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Wilson's Border Tales
The Fugitive - Chapter 4

Mrs. Holditch (the wife of old Jonathan) was wandering up the lane in quest of her husband, wondering at the length of his absence, and fretting for his return; for "the sweet lady," as she termed Helen, "‘would nott take breakfast without them." She had proceeded about half-a-mile from the cottage, when she was met by none other than Laird Howison of Primrose Hall, and the following dialogue took place—

"Will ye hae the kindness to inform me, ma’am if that person that used to keep the gate of Sir John Blackett lives ony way aboot here?"

"He does sir," replied she, with a low obeisance.

"And, oh!" interrupted he, earnestly, "know ye if there be a young leddy frae Scotland stopping there at present—for I have heard that there is? Ye’ll no think me inquisitive ma’am; for really if ye kenned what motive I hae for asking ye would think it motive enough."

"There be your honour," returned she, "and a dear, excellent young lady she is."

"Oh! if it be her that I mean," said he, "that she is dear, indeed, I have owre guid reason to ken, and her excellence is written on every line of her beautiful countenance. But if I am no detaining ye, ma’am, may I just ask her name?"

"She bade us call her Helen, sir," replied she, "we know no other."

"Yes! yes!" cried he, "it’s just Helen!—Helen, and nothing else to me! Mony a time has that name been offered up wi’ my prayers. But I thought ma’am, ye said she bade you call her Helen."

"Yes, your honour," said she; "I be the wife of old Jonathan Holditch, and she be staying with us now."

"Bless you!" he exclaimed, "for the shelter which your roof has afforded to the head o’ an orphan. But, oh! What like is your Helen? Is her neck whiter than the drifted snaw? Does her hair fa’ in gowden ringlets, like the clouds that curl round the brows o’ the setting sun? Is her form delicate as the willow, but stately as the young pine? Is her countenance beautiful as the light o’ laughing day, when it chases sickness and darkness from the chamber o’ the invalid? If she isna a’ this—if her voice isna sweeter than the sough o’ music on the river—dear and excellent she may be, and they may call her Helen—but, oh! she isna my Helen!—for there is none in the world like unto mine. But, no!—she is not mine now!/ O Helen, woman! did I expect this? Excuse me, ma’am, ye’ll think my conduct strange; but, but, when my poor seared-up heart thinks o’ past enjoyment, it makes me forget mysel’. Do ye think your Helen is the same that I hae come to seek?"

"A sweeter and a lovelier lady," said she, "never called Christian man father. She had business at Winburn Priory; but my husband says she was driven away from the gate like a dog."

Is it her?" exclaimed he, "and she’s no been at the Priory then?"

"No, sir," returned she.

"Nor seen ony o’ the Blackett family?" added he, eagerly.

"No, sir; for there be none of them in the neighbourhood," answered she.

"What’s this I hear?"cried he:—"Gracious! if I may hope!—and why for no? But how is it that she is stopping wi’ you?—wherefore did she not return to where she has been cherished from infancy, and will aye be welcome. Has Helen forgot me a’thegither?"

"Alas sir!" said she; "it was partly grief, I believe, brought on a bad fever, and I had fears the sweet, patient creature would have died in my hands. I sat by bedside, watching night after night; and, oh! sir, I daresay how it was about you that she sometimes talked, and wept, and laughed, and talked again, poor thing."

"And did ye," he inquired, fumbling with a pocket-book; "did ye watch owre her? I’m your debtor for

that. And ye think she spoke about me—my name’s Howison, ma’am—Thomas Howison of Primrose Hall, the county o’ Dumfries. She would maybe call me Thomas!"

"Mr. Howison!I" replied the old woman; "yes, your honour, she often mentioned such a name—very often."

"Did she really," added he; "did she mention me?— and often speak about me—often? Then she’s no forgotten me a’thegither!"

He thrust a bank-note into the hands of Mrs. Holditch which she refused to accept, saying that "the dear lady had more than paid her for all that she had done already." But while she spoke, they had arrived within sight of the cottage, and he suddenly bounded forward, exclaiming—

"Oh! haud my heart!" as he beheld Helen, sitting looking from the window—"yonder she is! yonder she is! O Helen! Helen!" he cried, rushing towards the door—"wherefore did ye leave me?—why hae ye forsaken me? But joy o’ my heart, I winna upbraid ye; for I hae found ye again."

With an agitated step, she advanced to meet him—she extended her hand towards him—she faltered—"My kind, kind benefactor."

He heard the words she uttered—with a glance he beheld the marriage-ring upon her finger—he stood still in the midst of his transport—his out-stretched arm fell by his side—"O Helen. woman!" he cried in agony, "do ye really say benefactor?—that isna the word to hear frae ye. Ye never ca’ed me benefactor before!"

The few words spoken by the old woman had called up his buried hopes; but the word benefactor had again whelmed him in despair.

"Oh!" he continued, dashing away the tears from his eyes, "my poor mind is flung away upon a whirlwind, and my brain is the sport o’ every shadow! O Helen! I thought ye had forgotten me!"

"Forgotten you, my kind dear friend!" said she; "I have not, I will not, I cannot forget you; and wherefore would you forget that I can only remember you as a friend?"

"Poor, miserable, and deluded being that I am," added he; "I expected, from what the mistress o’ this house told me, that I wouldna be welcomed by the cauldrife names o’ friend or benefactor. Do ye mind since ye used to call me Thomas?"

"Mr. Howison," answered she, "I know this visit has been made in kindness—let me believe in parental anxiety. You have not now to learn that I am a wife, and you can have heard nothing here to lead you to think otherwise. I will not pretend to misunderstand you language. But by what name can I call you save that of friend?—it was the first and the only one by which I have ever known you."

"No, Helen," cried he, wringing her hand; "there was a time when ye only said Thomas! and the sound o’ that ae word frae yer lips was a waif o’ music, which echoed, like the vibrations o’ an angel’s harp, about my heart for hours and for hours!"

"If," added she, "from having been taught by you to call you by that name in childhood, when I regarded you as my guardian, and you condescended to be my playmate, will you upbraid me with ceasing to use it now, when respect to you and to myself demand the use of another? Or can you, by any act of mine, place another meaning upon my having used it, than obedience to your wishes, and the familiarity of a thoughtless girl? And, knowing this, is it possible that the best of men will heap sorrow upon sorrow on the head of a friendless and afflicted woman?"

"Oh, dinna say friendless, Helen," cried he; "friendless, ye canna be while I am in existence. Ye hae torn the scales from my eyes, and the first use o’ sight has been to show me that the past has been delusion, and that the future is misery, solitary madness, or despair! And hae I really a’ this time mistaen sweetness for love, and familiarity for affection! Do ye really say that it was only familiarity, Helen?"

"The feelings of a sister for a brother," she answered; "of a daughter for a father."

"True," said he; "I see it now; I was, indeed, older than your father—I didna recollect that."

He sat thoughtful for a few minutes, when Helen, to change the subject, inquired after her old nurse, Janet White.

"Poor body," said he, raising his head, "her spirits are clean gone. I understand she sits mourning for you by the fire, cowering thegither like a pigeon that’s lost its mate, or a ewe whose lamb has been struck dead by its side. It would wring tears from a heart o’ stane to hear her lamenting, morning, noon, and night, for her ‘dear bairn,’ as she aye ca’ed ye—rocking her head and chirming owre her sorrow, like a hen bird owre its rifled nest. I had her owre at the Hall the day after I cam back frae London, and just afore I cam here to seek for ye. But there is naething aboot it that she tak’s delight in noo. And, when I strove to amuse her, by taking her through the garden and plantations (though I stood mair in need o’ comfort mysel’), she would stand still and lean her head against a tree, in the very middle o’ some o’ the bonniest spots, while a tear came rowing down her cheeks, and look in my face wi’ such a sorrowful expression, that a thousand arrows, entering my breast at once, couldna hae caused me mair agony. I felt that I was a puir, solitary, and despised being, only cast in the midst of a paradise, that my comfortless bosom might appear the blacker and the more dismal. The puir auld body saw what was passing within me, and she shook her head, saying, ‘Oh, sir! had I seen ye leading my bairn down thir bonny avenues as your wife, Janet White would have been a happy woman.’ Then she wrung her withered hands, and the tears hailed down her cheeks faster and faster; while I hadna a word o’ consolation to say to her, had it been to save my life. For the very chirping o’ the birds grew irksome, and the young leaves and the silky flowers painful to look upon. O Helen if ye only kenned what we a’ suffer on your account! If ye only kenned what it is to have hope spired up, and affection preying upon your ain heart for nourishment, ye wadna be angry at onything I say."

"Think not it is possible," she replied, while her tears flowed faster than her words; "but wherefore feed a hopeless passion, the indulgence of which is now criminal?"

"Oh! forgie ye!" he exclaimed vehemently; "dinna say that, Helen! Hopeless it may be, but not criminal! That is the only cruel word I ever heard frae yer lips ! I didna think onybody would hae said that to me! Did you really say criminal? But, oh! as matters stand, if ye’ed only alloo me to say another word or twa anent the subject, and if ye wadna just crush me as a moth, and tak pleasure in my agonies—or hae me to perish wi’ the sunless desolation o’ my ain breast—ye’ll allow me to say them. They relate to my last consolation—the last tie that links me and the world together!"

"Speak," said Helen; "let not me be the cause of misery I can have power to prevent."

"Oh then!" replied he, "be not angry at what I’m going to say; and mind that on your answer depends the future happiness or misery o’ a fellow being. Yes, Helen! upon your word depends life and hope—madness and misery: I say life and hope—for if ye destroy the one, the other winna haud lang oot; and I say madness—for oh! if ye had been a witness o’ the wild and the melancholy days and nights that I hae passed since I learned that ye had left me, and felt my heart burning and beating, and my brain loup, louping for ever, like a living substance, and shooting and stinging through my head, like strings o’ fire, till I neither kenned whar I was, nor what I did; but stood still or rushed out in agony, and screamed to the wind, or gripped at the echo o’ my voice!—I say, if ye had seen this, ye wadna think it strange that I made use o’ the words. And now, as ye have heard nothing from—from Henry Blackett, from the night that the ceremony o’ marriage was performed—and if ye shall hear nothing o’ him for seven years to come, ye will then, ye ken, be at liberty—and will ye say that I may hope then? O Helen, woman! say but the word, and I’ll wait the seven years, as Jacob did for Rachel, and count them but a day if my Helen, will bless me wi’ a smile o’ hope!"

As he thus spoke, Mrs. Holditch bustled into the room, exclaiming—"O sweet lady, here be one coming thee knows— see! see! there be my husband, and our own dear young master Henry, come to make us happy again!"

"My Henry!" exclaimed Helen, springing towards the door—"where—oh, where?"

"Here, my beloved! here!" replied Henry, meeting her on the threshold.

Poor Laird Howison stood dumb, his mouth open, his eyes extended, staring on vacancy. He beheld the object of his delirious love sink into her husband’s arms, and saw no more. He clasped his hands together, and with a deep groan, reeled against the wall. Henry and Helen, in the ecstasy of meeting each other, were unconscious of all around, and Willie Galloway was the first to observe his countryman.

"Preserve us! you here too, Mr. Howison?" said he. But the features of the laird remained rivetted in agony, and betrayed no symptom of recognition. The mention of the laird’s name by Willie, arrested the attention of Henry, and approaching him, he said—"Sir, to you I ought to offer an apology."

The unhappy man wildly grasped the hand of Henry, and seizing also Helen’s, he exclaimed—"It’s a’ owre now! The chain is forged, and the iron is round my soul. But I bless you baith. Tak her! tak her!—and hear me, Henry Blackett—as ye would escape wrath and judgment, be kind to her as the wrestlin’ winds and the morning dews to the leaves o’ spring. Let it be your part to clothe her countenance wi’ smiles and her bosom wi’ joy! Fareweel, Helen!—look up!—let me for the last time look upon your face, and I will carry that look upon my memory to the grave!"

"She gazed upon him wildly, crying—"Stay!—stay!—you must not leave us!"

"Now!—now, it is past!" he cried; "it was a sair struggle, but reason mastered it! Fareweel, Helen!— fareweel!"

Thus saying, he rushed out of the house, and Willie Galloway followed him; but although fleet of foot, he was compelled to give up the pursuit.

A few minutes after the abrupt and wild departure of the laird, and before Helen had recovered from the shock, the ruffians, who at the instigation of Norton, had hunted after Henry to deliver him up to the government, and from whom he had already twice escaped, rushed into the room, exclaiming—"Secure the traitor!"

Henry sprang back to defend himself, and Willie Galloway, who had returned, threw himself into a pugilistic attitude. But Helen, stepping between her husband and his pursuers, drew a paper from her bosom, and placing it in his hands, said—"My Henry is free! he is pardoned!—the king hath signed it!—laugh at the bloodhounds!" And as she spoke, she sank upon his breast. He opened the paper; it was his pardon under the royal signature and the royal seal! "My own!—my wife!—my wife!" cried Henry, pressing her to his heart, and weeping on her neck.

"That crowns a’," exclaimed Willie Galloway; "O Helen!—what a lassie ye are!"

The ruffians slunk from the room in confusion, and Willie informed them that the sooner they were out of sight it would be the better for them.

Helen, on leaving Scotland, had proceeded to Londou, where, through the interest of a friend of Laird Howison’s, she gained access to the Duke of Cumberland, and throwing herself at his feet, had, through him, obtained her husband’s pardon, and that pardon she had carried next her bosom to his father’s house, hoping to find him there.

Having divided this tale into chapters, we now come to the


Henry being now pardoned Willie Galloway advised that he should take his wife to his father’s house, and remain there, adding—"Mind ye, Maister Henry, that possession is nine points o’ law,—and if ye be in want o’ the matter o’ five hundred pounds for present use, or for mair to prove your birthright at law, I am the man that will advance it, and that will leave no stone unturned till I see you righted."

Willie’s suggestion was acted upon; and Henry and Helen took up their abode in the Priory, where they had been but a few weeks, when he obtained information that his father had fallen in a duel, and that his adversary was none other than Squire Norton, the father of his then wife; but with his dying breath, he declared, in the presence of his seconds, and invoked them to record it, that his injured son Henry was his only and lawful heir.

"That," exclaimed Norton, with a savage laugh over his dying antagonist, "it will cost him some trouble to prove!"

The murderer, in the name of a child which his daughter had borne to Sir Iohn, had the hardihood to enter legal proceedings to obtain the estate.

Henry applied to the parish of Glencleugh for the register of his mother’s marriage; but no such record was found. Old Dugald Mackay had a dreamy recollection of such a marriage taking place, but he said—"It pe very strange that it isna in te pook; hur canna swear to it."

Many thought that the day would be given against Henry, and pitied him; but before judgment was pronounced in the case, young Norton was found guilty of forgery, and condemned to undergo the last severity of the law. Previous to his ignominious death, in the presence of witnesses, he confessed the injury he had done to Henry, by tearing the leaves from the parish-register, and directed where they might be found. They were found—old Norton fled from the country, and Henry obtained undisputed possession of the estate; but on his father’s widow and child he settled a competency.

Laird Howison’s sorrow moderated as his years increased; and when Henry and Helen had children, and when they had grown up to run about, he requested that they should be sent to him every year, to pull the primroses around Primrose Hall; and they were sent. One of them, a girl, the image of her mother, he often wept over, and said he hoped to live to love her as he had loved her mother. Willie Galloway often visited his friends in Cheshire, and remained "Canny Willie" to the end of the chapter.

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