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Book of Scottish Story
The Lost Little Ones

Chapter One

I have a story to tell relative to what happened to Sir George and Lady Beaumont, the excellent and beloved proprietors of the Hermitage, in a neighbouring county. At the period of which I speak, their family consisted of five children, three sons and two daughters; and their eldest, a daughter called Charlotte, was then nine years of age. She was a remarkably clever child, and a great favourite of her parents ; but her mother used to remark that her vivacity required checking, and, notwithstanding her partiality for her, she never failed to exercise it when it became necessary. It would have been well had others acted equally judiciously.

It happened one day, as the family were going to sit down to dinner, that Charlotte did not make her appearance. The maid was sent up to her room, but she was not there. The dinner-bell was ordered to be rung again, and a servant was at the same time dispatched to the garden; and this having been done, Sir George and his lady proceeded with the other youngsters to the dining-room, not doubting but Charlotte would be home immediately. The soup, however, was finished without any tidings of her, when, Lady Beaumont seeming a little uneasy, Sir George assured her there was no cause for alarm, as Charlotte would probably be found under her favourite gooseberrybush. Lady Beaumont seemed to acquiesce in this, and appeared tolerably composed, till the servant who had been sent to the garden came back to say that she was not there. Sir George insisted that the man had probably passed her without seeing her, the garden being so large ; but the servant averred that he had been through the whole of it, and had shouted repeatedly Miss Charlotte’s name.

"Oh!” exclaimed Sir George, "she has pretended not to hear you, Robert, and, I daresay, will be back immediately, now that she has succeeded in giving you a race round the garden; however," added he, "you may go back again, and take Samuel and Thomas with you, and if you do not find her hiding herself in the garden, you may take a peep into the shrubbery, as she may slip in there, on seeing you returning; and as you go along, you may call to her, and say that dinner waits, and that Lady Beaumont is much displeased with her being out at this time of the day. And now, my love,” continued Sir George to his lady, "just let us proceed with dinner, and compose yourself`."

Lady Beaumont forced a smile, and busied herself in attending to her young ones ; but her own plate was neglected, and her eyes were continually turned towards the window which looked upon the lawn.

"What can keep Robert, papa?" said Charles to his father.

"Indeed, my boy,” said Sir George," I do not know. Charlotte,” continued he to Lady Beaumont, "do you see any thing?”

"They are all coming back," exclaimed Lady Beaumont, "and alone!” and she rose hastily from her chair.

Robert and the other men now entered, and reported that they had searched every spot in the garden and the shrubbery, but without finding any trace of her; and the people who had been working there all day had seen nothing of her. Lady Beaumont now became excessively alarmed, and Sir George himself was far from easy, though he appeared before his lady to treat the matter lightly.

"She’ll have gone up to the cottages to see her god-brother," said Sir George; "or perhaps have wandered over to the mill.”

"And if she has fallen into the stream!” ejaculated Lady Beaumont.

"Now, dear Charlotte, do not needlessly alarm yourself; there’s no fear but we shall soon find her.”

"God grant it!” said Lady Beaumont, "but my mind rnisgives me sadly.”

Messengers were now dispatched to the cottages, and to the mill, and in various other directions around the Hermitage, but all came back without having obtained any tidings of the missing child. Sir George, now very seriously alarmed, gave private directions for having the fish-pond, and the stream which ran at the bottom of the garden, carefully dragged. It was done, but nothing was found. The whole household was now in motion, and as the story spread, the tenants and neighbours came pouring from all quarters, with offers to search the country round in every direction; so much was Sir George esteemed and beloved by all classes. Their offers were thankfully accepted, and after choosing their ground, and dividing themselves into different parties, they set out from the Hermitage, resolved, as they said, to fnd the little one, if she was above ground. Sir George and his lady went out as the parties set off in their different directions, and continued walking up and down the avenue, that they might the sooner perceive the approach of those bringing intelligence; but hour after hour elapsed, and no one came. Sir George then proposed that Lady Beaumont should go home and see the young ones put to bed. She did so, but soon returned again.

"I know," said she, answering Sir George’s look, "that you wished me to remain at home and rest myself; but what rest can there be for me, till we have some intelligence of”—— and her voice faltered.

"Well, well, then," said Sir George, pressing her arm in his, "let us take a few more turns—surely we must hear something soon.”

The people now began to come dropping in from different quarters, but all had the same melancholy answer - no one had seen or heard of her. The hearts of the poor parents were sadly depressed, for daylight was fast closing in, and almost all those who had set off on the search had now returned, and amongst them their faithful servant Robert, principally from anxiety to learn if any intelligence had been obtained of his favourite. But when he found that all had returned unsuccessful, he declared his determination to continue the search during the night ; and he, and a good many others who joined him, set off soon afterwards, being supplied with torches and lanterns of various descriptions.

This determination gave new hopes to the inmates of the Hermitage, and Lady Beaumont endeavoured to rally her spirits ; but when at length, as daylight broke, Robert and his party returned alone, and without intelligence, nature exhausted gave way, and she fell senseless in her husband’s arms.

In the morning Robert tapped at Sir George’s door, and communicated quietly to him his recollecting to have seen a rather suspicious-looking woman near the Hermitage the previous day, and that he had just heard from a neighbour, that a woman of that description, with a child in her arms, had been seen passing to the eastward. Orders were immediately given for a pursuit on horseback ;—Sir George giving directions to bring in every one whom they suspected; saying, that he would compensate those who had reason to complain of being used in this way. But, though many were brought to the Hermitage, and large rewards were offered, yet week after week passed over without bringing them the smallest intelligence of their lost little one.

Some months had elapsed since their child had disappeared, and the minds of the parents had become comparatively composed, when their attention was one evening attracted by the appearance of an unusual number of people in the grounds below the terrace, and whose motions it seemed difficult to understand.

"What can have brought so many people there?” asked Lady Beaumont; “ and what are they doing?"

"Indeed, my love, I do not know," said Sir George, "but there’s Robert, passing down the walk, and he will tell us ;"and he called to Robert, who, however, seemed rather not to wish to hear; but Sir George called again, and so loudly, that Robert was obliged to stop. "Robert,” said Sir George, "what do these people seek in the low grounds there?”

"They are looking for —— of Widow Watt’s, your honour,” said Robert.

"Did you hear what it was, my dear?" said Sir George to his lady.

"No,"said Lady Beaumont; "but probably her pet lamb, or more likely her cow, has strayed.”

"Is it her cow that’s amissing, Robert?” called Sir George.

"No, your honour,” said Robert;

"Her lamb then, or some other beast?" asked Sir George.

"Naething o’ the kind, your honour,” answered Robert.

"What then?" demanded Sir George, in a tone that showed he would be answered.

"Why, your honour, they say that wee Leezie Watt’s no come hame, and the folk are gaun to seek for her; and nae doubt they’ll soon find her,” added Robert, stepping hastily away to join them.

Sir George had felt Lady Beaumont’s convulsive grasp of his arm, and gently led her to a seat, where after a while she became more composed, and was able to walk to the Hermitage.

"And now,” said she, on reaching the door, "think no more of me, but give all your thoughts to the most likely means of restoring the poor child to its widowed parent.”

"Spoken like yourself," said Sir George, pressing her hand ; and immediately flew to give directions for making the most thorough and effectual search. But this search,-alas! proved equally unavailing as the former one, and no trace whatever could be found of the widow’s child.

The story, joined to the disappearance of Sir George’s daughter, made a great noise, and created considerable alarm in that part of the country; and this alarm was increased fourfold, when, in three weeks afterwards, another child was lost. The whole population now turned out, and people were stationed to watch in different places by night and by day. But no discovery was made; and, to add to their horror, child after child disappeared, till the number of the lost little ones amounted to seven. Parents no longer durst trust their children for a moment out of their sight. They went with them to school, and also went to bring them back again ; and these precautions had the best effect, many weeks having elapsed without anything unpleasant happening. The neighbours now began to congratulate each other on the probability, or rather certainty, that those who had inflicted so much misery in that quarter of the country had gone somewhere else, and that they would now be able to live in some kind of peace and comfort. But this peaceful state was not destined to continue.

One of Sir George’s best tenants, David Williams, had been busily engaged in ploughing the whole day, and was thinking of unyoking and going home, when his wife looked over the dyke, and asked him how he was coming on."But whaur," continued she, "are the bairns? are they at the t’ither end o’ the field?"

"The bairns! ” said David, "I haena seen them; but is’t time for their being back frae the school?”

"Time!” exclaimed his wife; "muckle mair than time, they should hae been hame an hour syne; and that brought me out to see gif they were wi’ you, as you said ye wad may be lowse and gang to meet them!"

"’Od, I was unco keen,” said David, "to finish this bit lea, and had nae notion it was sae far in the day."

"Preserve us!” exclaimed Matty, "gif anything has happened to them!"

"Nonsense,” cried David, "when there’s three o’ them thegither; but, here," says he, "tak ye the beasts hame, and I’se be off, and will soon be back wi’ them; sae dinna vex yoursel.”

"I hope it may be sae,” said Matty, "but my heart misgies me sair—however, dinna wait to speak about it.”

David Williams was not long of reaching the school, where he learned from the mistress, that his children had remained a good while after the rest, expecting him to come for them; but that they had at length set out to meet; him, as she understood, and that they had been gone above an hour, and she thought they would have been home long ago."But, perhaps, ” continued she,"they may have called in at their aunt’s, for I heard them speaking of her to-day.”

David took a hasty leave, and posted away to his sister’s, but the children had not been there, nor had any one seen them. His brother-in-law, John Maxwell, seeing his distress, proposed taking one road, while David took the other, towards home, and to meet at the corner of the planting near his house. They did so, and arrived nearly at the same time, and each without having heard or seen anything of the children. David Williams was now in a perfect agony, and the perspiration ran like water from his forehead.

"Maybe they’re hame already," said his brother-in-law; "I daurna gang up mysel to speir, bit we’ll send yon herd laddie.”

John went, and gave the boy his directions to ask, first, if David Williams was at hame, and then to ask, cannie-like, if the weans were in. He then sat down beside David, keeping his eye on the cottage, when he sees Matty come fleeing out like one distracted.

"Down, David! down wi’ your head, man,” cried John, "that she mayna see us.” But Matty had got a glimpse of them, and came right down on them as fast as she could run. .

"Whaur’s my bairns, David?” cried she; "whaur’s our bonnie bairns? I kent weel, whenever the callant askit if they were come hame, what was the meaning o’t. They’re lost, they’re lost!” continued the poor woman, wringing her hands,"and what’ll become o’ me?"

"Now Matty, Matty, my ain wife," said David, "dinna ye gang on at that gate, and hurt yoursel; naebody
but John and me has been looking for them, and we’ve come straught hame, and there’ s a heap o’ ither ways, ye ken, that they may hae gane by.”

"Ay, ower mony--ower mony ways, I’m doubtin’,” said Matty moumfully, shaking her head; "but dinna let us put aff time this gate. Rin ye baith an' alarm the neebours, and I’ll awa to the Hermitage, where we’re sure to get help ; and God grant it mayna end wi’ mine as it did wi’ ithers!”

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