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 Fair Maid of Cellardykes

I did not like the idea of having all the specimens of the fine arts in Europe collected into one "bonne mouche" at the Louvre. It was like collecting, while a boy, a handful of strawberries, and devouring them at one indiscriminating gulp. I do not like floral exhibitions, for the same reason, I had rather a thousand times meet my old and my new friends in my solitary walks or in my country rambles. All museums in this way confound and bewilder me; and, had the Turk not been master of Greece, I should have preferred a view of the Elgin Marbles in the land of their nativity. And it is for a similar reason that my mind still reverts, with a kind of dreamy delight, to the time when I viewed mankind in detail, and in all their individual and natural peculiarities, rather than en masse, and in one regimental uniform. Educate up! Educate up! Invent machinery—discover agencies—saddle Nature with the panniers of labour—and, at last, stand alongside of her, clothed, from the peasant to the prince, in the wonders of her manufacture, and merrily whistling, in idle unconcern, to the tune of her unerring dispatch! But what have we gained? One mass of similarities: the housemaid, the housekeeper, the lady, and the princess, speaking the same language, clothed in the same habiliments, and enjoying the same immunities from corporeal labour—the colours of the rainbow whirled and blended into one glare of white! Towards this ultimatum we are now fast hastening. Where is the shepherd stocking-weaver, with his wires and his fingers moving invisibly? Where the "wee and the muckle wheel," with the aged dames, in pletted toys, singing "Tarry Woo?" Where the hodden-grey-clad patriarch, sitting in the midst of his family, and mixing familiarly, and in perfect equality, with all the household— servant and child? My heart constantly warms to these recollections; and I feel as if wandering over a landscape variegated by pleasant and contrasting colouring, and over-shaded with associations which have long been a part of myself. One exception to the general progression and assimilation still happily remains, to gratify, I must confess, my liking for things as they were. The fisher population of Newhaven, Buckhaven, and Cellardykes—(my observation extends no farther, and I limit my remarks accordingly)—are, in fact, the Scottish Highlanders, the Irish, the Welsh, and the Manks of Fisherdom. Differing each somewhat from the other, they are united by one common bond of character—they are varieties of the same animal—the different species under one genus. I like this. I am always in high spirits when I pass through a fishing village or a fisher street. No accumulation of filth in every hue—of shell, and gill, and fish-tail—can disgust me. I even smell a sweet savour from their empty baskets, as they exhale themselves dry in the sunbeam. And then there is a hue of robust health over all. No mincing of matters. Female arms and legs of the true Tuscan order—cheeks and chins where neither the rose nor the bone has been stinted. Children of the dub and the mire—all agog in demi-nudity, and following nature most vociferously. Snug, comfortable cabins, where garish day makes no unhandsome inquiries, and where rousing fires and plentiful meals abide from June to January. They have a language too, of their own—the true Mucklebacket dialect; and freely and firmly do they throw from them censure, praise, and ribaldry. The men are here but men; mere human machines—useful, but not ornamental—necessary incumbrances rather than valuable protectors. "Poor creature!" says Meg of the Mucklebacket, "she canna maintain a man." Sir Walter saw through the character I am labouring to describe; and, in one sentence, put life and identity into it. I know he was exceedingly fond of conversing with fisherwomen in particular. But, whilst such are the general features, each locality I have mentioned has its distinctive lineaments. The Newhaven fisherwoman (for the man is unknown), is a bundle of snug comfort. Her body, her dress, her countenance, her basket, her voice, all partake of the same character of enbonpointness. Yet there is nothing at all untidy about her. She may esconce her large limbs in more plaiden coverings than the gravedigger in "Hamlet" had waistcoats; but still she moves without constraint; and, under a burden which would press my lady’s waiting-maid to the carpet, she moves free, firm, and elastic. He tongue is not labour-logged, her feet are not creel-retarded; but, although unconscious of the presence of hundreds, she holds on her way and her discourse as if she were a caravan in the desert. She is to be found in every street and alley in Auld Reeky, till her work is accomplished. Her voice of call is exceedingly musical, and sounds sweetly in the ear of the infirm and bedrid. All night long, she holds her stand close by the theatre, with her broad knife and her opened oyster. In vain does the young spark endeavour to engage her in licentious talk, he soon discovers that, whatever her feelings or affections tend, they do not point in his favour. Thus, loaded with pence, and primed with gin, she returns by midnight to her home— there to share a supper-pint with her man and her neighbours, and to prepare, by deep repose, for the duties of a new day. Far happier and more useful she, in her day and generation, than that thing of fashion which men call a beau, or a belle—in whose labours no one rejoices, and in whose bosom no sentiment but self finds a place. In Buckhaven, again, the Salique law prevails. There men are men, and women mere appendages. The sea department is here all and all. The women, indeed, crawl a little way, and through a few deserted fields, into the surrounding country; but the man drives the cart, and the cart carries the fish; and the fish are found in all the larger inland towns eastward. Cellardykes is a mixture of the two—a kind of William and Mary government, where, side by side, at the same cart, and not unfrequently in the same boat, are to be found man and women, lad and lass. Oh, it is a pretty sight to see the Cellardyke fishers leaving the coast for the herring-fishing in the north! I witnessed it some years ago, as I passed to Edinburgh; and, this year, I witnessed it again.

Meeting and conversing with my old friend the minister of the parish of Kilrenny, we laid us down on the sunny slope of the brae facing the east and the Isle of May, whilst he gave me the following narrative:—

Thomas Laing and Sarah Black were born and brought up under the same roof—namely, that double-storied tenement which stands, somewhat by itself, overlooking the harbour. They entered by the same outer door, but occupied each a separate storey. Thomas Laing was always a stout, hardy, fearless boy, better acquainted with every boat on the station than with his single questions, and far fonder of little Sarah’s company than of the schoolmaster’s. Sarah was likewise a healthy, stirring child, extremely sensitive and easily offended, but capable, at the same time, of the deepest feelings of gratitude and attachment. Thomas Laing was, in fact, her champion, her Don Quixote, from the time when he could square his arms and manage his fists; and much mischief and obloquy did he suffer among his companions on account of his chivalrous defence of little Sally. One day, whilst the fisher boys and girls were playing on the pier, whilst the tide was at the full, a mischievous boy, wishing to annoy Thomas, pushed little Sall into the harbour, where, but for Thomas’s timely and skilful aid, (for he was an excellent swimmer,) she would probably have been drowned. Having placed his favourite in a condition and place of safety, Tom felled the offender, with a terrible fister, to the earth. The blow had taken place on the pit of the stomach, and was mortal. Tom was taken up, imprisoned, and tried for manslaughter; but, on account of his youth--being then only thirteen—he was merely imprisoned for a certain number of months. Poor Sally, on whose account Tom had incurred the punishment of the law, visited him, as did many good-natured fishermen, whilst in prison, where he always expressed extreme contrition for his rashness. After the expiry of his imprisonment, Tom returned to Cellardykes, only to take farewell of his parents and his now more than ever dear Sally. He could not bear, he said, to face the parents of the boy whose death he had occasioned. The parting was momentary. He promised to spend one night at home; but he had no such intention—and, for several years, nobody knew what had become of Thomas Laing. The subject was at first a speculation, then a wonder, next an occasional recollection; and, in a few months, the place which once knew bold Tom Laing, knew him no more. Even his parents, engaged as they were in the active pursuits of fishing, and surrounded as they were by a large and dependent family, soon learned to forget him. One bosom alone retained the image of Tom, more faithfully and indelibly than ever did coin the impression of royalty. Meanwhile, Sarah grew—for she was a year older than Tom—into womanhood, and fairly took her share in all the more laborious parts of a fisher’s life. She could row a boat, carry a creel, or drive a cart with the best of them; and, whilst her frame was thus hardened, her limbs acquired a consistency and proportion which bespoke the buxom woman rather than the bonny lass. Her eye, however, was large and brown, and her lips had that variety of expression which lips only can exhibit. Many a jolly fisher wished and attempted to press these lips to his; but was always repulsed. She neither spoke of her Thomas, nor did she grieve for him much in secret; but her heart revolted from a union with any other person whilst Thomas might still be alive. Upon a person differently situated, the passion (for passion assuredly it was) which she entertained for her absent lover, might and would have produced very different effects. Had Sarah been a young boarding-school miss, she would assuredly either have eloped with another, or have died in a madhouse; had she been a sentimental sprig of gentility, consumption must have followed; but Sarah was neither of these. She had a heart to feel, and deeply too; but she knew that labour was her destiny, and that when "want came in at the door, love escapes by the window." So she just laboured, laughed, ate, drank, and slept, very much like other people. Yet, few sailors came to the place whom she did not question about Thomas; and many a time and oft did she retire to the rocks of a Sabbath even, to think of and pray for Thomas Laing. People imagine, from the free and open manner and talk of the fisherwomen, that they are all or generally people of doubtful morality. Never was there a greater mistake. To the public in general they are inaccessible; they almost universally intermarry with one another; and there are fewer cases (said my reverend informant) of public or sessional reproof in Cellardykes, than in any other district of my parish. But, from the precarious and somewhat solitary nature of their employment, they are exceedingly superstitious; and I had access to know, that many a sly sixpence passed from Sally’s pocket into old Effie the wise woman’s, with the view of having the cards cut and cups read for poor Thomas.

Time, however, passed on—with time came, but did as pass misfortune. Sally’s father, who had long been addicted at intervals, to hard drinking, was found one morning dead at the bottom of a cliff, over which, in returning home inebriated, he had tumbled. There were now three sisters, all below twelve, to provide for, and Sally’s mother had long been almost bedrid with severe and chronic rheumatism; consequently, the burden of supporting this helpless family devolved upon Sarah, who was now in the bloom and in the strength of her womanhood. Instead of sitting down, however, to lament what could not be helped, Sarah immediately redoubled her diligence. She even learned to row a boat as well as a man, and contrived, by the help of the men her father used to employ, to keep his boat still going. Things prospered with her for a while; but, in a sudden storm, wherein five boats perished with all on board, she lost her whole resources. They are a high-minded people those Cellardyke fishers. The Blacks scorned to come upon the session. The young girls salted herrings, and cried haddocks in small baskets through the village and the adjoining burghs, and Sarah contrived still to keep up a cart for country service. Meanwhile, Sarah became the object of attention through the whole neighbourhood. Though somewhat larger in feature and limb than the Venus de Medicis, she was, notwithstanding, tight, clean, and sunny—her skin white as snow, and her frame a well-proportioned Doric— just such a helpmate as a hushand who has to rough it through life might be disposed to select. Captain William M’Guffock, or, as he was commonly called, Big Bill, was the commander of a coasting craft, and a man of considerable substance. True, he was considerably older than Sally, and a widower; but he had no family, and "a bien house to bide in." You see that manse-looking tenement there, on the brae-head towards the east—that was Captain M’Guffock’s residence when his seafaring avocations did not demand his presence elsewhere. Well, Bill came acourting to Sally; but Sally "looked asclent and unco skeich." Someway or other, whenever she thought of matrimony—which she did occasionally—she at the same time thought of Thomas Laing, and, as she expressed it, her heart scunnered at the thought. Consequently, Bill made little progress in his courtship; which was likewise liable to be interrupted, for weeks at a time, by his professional voyages. At last a letter arrived from on board a king’s vessel, then lying in Leith Roads, apprising Thomas Laing’s relatives, that he had died of fever on the West India station. This news affected Sally more than anything which had hitherto happened to her. She shut herself up for two hours in her mother’s bedroom, weeping aloud and bitterly, exclaiming from time to time—"Oh! my Thomas!—my own dearest Thomas! I shall never love man again. I am thine in life and in death—in time and in eternity!" In vain did the poor bedrid woman try to comfort her daughter. Nature had her way; and, in less than three hours, Sarah Black was again in the streets, following, with a confused but a cheerful look, her ordinary occupation. This grief of Sarah’s, had it been well nursed, might well have lasted a twelvemonth; but, luckily for Sarah, and for the labouring classes in general, she had no time to nurse her grief to keep it warm. "Give us this day our daily bread," said a poor helpless mother, and three somewhat dependent sisters—and Sarah’s exertions were redoubled.

"Oh, what a feelingless woman!" said Mrs. Paterson to me, as Sarah passed her door one day in my presence, absolutely singing—"Oh, what a feelingless woman!—and her father dead, and her mother bedrid, and poor Thomas Laing, whom she made such a fisss about, gone too—and there is she, absolutely singing after all!"

Mrs. Paterson is now Mrs. Robson, having married her second husband just six weeks after the death of her first, whom her improper conduct and unhappy temper contributed first to render miserable here, and at last to convey to the churchyard! Veri1y, (added the worthy clergyman,) the heart is deceitful above all things. But what, after all, could poor Sarah do, but marry Will M’Guffock, and thus amply provide, not only for herself, but for her mother and sisters? Had Thomas (and her heart heaved at the thought) still been alive, she thought she never would have brought herself to think of it in earnest; but now that Thomas had long ceased to think of her or anything earthly, why should she not make a man happy who seemed distractedly in love with her, and at the same time honourably provide for her poor and dependent relatives? In the meantime, the sacramental occasion came round, and I had a private meeting previous to the first communion with Sarah Black. To me in secret, she laid open her whole heart as if in the presence of her God; and I found her, though not a well-informed Christian by any means on doctrinal points, yet well disposed and exceedingly humble; in short, I had great pleasure in putting a token into her hand, at which she continued to look for an instant, and then returned it to me. I expressed surprise, at least by my looks. "I fear," said she, "that I am unworthy; for, I have not told you that I am thinking of marrying a man whom I cannot love, merely to provide for our family. Is not that a sin?—and can I, with an intention of doing what I know to be wrong, safely communicate?" I assured her that, instead of thinking it a sin, I thought her resolution commendable, particularly as the object of her real affection was beyond its reach; and I mentioned the circumstance to shew that there is often much honour and even delicacy of feeling, natural as well as religious, under very uncongenial circumstances and appearances. Having satisfied her mind on this subject, I had the pleasure to see her at the communion table, conducting herself with much seeming seriousness of spirit. I could see her shed tears; and formed the very best opinion of her, from her conduct throughout.

In a few days or weeks after this, the proclamation lines were put into my hands, and I had the pleasure of uniting her to Captain M’Guffock in due course. They had, however, only been married a few weeks, when an occurrence of a very awkward character threw her and her husband, who was in fact an ill-tempered, passionate man, into much perplexity. The captain was absent on a coasting voyage as usual; and his wife was superintending the washing of some clothes, whilst the sun was setting. It was a lovely evening in the month of July, and the fishing boats were spread out all over the mouth of the Firth, from the East Neuk to the Isle of May, in the same manner in which you see them at present. Mrs. M’Guffock’s mind assumed, notwithstanding the glorious scenery around her, a serious cast, for she could not help recalling many such evenings in which she had rejoiced in company and in unison with her beloved Thomas. She felt and knew that it was wrong to indulge such emotions; but she could not help. it. At last, altogether overcome, she threw herself forward on the green turf, and prayed audibly—"O my God, give me strength and grace to forget my own truly beloved Thomas! Alas! he knows not the struggles which I have, to exclude him from my sinful meditations. Even suppose he were again to arise from the dead, and appear in all the reality of his youthful being, I must and would fly from him as from my most dangerous foe." She lifted up her eyes in the twilight, and in the next instant felt herself in the arms of a powerful person, who pressed her in silence to his breast. Amazed and bewildered, she neither screamed nor fainted, but, putting his eager kisses aside, calmly inquired who he was who dared thus to insult her. She had no sooner pronounced the inquiry, than she heard the words, "Thomas—your own Thomas!"pronounced in tones which could not be mistaken. This indeed overpowered her; and, with a scream of agony, she sank down dead on the earth. This brought immediate assistance; but, she was found lying by herself, and talking wildly about her Thomas Laing. Everybody who heard her concluded that she had either actually seen her lover’s ghost; or, that her mind had given way under the pressure of regret for her marriage, and that she was now actually a lunatic. For twelve hours, she continued to evince the most manifest marks of insanity; but sleep at last soothed and restored her, and she immediately sent for me. I endeavoured to persuade her that it must be all a delusion, and that the imagination often times created such fancies. I gave instances from books which I had read, as well as from a particular friend of my own who had long been subject to such delusive impressions, and at last she became actually persuaded that there had been no reality in what she had so vividly perceived, and still mostly distinctly and fearfully recollected. I took occasion then to urge upon her the exceeding sinfulness of allowing any image to come betwixt her and her lawful married husband; and left her restored, if not to her usual serenity, at least to a conviction that she had only been disturbed by a vision.

When her hnsband returned, I took him aside, and explained my views of the case, and stated my most decided apprehension that some similar impression might return upon her nerves, and that her sisters (her mother being now removed by death), should dwell in the same house with her. To this, however, the captain objected, on the score that, though he was willing to pay a person to take care of them in their own house, he did not deem them proper company, in short, for a captain’s wife. I disliked the reasoning, and told him so; but he became passionate, and I saw it was useless to contend further. From that day, however, Bill M’Guffock seemed to have become an altered man. Jealousy, or something nearly resembling it, took possession of his heart; and he even ventured to affirm that his wife had a paramour somewhere concealed, with whom, in his long and necessary absences, she associated. He alleged, too, that, in her sleep, she would repeat the name of her favourite, and in terms of present love and fondness. I now saw that I had not known the depth of "a first love," otherwise I should not have advised this unhappy marriage, all advantageous as it was in a worldly point of view. A sailor’s life, however, is one of manifest risk, and in less than a twelvemouth Sarah M’Guffock was a young widow, without incumbrance, and with her rights to her just share of the captain’s effects. Her sorrow for the death ol her husband was, I believe, sincere; but I observed that she took an early opportunity of joining her sisters in her old habitation, immediately beneath that still tenanted by the friends of Laing.

Matters were in this situation when I was surprised one evening, whilst sitting meditating in the manse of Kilrenny, about dusk, with a visit from a tall and well-dressed stranger. He asked me at once if I could give him a private interview for a few minutes, as he had something of importance to communicate. Having taken him into my study, and shut the door, I reached him a chair, and desired him to proceed.

"I had left the parish," said the stranger, "before you were minister of Kilrenny, in the time of worthy Mr. Brown, and therefore you will probably not know even my name. I am Thomas Laing!"

"I did not, indeed," said I, "know you, but I have heard much about you; and I know one who has taken but too deep an interest in your fate. But how comes it," added I, beginning to think that I was conversing either with a vision or an impostor, "how comes it that you are here, seemingly alive and well, whilst we have all been assured of your death, some years ago?"

The stranger started, and immediately exclaimed— "Dead!—dead!—who said I was dead?"

"Why," said I, "there was a letter came, I think, to your own father, mentioning your death, by fever, in the West Indies."

"Do I look like a dead man?" said the stranger; but, immediately becoming absent and embarrassed, he sat for a while silent, and then resumed:—"Some one," said he, "has imposed upon my dear Sarah, and for the basest of purposes. I now see it all. My dear girl has been sadly used."

"This is, indeed, strange," said. I; "but, let me hear how it is that I have the honour of a visit from you at this time and in this place."

"Oh," replied Thomas Laing (for it was he in verity), "I will soon give you the whole story:—

"When I left this, four years ago come the time, I embarked at Greenook, working my way out, to New York. As I was an excellent hand at a rope and an oar, I early attracted the captain’s notice, who made some inquiries respecting my place of birth and my views in life. I told him that I was literally ‘at sea,’ having nothing particularly in view—that I had been bred a fisher, and understood sailing and rowing as well as any one onboard. The captain seemed to have something in his head; for he nodded to me, saying—‘Very well, we will see what can be done for you when we arrive at New York.’ When we were off Newfoundland, we were overtaken by a terrible storm, which drove us completely out of our latitude, till, at last, we struck on a sandbank—the sea making, for several hours, a complete breach over the deck. Many were swept away into the devouring flood; whilst some of us—amongst several others, the captain and myself—clung to what remained of the ship’s masts till the storm somewhat abated. We then got the boat launched, and made for land, which we could see looming at some distance ahead. We got, however, entangled amongst currents and breakers; and, within sight of a boat which was making towards us from the shore, we fairly upset—and I remember nothing more till I awoke, in dreadful torment, on some fishermen’s boat. Beside me lay the captain—the rest had perished. When we arrived at the land, we were placed in one of the fishermen’s huts, where we were most kindly entertained—assisting, as we did occasionally, in the daily labours of the cod fishery. I displayed so much alertness and skill in this employment, that the factor on the station, made me an advantageous offer, if I would remain with them, and assist in their labours. With, this offer, having no other object distinctly in view, I complied. But my kind and good-hearted captain, possessing less dexterity in this employment, was early shipped, at his own request, for England. The most of the hands, about two hundred in all, on the station where I remained, were Scotch and Irish, and a merry, jovial set we were. The men had wives and families; and the governor or factor lived in a large slated house, very like your manse, upon a gentle eminence, a little inland. Towards the coast the land is sandy and flat; but in the interior there is much wood, a very rich soil, and excellent fresh water. Where we remained, the water was brackish, and constituted the chief inconvenience of our station. The factor or agent, commonly called by the men, the governor, use to visit us almost every day, and remained much on board when ships were loading for Europe. One fine summer’s day we were all enjoying the luxury of bathing, when, all on a sudden, the shout was raised—‘A shark! a shark!’ I had just taken my seat in the boat, and was still undressed, when I observed one man disappear, being dragged under the water by the sea monster. The factor, who was swimming about in the neighbourhood, seemed to be paralyzed by terror, for he made for the boat, plashing like a dog, with his hands and arms frequently stretched out of the water. I saw his danger, and immediately plunged in to his rescue, which, with some difficulty, I at last effected.

"Poor Pat Moonie was seen no more; nor did the devouring monster reappear. The factor immediately acknowledged his obligations to me, by carrying me home with him and introducing me to his lady, and an only daughter—I think I never beheld a more beautiful creature; but I looked upon her, as a being of a different order from myself, and I still thought of my own dear Sally and sweet home at Cellardykes. Through the factor’s kindness, I got the management of a boat’s crew, with considerable emolument which belonged to the institution. I then behoved to dress better—at least while on land—than I used to do; and was an almost daily visitor at Codfield House, the name of the captain’s residence. My affairs prospered—I made and had no way of spending money. The factor was my banker; and his fair daughter wrote out the acknowledgments for her father to sign. One beautiful Sabbath day after the factor—who officiated at our small station as clergyman—had read us prayers and a sermon, I took walk into the interior of the country, where, with a book in her hand, and an accompaniment of Newfoundland dogs, I chanced to meet, with Miss Woodburn, the factor’s beautiful child, She was only fourteen, but quite grown, and as blooming a piece of womanhood as ever wore kid gloves or black leather. She seemed somewhat embarrassed at my presence, and blushed scarlet, entreating me to prevent one of her dogs from running away with her glove, which he was playfully tossing about in his mouth. The dog would not surrender his charge to any one but to his mistress and, in the struggle, he bit my hand somewhat severely. You may see the marks of his teeth there, still,"—(holding out his hand while, he spoke.) "Poor Miss Woodburn knew not what to do first: she immediately dropped the book which she was reading—scolded the offending dog to a distance—took up the glove, which the dog at her bidding had dropped, and wrapped it close and firmly around my bleeding hand; a band of long grass served for thread to make all secure; and, in, a few days, my hand was in a fair way of recovery—but not, so my heart; I felt as if I had been all at once transformed into a gentleman—the soft touch of Miss Eliza’s fair finger seemed to have transformed me, skin, flesh, and bones, into another species of being. I shook like an aspen leaf whenever I thought of our interesting interview; and. I could observe that Eliza changed colour and looked out at the window whenever I entered the room. But sir, I am too particular, and I will now hasten to a close." I entreated him (said the parson) to go on in his own way, and without.any reference to my leisure. He then proceeded:—"Well, sir, from year to year I prospered, and from year to year got more deeply in love with the angel which moved about in my presence. At last our attachment became manifest to the young lady’s parents;. and, to my great surprise, it was proposed that we should make a voyage to New York, and there be united in matrimony. All this while, sir, I thought of my own dear Sally, and the thought not unfrequently made me miserable; but what was Sally to me now?—perhaps she was dead—perhaps she was married—perhaps—but I could scarcely think it—she had forgot me; and then the blooming rose-bud was ever in my presence, and hallowed me, by its superior purity and beauty, into a complete gentleman. Well, married we were, at New York, and, for several months, I was the happiest of men; and my dear wife (I know it) the happiest of women; but the time of her labour approached and child and mother lie buried in the cemetery at New York, where we had now fixed our residence." (Here poor Thomas wept plentifully, and, after a pause, proceeded)— "I could not reside longer in a place which was so dismally associated in my mind; so, having wound up my worldly affairs, and placed my little fortune—about one thousand pounds—in the bank, I embarked for Europe, along with my father and mother-in-law, who were going home to end their days in the place of their nativity, Belfast, in Ireland. I determined upon landing at the Cove of Cork, to visit once more my native village, and to have at least one interview with Sally. I learned, on my arrival at Largo, that Sally was married to the old captain. I resolved, however, ere I went finally to settle in Belfast, to have one stolen peep at my first love—my own dear Sally. I came upon her whilst repeating my name in her prayers, I embraced her convulsively—repeated her name twice in her hearing—heard her scream—saw her faint—kissed her fondly again and again—and, strangers appearing, I immediately absconded."

"This," said the minister, "explains all; but, go on—I am anxious to hear the conclusion of your somewhat eventful history."

"Why, I was off immediately for Belfast, where I at present reside with my father-in-law, whose temper, since the loss of his child, has been much altered for the worse. But I am here on a particular errand, in which your kind offices, sir—for I have heard of your goodness of heart— may be of service to me. I observed the death of the old captain in the newspapers, and I am here once more to enjoy an interview with his widow. I wish you, sir, to break the business to her; meanwhile, I will lodge at the Old Inn, Mrs. Laing’s, at Anstruther, and await your return."

I agreed (continued the parson of Kilrenny), to wait upon the widow; and to see, in fact, how the wind set, in regard to "first love." I found her, as I expected, neatly clad in her habiliments of widowhood, and employed in making some dresses for a sister’s marriage. I asked and obtained a private interview, when I detailed, as cautiously as I could, the particulars of Thomas Laing’s history. I could observe that her whole frame shook occasionally, and that tears came, again and again, into her eyes. I was present, but a fortnight ago, at their first interview at the inn; and I never saw two human beings evince more real attachment for each other. On their bended knees, and with faces turned towards heaven, did they unite in thanking God that he had permitted them to have another interview with each other in this world of uncertainty and death. It has been since discovered that the letter announcing Laing’s death was a forgery of the old captain, which has reconciled his widow very much to the idea of shortening her days of mourning. In a word, this evening, and in a few hours, I am going to unite the widower and the widowed, together with a younger sister and a fine young sailor, in the holy bonds of matrimony; and, as a punishment for your giving me all this trouble in narrating this story, I shall insist upon your eating fresh herring, with the fresh-herring Presbytery of St. Andrew’s, which meets here at Mrs. Laing’s to-day, and afterwards witnessing the double ceremony.

To this I assented, and certainly never spent an evening more agreeably than that which I divided betwixt the merry lads of St. Andrew’s Presbytery, and the fair dames and maidens of Cellardykes who graced the marriage ceremony. Such dancing as there was, and such screaming, and such music, and such laughing; yet, amidst it all, Mr. and Mrs. Laing preserved that decent decorum, which plainly said, "We will not mar the happiness of the young; but we feel the goodness and providence of our God too deeply, permit us to join in the noisy part of the festivity."

"The fair maid of Cellardykes," with her kind-hearted husband—I may mention, for the satisfaction of my fair readers in particular—may now be seen daily at their own door, and in their own garden, on the face of the steep which overlooks the village. They have already lived three years in complete happiness, and have been blessed with two as fine healthy children as a Cellardykes sun ever rose upon. Mr Laing has become an elder in the church, and both husband and wife are most exemplary in the discharge of their religious, as well as relative duties. God has blessed them with an ample competence; and sure is the writer of this narrative, that no poor fisher man or woman ever applied to this worthy couple without obtaining relief.

One circumstance more, and my narrative closes. As Mr. Laing was one evening taking a walk along the seashore, viewing the boats as they mustered for the herring fishing, he was shot at from behind one of the rocks, and severely wounded in the shoulder—the ball, or slug-shot having lodged in the clavicle, and refusing, for some days, to be extracted. The hue-and-cry was immediately raised, but the guilty person was nowhere to be seen. He had escaped in a boat, or had hid himself in a crevice of the rock, or in some private and friendly house in the village. Poor Thomas Laing was carried home to his distracted wife more dead than alive; and Dr. Goodsir being called, discovered, that in his present state the lead could not be extracted. Poor Sarah was never a moment from her husband’s side, who fevered, and became occasionally delirious—talking incoherently of murder, and shipwreck, and Woodburn, and love, and marriage, and Sarah Black. All within his brain was one mad wheel of mixed and confused colours, such as children make, when they wheel a stick, dyed white, black, and red, rapidly round. Suspicion, from the first, fell upon the brother of the boy Rob Paterson, whom Laing had killed many years before. Revenge is the most enduring, perhaps, of all the passions, and rather feeds upon itself than decays. Like fame, "it acquires strength by time;" and it was suspected that Dan Paterson, a reckless and a dissipated man, had done the deed. In confirmation of this supposition, Dan was nowhere to be found, and it was strongly suspected that his wife, and his son, who returned at midnight with the boat, had set Dan on shore somewhere on the coast, and that he had effected his escape. Death, for some time, seemed every day and hour nearer at hand; but at last the symptoms softened, the fever mitigated, the swelling subsided, and, after much careful and skilful surgery, most admirably conducted by Dr. Goodsir’s son, the ball was extracted. The wound closed without mortification; and, in a week or two, Mr. Laing was, not only out of danger, but out of bed, and walking about, and he does to this hour, with his arm in a sling. It was about the period of his recovery, that Dan Paterson was taken as he was skulking about in the west country, apparently looking out for a ship in which to sail to America. He was immediately brought back to Cellardykes, and lodged in Austruther prison. Mr. Laing would willingly have forborne the prosecution; but the law behoved to have its course. Dan was tried for "maiming with the intention of murder," and was condemned to fourteen years’ transportation. This happensd in the year 1822, the year of the King’s visit to Scotland. Mr. and Mrs. Laing actually waited upon his Majesty King George the Fourth, at the palace of Dalkeith, and, backed by the learned judge and counsel, obtained a commutation of the punishment, from banishment to imprisonment for a limited period. The great argument in his favour was the provocation he had received. Dan Paterson now inhabits a neat cottage in the village, and Mr. Laing has quite set him up with a boat of his own, ready rigged and fitted for use. He has entirely reformed, has become a member of a temperance society, and his wife and family are as happy as the day is long. Mr. and Mrs. Laing are supplied with the very best of fish, and stockings and mittens are manufactured by the Patersons for the little Laings, particularly during the boisterous weather, when fishing is out of the question. Thus has a wise Providence made even the wrath of man to praise him. The truth of the above narrative may be tested any day, by waiting upon the Rev. Mr. Dickson, or upon the parties themselves at Braehead of Cellardykes.

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