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Wilson's Border Tales
The Profligate

On the estate of Mr Dreghorn of Longtrees, in the west country, there lived, some twenty years ago, a farmer of the name of Blair. The portion of Mr Dreghorn’s estate, however, which James Blair rented, was but a small one; for, although a man of great respectability and integrity of character, he was poor, and had much difficulty in keeping himself square with the world. This, however, by dint of rigid economy and ceaseless toil, he effected.

The family of James Blair consisted of his wife, a son, named after himself, and a daughter who was called Elizabeth.

The younger Blair, who was, at the period of our story, about twenty years of age, was a lad of excellent character and amiable dispositions. He was, withal, a remarkably handsome young man, and was thus a general favourite in that part of the country where he resided.

Elizabeth, again, was the counterpart of her brother, in both disposition and personal appearance, making allowance, as regarded the latter, for the difference of sex. She was, in truth, a lovely girl; and of many a sad heart and sleepless night was she the unconscious cause amongst the young men of the district in which she lived.

James Blair’s home, therefore, though a humble, was a happy one. He doated on his children; and they, in return; loved him with the most devoted tenderness and affection.

Up to this period, nothing had occurred to disturb, for a moment, the peace and quiet of this happy family. But, undeserved as it may appear, their hour of trouble was approaching; it was at hand.

Mr Dreghorn, the proprietor of James Blair’s farm, had a son, an onry one we believe, named Henry, at this time about four-and-twenty years of age. He was a fine-looking young man, and of engaging manners, reality, a heartless debauchee; one whom no moral restraints could bind; and whom no considerations, however strongly they might appeal to the sense of honour, could induce to forego the gratification of his selfish and vicious passions.

Such was Henry Dreghorn, and such was the man who was destined to carry misery and wretchedness into the happy home of James Blair.

Young Dreghorn saw, and (we cannot say loved, for he was too great a sensualist to entertain so pure and holy a passion) coveted the fair form of Eliza Blair.

On this part of our story, however, we need not dwell. Suffice it to say that the arch deceiver plied his most winning wiles, and plied them successfully; he triumphed, and his victim fell.

On the disgrace of the poor confiding girl becoming known to her family, dreadful was its effect. Her mother shrieked out, in the agony of her soul, and refused to be comforted. Her father, with more strength of mind, suppressed his grief; but he too shed the secret tear, and beat his forehead in the wildness of his despair, as he brooded over the ruin of his hopes—the ruin of his child.

But it was on her brother that the blow, perhaps, fell, after all, with the most withering effect. With a less matured judgment, and with less experience of the world than his elders, his feelings were more poignant, and less under the control of reason. To him all appeared dark and dismal, without one glimmering of light to relieve the dreary waste of his thoughts. To his unfortunate sister herself he said nothing—not one upbraiding word escaped his lips; but his silence was the silence of deep despondency—of a mind oppressed and borne down by an overwhelming, although uncomplaining sorrow.

Young Blair’s first impulse, on learning the misfortune of his sister, was to seek out her destroyer, and to take him to account for the dastardly deed; and for this purpose he actually watched him, cautiously and determinedly, with a loaded pistol. But Dreghorn was not to be found; he had left the country; he had gone to London; and had thus, for a time, at any rate, escaped the vengeance of the justly-incensed, but rash and ill-judging young man. Thus baulked of his victim, young Blair resumed his usual employment; but it was only for a short space. The disgrace of his sister so preyed on his mind, that he could not attend to his duties as he formerly did; neither would he go abroad as, he had been wont, but naturally, though erroneously, believing that he also would be considered as sharing the infamy of his unhappy relative, avoided all his usual places of resort, and all the companions of his happier hours.

This, however, was a state of things that could not long continue; neither did it; young Blair, unable longer to struggle against the withering feelings which his continued residence on the scene of his own and his family’s disgrace was constantly calling into existence, suddenly disappeared, without informing even his parents of his intention, or giving them any idea of what he intended doing. A letter, however, which they received a short time after his departure, solved the mystery. It informed them that he had enlisted; and gave them, at the same time, the reason for his taking so extraordinary a step; yet, although this reason, as will readily be guessed, bore reference to, and weighed heavily on, the conduct of his unfortunate sister, he concluded, by begging for that sister, at the hands of his parents, their forgiveness, and the kindest attentions which their own benevolence could suggest, and her unhappy situation could demand.

Like much greater events, however, the misfortune of the Blair family was only a nine days’ wonder. For somewhere about that time, it was the talk of the country; but it gradually sank into oblivion, and was soon all but forgotten. The subsequent disappearance of young Blair, also, created a sensation for a time; but that too passed away, and merged into the general mass of things heaped up by revolving years. These, to the number of six or seven, had now sped on their course; and, when they had done so, they found James Blair, with his regiment, in Spain, fighting the battles of that unhappy country, and of all Europe, if we but except France, under the Duke of Wellington.

The regiment to which Blair belonged had suffered severely in these sanguinary conflicts; and he himself had been twice wounded, though not so seriously as to drive him from the field, where he had acquired the reputation of a brave and intrepid soldier. The losses which Blair’s regiment sustained falling particularly heavy on the officers, they were replaced, from time to time, by young aspirants for military fame from England, who sought out and were then joining their regiments, at every resting-point in the route of the army— coming, fresh and untrained, from the bosom of civil society, and the luxuries of home, to share in the dangers and privations of a soldier’s life.

Of such was a gentleman, dressed in a blue surtout, with fur neck, and followed by two sumpter-mules loaded with his baggage, who rode up to a piquet, or outguard, of the —th regiment—the regiment to which Blair belonged—on the day preceding the Battle of Vittoria, and inquired for the head-quarters of the corps. James Blair was one of the party to whom the stranger addressed himself; and there was good reason for the agitation into which the sight of that person threw the astonished soldier. In that person he recognised, although the latter knew not him, the seducer of his sister Henry Dreghorn. He had purchased a commission in the army, and was now come out to join the regiment to which he had been appointed--the same, by a curious coincidence, in which the brother of his victim served. On seeing him, Blair became as pale as death, and felt himself suddenly under the influence of a violent but indefinable feeling of excitation, which he made a desperate effort to conceal from his comrades lest it might lead to the discovery of the disgrace of his unfortunate sister—a discovery which he dreaded infinitely more than the front of the enemy.

Blair’s first impulse, on this occasion, was to rush on his sister’s seducer, and to transfix him to the spot with his bayonet; but, for the same reason that induced him to conceal his feelings from his comrades—namely, the dread of bringing to light the story of her frailty—he forbore, but it was with a secret compact with himself, that the hour of vengeance was only delayed, not passed away. In the meantime, Lieutenant Dreghorn—for such was the rank he held having obtained the information he desired, pursued his way, and was soon at the destination he sought.

We have already alluded to the singularity of the circumstance of Dreghorn’s being appointed to the same regiment in which Blair served; but it will appear yet more striking, when we mention that he was appointed not only to the same regiment, but to the same company to which the brother of the victim of his unhallowed passions belonged. This was the case; and it was a circumstance well calculated to forward that stern and perhaps too severe retribution which was about to be meted out to the heartless seducer.

The morning following the occurrence of the incident just related saw the contending armies of Britain and France drawn up, in hostile array on the memorable field of Vittoria. The bugle sounded its ominous strains; the drum pealed its notes of alarm; and the armed hosts closed in deadly strife, shrouded in a canopy of dense and sulphurous smoke. The —th regiment was amongst the first engaged. It was thrown, for a moment, into some confusion by the impetuous charge of a column of the enemy. During this moment, the combat assumed the character of a melee. The men were detached, and fighting single-handed, officers and privates mingled together. At one instant, during the struggle, Lieutenant Dreghorn stood alone, isolated from his companions in arms. In that instant a bullet passed through his head, and stretched him lifeless on the field. That bullet was from the musket of James Blair. He saw the opportunity, found it irresistible, levelled his piece, fired, and the seducer of his sister fell. The battle of Vittoria was fought and won, but James Blair was not amongst the living victors. He perished in the conflict, probably not against his own wishes, and a comrade, who saw the direction of his aim, told the story after the war.

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