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Wilson's Border Tales
The Recollections of the Village Patriarch

Chapter 4

Ne're-Do-Weel Tam

"I never kenned a lad that I entertained a higher regard for than Thomas Elliot. His faither left him fifteen hundred pounds, laid out upon a mortgage at five per cent, interest, and bequeathed in such a way, that he couldna lift the principal. There was a vast deal of real goodness about his heart—he was frank, liberal, sincere. Every person that kenned him liked him. His first and greatest fault was, that he was owre open; he laid bare his breast, as it were, to the attack of every enemy that chose to hurl a shaft at it. He was a fool for his pains; and, I daresay, he saw it in the end. There was always some person taking the advantage of the frankness of his disposition. But the thing that ruined him, and fixed the bye-name on him was, that he became a sort of fixture in Luckie Riddle’s parlour. His chief companion was a lad of the name of William Archbold—a blithe, singing chield, thas was always happy, and ready at onything. Thomas and he were courting two sisters—Peggy and Jenny Lilly—the daughters of a small farmer in the neighbourhood, and both of them were bonny, weel respected lasses. The folk in this quarter used to call William Archbold, Blithe Willie. He was a blacksmith to his trade, but quite a youth; and come upon him by night or by day, Willie was sure to be found laughing, whistling, or singing. He hadna an yearly income like Thomas Elliot; and, strange to say, he got the blame of gieing him a howff at Luckie Riddle’s. But that was a doctrine which I always protested against; and I said it was much more likely that, as Thomas was fu’ handed, while his neighbour had to work for his bread, that the man of money led the blacksmith to their howff, and not the blacksmith the man of money. One thing is certain, that both of them were far oftoner at Luckie’s than was either good for their health, wealth, or reputation. One night, it seems, after having drunk until, if ‘they werena fu’, they just had plenty,’ they reeled away to see the two sisters, their sweethearts. Jenny didna wish to quarrel wi’ Thomas, because he had the siller; but Peggy turned away wi’ scorn from Blithe William, and said that she ‘never again would speak to one who was no better than a common blackguard, and who neither had regard for himself, nor for any one connected wi’ him.’ What more passed between them I cannot tell, but it is said he turned sober in an instant; and certain it is, that night he left the town, and has never been more heard tell of.

Thomas Elliot and Jenny were married, but she died the second year after their marriage, leaving to his charge an infant son, who was kirsened by the name of Alexander. Thomas, after his wife’s death, tried many things (for while she lived she keepit him to rights), but he neglected them all. He began twenty things and ended nothing. He was to be found in Luckie Riddle’s in the morning, and he was to be seen sitting there at night. Before he was forty, he became a perfect sot; and I used to ask—‘Wha leads him away, now?’ The fact was, he was miserable save when he was in company; and, for the sake of company, he would have sat sipping and drinking from sunrise to sunset, without ever perceiving that in that time he had been sitting wi’ twenty different companies, each of whom had remained maybe half an hour, and left him bibbing there to make a crony of the customer that last came in. But this course of life could not last long. He had mortgaged the mortgage that his father left him, until, although he could not lift it, he had almost swallowed it up; and at the age of forty-four he fell into the grave like a lump of diseased flesh—a thing without a soul!

I have informed ye that he left a son, named Alexander, behind him. He was a laddie that was beloved by the whole town; and it was him that frae bairnhood was set down as the future husband of Esther Anderson, our minister’s daughter. I have already told ye how he enlisted, when he fancied that she was drawing up wi’ the young laird and slighting him.

Now, mark ye, sir—for this is one of the most singular things in the history of our village—about three years after the melancholy deaths of Esther and her father, the laird, wi’ a pack o’ young men as thonghtless and wicked as himself, came down to the Ha.’ It was plain as noon-day that the murder of a young lassie, her bairn, and her honoured father, had never cost the young libertine a thought. He returned to all his former profligacy, as a sow returns to its wallowing in the mire.

He was returning, towards evening, with three or four of his companions from an otter-hunt, and was within a quarter of a mile of the Ha,’ when he was met by two strangers—the one a youth, and the other a man of middle age.

‘Stand!’ cried the young man, sternly.

‘What do you want, fellow!’ inquired the laird, proudly.

‘Dismount!’ retorted the other, ‘and take this!’ presenting to him a pistol. ‘I come to avenge the murder of Esther Anderson and her father!—and,’ added he, ‘wi’ your blood to wash the bruise ye have inflicted on my wounded heart! Did ye think, because her brave brother was with the dead, that there was none left to revenge the ruin of her innocence? Beneath the very tree where we now stand, she plighted me her first vow, and we were happy as the birds that sang upon its branches, until ye, as a serpent, crossed our path. Dismount, Laird Cochrane, if ye be not coward as weel as villain!’

‘Alexander Elliot!’ replied the laird, ‘are ye not aware that I am a magistrate, and have power to commit ye even now as a deserter. Begone, sir, and take your hand from my horse’s head, for it becomes not a gentleman to quarrel wi’ such as you.’

‘Dismount! ye palsy-spirited slave!’ cried Alexander, ‘and choose your weapon and your distance. Let your friends that are wi’ you see that you have fair play. Dismount! or I will shoot ye dead where ye sit!’ And as he spoke he dragged him from his horse.

It was an awful tragedy to take place in a peaceable corner of the earth like this. The stranger that accompanied Alexander took the pistols, and addressing one of the gentlemen that were wi’ the laird, said coolly—‘This business must be settled sir; and the sooner the better. Choose ye one of these weapons, and let the principals take their ground.’

They did take their ground, as it was termed, and their pistols were levelled at each other’s heart. Guilt and surprise made the laird to tremble, but revenge gave steadiness to the hand of young Elliot. Both fired at the same moment, and with a sudden groan the laird fell dead upon the ground.

Some said that the earth was weel rid of a prodigal, while others thought it an awfu’ thing that he should have been cut off in such a manner, in the very middle of his iniquities, and career of wickedness; and it was generally regretted that he should have fallen by the hand of a lad so universally respected as Alexander Elliot. Such, sir, was the end of the young laird, but what has become of Alexander is more than any one in these parts can tell. I have just now a few words to say concerning---

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