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Wilson's Border Tales
The Fugitive - Chapter 2

While the latter events which we have recorded in the last chapter were taken place, Henry Blackett, the rebel soldier, was a fugitive, flying from hiding place to hiding place, seeking concealment in the mountains and in the glens, in the forest and crowded city, assuming every disguise, and hunted from covert to covert. A reward was not offered for his apprehension, in particular, by government, but he was included amongst those whom loyal subjects were forbidden to conceal, and two emissaries, sent out by Norton, sought him continually to deliver him up. Ignorant of his father’s marriage, or of the villain’s part he had acted towards him, though conscious of the anger at his having joined Prince Charles, he was wandering in Dumfriesshire, by the shore of the Solway, disguised as a sailor, and watching an opportunity to return home, when the hunters of his life suddenly sprang upon him, exclaiming—"Ha! Blackett, the traitor!—the five hundred pounds are ours!"

Armed only with the branch of a tree, which he carried partly for defence and as a walking stick, he repelled them with the desperate fierceness of a man whose life is at stake. One he disabled, and the other, being unable to contend against him singly, permitted him to escape. He rushed at his utmost speed across the fields for many miles, avoiding the highways and public paths, until he sank panting and exhausted on the ground. He had not lain long in this situation when he was discovered by a wealthy farmer, who was known in the neighbourhood by the appellation of "canny Willie Galloway."

"Puir young chield," said Willie, casting on him a look of compassion, "ye seem sadly distressed. Do ye think I could be o’ ony service to ye? From yer appearance ye wadna be the waur o’ a nicht’s lodging, and I can only say that ye are heartly welcome to i’."

Henry had been so long the object of pursuit and persecution, that he regarded every one with suspicion; and starting to his feet, and grasping the branch firmer in his hand, he said—"Know you what you say!—or would you betray the wretched?"

"It is o’ nae manner o’ use gripping your stick," said Willie, calmly, "for I’m allooed to be a first-rate cudgel player—the best atween Stranraer and Dumfries. But, as to kennin’ what I said, I was offerin’ ye a nicht’s lodging; and as to betrayin’ the wretched, I wadna see a hawk strike doon a sparrow, nor a spider a midge, if I could prevent it."

"You seem honest," said Henry; "I am misterable, and will trust you."

"Be thankit," answered the other; "I dare to say I’m as honest as my neebors; and as ye seem in distress I will be very happy to serve ye, if I can do it in a creditable way."

Willie Galloway was a bachelor of five and forty, and his house was kept by an old woman, a distant relative, called Janet White. Henry accompanied him home, and communicated to him his story. Willie took a liking for him, and vowed that he would not only shelter him, while he had a roof over his head, but that he would defend him against every enemy while he had a hand that he could lift; and, the better to ensure his concealment, he proposed that he should pass as his sister’s son, and not even write to his father to intimate where he was, until the persecution against those who had "been out with poor Charlie" was past.

In the neighbourhood of Willie’s farm, there resided an elderly gentleman, named Laird Howison. He was an eccentric but most kind-hearted man, of whom many believed and said that his imagination was stronger than his reason; and in so saying, it was probable that they were not far from the truth. But that the reader will determine as he sees more of the laird. There resided with him a beautiful orphan girl named Helen Marshall, the daughter of the late parish clergyman, and to whom he had been left guardian from her childhood. But, as she grew up in loveliness before him, she became as a dream of futurity that soothed and cheered his existence; and, although he was already on the wrong side of fifty, he resolved that, as soon as she was twenty-one, he would offer her his hand and fortune. Janet White, the housekeeper and relative of Willie Galloway, had nursed Helen in infancy; and the lovely maiden was therefore, a frequent visitor at his house. She there met Henry, and neither saw nor listened to him with indifference; and her beauty, sense, and gentleness, made a like impression upon him. Willie, though a bachelor, had penetration enough to perceive that when they met there was meaning in their eyes; and he began to rally Henry—saying "Now, there would be a match for ye!—when the storm has blawn owre your head, just tak ye that bonny Scotch lassie hame to England wi’ ye as yer wife, and ye will find her a treasure, such as ye may wander the world round and no find her marrow."

As their intimacy and affection increased, Henry communicated to Helen the secret of his birth and situation; and, like a true woman, she loved him the more for the dangers to which he was exposed. He had remained more than eight months with his friend and protector; and, imagining that the persecution against himself, and others who had acted in the same cause, was now abated in its fury, he forwarded a letter to his father, at Winburn Priory, announcing his intention of venturing home in a few days, and begging his forgiveness and protection, until his pardon could be procured. He, however, intimated to Willie Galloway his desire to secure the hand of Helen before he left.

"Weel, if she be agreeable," said Willie—"and I hae every reason to believe she is—I wadna blame ye for takin’ that step ava; for her auld gowk o’ a guardian, Laird Howison (though a very worthy man in some respecks), vows that he is determined to marry her himsel, as soon as she is ane and twenty; and, as he is up aboot London at present, ye couldna hae a better opportunity. Therefore, only ye and Helen say the word, and I’ll arrange the business for ye in less than nae time."

The fair maiden consented; a clergyman had joined their hands, and pronounced the benediction over them—the ceremony was concluded, but it was only concluded, when the two ruffians, who have been already mentioned as hired by Norton to search for him and secure his apprehension, and who before had met him by the side of Solway, followed by two soldiers, burst into the apartment, crying—"Secure the traitor! It is he!—Henry Blackett!"

Helen screamed aloud and clasped her hands.

"Ye lie! ye lie!" cried Willie—"it is my sister’s son—meddle wi’ him wha daur, and us twa will fecht you four, even in the presence of the minister."

So saying, he seized hold of a chair, and raised it to repel them. Henry followed his example. The soldiers threateningly raised their fire-arms. Willie suddenly swang round the chair with his utmost strength, and dashed down their arms. Henry hastily kissed the brow of the fair bride, and, rushing through the midst of them, darted from the house, while Willie, as rapidly following him, closed the door behind him, and holding it fast, cried—"Run, Harry, my lad!—run for bare life, and I’ll keep them fast here!"

For several days, the soldiers searched the neighbourhood for the fugitive; but they found him not, and no one knew where he had fled. Within a week, Helen disappeared from Primrose Hall, the seat of her guardian, Laird Howison; and the general belief was, that she had set out for Cheshire, to the father of her bridgegroom, to intercede with him to use his influence in his son’s behalf. "And," said Willie, "if she doesna move him to forgie his son, and do his duty towards him, then I say that he has a heart harder than a whin-rock."

But no one knew the object of her departure, nor whither she had gone. Laird Howison had not returned; and, after several weeks had passed, and Willie Galloway was unable to hear ought of either Helen or Henry, he resolved to proceed to Cheshire, to make inquiries after them, and for this purpose purchased an entire suit of new and fashionable raiment.

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