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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter XV


Runaway Match of a Bishop's Daughter.

Two lovers came one morning in
The amorous month of May;
They wedded were at Gretna Green,
And then they went away.

When we were at the King's Head one certain morning, mistress Beattie related unto us how, in the merry and amorous month of May, she, and her husband Alexander, were roused up out of their quiet slumbers by an infinite alarum at the hostelrie door, committed by the impatience of two eager children who dearly loved each other. These two desired to be tied in holy bands, and had come there hastily for the purpose. We all know that " the course of true love never did run smooth," not with anybody who ever knew what " the course of true love" was: there was nothing strange then in the idea that they should have experienced difficulties and prevention. There was a something that stood in their way, some let, some impediment, which " forbid the banns." Now, for this very reason they loved the .more, and so much the more burnt with a fiercer affection. A contemplative mind will take pleasure in turning over the varied traits and peculiarities of this most perverse passion, and of holding up its phases and features to the view of different lights; and to a contemplative mind, that arrives at conclusions from the sober consideration of many examples, this really is the most perverse passion that ever found place within the compass of our nature. Like the darnel discoursed of by poets, which flourisheth more, the more it is crushed under foot; so love, the more it is opposed and thwarted, and denied, so much the more doth it rage to attain its object, and so much the more doth it grow and increase in strength. It thrives upon denial, and flourishes upon vexation; it buds with opposition; blooms with hinderance, and it ripens under prevention.

"It was at the remarkable hour of four o'clock in the morning," said mistress Beattie, " in the amorous month of May, as I told you, and if my memory serve truly, in the memorable year 1837, that a carriage sped from England, right over the Border, and into the midst of the village; nor pulled bridle, bit, nor curb, until it attained unto the door of this hostelrie. But the fact of a carriage bouncing impatiently into the village, was a matter of every day occurrence—and it might be of every night occurrence, too, or day or night indifferently, just as it might happen—sometimes one, sometimes the other, for we never know when, or which before hand, nor much care; so that the noise which the wheels made needed no explanation for us who understand our business, as most people do who live by it, and thrive therein."

"Exactly, and well said."

"Why, look you, good sir: it is to these visits that Springfield owes everything. How, think you, we could exist, hold together, keep life in our bodies, buy bread, if a little money was not now and then brought into the place by these means? What else have we to depend upon? Our neighbours up and down the street are poor, labour is slack, and wages, of course, are scarce; and since the making of the new road, the greater part of the travellers who used to pass our door now go through the Gre6n, and never come near us. Before this alteration, or improvement, as they were pleased to phrase it, the chief way from Carlisle lay through Longtown, and so on right up the village here, onward into Scotland; but alas and well-away for Springfield, the improvement has gone far to ruin us all."

"National improvements, you see, cannot look to the private interests of individuals; and it is incumbent on the few to make certain personal sacrifices for the benefit of the many: when they do this, it is called philanthropy."

"Then phi— something is ruination, and ought to be called fie-for-shame."

"It is doing unto others that which you would wish them to do unto you."

"Goodness gracious! no sir, not at all in this instance, for they have nearly ruined me, and I am sure I would not wish to ruin them."

"I mean that, by submitting to these losses for the benefit of giving all your countrymen and countrywomen, and all the whole world if it comes here, a better road to travel by, you do to them just what you would wish them to do to you, supposing any one else had kept the "King's Head," and you yourself had wanted a better road to travel over through this parish."

"I like good roads when I go a journeying, and I do na care if people will be so good as to pay for them ; but really I canna say that I like to have the profits of my trade run away with."

"Very hard, very hard, doubtless; but it is a christian principle to deprive ourselves for the sake of advantaging our neighbours. If we forget this principle we become selfish."

"I hate selfish folks, I own."

"There is no merit in assisting others if it costs you nothing yourself."

"Peradventure you are right there."

"Come, then, let us hear the sequel of this story. Although your business may have suffered a little by the change, still it is not yet bankrupt: I venture to say you did not lose by these visitors: let us have the rest."

"Well, they beat the door with the pommels of their whips, and they called at the window: sleep was scared from our eyes, and we looked out of the lattice down upon them : they cried ' Haste, come you and let us in, for our need is great; time is precious, life is short, and love is impatient.' So we harkened to their call, and quickly let them in, thinking that it was as pleasant to grow rich in the night (for 'twas scarce anything else) as in the day—for riches acquired at night will profit a person when day cometh. The carriage door was opened, the steps were let down, and a gentleman and lady issued therefrom, and entered here, even into this actual room. You know all about my Lord Erskine, for it was detailed to you before. My husband, careful man, went off to Simon Laing incontinently and without tarry; him he got from his drowsy bed with eyes scarce open, yet nothing loth after all (to do him justice) for he is always ready to do a kindly action unto those who be in distress. The postilion raised his finger to ithe front of his cap, and he said, ' Shall I put the horses into the stable?' I, however, turned to the lady and gentleman, and inquired, whether they would abide under my roof till breakfast or so? But they said, nay; that they purposed wending back into their own country whence they came, as soon as the matter in hand was over; that they never cat breakfast or anything so gross, but feasted upon love, and revelled in the perpetual banquet of affection. Wherefore, good sir, I said nothing more about my poor bread and butter."

We nodded approvingly.

"As, therefore," continued the hostess, "they showed themselves as eager to leave us when we should have served them, as they had been to seek us, wanting of that service, I told the postboy that there was no need or call whatsoever to unbrace his beasts, that we would not keep him five minutes, and that he might consequently let his horses and his carriage stand at the door where they were. My husband now returned with the weaver, and by his help the affair was carried through as speedily and as effectually as such matters always are here. When it was over, the bridegroom paid the priest like a gentleman; and then the lady turned round to me and said, ' Why, don't you get anything for all this trouble?' 1 answered the lady,— she was a nice, kind, pleasant, lady too, sir,—I answered that I was satisfied to see her well married, that I gave x her joy, and hoped she would be happy. That the priest was the person that was usually remembered, and that he had by no means been forgotten by her husband. ' Well,' she said, ' but we have come to your house and called you up out of your bed and out of your sleep; we have made you come down to attend on us, and open your doors to receive us, and it would hardly be justice to let you' go unguestioned.' Now this, sir, was uttered with a great deal of consideration,—what think you?"

"Of course it was: and you will often find, Mistress Beattie, that ladies have their wits about them in critical positions with a remarkable promptitude, when men would by no means be so acute."

"Well now, it was beautiful the way she turned about to me, that it was, because it came all so unlooked-for like and so unexpected: that she should have thought about me just at that moment, when I fancied she would not have been able to know whether she was standing on her head or her heels —as most people don't when they are married."

"But that reveals this very admirable trait of feminine promptitude of which I was speaking—a quality which they have in perfection, when the more heavy natures and greater gravity of men make them less alive to momentary acts of acuteness."

"Aweel, aweel; I ken that women are more hasty, more quick, more ready than men be, for-the most part.

"Men are more plodding and more deliberative ; and they will rather set about calculating the chances of the step they may have in contemplation, than make a hazard to achieve it: women, on the contrary, go at it in a moment, and whilst a man is considering, a woman will have done it by one dash.

"She must have had a lively wit to think of her hostess at such an anxious time. A gentleman in such a case, though he would have meant as well, and felt as liberal, and been just as desirous to do justice to every body, would have forgotten it at the very nick of time as it were, and only have remembered it when he was in his carriage, and more at ease, or more in a state to reflect on all the points of the case. Then he would have cried out that he had quite forgotten the hostess in his hurry, and how sorry he was to have done so ; how provoking that he should have omitted her at the time of coming away; and how he would sooner turn back and give her her deserts, than let her suppose that he had wronged her on purpose."

"A very possible thing to have happened, Mistress Beattie."

"I do na mean to say that this gentleman would have done so, for he was all desire to think of every one that was present: but you know, sir, he had many things to think about, and the responsibility of the business lay especially upon his own shoulders, as he had taken so active a part in coming from home, and in taking the lady from her father's house. So that the anxieties of how he should make the matter up at his return, might well distract his mind from sober reflection whilst he was here."

"Oh ! most true ! But what did the lady go on to say?"

"Why, as I was telling you, sir; when the priest had been handsomely rewarded, she turned to me, and asked what I was to have ? But I said I was content to see her happy and that would do ; but she declared that they had called me up and given me a world of trouble, that they had, and then, said she, these were her very words, ' We have made you open your doors to receive us, the priest has been remunerated well, and you, whose toil has been just as great, are content to serve us for the reward of seeing us well married !' She said no more, sir, not another word, but took a purse from her pocket, and quietly dropped it into my hand. She was in rare good spirits the whole time, and skipped back again into the carriage as light as a fairy—and off they drove."

Out of consideration and deference toward this lady, we are disposed not to mention her name here ; suffice it, she was the daughter of a Right Reverend Father in God, a Bishop of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, whose cathedral doth adorn an ancient city lying toward the south-western part of that portion of the aforesaid Great Britain, ycleped England: and if it be that a man may spare a child, having many more, verily his Lordship can endure to spare this one daughter.

Now this was taking a hasty step—as the racehorse said when he was going full split round the course  and if perpetrated in defiance of the will and pleasure of those to whose counsel we should give heed, it were a hasting towards evil a deal too fast. Such evil journeys are for the most part carried through with infinite celerity ; and ill luck betide the cattle that pace the last stage to the bourn of iniquity, or, in other words, the bourn 'twixt England and Scotland. Hence it is, as herein above set forth, that this stage over Solway Moss, is never ambled at an easy pace, but with the rapidity of thought passing from one place to another, " which ten times faster moves than the sun's beams;" and the ancient proverb telleth wherefore and for what reason they always do speed so amazingly on this wicked journey, to wit:—One must needs go fast, when the devil driveth.

There is a talk of carrying the northern rail-road, which passes by the western side of the country, even on from Lancaster to Penrith, through Gretna Green, and so to Kilmarnock into Albyn. Now this dire project could have been designed by none other than Satan (who is the very devil for mischief), in order to smooth and facilitate the course toward wrong. The face of the country in these parts is level and fitting for such a purpose; and if the said railroad ever is impiously directed into the western Highlands, of a truth it assuredly must go right through this particular place, as the ground lies so favourable for it in an engineering point of view.


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