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Wilson's Border Tales
The Broken Heart


Early in the November of 1745, the news reached Cambridge that Charles Stuart, at the head of his hardy and devoted Highlanders, had crossed the Borders, and taken possession of Carlisle. The inhabitants gazed upon each other with terror, for the swords of the clansmen had triumphed over all opposition; they were regarded, also, by the multitude as savages, and by the more ignorant as cannibals. But there were others who rejoiced in the success of the young Adventurer, and who, dangerous as it was to confess their joy, took but small pains to conceal it. Amongst these was James Dawson, the son of a gentleman in the north of Lancashire, and then a student at St. John’s College. That night he invited a party of friends to sup with him, who entertained sentiments similar to his own. The cloth was withdrawn, and he rose and gave, as the toast of the evening—"Prince Charles—and success to him!" His guests, fired with his own enthusiasm, rose and received the toast with cheers. The bottle went round—the young men drank deep. And other toasts of a similar nature followed. The song succeeded the toast, and James Dawson sang the following, which seemed to be the composition of the day:--

"Free, o’er the Borders, the tartan is streaming,
The dirk is unsheathed, and the claymore is gleaming,
The Prince and his clansmen in triumph advance,
Nor needs he the long-promised succours of France.
From the Cumberland mountains, and Westmoreland lake,
Each brave man shall snatch up a sword for his sake;
And the ‘Lancashire Witch’ on her bosom shall wear
The snow-white cockade, by her lover placed there."

But while he yet sang, and as he completed but the first verse, two constables and three or four soldiers burst into the room, and denounced them as traitors and as their prisoners.

"Down with them!" exclaimed James Dawson, springing forward, and snatching down a sword which was suspended over the mantlepiece. The students vigorously resisted the attempt to make them prisoners, and several of them, with their entertainer, escaped.

He concealed himself for a short time, when, his horse being brought, he took the road towards Manchester, in order to join the ranks of the Adventurer. It was about mid-day, on the 29th, when he reached the town which is now the emporium of the manufacturing world. On proceeding down Market Street, he perceived a confused crowd, some uttering threats, and others with consternation expressed on their countenance; and, in the midst of the multitude, was Sergeant Dickson, a young woman, and a drummer boy, beating up for recruits. The white cockade streamed from the hat of the sergeant; the populace vented their indignation against him, but no man dared to seize him, for he continued to turn round and round, with a blunderbuss in his hand, facing the crowd on all sides, and threatening to shoot the first man that approached, who was not ready to serve the Prince, and to mount the white cockade. The young woman carried a supply of ribbons in her hand, and ever and anon waved them in triumph exclaiming—"Charlie, yet!" some dozen recruits already followed at the heels of the sergeant. James Dawson spurred his horse through the crowd..

"Give me one of your favours," said he, addressing the sergeant.

"Ay, a dozen, your honour," replied Dickson.

He received the ribbon and tied it to his breast, and placed another at his horse’s head. His conduct had an effeet upon the multitude; numbers flocked around the sergeant, his favours became exhausted; and when the Prince and the army entered the town in the evening, he brought before him an hundred and eighty men, which he had that day enlisted.

The little band so raised were formed into what was called the Manchester regiment, of which the gallant Townly was made Colonel, and James Dawson one of the Captains.

Our business at present is not with the movements of Charles Edward, nor need we describe his daring march towards Derby, which struck terror throughout all England, and for a time seemed to shake the throne and its dynasty; nor dwell upon the particulars of his masterly retreat towards Scotland—suffice it to say, that on the 19th of December, the Highland army again entered Carlisle.

On the following morning they evacuated it; but the Manchester regiment, which was now composed of about three hundred men, was left as a garrison to defend the town, against the entire army of proud Cumberland. They were devoted as a sacrifice, that the Prince and the main army might be saved. The dauntless Townly, and the young and gallant Dawson, were not ignorant of the desperateness and the hopelessness of their situation; but they strove to impart their own heroism to the garrison, and to defend the town to the last. On the morning of the 21st, the entire army of the Duke of Cumberland arrived before Carlisle, and took possession of the fortifications that commanded it. He commanded the garrison to surrender, and they answered him by a discharge of musketry. They had withstood a siege of ten days, during which time Cumberland had erected batteries, and procured cannon from Whitehaven; before their fire the decaying and neglected walls of the city gave way; to hold out another day was impossible, and there was no resource left for the devoted band, but to surrender, or perish. On the 30th, a white flag was hoisted on the ramparts. On its being perceived, the cannon ceased to play upon the town, and a messenger was sent to the Duke of Cumberland, to inquire what terms he would grant to the garrison.

"Tell them," he replied haughtily, "I offer no terms but these—that they shall not be put to the sword, but they shall be reserved for his Majesty to deal with them as he may think proper."

There was no alternative, and these doubtful and evasive terms were accepted. The garrison were disarmed, and under a numerous guard placed in the cathedral.

James Dawson and seventeen others were conveyed to London, and cast into prison, to wait the will of his Majesty. Till now his parents were ignorant of the fate of their son, though they had heard of his being compelled to flee from the university, and feared that he had joined the standard of the Prince. Too soon their worst fears were realized, and the truth revealed to them. But there was another who trembled for him, whose heart felt keenly as a parent’s—she who was to have been his wife, to whom his hand was plighted, and his heart given. Fanny Lester was a young and gentle being, and she had known James Dawson from their childhood. Knowledge ripened to affection, and their hearts were twined together. On the day on which she was made acquainted with his imprisonment she hastened to London to comfort him—to cheer his gloomy solitude—at the foot of the throne to sue for his pardon.

She arrived at the metropolis—she was conducted to the prison-house, and admitted. On entering the gloomy apartment in which he was confined, she screamed aloud, she raised her hands, and springing forward, fell upon his neck and wept.

"My own Fanny!" he exclaimed, "you here!—weep not, my sweet one—come, be comforted—there is hope—every hope--I shall not die--my own Fanny be comforted."

"Yes!—yes there is hope!—the King will pardon you," she exclaimed, "he will spare my James—I will implore your life at his feet!"

"Nay, nay, love--say not the King," interrupted the young enthusiast for the house of Stuart; "it will be but imprisonment till all is over—the Elector cannot seek my life."

He strove long and earnestly to persuade, to assure her, that his life was not in danger—that he would be saved—and what she wished, she believed. The jailor entered, and informed them it was time that she should depart, and again sinking her head upon his breast, she wept "good night."

But each day she revisited him, and they spoke of his deliverance together. At times, too, she told him with tears of the efforts she had made to obtain his pardon—of her attempts to gain admission to the presence of the King—of the repulses she met with—of her applications to the nobility connected with the court—of the insult and inhumanity she met with from some--the compassion she experienced from others—the interest that they took in his fate, and the hopes and the promises which they held out. Upon those hopes and those promises she fondly dwelt. She looked into his eyes to perceive the hope that they kindled there, and as joy beamed from them, she half forgot that his life hung upon the word of a man.

But his parents came to visit him; hers followed her, and they joined their efforts to hers, and anxiously, daily, almost hourly, they exerted their energies to obtain his pardon. His father possessed an influence in electioneering matters in Lancashire, and hers could exercise the same in an adjoining county. That influence was now urged—the members they had supported were importuned. They promised to employ their best exertions. Whatever the feelings or principles of the elder Dawson might be, he had never avowed disaffection openly—he had never evinced a leaning to the family of Stuart—he had supported the government of the day; and the father of Fanny Lester was an upholder of the house of Hanover. The influence of all their relatives, and of all their friends, was brought into action; peers and commoners were supplicated, and they pledged their intercession. Men high in office took an interest in the fate of James Dawson, or professed to take it; promises, half official, were held out—and when his youth, the short time that he had been engaged in the rebellion, and the situation that he held in the army of the Adventurer were considered, no one doubted but that his pardon was certain—that he would not be brought to trial. Even his parents felt assured—but the word of the King was not passed.

They began to look forward to the day of his deliverance with impatience, but still with certainty. There was but one heart that feared, and it throbbed in the bosom of poor Fanny. She would start from her sleep, crying—"Save him!—save him!" as she fancied she beheld them dragging him to execution. In order to soothe her, her parents and his, in the confidence that pardon would be extended to him, agreed that the day of his liberation should be the day of their bridal. She knew their affection, and her heart struggled with her fears to believe the "flattering tale."

James tried also to cheer her—he believed that his would be spared—he endeavoured to smile and to be happy.

"Fear not, my own Fanny," he would say; "your apprehensions are idle. The Elector"—

And here his father would interfere. "Speak not so, my son," said the old man earnestly, "Speak not against princes in your bed-chamber, for a bird of the air can carry the tidings. Your life is in the hands of a King—of a merciful one, and it is safe—only speak not thus!—do not, as you love me—as you love our Fanny, do not."

Then would they chase away her fears, and speak of the arrangements for the bridal; and Fanny would smile pensively while James held her hand in his, and, as he gazed on her finger he raised it to his lips, as though he took the measure of the ring.

But, "hope deferred maketh the heart sick;" and though they still retained their confidence that he would be pardoned, yet their anxiety increased, and Fanny’s heart seemed unable longer to contain its agony and suspence. More than six months had passed, but still no pardon came for James Dawson. The fury of the civil war was spent—the royal Adventurer had escaped—the vengeance of sword was satisfied, and the law of the conquerors, and the scaffolds of the law, called for the blood of those whom the sword had saved. The soldier laid down his weapon, and the executioner took up his. On the leaders of the Manchester regiment the vengeance of the blood-thirsty law first fell. It was on the evening of the 14th of July, 1746, James Dawson sat in his prison, Fanny sat by side with her hand in his, and his parents were present also, when the jailer entered, and ordered him to prepare to hold himself in readiness for his trial, in the court-house at St. Margaret’s, Southwark, on the following day. His father groaned—his mother exclaimed "my son!"--but Fanny sat motionless. No tear was in her eye—no muscle in her countenance moved. Her fingers grasped his with a firmer pressure—but she evinced no other symptom of having heard the mandate that was delivered. They rose to depart, and a low, deep sigh issued from her bosom; but she showed no sign of violent grief—her feelings were already exhausted—her heart could bear no more.

On the following day, eighteen victims, with the gallant Townly at their head, were brought forth for a grand jury. Amongst them, and as one of the chief, was James Dawson. Fanny had insisted on being present. She heard the word guilty pronounced with a yet deeper apathy than she had evinced at the announcement of his trial. She folded her hands upon her bosom, her 1ips moved as in prayer, but she shed not a single tear, breathed not a single sigh. She arose, she beckoned to her attendants, and accompanied them from the house.

Still his friends entertained the hope that the Pardon Power might be moved—they redoubled their exertions—they increased their importunities—they were willing to make any sacrifice so that his life might be but saved—and even then, at the eleventh hour, they hoped against hope. But Fanny yielded not to the vain thought. Day after day she sat by her lover’s side, and she, in her turn, her became his comforter. She no longer spoke of their bridal—but she spoke of eternity; she spoke of their of meeting where the ambition, the rivalry, and the power of princes should be able to cast no cloud over the happiness of the soul.

Fourteen days had passed, and during that he betrayed no sign of terror; she evinced none of a woman’s weakness. She seemed to have mastered her griefs, and her soul was prepared to meet them. Yet, save only when she spoke to him, her soul appeared entranced, and her body lifeless. On the 29th of July an order was brought for the execution of the victims on the following day. James bowed his head to the officer who delivered the warrant, and calmly answered—"I am prepared."

The cries of his mother rang through the prison-house. She tore her hair—she sank upon the floor—she entreated Heaven to spare her child. His father groaned, he held the hand of his son in his, and the tears gushed down his cheeks. Fanny alone was silent—she alone was tranquil. No throe of agony swelled her bosom, flushed in her countenance, or burned in her eye. She was calm, speechless, resigned. He pressed her to his bosom, as they took their last farewell.

"Adieu!—adieu!—my own!" he cried—"my Fanny--farewell!—an eternal farewell!"

"Nay, nay," she replied, "say not eternal—we shall meet again. ‘Tis a short farewell—I feel it--I feel it. Adieu love!—adieu! Die firmly. We shall meet soon."

Next morning the prisoners were to be dragged on sledges to Kensington Common, which was the place appointed for their execution. In the first sledge was the executioner, sitting over his pinioned victims with a drawn sword in his hand. No priest—no minister of religion attended them; and around the sledges followed thousands, some few expressing sympathy, but the majority following from curiosity, and others venting their execrations against all traitors. In the midst of the multitude was a hackney coach, following the sledges, and in it was the gentle Fanny Lester, accompanied by a relative and a female friend. They had endeavoured to persuade her from the fearful trial; but she was calm, resolute, and not to be moved, and they yielded to her wish. The coach drew up within thirty yards of the scaffold; Fanny pulled down the window, and leaning over it, she beheld the piles of faggots lighted around the scaffold;--she saw the flames ascend, and the soldiers form a circle around them. She saw the victims leave the sledge; she looked upon him whom her heart loved as he mounted the place of death, and his step was firm, his countenance unmoved. She saw him join in prayer with his companions, and her eyes were fixed on him as he flung papers and his hat among the multitude. She saw the fatal signal given, and the drop fall—she heard the horrid shout, the yell that burst from the multitude, but not a muscle of her frame moved. She gazed calmly, as though it had been on a bridal ceremony. She beheld the executioner begin the barbarities which the law awards to treason—the clothes were torn from the victims--one by one they were cut down; and the finisher of the law, with the horrid knife in his hand, proceeded to lay open their bosoms, and taking out their hearts, flung them on the faggots that blazed around the scaffold. The last spectacle of barbarity was James Dawson; and when the executioner had plunged his knife in his breast, he raised his heart in his hand, and holding it a moment before the horror-stricken and disgusted multitude, he cast it into the flames, exclaiming, as he flung it from him—"God save King George!" Fanny beheld this—her eyes became blind—she heard not the shout of the multitude--she drew back her head into the coach—it dropped upon the shoulder of her companion—"My dear! I follow thee!—I follow thee!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands together--"sweet Jesus! Receive back our souls together!" They attempted to raise her head, to support her in their arms, but she sank back lifeless—her spirit had accompanied him it loved—she died of stifled agony and a broken heart.

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