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Wilson's Border Tales
Charles Lawson


"Tak a faither’s advice, Betty, my woman," said Andrew Weir to his only daughter, "tak a faither’s advice and avoid gaun blindfold to your ruin. Ye are soon enough to marry these seven years yet. Marry! preserve us! for I dinna ken what the generation is turning to, but I’ll declare bits o’ lasses now-a-days haena the dolls weel out o’ their arms till they tak a guidman by the hand. But aboon everything earthly, I would impress it upon ye, bairn, that ye canna be ower carefu’ o’ your company; mind that a character is a’ a woman has to carry her through the warld, and ye should guard it like the apple o’ yer e’e; and remember, that folk are aye judged o’ frae the company they keep. Now, how often maun I warn ye no to be seen wi’ Charles Lawson—he’s a clever lad, nae doubt—naebody denies that; but O Betty, Betty woman! would ye only reflect that a’ gifts are no graces; and I am far mista’en’ if he hasna a serpent’s heart as weel as his tongue. He has naething o’ the fear o’ God before his een—ye canna deny that. In ae word, he is a wild, thoughtless ne’er-do-weel;— an’ I charge ye, I command ye, Betty, that ye ne’er speak to him again in your born days; or, if ye do, ye surely will hae but little satisfaction to break your faither’s heart, and bring him to the grave wi’ sorrow and wi’ shame—for that Betty, that would be the end o’t."

Elizabeth heard him, and bent her head upon her bosom to conceal her confusion. The parental homily was too late—she was already the wife of Charles Lawson.

Having thus begun our story in the middle, it is necessary that we go back and inform the reader, in a few words, that Andrew Weir was a respectable farmer on the north side of the Tweed, and, withal, a decent and devout Presbyterian, and an elder in the kirk. Charles Lawson’s parents were originally from Northumberland. They had known better days, and, at the period we have alluded to, were struggling with a hard farm in the neighbourhood of Andrew Weir’s. Charles was not exactly what his father-in-law had described him; and were we to express his portrait in a line, we should say, he had blue eyes and a broad brow, goodly form and an open heart. The ringlets which parted on Elizabeth’s forehead were like the raven’s wing, and loveliness, if not beauty, nestled round the dimples on her cheeks. Their affection for each other began in childhood, and grew with their years, till it became strong as their existence. A few weeks after Andrew Weir had delivered the advice we have quoted to his daughter, Charles Lawson bade farewell to his parents, his wife, and his country, and proceeded to India, where a relative of his mother’s had amassed a fortune, and who, while he refused to assist them in their distress, had promised to make provision for their son. As we are not writing a novel in three volumes, we shall not describe the scene of their parting, and tell with what agony, with what tears, and with what bitter words, Charles tore himself from his father, his mother, and his yet unacknowledged wife. The imagination of the reader may supply the blank. Hope urged him to go—necessity compelled him.

After his departure Elizabeth drooped like an early lily beneath the influence of a returning frost. There were whisperings among the matrons and maidens of the neighbouring village. They who had formerly courted her society began to shun it; and even the rude clown who lately stood abashed in her presence, approached her with indecent familiarity. The fatal whisper first reached Andrew’s ear at a meeting of the kirk-session of which he was a member. He returned home troubled in spirit, a miserable and an humbled man, for his daughter had been his pride. Poor Elizabeth confessed that she was married, and attempted to prove what she affirmed. But this afforded no palliation of her offence in the eyes of her rigid and offended father. "Oh, what hae I been born to suffer!" cried he, stamping his feet upon the ground—"Oh, you witch o’ Endor!—you Jezebel!—you disgrace o’ kith an’ kin! Could naething—naething serve ye but breaking yer puir auld faither’s heart? Get out o’ my sicht!—get out o’ my sicht!" He remained silent for a few moments—the parent arose in his heart—tears gathered in his eyes. "But ye are still my bairn," he continued. "O Betty, Betty, woman! what hae ye brought us to!" Again he was silent, and again proceeded—"But I forgie ye, Betty—yes, if naebody else will, yer faither will forgie ye for yer mother’s sake, for ye are a’ that I hae left o’ her. But we canna haud up our heads again, in this pairt o’ the country—that’s impossible. I’ve lang thought o’ gaun to America, an’ now I’m driven till’t."

He parted with his farm, and in the ensuing spring proceeded with his daughter to Canada. We shall not enter upon his fortunes in the new world—he was still broken in spirit—and, after twelve years’ residence, he was neither richer nor happier than when he left Scotland. Elizabeth was now a mother, and the smiles of her young son, seemed to shorten the years of her exile; yet, ever as she returned his smile, the thought of the husband of her youth flashed back on her remembrance, and anguish and misery shot through her bosom as the eagle darteth on its prey. Her heart was not broken, but it fell like a proud citadel, burying the determined garrison.

Charles Lawson had not been in India many months, when a party of native troops attacking the property of his relative, Charles, who had fallen wounded amongst them, was carried by them in their retreat into the interior of the country, where, for several years, he was cut off from all intercourse or communication with his countrymen. On obtaining his liberty, he found that his kinsman had been some time dead, and had left him his heir. His wife—his parents—doubt—anxiety—impatient affection—trembling hope, all hastened his return. At length the white cliffs of Albion appeared before him, like a fair cloud spread on the unruffled bosom of the ocean; and in a few days more, the green hills of his childhood met his anxious eye.

It was the grey hour of a summer night as he again approached the roof that sheltered his childhood. His horse, as if conscious of supporting an almost unconscious rider, stopped involuntarily at the threshold. He trembled upon the saddle as a leaf that rustles in the wind. He raised his hand to knock at the door, but again withdrew it. The inmates of the house aroused by the sound of a horse stopping at the door, came out to inquire the cause. Charles gazed upon them for a moment—it was a look of agony and disappointment--his heart gave one convulsive throb, and the icy sweat burst from his temples. "Does not—does not Mr. Lawson—live here?" he inquired almost gasping for words to convey the question.

"Mr. Lawson! na, na, sir," replied the senior of the group, "it’s lang since he gaed awa. Ye ken he gaed a’ wrang, puir man, and he’s no lived here since the hard winter, for they didna come upon this parish."

"Did not come upon this parish!" exclaimed Charles; "heaven and earth! what do you mean?"

"Mean! what wad I mean," answered the other, "but just that they were removed to their ain parish—is there ony disgrace in that ?"

"Oh, my father!—-my poor mother!" cried Charles, wildly.

"Mercy, sir," rejoined the astonished farmer, "are ye Maister Charles?—bairns! haste ye, tak the horse to the stable.—Losh, Charles, man, an’ how has ye been?—but ye dinna ken me—man, I’m yer auld schoolfellow, Bob Graham and this is my wife, Mysie Allan—ye mind of Mysie. Haste ye, Mysie lass, kill twa ducks, and the bairns an’ me will hool the pease. Really Charles, man, I’m glad to see ye!"

During this harangue, Charles, led by his warm-hearted friend, had entered the dwelling of his nativity; where Mr. Graham again continued—"Ye, aiblins, dinna ken that auld Andrew Weir was sae sair in the dorts when ye gaed awa, that he set off wi’ Betty for America. But I hear they are coming hame again this back end. The bairn will be a stout callant now, and faith ye maun marry Betty, for she is a mensefu’ lass."

Charles could only reply by exclaiming—"America!— my wife!—my child!"

Having ascertained where he would find his parents, early on the following morning he departed, and about five in the afternoon, approached the village where he had been told they resided. When near the little burying-ground, he stopped to look upon the most melancholy funeral procession he had ever witnessed. The humble coffin was scarce coloured, and they who bore it seemed tired of their burden Three or four aged and poor-looking people walked behind it. Scarce was it lowered into the grave, ere all departed save one, meanly clothed in widow’s weeds, and bent rather with the load of grief than of years. She alone lingered weeping over the hastily-covered grave.

"She seems poor," said Charles, "and if I cannot comfort her, I may at least relieve her necessities;" and fastening his horse to the gate he entered the churchyard.

She held an old handkerchief before her face, only removing it at intervals to steal a hurried glance at the new made grave.

"Good woman." said Charles, as he approached her, "your sorrows demand my sympathy—could I assist you?"

"No! no!" replied the poor widow, without raising her face—"but I thank you for your kindness. Can the grave give up its dead?"

"But why should you remain here?" said he, with emotion; "tell me, could not I assist you?" And he placed a piece of money in her hand.

"No! no!" cried the widow, bitterly, and raising her head; "oh, that Mary Lawson should have lived to be offered charity on her husband’s grave!"

"My mother! gracious Heaven! my mother!" exclaimed Charles, casting his arms around her neck. Shall we describe the scene that followed?—we will not, we cannot. He had seen his father laid in the dust, he had met his mother on his father’s grave--but we will not go on.

It was some weeks after this that he proceeded with his widowed mother to his native village, to wait the return of Elizabeth. Nor had he to wait; for on the day previous to his return, Elizabeth, her son, and her father had arrived. Charles and his parent had reached Mr. Graham’s—the honest farmer rushed to the door, and, hurrying towards the house, exclaimed, "Now, see if ye can find onybody that ye ken here!" His Elizabeth—his wife—his son—were there to meet him; the next moment she was upon his bosom, and her child clinging by her side, and gazing on his face. He, alternately held both to his heart—the mother and her son. Andrew Weir took his hand—his mother wept with joy and blessed her children. Bob Graham and his Mysie were as happy as their guests. Charles Lawson bought the farm which Andrew Weir had formerly tenanted and our informant adds—they live in it still.


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