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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter XXII


A Tragieal Love Story of the "Olden Time."

There was a lover true indeed,
Who lived in Annandale;
And in this chapter ye may read,
Of him a piteous tale.

One blusterous day towards eventide, a horseman, clad in a coat belayed over with silver buttons, came hastily riding along by the waters of Annan, shewing many signs of impatience, as if he much wished to cross over. The river was broad, and the banks were high ; no passable ford discovered itself to the scrutiny of his restless glance, and the stream rolled onward to the briny billows of the Firth, an unpitying barrier between himself and the lady of his love, whom he longed to be with.

This is one of the few stories, referring to the days of other years, whose scene is laid on the arena of which we write, that touches on the subject of the tender passion ; most of the legends and archives of that barbarous age being replete with war, martial exploits, robbery, and murder.

The horseman had come down through the pass of the Gatehope Slack, which yawns across one verge of Annandale ; his steed was fagged, heated, wearied, and bespattered with mud from hard riding; and it was afterwards related that he had spurred on over bog, moor, and moss—through brake and through copse—and how the sparks of fire had flown from the iron shoes that were on the fore-feet of his beast.

"Now, my bonny mare," said he to the animal, as he turned her head to the stream; "now, my bonny mare, play your part well and carry me over. If you are the steed that bears me to my dearie, you shall be fed with hay and corn all the days that you live, and the rowel of a spur shall never prick your flank again."

Yet, notwithstanding she is averred to have been past compare for excellence, she was so thoroughly done up, now she came to the river, that no man could have urged her a furlong further, had he wagered a thousand marks on the chance ; and it is not extraordinary, therefore, that there existed but small hope of her being able to swim the torrent.

Yet what was to be done? Was a lover to be disappointed? or rather, were two lovers to be disappointed in greeting each other, because a horse was jaded to death, or beeause a flood of water rolled between them? "Love sees pathways to his will," says Shakspere, and "stony limits cannot hold love out," and so on;—nor watery ones either, say we—and Romeo Montague, who confessed that he was "no pilot," said to Juliet Capulet one night, "wert thou as far as that vast shore, washed by the furthest sea, I would adventure for such merchandise."

Now, if this young Montague, who was no pilot, could adventure to cross the furthest sea in the world, surely the juvenal before us, whose ardency is allowed to have been intense, could scarcely turn back from a fresh-water river, however terribly it might run and roar. And, to do him justice, he lacked not courage;—indeed, we think he is quite as highly to be commended as Romeo, although the voyage was so much shorter: for Romeo only talked about what he would do, if his lady had been beyond the sea, whereas this young Scot made no fine speeches to the moon, but plunged headlong into the stream. But stay;— we must not jump at the catastrophe too soon.

Finding his horse (which, by the bye, was a mare) thoroughly done up, and totally unable to bear him over, and above all, says the chronicle, terrified at hearing the water-kelpies scream, he looked about him for rescues; ho was sorely perplexed in mind, and troubled in spirit—but he incontinently bethought him of the ferry-man, and him he loudly hailed.

"Boatman," cried he, "put off your bark from the shore, and row me to the opposite bank: make no excuses, for none will I take ; I must cross this angry flood to night: come, put off—here is gold."

Young bloods are ever hasty and impatient;— but this is nature in its real state, unrestrained by sober knowledge of consequences,—or by age when the spirits become sluggish,—or by the sufferance of many defeats, such as most men are tamed by, who have to stem, not only the torrent of rivers, but still more so, by having to stem the torrent of adverse circumstances in going onwards through the world. He who would know what nature is, must study it as revealed in young persons rather .than in old ones. The nearer we go to the spring-head, the less sullied is the stream: and the nearer we go to the spring-head of our existence, the less sullied is our real and true cast of mind, with the hypocrisies, or little dissimulations, or acts of concealment, which we learn to practise, and by which we alter ourselves to our neighbours, and appear different people in ^age from what we did in youth. Children have not the art to conceal their passions that adults have; and hence a naturally passionate child soon lets those who are near it know that it is passionate, whenever an occasion arises to call it forth. But when that same child reaches "the years of discretion," it knows how to subdue the anger that some inciting event may awaken; and thus, though burning with rage within, may appear all calmness without.

We do not believe that our in-born nature much changes as we live on; but think that whatever disposition we come into the world with, that same disposition will belong to us as long as we live: that a violent child will make a violent man; a timid child, a timid man ; or an open-hearted child, a generous friend to all around him in aftertimes. These natures, severally appearing in several children, will certainly be modified, or softened, or directed, or regulated, by experience, intercourse, and common sense; but we contend that it is only a modification, and, perhaps, never a total or radical alteration of the original nature.

The ardent juvenal, who now desired to cross the river, may have been born with a reckless turn, which may not yet have been sufficiently modified by experience: but, be this as it may, the most sober of dispositions might have been fired with a transient eagerness, if placed in a situation like his, so trying and so tantalizing. And the man to whom he addressed himself may have been gifted at his birth with a timidity of soul, which no long buffeting with mankind could fundamentally eradicate; but left him a man possessing not half the fearlessness of the young lover who spoke to him. It is true, their motives for the step were very dissimilar; and this may have swayed their temporary actions, independent of their real natures.

The stranger repeated his demand for a boat, and repeated his offer of gold; but the ferry-man commenced by inferring arguments of mighty force against an enterprise so absurd and so madly hazardous.

"It was but late yestreen," said he, "thatT swore —not by one single oath, but by many,—that I would not set my joints to the trying of an impossibility ; and for all the gold that at this moment enriches the fair kingdom of Scotland, I dare not pilot ye over this night."

So decided a refusal of all aid, might have withered the heart of any but the determined ; no eloquence could overrule the persistency of the man, or the admonitions which he endeavoured to give to his customer. The one was as resolved as the other; this one to cross, and that one by no means to assent thereto. In such cases as this, matters are likely to come to extremity; and albeit these two were not Greeks, who tug hard when they encounter in war, still they appear to have tugged hard as Scotchmen, not in a matter of warfare, but rather in logical sophisms, and running counter arguments. It was all nothing— the lover was resolved; and the man finding that persuasive words were vain, now essayed to work upon his fears by a tragical anecdote,—as how a traveller, nigh these parts met a horrible death in the waters.

"I once," he commenced solemnly, "in my early days heard, (I say heard, for it was night, and I could not see,) a traveller drowning; not in the Annan itself, but in the Frith of Solway, close by the mouth of the river. The influx of the tide had unhorsed him in the night, as he was passing the sands from Cumberland. The west wind blew a tempest, and, according to the common expression, brought in the water three foot a breast. The traveller got upon a standing net, a little way from the shore. Here he lashed himself to the post, shouting for half an hour for assistance, till the tide rose over his head! In the darkness of night, and amid the pauses of the hurricane, his voice, heard at intervals, was exquisitely mournful. No one could go to his assistance—no one knew where he was—the sound seemed to proceed from the spirit of the waters. But morning rose—the tide had ebbed—and the poor traveller was found lashed to the pole of the net, and bleaching in the wind"

If this was not enough to reduce a lover to reason, we know not what else could succeed. Love and madness have ever been held to be one and the same thing: and, of a truth, we think that this lover was not far removed from the madman, if he could suffer his passion to conduct him into the rushing element.

All that the boatman could say in the way of dissuasion availed just nothing at all; it helped not, it prevailed not: he saw that madmen had no ears.

The tortured lover could endure no longer; he threw off his coat, garnished with silver buttons, and rent the waistcoat from his breast: he approached the bank near the tail of the ford ; and turning adrift his horse, plunged headlong into the roaring waters.

He was an excellent swimmer ; and vigorously he struck out arms and buffetted with the passing torrent, which was here broad and deep. Such, however, was its violence and rapidity, that he was soon hurried out of his course, so as to It, of course, is no part of the old ballad which forms the thesis of this chapter ; but as it is so connected with the subject, we thought we could not do better than bring it forward in the mouth of the ferry-man.

Such was the terror and lamentation round about Annan when the tidings of this sad catastrophe became known, that a bridge was shortly built over the river to prevent the like in future, and the ford and the ferry-boat were never used afterwards. This was like locking the front door when the thief has entered.

End of the first volume.


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