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Literary Tales
Cousin Mattie


AT the lone farm of Finagle, there lived for many years an industrious farmer and his family. Several of his children died, and only one daughter and one son remained to him. He had besides these a little orphan niece, who was brought into the family, called Matilda; but all her days she went by the familiar name of Cousin Mattie. At the time this simple narrative commences, Alexander, the farmer’s son, was six years of age, Mattie was seven, and Flora, the farmer’s only daughter, about twelve.

How I do love a little girl about that age! There is nothing in nature so fascinating, so lovely, so innocent; and, at the same time, so full of gaiety and playfulness. The tender and delicate affections, to which their natures are moulded, are then beginning unconsciously to form; and everything beautiful or affecting in nature claims from them a deep but momentary interest. They have a tear for the weaned lamb, for the drooping flower, and even for the travelling mendicant, though afraid to come near him. But the child of the poor female vagrant is to them, of all others, an object of the deepest interest. How I have seen them look at the little wretch, and then at their own parents alternately, the feelings of the soul abundantly conspicuous in every muscle of the face and turn of the eye! Their hearts are like softened wax, and the impressions then made on them remain for ever. Such beings approach nigh to the list where angels stand, and are, in fact, the connecting link that joins us with the inhabitants of a better world. How I do love a well-educated little girl of twelve or thirteen years of age!

At such an age was Flora of Finagle, with a heart moulded to every tender impression, and a memory so retentive that whatever affected or interested her was engraven there never to be cancelled.

One morning, after her mother had risen and gone to the byre to look after the cows, Flora, who was lying in a bed by herself, heard the following dialogue between the two children, who were lying prattling together in another bed close beside hers— 

"Do you ever dream ony, little Sandy?"

"What is’t like, cousin Mattie? Sandy no ken what it is til deam."

"It is to think ye do things when you are sleeping, when ye dinna do them at a’."

"Oh, Sandy deam a great deal yat way."

"If you will tell me ane o’ your dreams, Sandy—I’ll tell you ane o’ mine that I dreamed last night; and it was about you, Sandy?"

"Sae was mine, cousin. Sandy deamed that he fightit a gaet Englishman, an’ it was Yobia Hood; an’ Sandy ding’d him’s swold out o’ him’s hand, an’ noll’d him on ye face, an’ ye back, till him geetit. An’ yen thele comed anodel littel despelyate Englishman, an’ it was littel John; an’ Sandy fightit him till him was dead; an’ yen Sandy got on o’ ane gyand holse, an’ gallompit away."

"But I wish that ye be nae making that dream just e’en now, Sandy?"

"Sandy ‘hought it, atweel."

"But were you sleeping when you thought it?"

"Na, Sandy wasna’ sleepin’, but him was winking."

"Oh, but that’s not a true dream; I’ll tell you one that’s a true dream. I thought there was a bonny lady came to me, and she held out two roses, a red one and a pale one, and bade me take my choice. I took the white one; and she bade me keep it, and never part with it, for if I gave it away, I would die. But when I came to you, you asked my rose, and I refused to give you it. You then cried for it, and said I did not love you; so I could not refuse you the flower, but wept too, and you took it.

"Then the bonny lady came back to me, and was very angry, and said, ‘Did not I tell you to keep your rose? Now the boy that you have given it to will be your murderer. He will kill you; and on this day fortnight you will be lying in your coffin, and that pale rose upon your breast.’

"I said, ‘I could not help it now.’ But when I was told that you were to kill me, I liked you aye better and better, and better and better." And with these words Matilda clasped him to her bosom and wept. Sandy sobbed bitterly too, and said, "She be geat lial, yon lady. Sandy no kill cousin Mattie. When Sandy gows byaw man, an’ gets a gyand house, him be vely good till cousin an’ feed hel wi’ gingebead, an’ yeam, an’ tyankil, an’ take hel in him’s bosy yis way." With that the two children fell silent, and sobbed and wept till they fell sound asleep, clasped in each other’s arms.

This artless dialogue made a deep impression on Flora’s sensitive heart. It was a part of her mother’s creed to rely on dreams, so that it had naturally become Flora’s too. She was shocked, and absolutely terrified, when she heard her little ingenious cousin say that Sandy was to murder her, and on that day fortnight she should be lying in her coffin; and without informing her mother of what she had overheard, she resolved in her own mind to avert, if possible, the impending evil. It was on a Sabbath morning, and after little Sandy had got on his clothes, and while Matilda was out, he attempted to tell his mother cousin Mattie’s dream, to Flora’s great vexation; but he made such a blundering story of it that it proved altogether incoherent, and his mother took no further notice of it than to bid him hold his tongue; "what was that he was speaking about murdering?"

The next week Flora entreated of her mother that she would suffer cousin Mattie and herself to pay a visit to their aunt at Kirkmichael; and, though her mother was unwilling, she urged her suit so earnestly that the worthy dame was fain to consent.

"What’s ta’en the gowk’ lassie the day?" said she; "I think she be gane fey. I never could get her to gang to see her aunt, and now she has ta’en a tirrovy in her head, that she’ll no be keepit. I dinna like sic absolute freaks, an’ sic langings, to come into the heads o’ bairns; they’re ower aften sore something uncannie. Gae your ways an’ see your auntie, sin’ ye will gang; but ye’s no get little cousin w’ye, sae never speak o’t. Think ye that I can do wantin’ ye baith out o’ the house till the Sabbath day be ower."

"Oh but, mother, it’s sae gousty, an’ sae eiry, to lie up in yon loft ane’s lane; unless cousin Mattie gang wi’ me, I canna’ gang ava."

"Then just stay at hame, daughter, an’ let us alane o’ thae daft nories a’ thegither."

Flora now had recourse to that expedient which never fails to conquer the opposition of a fond mother: she pretended to cry bitterly. The good dame was quite overcome, and at once yielded, though not with a very good grace. "Saw ever onybody sic a fie-gae-to as this? They that will to Cupar maun to Cupar! Gae your ways to Kirkmichael, an’ tak the hale town at your tail, gin ye like. What’s this that I’m sped wi’."

"Na, na, mother; I’s no gang my foot length. Ye sanna hae that to flyre about. Ye keep me working frae the tae year’s end to the tither, an’ winna gie me a day to mysel’. I’s no seek to be away again, as lang as I’m aneath your roof."

"Whisht now, an’ haud your tongue, my bonny Flora. Ye hae been ower good a bairn to me, no to get your ain way o’ ten times mair nor that. Ye ken laith wad your mother be to contrair you i’ ought, if she wist it war for your good. I’m right glad that it has come i’ your ain side o’ the house, to gang an’ see your auntie. Gang your ways, an’ stay a day or twa; an’, if ye dinna like to sleep your lane, take billy Sandy w’ye, an’ leave little cousin wi’ me, to help me wi’ bits o’ turns till ye come back."

This arrangement suiting Flora’s intent equally well with the other, it was readily agreed to, and everything soon amicably settled between the mother and daughter. The former demurred a little on Sandy’s inability to perform the journey; but Flora, being intent on her purpose, overruled this objection, though she knew it was but too well founded.

Accordingly, the couple set out on their journey next morning, but before they were half way Sandy began to tire, and a short time after gave fairly in. Flora carried him on her back for a space, but finding that would never do, she tried to cajole him into further exertion. No, Sandy would not set a foot to the ground. He was grown drowsy, and would not move. Flora knew not what to do, but at length fell upon an expedient which an older person would scarcely have thought of. She went to a gate of an enclosure, and, pulling a spoke out of it, she brought that to Sandy, telling him she had now got him a fine hors; and he might ride all the way. Sandy, who was uncommonly fond of horses, swallowed the bait, and, mounting astride on his rung, he took the road at a round pace, and for the last two miles of their journey Flora could hardly keep in view of him.

She had little pleasure in her visit, further than the satisfaction that she was doing what she could to avert a dreadful casualty, which she dreaded to be hanging over the family; and on her return, from the time that she came in view of her father, she looked only for the appearance of Mattie running about the door; but no Mattie being seen, Flora’s heart began to tremble, and as she advanced nearer, her knees grew so feeble that they would scarcely support her slender form; for she knew that it was one of the radical principles of a dream to be ambiguous.

"A’s unco still about our hame the day, Sandy; I wish ilka ane there may be weel. It’s like death."

"Sandy no ken what death is like. What is it like, Sistel Flola?"

"You will maybe see that ower soon. It is death that kills a’ living things, Sandy."

"Aye; aih aye! Sandy saw a wee buldie, it could neilel pick, nol flee, nol dab. It was vely ill done o’ death! Sistel Flola, didna God make a’ living things?"

"Yes; he assured he did."

"Then, what has death ado to kill them? if Sandy wele God, him wad fight him." 

"Whisht, whisht, my dear; ye dinna ken what you’re sayin’. Ye maunna speak about these things."

"Weel, Sandy no speak ony maile about them. But if death should kill cousin Mattie, oh! Sandy wish him might kill him too!"

"Wha do ye like best i’ this world, Sandy?"

"Sandy like sistel Flola best"

"You are learning the art of flattery already; for I heard ye telling Mattie the tither morning, that ye likit her better than a’ the rest o’ the world put thegither."

"But yan Sandy coudna help yat Cousin Mattie like Sandy, and what could him say?"

Flora could not answer him for anxiety; for they were now drawing quite near to the house, and still all was quiet. At length Mattie opened the door, and, without returning to tell her aunt the joyful tidings, came running like a little fairy to meet them; gave Flora a hasty kiss; and then, clasping little Sandy about the neck, she exclaimed, in an ecstatic tone, "Aih, Sandy man!" and pressed her cheek to his. Sandy produced a small book of pictures, and a pink rose knot that he had brought for his cousin, and was repaid with another embrace, and a sly compliment to his gallantry.

Matilda was far beyond her years in acuteness. Her mother was an accomplished English lady, though only the daughter of a poor curate, and she had bred her only child with every possible attention. She could read, she could sing, and play some airs on the spinnet; and was altogether a most interesting little nymph. Both her parents came to an untimely end, and to the lone cottage of Finagle was she then removed, where she was still very much caressed. She told Flora all the news of her absence in a breath. There was nothing disastrous had happened.

But, so strong was Flora’s presentiment of evil, that she could not get quit of it, until she had pressed the hands of both her parents. From that day forth, she suspected that little faith was to be put in dreams. The fourteen days was now fairly over, and no evil nor danger had happened to Matilda, either from the hand of Sandy or otherwise. However, she kept the secret of the dream locked up in her heart, and never either mentioned or forgot it.

Shortly after that she endeavoured to reason her mother out of her belief in dreams, for she would still gladly have been persuaded in her own mind that this vision was futile, and of no avail. But she found her mother staunch to her point. She reasoned on the principle that the Almighty had made nothing in vain, and if dreams had been of no import to man they would not have been given to him. And further, she said we read in the Scriptures that dreams were fulfilled in the days of old; but we didna read in the Scriptures that ever the nature of dreaming was changed. On the contrary, she believed that since the days of prophecy had departed, and no more warnings of futurity could be derived by man from that, dreaming was of doubly more avail, and ought to be proportionally more attended to, as the only mystical communication remaining between God and man. To this reasoning Flora was obliged to yield. It is no hard matter to conquer, where belief succeeds argument.

Time flew on, and the two children were never asunder. They read together, prayed together, and toyed and caressed without restraint, seeming but to live for one another. But a heavy misfortune at length befell the family. She who had been a kind mother and guardian angel to all the three was removed by death to a better home. Flora was at that time in her eighteenth year, and the charge of the family then devolved on her. Great was their grief but their happiness was nothing abated; they lived together in the same kind love and amity as they had done before. The two youngest in particular fondled each other more and more, and this growing fondness, instead of being checked, was constantly encouraged, Flora still having a lurking dread that some deadly animosity might breed between them.

Matilda and she always slept in the same bed, and very regularly told each other their dreams in the morning— dreams pure and innocent as their own stainless bosoms. But one morning Flora was surprised by Matilda addressing her as follows, in a tone of great perplexity and distress— "AhI my dear cousin, what a dream I have had last night! I thought I saw my aunt, your late worthy mother, who was kind and affectionate to me, as she always wont to be, and more beautiful than I ever saw her. She took me in her arms, and wept over me; and charged me to go and leave this place instantly, and by all means to avoid her son, otherwise he was destined to be my murderer; and on that day seven-night I should be lying in my coffin. She showed me a sight too that I did not know, and cannot give a name to. But the surgeons came between us, and separated us, so that I saw her no more."

Flora trembled and groaned in spirit; nor could she make any answer to Matilda for a long space, save by repeated moans. "Merciful Heaven!" said she at length, "what can such a dream portend? Do not you remember, dear Mattie, of dreaming a dream of the same nature once long ago?"

Mattie had quite forgot of ever having dreamed such a dream; but Flora remembered it well; and thinking that she might formerly have been the mean, under Heaven, of counterworking destiny, she determined to make a further effort; and, ere ever she arose, advised Matilda to leave the house, and avoid her brother, until the seven days had elapsed. "It can do nae ill, Mattie," said she; "an’ mankind hae whiles muckle i’ their ain hands to do or no to do; to bring about, or to keep back." Mattie consented, solely to please the amiable Flora; for she was no more afraid of Sandy than she was of one of the flowers of the field. She went to Kirkmichael, stayed till the week was expired, came home in safety, and they both laughed at their superstitious fears. Matilda thought of the dream no more, but Flora treasured it up in her memory, though all the coincidence that she could discover between the two dreams was that they had both happened on a Saturday, and both precisely at the same season of the year, which she well remembered.

At the age of two and twenty, Flora was married to a young farmer, who lived in a distant corner of the same extensive parish, and of course left the charge of her father’s household to cousin Mattie, who, with the old farmer, his son, and one maid-servant, managed and did all the work of the farm. Still, as their number was diminished, their affections seemed to be drawn the closer; but Flora scarcely saw them any more, having the concerns of a family to mind at home.

One day, when her husband went to church, he perceived the old beadle standing bent over his staff at the churchyard gate, distributing burial letters to a few as they entered. He held out one to the husband of Flora, and, at the same time, touched the front of his bonnet with the other hand; and without regarding how the letter affected him who received it, began instantly to look about for others to whom he had letters directed.

The farmer opened the letter, and had almost sunk down on the earth, when he read as follows:-

"Sir, —The favour of your company, at twelve o’clock, on Tuesday next, to attend the funeral of Matilda A—-n, my niece, from this, to the place of interment, in the churchyard of C—r, will much oblige, Sir, your humble servant, "JAMES A—N. "Finagle, April 12th.

Think of Flora’s amazement and distress, when her husband told her what had happened, and showed her this letter. She took to her bed on the instant, and wept herself into a fever for the friend and companion of her youth. Her husband became considerably alarmed on her account, she being in that state in which violent excitement often proves dangerous. Her sickness was, however, only temporary; but she burned with impatience to learn some particulars of her cousin’s death. Her husband could tell her nothing; only, that he heard one say she died on Saturday.

This set Flora a calculating, and going over in her mind reminiscences of their youth; and she soon discovered, to her utter astonishment and even horror, that her cousin Matilda had died precisely on that day fourteen years that she first dreamed the ominous dream, and that day seven years that she dreamed it again!

Here was indeed matter of wonder! But her blood ran cold to her heart when she thought what might have been the manner of her death. She dreaded, nay, she almost calculated upon it as certain, that her brother had poisoned, or otherwise made away privately with the deceased, as she was sure such an extraordinary coincidence behoved to be fulfilled in all its parts. She durst no more make any inquiries concerning the circumstances of her cousin’s death; but she became moping and unsettled, and her husband feared for her reason.

He went to the funeral; but dreading to leave Flora long by herself, he only met the procession a small space from the churchyard; for his father-in-law’s house was distant fourteen miles from his own. On his return, he could still give Flora very little additional information. He said he had asked his father-in-law what had been the nature of the complaint of which she died; but he had given him an equivocal answer, and seemed to avoid entering into any explanation; and that he had then made inquiry at others, who all testified their ignorance of the matter. Flora at length, after long hesitation, ventured to ask if her brother was at the funeral? and was told that he was not. This was a death-blow to her lingering hopes, and all but confirmed the hideous catastrophe that she dreaded; and for the remainder of that week she continued in a state of mental agony.

On the Sunday following, she manifested a strong desire to go to church to visit her cousin’s grave. Her husband opposed it at first, but at last consenting, in hopes she might be benefited by an overflow of tenderness, he mounted her on a pad, and accompanied her to the churchyard gate, leaving her there to give vent to her feelings.

As she approached the new grave, which was by the side of her mother’s, she perceived two aged people whom she knew, sitting beside it busily engaged in conversation about the inhabitant below. Flora drew her hood over her face, and came with a sauntering step towards them, to lull all suspicion that she had any interest or concern in what they were saying and finally she leaned herself down on a flat grave-stone close beside them, and made as if she were busied in deciphering the inscription. There she heard the following dialogue, one may conceive with what sort of feelings.

"An’ then she was aye say kind, an’ sae lively, an’ sae affable to poor an’ rich, an’ then sae bonny an’ sae young. Oh, but my heart’s sair for her! When I saw the mortclaith drawn off the coffin, an’ saw the silver letters kythe, AGED 21, the tears ran down ower thae auld wizzened cheeks, Janet; an’ I said to mysel’, ‘Wow but that is a bonny flower cut off i’ the bloom!’ But, Janet, my joe, warna ye at the corpse-kisting."

"An’ what suppose I was, Matthew? What’s your concern wi’ that?"

"Because I heard say that there was nane there but you an’ another that ye ken weel. But canna you tell me, kimmer, what was the corpse like? Was’t a’ fair an’ bonny, an’ nae blueness nor demmish to be seen?"

"An’ what wad an auld fool body like you be the better, gin ye kend what the corpse was like? Thae sights are nae for een like yours to see; an’ that subjects are nae fit for tongues like yours to tattle about. What’s done canna be undone. The dead will lie still. But oh, what’s to come o’ the living?"

"Ay, but I’m sure she had been a lusty weel plenished corpse, Janet; for she was a heavy ane; an’ a deeper coffin I never saw."

Haud your auld souple untackit tongue. Gin I hear sic another hint come ower the foul tap o’t, it sal be the waur for ye. But lown be it spoken, an’ little be it said. Weel might the corpse be heavy, an’ the coffin deep! ay, weel might the coffin be made deep, Matthew, for there was a stout lad bairn, a poor little pale flower, that hardly ever saw the light o’ heaven, was streekit on her breast at the same time wi’ hersel’."


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