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
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.
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