Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Wilson's Border Tales
The Fugitive - Chapter 3

On a beautiful summer morning, an old man, slightly stooping in his gait, was slowly walking down a green lane which led in the direction from Warrington to Winburn Priory. Behind him, at a rapid pace, followed a younger man, of a muscular frame, exceedingly well dressed, and carrying over his arm a thick chequered plaid, like those worn in the pastoral districts of Scotland. He overtook the elder pedestrian, and accosted him, saying—

"Here’s a bonny morning, freend."

"Sir?" said the old man inquiringly, slightly lifting his hat, and not exactly comprehending his companion.

"Losh, but he’s a mannerly auld body that," thought the other; "I see the siller upon this suit o’ claes has been weel-wared;" and added aloud. "I was observing it’s a delightful morning, sir, and as delighful a country side; it wad be a paradise, were it no sae flat."

"Ah, sir!" replied the old man; "but I fear as how the country looks like a paradise without its innocence."

"Ye talk very rationally, honest man," said the other, whom the reader will have recognised to be Willie Galloway, "and, I am no mistaen, ye maun hae some cause to mak the remark. But, dear me, sir, only look round ye, and see the trees in a’ their glory, the flowers in a’ their innocence; or just look at the rowing burn there, wimplin alang by oor side, like refined silver, beneath a sun only less glorious than the hand that made it; and see how the bits o’ fish are whittering round, wagging their tails, and whisking back and forrit, as happy as kings! Look at the lovely and the cheerfu’ face o’ a’ Nature—or just listen to the music o’ thae sinless creatures in the hedges, and in the blue lift—and ye will say that but for the inventions and deceitfulness o’ man’s heart, this earth wad be a paradise still. But I tell ye what, friend—I believe that were an irreligious man just to get up before sunrise at a season like this, and gang into the fields and listen to the laverock, and look around on the earth, and on the majesty o’ the heavens rising, he wadna stand for half an hoor until, if naebody were seeing him, he would drap doun on his knees and pray."

Much of Willie’s sermon was lost on the old man; he, however, comprehended a part, and said, "Why, sir, I know as how I always find my mind more in tune for the service of the church, by a walk in the fields, and the singing of the birds, than by all the instruments of the orchestra."

"Orchestra!" said Willie, "what do ye mean —that’s a strange place to gather devotion frae!"

"The orchestra of the church," returned the other.

"The orchestra o’ the church!" said Willie in surprise—"what’s that? I never heard o‘t before. There’s the poolpit, and the precentor’s desk, the pews and the square seats, and down stairs and the gallery—but ye nonplus me about the orchestra."

"Why, our lord of the manor," continued the old man "is one who cares for nothing that’s good, and he will give nothing; and as we are not rich enough to buy an organ, we have only a bass viol, two tenors, and a flute."

"Fiddles and a flute in a place o’ worship!" exclaimed Willie.

"Yes, sir," replied the other, marvelling at his manner.

"Weel," returned Willie, standing suddenly still, and striking his staff upon the ground, "that beats a’! And will ye tell me, sir, hoo it is possible to worship yer Creator by scraping catgut, or blawing wind through a hollow stick?"

"Why, master," said the old man, "the use of instruments in worship is as old as the times of the prophets, and I can’t see why it should be given up. But dost thou think, now, that thou couldst go into Chester cathedral at twilight, while the organ filled all round about thee with its deep music, without feeling in thy heart that thou wast in a house of praise. Why, sir, at such a time thou couldst not commit a wicked action. The very sound, while it lifted up thy soul with delight, would awe thee."

When their controversy had ended, Willie inquired—"Do ye ken a family o’ the name o’ Blackett, that lives aboot this neeborhood?"

"I should," answered the old man; "forty years did I eat of their bread."

"Then after sic lang service, ye’ll just be like ane o’ the family!" replied Willie.

"Alas!" said the other, shaking his head.

"Ye dinna mean to say," resumed Willie, in a tone of surprise, "that they hae turned ye aff, in your auld age, as some heartless wretch wad sell the noble animal that had carried him when a callant to a cadger, because it had grown howe-backet, and lost its speed o’ foot. But I hope that young Mr. Henry had nae hand in it!"

"Henry!—no! no!" cried the old man eagerly—"bless him! Did you know Mr. Henry, your honour?"

"I did," said Willie; "and I hae come from Scotland ance errand to see him."

"But sir," inquired the old man tremulously "do you know where to find him?"

"I expect to find him, by this time, at his father’s house."

"Alas!" answered the old domestic, "there has been no one at the Priory for more than twelve months. I don’t know where the old knight is. Henry has not been here since he went to Edinburgh, and that is nigh to five years gone now."

"Ye dumfounder me, auld man," exclaimed Willie; "but where, in the name o’ guidness, where’s the wife?—where’s Mrs. Blackett?"

"You will mean your country-woman, I suppose," said the other.

"To be sure I mean her," said Willie—"wha else could I mean?"

"Ah! wo is me!" sighed his companion, and he burst into tears as he spoke, "dost see the churchyard just before us?—and they have raised no stone to mark the spot."

"Dead!" ejaculated Willie, becoming pale with horror, and fixing upon his fellow-pedestrian a look of agony—Ye dinna say—dead?"

"Even so!—even so," said the old domestic, sobbing aloud.

"And hoo was it?" cried Willie; "was it a fair strae death—or just grief, puir thing—just grief?"

"Why, I can’t say how it was," answered his informant; "but I wish I durst tell all I think!"

"Say it!—say it!" exclaimed Willie, vehemently, "what do ye mean by, if ye durst say all ye think? If there be the shadow o’ foul play, I will sift it to the bottom, though it cost me a thoosand pounds; and there is anither that will gie mair."

"Ah, sir, I am but a friendless old man," replied the other, "that could not stand the weight of a stronger arm."

"Plague take their arms!" cried Willie, handling his cudgel, as if to show the strength of his own—"tell what ye think, and they’ll have strong arms that dare touch a hair o’ yer head."

"Well master," was the reply, "I don’t like to say too much to strangers, but if thou makest any stay in these parts I may tell thee something; and I fear that wherever poor Henry is, he is in need of friends. But perhaps your honour would wish to see her grave?"

"Her grave?" ejaculated Willie—"yes! yes! yes!—her grave!—O misery! have I come frae Dumfriesshire to see a sicht like this?"

The old man led the way over the stile, hanging his head and sighing as he went. Willie followed him, drawing his sleeve across his eyes, as was his custom when his heart was touched, and forgetting the dress of the gentleman which he wore, in the feelings of the man.

"The family vault is in yonder corner," said his conductor, as they turned across the churchyard.

"Save us, friend!" exclaimed Willie, looking towards the spot, "saw ye ever the like o’ yon?—a poor miserable dementit creature wringing his hands as though his heart would break!"

"‘Tis he! ‘tis he!" shouted the old man, springing forward with the alacrity of youth, "my child!—my dear young master!"

"Oh? conscience o’ man !" exclaimed Willie, "what sort o’ a dream is this? It canna be possible? Her dead, and him oot o’ his judgment, mourning owre her grave in the garb o’ a beggar?"

"Ha! discovered again!" cried Henry fiercely, and starting round as he spoke; but immediately recognising the old domestic, on whom time had not wrought such a metamorphosis as dress had upon Willie Galloway—"Ha, Jonathan! old Jonathan Holditch!" he added, "do I again see the face of a friend!" and instantly discovering Willie, he sprang forward and grasped his extended hand in both of his.

The old man sat down upon the grave and wept.

"Don’t weep, Jonathan," said Henry, "I trust that we shall soon have cause to rejoice."

"I wish a’ may be richt yet," thought Willie; "I took him to be rather dementit at the first glance, and rejoice in rather a strange word to use owre a young wife’s grave’ puir fellow!"

"Yes, Master Henry," said Jonathan, "I do rejoice that the worst is past; but I must weep too, for there be many things in all this that I do not understand."

"Nor me either," said Willie; "but ye say ye think more than ye dare tell."

"Why is it, Jonathan," continued Henry, "that there is no stone to mark my mother’s grave? There is room enough in our burial place. Why is there nothing to help memory?" he continued, bending his eyes upon her sepulchre. "Her memory!" he added; "cold, cruel grave; and is memory all that is left me of such a parent? Is the dumb dust, beneath this unlettered stone—all!—all! that I can now call mother? Has she no monument but the tears of her only surviving child?"

"A’ about his mother," muttered Willie, "who has been dead for four years, and no a word aboot puir Helen! As sure as I’m a living man this is beyont my comprehension—. I dinna think he can be a’ thegither there!"

Henry turned towards him and said, "I have much to ask, my dear friend, but my heart is so filled with grief and forebodings already, that the words I would utter tremble on my tongue; but what of my Helen—tell me, what of her?"

"She—she’s—weel," gasped Willie, bewildered; "that is—I—I hope--I trust—that—oh, losh, Mr. Blackett, I dinna ken whar I am, nor what I am saying, for my brain is as daized as a body’s that is driven owre wi’ a drift, and rowed amang the snaw! Has there been onybody buried here lately?"

"Mr. Galloway!—Mr. Galloway!" exclaimed Henry, half-choked with agitation, and wringing his hand in his, while the perspiration burst upon his brow—"in the name of wretchedness—what—what do you mean?"

"Oh, dinna speak to me!" said Willie, waving his hand; "ask that auld man."

"Jonathan?" exclaimed Henry.

"I don’t know what the gentleman means," said the old man; "but no one has been buried here since your honoured mother, and that is four years ago."

"And whase grave—whase grave did ye bring me to look at?" inquired Willie eagerly.

"My lady’s," answered he.

"Yer leddy’s!" returned Willie—"do ye mean Mr. Blackett’s mother?"

"Whom else could I mean?" asked old Jonathan, in a tone of wonder.

"Wha else could you mean!" repeated Willie; "then be thankit! she’s no dead!—ye say she’s no dead?" and he literally leaped for joy.

"Who dead?" inquired the old man, with increased astonishment.

"Wha dead, ye stupid auld body!—did I no say his wife as plain as I could speak?"

"Whose wife?" inquired Jonathan, looking from Willie to his master in bewilderment.

"Whose wife!" reiterated Willie, weeping, laughing, and twirling his stick; "shame fa’ ye--ye may ask that noo, after knocking my heart out o’ the place o’t wi’ yer palaver. Whase wife do ye say?—asked Mr. Henry."

"Mr. Galloway!" interrupted Henry, "am I to understand that you believed this to be the grave of my beloved Helen?—or how could you suppose it? Has she left Primrose Hall?—or has our marriage—Tell me all you know, for I wist not what I would ask."

Willie then related to him what the reader already knows—namely, that she had left Dumfriesshire, and was supposed to have gone to his father’s.

"Blessings on the day that these eyes beheld the dear lady then," exclaimed old Jonathan; for I could vow that she is under my roof now."

"Under your roof!" cried Henry.

"Was ye doited, auld man, that ye didna tell me that before?" said Willie.

"I knew no more of my young master’s marriage, until just now, than these gravestones do," said Jonathan; "the dear lady who is with us told nothing to me. Only my wife told me that she knew she loved our young master."

"But why is she lodging with you, Jonathan? I have learned that my father is abroad, and is it that he is soon expected home?"

"A fever caused her to be the inmate of my poor roof," answered Jonathan, "after she had been rudely driven from the gate as a common beggar. But I am no longer thy father’s servant—and I wish, for thy sake, I could forget he was thy father; for he has done that which might make the blessed bones beneath our feet start from their grave. And there is no one about the Priory now, but the creatures of the villain Norton."

Henry entreated that the old man would not speak harshly of his father, though he had so treated them; and he briefly informed them, that, on flying from Scotland to escape his pursuers, even at his father’s lodge, he again met one of the individuals who had haunted him as "Blackett the traitor," and who had attempted to seize him in the hour of his marriage—and that even there the cry was again raised against him; and a band, thirsting for his blood-money, joined in the pursuit. He had fled to the churchyard, and found concealment in the family vault, where he had remained until they then discovered him, as, in the early morning, he had ventured out.

Willie counselled that there was now small vengeance to be apprehended from the persecution of the government; and when Jonathan stated that Sir John had married the daughter of Norton, and disinherited Henry by denying his marriage with his mother, Willie exclaimed—"I see it a’, Mr. Henry, just as clear as the A, B, C. This rascal ye ca’ Norton, or your faither (forgie me for saying sae), has employed the villains wha haunted for yer life; it has been mair them than the government that has been to blame. Therefore, my advice is let us go and drive the thieves out o’ the house by fore."

Henry, who was speechless with grief, horror, and disgust, agreed to the proposition of his friend, and they proceeded to the Priory by a shorter road than the lodge.

Henry knocked loudly at the door, which was opened by a man-servant, who attempted to shut it in his face; but, in a moment, the door was driven back upon its hinges, and the menial lay extended along the lobby; and Henry, with his sturdy ally and old Jonathan, rushed in. Alarmed by the sound, the other servants, male and female, hurried to the spot; and epithets, too approbrious to be written, were the mildest they applied to the young heir, as he demanded admission.

"Then let us gie them club-law for it," cried Willie, "if they will have it; and they shall have it to their hearts content, if I ance begin it."

Armed with such weapons as they could seize at the moment, the servants menacingly opposed their entrance; but Henry, dashing through them, rushed towards the stairs, where he was followed by four men-servants, two armed with swords, and the others with kitchen utensils.

But Willie, following at their heels, cried—"Come back!" and, bringing his cudgel round his head, with one tremendous swoop caused it to rattle across the unprotected limbs of the two last of the pursuers, and, almost at the same instant, before their comrades had ascended five steps from the ground, they, from the same cause, descended backwards, rolling and roaring over their companions. Within three seconds, all four were conquered, disarmed, and unable to arise. As the discomfited garrison of the Priory gathered themselves together (much in the attitude of Turks or tailors), groaning, writhing, and ruefully rubbing their stockings, Willie, with the composed look of a philsopher, addressed to them this consoling and important information—"Noo, sirs, I hope ye are a’ sensibly convinced what good service a bit hazel may do in a willing hand; and if ony o’ yer banes are broken, I would recommend you to send for the doctor before the swelling gets stiff about them. But ye couldna hae broken banes at a cannier place on a’ the leg than just where I gied ye the bits o’ clinks; they were hearty licks, and would gie them a clean snap, so that, in the matter o’ six weeks, ye may be on your feet again."

Old Jonathan had already followed Henry up stairs; and, Willie having finished his exhortation, proceeded in quest of them. Henry succeeded in obtaining a change of raiment; and having sent for one who had been long a tennant upon the estate, he left the house in charge of him, with orders that he should immediately turn from it all the creatures of Norton, and engage other servants, and he and his friend, Willie, proceeded to the house of old Jonathan, where, as the latter supposed, a lady that he believed to be the wife of his young master, then was.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus