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Wilson's Border Tales
Midside Maggie
Chapter 2

Again the winter storms howled upon the Lammermoors, and the snow lay deep upon the hills. Thomas and his herdsmen were busied in exertions to preserve the remainder of his flocks; but one day, when the wrestling winds breathed with thawing influence upon the snow-clad hills, Margaret went forth to where there was a small, deep, and shadowed ravine by the side of the Leader. In it the rivulet formed a pool and seemed to sleep, and the grey trout loved to lie at ease; for a high dark rock, over which the brushwood grew, overhung it, and the rays of the sun fell not upon it. In the rock, and near the side of the stream, was a deep cavity, and Margaret formed a snowball on the brae top, and she rolled it slowly down into the shadowed glen, till it attained the magnitude of an avalanche in miniature. She trode upon it, and pressed it firmly together, until it obtained almost the hardness and consistancy of ice. She rolled it far into the cavity, and blocked up the mouth of the aperture, so that neither light nor air might penetrate the strange coffer, in which she had deposited the equally strange rent of Tollishill. Verily, common as ice-houses are in our day, let not Midside Maggy be deprived of the merit of their inventon.

I have said that it was her maxim to keep no secret from her husband; but as it is said there is no rule without an exception, even so it was in the case of Margaret, and there was one secret which she communicated not to Thomas, and that was—the secret of the hidden snowball.

But June came, and Thomas Hardie was a sorrowful man. He had in no measure overcome the calamities of former seasons, and he was still unprepared with his rent. Margaret shared not his sorrow, but strove to cheer him, and said—

"We shall hae a snawba’ in June, though I climb to the top o’ Cheviot for it."

"O my bonny lassie," replied he—and he could see the summit of Cheviot from his farm— "dinna deceive yersel’ wi’ what could only be words spoken in jest; but at ony rate I perceive there has been nae snaw on Cheviot for a month past."

Now, not a week had passed but Margaret had visited the aperture in the ravine, where the snowball was concealed, not through idle curiosity, to perceive whether it had melted away, but more effectually to stop up every crevice that might have been made in the materials with which she had blocked up the mouth of the cavity.

But the third day of the dreadful month had not passed, when a messenger arrived at Tollishill from Thirlestane with the abrupt mandate—"June has come!"

"And we shall be at Thirlestane the morn," answered Margaret.

"O my doo," said Thomas, "what nonsense are ye talking!—that isna like ye, Margaret; I’ll be in Greenlaw Jail the morn; and oor bits o’ things in the hoose, and oor flocks, will be seized by the harpies o’ the law—and the only thing that distresses me is, what is to come o’ you, hinny."

"Dinna dree the death ye’ll never dee," said Margaret affectionately; "we shall see, if we be spared, what the morn will bring."

"The fortitude o’ yer mind, Margaret," said Thomas, taking her hand; and he intended to have said more, to have finished a sentence in admiration of her worth, but his heart filled, and he was silent.

On the following morning Margaret said unto him—

"Now, Thomas, if ye are ready, we’ll gang to Thirlestane, it is aye waur to expect or think o’ an evil than to face it."

"Margaret, dear," said he, "I canna comprehend ye— wherefore should I thrust my head into the lion’s den? It will soon enough seek me in my path."

Nevertheless she said unto him, "Come," and bade him be of good heart; and he arose and accompanied her. But she conducted him to the deep ravine, where the waters seem to sleep, and no sunbeam ever falls; and, as she removed the earth and the stones, with which she had blocked up the mouth of the cavity in the rock, he stood wondering. She entered the aperture, and rolled forth the firm mass of snow which was yet too large to be lifted by hands. When Thomas saw this, he smiled and wept at the same instant, and he pressed his wife’s cheek to his bosom, and said—

"Great has been the care o’ my poor Margaret, but it is o’ no avail,, for though ye hae proved mair than a match for the seasons, the proposal was but a jest o’ Lauderdale."

"What is a man but his word?" replied Margaret; "and him a nobleman, too."

"Nobility are but men," answered Thomas, "and seldom better men than ither folk. Believe me, if we were to gang afore him wi’ a snawba’ in oor hands, we should only get lauched at for oor pains."

"It was his ain agreement," added she, "and, at ony rate, we can be naething the waur for seeing if he will abide by it."

Breaking the snowy mass, she rolled up a portion of it in a napkin, and they went towards Thirlestane together; though often did Thomas stop by the way and say—

"Margaret, dear, I’m perfectly ashamed to gang upon this business; as sure as I am standing here, as I have tauld ye, we will only get oorselves lauched at."

"I would rather be lauched at," added she, "than despised for breaking my word; and, if oor laird break his noo, wha wadna despise him?"

Harmonious as their wedded life had hitherto been, there was what might well nigh be called bickerings between them on the road, for Thomas felt or believed that she was leading him on a fool’s errand. But they arrived at the castle of Thirlestane, and were ushered into the mansion of its proud lord.

"Ha!" said the Earl, as they entered, "bonny Midside Maggy and her auld goodman! Well, what bring ye?—the rents o’ Tollishill, or their equivalent?" Thomas looked at his young wife, for he saw nothing to give him hope on the countenance of Lauderdale, and he thought that he pronounced the word "equivalent" with a sneer.

"I bring ye snaw in June, my Lord," replied Margaret, "agreeably to the terms o’ yer bargain; and am sorry, for your sake and oors, that it hasna yet been in oor power to bring gowd instead o’t.".

Loud laughed the Earl as Margaret unrolled the huge snowball before him, and Thomas thought unto himself, "I said how it would be." But Lauderdale, calling for his writing materials, sat down and wrote, and he placed in the hands of Thomas a discharge, not only for his back rent, but for all that should otherwise be due at the ensuing Martinmas.

Thomas Hardie bowed and bowed again before the Earl, low and yet lower, awkwardly and still more awkwardly, and he endeavoured to thank him, but his tongue faltered in the performance of its office. He could have taken his hand in his and wrung it fervently, leaving the fingers to express what his tongue could not; but his laird was an Earl, and there was a necessary distance to be observed between an Earl and a Lammermoor farmer.

"Thank not me, goodman," said Lauderdale, "but thank the modesty and discretion o’ yer winsome wife."

Margaret was silent, but gratitude for the kindness which the Earl had shown unto her husband and herself took deep root in her heart. Gratitude, indeed, formed a predominating principle in her character, and fitted her even for acts of heroism.

The unexpected and unwonted generosity of the Earl had enabled Thomas Hardie to overcome the losses with which the fury of the seasons had overwhelmed him, and he prospered, beyond any farmer on the hills. But while he prospered, the Earl of Lauderdale, in his turn, was overtaken by adversity. The stormy times of the civil wars raged, and it is well known with what devotedness Lauderdale followed the fortunes of the King. When the Commonwealth began, he was made prisoner, conveyed to London, and confined in the Tower. There nine weary years of captivity crept slowly and gloomily over him; but they neither taught him mercy to others nor to moderate his ambition, as was manifested when power and prosperity again cast their beams upon him. But he now lingered in the Tower, without prospect or hope of release, living upon the bare sustenance of a prisoner, while his tenants dwelt on his estates, and did as they pleased with his rents, as though they should not again behold the face of a landlord.

But Midside Maggy grieved for the fate of him whose generosity had brought prosperity, such as they had never known before, to herself and to her husband; and in the fulness of her gratitude she was ever planning schemes for his deliverance; and she urged upon her husband that it was their duty to attempt to deliver their benefactor from captivity, as he had delivered them from the iron grasp of ruin, when misfortune lay heavily on them. Now, as duly as the rent day came, from the Martinmas to which the snowball had been his discharge, Thomas Hardie faithfully and punctually locked away his rent to the last farthing, that he might deliver it into the hands of his laird should he again be permitted to claim his own; but he saw not in what way they could attempt his deliverance, as his wife proposed.

"Thomas," said she, "there are ten lang years o’ rent due, and we hae the siller locked away. It is o’ nae use to us, for it isna oors; but it may be o’ use to him. It would enable him to fare better in his prison, and maybe to put a handfu’ o’ gowd into the hands o’ his keepers, and thereby to escape abroad, and it wad furnish him wi’ the means o’ living when he was abroad. Remember his kindness to us, and think that there is nae sin equal to the sin o’ ingratitude."

"But," added Thomas, "in what way could we get the money to him? for, if we’ve to send it, it would never reach him, and as a prisoner, he wouldna be allowed to receive it."

"Let us tak it to him oorsels, then," said Margaret.

"Tak it," exclaimed Thomas, in amazement, "a’ the way to London! It is oot o’ the question a’thegither, Margaret. We wad be robbed o’ every plack before we got half way; or, if we were even there, hoo, in a’ the world, do ye think we could get it to him, or that we would be allooed to see him."

"Leave that to me," was her reply; "only say ye will gang, and a’ that shall be accomplished. There is nae obstacle in the way but the want o’ yer consent. But the debt, and the ingratitude o’ it thegither, hang heavy upon my heart."

Thomas at length yielded to the importunities of his wife, and agreed that they should make a pilgrimage to London, to pay his rent to his captive laird; though how they were to carry the gold in safety, through an unsettled country, a distance of more than three hundred miles, was a difficulty he could not overcome. But Margaret removed his tears; she desired him to count out the gold, and place it before her; and when he had done so, she went to the meal-tub and took out a quantity of pease and of barley meal mixed, sufficient to knead a goodly fadge or bannock; and, when she had kneaded it, and rolled it out, she took the golden pieces and pressed them into the paste of the embryo bannock, and again she doubled it together, and again rolled it out, and kneaded into it the remainder of the gold. She then fashioned it into a thick bannock, and placing it on the hearth, covered it with the red ashes of the peats.

Thomas sat marvelling, as the formation of the singular purse proceeded, and when he beheld the operation completed, and the bannock placed upon the hearth to bake, he only exclaimed—"Weel, woman’s ingenuity dings a’! I wadna hae thocht o’ the like o’ that, had I lived a thousand years! O Margaret, hinny, but ye are a strange ane."

"Hoots," replied she," "I’m sure ye micht easily hae imagined that it was the safest plan we could hae thocht upon to carry the siller in safety; for I am sure there isna a thief between the Tweed and Lun’on toun, that would covet or carry awa a bear bannock."

"Troth, my doo, and I believe yer richt," replied Thomas, "but wha could hae thocht o’ sic an expedient? Sure there never was a bannock baked like the bannock o’ Tollishill."

On the third day after this, an old man and a fair lad, before the sun had yet risen, were observed crossing the English Borders. They alternately carried a wallet across their shoulders, which contained a few articles of apparel and a bannock. They were dressed as shepherds, and passengers turned and gazed on them as they passed along; for the beauty of the youth’s countenance excited their admiration. Never had Lowland bonnet covered so fair a brow. The elder stranger was Thomas Hardie, and the youth none other than his Midside Maggy.

I will not follow them through the stages of their long and weary journey, nor dwell upon the perils and adventures they encountered by the way. But, on the third week after they hae left Tollishill, and when they were beyond the town called Stevenage, and almost within sight of the metropolis, they were met by an elderly military-looking man, who, struck with the lovely countenance of the seeming youth, their dress, and way-worn appearance, accosted them, saying—"Good morrow, strangers, ye seem to have travelled far. Is this fair youth your son, old man?"

"He is a gay sib freend," answered Thomas.

"And whence come ye?" continued the stranger.

"Frae Leader Haughs, on the bonny Borders o’ the north countrie," replied Margaret.

"And whence go ye?" resumed the other.

"First tell me wha ye may be that are sae inquisitive," interrupted Thomas, in a tone which betrayed something like impatience.

"Some call me George Monk," replied the stranger mildly; "others, Honest George. I am a general in the Parliamentary army." Thomas reverentially raised his hand to his bonnet, and bowed his head.

"Then pardon me, sir," added Margaret, "and if ye indeed be the guid and gallant general, sma’ offence will ye tak at onything that may be said amiss by a country laddie. We are tenants o’ the Lord o’ Lauderdale, whom ye now keep in captivity; and, though we mayna think as he thinks, yet we never faund him but a guid landlord; and little guid, in my opinion, it can do to onybody to keep him, as he has been noo for nine years, caged up like a bird. Therefore, though oor ain business that has brocht us up to London, should fail, I winna regret the journey, since it has afforded me an opportunity o’ seein’ yer Excellency, and soliciting yer interest, which maun be pooerfu’, in behalf o’ oor laird, and that ye would release him frae his prison, and, if he michtna remain in this country, obtain permission for him to gang abroad."

"Ye plead fairly and honestly for yer laird, fair youth," returned the general; "yet, though he is no man to be trusted, I needs say he has had his portion of captivity measured out abundantly; and, since ye have minded me of him, era a week go round I will think of what may be done for Lauderdale." Other questions were asked and answered, some truly, and some evasively; and Thomas and Margaret, blessing Honest George in their hearts, went on their way rejoicing at having met him.

On arriving in London, she laid aside the shepherd’s garb in which she had journeyed, and resumed her wonted apparel. On the second day after their arrival, she went out upon Tower-hill, dressed as a Scottish peasant girl, with a basket on her arm; and in the basket were a few ballads, and the bannock of Tollishill. She affected silliness, and, as she stood singing before the gate— "What want ye, pretty face?" inquired the officer of the guard. "Your alms, if ye please," said she, smiling innocently, "and to sing a bonny Scotch sang to the Laird o’ Lauderdale."

The officer and the sentinels laughed; and, after she had sung them another song or two, she was permitted to enter the gate and a soldier pointed out to her the room in which Lauderdale was confined. On arriving before the grated windows of his prison-house, and in the countenance of the minstrel he remembered the lovely features of Midside Maggy. He requested permission of the keeper that she should be admitted to his presence, and his request was complied with.

"Bless thee, sweet face!" said the Earl, as she was admitted into his prison; "and you have not forgotten the snowball in June?" And he took her hand to raise it to his lips.

"Hooly, hooly, my guid Lord," said she, withdrawing her hand; "my fingers were made for nae sic purpose— Thomas Hardie is here"—and she laid her hand upon her fair bosom—"though now standing without the yett o’, the Tower." Lauderdale again wondered, and, with a look of mingled curiosity and confusion, inquired—"Wherefore do ye come—and why do ye seek me?" "I brocht ye a snawba’ before," said she, "for yer rent—I bring ye a bannock noo." And she took the bannock from the basket and placed it before him. "Woman," added he, "are ye really as demented as I thocht ye but feigned to be, when ye sang before the window?" "The proof o’ the bannock," replied Margaret, "will be in the breakin’ o’t."

‘Then, goodwife, it will not be easily proved," said he—and he took the bannock, and with some difficulty broke it over his knee; but, when he beheld the golden coins that were kneaded through it, for the first, perhaps the last and only time in his existence, the Earl of Lauderdale burst into tears, and exclaimed—"Well, every bannock has its maik but the bannock o’ Tollishill! Yet, kind as ye hae been, the gold is useless to ane that groans in hopeless captivity."

"Yours has been a long captivity," said Margaret; "but it is not hopeless; and, if honest General Monk is to be trusted, from what he tauld me not three days by-gane, before a week gae round, ye will be at liberty to go abroad, and there the bannock o’ Tollishill may be o’ use."

The wonder of Lauderdale increased, and he replied—

"Monk will keep his word, but what mean ye of him?" And she related to him the interview they had had with the General by the way. Lauderdale took her hand, a ray of hope and joy spread over his face, and he added—

"Never shall ye rue the bakin’ o’ the bannock, if auld times come back again."

Margaret left the Tower, singing as she had entered it, and joined her husband, whom she found leaning over the railing around the moat, and anxiously waiting her return. They spent a few days more in London, to rest and to gaze upon its wonders, and again set out upon their journey to Tollishill. General Monk remembered his promise; within a week, the Earl of Lauderdale was liberated, with permission to go abroad, and there, as Margaret had intimated, he found the bannock of Tollishill of service.

A few more years passed round, during which old Thomas Hardie still prospered; but during those years the Commonwealth came to an end, the King was recalled, and with him, as one of his chief favourites, returned the Earl of Lauderdale. And when he arrived in Scotland, clothed with power, whatever else he forgot, he remembered the bannock of Tollishill. Arrayed in what might have passed as royal state, and attended by fifty of his followers, he rode in princely pomp to the dwelling of Thomas Hardie and Midside Maggy; and when they came forth to meet him, he dismounted, and drew forth a costly silver girdle of strange workmanship, and fastened it round her jimp waist, saying—

"Wear this, for now it is my turn to be grateful; and for your husband’s life, and your life, and the life o’ the generation after ye," (for they had children), "ye shall sit rent free on the lands ye now farm. For, truly, every bannock had its maik but the bannock o’ Tollishill."

Thomas and Margaret felt their hearts too full to express their thanks; and, ere they could speak, the Earl, mounting his horse, rode towards Thirlestane; and his followers, waving their bonnets, shouted—"Long live Midside Maggy, queen of Tollishill."

Such is the story of "The Bannock o’ Tollishill;" and it is only necessary to add, for the information of the curious, that I believe the silver girdle may be seen until this day in the neighbourhood of Tollishill, and in the possession of a descendant of Midside Maggy, to whom it was given.

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