Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Wilson's Border Tales
The Minister's Daughter

Chapter 3

The sea is silent, and the winds of God
Stir not its waters; on its voiceless waves
Thick darkness presses as a mighty load,
Weighing their strength to slumber. O’er earth’s graves
The lonely stars are dreaming; and the wind,
Benighted on the desert, howls to find
Its trackless path, as would a dying hound.
The thick clouds, wearied with their course all day.
Repose, like shrouded ghosts, on the black air;
Or in the darkness, having lost their way,
Await the dawn! ‘Tis midnight reigns around—
Midnight, when crime and murder quit their lair;
Their footsteps, like their conscience—void of sound;
Their mission, blood—their recompense, despair!

Hour succeeded hour—midnight was past; Mr. Cuthbertson still roamed disconsolate through the parlour, at times uttering a low, bitter sort of howl; and the wind howled still more disconsolately through the old firs: but Mr. Robertson returned not. Mary had sunk into a slumber, and Janet crept softly down stairs to inform her master.

"Is Mr Robertson not here, sir?" inquired she, addressing Mr. Cuthbertson.

He looked at his watch. His own feelings were instantly swallowed up in anxiety for his friend.

"Preserve us!" he exclaimed—"it is one o’clock and six hours since he gaed to the moors, after the author o’ a’ our sorrows. What can hae come owre him? Janet, haste ye cry up the callant; fetch me my cloak; and we’ll awa seek for him."

Janet hurried to execute his orders; and in a few minutes Mr. Cuthbertson and the minister’s boy left the house. For three hours they continued their fruitless search upon the moor. They were now near the cottage of an aged widow, whom Henry and Mary were wont to visit. A light glimmered through the solitary pane; and, as they approached it, a murmuring sound fell upon their ears.

"Wheesht, dinna mak a noise," whispered Mr. Cuthbertson, shaking as he spoke.

Glancing through the little window, they perceived Henry Walton bending over the fire. His face was pale and agitated. There was blood upon his brow; and as he stretched out his hand to stir the decaying embers, it appeared red and trembling. Mr. Cuthbertson’s hair stood erect. He placed his finger upon the boy’s lips, and stole cautiously from the cottage. When at the distance of a hundred yard he looked cautiously behind and around him; then said, in a deep whisper, while every joint shook—"Did you see the blood! He has murdered him!"

They reached the Manse, and communicating their fearful discovery to Janet, spoke of obtaining a warrant for Henry’s apprehension.

The 5th of January dawned; but for a bridal it brought blood. Mary’s senses were returned, but she knew not of Henry’s departure, nor the absence of her father.

"Janet," said she, "send my Henry to me. If we have sinned against my father, we will now kneel together at his feet for his forgiveness! I will water them with my tears. He could never behold me weep; and he will not now spurn his poor child from his presence. Go, Janet, go! I cannot live unless we obtain his blessing."

Janet turned away and wept. She sighed, "My poor ruined bairn!" and hid her face against the wall.

"O Janet!" said Mary, "will you too hide your face from me! Forgive me, Janet—forgive your poor Mary! If I have given offence to my father, I should have sinned against heaven in marrying Mr. Cuthbertson; for would it not be sinful to give the hand to one, while the heart clings to another? Come, Janet, do not turn from me. My father will bless us—Mr. Cuthbertson himself will pardon us. Go call my Henry."

"The wretch is not here!" cried Janet, in the transpor of her feelings; "and, oh, that the sea had swallowed him! --or buried you baith in its bosom—that I should say such a word!—before I had lived to see my Mary the wife of— a—but it shanna be spoken by me! -- O Mary! Mary—may heaven hold ye guiltless!"

"Janet!" said Mary, grasping her hand, "have I merited this language?—or what—Janet--.what is its meaning? You tremble! Speak, Janet!—speak!"

At that moment, a sound of voices was heard without, Mary glanced from the window; and beheld the mangled and bleeding body of her father, borne on the shoulders of a group of villagers! She gave but one scream!—but one thought flashed through her bosom. It was that she was a wife, the wife of a murderer!—of the murderer of her father!—and Janet caught her in her arms.

Mr. Robertson was senseless, but his eyes still moved; and there was a quivering motion about his breast. His wounds were dressed by the village surgeon, Mr. Leslie, but his recovery was pronounced impossible. Mr. Cuthbertson and the boy had whispered their suspicions to the villagers; and their fears augmented their evidence of Henry’s guilt. A party, who were despatched to the widow’s to secure him, returned without procuring any farther trace of him. That Henry had committed the deed, no one but the surgeon aforementioned entertained a doubt.

As Mary recovered, she cast a chilling glance of despair upon old Janet. A few tears followed--they were but a few; and dashing them away—"Follow me, Janet!" said she, calmly, but sternly. The old woman obeyed, with a fearful and mechanical motion, as deprived of power to resist the command. She entered the apartment where her father lay. Mr. Leslie watched anxiously over him; while Mr. Cuthbertson, and three or four villagers, conversed in deep whispers in a corner of the room. They fell back at her approach. The kindest-hearted gazed on her with horror. The boldest shuddered, and avoided the touch of her garments. Every bosom was filled with dark thoughts; but none dared to whisper them in her presence. At the accusing glance of her tearless eyes, they crowded closer together. She approached the bed where her father lay, bent for a moment over his body, kissed his pale forehead, and, without a word, without a sigh, sat down by his side. The surgeon took her hand.

"Be comforted," said he "your father will yet be able to explain all; and whoever is guilty, it will not be as some have said, and perhaps wish." And he cast an upbraiding glance towards Mr. Cuthbertson.

"What do ye mean, Doctor?" inquired Mr. Cuthbertson vehemently, and with a degree of indignation of which, to do him justice, he was seldom criminal. "What do you mean, Doctor?" he repeated, raising his voice. God forbid that I should wish the blood of a worm to lie at the door of my deadliest enemy! I have but gien evidence and testimony of the scenes and of the blood of which I was a witiess—evidence, sir, that has convinced every weel-disposed mind, but your ain; which, it is weel kenned, bears the mark of the beast, and the image of the suspected person’s! And could I, Doctor, could I see the blood of my best friend--the blood of my mair than faither—on the face and the hands of his murderer, and not give evidence to the truth?"

Mr. Leslie would have replied or ordered all, from the privilege of his profession, to withdraw. But Mary had rivetted her eyes upon the speaker. When he concluded, she arose, walked firmly across the floor to where he stood, and darting upon him a glance that struck dismay into his heart, and to the hearts of all—"Tell me, accusing spirit," she said, in a voice clear and slow, but dreadful and piercing as its wonted sounds were melodious, "tell me by what right ye accuse my husband?"

She had never heard Henry named as being guilty; and her fearful interrogation, the vehemence with which it was uttered, the absence of a single tear or a sigh—of anything like a woman’s or a daughter’s grief—clang like icicles to the hearts of all present. And she, whom yesterday they regarded as not inferior to an angel, they now shrank from as the wife of a murderer; nor merely his wife, but his accomplice—his accomplice in the murder of her own father! Overpowered by the conviction, one by one, they slunk fearful from her sight. Each, in his own way, told his suspicions; and, before night, the gentle Mary Robertson was whispered of with horror; yea, tongues that in the morning blest her, trembled to pronounce her name.

Although Mr Cuthbertson did not participate in the idle suspicions of those around him regarding her, yet awed by her appalling look, the unearthly earnestness of her tone and manner, united with the almost horrible calmness of her sorrow, he stood silent, quaking in her presence; and as she cast upon him a deadly glance of accusation and, scorn, he also shrank from the room with the deluded villagers.

Mary again took her seat by the bedside. Night came, and the morning dawned; and day succeeded day, but still she sat silent, motionless, and tearless; her cheeks pale and emaciated, watching as a spirit by the bed of death. Buried in her own griefs, her eyes fixed upon her father’s face, sleep approached her not; of food she was almost unconscious when presented; and consolation fell upon her ears as on a lifeless thing. Life had, indeed, returned to her father; but, with it, reason had fled. Ignorant of all around him, he now fancied himself surrounded by his wife and his children. He spoke to them; he called them by their names. The follies, and the glad days of youth, passed in array before him. Then would he call upon his Mary, his poor lost Mary! With him she was the infant—the darling—the pride of his age--and the ruined wife, within an hour. Again would he weep, raise his hands to bless her, burst into a loud laugh in the midst of his blessing, and cry—"The murderers!" and in the same breath, "Your husband Mary!" Still her features moved not, and her eyes were dry as summer heat.

The wild ravings of Mr. Robertson tended to strengthen the conviction of Mr. Cuthbertson and his friends, of the certainty of Henry’s guilt; and the circumstances, augmented by all that indignation and personal suffering could suggest, were transmitted to his family at Buckham Priory.

Still Mr. Leslie would admit of no steps for his apprehension; declaring that, although the life of Mr. Robertson was beyond hope, yet, as the fever abated, a lucid interval would take place before death, when the facts of the melancholy event might be learned from himself. Mr. Leslie and Mary were, therefore, the only individuals ignorant of the ntelligence sent to the Priory; and, for many days, with but momentary intermission, he continued by the bed of the sufferer, eager to catch the first word of certainty regarding the innocence or guilt of his unhappy friend. Mary sat beside him as a pale ghost: she was neither heard to breathe nor seen to move; but gazed, the skeleton of what she was, on her dying parent.

He had sunk into a long and undisturbed sleep; and Mr. Leslie having announced that when he awoke, his reason would have returned, Mr. Cuthbertson, Janet, and three of the kirk elders, were anxiously waiting in the room. He at length awoke, and, with a fond, but feeble voice, cried—"Mary!—my child!"

Every ear was strained to listen—every eye turned to the bed. She started from her long, death-like trance, and threw her arms around his neck.

"My father!" she cried wildly, and pressed her lips to his. They were the first words she had spoken since demanding of Mr. Cuthbertson why he accused her husband.

"My dear Mary!" said he, "I feel I have but a few minutes to live. Call your Henry, that I may obtain his forgiveness—that you both may receive the blessing of a dying father! My dear, dear child!" he added, and endeavoured to press her to his breast.

She started to his embrace. The tears burst in torrents from her eyes. A loud laugh rang through the room! She threw herself upon the bed, and cried—"Am I not the wife of a murderer! My father!—say—is not your Mary the wife of her father’s— Tell me—tell me!—are the hands of my Henry clean?—shall I behold him again? Speak! Oh, speak, my father!"

"Your Henry! my beloved child!" said he; "no! no! where is my son?"

Mr. Cuthbertson hung his head in confusion. The elders looked upon him upbraidingly, and pressed closer to their minister.

Mr. Robertson now briefly received from Mr. Leslie an account of the suspicions that rested upon Henry, and their cause. He begged to be raised upon his bed; and throwing his feeble arm around his daughter, said—"Forgive me my dear child—forgive your dying father; and, when you meet your Henry, obtain me also his forgiveness. Two men sprang upon me on the heath. I cried to heaven for help; for I thought not that man could hear me. I was wounded, cruelly wounded, when my cries brought a stranger to my assistance! He closed with the unhappy men, and by their cries appeared to overpower them. I heard his voice—it was Henry’s!—my child, your injured husband’s! I endeavoured to fly—where I ran I know not, I rushed bleeding over the heath—the earth seemed turning with me—and I remember nothing until this hour. And now I feel that death is with me! My friends—farewell!"

He took Mr. Cuthbertson’s hand—"Be a father to my dear child! Best, generous friend—bear Henry your forgiveness, and my blessing!" He pressed his daughter for the last time to his bosom—"God of the orphan, protect my Mary! Farewell!—my child—my joy—farewell!"

They raised her from his breast; but his spirit had passed into the presence of him who gave it. Mary fell upon her knees; she raised her eyes to Heaven. The sealed up fountains of her heart gushed out afresh; and destroying joy held conflict with bitter agony, bereavement, and sorrow.

Weeks passed on—a successor to Mr. Robertson was already nominated. Materials were placed around the Manse in order to its undergoing improvements for his reception. To Mary they were a renewal of griefs: and at times she almost regarded them as an insult to her sorrows. She had now to leave the hearth where her first smile of infancy was greeted by a parent’s kiss. The furniture being to her unnecessary, and not knowing where to remove it, she felt compelled to announce it for sale. Previously, she had sent her father’s books as a present to Mr. Cuthbertson. On the day of sale, many attended to procure a remembrance of a man whose memory they esteemed. A stranger, however, whose motive appeared a determination to secure all, with out regard to the value, was the sole purchaser. Many surmises were whispered round regarding him; but he was unknown to all. On several of the carts, however, in which the goods were conveyed away, appeared the words— "Thomas Cuthbertson, Esq., Cuthbertson Lodge."

Mary left the Manse on the preceding day, and remained an inmate with a farmer in the neighbourhood. She crossed the little wooden bridge in calm resignation, her eyes fixed upon the ground, and fearful to cast a look behind. But Janet followed and wept. On the third morning after leaving the Manse—"Janet," said Mary, "business of importance calls me immediately to England. At this season, and at your years, it will be impossible you can accompany me. In a few months—I hope—I trust, Janet, your Mary will be able to send for you again. In the meantime, at Mr. Cuthbertson’s you will find a home—in him a friend. I have prepared you a conveyance, and must myself depart to-morrow."

"Oh! dinna speak o’t!—dinna think o’t, my dear bairn!" cried Janet—"what is there in the season, or what is there in the distance, that I am na able to follow ye? Can ye think that I wad see you, you a young an’ unprotected cratur, gang hunders an’ hunders o’ miles, wi’ naebody to look after ye—naebody to gie ye an advice! O Mary, neither you nor ane o’ your faither’s house ever refused me a favour that I asked—an’ it surely winna be my ain Mary that will deny me, in a case like this, an’ for her ain guid? Dinna think o’ leavin’ me behint ye!"

Mary threw her arms around her neck. "Distress me not, Janet!" cried she, "It is impossible you can accompany me. But we shall meet again."

Janet knew not the forebodings that distressed the mind of her young mistress, nor suspected the romantic and desperate nature of her journey.

"How can it be impossible?" continued she, "O my bairn, how can it be impossible? But if it be His will that we maim part, oh, it may be only for a season, to accomplish the all-wise purposes o’ His unerring providence; for He can bring good oot o’ apparent evil. An’ oh, mind, Mary, hinny, ye hae nae faither noo to direct ye!—Ye winna hae me to advise ye. But put your trust in the Faither o’ the faitherless. He will be your director. An’ oh, should ye enter the houses o’ the ungodly, where family duty is unheard, as duly as ye rise, let the blessed thought o’ the morning exercise in your faither’s house, summon ye to your knees, An’ at night, when others sit down to cards an’ to gambling, think that there were nae sic books in the house where ye were brought up; an’ that the hours they spend in wickedness an’ folly, were there spent in prayer and in edification, concerning the things that belong to our eternal peace. I ken, my dear bairn, that my words winna be wasted upon you. An’ oh, let me say wi’ the wise man—‘If sinners entice thee, consent thou not.’ Let them ca’ it amusement—to kill time—or what they will. Life is uncertain an’ time is precious. Flee ye rather to your closet, an’ there, in secret, pour out your soul before a prayer-hearing God. An’ only think, if shuffling pieces o’ painted paste board, sacrificing fortune, health, an’ reputation, be for moment to be put in the balance wi’ the sublime privilege o’ holding conversation wi’ Him that sitteth upon the throne for ever an’ ever, an’ filleth immensity wi’ his presence. They may mock you, they may persecute you; but think o’ Him that was mocked, scourged, spit upon, an’ crucified on a tree, for your sake; an’ remember that He has said—‘They who are ashamed o’ Him before men, o’ them will He be ashamed before His Father who is in Heaven. Pray for a humble an’ a contrite spirit. In a’ your trials may he be your rock o’ support; an’ wi’ this assurance I will go down to the grave in peace."

Next morning, Mary parted from her faithful domestic. The farmer, with whom she resided for a few days, sent a cart with her luggage to the inn, where the coach passed for Edinburgh. Every inhabitant in the village—the old, the young, and the middle-aged—were assembled round the house to say "Farewell," and bestow their blessing. Every eye was wet; and as she came forth to take their hands, hers alone was dry. She spoke not, for anguish fettered her tongue; and as she, without a sigh, took the hand of the last, and went forth, a homeless orphan from the midst of them, they might have said to each other—

"The sadness which thou seest is not sorrow,
Her wounds are far too deep for simple grief."

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus