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Book of Scottish Story
Jane Malcolm: a Village Tale

Every town in Scotland has its "character," in the shape of some bedlamite, innocent, or odd fish. There is something interesting about these out-of-the-way beings. Everything they do is a kind of current chapter of biography among their neighbours;—what they say is regarded as the words of an oracle —more worthy of memory than the inquiries of the laird or the advice of the parson. They are in a manner immortalised.

Having, in the course of different summers, taken up a short residence in some of the smaller borough towns and villages scattered through Scotland, I took no small delight in observing the peculiarities of many of those objects of compassion, and in tracing the source of that dismal malady which laid prostrate the edifice of reason, and arrested the harmonious mechanism of an organised mind. The task was sometimes of a melancholy nature : I found histories—real histories—turning upon incidents the most tragical, and only wonder they are so little known, and meet with such slender sympathy. The crisis of a well-written romance brings out more tears than were ever shed for the fall of man; but never have I read of anything so pathetic as was developed in the following sketch—a sketch which the pen of a Scott could do little to adorn. The naked truth of the story is a series of catastrophes, a parallel to which imagination seldom produces. It was told me by a sister of the unfortunate female who figures so conspicuously in it.

Jane Malcolm was the daughter of a lint-mill proprietor in the small town of K——n. Her father, being a wealthy man, held for a long time the provostship of the place—a Scottish burgh. His family consisted of two daughters and a son. Jane was the youngest of these, and her father’s favourite. There was something about the girl extremely attractive ; she possessed all the advantages of personal beauty, combined with a gentleness of disposition and quickness of understanding, that wrought upon the affections of all she knew. At the manse she was peculiarly beloved ; the good old minister recognised in her the image of one he had lost ; the illusion strengthened as she grew up, and Jane Malcolm was as much an inmate there as she was in the house of her father. A few years saw her removed to Edinburgh, to finish an education imperfectly carried on under the superintendence of a village governess. She returned graceful and accomplished, to be looked up to by all her former companions. But Jane was not proud ; —her early friendships she disdained to supplant by a feeling so unworthy-—so unlike herself. Her over-bending nature, indeed, was her fault: it brought the vulgar and undiscerning mind into too much familiarity with her own. It became the cause of all her misery.

Among those most intimate with her was one Margaret Innes, a young and lively girl, but far below Jane’s rank in life. The daughter of an aged fisherman, it was not uncommon for Jane to find her employed in offices the most menial. For all this she loved her not the less. The affection and humble virtues of Margaret amply repaid Jane for her condescension. Mr Malcolm himself saw no harm in this growing friendship, marked, as it was, with such a strong disparity of situation. But he overlooked the circumstance that Margaret Innes had a brother, a handsome, fearless lad. A sailor by profession, it is true he was seldom at home, but though seldom, he was often enough for Jane to discover that his every return brought with it a stronger impression in his favour. When very young they were play-fellows together, and now when both were grown up, she could not refuse a smile or a word, whenever, after a long voyage, the light-hearted sailor returned to his native home. Sandy felt vain of her notice, but by no means attempted more familiarity than was consistent with his station. Without daring to love, he would have done anything to serve Miss Malcolm, and his readiness was not unfrequently put to the test.

Nothing Jane loved better than a short excursion upon the neighbouring sea. The boat of the old fisherman was often in request for this purpose, and he himself, accompanied by his daughter Margaret, made up the party on these occasions. When Sandy was at home, he supplied the place of his father, and his active and skilful hand directed many a pleasant voyage-made more pleasant by a fund of amusing anecdotes and adventures picked up in the course of his travels. One afternoon, on the day after his return from the coast of Norway, this little group had embarked to enjoy the delightful freshness of the sea-breeze, after a noon of intolerable heat. Standing up to gaze at a dock of sea-birds, collected for the purpose of devouring the small fry of the herring which at that season visited the coast, Jane Malcolm accidentally fell into the water. The boat receded rapidly from the spot, its sail being filled by the wind. Immediately, however, Sandy Innes swam towards the terrifed girl. She clung to him for support. It was no easy matter to reach the boat, carried along as it was by the breeze, and not till Margaret had recovered from her first alarm, was she able, by turning the helm, to give them the required assistance. They were soon safe. This adventure called forth the liveliest feelings of gratitude on the part of Jane Malcolm. She regarded the youthful sailor as her preserver, and thought no recompense too liberal for the service he had rendered. Imprudently she revealed to his sister the secret of her growing attachment. Margaret was too generous all at once to give her brother the advantage offered. She reasoned with Jane on the impropriety—the unsuitableness of such a union as was hinted at; and, to render it impracticable for the present, she induced Sandy to engage with a ship bound for North America. Accordingly, he again. left the country.

Miss Malcolm was not to be deterred. She upbraided Margaret for her want of feeling; and, in short, took it so much to heart, that the poor girl, on Sandy’s return, was, out of self-defence, obliged to communicate to him the tidings she willingly would have hid. To be brief, they were married without Mr Malcolm’s consent. This was a blow the old man never got over; he died a few days after the ceremony. His only son had just returned from England, a lieutenant in the army ; alas! it was to lay in the grave the remains of a heart-broken father. Enraged at the cause of this melancholy blow, he vowed revenge against the innocent intruder into his domestic peace. The feelings of his unhappy sister he thought no sacrifice to win retaliation; the step she had already taken showed them, in his eye, to be blunted and incapable of injury. To have challenged one so much his inferior never entered into his mind ; he brooded over a purpose more dark and sanguinary, though less consistent with his honour. His design was to have the husband of his sister murdered, and he appears to have formed it without a moment’s hesitation. Professing regard for his new brother-in-law, he pretended to be reconciled to the unfortunate marriage, and even divided with him and his other sister the patrimony of the deceased. This show of friendship had the effect of producing a seeming intimacy between them. Many a time they went out for a few hours upon fishing excursions, without any discovery being made by Sandy Innes of the growing hostility harboured by young Malcolm. One evening, however—the latter having, by various excuses, delayed their return to shore till after sunset—as the boat was lying quietly at anchor, about a mile from harbour, the unsuspecting sailor leant over to recover an oar which Malcolm had purposely dropped, when he found himself suddenly precipitated into the sea. In attempting to regain the vessel, he was driven back, and violently struck with the boat-hook, which his villanous brother-in-law had seized, with the intent to put the finish to his murderous treachery. In this, however, he was disappointed. Sandy Innes, with strong presence of mind, caught hold of the instrument, managing, at the same time, to overset the boat, and thus involve Malcolm in the same fate with himself. Both had a hard struggle for life; but alas! without success. Next morning the bodies of the two young men were discovered lying upon the beach. They were carried into Jane’s habitation without her knowledge—the unfortunate girl having gone out to a different part of the shore in quest of the boat, which, she fancied, had, by the wish of her brother, harboured all night at Inchkeith. When she returned, the first object that met her eyes was the body of her own dear husband—a cold corpse, with the long black hair hanging down over his once noble brow, and the dark eyes wide open, as if fixed in death upon her and heaven. A few days afterwards the young men were buried, side by side,—for a fearful story was whispered of Malcolm’s guilt : how he was seen by the crew of a boat that had landed, without notice, upon a neighbouring rock, at the moment he attempted the atrocious deed. Their assistance, though instantly offered, was too late, for both had gone down ere they reached the spot.

After that sad catastrophe Jane was never herself. A fever carried away her intellects, and left her mind in ruins. Though possessed of a competency, it has never been used. The same weeds, though now reduced to rags, still cover her in her long and sorrowful widow-hood. The last time I saw her, I saw a fearful picture—a beautiful female altered to a revolting spectacle of squalidness and deformity. She was gathering the shell-fish from among the brown layers of tangle, beyond the farthest ebb of the tide. Now and then she broke the shells with her teeth, muttering,—"We shall find him here—we shall find him here;" and then she threw the shells round about her, with a sad sigh, as if her heart were longing to break, but felt chained up in a lone and weary prison. As I passed, I called to her—"Jane, this is a cold day, and you seem at cold work." " Ay! ay !” she replied, "and so are the worms ! But did ye see him? Bonny Sandy! If ye be gaun to the town, tell Meg Innes to come ; for he’s a wild laddie, and maybe she’ll ken whaur he’s hidden himsel!”

Poor creature, thought I, she will find rest in the grave!—Edinburgh Literary Journal.

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