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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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where no sound reaches your ear excepting the song of the sky-
lark, the bleat of the sheep, the hum of the wild-bee, and the low


tnufmuring of a burn, stealing along its quiet way to pay its tribute
to the Tweed. It was to one of those sequestered spots, being a
stranger in the country, that I was one day led by an old man, who
undertook to be my guide to the best streams for trout-fishing. But
though now deserted by man, as I have described this valley, there
had been a time when it was inhabited, as appeared from a roofless
and ruined hut, over the walls of which the ivy and the wild-flower
had apparently crept for years. I observed to my guide what a
lonely dwelling it must have been. ' It was so,' said the old man ;
' but love and youth can make any place a paradise ; and happiness
once dwelt there, though it did not continue ; and though the fate
of its hapless inhabitants made a great noise in the country at the
time, it is now in a measure forgotten, for it is more than fifteen
years since a fire was kindled in that lone house.' Perceiving by
this that something remarkable had happened to the last occupiers
of the desolated hut, and being tired with ascending and descending
the neighbouring hills, I sat down, and requested the old man, who
was the schoolmaster of a village where I had for some days taken
up my abode, to gratify my curiosity by repeating to me the story
to which he had alluded. The place where I had chosen my seat
was a little grassy bank, near the brink of the rivulet, and about
forty yards below the site of the little ruin, which stood on the side
of a hill ; and the old man, having placed himself beside me, began
his narration.

' My occupation as a teacher gives me, of course, an opportunity
of observing with accuracy the dispositions of the youth I instruct ;
and I have never met with a girl of more ardent affections, or of
better temper, or who possessed more amiable qualities, than Helen
Symington. She was the daughter of an honest and respectable
weaver in our village, of which, as she grew up to womanhood, she
was the pride. When scarce twenty years old, she married William
Brydon, a sensible, well-disposed young man, who was principal
shepherd to the owner of this property, and came here with him to
live in that cottage which is now a ruin, but which was then, by the
unwearied industry of Helen, a neat and comfortable habitation ;
and never, in those early days of her marriage, did lark carol more
blithely to the sun, than did she while employed in her household-
occupations, or, as passing over the heather with a light step, she
carried some refreshment to her William, when detained with his
flock in some more distant sheep-walk. Even when left by herself
in this wild solitude, she felt no loneliness, for all was peace and joy
within and without. William loved her entirely, and her alone ; and
she knew it, and in that knowledge all her earthly wishes were com-
plete. Yet was this feeling of felicity still increased, when, before
the year had completed its circle, she sat, in a summer evening,
on yonder little turf seat at the door, with her infant in her arms,
watching her husband descending the opposite hill, and drawing



nearer and nearer, till at length her baby shared with her in his
caresses. The second winter of their abode here was unusually
severe ; but it was William's care to guard his wife and child from
its inclemency, by many little ingenious contrivances to render their
cottage more impervious to the cold; while Helen looked forward
each day with longing solicitude to the evening hour which restored
him to a participation of its comforts, and seated him by its cheerful
hearth. And thus the winter had nearly passed away, and they
began to anticipate the varied joys of spring, when the birds would
again sing around their cot, and all nature, awakened from its wintry
sleep, would start anew into life and joy. The month of February
arrived, and the weather seemed so settled and serene, that, for two
successive Sabbaths, Helen, with her infant enveloped in her cloak,
and accompanied by her husband, had crossed the hills to the parish'
church. On the second of those Sabbaths, they " took sweet counsel,"
and, walking together to the house of God, they conversed of a better
and a purer world, where they should fear no after-parting. And as
Helen listened to her husband, who was eloquent on this subject,
she thought she had never heard him speak so like a minister, or
seen him so full of holy hope. I notice this particularly, as it is a
circumstance I shall have occasion to mention again. On the next
morning after this conversation, William departed with the sheep
from this valley for a distant fair. The weather was still fine when
he gathered his flock, and bade farewell to his beloved Helen for
three days, promising to return on the evening of the third. He had
never been absent from his home all night but twice since his
marriage, and that for a single night each time. His wife, however,
expressed no fear from being left alone for so unwonted a time ; for
the fact is, that there is in general more courage in women of her
humble rank in life than in any other, for they are too much occupied
to find time for the indulgence of idle alarms ; nor do they meet
with any encouragement to affect fears till the folly becomes a habit.
Neither did William experience any uneasiness on account of the
solitariness of the dwelling in which he was to leave her, considering
that very circumstance as the principal warrant for her safety.

' The weather, I have said, was fine at the time of his departure ;
but in our treacherous climate, and especially in these hilly districts,
there is nothing more uncertain than a continuance of settled weather
at that season of the year ; and never did it exhibit more rapid
transitions than during the three days of William's absence. Before
the shades of the first night had fallen on the hills, the rain had
descended their sides in torrents, and swelled the little burn into a
river. On the second night, the clouds had disappeared, and a keen
frost succeeded, which, ere morning, arrested the water in its course,
and transformed the ground for some distance round where we now
sit into a frozen lake. Again another change came o'er the spirit of
the storm : dark clouds began to gather, and showers of sleet and



snow to fall, till all again was hoary winter. But still, when night
came on, there was seemingly, from the quietness of its descent? no
depth of snow, though it had fallen at intervals for many hours, and
as the time was now arrived when Helen expected to see her
husband, she felt no dread of harm ; and no sooner had she put her
baby to sleep, than she prepared a change of garments, a warm
supper, " a blazing ingle and a clean hearthstane," for her William,
and often opened the door to listen and look out, if haply she might
discern his dark figure against the opposite white hill descending the
footpath towards his home. She was, however, as often disappointed,
and returned again to heap fresh fuel on the fire, till she began to
feel, first the heart-sickness of " hope deferred," and then the heavy
pressure of foreboding evil ; and when her baby waked, there were,
in the melancholy tones of the hymn with which she soothed him to
rest, a soul-subduing pathos ; for it has been my lot to hear again
that lullaby, when it sounded even more deeply affecting than it
could then have done. Poor Helen continued all night her visits to
the door, till at length, just as morning began to dawn, she heard
her name shouted out by the well-known voice of William. Joy
came to her heart, for she thought he had seen her, and though she
looked in vain for him, still he was near. But again she heard his
voice, and his words fell distinctly on her ear : " Oh, Helen, Helen,
I perish!" She flew with the speed of lightning down the bank;
but when she approached near to this spot, her progress was
arrested, for the ice, from which the water had receded below, could
not bear her weight. And then it was for the first time she dis-
covered, through the indistinct glimmering of the dawn, and by his
own words, that, on William's having reached the middle of the
burn, where the force of the stream below had rendered it hollow,
the ice had given way, and he was only kept from sinking by his
arms resting on the surrounding part, which was still firm. Again
and again Helen tried in each direction to reach him, in spite of his
urgent entreaties to keep off, and his assurances that he had hopes
of being able to maintain his position for a length of time, from the
manner in which he was wedged between the ice, and its apparent
thickness in that place where it had been gurged together ; though
he feared to make the smallest exertion to extricate himself, lest he
should go down. In this extremity there was only one course which
gave the agonised wife any chance of saving the life of her husband,
and that was to seek for more efficient aid than her own. Mean-
time William was almost fainting with exhaustion from fatigue, cold,
and hunger ; and Helen, thinking that if she could supply him with
some food, he would be better able to endure his situation till she
could procure assistance, ran to the house, and, putting some of
what had been intended for his supper into a small basket, took a
sheep-crook, and, having tied a stick to one end of it, hooked the
basket on to the other end, and in this manner conveyed it to him.


At the same time she pushed a blanket close to him with the crook,
and having seen him draw it by degrees round his head and
shoulders, she returned to the cottage, wrapped her child in a small
blanket, and throwing her cloak around her, took it in her arms ;
then, having taken a hasty leave of her husband, in words which
were half a farewell and half a solemn prayer for his preservation
till her return, she set off on her journey of four miles to the next
farmhouse, for no nearer was there a human dwelling.

' Helen Symington was at all times active, but now a supernatural
strength seemed to be given her; and, in spite of her burden, she
proceeded swiftly through the snow, ascending the hills with incredible
rapidity, and flying rather than running down their .declivities.
Thus she proceeded till nearly three of the miles were passed ; but
the snow, which had ceased falling for some time, now began again
to descend thickly, and was accompanied by sudden gusts of wind,
which drove it full in her face, and prevented her from seeing the
different objects by which she marked her way. She wandered on
in this manner, endeavouring to avoid the deeper parts of the snow,
which the wind was beginning to drift into hillocks on all sides
of her; while she was almost driven frantic by the fear of losing her
way, and by the cries of her infant In vain did she endeavour to
warm him, by pressing his little limbs close to her bosom, and by
doubling and redoubling the cloak over him, regardless of her own
exposure to the biting blast. He at length ceased crying, and fearful
that the torpor of death had seized him, and feeling her own strength
beginning to fail, despair seemed to take possession of her, when
the snow ceased for a short time, and she found that she had
wandered far away from the road to the onstead which she so eagerly
sought to reach. But thoughts of her husband again strung her
nerves, and she once more regained the right direction. This
happened several times; and had she alone been concerned, she
must have perished; for nothing but the energy inspired by the
faint hope of saving her husband and child prevented her from lying
down to die. But what a gleam of joy shot through her overspent
frame when, on looking up just as a fierce blast had swept by, she
beheld the farmhouse at a short distance ! New strength seemed
to be again imparted to her stiffening limbs; and at length she
reached the door, told her tale, and almost immediately four men
belonging to the farm were ready to start, with all necessary imple-
ments for extricating William from his singular and perilous situation.
Helen's infant, who had been benumbed for many hours, shewed
little signs of recovery: she, however, delivered it, though with an
aching heart, to the farmer's wife (a benevolent woman, who was
herself a mother), and determined, contrary to all advice and opposi-
tion, to return to her husband. Nor, had she remained, could she
have served the poor infant, who died shortly after she left the house.

' The poor distracted wife, mounted on horseback behind a man,



now proceeded on her way with all the speed the animal could exert
in its toilsome journey, while her whole soul was absorbed in the
one desire of finding her husband alive; of which no hope could
have been entertained but for the depth of the valley, which, from
the way that the wind set, might in a great measure have occasioned
it to escape the drift that was fast blocking up the roads, and
transforming plains into hills. But who shall calculate the years of
misery which Helen seemed to endure while this suspense hung over
her ? She was, as I have said, possessed of deep and ardent feelings,
and they were now strained to their utmost tension. After much
difficulty in avoiding the deeper wreaths of snow, and in floundering
through the less dangerous, the party at length reached the entrance
of the valley. All here seemed propitious to their hopes, for the
snow was but little drifted. The men who were on foot had, however,
by a nearer way, which the horse could not travel, first reached the
spot, where, sad ' to tell, though poor William still retained his
suspended posture, the snow was drifted over him, and he no longer
breathed. They had succeeded, however, in extricating the body,
which they bore to the cot, and laid upon the bed before the arrival
of Helen, who, with a frantic hope still clinging to her heart, repeated,
unweariedly and often, every means to bring him back to life, though
foiled in all. Alas, poor girl ! her young and ardent heart had loved
her husband almost to idolatry, and with him the charm of life was
fled. The spring of hope and existence was dried up at the fountain-
head. The stroke was too heavy for her to bear, and a brain fever
was the immediate consequence of her great bodily exertion and
mental suffering. For a considerable time her life was despaired of;
yet youth, and the natural strength of her constitution, gained a
transitory triumph, and some degree of bodily health returned ; but
the mind had become an utter ruin. She was removed, as soon as it
could be safely accomplished, back to our village, and became again
an inmate of her father's house, where I have often sat for hours
listening to the suggestions of her wayward fancy, where William
still reigned paramount. Fortunately, all that had passed since the
intensity of her suffering began, seemed quite annihilated in her
recollection ; for she talked of her husband as being still absent at
the fair, and still sung to her infant that hymn with which she soothed
it to sleep on the first night of her misfortunes, and which has often
forced the tears from my eyes and the sobs from my breast. No
tongue can describe the touching melody of her soft and melancholy
voice, or the sweet subdued expression of her beautiful countenance,
which became daily more wan and delicate ; till, at the end of two
years, her weakness was so great that she was unable to rise from
her chair, and I was one evening sent for in haste to see her. When
I entered her father's house I was met by the old man, who imparted
to me the surprising intelligence that Helen had recovered her
senses. I immediately anticipated that a change was about to



take place; and had no sooner looked upon her, than I was con-
firmed in my opinion. Sorrow had completed its work, and she was
about to pass from our sight for ever. The recollection of her
husband's sad fate had returned with her reason. But neither the
remembrance of it, of her own sufferings, nor the knowledge of
her child's death, which she now knew for the first time, seemed to
trouble her ; for her thoughts were fixed on that better country where
she rejoiced that they were already waiting her arrival, and spoke of
the conversation which passed between William and her on the last
Sabbath they were together, as an earnest which it had pleased God
to vouchsafe of their happy meeting. I am an elder of the church, and
it was in that capacity that Helen sent for me to pray with her, which
I did with a fervour I have seldom felt. But never has it been my
lot to witness an appearance so heavenly as she exhibited when I
rose from my knees. She sat in her chair supported by pillows, with
her hands clasped, and her dark soft eyes beaming with an expres-
sion so holy, that she seemed like some disembodied spirit, which,
having been perfected by suffering, had returned to encourage
and comfort those who were still in the vale of tears. When I bade
her farewell, and promised to see her next day, it was with a presenti-
ment that I looked upon her for the last time. And so it proved ; for
I was next morning informed that her spirit had taken its flight
about twelve o'clock the night before.'

The old man thus concluded his melancholy tale ; and after
sitting for some time in silent reflection, my guide again spoke, and,
pointing to a deep pool at some distance down the stream, informed
me that large trout were sometimes caught there ; and having
adjusted our fishing-tackle, we proceeded to it. But though our
sport was unusually good, it did not banish from my mind during
that day, for a single instant, the affecting story of the ill-fated Helen


THE little lonely inn of Crook, near the source of the Tweed, is
a spot well known to travellers and tourists, and withal one much
admired by them, being, as it were, an oasis in the desert, a place
of rest and refreshment in a cold and mountainous wilderness This
place, or rather its neighbourhood, was the scene of a strange adven-
ture more than a century ago, which we propose to narrate to the
reader in a more complete form than it has hitherto appeared.

One misty morning in the autumn of 1746, George Black, the
landlord of the Crook Inn, stood at the door of his isolated dwelling,
eyeing attentively the heavens above him and the mountains around
him, for want, it may be, of anything better to do. ' Confoun' these
mists !' muttered he ; 'they'll no clear up the hail day, I doot. Gin


this weather gang on muckle langer, we may shut our doors when
we like. No ae leevin' thing,' continued he, stepping out to the
middle of the road that passed his house, and looking first up and
then down the narrow vale ' no ae leevin' thing to be seen either
to the right or to the left. But there 's aye ae comfort in this rouky
weather at ony rate ; for if it be the same in the Highlands as it is
here, the puir bits o' bodies that's skulkin' aboot the hill-taps winna
be sae easily ta'en by the sodgers.' The landlord's observations
were suddenly cut short. His eye caught sight of a party of soldiers,
the very persons he had been speaking of; and he hurried in to
prepare for their anticipated visit.

Meanwhile the little military party whom he had espied marched
slowly up the vale, along the soft and plashy road that ran nearly
parallel with the Tweed. Such detachments were no uncommon
visitors of the Crook ; for this little hostel lay on the direct road
from the Highlands towards Carlisle, whither the northern rebels
were at this time regularly sent, as taken, in order that they might
be tried at a cool distance from all partial influences, and where, at
this particular time, scarcely a week passed without seeing numbers
of them executed according to the approved style dictated by the
English law of high treason. The well-armed party now advancing
to the Crook were bound on such an errand. They were six or
seven in number, with a lieutenant at their head, and in the midst
of them walked a tall and finely formed young Highlander, with his
right arm pinned, for security, to his side. Though on his way to
certain death, and though his soiled tartans and thin cheek spoke
of suffering and privation, the prisoner moved with as firm a tread
as his captors, and, but for his bonds, might have been taken for
their chief. Of a very different opinion, however, was Lieutenant
Howison, the actual leader of the band, a pompous middle-aged
man, of low stature, and thick-set, rolling figure, which was rendered
somewhat ludicrous to look at, by its possessor having bent it into
a crescent the convex side foremost through long -continued
attempts to acquire a dignified military attitude. Everything which
this personage did or said was 'in the king's name.' This was
indeed Lieutenant Howison's tower of strength. It was even
alleged, that when he ran away from the battle of Prestonpans, he
did it ' in the king's name.'

Such was the person who halted, on the morning alluded to, to
refresh himself and men at the inn of Crook, having marched some
five or six miles since daybreak. After commanding his soldiers to
go with the prisoner into one room, and take some bread and cheese,
the lieutenant himself retired to another apartment, there to refresh
himself with something of a more savoury nature, if it was to be had.
Geordie in person waited on the officer, and supplied him with the
best the house contained. When this duty had been performed, the
landlord then turned his attention to the soldiers, being, in fact,


anxious to get a glimpse of the 'puir chield' who had fallen into
their hands. In this object he was at first disappointed, the High-
lander's face being averted from the rest of the party, and steadily
directed towards the window. At last one of the soldiers, with more
kindness than any of the others seemed disposed to shew, exclaimed :
' Come, my lad, here 's a share of my bit and sup. I shan't see a
poor fellow starved neither, rebel though he has been.' The prisoner
seemingly was touched by the man's good-nature, and turned partly
round to benefit by the offer. Geordie Black, the moment that he
got a glimpse of the Highlander's face, was overwhelmed with
alarm and vexation. His heart failed him, and it was with a feeling
of faintness that he shrunk from the apartment.

It was not until the soldiers were fairly out of sight that the heart-
stricken landlord dared to give vent to his feelings. ' Oh, Peggy,
Peggy, woman,' said he when alone with his wife ; ' whae do ye
think has faun into their murdering clutches but Neil Maclaren !
What will become o' Ailie noo, wandering, maybe, by this time frae
door to door, without a house to put her head in, or a bit to put in
her mouth ; or as likely to be dead and gane, since we ha'ena heard
from her about this unlucky business. Oh, what could tempt him
to gang out, and him a married man wi' a family ! ' To Geordie's
tirade his wife could only reply by sorrowful exclamations of : ' My
puir dochter my puir Ailie ! ' The forenoon, it may well be con-
ceived, was spent by the honest couple in the most unpleasant state
of mind ; for Maclaren, as the reader will have surmised, was their
son-in-law. One thing surprised the landlord much ; which was, that
he should have remained so long ignorant of Maclaren's joining
Prince Charles. But the truth was, that Neil had only joined him
a short time before the battle of Culloden, being drawn at last
from his home by the spectacle of an invading enemy in his native

Let us now leave for a while the landlord of the Crook, to whom
this was destined to be an eventful day, and follow the party of
soldiers in their slow march up the vale of Tweed. As Geordie
Black had predicted, the mists did not clear up as the day grew
older. Other parts of the country, indeed, might have been free of
fog, but at every step the soldiers were moving higher and higher,
and the white drizzling fleeces on the hillsides became thicker and
thicker. It is to be questioned if there is in all the Lowlands of
Scotland a more elevated piece of table-land than that lying some
ten miles above Crook, from which spring the fountains of the three
great rivers the Clyde, the Annan, and the Tweed. The road

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 14 of 58)