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Wilson's Border Tales
Reuben Purves
Chapter 3

Though I have as keen feelings as onybody, I was not a person to sit down long, and croon and shake my head over misfortunes that couldna be helped. I might be driven back from an object, and defeated in accomplishing it; but it would be necessary to take my life before I could be made to relinquish my attempts, or to conquer me. Perseverance, and a restless ambitious spirit of enterprise, spurred me on.

I endeavoured to extend my business more widely than ever, and, as I had sometimes had losses with houses on the Continent, I resolved to visit France and Germany, and other places myself, and see in what situation the land lay. I did so; and in Holland and Switzerland, in particular, I entered into what proved some very profitable speculations. Now, sir, it is my conviction, that where there is no speculation, there can be no luck. As well might a man with his hands in his pockets expect a guinea to drop into them. People who, perhaps, have been born with a silver spoon in their mouths, or had enough to purchase them a hot joint every day, thrust upon them by accident, will tell you, in speaking of any particular subject—‘Oh, I will have nothing to do with it—it is only a speculation.’ Now, sir, but for some speculation that had been entered into before they were, the one would have neither had the silver spoon in his teeth, nor the other the hot joint. Without speculation, commerce could not exist. In the community where its spirit is not felt, they must be dull as horses in a ring moving round and as regulary and as monotonously as the wheels of a machine, to procure the ever-day bread and cheese of existence. I have been a speculator all my life—I am a speculator still. Neither you nor I have time for me to enter into the particulars of thirty years’ enterprises. It is true I have lost by some, but in more I have been successful, or until this day I would have been a hand-loom weaver in this my native town of Galashiels.

But, sir, within three years, I had built another mill. I commenced manufacturer, and prospered; and in a short time I began the business of a printer also. You understand me— it is a calico-printer I mean, not a book or newspaper printer; for if, in a town in Lancashire, you ask for a printer, nobody would think of showing you to a consumer of ink and paper.

Our two daughters had been educated at a boarding school in Yorkshire; but they were now come home, and were, I may say, women grown, for they were eighteen; and, although I say it, that, perhaps, ought not to say it, remarkably fine-looking young women they were. People said that Elizabeth was a perfect picture; though, so far as I could judge, Rachel was the bonniest of the two; but they were remarkably like each other. There, however was this difference between them—Rachel was of a sedate and serious disposition, and very plain in her dress, even plainer, sometimes, than I wished to see her; but she was always so neat, that she set whatever she put on. Elizabeth, on the other hand, though a kind-hearted lassie, was more thoughtless, and more given to the vanities of this world. When her sister was at her books, she was at her looking-glass. She was as fond of dress as Rachel was the reverse. I have often said to her—

‘O Bessy! Bessy?—dress will turn your head some day or other. Ye will frighten ony man from having ye.’

‘Don’t be afraid of that, father,’ she replied, laughing, for there was no putting her out of temper, (she was like her mother in that;) ‘there is no danger, and it is time enough yet,’

She was also excessively fond of amusements, such as balls concerts, plays, and parties; much fonder, indeed, than it was agreeable for me or her mother to observe. And we frequently expostulated with her; for, though we did not wish to debar her entirely from such amusements, yet there is a medium to be observed in all things, and we did not like to see her going beyond that medium.

Well, sir, she had been at a party one night in Mosley street, and a young gentleman, who, I afterwards understood had shown her a great deal of attention throughout the evening, saw her home. There was no harm in this; but he called again the next day, and, as I shortly after learned, every day.

So, when I heard this, I thought it was right and proper that I should see him, and learn who and what he was. I accordingly stopped at home a forenoon for the express purpose, but not much, as I easily observed, to the satisfaction of Elizabeth. About eleven o’clock, the gentleman came as usual. I easily saw that he was rather taken aback on perceiving me; but he recovered his self-possession as quick as the eyelids can twinkle, and perfectly confused me with his superabundance of bows and scrapes. I did not like his appearance. He was dressed like a perfect fop. He wore silk stockings, and his feet were wedged into bits of French-soled pumps, which, to my eye, made it perfectly painful to look on them. He had on a light-green, very fine, and very fashionable coat and trousers, with a pure white waistcoat, and a ribbon about his neck. He also carried a cane with an image on the head o’t; and he had a great bunch of black curls on each side of his head, which, I verily believe, were pomatumed, brushed, and frizzled.

‘I must put an end to your visits, billy,’ thinks I, before ever he opened his lips.

He was what some ladies would call—‘a most agreeable young man.’ In fact, I heard one (not my daughter) pronounce him to be ‘a prodigious fine gentleman!’ ‘Prodigious!’ thought I, when I heard it. He had a great flow of speech and spirits, and could run over all the scandal of the town with a flippancy that disgusted me, but delighted many. He could also talk like a critic about dancers, singers, actors, and race horses, and discuss the fashions like a milliner. All this I ascertained during the half hour I was in his company. He also gabbled French and Italian, and played upon a thing like a sort of bass fiddle without a bow, that they call a guitar. I at once set him down in my own mind for a mere fortune hunter. He was a shallow puppy; he carried all on the outside of his head, and nothing within it. I found he knew no more about business than the man in the moon. But he pretended to be the son of an Honourable, and carried cards with the words, ‘Charles Austin, Esq.,’ engraved upon them. He was above belonging to any profession—he was a gentleman at large.

Disgusted as I was with him, I had not the face to rise and say to him—‘Sir, I will thank you to go out of my house, and not enter it again.’ And from the manner in which I had been brought up, I had not the manner of what is called—bowing a person to the door. But what vexed me most while he remained, was to observe that even Priscilla sometimes laughed at the silly things he said, which, as I afterwards told her, was just encouraging him. When he left the house, I turned to Elizabeth, and—

‘Noo, Betty, hinny,’ says I, ‘tak my advice, as yer faither and yer freend, and ne’er speak to that young man again, nor alloo him to keep ye company; for, as sure as my name is Reuben, there is something essentially bad aboot him.’

She hung her head, and there was a tear in her e’e, and, I think for the first time ever I had observed it in my days, she looked rather sulky; but I could get no satisfaction from her.

I think it was between two and three months after this— during which time I had seen and heard no more of the fashionable Charles Austin—that, having business to transact in Liverpool, I took Priscilla down with me in the gig, for the benefit of her health. It was in the summer season, and eleven o’clock had chimed from the steeple of the collegiate church before we returned at night. But never, never shall I forget our miserable home-coming. There was our poor Rachel, sitting by herself, wringing her hands, and the tears running down her bonny cheeks.

‘Rachel! dear Rachel! what is the matter, love?’ cried her mother and myself at the same instant.

‘O Elizabeth!—Elizabeth is away!’ sobbed my poor bairn.

Priscilla was stupified, and she repeated the word ‘Away!’ but the truth broke over me in a moment; and I sank back into a chair, as helpless, for all the world, as a new-born infant.

Rachel tried to compose herself the best way she could and she informed us, that her sister had left the house about ten o’clock in the forenoon, and that she had not since returned. She also mentioned, that Elizabeth had been seen in the company of Charles Austin shortly after leaving the house; and that, when she did not return in the course of the day, suspecting that they had fled to Gretna, she had sent my principal clerk, Thomas Galloway, after them, in a chaise and four, to bring back Elizabeth.

Distressed as I was, I admired the presence of mind which Rachel had exhibited. She had done all that I could have done myself, had I been at home; and a fitter person than Thomas Galloway could not have been sent. His zeal, honesty, and industry, had long rendered him a favourite with me; and, though he was but a young man, I treated him more as an equal than a clerk. Nor had I any doubt but in the mission he was sent upon, he would show as much courage, if such an article were required, as he had at all times shown zeal and prudence in my service.

But Thomas returned. He had heard nothing of them on the road, and they had not been at Gretna. These tidings threw us all into deeper affliction; and a week passed, and we could hear nothing of my daughter, and our misery increased. But, on the ninth day after her diappearance, a letter arrived from her. It was dated Coldstream. My fears read its contents before it was opened. In it she poured forth a rhapsody in praise of her ‘dear Charles,’ as she termed him, and said if we knew his virtues as well as she knew them, we would love him as she did. She begged forgiveness for the step she had taken, and sought permission to return with her husband, and receive mine and her mother’s blessing. She concluded the letter by signing herself our ‘affectionate and dutiful daughter, ‘Elizabeth Austin.’

‘Dutiful!—the ungrateful, the silly gipsy!’ cried I, flinging down the letter, and trampling it under my feet, in pure madness; ‘she shall never inherit a penny of mine—she shall never enter my door. She is ruined—she has married worthlessness and to misery!’

It was some time before Priscilla said anything; but I saw she was very greatly affected. At last the mother’s love for her offspring got the better of every other consideration in her heart, and she endeavoured to sooth me, and to prevail on me to forgive Elizabeth, and to see her again.

I had intended that the marriage portion of my daughters, on the very day they became wives, should be ten thousand each, providing that I approved of the match—though I by no manner of means wished or intended to direct their choice, or control their affections, further than it was my duty as a parent to see that they did not throw themselves away. But I was perfectly persuaded that, to give ten thousand, or the half of it, or any sum, to such a person as Elizabeth had got, would be no better than to fling it into the fire.

However, the entreaties and persuasion of Priscilla prevailed. I consented that Elizabeth should return, and gave her husband five thousand pounds as her dowry, with a promise of more, if they should conduct themselves to my satisfaction. He had not received the money many days when they set out for London.

Some time previous to this, I thought I had observed a sort of particular kindness between my daughter Rachel and my clerk, Thomas Galloway, of whom I have already spoken, and to whose worth I have borne testimony. He was a native of Newton-Stewart, and a young man of humble parentage, like myself; but I liked him nothing the worse upon that account; for in my opinion, there is no real respectability, save that only which a man purchases through his own merits. Now, I once or twice, when I went out to enjoy the air in the summer nights, after business hours, perceived Rachel and Thomas oxtering together along the green lanes, behind a place in the suburbs that is called Strangeways. Such was the high opinion that I had of him, that I was determined, if there was anything between them, to offer no obstacle in the world to their marriage. I considered that a character, a disposition, and a knowledge of business, such as Thomas had, were far before riches. But I knew that, in certain respects, both of the two were such bashful creatures, that neither of them would dare to mention the matter to me. So, after their familiarity became every day more apparent, though they tried to hide it, and when, at different times, I had tried humorously to sound both of them in vain, I mentioned the subject to Priscilla. I found that she had perceived it long before me; for women have quick eyes in such matters. But she said that Rachel was such a strange, reserved lassie, that, though her own bairn, she could not speak to her with a mother’s freedom; though, now that she had heard my mind concerning the match, she would ask Rachel how matters stood between her and Thomas Galloway that very day.

She, therefore, went into the room where Rachel was sitting sewing, and after talking about various matters, by way of not just breaking the matter at once, she said—

‘Rachel, dear, are ye aware if your faither has ever made ony sort o’ recompense to Thomas Galloway for his trouble in gaun a’ the way to Gretna after Elizabeth, when the foolish lassie ran away wi’ young Mr. Austin?’

‘I do not think it,’ replied Rachel.

‘Then,’ said her mother, ‘he has not done what he ought to have done. Indeed, I think he would only be doing his duty if he were to do something for Thomas; for he is a fine, genteel, deserving lad. Do you not think so, dear?’

This was a home-thrust which our bit lassie was not prepared for, and it brought the vermilion to her cheeks. But, after a moment’s hesitation, she said, though not without a manifest degree of confusion—

‘Yes, I think him a very deserving lad.’

But her mother had made the first step, and she was not to be put back, and therefore, she continued—

‘He is a lad that will rise in the world yet, and he weel deserves it; for a kinder, or more prudent, and obliging young man, I never saw—and I am glad, hinny, that ye hae the good sense to think weel o’ him.’

‘Mother!’ said Rachel, and her confusion greatly increased.

‘Come, love,’ continued Priscilla, ‘ye needna blush or conceal onything frae yer mother. She is a bad mother, indeed, that a daughter daurna trust wi’ a virtuous secret; and I hope ye ne’er saw onything in me, Rachel, that need debar ye frae making yer feelings known to me. Dinna suppose, love, that I am sae short-sighted but that I hae observed the tender affection that has long been springing up between ye; and I have not only observed it, but I hae dune sae wi’ satisfaction and pleasure, for I know not a young man that I could have more credit by in calling him son-in-law. So look up, dear, and tell me at once, am I not right—would ye not prefer Thomas to any man ye have ever seen, for your husband!’ And she kindly took our daughter by the hand.

‘Yes, mother!’ faltered my sweet, blushing blossom; and she sank her head on her mother’s breast.

‘That is right, hinny,’ said her mother; ‘but ye micht hae tauld me before, and it would hae saved ye baith mony a weary hour o’ uneasiness, I haena doobt. But ye shall find nae obstacles in yer way, for it is a match that will gie baith yer faither and me great satisfaction. He has observed the attentions o’ Thomas to ye as weel as mysel’, and spoke to me concerning it this very hour. Indeed, I may just tell ye that he desired me to mention the subject to ye; and if I found that yer feelings were as we supposed, that the marriage should immediately take place. And he will also take Thomas into partnership.’

Rachel, poor thing, grat with joy when her mother told her what I had said; and when Thomas heard of it he could have flung himself at my feet. The upshot was, that in a few weeks, they were married, and I took Thomas into partnership with me, which took a great burden off my shoulders; and, more particularly, as I had recently entered into a canal speculation, and became one of the principal shareholders and directors of the company.

For twelve months from the time that Elizabeth went to London, we had but two letters from her; and one of them was abusing her sister for what she termed her ‘grovelling spirit,’ in marrying her father’s clerk, and bringing disgrace upon the family. When I saw the letter, my answer back to her was—

‘Elizabeth, my woman, do not forget yourself. Your sister has married a deserving lad, and your mother married a packman!’

As to her husband, I never, in my born days, had a scribe from his pen. But I heard, from people that had business in London, that they were flinging away the money I had given them with both hands; and that Elizabeth, so far from being a check upon her husband’s extravagance, thoughtlessly whirled round with him in the vortex of fashionable dissipation.

The third letter we received from her was written about fourteen months after her marriage. It was in a strain of the wildest agony. In one line, she implored to have her full dowry bestowed upon her, and in the next she demanded it—and again she entreated me to release her ‘dear Charles,’ who, as she termed it, had been imprisoned for the paltry sum of five hundred pounds. I saw plainly that to do any thing for them would be money thrown away, and only encouraging them in their ridiculous, not to say wicked, course of fashion and folly. Therefore, in a way, I had made up my mind to let them feel what distress was, so that they might come to some kind of an understanding of the value and the use of money, which it was clear as the sun at noonday that neither the one nor the other of them had. But Priscilla was dreadfully distressed; I never had seen anything put her so much about. We held a sort of family parliament, consisting of my wife and myself, Rachel and her husband, to consider what was best to be done. Rachel, poor thing, pled hard for her sister, which I was pleased to see, though I said nothing; and Thomas suggested that I should release Charles Austin from prison, and give Elizabeth two hundred pounds for their immediate wants, and that I would set up her husband in whatever line of business he might prefer; but that I neither could nor should keep them in idleness and extravagance. This advice was agreed to. I released my hopeful son-in-law from prison, and sent two hundred pounds to my daughter, with a long letter of admonition, entreaty, and advice.

We heard no more of them for six months; and I wrote to Elizabeth again, and her mother wrote, and so did Rachel; but we all wrote in vain—our letters were never noticed. But there was one morning that my son, Thomas Galloway, came into the parlour where I was sitting, with an open letter in his hand, and his face was like the face of death. A trembling seized me all over. I was glad that there was no person beside me, for I saw that something had happened.

‘Thomas!’ cried I, as I saw the letter shake in his hand, ‘is my bairn dead?’

‘No,’ said he, ‘but’—and he stood still and handed me the letter.

I just glanced my eyes on it, and it fell out of my hand. It showed us that a forgery had been committed upon our house to the extent of ten thousand pounds!—and, oh, horrible!—by our own worthless son-in-law, Charles Austin! It was a dreadful trial—I knew not how to act. If I permitted the villain to escape unpunished, I was doing an injustice to society; and, oh, on the other hand, how was it possible that I could send to the gallows the husband of my own bairn! Thomas posted off instantly to London, to see what could be done; and I broke the bitter tidings in the best manner I could to Rachel and her mother. Their distress was even greater than mine. Thomas returned in a few days, and brought us word that the villain had escaped abroad somewhere but where he could not learn; and it was supposed he had taken his wife and child with him—for they had an infant about eight months old.

It was not the loss of the money, nor even the manner in which it had been lost, that chiefly affected me, but the loss, the ruin, the disgrace of my bairn. Indeed, it made such an impression upon me, that I never was the same man afterwards in any business transaction. Therefore, about twelve months after this melancholy event, I purchased a property in Dumfriesshire, and Priscilla and myself went to reside upon it. I intrusted the entire business to the prudence and experience of Thomas Galloway, and became merely a sleeping partner in the firm.

We had been better than a year in our house in Dumfriesshire—it was about the Christmas time, and Thomas and Rachael were down seeing us, with their little son, who was just beginning to run about and climb upon our knees. It was a remarkable cold and gousty night, and a poor wandering woman came to our door, with a bairn at her breast, and another on her back, and begging a morsel, and a shelter for herself and infants. We were all sitting round the fire, when one of the servants came up and told us concerning her, asking if they might give her a seat by the fire. I never liked to harbour beggars, and, says I—

‘No: there is a shilling for her; gie her some broken meat, and tell her to go down to the village—it is only two miles.’

‘And give her this from me,’ said Rachel; and Priscilla had her hand in her pocket, when the lass added—

‘Poor creature! I dinna believe she is able to crawl as far as the village, for baith her and her infants seem starving to death.’

‘What like is she?’ asked Rachel.

‘A bonny young creature, Ma’am,’ answered our servant, ‘but sair, sair dejected.’

‘She had better be brought in, father,’ said my daughter.

‘Take her into the kitchen, and let her warm herself and her bairns by the fire,’ said Priscilla. And the lass went away down stairs and brought her in.

Well, in the course of half an hour, Rachel went down to the kitchen, to see if there was anything that she could do for the poor woman and her infants—anything that they stood in need of, like—such as a gown, a frock, a pair of shoes, or the like of those things. But the sound of her light footsteps was hardly off the stairs, when we heard a scream, and the exclamations—

‘Sister! sister!’

I started to my feet—we all started to our feet; and Priscilla, and Thomas, and myself looked for a moment at each other, in an agony of wonder. We hurried down to the kitchen, and there was my Rachel weeping on the bosom of the poor wandering woman—my lost, my ruined Elizabeth! She sobbed as though her heart would burst, and would have fallen down and embraced our knees; but her mother pressed her to her bosom, and cried—‘My bairn! my bairn!’

I took her hand, and bursting into tears, could only sob— ‘My poor Betsy!’—and I felt her heart throb, throbbing, as she pressed my hand to her breast.

Rachel again flung her arms around her neck, and took her and her little ones from the kitchen, to clothe them with her own apparel, and that of her child. Poor Priscilla could do nothing but weep; and, when Rachel had clothed her, and cast aside the rags that covered her, she brought her into the parlour, where we sat waiting for them; and her mother and myself again rose and kissed her cheek, and bade her welcome. Throughout the evening, she sat sobbing and weeping, with her face towards the ground, and could not be comforted. We were not in a state of feeling to ask her questions, nor her to answer them.

But in a few days, she voluntarily unbosomed her griefs to her sister, who communicated to me her tale of woe. It was evident that she knew nothing of the crime which her husband had committed, and we agreed that she should never know, as it would only add a heavier load to her broken spirit. All she knew was, that he hastened with her to America, where he had changed his name, in consequence, as he said, of a property that had fallen to him in that country. He had long treated her with coolness and neglect, and prohibited her from writing to us, using threats that made her tremble for her life, if she attempted to do so. But, on arriving in America, his indifference gave place to open brutality; and in a few months, he basely deserted her and her infants in a strange land. She sold the few trinkets and articles of apparel he had left her; and, with her children in her arms fainting and broken-hearted, slowly performed a journey of several hundred miles, to the nearest seaport, where, after waiting for some months, doling out the little money she had left, to procure food for her children, she, at length, found a vessel about to sail for Greenock; and her passage-money deprived her of her last coin. My poor bairn had been landed in Scotland without a penny in her pocket, and was begging her way to Manchester, to throw herself at our feet, when Providence directed her to our door.

Never do I think of sufferings which my bairn must at this period have endured, but my heart melts within me, and I think what must have been the tortures of her proud spirit before she could seek assistance from the cold and measured hand of charity. Oh, what a struggle there must have been in her gentle bosom, between the agonies of hunger, the feelings of the mother, and the shame that burned upon her face and deprived her of utterance!—and while her bits of bairnies clung to her neck, or pulled at her tattered gown, and cried-—‘Bread, mother, give us bread,’ while her own heart was fainting within her, how dreadful must have been the sufferings that my poor Betsy endured. The idea that she was perishing, and begging like a wretched outcast from door to door, while we were faring sumptuously every day, brings the tears to my eyes even to the Power that in mercy directed her steps to her father’s house.

From that day, she and her children have never left my roof; and she shall still share equally with Rachel. About six months ago, I received a double letter from America. The outer one was from a clergyman, and that which was enclosed, bore the signature of Charles Austin. It was his confession on his deathbed, begging my forgiveness, and the forgiveness of his wife—my poor injured Elizabeth—for the wrongs and cruelties he had committed against her; and declaring that she was ignorant and innocent of the crime he had committed against me. He also beseeched me to provide for his children, for their mother’s sake, if they yet lived. It was the letter of a dying penitent. Four thousand of the sum with which he had absconded, he had not squandered, and it he had directed to be restored to me. The letter from the clergyman announced the death and burial of the unhappy young man, and that he had been appointed to carry his dying requests into effect.

I communicated the tidings of his death, and his repentance of his conduct towards her; and she received them meekly, but wept, as the remembrance of young affection touched her heart.

Such, sir, is an account of my speculations, and the losses and crosses with which they have been attended. But success and happiness have predominated; and I must say that I am happier now than ever. And, at the season when Rachel and Thomas come down to see us, with the bairns, and they run romping about with Elizabeth’s, who are two interesting creatures, and three or four will be crying at once, ‘Granny this, and Granny that,’ I believe that there is not a happier auld woman in Britain than my Priscilla, who first enabled me to speculate to some purpose."

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