Various.

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

. (page 5 of 18)
Online LibraryVariousWilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Volume XXIII → online text (page 5 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


direct for the tea-kettle, into which she poured a sufficient quantity
of water, saying the while to herself, "Tammas maun hae his tea
breakfast on Sabbath morning" - words which Thomas, as he now lay quaking
in bed, knew very well he had heard before many a time and oft. Nor were
the subsequent acts less in accordance with the old custom of the
dwelling. There was no sweeping of the floor or scouring of pans on the
sacred morning; in place of all which she had something else to do, for
surely we must suppose that this gentle visitor was a good Calvinist,
and would perform only the acts of necessity and mercy. These she had
done in so far as regarded necessity, and now they saw her go to the
shelf on which the Bible was deposited - a book which, alas! for seven
years had not been opened by either of the guilty pair. Having got what
she wanted, she sat down by the table, opened the volume at a place well
thumbed, and began to read aloud a chapter in the Corinthians, which
Thomas Dodds, the more by reason that he had heard it read two hundred
and fifty times, knew by heart. This being finished, she turned up a
psalm, yea, that very psalm which Janet Dodds had sung every Sunday
morning, and, presently, the kitchen was resonant with the rising notes
of the Bangor, as they came from a throat trembling with devotion -

"I waited on the Lord my God,
And patiently did bear;
At length to me He did incline
My voice and cry to hear.

"He took me from a fearful pit,
And from the miry clay,
And on a rock He set my feet,
Establishing my way."

The service finished, they saw her replace the book where she had found
it; and by this time the kettle was spewing from the mouth thereof a
volume of steam, as if it were calling to its old mistress to relieve it
from the heat of the fire; nor was she long in paying due obedience. The
tea-pot was got where she seemed to know it would be found, so also the
tea-canister. The quantity to be put in was a foregone conclusion, and
steadily measured with the spoon. The water was poured in, and the
utensil placed on the cheek of the chimney in order to the indispensable
infusion. Next the cup and saucer were placed on the table, then
followed the bread and butter, and the sugar and the milk; all being
finished by the words to herself, "There's nae egg in the house." Having
thus finished her work, she took down her plaid, adjusted it carefully,
opened the door, and departed.

The effect produced by this second spectral appearance could scarcely be
exaggerated, yet we suspect you will not find it of that kind which is
most in harmony with human nature, except in the case of Mrs. Dodds the
second, who lay, as on the former occasion, sweating and trembling. It
was now different with the husband, on whom apparently had fallen some
of the seeds of the word, as they were scattered by the lips of the
strange visitor, and conscience had prepared the soil. The
constitutional strength of character which had enabled him to perpetrate
a terrible deed of evil, was ready as a power to achieve his
emancipation, and work in the direction of good. So, without saying a
word of all that had been acted that morning, he rose and dressed
himself, and, going into the kitchen, he sat down without the fear of
poison, and partook of the breakfast which had been so strangely
prepared for him, nor was he satisfied till he read the chapter and
psalm with which he had been so long familiar. He then returned to the
bedroom, and addressing his wife -

"You now see," said he, "that Heaven has found us out. That visitor is
nae ither than Mrs. Janet Dodds returned frae the grave, and sure it is
that nane are permitted to leave that place o' rest except for a
purpose. No, it's no for naething that Janet Dodds comes back to her
auld hame. What the purpose may be, the Lord only knows; but this seems
to me to be clear enough - that you and I maun pairt. You see that nae
breakfast has been laid for you. I have taen mine, and nae harm has come
o't; a clear sign that though we are baith great criminals, you are
considered to be the warst o' the twa. It was you wha put poison into my
ear and cast glamour ower my een; it was you wha egged me on, for 'the
lips of a strange woman drop as a honeycomb, and her words are smoother
than oil; but her feet take hold of hell.' That I am guilty, I know; and
'though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished.' I will
dree my doom whatever it may be, and so maun you yours; but there may be
a difference, and so far as mortal can yet see, yours will be waur to
bear than mine. But, however a' that may be, the time is come when you
maun leave this house. 'Cast out the strange woman, and contention shall
go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease;' but 'go not forth hastily
to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end, when thy neighbour
hath put thee to shame.' Keep your secret frae a' save the Lord; and may
He hae mercy on your soul!"

With which words, savouring as they did of the objurgations of the black
pot to the kettle, Mr. Thomas Dodds left his house, no doubt in the
expectation that Mrs. Dodds _secunda_ would move her camp, and betake
herself once more to her old place of residence in the Grassmarket.
Where he went that day no man ever knew, further than that he was seen
in the afternoon in St. Giles's Church, where, no doubt, he did his best
to make a cheap purchase of immunity to his soul and body, in
consideration of a repentance brought on by pure fear, produced by a
spectre; and who knows but that that was a final cause of the spectre's
appearance? We have seen that it was a kindly spirit, preparing porridge
and tea for him at the same time that it made his hair stand on end, and
big drops of sweat settle upon his brow or roll down therefrom - a
conjunction this of the tawse and the jelly-pot, whereby kind and loving
parents try to redeem naughty boys. Nor let it be said that this kindly
dealing with a murderer is contrary to the ways of Heaven; for, amidst a
thousand other examples, did not Joshua, after the wall of Jericho lay
flat at the blast of a trumpet, save that vile woman Rahab at the same
time that he slew the young and the old, nay, the very infants, with the
edge of the sword? All which, though we are not, by token of our sins,
able to see the reason thereof, is doubtless consonant to a higher
justice - altogether unlike our goddess, who is represented as blind,
merely because she is supposed not to see a bribe when offered to her by
a litigant. So the penitence of Mr. Thomas Dodds might be a very dear
affair after all, in so much as terror is a condition of the soul which,
of all we are doomed to experience, is the most difficult to bear,
especially if it is a terror of divine wrath. On his return to his house
in the evening, he found that Mrs. Mary had taken him at his word and
decamped, but not without providing herself with as good a share of the
"goods in communion" as she could, perhaps, at two or three returns,
carry off. So was she like Zebulun in all save her righteousness, for
she "rejoiced in her going out;" nay, she had some reason, for she had
discovered that in a secret drawer of an old cabinet there was a pose of
gold collected by the industrious hands of Mrs. Janet, and unknown to
her husband, every piece of which she carried off in spite of all fear
of the spectre, which, if a sensible one, might have been supposed to be
more irritated at this heedless spoliation than at all the Jezebel had
yet done, with the exception of the counselling her death in the deep
hole of the North Loch. On seeing all this robbery, Mr. Dodds became
more and more aware of the bad exchange he had made by killing his good
spouse to enable him to take another, who had merely found more favour
in his eyes by reason of her good looks; and we may augur how much
deeper his feeling of regret would have been, had he known the secret
pose, so frugally and prudently laid up, perhaps for his sake, at least
for the sake of both, when disease or old age might overtake them, in a
world where good and evil, pleasure and pain, appear to be fixed
quantities, only shoved from one to another by wisdom and prudence, yet
sometimes refusing to be moved even by these means.

After satisfying himself of the full extent of the robbery, which, after
all, he had brought upon himself, and very richly deserved, he sat down
upon a chair and began to moralize, after the manner of those late
penitents who have found themselves out to be either rogues or
fools - the number of whom comprehends, perhaps, all mankind. He had
certainly good reason to be contrite. The angel in the house had become
a spectre, and she who was no angel, either in the house or out of it,
had carried off almost everything of any value he possessed. Nor did he
stop at mere unspoken contrition, he bewailed in solemn tones his
destiny, and then began to cast up all the perfections of good Janet,
the more perfect and beautiful these seeming in proportion as he felt
the fear of her reappearance, perhaps next time, in place of making his
breakfast, to run away with him to the dire place of four letters. All
her peculiarities were now virtues - nay, the very things which had
appeared to him the most indefensible took on the aspect of angelic
endowments. While her careful housewifery was all intended for his
bodily health and comfort, her perseverance in adhering to the one
chapter and the one psalm was due to that love of iteration which
inspires those who are never weary of well-doing. And what was more
extraordinary, one verse of the psalm - that which we have quoted - had
special reference to the manner of her death, and her deliverance from
condemnation in the world to come. No doubt the man who meditates upon
his own crime or folly at the very moment when he is suffering from its
sharp recalcitrations, is just about as miserable a wretch as the
reformatory of the world can present; but when, to the effects upon
himself, he is compelled to think of the cruelty he has exercised
towards others - and those perhaps found out to be his best friends - we
doubt if there are any words beyond the vocabulary of the condemned that
are sufficient to express his anguish. Even this did not comprehend all
the suffering of Mr. Dodds, for, was he not under doom without knowing
what form it was to assume, whether the spectre (whose cookery might be
a sham) would choke him, burn him, or run away with him?

Deeply steeped in this remorseful contemplation, during which the figure
of his ill-used wife flitted before the eye of his fancy with scarcely
less of substantial reality than she had shown in her spectral form, he
found that he had lost all regard to time. The night was fast setting
in, the shadows of the tall houses were falling deeper and deeper on the
room, and the Sabbath stillness was a solemn contrast to the
perturbations inside the chamber of his soul, where "the serpents and
the cockatrices would not be charmed." Still, everything within and
without was dreary, and the spoliation of his means did not tend to
enliven the outer scene, or impart a charm to the owner. While in this
state of depression, Tammas heard a knock at the door. It was not, as on
the former occasions, what is called a tirl. It might be a neighbour, or
it might be an old crony, and he stood in need of some one to raise his
spirits, so he went to the door and opened it. But what was his horror
when he saw enter a female figure, in all respects so like his feared
visitor that he concluded in the instant that she was the same! nor
could all his penitence afford him resolution enough to make a proper
examination; besides, it was grey dark, and even a pair of better eyes
than he could boast of, might, under the circumstances soon to appear,
have been deceived. Retreating into the kitchen, he was followed by this
dubious, and yet not dubious visitor, who, as he threw himself upon a
chair, took a seat right opposite to him.

"Ye'll no ken me, Tammas Dodds?" said she.

Whereupon Tammas looked and looked again, and still the likeness he
dreaded was so impressive, that, in place of moving his tongue, he
moved, that is, he shuddered, all over.

"What - eh?" at length he stuttered; "ken ye? wha in God's name are ye?
No surely Mrs. Janet Dodds in the likeness of the flesh!"

"No, but her sister, Mrs. Paterson," replied the other. "And is it
possible ye can hae forgotten the only woman who was present at your
first marriage?"

"Ay, ay," replied Tammas, as he began to come to a proper condition of
perceiving and thinking; "and it was you, then, wha was here this
morning?"

"No, no," replied she; "I have not been here for seven long years, even
since that terrible night when you pushed Janet into the North Loch."

"And may Heaven and its angels hae mercy upon me!" ejaculated he.

"Aiblins they may," said she, "for your purpose was defeated; yea, even
by that Heaven and thae angels."

"What mean you, woman?" cried the astonished man. "What, in the name o'
a' that's gude on earth and holy in heaven, do ye mean?"

"Just that Janet Dodds is at this hour a leevin' woman," was the reply.

"The Lord be thanked!" cried Tammas again, "for 'He preserveth all them
that love Him.'"

"'But all the wicked He will destroy,'" returned she; "and surely it was
wicked to try to drown sae faithful a wife and sae gude a Christian."

"Wicked!" rejoined he, in rising agony. "'Let the righteous smite me, it
shall be a kindness; and let them reprove me, it shall,' as Solomon
says, 'be an excellent oil.'"

"I am glad," continued the woman, "to find you with a turned heart; but
whaur is the Jezebel ye took in her place?"

"Awa this day," replied he. "I have found her out, and never mair is she
wife o' mine."

"Sae far weel and better," said she.

"Ay, but speak to me o' Janet," cried he, earnestly. "Come, tell me how
she escaped, whaur she is, and how she is; for now I think there is
light breaking through the fearfu' cloud."

"Light indeed," continued Mrs. Paterson; "and now, listen to a strange
tale, mair wonderfu' than man's brain ever conceived. When ye thought ye
had drowned her, and cared naething doubtless - for ye see I maun speak
plain - whether her spirit went to the ae place or the ither, ay, and ran
awa to add to murder a lee, she struggled out o' the deep, yea -

'He took her from the fearfu' pit,
And from the miry clay.'

And when she got to the bank she ran as for the little life was in her,
until she came to the foot of Halkerstone's Wynd, where she crossed to
the other side of the loch. When she thought hersel' safe, she took the
road to Glasgow, where I was then living wi' my husband, wha is since
dead. The night was dark, but self-preservation maks nae gobs at
dangers; so on she went, till in the grey morning she made up to the
Glasgow carrier, wha agreed to gie her a cast even to the end o' his
journey. It was the next night when she arrived at my door, cold and
hungry, and, what was waur, sair and sick at heart. She told me the hail
story as weel as she could for sobs and greeting; for the thought aye
rugged at her heart that the man she had liked sae weel, and had toiled
for night and day, should hae turned out to be the murderer o' his ain
wife."

"And weel it might hae rugged and rugged," ejaculated Tammas.

"I got aff her wet clothes," continued she, "and gave her some strong
drink to warm her, and then we considered what was to be dune. My
husband was for off to Edinburgh to inform on ye, even if there should
hae been a drawing o' the neck on't; but Janet cried, and entreated
baith him and me to keep the thing quiet. She said she couldna gae back
to you; and as for getting you punished, she couldna bear the thought
o't. And then we a' thought what a disgrace it would be to our family if
it were thought that my sister had been attempted to be murdered by her
husband. We knew weel enough ye would say she had fallen in by accident;
and when afterwards we heard that ye had buried a body that had been
found in the loch, we made up our minds as to what we would do. We just
agreed to keep Janet under her maiden name. Nane in Glasgow had ever
seen her before, and her ain sorrows kept her within doors, so that the
secret wasna ill to keep. Years afterwards, my husband was ta'en from
me, and Janet and I came, about twa months syne, to live at Juniper
Green, wi' John Paterson, my husband's brother, wha had offered us a
hame."

"And is Janet there now?" cried Tammas, impatiently.

"Ay," continued Mrs. Paterson; "but, alas! she's no what she was. She
gets at times out o' her reason, and will be that way for days
thegether. The doctor has a name for it ower lang for my tongue, but it
tells naething but what we ken ower weel. When in thae fits she thinks
she is here in the Bow, and living with you, and working and moiling in
the house just as she used to do langsyne. Mairower, and that troubles
us maist ava, she will be out when the reason's no in, so that we are
obliged to watch her. Five days syne she was aff in the morning before
daylight, and even so late as this morning she played us the same trick;
whaur she gaed we couldna tell, but I had some suspicion she was here."

"Ay," replied Mr. Dodds, as he opened his eyes very wide; "she was here
wi' a vengeance."

Thus Mrs. Paterson's story was finished; and our legend of the Brownie,
more veritable, we opine, than that of Bodsbeck, is also drawing to a
conclusion. Tammas, after a period of meditation, more like one of
Janet's hallucinations than a fit of rational thinking, asked his
sister-in-law whether she thought that Janet, in the event of her
getting quit of her day-dreams, would consent to live with him again. To
which question she answered that she was not certain; for that Janet,
when in her usual state of mind, was still wroth against him for the
attempt to take away her life; but she added that she had no objection,
seeing he was penitent, to give him an opportunity to plead for himself.
She even went further, and agreed to use her influence to bring about a
reconciliation. It was therefore agreed between them that the sister
should call again when Janet had got quit of her temporary derangement,
and Thomas might follow up this intimation with a visit. About four days
thereafter, accordingly, Mrs. Paterson kept her word, and next day Mr.
Dodds repaired to Juniper Green. At first Janet refused to see him; but
upon Mrs. Paterson's representations of his penitence and suffering, she
became reconciled to an interview. We may venture to say, without
attempting a description of a meeting unparalleled in history, that if
Janet Dodds had not been a veritable Calvinist, no good could have come
of all Mr. Dodds's professions; but she knew that the Master cast out
the dumb spirit which tore the possessed, and that that spirit attempted
murder not less than Tammas. Wherefore might not _his_ dumb spirit be
cast out as well by that grace which aboundeth in the bosom of the
Saviour? We do not say that a return of her old love helped this
deduction, because we do not wish to mix up profane with sacred things.
Enough if we can certify that a very happy conclusion was the result.
The doctor did his duty, and Janet having been declared _compos mentis_,
returned to her old home. Her first duty was to look for "the pose." It
was gone in the manner we have set forth; but Janet could collect
another, and no doubt in due time did; nor did she fail of any of her
old peculiarities, all of which became endeared to Thomas by reason of
their being veritable sacrifices to his domestic comfort.




GLEANINGS OF THE COVENANT.

THE LAST SCRAP.


It is a fact well known to Dr. Lee, and to many besides, that
notwithstanding the extensive researches of Wodrow and others, there
have died away in the silent lapse of time, or are still hovering over
our cleuchs and glens, in the aspect of a dim and misty tradition, many
instances of extreme cruelty and wanton oppression, exercised (during
the reign of Charles II.) over the poor Covenanters, or rather
Nonconformists, of the south and west counties of Scotland. In
particular, although the whole district suffered, it was in the vale of
the Nith, and in the hilly portion of the parish of Closeburn, that the
fury of Grierson, Dalzell, and Johnstone - not to mention an occasional
simoom, felt on the withering approach of Clavers _with his lambs_ - was
felt to the full amount of merciless persecution and relentless cruelty.
The following anecdote I had from a sister of my grandmother, who lived
till a great age, and who was lineally descended from one of the
parties. I have never seen any notice whatever taken of the
circumstances; but am as much convinced of its truth, in all its leading
features, as I am of that of any other similar statements which are made
in Wodrow, "Naphtali," or the "Cloud of Witnesses."

The family of Harkness has been upwards of four hundred years tenants on
the farm of Queensberry, occupying the farm-house and steading situated
upon the banks of the Caple, and known by the name of Mitchelslacks. The
district is wild and mountainous, and, at the period to which I refer,
in particular, almost inaccessible through any regularly constructed
road. The hearts, however, of these mountain residents were deeply
attuned to religious and civil liberty, and revolted with loathing from
the cold doctrines and compulsory ministrations of the curate of
Closeburn. They were, therefore, marked birds for the myrmidons of
oppression, led on by Claverhouse, and "Red Rob," the scarlet-cloaked
leader of his band.

It was about five o'clock of the afternoon, in the month of August, that
a troop of horse was seen crossing the Glassrig - a flat and heathy
muir - and bearing down with great speed upon Mitchelslacks. Mrs.
Harkness had been very recently delivered of a child, and still occupied
her bed, in what was denominated the chamber, or cha'mer - an apartment
separated from the rest of the house, and set apart for more particular
occasions. Her husband, the object of pursuit, having had previous
intimation, by the singing or whistling of a bird (as was generally
reported on such occasions), had betaken himself, some hours before, to
the mountain and the cave - his wonted retreat on similar visits. From
this position, on the brow of a precipice, inaccessible by any save a
practised foot, he could see his own dwelling, and mark the movements
which were going on outside. The troop, having immediately surrounded
the houses, and set a guard upon every door and window, as well as an
outpost, or spy, upon an adjoining eminence, immediately proceeded with
the search - a search conducted with the most brutal incivility, and even
indelicacy; subjecting every child and servant to apprehensions of the
most horrid and revolting character. It would be every way improper to
mention even a tithe of the oaths and blasphemy which were not only
permitted, but sanctioned and encouraged, by their impious and
regardless leader. Suffice it to say, that after every other corner and
crevice was searched in vain, the cha'mer was invaded, and the privacy
of a female, in very interesting and delicate circumstances, rudely and
suddenly entered.

"The old fox is here," said Clavers, passing his sword up to the hilt
betwixt the mother and her infant, sleeping unconsciously on her arm,
and thrusting it home with such violence that the point perforated the
bed, and even penetrated the floor beneath.

"Toss out the whelp," vociferated Red Rob - always forward on such
occasions; "and the b - ch will follow." And, suiting the action to the
word, he rolled the sleeping, and happily well-wrapped, infant on the
floor.

"The Lord preserve my puir bairn!" was the instantaneous and instinctive
exclamation of the agonized and now demented mother, springing at the
same time from her couch, and catching up her child with a look of the
most despairing alarm. A cloud of darkened feeling seemed to pass over
the face and features of the infant,[*] and a cry of helpless suffering
succeeded, at once to comfort and to madden the mother. "A murderous and
monstrous herd are ye all," said she, again resuming her position, and
pressing the affrighted, rather than injured child to her breast. "Limbs
of Satan and enemies of God, begone! He whom ye seek is not here; nor
will the God _he_ serves and _you_ defy, ever suffer him, I fervently
hope and trust, to fall into your merciless and unhallowed hands."

[note *: "In the light of heaven its face
Grew dark as they were speaking."]


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryVariousWilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Volume XXIII → online text (page 5 of 18)