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Wilson's Border Tales
The Sisters


There is not a period of deeper luxury and delight than the season when the nightingale raises its charmed voice to welcome and pleiades, of the glorious spring, like the spirit of life riding upon sunbeams, breathes upon the earth. Yielding to its renewing influence, the feelings and the fancies of youth rush back upon our heart, in all their holiness, freshness, and exultation; and we feel ourselves a deathless part of the joyous creation, which is glowing around us in beauty, beneath the smile of its God! Who has seen the foliage of ten thousand trees bursting into leaves, each kissed by a dew drop;--who has beheld a hundred flowers of varied hues, expanding into loveliness, stealing their colours from the rainbowed majesty of the morning sun:--who has listened to melody from the yellow furze;--to music from every bush—heard

"The birds sing love on every spray,"

and gazed on the blue sky of his own beautiful land, swimming like a singing sea around the sun!—who has seen, who has heard these, and not been ready to kneel upon the soil that gave him birth? Who has not then, as all nature lived and breathed, and shouted their hymns of glory around him, held his breath in quivering delight, and felt the presence of his own immortality, and assurance of his soul’s eternal duration, and wondered that sin should exist upon a world so beautiful? But this moralizing keeps us from our narrative. On one of the most lovely mornings of the season we have mentioned, several glad groups were seen tripping lightly towards the cottage of Peggy Johnstone. Peggy was the widow of a Border farmer, who died young, but left her, as the phrase runs, well to do in the world. She had two daughters, both in the pride of their young womanhood, and the sun shone not on a lovelier pair; both were graceful as the lilies that bowed their heads to the brook which ran near their cottage door, and both were mild, modest, and retiring, as the wee primrose that peeped forth beside the threshold. Both were that morning, by the consent of their mother, to bestow their hands upon the objects of their young affections. But we will not dwell upon their bridal; only a few short months were passed, when their mother was summoned into the world where the weary are at rest. On her deathbed, she divided unto them equal portions, consisting of a few hundreds. Their mourning for her loss which, for a time, was mingled with bitterness, gradually passed away, and long years of happiness appeared to welcome them, from the bosom of futurity. The husbands of both were in business, and resided in a market-town in Cumberland. The sisters’ names were Helen and Margaret; and, if a preference could have been given, Margaret was the most lovely and gentle of the two. But before the tree that sheltered her hopes had time to blossom, the serpent gnawed its roots, and it withered like the gourd of the angry prophet. Her dark eyes lost their lustre, and the tears ran down her cheeks where the roses had perished for ever. She spoke, but there was none to answer her;— she sighed, but there was no comforter, save the mournful voice of echo. Her young husband sat carousing in the midst of his boon companions—where the thought of a wife or home never enters—and night following night beheld them reel forth into the streets to finish their debauch in a house of shame!

Such were the miserable midnights of Margaret the beautiful and meek, while Helen beheld every day increasing her felicity in the care and affection of her temperate husband. She was the world to him, and he all that that world contained to her. And often as gloaming fell grey around them, still would they

"Sit and look into each other’s eyes,
Silent and happy, as if God had given
Nought else worth looking at on this side heaven!"

A few years passed over them. But hope visited not the dwelling of poor Margaret. Her husband had sunk into the habitual drunkard; and, not following his business, his business had ceased to follow him, and his substance was become a wreck. And she, so late the fairest of the fair, was now a dejected and broken-hearted mother, herself and her children in rags, a prey to filthiness and disease, sitting in a miserable hovel, stripped alike of furniture and the necessaries of life, where the wind and the rain whistled and drifted through the broken windows. To her each day the sun shone upon misery, while her children were crying around her for bread, and quarrelling with each other; and she now weeping in the midst of them, and now cursing the wretched man to whom they owed their being. Daily did the drunkard reel from his haunt of debauchery into his den of wretchedness. Then did the stricken children crouch behind their miserable mother for protection, as his red eyes glared upon their famished cheeks. But she now met his rage with the silent scowl of heart-broken and callous defiance, which, tending but to inflame the infuriated madman, then! then burst forth the more than fiendish clamour of domestic war! and then was heard upon the street the children’s shriek—the screams and the bitter revilings of the long patient wife—with the cruel imprecations and unnatural blasphemies of the monster, for whom language has no name!—as he rushed forward (putting cowardice to the blush), and with his clenched hand struck to the ground, amidst the children she bore him, the once gentle and beautiful being he had sworn before God to protect!—she, whom once he would not permit

"The winds of heaven to visit her cheeks too roughly"—

she, who would have thought her life cheap to have laid it down in his service, he kicked from him like a disobedient dog! These are the every-day changes of drinking habitually—these are the transformations of intemperance.

Turn we now to the fireside of the happier Helen!—The business of the day is done, and her sober husband returns homeward, and he perceives his fair children eagerly waiting his approach, while delight beams from his eyes, contentment plays upon his lips, and he stretches out his hand to welcome them; while

"The expectin’ wee things toddlin’ stacher through,
To meet their dad, wi’ flichterin’ noise an’ glee,
His wee bit ingle bliukin’ bonnily—
His clean hearth-stane and thifty wife’s smile,
Does a’ his weary carkin’ cares beguile,
An’ makes him quite forget his labour and his toil."

And, while the younglings climbed his knees, "the envied kiss to share," the elder brothers and sisters thronged around him, eager to repeat their daily and Sabbath-school tasks, and obtain, as their reward, the fond pressure of a father’s hand, and behold exultation and affection sparkling from his eyes; while the happy mother sat by, plying her needle and

"Gauring auld claes look amist as weel’s the new."

and gazing upon the scene before her with a rapture none but mothers know. Here there was no crying or wailing for food—no quarrellings—no blasphemies; but the cheerful supper done, the voice of Psalms was heard in solemn sounds—the book of God was opened—the father knelt, and his children bent their knees around him. And could an angel gaze upon a more delightful scene, than an infant kneeling by the side of its mother, gazing in her face, and lisping Amen! as the words fell from its father’s lips. Surely, surely, as he flew to register it in heaven, a prayer-hearing God would respond—So let it be.

Again must we view the opposite picture. The unhappy drunkard, deprived of the means of life in his native town, wandered with his family to Edinburgh. But on him no reformation dawned. And the wretched Margaret, hurried onward by despair, before the smoothness of youth had left the brow of her sister, was overtaken by age, its wrinkles, and infirmities. And all the affections, all the feelings of her once gentle nature, being seared by long years of insult, misery, brutality, and neglect, she herself flew to the bottle, and became tenfold more the victim of depravity than her fallen, abandoned husband. She lived to behold her children break the laws of their country, and to be utterly forsaken by her husband; and, in the depth of her misery, she was seen quarrelling with a dog upon the street, for a bare bone that had been cast out with the ashes. Of the extent of her sufferings, or where to find her, her sister knew not; but in the midst of a severe winter, the once beautiful Margaret Jobnstone was found a hideous and a frozen corpse in a miserable cellar.

"Last scene of all,
Which ends this strange eventful history."

Upon Helen and her husband, age descended imperceptibly as the calm twilight of a lovely evening, when the stars steal out, and the sunbeams die away, as a holy stillness glides through the air, like the soft breathing of an angel unfolding from his celestial wings the silken curtains of a summer night; and the conscious earth, kissed by the balmy spirit, dreams and smiles, and, smiling, dreams itself into the arms of night and repose. Fourscore winters passed over them. Their heads became white with the "snow of years." But they became old together. They half forgot the likeness of the face of their youth; but still the heart of youth, with its imperishable affections and esteem, throbbed in either bosom, smiling calmly upon time and its ravages; and still, in the eyes of the happy old man, his silver-haired partner seemed as young, as fair, and as beautiful, as when, in the noontide of her loveliness, she blushed to him her vows. Their children have risen around them, and called them blessed; and they have beheld those children esteemed and honoured in society.

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