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Book of Scottish Story
Peat-Casting Time

Part 2

By Thomas GillespieWill Mather was about two years older than Nancy—a fine youth, attending the same school, and evidently an admirer of Nancy. Mine was the love of comparative boyhood; but his was a passion gradually ripening (as the charms of Nancy budded into womanhood) into a manly and matrimonial feeling. I loved the girl merely as such—his eye, his heart, his whole soul were in his future bride. Marriage in no shape ever entered into my computations ; but his eager look and heaving bosom bespoke the definite purpose—the anticipated felicity. I don’t know exactly why, but I was never jealous of Will Mather. We were companions; and he was high-souled and generous, and stood my friend in many perilous quarrels. I knew that my pathway in life was to be afar from that in which Nancy and Will were likely to walk; and I felt in my heart that, dear as this beautiful rosebud was to me. I was not man enough—I was not ‘peasant’ enough to wear it in my bosom. Had Nancy on any occasion turned round to be kissed by me, I would have fled over muir and dale to avoid her presence; and yet I had often a great desire to obtain that favour. Once, indeed, and only once, did I obtain, or rather steal it. She was sitting beside a bird’s nest, the young ones of which she was feeding and cherishing—for the parent birds, by the rapacity of a cat, had recently perished. As the little bills were expanding to receive their food, her countenance beamed with pity and benevolence. I never saw even ber so lovely; so, in a moment, I had her round the neck, and clung to her lips with the tenacity of a creature drowning. But, feeling at once the awkwardness of my position, I took to my heels, becoming immediately invisible amidst the surrounding brushwood.

Such was Will Mather, and such was Nancy Morrison, at the period of which I am speaking. We must now advance about two or three years in our chronology, and find Will possessed of a piece of information which bore materially on his future fortunes. Will was an illegitimate child. His mother had kept the secret so well that he did not know his father, though he had frequently urged her to reveal to him privately all that she knew of his parentage. In conversing, too, with Nancy, his now affianced bride, he had expressed similiar wishes; whilst she, with a becoming and feminine modesty, had urged him not to press an aged parent on so delicate a point. At last the old woman was taken seriously ill, and, on her death-bed and at midnight, revealed to her son the secret of his birth. He was the son of a proprietor in the parish, and a much-respected man. The youth, so soon as he had closed his mother’s eyes, hurried off, amidst the darkness, to the abode of his father, and, entering by a window, was in his father’s bed-chamber and over his body ere he was fully awake.

"John ScottI” said the son, in a firm and terrible tone, grasping his parent meantime convulsively round the neck, "John Scott of Auchincleuch, ‘I am thy son’!”

The conscience-stricken culprit, being taken by surprise, and almost imagining this a supernatural intimation from Heaven, exclaimed, in trembling accents: "But who are you that makes this averment?”

"I am thy son, father—oh, I am thy son!”

Will could say no more; for his heart was full, and his tears dropped hot and heavy on a father’s face.

"Yes,” replied the parent, after a convulsive solemn sob—(O Heaven! thou art just !)—"yes, thou art indeed my son—my long-denied and ill-used boy—whom the fear of the world’s scorn has tempted me, against all the yearnings of my better nature, to use so unjustly. But come to my bosom—to a father’s bosom now, for I know that voice too well to distrust thee.”

In a few months after this interesting disclosure, John Scott was numbered with his fathers, and Will Scott (no longer Mather) became Laird of Anchincleuch.

Poor Nancy was at first somewhat distressed at this discovery, which put her betrothed in a position to expect a higher or genteeler match. But there was no cause of alarm. Will was true to the backbone, and would as soon have burned his Bible as have sacrificed his future bride. After much pressing for an early day on the part of the lover, it was agreed, at last, that the marriage should take place at "Peat-casting Time,” and that Nancy should, for the last time, assist at the casting of her mother’s peats.

I wish I could stop here, or at least proceed to give you an account of the happy nuptials of Will Scott and Nancy Morrison, the handsomest couple in the parish of Closeburn. But it may not be ! These eyes, which are still filled (though it is forty-eight years since) with tears, and this pen, which trembles as I proceed must attest and record the catastrophe.

Nancy, the beautiful bride, and I (for I was now on the point of leaving school for college) agreed to have a jump for the last time (often had we jumped before) from a suitable moss-brow.

"My frolicsome days will sune be ower," she cried, laughing; "the Gude-wife of Auchincleuch will hae something else to do than jump frae the moss-brow; and, while my name is Nancy Morrison, I’ll hail the dules, or jump wi’ the best o’ my auld playmates.”

"Weel dune, Nancy!" cried I; "you are now to be the wife o’ the Laird o’ Auchincleuch, when your jumping days will be at an end; and I am soon to be sent to college, where the only jump I may get may be from the top of a pile of old black-letter folios—no half sae gude a point of advantage as the moss-brow."

"There’s the Laird o’ Auchincleuch coming,” cried Peggy Chalmers, one of the peat-casters, who was standing aside, along with several others. "He’s nae langer the daft Will Mather, wha liked a jump as weel as the blithest swankie o’ the bamyard. Siller maks sair changes; and yet, wha wad exchange the Will Scott of Auchincleuch, your rich bridegroom, Nancy, for the Will Mather, your auld lover? Dinna tempt Providence, my hinny! The laird winna like to see his bride jumpin frac knowe to knowe like a daft giglet, within a week o’ her marriage?

"Tout!” cried Nancy, bursting out into a loud laugh; "see, he’s awa round by the Craw Plantin, and winna see us —and whar’s the harm if he did? Come now, Tammie, just ae spring and the last, and I’ll wad ye my kame against your cravat, that I beat ye by the length o’ my marriage slipper.”

"Weel dune, Nancy! " cried several of the peat-casters, who, leaning on their spades, stood and looked at us with pleasure and approbation.

The Laird had, as Nancy said, crossed over by what was called the Craw Plantin, and was now out of sight. To make the affair more ludicrous (for we were all bent on fun), Nancy took out, from among her high-built locks of auburn hair, her comb—a present from her lover—and impledged it in the hands of Billy Watson, along with my cravat, which I had taken off, and handed to the umpire.

"Here is a better moss-brow,” cried one, at a distance.

And so to be sure it was, for it was much higher than the one we had fixed upon, and the landing-place was soft and elastic. Our practice was, always to jump together, so that the points of the toes could be measured when both the competitors’ feet were still fixed in the moss. We mounted the moss-brow. I was in high spirits, and Nancy could scarcely contain herself for pure, boisterous, laughing glee. I went off, but the mad girl could not follow, for she was still holding her sides, and laughing immoderately. I asked her what she laughed at. She could not tell. She was under the influence of one of those extraordinary cachinations that sometimes convulse our diaphragms, without our being able to tell why, and certainly without our being able to put a stop to them. Her face was flushed, and the fire of her glee shone bright in her eye. I took my position again.

"Now! ” cried I; and away we flew, and stuck deeply in the soft and spongy moss.

I stood with my feet in the ground, that the umpire might come and mark the distance. A loud scream broke on my ear. I looked round, and, dreadful sight! I saw Nancy lying extended on the ground, with the blood pouring out at her mouth in a large stream! She had burst a blood-vessel. The fit of laughing which preceded her effort to leap had, in all likelihood, distended her delicate veins, and predisposed her to the unhappy result.

The loud scream had attracted the notice of the bridegroom, who came running from the back of the Craw Plantin. The sight appalled and stupefied him. He cried for explanation, and ran forward to his dead or dying bride, in wild confusion. Several voices essayed an explanation, but none were intelligible. I was as unable as the rest to satisfy the unhappy man; but, though we could not speak intelligibly, we could act, and several of us lifted her up. This step sealed her fate. The change in her position produced another stream of blood. She opened her eyes once, and fixed them for a moment on Will Scott. She then closed them, and for ever.

I saw poor Nancy carried home. Will Scott, who upheld her head, fainted before he proceeded twenty yards, and I was obliged to take his place. I was almost as unfit for the task as himself; for I reproached myself as the cause of her death. I have lived long. Will the image of that procession ever pass from my mind ? The blood-stained moss-ground, the bleeding body, the trailing clothes, the unbound locks, are all before me. I can proceed no further. Would that I could stop the current of my thoughts as easily as that of this feathered chronicler of sorrow! But—

‘There is a silent sorrow here,
A grief I’ll ne’er impart;
It breathes no sigh, it sheds no tear,
But it consumes my heart.’

I have taken up my pen to add, that Will Mather still remains a bachelor, and that on every visit I make to Dumfriesshire, I take my dinner, ‘solus cum solo’ at Auchincleuch, and that many tears are annually shed, over a snug bottle, for poor Nancy.

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