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Wilson's Border Tales
Bound or Free

Rosa Easton was her papa’s pet. She was allowed to do anything or everything, without the fear of contradiction. Educated at home from her earliest childhood, lacking the careful guardianship of a mother—for Mrs Easton had died in giving birth to her—and her vanity being constantly flattered by her waiting women, it would indeed have been remarkable, if Rosa could have been other than a self-willed being. Although not remarkably handsome, she was called a perfect Venus by her flatterers; although possessed of a mind not over well cultivated, she was made to believe that she had the intellect of a Joanna Baillie. As she advanced in years, however, she began to see the folly of all this nonsense; and, betaking herself to the constant study of books, by the time she reached one-and-twenty, there was not a better informed young woman for many miles round. Reading, however, could not entirely subdue those hurtful notions, which had been erewhile implanted in her breast, whence had sprung up self-will, a hasty temper, and a thousand other "ills that flesh is heir to." Had her station been lowly, as it was otherwise, with such headstrong passions, and a heart accessible to flattery, the chances are great that she would have fallen an easy prey to the machinations of the seducer. Even as she was, the undisputed heiress of her father’s wealth, she would have been in some danger, had she not fortunately met with a young man named Walter Gifford, a steady-minded young man, who would have scorned—so he himself said—to pay his addresses to any girl otherwise than on honourable terms. Notwithstanding her capture of such a rara avis, her father was quite opposed to the notion of such a connexion terminating in a wedding. He urged the necessity of his daughter’s looking out for a husband who would raise her in the world’s eye, and not throw herself away upon a fellow without a profession; and, although the fellow kept a valet de chambre, whose means, he was informed, were barely sufficient to keep himself in food and raiment, he ended by forbidding Gifford’s future visits to his house—nay, more, that she should drop his acquaintance. But Rosa had been too much humoured in every trifle during her bygone years to submit quietly to the will of another, even though that other was her father; and the more he urged her to break off the connexion, the more obstinate did she become. She contrived, in spite of her father’s prohibition, to see Walter Gifford. Their meetings were clandestine; and, on such occasions, they did not fail to vow eternal constancy, and to assert that all the fathers in the world should not prevent them from marrying each other. Once Gifford proposed an elopement; but when Rosa informed him that, until her father’s death, she was only a dependant upon his bounty, the steady-minded young man took a second thought of the matter, and dared say, after all, that it would be better not to be too precipitate.

At length Rosa’s father did die. Rosa wept a good deal, deluging at least half-a-dozen cambric pocket-handkerchiefs with her tears; but the thoughts of coming into immediate possession of Woodland Lodge, and all the old man’s wealth, after some short time, put a stop to her grief on his account for ever. It was buried in his grave with the last spadeful of mould thrown in by the sexton.

There being no bar now to her union with Gifford, Rosa Easton, after a fortnight spent in the solitude of her chamber, for decency’s sake, wrote him a letter, desiring his presence on the morrow at Woodland Lodge.

The morrow morning came, as morrow mornings will come, all in due time. Rosa was up half-an-hour before her wont, having passed a rather sleepless night; and what young girl under similar circumstances would not have passed a sleepless night? Drawing the curtain of her bedroom window half aside, she looked forth upon the green lawn which lay in front of the cottage. The calm sunbeams of the early day were reposing on it; she thought she had never seen it look so pretty before. The tall trees too, which bordered it, seemed to wear a more lively aspect than usual; even the very ducks and geese, which, from time to time, waddled by, were, in her eyes, as so many birds of paradise. When we are pleased with ourselves, everything else in our estimation assumes la couleur de rose.

The entrance of Rosa’s "own maid," Bridget, brought her from the window—Bridget was in her confidence, as all young ladies’ "own maids" invariably are, and, being well aware that her mistress expected Mr Gifford that day at Woodland Lodge, she took more than ordinary pains with her aforesaid mistress’s toilette. More than ordinary attention was bestowed on Rosa’s curls, the while Bridget chatted away about things in general, and nothing in particular, to the great edification of Rosa. There was, however, a something mysterious about her manner, that morning, quite perceptible to Rosa. It seemed as if she had something of terrible import to reveal, yet withheld it, for the fear of something more terrible still—her mistress’ s anger. After a little, a very little coaxing, Rosa got the secret out of her. Bridget whispered it into her ear, and, oh! how suddenly her colour changed to a deathly paleness, as she started from the rush-bottomed chair, whereon she had been for the last half hour deposited, while undergoing the ordeal of the curling tongs.

"Married!" she exclaimed—"Gifford married! No, no—it cannot be!" She said this with the air and accent of one who makes the wish a father to the thought.

"La, ma’am!" said Bridget, "that’s all you knows of them men creturs! Ah, if you had had only the half of my experience! But it’s no use talking; you never will be quite so experienced in sich matters as your humble servant—and pity that so good a lady should!"

"Come, now, Biddy," said her mistress, coaxingly, "do confess that this marriage has been got up by yourself on purpose to tease me."

"Ah, no, ma’am!" was the reply—"would that it were! But, alas!"—here she heaved a deep sigh, and turned the whites of her eyes heavenward—"alas! ‘tis too true!"

"True! How know you of it? Whence your information? Speak, child!" almost screamed Miss Rosa.

"So I will, ma’am," said Bridget, twiddling the corner of her apron Francais—"So I will, ma’am, if you’ll only give me time. You see, the case stands thus:—Our Martha has a small love-affair with Mister Billy Simpkins, Mr Gifford’s valley—so called from being sich a low situation. Well, of course, our Martha agreed to correspond with Mister Billy Simpkins, from whom she yesterday received sich a sweet billet—so like himself!—containing the information I have jist communicated."

"And that billet?" inquired Rosa, who had hung breathlessly on Bridget’s syllables.

"Is in Martha’s possession, ma’am; but, I dare say, she would lend it to me for a short time—I’ll run and fetch it."

And away she bundled out of the room, without waiting for her mistress’s consent to the business. Rosa paced her chamber for nearly five minutes, at the expiration of which time her patience was fairly exhausted, and away she ran down-stairs to look for Bridget and Mr Simpkins’s love-letter. She had just got the length of the parlour-door, when out bounced Bridget from the kitchen, with the longed-for prize in her hand.

"Here it is, ma’am!" she cried, holding it up. "Martha was rather unwilling to let me have it."

"Make haste, then; give it me!" exclaimed the young lady, at the same time snatching the epistle--a three-cornered one, on perfumed paper—from Bridget, and running into the parlour, with Bridget at her heels. She tried to decipher the pothooks and hangers which met her gaze on opening it; but she found herself unable for the task.

"I’m all trepidation," she said; "I can’t read it. Do you, Biddy!"

Bridget took the note from her mistress; and, in a clear, distinct voice, read as follows:--

"MY DEAR MARTHA,—This kums to let you no that i am in good helth at this present writting, hopping that yow ar in the same, my dear Martha. i hop yow got the small packet of tee safe, wat i sent yow direc from the hingine house, at Edinboro. Wen i see it so neetly paked, i sed—wat do you think?—Well, I sed it wood soot you gist to a T. i ‘m not a vane man, but i thinks as how that air’s werry clever—don’t you? O! wen shall wee 2 take tee agen together? By the by, tawkin of tee, our young master’s married—and to ‘oom, think ye? To no less a person than Patty Primrose, the grocer’s daughter."

"Oh! the wretch!" ejaculated Bridget, by way of parenthesis, when she arrived at this particular point; and she was preparing to proceed with the remainder of the billetdoux, when her mistress interrupted her.

"Biddy!" she cried, "why will you go on so? Put up the fatal missive, put it up. I have heard enough to convince me of Walter Gifford’s unworthiness. Oh! villain, villain! thus to blight the hopes of her who, fondly trusting to thine honour, gave up to thee her young affections."

So saying, as long as the sentimental fit was upon her. Rosa Easton sat down to her harp, and carolled forth these words to the beautiful air of Durandarte and Bellerma:--

"All my dreams of joy have perish’d,
Snowlike from the mountain height;
Slowly, surely were they cherish’d,
But fleet and sure has been their flight.

"E’en though faithless man deceive us,
To delusive hope we cling,
And the tempter will not leave us
Till we perish by its sting.

"Hark! a jocund peal is ringing
Through his halls of pomp and pride;
While despair its course is winging
To my lorn bower to claim its bride.

"Ah! my lonely heart is breaking,
And mine eyes with tears are dim;
Struggling pride its spoil is making,
Yet alters not my love for him."

Having thus given vent to her feelings in a song, she became more calm, yet for upwards of an hour afterwards she imposed upon herself the no very amiable task of chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy. At the expiration of that time, up she rose and pranced about the room, making a determination in her own mind to marry the first man who would have her.

On a sudden, Bridget burst into the room, announcing that Mr Gifford had just turned the corner of the house on his way to the entrance. At first, Rosa resolved not to see him; but, thinking that he would, from that circumstance, conclude that she was mortified by his marriage, she desired that he should be shown in, at the same time requesting Bridget to inform him that she was also married, for the palpable reason of showing him that there were other men in the world who thought her worth the having. This fact was duly communicated to the aforesaid gentleman, with that peculiarly cutting air in which women delight to say severe things to those who happen to labour under their displeasure. The steady-minded young man betrayed considerable emotion but yet he could hardly believe himself to think that Bridget spoke truth. His first question, therefore, to Rosa, on his entering the parlour was—"And are you really married ma’am?"

"And if I am sir, what then?" was the Scotch answer.

"Oh, nothing. But what am I to understand from so sudden an accident?"

"Draw what conclusions you please, sir. I will not condescend an explanation. I desire your presence no further sir; so I beg you will be gone." She waved him towards the door, and turned towards the window to conceal the tears which gathered in her eyes.

"Yet ere I go," said Gifford, as he stood with the handle of the door in his hand, about to turn it—"Ere I go, I should be glad to learn who—who is the happy man?"

This was a question for which Rosa was altogether unprepared; but, as she had already gone so far, she could not retrograde, so she therefore said, with great composure, "Mr Pigwiggins, sir, is the person whom I have the honour to call husband."

Mr Pigwiggins was a respectable dealer in slop-basins in the neighbouring town of Dunse. It was the first name that occurred to her recollection; and, on the spur of the moment, she gave utterance to it. Then, and only then, did its glaring absurdity flash upon her; and she could have laughed outright, had not prudence restrained her. Fortunately, Mr Gifford took it as truth; and, respectfully bidding her adieu, he was about to depart, when the idea of sending his compliments to the husband struck him as a capital device for wounding the finer feelings of Rosa, enhanced by his dwelling upon each syllable of the name, for a tormenting space of time, with a marked emphasis.

"Give my compliments to Mr Pig—wig—gins, ma’am," he exclaimed, with an air of mock solemnity.

"Be so good, Mr Gifford," said she, in return, "as give my compliments to the ci-devant Patty Primrose."

"Patty who?"

"Primrose, to be sure."

"Madam, I am somewhat at a loss. I know nothing of the lady you have just mentioned."

"What! not know your own wife?"

"Wife!—the devil! Some gross mistake is here, madam; will you inform me whence you derived your information?"

"You know that hand?" continued Rosa, producing Martha’s letter.

"I do—’tis that scoundrel, Simpkins’s."

"And your valet?"

"No; he is no servant of mine. I turned the rascal off a month ago; and he is now living with that puppy, Anslow, who has lately become a Benedict."

"This, then, explains all," said Rosa, exultingly. "And are you really not married?"

"Whether I am or not can be of little consequence to you, madam. I leave you to your meditations and your crockery."

And he was again about to go.

"O Walter!" cried Rosa, with a look of intense agony, "will you leave me thus? Not one kind word? Cruel man!"

"Woman!—unjust, ungrateful, as thy sex!—tax me not with such unmeaning epithets; for ‘tis you only who have broken those vows we interchanged."

"Nay, nay, Walter; say not so—’twas but to try you; and I too am free."

Nothing could exceed the joy of Gifford, when he heard this. He snatched Rosa to his arms, and covered her cheeks with kisses, while he sighed forth his wish that she would consent to become his wife. And she did become his wife; and a day of regret it was to her, in after life, that on which she placed her hand in his, and vowed to love and obey him; for, not long after their marriage, Gifford threw aside the mask, and appeared in his true character. He had never loved Rosa—indeed, love was quite a stranger to his bosom— and it was only for her wealth that he had wooed her. This soon became apparent; for he treated her with coldness and neglect.

Tired to death by a residence at Woodland Cottage for the space of six months after his marriage, Walter Gifford proposed to his wife that they should visit London. To this Rosa was by no means averse; yet if she had been, it would have mattered little; the result would have been precisely the same, for she had no power to act against her husband’s will, so completely had he obtained the mastery over her.

To London, therefore, they proceeded, with all possible despatch. Rosa had never before been within the walls of that vast and wealthy city, and the excitement attendant on a first visit to it was sufficient to buoy up her spirits for nearly a whole fortnight. In the company of her husband she visited many of the public places during the first week; but after that, if she wished to go anywhere, she must either do so alone, or with his footman to attend her, he himself preferring the society of any one else to that of his wife.

One evening when he had "dropped in for an hour"— solus, as usual—to witness the representation of a new ballet at the Opera House, he was struck with the pretty face and "the ankle neatly turned" of one of the figurantes. An introduction was easily procured; and, after a very short while, the fair lady was fixed in an elegant residence near Storey’s Gate, with her carriage, servants, and the other paraphernalia of a "good settlement."

The frequency of Gifford’s visits to this lady, necessarily curtailed the allowance of time he would otherwise have expended in his wife’s company. His repeated absences— now extended to whole nights as well as days—awakened suspicions in the bosom of Rosa. The result was dissension. He came one evening, attended by a person habited as a coachman, and whose face was most carefully concealed by means of a slouch hat. Gifford, with an oath, ordered his wife to dress for a journey, while he himself proceeded to pack up her wearing apparel. In silence, Rosa obeyed.

A coach was waiting at the door, and Gifford desired her to enter it. A moment afterwards, the coach was moving rapidly onward. For two days they travelled without stopping, save but to change horses and refresh themselves. To Rosa’s oft-repeated inquiry of, "Where are we going?" she could obtain no answer from her mysterious conductor. She remarked, too, that when he left the coach, if but for an instant, he fastened the door so as to prevent her escape. At length they stopped at a solitary cottage on the borders of a moor, and Rosa was given to understand that she was to be left here. The only inmate was an old woman, taciturn and hard of heart. Every night was Rosa locked within her chamber, and during the day she could not stir out without being followed and carefully watched by this old she Cerberus.

At length she found ways and means to effect her escape. It was in the night time she left the cottage. Her first step was to return to London, and learn from her husband the cause of his inhuman conduct. After a weary journey of eight days, she found herself again within sound of Bow-bells. Unaware of the present residence of Gifford, day by day did she watch, in the most frequented streets, to catch a glimpse of him. She was fortunate enough, in the end, to espy the very man who had acted in the capacity of coachman; and, with stealthy steps, she followed him. She saw him enter a splendid mansion in the vicinity of Storey’s Gate. She approached the door and read on the plate the name of "Mademoiselle Garbuzzie." This was enough. That very night, by the aid of Gifford’s footman, whom she bribed to the act, she gained admission to the house. Taking her station behind the window-curtains of the drawing-room, she patiently awaited the arrival of her husband and his paramour. About eleven o’clock, Gifford entered the room alone, pale and breathless. He rung the bell with violence. The footman appeared.

"Has Mademoiselle Garbuzzie been here this afternoon?"

"Yes, sir!" said his man; "and she and Mr Wallace went away together. She left this note for you, sir." The man withdrew.

"Curses light upon her," exclaimed Gifford, after reading the note. "She is gone at last with all—all, and left me almost a beggar!" He sunk into a chair, overcome with rage and vexation. After a while he went on—"But I will not live to meet the sneers of the world. This pistol shall"--

"Hold!" cried his wife, rushing forward and catching his arm. He was awe-struck. He fell on his knees, imploring her forgiveness. It was granted; and a few days saw them again at Woodland Cottage.

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