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Wilson's Border Tales
Heiress of Balgowan

The Laird of Balgowan, at the period of our story, was a widower, with an only child, Edith, the heiress, then in her eighteenth year. In this girl all the laird’s affections were centred. She was the apple of his eye, the delight of his heart, the idol of his adoration: and there was, indeed, little wonder that she should; for Edith was "beautiful exceedingly," and gentle and warm-hearted——equally fair in mind as in form.

On Edith’s return from Edinburgh, where she had been sent by her father to complete her education, and where she had resided for several years for this purpose, the laird celebrated the event by giving an entertainment to a large party of friends. These consisted chiefly of neighbouring proprietors of about the laird’s own standing in society; but amongst them were some of the more respectable of his own tenants, with, as was the custom of the times, in such merry-makings in the country, their wives, sons, and daughters. Of those of the second description of persons present on this festive occasion, was a young man of the name of George Lennox, the son of a very worthy, but a very poor man, who rented a small farm from the laird. George himself was a handsome youth, of prepossessing mien, mild demeanour, and gentle and affectionate nature. But his situation in life was of the humblest class. He was but the son of a small farmer—earning a moderate subsistence by the labour of his hands—lowly in station, and unambitious in hopes.

On the night of the festival which celebrated Edith’s return to Balgowan, George, as we have said, was amongst the revellers; but, feeling awed in the presence of so many of his superiors, as he considered some of those present, he modestly sought as much retirement as the place and circumstances would admit of, and remained rather an unobtrusive spectator of the revelries of the night than a partaker in them. But George had other thoughts than those that belonged exclusively to the scene, and another object than the revellers filled his corporeal as well as mental eye.

His gaze was fixed on Edith. And how was it that hers was so often turned stealthily on George Lennox?—and how was it that she blushed and averted her head when their eyes met, and that she seemed almost unconscious of the attentions of the young men of higher pretensions who were around her? Could it be that the youthful and accomplished heiress of Balgowan loved the son of the humble farmer?— that she preferred him, with all his poverty and simplicity of manners, to infinitely wealthier suitors? It could be so, and it was so.

George and Edith had been playmates in their childhood, when neither dreamt or knew anything of love. Often had they pulled wild flowers together—often, together, "paidled in the burn." They were then, in short, inseparable; their infantine years precluding all discriminations of rank either on their own parts, or that of their guardians. But time passed on, and the hour of separation came. They parted. Edith was sent to Edinburgh, for the purpose already mentioned; and George was called to enter on that life of labour which was his inheritance.

Although the young pair parted with regret, neither yet knew of what nature was the tie which bound their hearts together. This was a secret to be afterwards revealed.

Again years rolled on; and the heiress of Balgowan, who had left home a child, returned to it a woman. But even in absence, the germs of that attachment of whose very existence she was wholly unconscious, had sprung forth, and "had grown with her growth, and strengthened with her strength." She could not herself tell how it was, that she so often thought, while at a distance from him, of her humble playmate; nor could she account for the circumstance of George Lennox obtruding himself so often in her dreams. Her return to Balgowan disclosed the secret. George and she met by accident on the very day of that occurrence, and just as she was making towards her father’s house after her arrival. She was alone. They met; and in that moment of meeting, the true position in which they stood with regard to each other was made manifest to both, almost without sign or word. Both felt, and felt for the first time, the true character of their attachment. The affection of childhood was, by an easy transition, converted in a moment into the strong, passionate, and ardent love of youth. But their relative worldly positions, with regard to each other, were now to be more carefully defined, and their limits observed. George Lennox, the poor farmer’s son, was not to be named in the same breath with the heiress of Balgowan, still less to aspire to her hand. Their intercourse, therefore, if any, must of necessity be clandestine; for the proud laird of many scores of broad acres would not brook connexion with one who earned his livelihood by the labour of his hands, and who owned no portion of this world’s wealth.

It was all unconscious, therefore, of the mutual attachment of George Lennox and his daughter, that the Laird of Balgowan invited the former to the festival which welcomed her return.

We have said that the intercourse of the lovers, if any, must now be clandestine. But this was a course which the sense of propriety would permit neither of them to pursue, nor even to think of.

George had determined at once to relieve Edith from the pain and embarrassment which his near vicinity, he believed, must occasion her, and himself of the corresponding feelings of which her vicinity to him was equally the source, by going abroad; and so prompt was he in his purpose, and so resolute on its execution, that he had fixed the morning following the celebration of Edith’s return to Balgowan as that of his departure. Of this he had apprised her, and, while he did so, besought her to favour him with a parting interview. Edith consented; and it was finally fixed that they should meet, for a few minutes, at a certain old oak tree that stood on a small level plat of green, close by the river of Smerby, which ran past the house of Balgowan, at the distance of a few hundred yards. It was arranged, too, that Edith should come accompanied by a certain confidential female domestic, to whom she had entrusted the secret of her attachment. The hour fixed was eleven o’clock, being the same night on which the entertainment was given by the Laird of Balgowan.

In the meantime, (to revert to that circumstance,) "the dance gaed through the lighted ha’," and all was mirth and revelry; for the fiddle had struck up, and the dancers had taken to their feet, and beautiful, transcendantly beautiful, looked the young heiress in the gay and graceful dress which she had donned for the joyous scene, and light and graceful was her step as she glided through the mazes of the dance.

The idol of the night, she was surrounded with worshippers, who eagerly sought her smiles, and coveted, as a precious thing, the glance of her soft blue eye. But Edith had neither smiles nor glances to bestow on those by whom they were just now solicited. Her thoughts were elsewhere, and all her sympathies absorbed by one engrossing feeling. One object alone filled her mind, and around this single object all her associations clung. However wide or far apart their origin, there they were sure at last to terminate; concentrated, as it were, by a mental lens. This object was George Lennox.

It was yet but an early hour of the evening when George, who, as we have already said, took little or no part in the revelries of the night, stole unperceived, or at least unheeded, out of the apartment in which they were held. But he did not do this before exchanging a significant look with Edith. It was a slight and momentary glance, unmarked by any but themselves; yet to both it seemed perfectly intelligible.

On quitting the apartment which was the scene of the night’s festivities, George hastened down to the river side. His purpose was to cross it; for his father’s house was on the opposite side, and he was now going thither, to get a trinket—a gold ring or brooch—which he intended to present to Edith at their parting, as a token of his love, and as a symbol by which she might remember him when the giver was far away in a foreign land. He passed by well-known stepping-stones, the river being now considerably swollen by recent rains. Having reached home, George sought out the love-gift he intended to give away, changed his dress, and employed himself in various little matters connected with his intended departure, till the hour appointed for meeting with Edith approached. On its near arrival, he left the house, and retraced his steps towards the ford of the Smerby, which he soon reached; but was not a little startled by its now extremely swollen and turbid appearance. It had increased greatly since he had passed it a few hours before, and was now roaring "frae bank to brae." George eyed for a moment, with something of awe and hesitation, the boiling and eddying stream, and, approaching close to its edge, looked intently, for a few seconds, in the line of the stepping-stones, or rather where he believed them to be; but they were now wholly invisible. He saw, however, what he conceived to be the ripple made by the stones on the surface of the water and, trusting to this as a guide, as he was determined at all hazards to cross, he boldly leapt on the first. His calculation had been accurate; for he stood securely on the very centre of the stone, though up nearly to his middle in water. On gaining this step, he planted one end of a long pole or branch, with which he had previously provided himself, firmly on the bottom of the stream beneath him, and prepared for a second step, although, even as he stood, he had some difficulty in resisting the force of the current, which broke on him with a rushing sound, and made him swing and totter on his feet. Seemingly unaware of his own danger, or at least unappalled by it, George made another deliberate step, then another, and another, and each time succeeded in obtaining a footing; but his peril was now greatly increased; for the water gained in depth and force as he advanced. He was now on the centre stone; and here at length, and for the first time, he seemed to become fully aware of his danger, and of the jeopardy he was in; for it was long before he attempted to make another step, and he appeared, meanwhile, to be struggling hard to maintain the position he had gained. The rash and daring adventurer now looked earnestly and anxiously for the ripple which should indicate the position of the next stepping-stone; but, alas! there was no ripple to be seen. The water was here too deep. It was flowing past rapidly; but smooth and undisturbed. George thought, however, he saw a slight irregularity on the surface, and this, he again thought, must be occasioned by the stone beneath. He had no doubt of it. It was just over the place where he knew the stone to be. To make more sure of this, however, he would have felt for it with his stick previously to stepping on it; but he could not take the latter for an instant from the duty it was performing—namely, that of supporting him against the force of the current. He was, therefore, obliged to trust, in some measure, to conjecture; but he had perfect confidence in its accuracy, and unhesitatingly stepped out. Fatal confidence! One piercing cry, one heavy plunge, announced the dreadful issue of poor George’s daring and foolhardy undertaking. But what wild shriek was that which responded to the death-cry of George Lennox from the opposite bank of the river? And, more appalling still, what plunge is that which is again heard in the deep and dark waters of the Smerby? Who was it that rushed wildly to the edge of the river, and, reckless of all consequences, leapt into the boiling current, after the ill-fated youth who had just fallen in? It was Edith Ritchie, the heiress of Balgowan. She had witnessed the dreadful catastrophe which had befallen her lover, and this was the hapless result.

Little recking of what was passing without, the dance was still going on merrily at Balgowan. The windows were still blazing with light, and the lively strains of the fiddle had lost none of their energy or glee. Edith had been missed from the scene of the festivity; but, as her absence had been but short, nothing was thought of it, and no inquiries were made; but, suddenly, loud and wailing cries from without, cries of strange and fearful import, struck on the ears of the revellers. The dancers stopped in the dance; the musicians ceased their strains; and each looking at the other in alarm, asked what was the matter. None could tell. The wailings from without increased. Domestics ran to and fro. Guests hurried to the door. The banquet hall was deserted; and rapidly and breathlessly were questions as to the meaning of this sudden alarm, bandied from one to another; for all felt assured that something dreadful, of whatever nature it might be, had occurred. All uncertainty, however, in this matter was soon to be set at rest. A small group of persons were seen approaching the house with slow and measured pace. They came nearer, and, as they did so, they appeared to divide into two distinct groups, each of which bore along a temporary bier. On these biers lay two dead bodies. They were those of George Lennox, and Edith Ritchie, the young and beautiful heiress of Balgowan. Like a bride she lay in her festive dress and wreathed hair, lovely even in death.

The bodies of the two lovers had been found close to each other, a little way down, at an abrupt turn of the river. They were subsequently laid side by side in one grave; and the stone with the two hearts transfixed by one arrow, marks the spot which holds their remains.

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