Various.

Wilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Volume XXIII online

. (page 11 of 18)
Online LibraryVariousWilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Volume XXIII → online text (page 11 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


His troop drew up in front of the castle, and their gay plumes and
burnished trappings glittered in the sun. The proud steed of the
Frenchman was covered with a panoply of gold and silver, and he himself
was decorated as for a bridal. He rode haughtily to the gate, and
demanded the inmates of the castle to surrender.

"Surrender! boasting Gaul!" replied William Cockburn, the uncle of the
young laird; "that is a word the men of Merse have yet to learn. But
yonder comes my brother Wedderburn; speak it to him."

D'Arcy turned round, and beheld Sir David Home and a party of horsemen
bearing down upon them at full speed. The Chevalier drew back, and
waiting their approach, placed himself at the head of his company.

"By the mass! Sir Warden," said Sir David, riding up to D'Arcy, "and ye
have brought a goodly company to visit my nephew. Come ye in peace, or
what may be your errand?"

"I wish peace," replied the Chevalier, "and come to enforce the
establishment of my rights; why do you interfere between me and my
ward?"

"Does a Frenchman talk of his rights upon the lands of Home?" returned
Sir David; "or by whose authority is my nephew your ward?"

"By the authority of the Regent, rebel Scot!" retorted D'Arcy.

"By the authority of the Regent!" interrupted Wedderburn; "dare ye,
foreign minion, speak of the authority of the murderer of the Earl of
Home, while within the reach of the sword of his kinsman?"

"Ay! and in his teeth dare tell him," replied the Chevalier, "that the
Home now before me is not less a traitor than he who proved false to his
sovereign on the field of Flodden, who conspired against the Regent, and
whose head now adorns the port of Edinburgh."

"Wretch!" exclaimed the henchman Trotter, dashing forward, and raising
his sword, "said ye that my master proved false at Flodden?"

"Hold!" exclaimed Wedderburn, grasping his arm. "Gramercy, ye
uncivilised dog! for the sake of your master's head would ye lift your
hand against that face which ladies die to look upon? Pardon me, most
beautiful Chevalier! the salutation of my servant may be too rough for
your French palate, but you and your master treated my kinsman somewhat
more roughly. What say ye, Sir Warden? do ye depart in peace, or wish ye
that we should try the temper of our Border steel upon your French
bucklers?"

"Depart ye in peace, vain boaster," replied D'Arcy, "lest a worse thing
befall you."

"Then on, my merry men!" cried Wedderburn, "and to-day the head of the
Regent's favourite, the Chevalier of Beauty, for the head of the Earl of
Home!"

"The house of Home and revenge!" shouted his followers, and rushed upon
the armed band of D'Arcy. At first the numbers were nearly equal, and
the contest was terrible. Each man fought hand to hand, and the ground
was contested inch by inch. The gilded ornaments of the French horses
were covered with blood, and their movements were encumbered by their
weight. The sword of Wedderburn had already smitten three of the
Chevalier's followers to the ground, and the two chiefs now contended in
single combat. D'Arcy fought with the fury of despair, but Home
continued to bear upon him as a tiger that has been robbed of its cubs.
Every moment the force of the Chevalier was thinned, and every instant
the number of his enemies increased, as the neighbouring peasantry
rallied round the standard of their chief. Finding the most faithful of
his followers stretched upon the earth, D'Arcy sought safety in flight.
Dashing his silver spurs into the sides of his noble steed, he turned
his back upon his desperate enemy, and rushed along in the direction of
Pouterleiny, and through Dunse, with the hope of gaining the road to
Dunbar, of which town he was governor. Fiercely Wedderburn followed at
his heels, with his naked sword uplifted, and ready to strike;
immediately behind him rode Trotter, the henchman of the late earl, and
another of Home's followers named Dickson. It was a fearful sight as
they rushed through Dunse, their horses striking fire from their heels
in the light of the very sunbeams, and the sword of the pursuer within a
few feet of the fugitive. Still the Chevalier rode furiously, urging on
the gallant animal that bore him, which seemed conscious that the life
of its rider depended upon its speed. His flaxen locks waived behind him
in the wind, and the voice of his pursuers ever and anon fell upon his
ear, like a dagger of death thrust into his bosom. The horse upon which
Wedderburn rode had been wounded in the conflict, and, as they drew near
Broomhouse, its speed slackened, and his followers, Trotter and Dickson,
took the lead in the pursuit. The Chevalier had reached a spot on the
right bank of the Whitadder, which is now in a field of the farm of
Swallowdean, when his noble steed, becoming entangled with its cumbrous
trappings, stumbled, and hurled its rider to the earth. The next moment
the swords of Trotter and Dickson were through the body of the
unfortunate Chevalier.

"Off with his head!" exclaimed Wedderburn, who at the same instant
reached the spot. The bloody mandate was readily obeyed; and Home,
taking the bleeding head in his hand, cut off the flaxen tresses, and
tied them as a trophy to his saddle-bow. The body of the _Chevalier de
la Beauté_ was rudely buried on the spot where he fell. A humble stone
marks out the scene of the tragedy, and the people in the neighbourhood
yet call it "_Bawty's Grave_." The head of the Chevalier was carried to
Dunse, where it was fixed upon a spear at the cross, and Wedderburn
exclaimed, "Thus be exalted the enemies of the house of Home!"

The bloody relic was then borne in triumph to Home Castle, and placed
upon the battlements. "There," said Sir David, "let the Regent climb
when he returns from France for the head of his favourite; it is thus
that Home of Wedderburn revenges the murder of his kindred."




THE STORY OF THE PELICAN.


Though not so much a tradition as a memory still fresh probably in the
minds of some of the good old Edinburgh folks, we here offer, chiefly
for the benefit of our young female readers who are fond of a story
wherein little heroines figure, as in Béranger's _Sylphide_, an account
of a very famous adventure of a certain little Jeannie Deans in our
city - the more like the elder Jeannie, inasmuch as they both were
concerned in a loving effort to save the life of a sister. Whereunto, as
a very necessary introduction, it behoves us to set forth that there
was, some sixty years ago, more or less, a certain Mr. William Maconie,
who was a merchant on the South Bridge of Edinburgh, but who, for the
sake of exercise and fresh air - a commodity this last he need not have
gone so far from the Calton Hill to seek - resided at Juniper Green, a
little village three or four miles from St. Giles's. Nor did this
distance incommode him much, seeing that he had the attraction to
quicken his steps homewards of a pretty young wife and two little twin
daughters, Mary and Annie, as like each other as two rosebuds partially
opened, and as like their mother, too, as the objects of our simile are
to themselves when full blown.

Peculiar in this respect of having twins at the outset, and sisters
too - a good beginning of a contract to perpetuate the species - Mr.
Maconie was destined to be even more so, inasmuch as there came no more
of these pleasant _deliciae domi_, at least up to the time of our curious
story - a circumstance the more to be regretted by the father, in
consequence of a strange fancy (never told to his wife) that possessed
him of wishing to insure the lives of his children as they came into the
world, or at least after they had got through the rather uninsurable
period of mere infant life. And in execution of this fancy - a very fair
and reasonable one, and not uncommon at that time, whatever it may be
now, when people are not so provident - he had got an insurance to the
extent of five hundred pounds effected in the Pelican Office - perhaps
the most famous at that time - on the lives of the said twins, Mary and
Annie, who were, no doubt, altogether unconscious of the importance they
were thus made to hold in the world.

Yet, unfortunately for the far-seeing and provident father, this scheme
threatened to fructify sooner than he wished, if indeed it could ever
have fructified to his satisfaction; for the grisly spectre of typhus
laid his relentless hand upon Mary when she - and of a consequence
Annie - was somewhere about eight years old. And surely, being as we are
very hopeful optimists in the cause of human nature, we need not say
that the father, as he and his wife watched the suffering invalid on
through the weary days and nights of the progress towards the crisis of
that dangerous ailment, never once thought of the Pelican, except as a
bird that feeds its young with the warm blood of its breast. But,
sorrowful as they were, their grief was nothing in comparison with the
distress of little Annie, who slipped about listening and making all
manner of anxious inquiries about her sick sister, whom she was
prohibited from seeing for fear of her being touched by the said
spectre; nor was her heart the less troubled with fears for her life,
that all things seemed so quiet and mysterious about the house - the
doctor coming and going, and the father and mother whispering to each
other, but never to her, and their faces so sad-like and mournful, in
place of being, as was their wont, so cheerful and happy.

And surely all this solicitude on the part of Annie Maconie need not
excite our wonder, when we consider that, from the time of their birth,
the twin sisters had never been separated, but that, from the moment
they had made their entrance on this world's stage, they had been always
each where the other was, and had run each where the other ran, wished
each what the other wished, and wept and laughed each when the other
wept or laughed. Nature indeed, before it came into her fickle head to
make two of them, had in all probability intended these little
sisters - "little cherries on one stalk" - to be but one; and they could
only be said not to be _one_, because of their bodies being two - a
circumstance of no great importance, for, in spite of the duality of
body, the spirit that animated them was a unity, and as we know from an
old philosopher called Plato, the spirit is really the human creature,
the flesh and bones constituting the body being nothing more than a mere
husk intended at the end to feed worms. And then the mother helped this
sameness by dressing them so like each other, as if she wanted to make a
_Comedy of Errors_ out of the two little female Dromios.

But in the middle of this mystery and solicitude, it happened that Annie
was to get some light; for, at breakfast one morning - not yet that of
the expected crisis - when her father and mother were talking earnestly
in an undertone to each other, all unaware that the child, as she was
moving about, was watching their words and looks, much as an older
victim of credulity may be supposed to hang on the cabbalistic movements
and incantations of a sibyl, the attentive little listener eagerly drank
in every word of the following conversation: -

"The doctor is so doubtful," said the anxious mother, with a tear in her
eye, "that I have scarcely any hope; and if she is taken away, the very
look of Annie, left alone 'bleating for her sister lamb,' will break my
heart altogether."

"Yes," rejoined Mr. Maconie, "it would be hard to bear; but" - and it was
the first time since Mary's illness he had ever remembered the
insurance - "it was wise that I insured poor Mary's life in the Pelican."

"Insured her life in the Pelican!" echoed the wife in a higher tone.
"That was at least lucky; but, oh! I hope we will not need to have our
grief solaced by that comfort in affliction for many a day."

And this colloquy had scarcely been finished when the doctor entered,
having gone previously into the invalid's room, with a very mournful
expression upon his face; nor did his words make that expression any
more bearable, as he said -

"I am sorry to say I do not like Mary's appearance so well to-day. I
fear it is to be one of those cases where we cannot discover anything
like a crisis at all; indeed I have doubts about this old theory being
applicable to this kind of fever, where the virus goes on gradually
working to the end."

"The end!" echoed Mrs. Maconie; "then, doctor, I fear you see what that
will be."

"I would not like to say," added he; "but I fear you must make up your
mind for the worst."

Now, all this was overheard by Annie, who, we may here seize the
opportunity of saying, was, in addition to being a sensitive creature,
one of those precocious little philosophers thinly spread in the female
world, and made what they are often by delicate health, which reduces
them to a habit of thinking much before their time. Not that she wanted
the vivacity of her age, but that it was tempered by periods of serious
musing, when all kinds of what the Scotch call "auld farrant" (far yont)
thoughts come to be where they should not be, the consequence being a
weird-like kind of wisdom, very like that of the aged; so the effect on
a creature so constituted was just equal to the cause. Annie ran out of
the room with her face concealed in her hands, and got into a small
bedroom darkened by the window-blind, and there, in an obscurity and
solitude suited to her mind and feelings, she resigned herself to the
grief of the young heart. It was now clear to her that her dear Mary was
to be taken from her; had not the doctor said as much? And then she had
never seen death, of which she had read and heard and thought so much,
that she looked upon it as a thing altogether mysterious and terrible.
But had she not overheard her father say that he had insured poor dear
Mary's life with the Pelican? and had she not heard of the pelican - yea,
the pelican of the wilderness - as a creature of a most mythical kind,
though she knew not aught of its nature, whether bird or beast, or man
or woman, or angel? But whatever it might be, certain it was that her
father would never have got this wonderful creature to insure Mary's
life if it was not possessed of the power to bring about so great a
result. So she cogitated and mused and philosophized in her small way,
till she came to the conclusion that the pelican not only had the
destiny of Mary in its hands, but was under an obligation to save her
from that death which was so terrible to her. Nor had she done yet with
the all-important subject; for all at once it came into her head as a
faint memory, that one day, when her father was taking her along with
her mother through the city, he pointed to a gilded sign, with a large
bird represented thereon, tearing its breast with its long beak, and
letting out the blood to its young, who were holding their mouths open
to drink it in. "There," said he, "is the Pelican;" words she remembered
even to that hour, for they were imprinted upon her mind by the
formidable appearance of the wonderful-looking creature feeding its
young with the very blood of its bosom. But withal she had sense enough
to know - being, as we have said, a small philosopher - that a mere bird,
however endowed with the power of sustaining the lives of its offspring,
could not save that of her sister, and therefore it behoved to be only
the symbol of some power within the office over the door of which the
said sign was suspended. Nor in all this was Annie Maconie more
extravagant than are nineteen-twentieths of the thousand millions in the
world who still cling to occult causes.

And with those there came other equally strange thoughts; but beyond all
she could not for the very life of her comprehend that most inexcusable
apathy of her father, who, though he had heard with his own ears, from
good authority, that her beloved Mary was lying in the next bedroom
dying, never seemed to think of hurrying away to town - even to that very
Pelican who had so generously undertaken to insure Mary's life. It was
an apathy unbecoming a father; and the blood of her little heart warmed
with indignation at the very time that the said heart was down in sorrow
as far as its loose strings would enable it to go. But was there no
remedy? To be sure there was, and Annie knew, moreover, what it was; but
then it was to be got only by a sacrifice, and that sacrifice she also
knew, though it must of necessity be kept in the meantime as secret as
the wonderful doings in the death-chamber of the palace of a certain
Bluebeard.

Great thoughts these for so little a woman as Annie Maconie; and no
doubt the greatness and the weight of them were the cause why, for all
that day - every hour of which her father was allowing to pass - she was
more melancholy and thoughtful than she had ever been since Mary began
to be ill. But, somehow, there was a peculiar change which even her
mother could observe in her; for while she had been in the habit of
weeping for her sister, yea, and sobbing very piteously, she was all
this day apparently in a reverie. Nor even up to the time of her going
to bed was she less thoughtful and abstracted, even as if she had been
engaged in solving some problem great to her, however small it might
seem to grown-up infants. As for sleeping under the weight of so much
responsibility, it might seem to be out of the question; and so, verily,
it was; for her little body, acted on by the big thoughts, was moved
from one side to another all night, so that she never slept a wink,
still thinking and thinking, in her unutterable grief, of poor Mary, her
father's criminal passiveness, and that most occult remedy which so
completely engrossed her mind.

But certainly it was the light of morning for which sister Annie sighed;
and when it came glinting in at the small window, she was up and
beginning to dress, all the while listening lest the servant or any
other one in the house should know she was up at that hour. Having
completed her toilet, she slipped down stairs, and having got to the
lobby, she was provident enough to lay hold of an umbrella, for she
suspected the elements as being in league against her. Thus equipped,
she crept out by the back door, and having got thus free, she hurried
along, never looking behind her till she came to the main road to
Edinburgh, when she mounted the umbrella - one used by her father, and so
large that it was more like a main-sheet than a covering suitable to so
small a personage; so it behoved, that if she met any other "travellers
on purpose bent," the moving body must have appeared to be some small
tent on its way to a fair, carried by the proprietor thereof, of whom no
more could be seen but the two short toddling legs, and the hem of the
black riding-hood. But what cared Annie? She toiled along; the miles
were long in comparison of the short legs, but then there was a large
purpose in that little body, in the view of which miles were of small
account, however long a time it might take those steps to go over them.
Nor was it any drawback to all this energy, concentrated in so small a
bulk, that she had had no breakfast. Was the dying sister Mary able to
take any breakfast? and why should Annie eat when Mary, who did all she
did - and she always did everything that sister Mary did - could not? The
argument was enough for our little logician.

By the time she reached, by those short steps of hers, the great city,
it was half-past eleven, and she had before her still a great deal to
accomplish. She made out, after considerable wanderings, the street
signalized above all streets by that wonderful bird; but after she got
into it, the greater difficulty remained of finding the figure itself,
whereto there was this untoward obstacle, that it was still drizzling in
the thick Scotch way of concrete drops of mist, and the umbrella which
she held over her head was so large that no turning it aside would
enable her to see under the rim at such an angle as would permit her
scanning so elevated a position, and so there was nothing for it but to
draw it down. But even this was a task - heavy as the mainsheet was with
rain, and rattling in a considerable wind - almost beyond her strength;
and if it hadn't been that a kindly personage who saw the little maid's
difficulty gave her assistance, she might not have been able to
accomplish it. And now, with the heavy article in her hand, she peered
about for another half-hour, till at length her gladdened eye fell upon
the mystic symbol.

And no sooner had she made sure of the object than she found her way
into the office, asking the porter as well as a clerk where the pelican
was to be found, - questions that produced a smile; but smile here or
smile there, Annie was not to be beat; nor did she stop in her progress
until at last she was shown into a room where she saw, perched on a high
stool, with three (of course) long legs, a strange-looking personage
with a curled wig and a pair of green spectacles, who no doubt must be
the pelican himself. As she appeared in the room with the umbrella, not
much shorter or less in circumference than herself, the gentleman looked
curiously at her, wondering no doubt what the errand of so strange a
little customer could be.

"Well, my little lady," said he, "what may be your pleasure?"

"I want the pelican," said Annie.

The gentleman was still more astonished, even to the extent that he laid
down his pen and looked at her again.

"The pelican, dear?"

"Ay, just the pelican," answered she deliberately, and even a little
indignantly. "Are you the pelican?"

"Why, yes, dear; all that is for it below the figure," said he, smiling,
and wondering what the next question would be.

"I am so glad I have found you," said she; "because sister Mary is
dying."

"And who is sister Mary?"

"My sister, Mary Maconie, at Juniper Green."

Whereupon the gentleman began to remember that the name of William
Maconie was in his books as holder of a policy.

"And what more?"

"My father says the pelican insured Mary's life; and I want you to come
direct and do it, because I couldn't live if Mary were to die; and
there's no time to be lost."

"Oh! I see, dear. And who sent you?"

"Nobody," answered Annie. "My father wouldn't come to you; and I have
come from Juniper Green myself without telling my father or mother."

"Oh yes, dear! I understand you."

"But you must do it quick," continued she, "because the doctor says
she's in great danger; so you must come with me and save her
immediately."

"I am sorry, my dear little lady," rejoined he, "that I cannot go with
you; but I will set about it immediately, and I have no doubt, being
able to go faster than you, that I will get there before you, so that
all will be right before you arrive."

"See that you do it, then," said she; "because I can't live if Mary
dies. Are you quite sure you will do it?"

"Perfectly sure, my little dear," added he. "Go away home, and all will
be right; the pelican will do his duty."

And Annie being thus satisfied, went away, dragging the main-sheet after
her, and having upon her face a look of contentment, if not absolute
happiness, in place of the sorrow which had occupied it during all the
time of her toilsome journey. The same road is to be retraced; and if
she had an object before which nerved her little limbs, she had now the
delightful consciousness of that object having been effected - a feeling
of inspiration which enabled her, hungry as she was, to overcome all the
toil of the return. Another two hours, with that heavy umbrella over
head as well as body, brought her at length home, where she found that
people had been sent out in various directions to find the missing
Annie. The mother was in tears, and the father in great anxiety; and no
sooner had she entered and laid down her burden, than she was clasped to
the bosom, first of one parent, and then of the other.

"But where is the pelican?" said the anxious little maid.

"The pelican, my darling!" cried the mother; "what do you mean?"

"Oh! I have been to him at his own office at Edinburgh to get him to
come and save Mary's life, and he said he would be here before me."

"And what in the world put it in your head to go there?" again asked the
mother.

"Because I heard my father say yesterday that the pelican had insured
dear sister Mary's life, and I went to tell him to come and do it
immediately; because if Mary were to die, I couldn't live, you know.
That's the reason, dear mother."

"Yes, yes," said the father, scarcely able to repress a smile which rose
in spite of his grief. "I see it all. You did a very right thing, my


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryVariousWilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Volume XXIII → online text (page 11 of 18)