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Weird Tales - Scottish
The Unknown


By John Mackay Wilson

In the year 1785, a young and beautiful woman, whose dress and features bespoke her to be a native of Spain, was observed a few miles beyond Ponteland, on the road which leads to Rothbury. She appeared faint and weary; dimness was deepening over the lustre of her dark eyes, and their glance bespoke anxious misery. Her raiment was of the finest silk; but time had caused its colour to fade; and it hung around her a tattered robe—an ensign of present poverty and wretchedness, a ruined remnant of prouder days that were past. She walked feebly and slowly along, bearing in her arms an infant boy; and she was observed, at intervals, to sit down, press her pale lips to her child’s cheek, and weep. Several peasants, who were returning from their labours in the fields, stood and spoke to her; but she gazed on them with wild looks of despair, and she answered them in a strange language which they did not understand.

“She has been a lady, poor thing,” said some of them.

“Ha!” said others, who had less charity in their breasts, “they have not all been ladies that wear tattered silk in strange fashions.”

Some inquired of her if she were hungry; if she wanted a lodging; or where she was going. But, like the mother of Thomas-a-Beckett, to all their inquiries she answered them but in one word that they understood, and that word was “EdinburghI”

Some said, “The poor creature is crazed”; and when she perceived that they comprehended her not, she waved her hand impatiently for them to depart, and pressing her child closer to her bosom, she bent her head over him and sighed. The peasants, believing from her gestures that she desired not their presence, left her, some pitying, all wondering. Within an hour some of them returned to the place where they had seen her, with the intent of offering her shelter for the night; but she was not to be found.

On the following morning, one Peter Thornton, a farmer, went into his stackyard before his servants were astir, and his attention being aroused by the weeping and wailing of a child, he hastened toward the spot from whence the sound proceeded. In a secluded corner of the yard he beheld a woman lying, as if asleep, upon some loose straw; and a child was weeping and uttering strange sounds of lamentation in her bosom. It was the lovely, but wretched-looking foreigner whom the peasants had seen on the evening before. Peter was a blunt, kind-hearted Scotsman : he resembled a piece of rich, though unpolished metal. He approached the forlorn stranger; and her strange dress, her youth, the stamp of misery that surrounded her, and the death-like expression of her features, moved him, as he gazed upon her and her child, almost to tears.

“Get up, woman,” said he; “why do you lie there? Get up, and come wi’ me ; ye seem to be ill, and my wife will get ye something comfortable.”

“But she spoke not, she moved not, though the child screamed louder at his presence. He called to her again; but still she remained motionless.

“Preserve us!” said he, somewhat alarmed, “what can have came owre the woman? I daresay she is in a trance ! She sleeps sounder there in the open air, and upon the bare straw, wi’ her poor bairn crying like to break its heart upon her breast, than I could do on a feather bed, wi’ everything peace and quietness around me. Come, waken, woman!” he added; and he bent down and took her by the hand. But her fingers were stiff and cold—there was no sign of life upon her lips, neither was there breath in her nostrils.

“What is this!” exclaimed Peter, in a tone of horror—“a dead woman in my stackyard!—has there been murder at my door through the night? I’ll gie all that I am worth as a reward to find it out! ” And leaving the child screaming by the side of its dead mother, he rushed breathless into the house, exclaiming—“Oh wife! wife—Jenny, woman!—I say, Jenny ! get up ! Here has been bloody wark at our door! What do ye think!—a dead woman lying in our stackyard, wi’ a bonny bairn screaming on her breast! ”

“What’s that ye say, Peter!” cried his wife, starting up in terror; “a dead woman?—ye’re dreaming—ye’re not in earnest! ”

“Haste ye! haste ye, Jenny!” he added; “it’s as true as that my name is Peter Thornton.”

She arose, and, with their household servants, accompanied him to where the dead body lay.

*‘Now,” added Peter, with a look which bespoke the troubled state of his feelings, “this will be a job for the crown er, an’ we’ll a’ have to be examined and cross-examined backward and forward, just as if we had killed the woman, or had anything to do wi’ her death. I would rather have lost five hundred pounds than that she had been found dead upon my stackyard.”

“But, see,” said Jenny, after she had ascertained that the mother was really dead, and as she took up the child in her arms and kissed it—“see what a sweet, bonny, innocent-looking creature this is! And, poor thing, only to think that it should be left an orphan, and apparently in a foreign land, for I dinna understand a word that it greets and says.”

A coroner’s inquest was accordingly held upon the body, and a verdict of “ Found dead” returned. Nothing was discovered about the person of the deceased which could throw light upon who she was. All the money she had had with her consisted of a small Spanish coin; but on her hand she wore a gemmed ring, of curious workmanship and considerable value, and also a plain marriage-ring. On the inside of the former were engraven the characters of C. F. et M. V.; and, within the latter, C. et M. F. The fashion of her dress was .Spanish, and the few words of lamentation which her poor child could imperfectly utter were discovered to be in that language. There being small likelihood of discovering who the stranger had been, her orphan boy was about to be committed to the workhouse; but Mrs. Thornton had no children of her own, the motherless little one had been three days under her care, and already her heart began to feel for him a mother’s fondness.

“Peter,” said she unto her husband, “I am not happy at the thought o’ this poor bairn being sent to the workhouse. I’m sure he was born above such a condition. Death in taking his mother left him helpless and crying for help at our door, and I think it would be unnatural in us to withhold it. Now, as we have nae family o’ our own, if ye’ll bear the expense, I’m sure I’m willing to take the trouble o’ bringing him up.”

“Wi’ a’ my heart, Jenny, my dow,” said Peter; “it was me that found the bairn, and if ye say, keep it, I say, keep it, too. His meat will never be missed; and it will be a worse year wi’ us than ony we hae seen, when we canna get claes to his back.”

“Peter,” replied she, “I always said ye had a good heart; and, by this action, ye prove it to the world.”

“I care not that!” said he, snapping the nail of his thumb upwards from his forefinger, “what the world may say or think about me, provided you and my conscience say that it is right that I hae done.”

They, therefore, from that hour took the orphan as the child of their adoption; and they were most puzzled to decide by what name he should be called.

“It is perfectly evident to me,” said the farmer, “from the letters on the rings, that his faither’s first name begun wi’ a C, and his second wi’ an F; but we could never be able to find out the outlandish foreign words that they may stand for. We shall, therefore, just give him some decent Christian name.”

“And what name more decent or respectable could we gie him than our own?” said Jenny. “Suppose we just call him Thornton—Peter Thornton!”

“No, no, gudewife,” said he, “there must twa words go to the making o’ that bargain; for though nobody would charge you wi* being his mother, the time may come when folk would be wicked enough to hint that I was his faither; therefore I do not think it proper that he should tak my name. What say ye now, as it is probable that his faither’s name begun wi’ a C, if we were to call him Christopher; and as we found him in the month of May, we should gie him a surname after the month, and call him Christopher May. That, in my opinion, is a very bonny name ; and I hae nae doubt that, if he be spared till those dark een o’ his begin to look after the lasses, mony a ane o’ them will be o’ the same way o’ thinking.”

The child soon became reconciled to the change in his situation, and returned the kindness of his fostermother with affection. She rejoiced as he gradually forgot the few words of Spanish which he at first lisped, and in their stead began to speak the language of the Borders. With delight in her eyes, she declared that “ she had learned him his mother tongue, which he now spoke as natural as life, though, when she took him under her care, he could say nothing but some heathenish kind o’ sounds, which nobody could mak any more sense o’, than it was possible to do out o’ the yammerm* o’ an infant o’ six months old.”

As the orphan grew up, he became noted as the liveliest boy in the neighbourhood. He was the tallest of his age, and the most fearless. About three years after Peter Thornton had taken him under his protection, he sent him to school. But, lively as the orphan Christopher May was (for so we shall now call him), he by now means showed an aptness to learn. For five years, and he never rose higher than the middle of the class. The teacher was often wroth with the thoughtlessness of his pupil; and in his displeasure said—It is nonsense, sirrah, to say that ye was ever a Spaniard. There is something like sense and stability o’ character about the people o’ Spain; but you—ye’re a Frenchman!—a thoughtless, dancing, settle-to-nothing fool. Or, if ever ye were a Spaniard, ye belong to the family o’ Don Quixote; his name would be found in the catalogue o’ your great-grandfathers.” Even Peter Thornton, though no scholar, was grieved when the teacher called upon him, and complained of the giddiness of his adopted son, and of the little progress which he made under his care.

“Christie, ye rascal ye,” said Peter, stamping his foot, “what news are these your master tells o’ ye? He says he’s ashamed o’ ye, and that ye’ll never learn.”

But even for his thoughtlessness, the kind heart of Jenny found an excuse.

“Dear me, gudeman,” said she, “I wonder to hear the maister and ye talk ; I am surprised that both o’ ye haena mair sense. Do ye not tak into consideration that the bairn is learning in a foreign language? Had his mother lived, he would hae spoken Spanish ; and how can ye expect him to be as glib at the Scottish language as those that were learned—born I may say—to speak it from the breast?”

“True, Jenny,” answered Peter sagely, “I wasna thinking o’ that; but there may be something in’t. Maister,” added he, addressing the teacher, “ye mustna, therefore, be owre hard wi’ the laddie. He is a fine bairn, though he may be dull—and dull I canna think it possible he could be, if he would determine to learn.”

Christopher, however, was as wild on the playground as he was dull and thoughtless in the schoolroom. Every person admired the happy-hearted orphan. Good Jenny Thornton said that he had been a great comfort to her; and that all the care she had taken over him was more than repaid by the kindness and gratitude of his heart. They were evident in all he said, and all that he did. Peter also loved the boy; he said “Kit was an excellent laddie— for his part, indeed, he never saw his equal. He had now brought him up for nine years, and he could safely say that he never had occasion to raise a hand to him—indeed, he did not remember the time that ever he had had occasion to speak an angry word to him; and he declared that he should inherit all that he possessed, as though he had been his own son.”

Mrs. Thornton often showed to him the rings which had been taken from his mother’s fingers, with the inscriptions thereon; and on such occasions she would say—“Weel do I remember, hinny, when our gudeman came running into the house one morning, shaking as though he had seen an apparition at midnight, and crying to me, quite out o’ breath—‘Rise— rise, Jenny!—here is the dead body o’ a woman in our stackyard! *I canna tell ye what my feelings were when he said so. I wished not to believe him. But had I wakened, and found myself in a grave, I could not have gotten a greater fright. My heart louped to my throat, just as if it had gotten a sudden jirk with a person’s whole might and strength ! I dinna ken how I got my gown thrown on, for my teeth were chattering in my head—I shaked like a ’natomy ! And when we did get to the stackyard, there was ye, like a dear wee lammie, mourning owre the breast o’ yer dead mother, wi’ yer bits o’ handies pulling impatiently at her bonny black hair, kissing her cold lips, or pulling her by the gown, and crying and uttering words which we didna understand. And, oh, hinny, but your mother had been a weel-faured woman in her day!—I never saw her but a cold corpse, and I thought, even then, that I had never looked upon a bonnier face. She had evidently been a genteel person, but was sore, sore dejected. But she had two rings upon her fingers; one of them was a ring such as married women wear, the other was set wi’ precious stones, which those who have seen them say, none but a duchess in this country could wear. Ye must examine them.” And here Mrs. Thornton was in the habit of producing the rings which she had carefully locked away, wrapped up in twenty folds of paper, and secured in a housewife which folded together within all. Then she would point out to him the initial letters, the C. F. and the M. V., and would add, “ That has been your faither and your mother’s name when they were sweethearts—at least so our Peter says (and he is seldom wrong); but the little e t between them—I canna think what it stands for. O Christopher, my canny laddie, it is a pity but that ye would only endeavour to be a scholar, as ye are good otherwise, and then ye might be able to tell what the e t means. Who kens but it may throw some light upon your parentage; for, if ever ye discover who your parents were, it will be through the instrumentality o’ these rings. Peter always says that (and, as I say, he is seldom wrong), and therefore I always keep them locked away, lest onything should come owre them; and when they are out o’ the drawer, I never suffer them to be out o’ my sight.”

In the fulness of her heart Mrs. Thornton told this story at least four times in the year, almost in the same words, and always exhibiting the rings. Her kindly counsels, and the cogent reasons which she urged to Christopher why he should become a scholar, at length awoke his slumbering energies. For the first time, he stood dux of his class, and once there, he stood like a nail driven into a wall, which might not be removed. His teacher, who was a man of considerable knowledge and reading (though perhaps not what those calling themselves learned would call a man of learning—for learned is a very vague word, and is as frequently applied where real ignorance exists, as to real knowledge),—that teacher who had formerly said that Christopher could not be a Spaniard, because that he had not solidity enough within him, now said that he believed he was one, and not a descendant of Don Quixote, but, if anybody, a descendant of him who gave the immortal Don “a local habitation and a name”; for he now predicted Christopher May would be a genius.

But though the orphan at length rose to the head of his class, and though he passed from one class to another, he was still the same wild, boisterous, and daring boy, when they ran shouting from the school, cap in hand, and waving it over their heads, like prisoners relieved from confinement. If there was a quarrel to decide in the whole school, the orphan Christopher was the umpire. If a weak boy, or a cowardly boy, was threatened by another, Christopher became his champion. If a sparrow’s nest was to be robbed, to achieve which a tottering gable was to be climbed, he did the deed ; yea, or when a football match was to be played on Fastern E’en (or, as it was there called, Pancake Tuesday), if the orphan once got the ball at his foot, no man could again touch it.

His birthday was not known ; but he could scarce have completed his thirteenth year when his best friend died. Good, kind-hearted Jenny Thornton— than whom a better woman never breathed—was gathered with the dead; and her last request to her husband was, that he would continue to be the friend and protector of the poor orphan, and especially that he would take care of the rings which had been found upon his mother’s hand. Now, Peter was so overwhelmed with grief at the idea of being parted from her who, for ten years, had been dearer to him than his own existence, that he could scarce hear her dying words. He followed her coffin like a brokenhearted man ; and he sobbed over her grave like a weaned child on the lap of its mother. But many months had not passed when it was evident that the orphan Christppher was the only sincere mourner for Jenny Thornton. The widower was still in the prime and strength of his days, being not more than two and forty. He was a prosperous man—one who had had a cheap farm and a good one ; and it was believed ‘that Peter was able to purchase the land which he rented. Many, indeed, said that the tenant was a better man than his master—by a “better man” meaning a richer man.

Fair maidens, therefore, and widows to boot, were anxious to obtain the vacant hand of the wealthy widower. Some said that Peter would never forget Jenny, and that he would never marry again, for that she had been to him a wife amongst a thousand ; and they spoke of the bitterness of his grief.

“Ay,” said others, “but we ne’er like to see the tears run owre fast down the cheeks of a man. They show that the heart will soon drown its sorrow. Human nature is very frail ; and a thing that we thought we would love for ever last year, we find that we only occasionally remember that we loved it this. If there be a real mourner for the loss of Mrs. Thornton, it’s the poor, foreign orphan laddie. Peter, notwithstanding all his greeting at the grave, will get another wife before twelve months go round.”

They who said so were in the right. Poor Jenny had not been in her grave eleven months and twenty days, when Peter led another Mrs. Thornton from the altar. When he had brought her home, he introduced to her the orphan Christopher. .

“Now dear,” said he, “here is a laddie—none know whom he belongs to. I found him one morning, when he was a mere infant, screaming on the breast o’ his dead mother. Since then I have brought him up. My late wife was very fond o’ him—so, indeed was I; and it is my request that ye will be kind to him. Here,” added he, “are two rings which his mother had upon her fingers when I found her a cold corpse. Poor fellow, if anything ever enable him to discover who his parents were, it will be them, though there is but little chance that he ever will. However, I have been as a faither to him for more than ten years; and I trust, love, that ye will act towards him as a mother. Come forward, Christopher,” continued he, “and welcome your new mother.”

The boy came forward hanging his head, and bashfully stretched out his hand towards her; but the new-made Mrs. Thornton had his mother’s jewelled ring in her hand, and she observed him not. He stood with his eyes now bent upon the ground, now upon her, and again upon his mother’s ring, as she turned it round and round.

“Well,” said she, addressing her husband, and still turning it round as she spoke, “It is, indeed, a beautiful ring—a very beautiful ring!”

“I am glad ye think so,” said he; “she had been a bonny woman that wore it.”

She placed the ring upon her finger, she turned it round again, and gazed on it with admiration. “I should like to wear such a ring,” she added.

“Why, hinny, and ye may wear it,” said Peter; “for the ring is mine twenty times owre, whatever its value may be, considering what I have done for the laddie.”

With an expression of countenance which might be described as something between a smile and a blush, or, as the people north the Tweed very aptly express it, with a “smirk” she slipped the ring upon her finger, saying that it fitted as well as though it had been made for her.

Passion flashed in the eyes of the orphan. His “new mother,” as Peter styled her, had done what poor Jenny never ventured to do. He withdrew his hand which he had extended to greet her ; and he was turning away sullenly, when his foster-father said, “Stop, Christopher, ye must not go away until ye have shaken hands with your mother". And he turned again, and once more extended to her his hand.

“Well,” said she, addressing her husband, and putting forth two of her fingers to Christopher, “is it really possible that you have brought up this great boy? What a trouble he must have been—and expense too!”

“Oh, you are quite mistaken,” said Peter; “Christopher never cost us the smallest trouble. I have been proud of him and pleased with him, since ever I took him under my roof; and, poor fellow, as to the expense that he has cost me, if I never had seen his face I wouldna hae been a penny richer to-day, but very possibly poorer; for he has very often amused me wi’ his drollery, and keepit me in the house, when, but for him, I would have been down at Ponteland, or somewhere else, getting a glass wi’ my neighbours.”

Many weeks had not elapsed ere Christopher discovered that this protector who was dead had been succeeded by a living persecutor. A month had not passed when he was not permitted to enter the room where the second Mrs. Thornton sat. Before two went round, he was ordered to take his meals with the servants ; and he could do nothing with which a fault was not found. He had often, after scraping his shoes for five minutes together, to take them off and examine them, before he durst venture into the passage leading to the kitchen, which was now the only apartment in the house to which he had access.

Peter Thornton beheld the persecution which his adopted son endured; and he expostulated with his better half, that she would treat him more kindly. But she answered him that he might have children enough of his own to provide for, without becoming a father to those of other people. Now, a stripling that is in love, generally says and does many foolish things which he does not wish to have recalled to his recollection after he has turned thirty ; but the middle-aged man who is so smitten, invariably acts much more foolishly than the stripling. I have smiled to see them combing up their few remaining locks, to cover their bald forehead, or carefully pulling away the gray hairs which appeared about their temples, and all to appear young in the eyes of some widowed or matronly divinity. I do not exactly agree with the poet who says—

“Love never strikes but once, that strikes at all ” ;

for I think, from nineteen to five and twenty, there are few men (or women either) who have not felt a particular sensation about their hearts which they took to be lovb, and felt it more than once too, and which ultimately would have become love but for particular circumstances which broke off the acquaintanceship ; and, before five and thirty, we forget that such a feeling had existed, and laugh at, or profess to have no patience with, those who are its victims. We should always remember, however, that it is not easy to put an old head upon young shoulders, and think of how we once felt and acted ourselves; and to recollect, also, how happy, how miserable, we were in those days. Love is an abused word. Elderly people turn up their nostrils when they see it in print. They will hardly read a book where the word occurs. They will fling it away, and cry “Stuff!” But, if they would look back upon their days of old, they would treat it with more respect. But the second love of your middle-aged men and women—call it doting, or call it by any other name, but do not call it love, for that it is not, and cannot be. Man never knows what love is, until he has experienced the worth of an affectionate wife, who for his sake would suffer all that the world’s ills can inflict.

Now, Peter Thornton, though not an old man, and although his first wife had certainly been dear unto him, yet he had a doting fondness for his second spouse, who obtained an ascendancy over him, and, to his surprise, left him no longer master of his own house.

But she bore to him a son ; and, after the birth of the child, his care over Christopher every day diminished. The orphan was given over to persecution—the hand of every one was raised against him; and, finding that he had now no one to whom he could apply for redress, he lifted up his own hand in his defence. The serving-maids who ill-treated him, soon found him more than their equal; and to the men-servants, when they used him roughly, he shook his head, threatening that he would soon be a match for them.

The coldness which Mrs. Thornton had at first manifested towards him, soon relapsed into perfect hatred. He was taken from the school; and she hourly forced upon him the most menial offices. For hours together he was doomed to rock the cradle of her child, and was sure of being beaten the moment it awoke. Nor was this all—but when friends visited her, poor Christopher was compelled to wait at the table, at which he had once sat by the side of Jenny Thornton, and whoever might be the guests, he was first served. She even provoked her husband, until he lifted his hand and struck the orphan violently— forgetting the proverb, that “they should have light hands who strike other people’s bairns.” The boy looked upbraidingly in Peter’s face as he struck him for the first time, though he uttered no complaint; but that very look whispered to his heart, “What would Jenny have said had she seen this?” And Peter, repenting of what he did, turned away and wept. Yet a sin that is once committed is less difficult to commit again, and remorse becomes as an echo that is sinking faint. Having, therefore, once lifted his hand against the orphan—though he then wept for having done so—it was not long until the blows were repeated without compunction.

Christopher, however, was a strange boy,—perhaps what some would call a provoking one,—and often, when Mrs. Thornton pursued him from the house to chastise him, he would hastily climb upon the tops of the houses of the farm-servants, and sitting astride upon them, nod down to her triumphantly, as with threats she shook her hand in his face; and, smiling, sing—

“Loudon’s bonny woods and braes.”

But his favourite song on such occasions was the following, which, if it be not the exact words that he sang, embodies the sentiment—

Can I forget the woody braes
Where love and innocence foregather;
Where aft, in early summer days,
I’ve crooned a sang amang the heather?
Can I forget my father’s hearth—
My mother by the ingle spinnin’—
Their weel-pleased look to see the mirth
O’ a’ their bairnies round them rinnin’?
It was a waefu’ hour to me,
When I frae them an' love departed:
The tear was in my mother’s ee—
My father blessed me—broken-hearted ;
My aulder brithers took my hand,
The younkers a’ ran frae me greetin’
But, waur than this—I couldna stand
My faithfu’ lassie’s farewell meetin’!
Can I forget her parting kiss,
Her last fond look and true love token?
Forget an hour sae dear as this
Forget—the word shall ne’er be spoken !
Forget!—na, though the foamin’ sea,
High hills and mony a sweepin’ river,
Hay lie between their hearth an’ me,
My heart shall be at hame for ever.

Now, when Christopher was pursued by his persecutor, he sought refuge on the house-tops, sitting upon them much after the fashion of a tailor, and carolling the song we have just quoted most merrily. Many, indeed, wondered that he, never having known the hearth of either a father or a mother, should have sung such a song; but it was so, and the orphan delighted to sing it. Yet we often do many things for which we find it difficult to assign a reason. There was one amusing trait in the character of Christopher, and that was, that the more vehemently Mrs. Thornton scolded him, and the more bitter her imprecations against him became, so while he sat as a tailor on the house-top did his song wax louder and more loud, and his strain become merrier. We have heard women talk of being ready to eat the nails from their fingers with vexation; and on such occasions Mrs. Thornton was so. But her anger did not amend the disposition of Christopher, though it often drew down upon him the indignation of her husband.

It has already been mentioned that he struck him once; and, having done so, he felt no repugnance to do it frequently. For it is only the first time that we commit a sin that we have the horror of its commission before us. The orphan now became like unto Ishmael; for every man’s hand was against him, and I might say every woman’s too. Now, during the lifetime of Jenny, he had had everything his own way, and whatsoever he said was done; some said that he was a spoiled child, and it was at least evident that his humour was never thwarted. This caused him to have the more enemies now; and every menial on the farm of Peter Thornton became his persecutor. It is the common fate of all favourites—to-day they are treated with abject adulation, and to-morrow, if the sun which shone on them be clouded, no one thinks himself too low to look on them with disdain.

For more than three years Christopher’s life became a scene of continued martyrdom. He was now, however, a tall and powerful young man of seventeen; and many who had been in the habit of raising their hands against him, found it discreet to do so no more. But Mrs. Thornton was not of this number; she found some cause to lift her hand and strike the orphan as often as he came into her presence. Even Peter, kind as he once had been, treated him almost as cruelly as his wife. It was not that he disliked him as she did; but she had soured and fretted his disposition; and, unconsciously to himself, from being the orphan’s friend, he became his terror and tormentor.

But one day, when the violence of Mrs. Thornton far exceeded the bounds of endurance, Christopher turned upon her, and, with the revenge of a Spaniard glistening in his eyes, grasped her by the throat. She screamed aloud for help, and her husband and the farm-servants rushed to her assistance.

“Back! back!” exclaimed Christopher—“woman, give me the rings! give me the rings!—they are mine, they were my mother’s. ”

Peter sprang forward and grasped hold of him.

“Touch me not! ” exclaimed the orphan ; “I will be your slave no longer! Give me the rings—my mother’s rings ! ”

Peter stood aghast at the manner of the boy. His every look, his every action, bespoke desperation. He thrust his clenched hand towards Mr. Thornton, exclaiming, “Touch me not—the rings are mine—I will have them.”

“The meikle mischief confound ye!” exclaimed Peter, with a look of half fear and bewilderment, “what in a’ the world is the matter wi’ ye, Christopher?—is the laddie out o’ his head ? ”

“The rings! my mother’s rings!” cried the orphan; and, as he spoke, he grasped more violently the hand of Mrs. Thornton. ”

“The like o’ that,” said Peter, “I never saw in my existence. In my opinion, the laddie is no in his right judgment.”

But Christopher tore the rings from the hands of Mrs. Thornton, exclaiming, “Farewell! farewell!” “The like o’ that,” said Peter, in amazement, holding up his hands; “the laddie is surely daft!— follow him, some o’ ye!”

Mrs. Thornton sank down in hysterics. Her husband endeavoured to soothe and restore her, and the men-servants followed Christopher. But it was an idle task. No one had rivalled him in speed of foot, and they could not overtake him.

“The time will come," he cried, as he ran, “when Peter Thornton will repent his conduct towards me. Follow me not, for the first who shall lay a hand upon me shall die.”

The farm-servants who pursued him were awed by his manner; and after following him about a mile, turned back.

“Where can the laddie have gone to?” said Peter; “he never took ony o’ these fits in Jenny’s time. I hope, wife, that ye have done nothing to him that ye ought not to have done.”

“Me done to him!” she cried—“ye will bring up your beggars, and this is your reward.”

“Mrs. Thornton,” answered he, “I am amazed and astonished to behold this conduct in Christopher. For more than a dozen years he has been an inmate beneath my roof; seldom have I had to quarrel him, and never until you became my wife.”

The words between Peter and his better half grew loud and angry; but, instead of describing their matrimonial altercations, we shall follow the orphan Christopher.

But before accompanying him in his flight from the house of Peter Thornton, we shall go back a few years, and take up another part of his history.

There resided in the neighbourhood in which Christopher had been brought up one George Wilkinson, who had a daughter named Jessie. Christopher and Jessie were schoolmates together; and when the other children ran hallooing from the school, they walked together, whispering, smiling at each other. It was strange that affection should have sprung up in such young hearts. But it was so.

Christopher became the one absorbing thought upon which the mind of Jessie dwelt; and she became the day-dream of his being. She was comparatively a child when he left the house of his foster-father—so was he ; yet, although they became thus early parted, they forgot not each other. Young as she was, Jessie Wilkinson, lay on her bed and wept for the sake of poor Christopher. They indeed might be said to be but the tears of a child; yet they were tears which we can shed but once. Young as Jessie was, Christopher became the dream of her future existence. She remembered the happy days that they had passed together when the hawthorn was in blossom, or the bean was in the bloom, when they loitered together, side by side, and the air was pregnant with fragrance, while his hand would touch hers, and he would say “Jessie!” and look in her face and wonder what he meant to have said; and she would answer him, “Christopher!” Still did those days haunt the recollection of the simple girl; and as she grew in years and stature, his remembrance became the more entwined around her heart. When she had reached the age of womanhood, other wooers offered her their hand; but she thought of the boy that had first loved her; and to him her memory clung, as the evening dawn falleth on the hills. Her father was but a poor man; and when many perceived the liking which Christopher May, the adopted son and supposed heir of the rich Peter Thornton, entertained for her, they said that nothing, or, at least no good, would proceed from their acquaintance. But they who so said did not truly judge of the heart of Jessie. She was one of those who can love but once, and that once must be for ever. In their early childhood, Christopher had become a part of her earliest affection, and she now found it impossible to forget him, or shake his remembrance from her bosom. It was certainly a girl’s love, and elderly people will laugh at it; but why should they laugh? Had they the feelings which they once cherished—the feelings which were once dearest to them — the feelings without which they believed they could not exist —and wherefore could they blame poor Jessie for remembering what they had forgot?

Many years passed, and no one heard of Christopher. Even Peter Thornton knew nothing of where he was, or what had become of him—the child of his adoption was lost to him. He heard his neighbours upbraid him with having treated the boy with cruelty; and Peter’s heart was troubled. He reflected upon his wife for her conduct towards the orphan, and it gave rise to bickerings between them.

Hitherto we have spoken of the unknown orphan; we must now speak of an unknown soldier. At the battle of Salamanca, amongst the men who there distinguished themselves, there was a young sergeant, whose feats of valour attracted the notice of his superiors. Where the battle raged fiercest, there were

the effects of his arm made visible ; his impetuosity over all his enemies had attracted the notice of his superior officers. But in the moment of victory* when the streets were lined with dead, the young hero fell, covered with bayonet wounds. A field-officer, who had been an observer of his conduct, ordered a party of his men to attempt his rescue. The life of the young hero was long despaired of; and when he recovered, several officers, in admiration of his courage, agreed to present him with a sword. It was beautifully ornamented, and bore the inscription—

“Presented to Christopher May, sergeant in the regiment of infantry, by several officers who were witnesses of the heroism he displayed at the battle of Salamanca.”

The sword was presented to him at the head of his regiment, and the officer who placed it in his hand addressed him, saying : “Young soldier, the gallant bearing which you exhibited at Salamanca has excited the admiration of all who beheld it. The officers of your own regiment, therefore, and others, have deemed it their duty to present you with this sword, as a reward of merit, and a testimony of the admiration with which your heroism has inspired them. I have now the gratification of placing it in the hands of a brave man. Take it, and if your parents yet live, it will be a trophy of which they will be proud, and which your posterity will exhibit with admiration.”

“My parents!” said the young soldier, with a Ogh; “alas, sir! I never knew one whom I could call by the endearing name of father or of mother. I am an orphan—an unknown one. I believe I am not even an Englishman, but a native of the land for the freedom of which we now fight! ”

“You are a .Spaniard !” said the officer with surprise; “it is impossible — neither your name nor features bespeak you to belong to this nation. But you say that .you never knew your parents—what know you of your history?”

“Little, indeed,” he replied; and as he spoke, the officers gathered around him, and he continued: “I have been told that in the month of May, four and twenty years ago, the dead body of a woman was found in a farm-yard, about fifteen miles north of Newcastle. She was dressed in Spanish costume, and a child of about three years of age hung weeping on her bosom. I was that child; and I have been told that the few words I could then lisp were Spanish. The kind-hearted wife of the honest Northumbrian who found me brought me up as her own child, and while she lived, I might almost have said I had a mother. But at her death, I found, indeed, that I had neither parent, kindred, nor country, but that I was in truth what some called me in derision—‘ The Unknown.’ I entered the army, and have fought in defence of the land to which I believe I belong. This only do I know of my history, or of who or what I am.”

While the young sergeant spoke, every eye was bent upon him interestedly; but there was one who was moved even to tears. He was an officer of middle age, named Major Ferguson. He approached the gallant youth, and gazed earnestly in his face.

“You say that you were about three years old,” he said, “when you were found clinging to the breast of your mother : have you no remembrance of her—no recollection of the name by which you were then called?”

“None! none!” answered the other. “I sometimes fancy that, as the vague remembrance of a dream, I recollect clinging round my mother’s neck, and kissing her cold lips; but whether it indeed be remembrance, or merely the tale that has been often told me, I am uncertain. I often imagine, also, that her beautiful features yet live in my memory, though with the indistinctness of an ethereal being—like a vapour that is dying away on the far horizon; and I am uncertain also whether the fair vision that haunts me be indeed a dim remembrance of what my mother was, or a creation of my brain.”

The interest of the scene was heightened by the resemblance which Major Ferguson and the young sergeant bore to each other. All observed it—all expressed their surprise—and the Major in his turn began his tale.

“Your features, young man,” said he, “and your story, have drawn tears to the eyes of an old soldier. Thirty years ago I was in this country, and became an inmate in the house of a rich merchant in Madrid. His name was Valdez, and he had an only daughter called Maria. When I first beheld her, she was about nineteen, and a being more beautiful I had never seen—I have not seen. Affection sprang up between us ; for it was impossible to look on her and not love. Her father, though he at first expressed some opposition to our wishes, on the ground of my being a Protestant, at length gave his consent, and Maria became my wife. For several months our happiness was a dream—as a summer sky where there is no cloud. But our days of felicity were of short continuance. We have all heard of the revengeful disposition of the Spanish people, and it was our lot to be its victims. I have said that it was impossible to look upon the face of Maria, and not love; and many of the grandees and wealthiest citizens of Madrid sought her hand. Amongst the former was a nephew of an Inquisitor. He vowed to have his revenge— and he has had it. In the dead of night, a band of ruffians burst into the bed-chamber of Maria’s father, and dragged him to the dungeons of the Inquisition. For several weeks we could find out nothing of what had become of him; but his property was seized and confiscated, as though he had been a common felon. My wife was then the mother of an infant son, and I endeavoured to effect our concealment, until an opportunity of escaping to England might be found. We had approached within a hundred yards of the vessel, when a band of armed men rushed upon us. They overpowered me; and while one party bore away my wife and child, others dragged me into a carriage, one holding a pistol to my breast, while another tied a bandage over my eyes. They continued to drive with furious rapidity for about six hours, when I was torn from the carriage, and dragged, between the ruffians, through numerous winding passages. I heard the grating of locks, and the creaking of bolts, as they proceeded. Door succeeded door, groaning on their unwilling hinges, as they ascended stairs, and descended others, in an interminable labyrinth. Still the men who hurried me onward maintained a sullen silence; and no sound was heard, save the clashing of prison doors, and the sepulchral echo of their footsteps ringing through the surrounding dungeons. They at length stopped. A cord, suspended from a block in the roof, was fastened round my waist; and when one, turning a sort of windlass, which communicated with the other end of the cord, raised me several feet from the ground, his comrade drew a knife, and cut asunder the fastenings that bound my arms. While one, holding the handle of the machine, kept me hanging in the air, other two applied a key to a large square stone in the floor, which, aided by a spring, they with some difficulty raised, and revealed a yawning opening to a dungeon, yet deeper and more dismal than that which formed its entrance. The moment my hands were at liberty, I tore the bandage from my eyes, and perceiving, through the aid of a dim lamp that flickered in a corner of the vault, the horror of my situation, I struggled in desperation. But my threatenings and my groans were answered only by their hollow echoes, or the more dismal laughter of my assassins.

“‘Down! down!* vociferated both voices to their companion, as the stone was raised; and, in a moment, I was plunged to the dark mouth of the dungeon. I uttered a cry of agony, louder and longer than the rest; and, as my body sunk into the abyss, I clutched its edge in despair. One of the ruffians sprang forward, and, blaspheming as he raised his foot, dashed his iron heels upon my fingers. Mine was the grasp of a dying man; and, thrusting forward my right hand, I seized the ancle of the monster, who, attempting to kick me in the face, with my left I strengthened my hold, and my body plunging downward with the movement, dragged after me the wretch, who, uttering a piercing shriek, as his head dashed on the brink of the fearful dungeon, his weight wrested him from my grasp, and with an imprecation on his tongue he was plunged headlong into darkness, many fathoms deep. Startled by the cry of his comrade, the other sprang from the machine by which he was lowering me into the vault; and I in consequence descended with the violence of a stone driven from a strong arm. But, before I reached the bottom, the cord by which I was hung was expended, and I swung in torture between the sides of the dungeon. In this state of agony I remained for several minutes, till one of the miscreants cutting the rope, I fell with my face upon the bloody and mangled body of their accomplice ; and the huge stone was placed over us, enveloping both in darkness, solid and substantial as the pit of wrath itself.

“A paralysing feeling of horror and surprise, and the violence with which I fell upon the mangled body of my victim, for a time deprived me of all consciousness of my situation ; nor was it until the convulsive groans of the bleeding wretch beneath me recalled me in some measure to a sense of other miseries than my own, that a remembrance of the past, and a feeling of the present, opened upon my mind, like the confused terror of a dismal dream. I rose slowly to my feet, and, disengaging myself from th£ rope by which I was suspended into the vault, endeavoured to look around the walls of my prison-house ; but all was dark as the grave. Recollecting the part sustained in seizing me by the wounded man, who still groaned and writhed at my feet, I darted 0 fiercely upon him ; and hurling him from the ground, exclaimed, ‘Villain! tell me or die!—where am I? or by whom am I brought here?* A loud, long yell of terror, accompanied by violent and despairing struggles, like a wild beast tearing from the paws of a lion, was the only answer returned by the miserable being. And as the piteous and heart-piercing yell rang round the cavern, and its echoes, multiplying in darkness, at length died away, leaving silence more dolorous than ourselves, I felt as a man from the midst of a marriage-feast, suddenly thrust into the cells of Bedlam; where, instead of the music of the harp and the lute, was the shriek and the clanking chains of insanity; for bridal ornaments, the madman’s straw; and for the gay dance, the convulsions of the maniac, and the sorrowful gestures of idiocy. Every feeling of indignation passed away—my blood grew cold—the skin moved upon my flesh—I again laid the wretched man on the damp earth, and fearfully groped to the opposite side of the dungeon.

“As I moved around, feeling through the dense darkness of my prison, I found it a vast square, its sides composed merely of the rude strata of earth or rock; and measuring nearly six times the length of my extended arms. As often as I moved, bones seemed to crackle beneath my feet; and a noise, like the falling of armour and the sounding of steel, accompanied the crumbling fragments. Once I stooped to ascertain the cause, and raising a heavy body, a part of it fell with a loud, hollow crash among my feet, leaving the lighter portion in my hands. It was a round bony substance, covered, and partly filled, with damp, cold dust. I was neither superstitious nor a coward; but, as I drew my hand around it, my body quivered, the hair upon my head moved, and my heart felt heavy. It was the form of a human skull. The damp dust had once been the temple of a living soul. My fingers entered the sockets of the eyes—the teeth fell in my hands—and the still fresh and dewy hair twined around it. I shuddered—it fell from my hands—the chill of death passed over me. The horrid conviction that I was immured in a living grave absorbed every other feeling ; and smiting my brow in horror, I threw myself, with a groan, amidst the dead of other years.

“I again sprang to my feet, with the undetermined and confused wildness of despair. The mournful howlings of the assassin continued to render the horrid sepulchre still more horrible, and gave to its darkness a deeper ghostliness. Dead to every emotion of sympathy, stricken with dismal realities, and more terrible imaginations, yet burning for revenge, directed by the howlings of the miserable man, and hesitating to distinguish between them and their incessant echoes, stretching my hands before me, I again approached him, to extort a confession of the cause and place of my imprisonment, ot rather living burial. Vainly I raised him from the ground— threatening, soothing, and expostulation were alike unavailing. On hearing my voice, the miserable being shrieked with redoubled bitterness, plunged furiously, and gnashed his teeth, fastening them, in the extremity of his frenzy, in his own flesh. His fierce agony recalled to my bosom an emotion of pity; and, for a moment, forgetful of my own injuries and condition, I thought only of relieving his suffering ; but my presence seemed to add new madness to his tortures ; and he tore himself from my hold with the lamentable yells of a tormented mastiff, and the strength of a giant who, in the last throe of expiring nature, grapples with his conqueror. He reeled wildly a few paces, and fell, with a crash, upon the earth.

“Slowly and dismally the hours moved on, with no sound to measure their progress, save the audible beating of my own heart, and the death-like howling moan of my companion. As I leaned against the wall, counting these dismal divisions of time, which appeared thus fearfully to mete out the duration of my existence, through the black darkness, whose weight had become oppressive to my eyeballs, I beheld, far above me, on the opposite wall, a faint shadow, like the ghost of light, streaking its side, but so indistinct and imperfect, I knew not whether it was fancy or reality. With the earnestness of death, my eyes remained fixed on 'the *gloomy light’; and it threw into my bosom a hope dim as itself. Again I doubted its existence—deemed it a creation of my brain; and groping along the damp floor, where my hand seemed passing over the ribs of a skeleton, I threw a loose fragment in the air, towards the point from whence the doubted glimmering proceeded ; and perceived, for a moment, as it fell, the shadow of a substance. Then, springing forward to the spot, I gasped to inhale, with its feeble ray, one breath that was not agony.

“Thirst burned my lips, and, to cool them, they were pressed against the damp walls of the prison; but my tongue was still dry—my throat parched— and hunger began to prey upon me. While thus suffering, a faint light streamed from a narrow opening in the roof of the vault. Slowly a feeble lamp was lowered through the aperture, and descended within two or three feet of my head. A small basket, containing a portion of bread and a pitcher of water, suspended by a cord, was let down into the vault. I seized the pitcher, as I would have rushed upon liberty ; and raising it to my lips, as the pure, grateful beverage allayed the fever of my thirst, I shed a solitary tear, and, in the midst of my misery, that tear was a tear of joy—like the morning-star gilding the horizon, when the surrounding heavens are wrapped in tempest. With it the feelings of the Christian and the man met in my bosom; and, bending over my fellow-sufferer, I applied the water to his lips. The poor wretch devoured the draught to its last drop with greediness.

“The presence and the unceasing groans of my companion—yea, the dungeon and darkness themselves—were forgotten in the one deadening and bitter idea, that my wife and child were also captives, and in the power of ruffians. If any other thought was indulged a moment, it was longing for liberty, that I might fly to their rescue—and it was then only that I became again sensible of captivity ; and my eyes once more sought the dubious gleam that stretched fitfully across the wall, becoming more evident to perception as I became inured to the surrounding blackness. Hope burned and brightened, as I traced the source of its dreamy shadows; and from thence weaved plans of escape, which, in the calculation of fancy, were already as performed; though, before reason and common possibilities, they would have perished as the dewy nets that, with the damps of an autumnal morning, overspread the hawthorn with their spangled lacework, and, before the rising sunbeam, shrink into nothing.

“But gradually my grief and despair subsided, and gave place to the cheering influence of hope, and the resolution of attempting my escape; and I rose to eat the bread and drink the water of captivity, to strengthen me for the task. For many hours, the presence of my companion had been forgotten; he still continued to howl, as one whom the horrors of an accusing conscience were withholding from the grasp of death; and I, roused from the reverie of my feelings and projects at the sound of his sufferings, hastened to apply water and morsels of bread to the lips of my perishing fellow-prisoner; for bread and water had been lowered into the vault.

“In order to carry my plan of escape into effect, for the first time, aided by the lamp that was suspended over me, I gazed inquisitively, and with a feeling of dismay, around the Golgotha in which I was immured.. There lay my hideous companion, the foam of pain and insanity gurgling from his mouth ; beside him the skeleton of a mailed warrior, and around, the uncoffined bones of four others, partly covered with their armour, aiid

‘The brands yet rusted in their bony hands.’

“Although prepared for such a scene, I placed my hands before my eyes, shuddering at the thought of becoming as one of those—of being their companion while I lived—of lying down by the side of a skeleton to die! The horror of the idea fired anew my resolution, and added more than human strength to my arm. I again eagerly sought the direction of the doubtful gleam, which formerly filled me with hope ; and was convinced that from thence an opening might be effected, if not to perfect liberty, to a sight of the blessed light of heaven, where freedom, I dreaded not, would easily be found. Filled with determination, which no obstacle could impede, I took one of the swords, which had lain by the side of its owner, untouched for ages, and with this instrument commenced the laborious and seemingly impossible task, of cutting out a flight of steps in the rude wall, and thereby gain the invisible aperture, from which something like light was seen to emanate. The ray proceeded from an extreme angle of the dungeon, and apparently at its utmost height. The materials on which I had to work were chiefly a hard granite rock, and other lighter, but scarce more manageable strata.

“Several anxious and miserable weeks thus passed in sluggish succession. Half of my task was accomplished ; and hope, with impatience, looked forward to its completion. I still divided my scanty meals with my companion, who, although recovered from the bruises occasioned by his fall, was become more horrible and fiend-like than before. As his body resumed its functions, his mind became the terrible imaginings of a guilty conscience. He had either lost or forgotten the power of walking upright, and prowled, howling around the dungeon on his hands and feet; while his dark bushy beard, and revolting aspect, gave him more the manner and appearance of a wild beast than a human being.

“Our portion of food being barely sufficient for the sustenance of one, hunger had long been added to the list of our sufferings; but particularly to those of the maniac. And, with the cunning peculiar to such unfortunates, he watched the return of the basket, which was daily lowered with provisions, and frequently beforeI—who, absorbed in the completion of my task, forgot or heeded not my jailer’s being within hearing—could descend to the ground, he would grasp the basket, swallow off the water at a draught, and hurry with the bread to a corner of the dungeon, thus leaving me without food for the next twenty-four hours.

“It was at the period when I had half completed my object that my companion, springing, as was his wont, upon the basket, before I could approach to withhold him, I perceived he had drained off the contents of a goblet, in which a few drops of a dark coloured liquor still remained; and the pitcher of water was untouched. The wretched maniac had swallowed the draught but a few minutes, when, rolling himself together, his screams and contortions became more frightful than before, and increasing in virulence for an hour, he lay motionless a few seconds, gasping for breath; and springing suddenly to his feet, he gazed wistfully above and around him, with a look of extreme agony, and exclaiming, 6 Heaven help me ! ’ he rushed fiercely towards the wall in the opposite direction to where I was attempting to effect my escape, gave one furious pull at what appeared the solid rock, and with a groan, fell back and expired.

“When the horror occasioned by his death in some degree abated, the singularity of the manner in which he tore at the wall of the dungeon fixed my attention ; and with almost frantic joy I perceived that a portion of the hitherto thought impenetrable rock had yielded several inches to his dying grasp. I hastily removed the body, and pulling eagerly at the unloosed fragment, it fell upon the ground, a rough unhewn lump of granite, leaving an opening of about two feet square in the rude rocky wall, from which it was so cut as to seem to feeling, and almost appearance, a solid part of it.

“My task was now abandoned. The gleam of light, which for weeks was to me an object of such intense interest, proceeded from a mere hairbreadth cleft in the rock. Taking up a sword which lay upon the ground, I drew my body into the aperture formed by the removal of the piece of rock; and creeping slowly on my hands and knees, groping with the weapon before me, I at length found the winding and dismal passage sufficiently lofty to permit me to stand erect. I seemed enveloped in an interminable cavern, now opening into spacious chambers, clothed with crystal; again losing itself in low passages, or narrow chinks of the rock, and suddenly terminating in a slippery precipice, beneath which gurgling waters were heard to run. Hours and hours passed; still I was groping onward, when I suddenly found my hopes cut off by the interposition of a precipice. I probed fearfully forward with the sword, but all was an unsubstantial void ; I drew it on each side, and there it met but the solid walls. I knelt, and reached down the sword to the length of my arm, but it touched nothing. In agony I dropped the weapon, by its sound to ascertain the depth, and, delighted, found it did not exceed eight or ten feet. I cautiously slid down, and groping around, again placed my hand upon the sword. Though my heart occasionally sank within me, yet the overcoming of each difficulty lent its inspiring aid to overcome its successor. Often every hope appeared extinct. Now I ascended, or again descended the dropping and crystalled rocks; now crept into openings, which suddenly terminated, and turning again, anxiously listened to the sound of the rippling water as my only guide. Often, in spite of every precaution, I was stunned with a blow from the abrupt lowness of the roof, or suddenly plunged to the arms in the numerous pools, whose waters had been dark from their birth.

“Language cannot convey an idea of the accum-mulating horrors of my situation. Struggling with suffocation, with a feeling more awful than terror, and with despair, the agony of darkness must be experieiiccd to be imagined.

“Still I moved on ; and suddenly, when ready to sink wearied, fainting, hopeless, the. glorious light of day streamed upon my sight. I bounded forward with a wild shout; but the magnificent sun, bursting from the eastern heavens, blinded my unaccustomed gaze.

“I again found that I was free—but my wife!—my child!—where were they? It was many years before that I learned that the nephew of the Inquisitor who had sought her hand, having died, she regained her liberty, and fled with our infant son to Scotland, to seek the home of her lost husband. Since then I have never heard of them again.”

When the Major had thus concluded his narrative —“Here,” said Christopher, “are two rings which were taken from the fingers of my mother—both bear inscriptions. ”

The old officer gazed upon them. “They were hers—my Maria’s,” he exclaimed; “I myself placed them upon her fingers ! Son of my Maria, thou art mine!”

The Major purchased a commission for his long-lost son; and when peace was proclaimed throughout Europe, they returned to Old Scotland together, where Christopher gave his sword as a memorial to his foster-father, Peter Thornton, and his hand to Jessie Wilkinson.


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