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Wilson's Border Tales
Mary Armstrong

It is some years since I resided at the village of Marston, situated on the Tweed. Here dwelt the worthy John Armstrong, the minister; and Mary, the gentle and modest Mary, his only daughter. Mr. Armstrong, when I first knew him, was nearly sixty; a man of considerable judgment and great sensibility of heart, his religion was pure and rational, and his charity extensive. He was beloved by all in the village. If there was any fault of which I could accuse him, it was a too doating fondness for his daughter, who, had she not been blessed with an excellent disposition, would certainly have been injured by it. Mary Armstrong was then eighteen; and though not handsome, yet there was a mildness of expression in her countenance far superior to any regularity of feature. Happy were the many hours which I spent beneath Armstrong’s roof. When the evening closed the labours of the weary villagers, there, seated in his quiet parlour, would Armstrong, with the tear of fondness starting in his eye, listen to the melting sweetness of Mary’s voice, as she sung some favourite melody; or, conversing on subjects of taste and morality, instruct, whilst he highly entertained, his willing auditors.

During the past summer, I set out on a visit to Marston, full of anticipation of much happiness. At the entrance of the village, I met a friend with whom I entered into conversation, and I ventured to inquire about the minister and his daughter. He appeared disconcerted at my question, and hesitated to reply.

"What is the matter?" I cried; "Is Mr. Armstrong ill?"

"No," he said; "but Miss Mary."

"What of her?" I eagerly exclaimed.

"Miss Mary," he continued, with a sorrowful expression to countenance, "is to be buried to-morrow morning. There is not a dry eye in the village."

It appeared that, some time after I had left Marston to embark in business in Edinburgh, Mrs. Strafford of Comrie Park had died; and Miss Strafford, of whom Mary was a most intimate friend, had prevailed upon Mr. Armstrong to allow her to reside at Comrie Park. Miss Strafford had a brother—Henry by name—who had come from college to be present at his mother’s funeral; and he fell violently in love with Mary, and would have married her but for his father, who was much displeased when he heard of the matter. Mary then returned to her father’s. Some time after this, by Miss Strafford’s wish, she again visited Comrie Park. Alas! It was a serious visit to her. She and Henry attempted an elopment, and were discovered. Henry was packed off to the Continent; and shortly after, Mary exhibited symptoms of becoming a mother. At this, Squire Strafford fumed and frowned, and wound up the matter by ordering Mary out of the house. She returned to her native village—to her heart-broken father—to be thrown upon a bed of sickness from which she never again arose.

On the morrow I rode over to Mr. Armstrong’s with an intention of seeing my afflicted friend, and of being present at the awful ceremony. When I came within sight of the house, my sensations nearly overcame me. I had scarcely resolution to approach the house. The villagers were assembled on the green. I entered and meeting a servant, he pointed to the parlour and retired. The door was half open—Armstrong was within—he knelt beside his daughter’s coffin. He observed me, and beckoned me forward. I would have spoke but I could not. I gazed a moment on the wreck that lay before me, and sighed in a convulsive manner, for the tumult of my spirits quite oppressed me, and Armstrong, observing this, seized my arm, and, ordering the coffin to be screwed down, led me into another room.

The procession moved onwards. The grave had been made within the aisle of the village church. The bearers had just set down the coffin, when suddenly the church door was thrown wide open, and a young man, in mourning, rushed in. In frantic terms, he called upon his "Mary;" and, breaking through the crowd, stopped on seeing the coffin. He started some paces backwards. "Help me:--she is murdered!" he exclaimed; and threw himself upon the coffin. It was with some difficulty we tore him from it. He struggled hard, and his eyes darted fire; but, at length, having liberated himself, he rushed from the church. The next morning Squire Strafford was found dead in his bed; but none were found hardly enough to impute the crime of parricide to the maniac Henry. The rest must remain a mystery.

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