been dressed in a blue and white striped waistcoat, which answered to that in which he had left Denhead, his home in the Highlands. After this last discovery, all further inquiry ceased, and the afflicted family fulfilled the period of their sincere mourning, and things returned nearly to their usual bearing. But when father, and mother, and sister had seemingly got over the worst of their grief, Helen M’Donald still pined in silence over the recollections of her early companion; and as she expanded into womanhood, her grief seemed to grow "with her growth;" and her father became extremely anxious to have Helen properly and creditably disposed of in marriage.

The son of a small proprietor in the neighbourhood had lately become laird himself; and, though far exceeding Helen in years, having had frequent opportunities of seeing her, particularly at church, on Sabbath, he had become enamoured of so much beauty and innocence. Proposals had been made to the father, which were immediately accepted; and the young lady had been dealt with, as young ladies in such situations generally are, by arguments of interest and worldly comfort, and even grandeur. First impressions are deep—oh, how deep!—and Helen could not yet entirely exclude the image of her beloved William from her recollection. Laird M’Wharry was urgent in his suit—her father, whom she affectionately loved, was troubled and anxious—her mother too, pressed home upon her attention prudential considerations—so, after long delays and many internal struggles, Helen at last consented to become—but not till some months afterwards — Mrs or Lady M’Wharry, as the peasantry styled the laird’s wife. It was during her visit (previous to her marriage) to M’Wharry, that the incident took place which thus connects our narrative, and brings us up to the point of time when William M’Pherson arrived at Denhead

William, learning from Helen, as well as from his father and mother, how matters were situated, suddenly disappeared, and left no means of tracing the place of his retreat. Days, and even weeks, passed, but no letter arrived, and no message came. In the meantime, the day appointed for the marriage approached, and Helen seemed to have made up her mind to submit to necessity—at least, she tried to look cheerful, and put as good a face upon it as many tears, shed in private, would permit.

Laird M’Wharry was a true Highlander—he had much of that clannish feeling which is peculiar to the Celt. He was besides, exceedingly passionate, and had more than once got into trouble from having used hasty and unguarded expressions. Nay, he had once been prosecuted in the Court of Session, and damages had been obtained to a considerable amount, by one of his servants, or rather slaves, whom he had beat most unmercifully. In attending a Perth market, he had occasion to ride homewards, after dark, with a brother proprietor, who had lately bought an estate in his neighbourhood. This proprietor could not boast a Celtic name or origin. He was plain Mr Monnipenny, from the town of Kirkcaldy, in Fife. They had both been drinking during the course of the day, and were, therefore, more liable to get into some dispute or quarrel. M’Wharry began by deprecating Mr Monnipenny’s horse, whose character the master supported with some warmth; so, to settle the matter, they both set off at the gallop, and the fire flashed from the horses’ heels as they passed through Dunkeld. Unfortunately for Laird M’Wharry, however, about a mile beyond the above town, the saddle-girth gave way, and he came to the ground head foremost. He was dead when Mr Monnipenny came up with him. He had suffered a concussion of the brain; and, notwithstanding that medical aid was immediately obtained from Dunkeld, nothing could be done.

Poor Helen M’Pherson really mourned his fate; for though she had no love for him, she had brought herself to think that it was her duty to fulfil her promise. But where was he whom her young heart held in its core? No one knew—no one could tell. Helen had inwardly resolved to live single on his account, even if no further accounts were received of William M’Pherson. But her father, in the meantime, died of a fever; and her mother was compelled to remove from the farm to the village of Dunkeld, where, in order to support herself and her lovely daughter, she set up a little shop with a small sum which her husband and she had saved, and was highly respected by all who knew her. In the meantime, the parish schoolmaster, an excise officer, and a wealthy sheepfarmer, all solicited Helen’s hand: but she lent a deaf ear to all these offers, still thinking, and speaking, and dreaming, about her William.

One day, when she was standing at the shop door, she observed a crowd gathered about a horse and gig, out of which a person had just been thrown, and was taken up, as was feared, lifeless. Helen, from motives of humanity, rushed into the crowd to make inquiries, and saw the person carried into an adjoining apothecary’s shop; there he was immediately bled, and, to the infinite satisfaction of all, had begun to recover. The fact turned out to be, that he had been stunned by the fall on his head, but no concussion or fracture had taken place. The gentleman, she learned, had been put to bed, but was mighty unruly, as he insisted upon pursuing his journey that very evening into the Highlands; and a post-chaise, with two horses, and a steady driver, had been brought to the apothecary’s door, and the traveller was passing into it with his head and arm tied up, when all at once Helen uttered a scream, and stood trembling betwixt him and the conveyance. It was her own William, returned from sea—to which he had again fled—and making all despatch to reach Denhead, as he had learned, on his way towards the Highlands, the fate that had overtaken the bridegroom, Laird M’Wharry. Now, reader, you and I part—I can do no more for you; for, if you cannot far better conceive, than I can describe what followed, you can be no reader of mine--you will never have perused the story at all. William was now comfortably circumstanced, pensioned, and dismissed the service; and the last time I had a week’s fishing at Amalrie, I spent my evenings and nights under his roof. He is now, like myself, a grandfather; and Helen, though not quite so young as she was some thirty or forty years ago, is still in my mind a perfect beauty, and has blessed her husband, during a pretty long life, with all that kind husbands can expect or obtain by marriage. She has made him a happy father, and a fond, foolish, indulgent grandpapa.


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